Our Little Free Library Gets a Makeover

Little Free Library original

Little Free Library, January, 2014

When I spotted a Little Free Library in nearby Campbell in 2013, it was love at first site. The idea of my own Little Free Library held great appeal. It took awhile to bring it all together, but in January of 2014 our curbside Little Free Library or LFL made its debut. We dedicated the library in May that year and it’s seen a steady stream of visitors ever since.

My friend Nick Timmerman built the library using reclaimed materials. It’s held up well, but last year it started to leak. I had to cover the library with  recycled packing material to keep it operational during our wet winter.

Little Free Library March 2017

Little Free Library under cover

Now the library is undergoing a facelift.  I wanted something fun and whimsical, so I reached out to my friend Donna Pierre. Donna is a talented fine artist and a muralist. It’s a treat to see the details unfold. I’m excited to share the finished library soon. Meanwhile, here are a few pics of the process:

Little Free Library Primed for painting

Primed, painted and sealed

Donna Pierre painting the Little Free Library

Donna Pierre: taping off lines for the log cabin detail

Little Free Library Log Cabin Detail

The log cabin effect

Little Free Library Log Cabin Detail

Back of the library

It’s been unseasonably hot these past few days, after a week of unseasonably cold weather. You never know these days which end is up. Once the weather improves, Donna will be back. I’m so excited.

As you can see from the last photo, my sweet pea jungle is wilting from the heat. I knew it was inevitable, but I’ll be sorry to see them go. The Nigella (love-in-a-mist) are filling in some of the vacated spots, and the cornflowers are hanging in there too. The bees love the Nigella and I love the bees so three cheers for synchronicity.

spring flower bouquet

Flowers for Kathee

My sister stops by every Sunday to pick up a small bouquet for her friend, Kathee who is on hospice.  This past weekend I added three miniature yellow roses to the small bouquet. It’s been nice to bring a bit of color to her day.

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My Extraordinary Day at The Carter Center

In front of the Carter Center and Presidential Library

My time at the Carter Center is one of superlatives. I can’t stop talking about the extraordinary experience.

Over the course of twenty-four hours I met wonderful people, listened to excellent speakers who shared the remarkable accomplishments of the center. I’m grateful and humbled by their work.  The Carter Center continues to make significant and lasting impact on our world in the areas of health and peace.

Speakers: Frank O. Richards, Jr., Aisha Stewart and Dean G. Sienko. At the podium: The Carter Center CEO Ambassador Mary Ann Peters

For a brief time I sat with Ambassador (Retired) Mary Ann Peters, Chief Executive Officer of The Carter Center.  We bonded over the fact that she’s a graduate of Santa Clara University where my oldest son attends. Ambassador Peters is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Women in International Security. She worked for 30 years as a diplomat, holding positions in Dhaka, Canada, Moscow, and Bangladesh to name a few. I could have listened to her speak all day.

Jennie K. Lincoln, the director of The Carter Center’s Latin America and Caribbean Program

I spoke with Jennie Lincoln, one of the Thursday night presenters. Ms. Lincoln is the director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program. She shared a fascinating story of meeting with members of the Colombian guerilla organization known as FARC in a hotel room in Columbia and what that meant for the peace process. I’m astounded at her strength and bravery and grateful for her work. Current efforts include collaborating with Columbia’s presidential advisor on human rights, drafting political reforms, partnering on peace education and helping re-integrate FARC’s child soldiers into Colombian society. Wow! Did I mention the superlatives? You can read more about the center’s work here.

In the areas of health, one of the most significant contributions is the near-eradication of Guinea worm disease.  According to the Cater Center website:

In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, thanks to the work of The Carter Center and its partners — including the countries themselves — the incidence of Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99.99 percent to 25 cases in 2016.

The Carter Center works to eradicate Guinea worm disease in four remaining endemic countries: South Sudan, Mali, Chad, and Ethiopia.

I wont share details of the specifics of the disease here, as it’s upsetting to many people. If you want to learn more however, you can follow this link.

And finally, the Carters. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter spoke with us for about an hour. President Carter is exactly as you would imagine in person: soft-spoken, highly intelligent, direct but with a twinkle in his eye. At 92 he continues to run circles around everyone. First Lady Rosalynn Carter was equally bright, gracious and engaged.

Under the leadership of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a long-standing champion for the rights of people with mental illnesses, the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program works to promote awareness about mental health issues, inform public policy, achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care, and reduce stigma and discrimination against those with mental illnesses.

As far as I’m concerned, the Carter’s exemplify the gold standard of how we should be in the world.

I’ve never attended an event where I felt more welcomed. Marion Dixon got in touch ahead of time and invited me to join a group for lunch. Barry Nickelsberg, Chief Development Officer, sent me a note asking about plans for Friday evening. From the shuttle bus driver to the welcoming volunteers, everyone made me feel at home.

In a word: magnificent!

About the Carter Center

“A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health world-wide.”

(source: The Carter Center)

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Visiting Santa Rosa: Friendship and Memories

In what feels like a lifetime ago, I spent three consecutive summers in Santa Rosa, about 100 miles north of San Jose. I graduated from San Jose State in 1982 with a degree in Theatre Arts. Summer Repertory Theatre known as SRT hired professional designers and directors, but the actors and technical positions went to current or recently graduated students like me.
SRT bio alys 1983-002

We received a stipend of $900 for the entire summer, with $300 of that going to shared-housing. In the first four weeks, before all six shows opened, we worked ten and half hour days, six days a week with an hour off for lunch, and a two-hour break for dinner. The hours were long and grueling and emotions ran high as they usually do when artists surround you.

In short: I loved it!

I worked with talented costume designers all three summers, learning techniques in pattern making, costume building and diplomacy. I look back on those summers with a profound fondness. I met incredible people along the way. Those years were among the most memorable of my youth.

Several of us came from around the state each summer, but the rest lived in Santa Rosa. In my second year doing summer stock, I met Marcia Ford. She’s a talented pattern maker and kindred spirit. We kindled our friendship in 1983, and have stayed in touch through marriages and children. Her son is 31, an accomplished artist and linguist, living in Spain. He married a poet and scholar when they met in Egypt, and they’re now raising Marcia’s grandson in Madrid. I have a beloved snapshot of her son holding my son we he was three-months old. My boys are now 16 and 19.

I spent a couple of days with Marcia in Santa Rosa this week, helping her organize her sewing room and catching up on life. Marcia is recovering from a year spent abroad helping with her grandson, her father’s recent death and breast cancer.

Alys and Marcia

With Marcia this week

costume shope SRT 1984

In the SRT Costume, 1984 Marcia, back left, Alys, back right

She recently celebrated a milestone birthday, so I wanted to mark the occasion with a unique and special gift.

I made a set of greeting cards and a small folio using vintage seam binding and scrap-booking paper with a vintage sewing theme. Isn’t the paper fun?

I also purchased the most gorgeous sewing box from Lynn at Tialys. She sells ready-made sewing boxes in her Etsy shop or you can buy her pattern and make one yourself. I opted for the former and I’m so glad I did. Isn’t it stunning?

Tialys sewing box

Marcia poses with her new sewing box

The third part of the gift had us both in stitches (seamstress pun). About a year ago I shared a picture of a yarn bowl on Facebook and she commented that she would love one. I ordered it online via Darn Good Yarn. As it turns out, she ordered the same bowl herself.

I had such a good time. I miss Santa Rosa and all it represents. It’s a beautiful place. They average three times the rain that we do so things are lush and green. It’s less crowded with a slighter slower pace, and open spaces still prevail. I fell in love with it all over again.

Marcia’s sister Alice invited us to dinner at her home along with several of her life-long friends. We enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal, laughter and an evening’s walk to a field of irises. Alice has a lush garden and, be still my heart, she keeps bees! What a treat it was to spend time in her garden. What a shame, too, that I was too busy enjoying myself to take a single photo while we were there.

Picture instead curving paths, verdant green plants, a majestic tree and a quiet corner with happy, humming bees.

Gardens and friendships remain my “drug” of choice.

On the subject of friendships, I’m just days away from reconnecting with Kelly from Kelly’s Korner and Boombeeadda, Laurie from Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things and Julia of Defeat Despair. We’ll also reconnect with Lisa of ArlingWords and Stacy, a street photographer and sometime blogger, who can be found on Instagram.  We’ll be missing Pauline of The Contented Crafter, but plans are under way to connect with her in New Zealand in 2018. We’re gathering in Virginia and Washington, DC for a few days, than Kelly and I head to New York. There we’ll meet two more bloggers for the first time, Joe at The Visual Chronicle and Patti at Nylon Daze.

I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. Meanwhile my flight to Atlanta has been delayed three times due to weather. It’s not all fun and games. 😉

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The Greening of the Little Free Library

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

We’re celebrating by featuring green-covered books, bookmarks and a few small craft kits in our Little Free Library.

…and a pot of gold at the end of the fairy garden rainbow.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

After the Flood: San Jose Residents Show Up, Clean-up, and Find Creative Ways to Help

It’s been two weeks since the Anderson Reservoir overflowed its banks in San Jose.  After a series of punishing storms in our rain-parched state, there was simply nowhere for the water to go. Reservoirs filled, then overflowed, flooding roads and then neighborhoods in the low-lying Rock Springs neighborhood. When the banks overflowed, the reservoir had reached 105.5% capacity. The water level was almost 4 feet (meters) above the top of the spillway.
We learned over the weekend that:

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered a $7.4 million project that would have protected the Rock Springs neighborhood from last month’s devastating floods. But it concluded the project was too costly — and refused to fund it.  Source: San Jose Mercury News

Setting aside for a moment the human suffering caused by the flood, Santa Clara County says the cost of the damage is approaching $100 million, “some of which is the tab for repairing dozens of cars and more than 80 housing units with major damage in the Rock Springs neighborhood.” What heartbreak for people, many of them low-income, elderly or disabled, to be displaced from their homes. Lots of finger-pointing ensued: why weren’t they evacuated sooner? Why didn’t the city warn people living in the neighborhood of the risk? The answers seem lame: “we didn’t want to alarm them.” Instead, the waters rushed in, damaging homes, cars and meager possessions, with toxic waters overflowing the banks with contaminants gathered in the floods path.

The better story here is the outpouring of help from the residents of San Jose. Over 2,000 showed up for the first Saturday to help with major cleanup. My friend Jim Reber is hosting a fundraiser for his birthday, requesting donations towards the cleanup of Kelley Park. There’s a photo of the damage to the tea house on his fundraising page. My friend and artist Lexi Granger listed several pieces of art, discounted them, and donated 100% of the proceeds from her Etsy shop to flood victim relief.

Kieu Hoang, a billionaire businessman, donated $5 million to the fund set up by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The fund will distribute money to nonprofits providing emergency financial assistance and other support to those displaced by last month’s flooding.

This past weekend, Mike and I  volunteered for flood cleanup at nearby Kelley Park, home to a beautiful Japanese tea house and tea gardens in San Jose.  Flood waters reached that too, sending water, mud, silt and debris across the park, over the pond and into the tea house.  The work was physically exhausting and not all together comfortable, but we felt good to be doing our small part. We had to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and closed-toe shoes, along with masks and goggles, provided by the city. Along with the flood debris, the receding waters deposited poison oak and poison ivy spores throughout the park and could lead to problems if we weren’t careful. After an orientation, we walked to “area ten” with a group of volunteers. Mike shoveled silt and mud from the walkways. I picked up trash (mostly plastic!) and pulled weeds along the pathways.

I volunteered for a few hours last week doing flood relief outreach at Sacred Heart Community Services.  Sacred Heart is one of four major charities tasked with serving flood victims. I placed phone calls to folks on a list of 350 registered flood victims, providing them details for seeking financial assistance. It was slow work, but with a number of volunteers we worked our way through the list. The worst of the flood damage happened in one of the poorer neighborhoods, and sadly many of the residence have nowhere to go. Two shelters remain open at a couple of community centers. Three homes are red-tagged meaning they are a complete loss,  where as yellow and green have some access, but no necessarily power or fresh water. In short, it’s a mess.

If you live in San Jose, here are ways to get involved:

The City of San Jose:  Help in Disaster: you can register as a volunteer and let them know when you’re available to help.

Sacred Heart Community Services: They’re providing outreach to flood victims, as well as distributing personal items (toothbrushes, shampoo and other toiletries), clothing, blankets and food. They have volunteer positions in the clothes closet, food pantry, sorting, phone banking, data entry and other opportunities. They will provide an orientation first. Thereafter you can sign up for shifts on their website.

Start a drive in your community, among friends, neighbors, or co-workers for blankets, bedding, food or hygiene items.

Details of Flood Recovery and available resources.

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Women’s March in San Jose

It’s been an extraordinary weekend.

I attended the Women’s March in San Jose with several friends, my husband and members of our amazing community.

Like all the sister marches around the world, San Jose broke a record. Organizers expected about 10,000 marchers to converge on San Jose’s City Hall.  Our numbers swelled to 25,000. This translated into long lines for public transportation, and a march that took nearly two hours to complete. We joked that it was more of a meander or a crawl than a march. We had the time of our lives.

Together we walked in unity along the route from San Jose City Hall to Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose.

It was exhilarating!  Women chanted, sang, smiled and laughed.  Sometimes we wept. It was an experience I will never forget. 25,000 people coming together in peaceful solidarity.

Here is a quick snapshot of the day:

It’s hard to describe the outpouring of energy, the camaraderie and the joy. As I walked with my fellow marchers, I felt cocooned in a collective embrace.

My phone battery died early so I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked. I wish I had photos of all the people waving from buildings along the route, the signs, the children, the sea of pink hats. My friend Rosie observed that “the force was with you today with crowds, weather, significance and attitudes.”

Today I’m joining thousands of others in the campaign 10 Actions for the first 100 Days. Here’s what the website has to say:

10 ACTIONS / 100 DAYS

We did it! On January 21, over 5 Million of us worldwide and over 1 Million in Washington, D.C., came to march, speak and make our voices heard. But it doesn’t end here – now is not the time to hang up our marching shoes – it’s time to get our friends, family and community together and make history.

Every 10 days we will take action on an issue we all care about, starting today.

I’m ready! How about you?

Gathering Losses

nicole meredith the art map sweet peas

Original Watercolor by Nicole Meredith

Grief is a strange companion. You go about your days, carrying on with life’s mundane tasks, yet the undercurrent of loss is ever-present.

In late December, Katherine who blogged at Pillows A-La-Mode lost her battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Everyone liked Katherine. She blogged about sewing, refashion and paper crafts but it was her warmth and spirit that kept you coming back. I started following her  in my early blogging days and always looked forward to the conversation. In 2012, her daughter-in-law, Shannon, secretly contacted many of us and asked us to take part in a “card shower”. Fellow bloggers sent cards from around the world, unbeknownst to Katherine, and we all held our collective breath till she learned of the surprise. She posted a photo of all of the cards displayed on her mantel with these words:

I can’t thank Shannon enough for this incredibly thoughtful gesture, and I can’t thank YOU enough for being my wonderful friends and encouragers.  As this card that Shannon made for me says, “One kind word can warm three winter months.”  New Year blessings to all of you, with love from Pillows A-La-Mode. ♥

You can read the full post here. Katherine let us know she was ill and that she would be taking a break from the blogging world while she sought treatment for her cancer. My heart skipped a beat when her post appeared in my feed. It was a shock realizing that her husband David authored the post to let us know of her passing. What a brave man.

I didn’t know Katherine in person, but those of you who blog know that it doesn’t matter one wit. She was here and then she wasn’t, and I feel saddened by her loss.

That same week I learned that Nicole Meredith’s rapid decline led her to take her own life. For twenty years Nicole struggled with a complex set of health issues related to her environment. At one point she was so ill that she had to sleep outdoors in a tent, unable to tolerate electricity. Frail and exhausted, she finally found treatment at a clinic in Texas. After months of therapy, she was finally feeling better. She was able to paint once again, though she never ventured far from poetry. Nicole’s work appears in a number of poetry journals, with many gathered together in a chapbook entitled Thanksgiving for a Hungry Ghost.

Within three months of moving to a new home, the illness returned with a vengeance. Jason drove from Washington to Texas seeking treatment from the same clinic, but Nicole continued to decline.  She quietly took her own life, leaving family and friends and all that knew her devastated. She was only 40.

We shared our last correspondence in July. She wrote:

I’m so emotional reading your email that J just forwarded me. Thank you! The lovely supportive words, I have to say, hold as much currency as your amazing gift. Too much. But your heart is felt on many levels and so gratefully received, Alys!

Now what will set life straight once and for all (hoho!) is if you perchance have ANY interest in me blending you up a custom oil based perfume? No pressure, but it would be a most welcome undertaking to get to focus on a project for a fellow “flower person!” Especially now…

I can certainly take no for an answer, but if there’s a scent-shaped desire: boom, I’m here to fill at least that!

Either way, thank you again–so much–for your sincerity and kindness. Nicole

That’s who she was. When her health improved, she continued to shine light on others with her art, her poetry, the essential oils and her gift with words. She made you feel like *you* were the special one.

Following is an excerpt from one of Nicole Meredith’s poems:

Playing the Tin Whistle

You ask me again when I will recover.
Instead I describe
how I taught myself to trill
so the note hooks upward
then drunkenly swoons,
then rights itself and holds steady.
All I can promise is that it is truly a lovely, haunting effect.

Nicole Meredith (Reinart) Legacy.com

Goodby My Friends, by David Scraper at Pillows A-La-Mode

GardeningNirvana: Sweet Peas: Art, Friendship and Second Chances

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