Moving Summer Along

Hello, hello!

It’s been awhile, eh?

I seem to have lost my blogging mojo this summer.

I’m jumping back in with a summer roundup, even though the first day of autumn in California is still weeks away. Part of me is willing it to be October, with cooler temps and that special crackle in the air. I’m emotionally done with summer, 2018.

On a national level, it feels like we’re on a reverse journey to the 1950s, and not in a good way. I wake up feeling a little off-center, wondering what fresh hell the US president has unleashed. It wears on me.

hazy skies in San Jose

Hazy skies in San Jose

To add to the summer gloom, California’s wildfire season started early, with dozens of wildfires up and down the state. The Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California is now the largest in California history.

Setting aside any of the absurdities you may have heard from a certain someone’s ill-advised Tweet, California has one of the most sophisticated fire-fighting agencies in the world. That said, here is what CAL FIRE has been up against. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Across California, the nighttime brought little relief, recording the highest minimum temperature statewide of any month since 1895, rising to 64.9.

California has been getting hotter for some time, but July was in a league of its own. The intense heat fueled fires across the state, from San Diego County to Redding, that have burned more than 1,000 homes and killed eight. It brought heat waves that overwhelmed electrical systems, leaving swaths of Los Angeles without power.

I check the nearby hills for fire activity every morning. Everyone is on edge, knowing that rainfall in this state won’t arrive till late October.

Graduating high school

On the home front, I’m mentally and emotionally preparing myself for my youngest son’s first year away at university. We’ll be dropping him off at college in Southern California in ten short days. Part of me is ready to get the initial separation over with. It’s time to pull off the mommy Band-Aid and let the tears fall where they may. The fine print of parenthood is that one day they really do leave home. Sure, sure, you know that on an intellectual level. It is still a bit of a stunner when they actually do. The part of raising them is over, but the emotional attachment lasts a life time.

Having said all that, I know that my 18-year-old son is bright, capable, kind and engaged. He is also socially astute. He’s ready to leave the nest and I know he’ll soar. I’m taking extra tissue with me anyway.

Lifted Spirits Boutique

Lifted Spirits Boutique

The bright spot this summer has been spending time volunteering at Lifted Spirits, a drop-in program for homeless women in San Jose. My organizing business slowed down at the start of the summer, freeing up time to spend with this wonderful organization. In addition to volunteering in the women’s clothing “boutique” for a couple of shifts a week,  I’ve been reorganizing the front office, the kitchen, the staff room and the boutique. My own spirits lift when I spend time there serving others. I’ve learned a lot about myself as well. I feel a tremendous camaraderie with my fellow volunteers and all who serve the homeless men and women in our community.

growing pumpkins

Pumpkin Crop, 2018

My beautiful garden hums along. The tomatoes are ripening slowly, but they’re delicious as we pluck them from the vine. The self-seeded pumpkin vines have produced five pumpkins so far. Two are small, about the size of a cantaloupe with two more suitable for carving. I had one pumpkin fully ripen, then almost immediately soften. More seeds for next year’s garden I guess.  Most of my pots are now planted with succulents. Unlike me, they tolerate hot, dry conditions. I learned a trick to better watering, too. I place ice cubes on the soil’s surface and let them melt, slowly watering the plants. This way I don’t have any runoff, since the plants dry out between watering. It’s working well.

There you have it.

What’s happening in your world this summer/winter of 2018?

Families Belong Together

KeepFamiliesTogether

Art: Sandie Sonke

#FamiliesBelongTogether

It’s such a clever hashtag, one that if you weren’t in the know might evoke thoughts of summer picnics, trips to the beach or as a way to tag your 4th of July, Independence Day photos.

Instead, Families Belong Together is a response to the current administration’s desire to stop immigrants from crossing our southern border. Instead of compelling Congress to act on a comprehensive immigration bill, the administration has implemented what’s known as a “zero-tolerance policy” of arresting anyone crossing the border without papers. Many of these border crossings are families seeking refuge from violence and political unrest. Some have traveled for up to a month with young children, looking for a better life.

This Administration’s response: Arrest the parents, then immediately separate *families* from their children.

Let that settle in.

Las Familias Merecen Estar Unidas

Spanish version of Families Belong Together

Authorities place parents in detention centers, immediately separating them from their infants and small children. Traumatized children are placed in a separate detention center, sometimes in another *state* with no understanding of why. Images of children sleeping on the floor covered in mylar blankets have evoked outrage. Footage of crying children, desperate for their mother have all but the hardest-hearts weeping along with them. Comparisons to Japanese interment camps and Nazi Germany abound.

I attended a Families Belong Together rally this past weekend and have found solace in numbers. There were over a thousand people at the San Jose rally on Saturday, a hot, windless, mid-day gathering. Throughout the country thousands of people rallied in over 700 locations. Rallies bring people together, spread the word, and offer resources for ways to help.

I’ve also been finding temporary respite from a steady hum of depression by volunteering at Lifted Spirits, a program for homeless women in San Jose. When I’m busy and engaged helping others, it helps me feel less overwhelmed. Spending time at Lifted Spirits allows me to positively impact someone else’s life without being swallowed whole by a situation I feel powerless to change. I’ll share more about their mission in a future post.

#FamiliesBelongTogether

FamiliesBelongTogether.org

If you’re also feeling overwhelmed, here are a few resources…

Colorlines published: How You Can Support Detainees with a number of helpful resources.

…and a few inspiring words from MoveOn.org:

“More than 180 partner organizations came together to pull this off, including MoveOn, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, faith groups such as Sojourners and the Presbyterian Church, Avaaz, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a range of labor unions, the YWCA, scores more tremendous allies and partners, and countless local groups in cities large and small, united across lines of ethnicity, race, national origin, and language.

When you feel alone, when it’s all too much, remember that what is possible when we come together. That there is power in our numbers.

In the decades to come, people will ask themselves and each other what they did to fight the darkness at this moment in history.

On Saturday, many of us summoned a piece of an answer. We were in the streets. And we won’t stop until we turn the darkness back.”

Here are a few pics from our San Jose Families Belong Together rally.

Gun Violence in America: If we don’t give up, and don’t give in, we may just be okay

When they were young

Today I cried. The tears have eluded me all week, pressing on my chest, lingering in my throat, and craving expression and release.

I was boarding a plane for Portland when I saw the early reports of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week. In my holiday cocoon I avoided the news, and for a time kept the real world at bay.

Back home the cold, brutal and devastating reality of yet another mass shooting settled in my core. I have nothing new or original to say and no words of wisdom to solve the ridiculous and intractable stale mate of guns in America.

My queen-for-a-day, pie-in-the-sky solution would be to gather every last gun on the planet and melt them to a pulp. We all know that will never happen. Members of our powerful gun lobby make a mint manufacturing instruments of death while hiding behind the second amendment right to bear arms.

With both of my boys away from home this week, I felt their absence keenly. When they were small I worried about them falling out of a tree or dashing in front of a car. My common sense parenting kept those little boys safe. Now they’re young men living in a world where school shootings have become a reality.

My friend Claire’s daughter, Chelsea, survived a school shooting in her small town of Bailey Colorado. I’ll never forgot the phone call, or the many conversations that followed over the years. A lone gunman killed Chelsea’s friend Emily Keyes at Platte Canyon High School in 2006. When Claire came to town, I would ask how they were coping. It was hard to image that kind of trauma.

This week The Denver Post published Chelsea’s guest commentary entitled: Welcome to the gun violence club – you’re not alone.

I’m moved by her words, proud to know her and at the same time deeply saddened by the burden she’ll carry throughout her life. Note: If you click on Chelsea’s editorial (and I hope you will) please refrain from reading the appalling comments that follow.

Chelsea Warren, along with Stoneman Douglas High School student and survivor Emma González, give me reason to hope. These young people are the way forward.

From the Mike and the Mechanics song: “if you don’t give up, and don’t give in, you may just be okay.

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be okay
So say it loud, say it clear (oh say it clear)
You can listen as well as you hear
Because it’s too late, it’s too late (it’s too late) when we die (oh when we die)
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
Mike and the Mechanics, 1990

In a Vase on Monday: A Tiny Treasure from my Travels

This week, it’s all about the vase. I don’t generally buy travel souvenirs but how could I resist this charming little vessel?

Puerto Vallarta cat vase

This vase from Puerto Vallarta is pretty on all sides (That’s Tessa our cat walking away in the background)

I spotted the vase on our final day in Puerto Vallarta. It’s small, perhaps the size of a tall shot glass. Once wrapped in protective paper and I stashed it in my purse for the trip home.

Scale is everything with a vase this small. I scouted my limited winter choices and decided on three white camellia camellia japonica and a few sprigs of my beloved fern.

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica bud

Camellia Japonica bud

The petals were already dropping, so I don’t think the arrangement will last the week, unless this pretty bud opens up. I love that faded pink on the tips.

Vase on window sill

Kitty vase on my home office window sill

cat vase with camellia and fern

An outdoor shot where the light is always best

cat with cat vase

Tessa the curious

As it turns out, several bloggers join the In a Vase on Monday featureIt was nice connecting some of you last week.

Thank you Cathy at Words and Herbs and Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for your ongoing inspiration.

In a Vase on Monday: Cutting Flowers in the Rain

It’s raining.

Or as I like to say, It’s *RAINING*! 

San Jose had the second driest December on record, dating back 124 years. 

I love the rain under any conditions, but today’s January storm feels downright celebratory after such a dry start to our winter. What better day to go out in the garden to clip some blooms while soaking up the negative ions that make us feel good.

I’m joining Cathy and Cathy today for a regular feature they call In a Vase on Monday. Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden and Cathy at Words and Herbs faithfully post a vase of flowers from their garden year round. It’s not always easy, especially when you garden in Bavaria, but these two are an impressive pair.

My vase features something old and something new, pretty fringe and a cat, too.

A year ago I received a bottle of blush wine in this charming, cat-shaped bottle. It sat untouched for a year as I’m not really a fan of pink wine.

Wine bottle turned vase

Wine lovers, please look away now.

I poured the pink wine down the sink, rinsed the bottle, and voila, a pretty glass vase.

Okay, you can look now.

The something old comes from my cherished green asparagus fern. In 1988 I bought a pair of ferns for 79 cents and kept them on my nightstand in my one-bedroom apartment for two years. I moved and the plants moved with me. By the time we bought this house 21 years ago, my sprawling fern could no longer be contained. It’s now growing happily along the back fence.

If that plant could talk, eh?

Cuttings from my asparagus fern

Something new is the fresh-fallen rain drops. Isn’t it amazing how everything looks lush after a decent rain?

Cat vase in the rain

The pretty pink fringe you see comes from a few branches of my Loropetalum chinense or Chinese fringe plant.

Pink and green leaves and small fringe-like blooms

It’s a nice complement to last year’s hydrangea blooms, currently faded to shades of cranberry and pink.

Last season’s hydrangea, faded to cranberry and pink

The cat speaks for itself. =^, , ^=

The cat vase on our dining table (the runner is hand-felted by my friend Randi)

I hope you have a terrific week. If you need me, I’ll be outside enjoying the rain.

Merry Christmas, Choo-choo!

Merry Christmas!

Choooooo…chooooo!

model train in Campbell

Model train in Campbell, CA

There is something nostalgic about miniature trains.  They harken back to a time when hobbyists tinkered with cars and rails, built sets and then sent scale versions of magnificent trains, happily around a track.

For at least a decade now, a local train enthusiast in nearby Campbell runs a set of model trains around the track…in his front yard. I haven’t had the courage to knock on his front door, but I would love to hear how he got started. I wonder if the family peaks out the window from time to time to see the joy they bring to others.

The Livingston home converts the front yard into a model train village. A massive platform fills the entire front yard, and stands about knee-high. There is a shorter platform circling the yard as well.  Three different trains run around the tracks, passing small villages, figurines and miniature versions of Christmas trees.

model train campbell Model train set

Some of the scenery has the vintage flavor of a train station in the 1940’s. Leaves drop from the massive tree above, lending a naturalized air.  Surprises include tiny figurines from the Pixar Car’s  movies, Star Wars and Mickey Mouse.

miniature train station

Mickey Mouse and Daisy wait at the train station

This year, there was an even bigger surprise: a delightful cat.

Campbell model train platform

The train platform occupies the entire front yard. (Can you see the cat)

I didn’t see the kitty at first. What an unexpected surprise.  Just before taking the last of my pictures I caught a glimpse of his fur.

kitty by the model train track

Look at this handsome face

Kitty stretched and yawned, then marched across the train tracks for a closer view of me. Far from being skittish, he was happy for a bit of TLC.

kitty near the water tower

Kitty near the water tower

cat yawning

Big yawn

He rubbed up against my hand, then jumped down for a pet.

When it was time to go, I carried him back to his spot. I didn’t want him to follow me into the street, and although he looks a bit cranky, he was entirely unmoved by the experience.

alys with cat

Returning kitty to his spot

I couldn’t help but drive by a week later to see if I could spot him once again. Sure enough he was sound asleep in the same spot. I think I smiled the rest of the way home.

The miniature train runs during the month of December on McBain Drive in Campbell, CA.

Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with your version of miniature trains, nostalgic treats and whatever makes you smile.

Flu and Fires, Big and Small

Some weeks are better than others.

This wasn’t one of them.

Friday night, as my son left his desk, he reached down to unplug a small space heater. We were together in our home office. When he reached for the cord it was scorching-hot, so he quickly pulled his hand away. Within seconds, sparks started shooting from the electrical outlet.

space heater cord

Two-prong plug and melted cord

If you been through something like this, you know that time distorts. It slows down to a crawl, at least in your mind, as you try to absorb the information at hand.

I kept asking my son if he was okay and I could hear him say yes. I asked again and then I asked again, never taking my eyes off the sparks inexplicably shooting out of the wall. What-do-I-do, what-do-I-do, what-do-I-do?

We have a disabled fire extinguisher in the garage.

Useless.

My older son called into the room: “It’s an electrical fire, don’t use water.” Mike headed outside to the fuse box to cut the power.

scorched drapes

Scorched drapes

Sparks shuttered like oil in a hot pan, popping in place on the bamboo floor. Then the drapes caught fire…or didn’t. They’re synthetic, so they started to melt.

Think.

I backed out of the room, grabbed a chair cushion, and returned. Flushed with fear, I smashed away at the sparks. Suffocate the flames. That’s what I’m supposed to do.  Cushion in hand, I whacked at the sparks on the floor. I hit the outlet, apparently breaking the melting cord at about the same time Mike killed the power. I stood there in the dark, waiting for the fire to come back, but just as quickly it was over.

We all handle these things differently. My son joked that it was his “first fire” and I countered, “let’s call it your last.” Mike assured everyone that all was fine. We managed to make light of what could have been so much worse and even sat down to an evening meal.

About thirty minutes later we regrouped, opened the windows to some cool night air, and Mike helped me take down the scorched drapes to help with the smell. I would deal with the layer of soot in the morning.

Saturday morning dawned. Instead of feeling rested, Mike and I woke up with a bad cold.

Actually, it turned out to be the flu. I called in our regrets to a friend’s Christmas party, an evening we hated to miss. My sister and I were attending a card making class on Sunday to celebrate our October/November birthdays. I had to cancel that too.  We slept for hours, fitfully, painfully, all the while hoping our boys remained well.

Tuesday rolled around and I had to cancel my volunteer shift at a food bank. I felt about two feet tall making that call, but there are other days, other shifts, and you realize life carries on just fine without you.

In the words of someone brilliant: This too shall pass.

Having that tiniest of fires in my home taught me how quickly and unpredictably a fire can start and spread. We’re lucky. My son is fine. There is no significant damage to our home and the rest of my family is safe. We lost a few immaterial possessions and as soon as I’m well, I’ll be updating that fire extinguisher.

I’ll never own or use a space heater again.

California Wildfire Update, December 20, 2018

The big fires are out of my control. I’m trying to heed other’s advice by doing what I can without falling into that deep, dark hole of despair.  It’s been a devastating year for our beautiful state.

[The Thomas] wildfire in Southern California that sparked devastating blazes across the region remains, as of Wednesday morning, the second-largest fire in California history, with only 55 percent of it successfully contained. The Thomas Fire is not expected to be fully contained until January 2018 and is on track to become the largest fire in California history.

The Thomas Fire scorched as of Tuesday night—about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers), or 19 times the size of Manhattan.