Emerging Bulbs and Weather Woes

The weather forecasters say it’s too early to cry “drought”, but it’s shaping up to be a dry, warm winter.

San Jose’s climate is semi-arid averaging a mere 15 inches (38 cm) a year. Most of our rain falls between October and March.  As we head into mid-February, there isn’t a drop in the forecast. It’s also been unseasonably warm.

Weather Report February 2018

Source: San Jose Mercury News The black dots represent record highs and lows for that date. As you can see we’re near or over those records.

It might seem uncharitable objecting to a series of warm, clear days when it would otherwise be cold and windy, but after a year of brutal wildfires, these conditions do not bode well for the months ahead. We shall see.

Garden patio potted plants

Garden patio steps: cyclamen, azalea, succulents (in pots), New Zealand flax and anemone in the background

This morning I spotted a self-seeded tomato that has already shot up in one of the planting beds.  I wouldn’t normally plant tomatoes before April. It’s all a bit surreal.

The daffodils (narcissus) are coming up. I can’t think of a more cheerful flower, breaking ground with their strong, green stems, then unfolding their yellow perfection.

daffodil budding

Daffodil just before opening

lemon yellow daffodil

Lemon yellow daffodil

Daffodil 'Ice Follies'

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’

I love A.A. Milne’s poem When We Were Young:

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”

I play a little game with myself in November. I buy a few bags of bulbs, then plant them in random pots, beds and corners of the garden and forget about them. I’ve learned over the years what grows well (daffodils, iris, Calendula, hyacinth and freesia) and what to skip (tulips). Daffodils survive because they’re toxic to squirrels. They leave them planted deep in the ground. The freesia do an amazing job spreading each year, producing bigger and more productive plants each season.

I added to my hyacinth bulbs last year and they’re coming up in succession instead of all at once. They’re intoxicating.

Orientalis hyacinth Pink Pearl

Orientalis hyacinth Pink Pearl

Orientalis hyacinth

Orientalis hyacinth in full bloom

Orientalis Hyacinth 'Aida'

Any day now, this Orientalis Hyacinth ‘Aida’ well emerge in purple splendor

A year ago I planted Ranunculus. The name comes from the Late Latin term for “little frog”. I had mixed success. They are so pretty, that I gave it another go. The first year, the squirrels kept digging them up and tossing them on the deck. They were interesting enough to unearth, apparently, but not good enough to eat. Last fall I planted them after filling one of my Earthboxes with cyclamen and (name escapes me) a white trailing plant. That did the trick and they’re all up in beautiful, leafy plants.

Emerging Ranunculus

Emerging Ranunculus

My trusty guide when trying to remember when to capitalize the plants name (daffodils, no, Ranunculus, yes). Source: When should you capitalize plant names

Puerto Vallarta: An Exquisite Time Away

We’ve just returned from a three-day getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What an exquisite place! Mike traveled there on business earlier in the week, and I followed Friday and stayed through the long weekend. We flew home late Monday night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View from the balcony of the Westin Hotel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta sunset

Puerto Vallarta sunset the evening I arrived

After our protracted recovery from the flu, this trip was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

We walked along the beach, read, took naps, and explored the grounds of the gorgeous resort hotel.

We enjoyed fruity drinks with our tortilla chips and guacamole in the casita facing the sea. San Jose has a heavy Mexican influence, but it was still fun to enjoy a dish that originated in Mexico.

 The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words—ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce).

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

I’m always intrigued by the local wildlife, like this clever black bird, called a Great-tailed Grackle. He seemed to know that he could swoop in for a chip, after they cleared the dishes.  He knew not to approach any of the tables with guests, but as soon as the dishes landed on a clearing tray, he made his move. Once he claimed the chip, he flew into the rafters, hopping and chirping from row to row.

On Saturday night, we ate a spectacular, five-course vegetarian meal at Café Des Artistes by Thierry Blouet. Their website describes it as

” French cuisine with Mexican inspiration. More than 25 years being the gourmet tradition in Puerto Vallarta.”

The Café Des Artistes is carved into the hillside and sits above Old Town, the heart of the city.  The main floor is a bar, with the upper two stories featuring open-air dining under the trees. They seated us on the third floor surrounded by towering bamboo and ancient trees. From there we could look down on the garden terrace.

I could go on and on about this place, but instead I’ll sum it up in one, long sentence: Dining in Puerto Vallarta with the man I love, sitting under a canopy of trees wearing a sleeveless dress with live music playing while enjoying a full-course vegetarian meal, served by a charming and devoted team of wait staff who delivered a story about each wine pairing left me breathless.  What a night!

After our meal, we walked along the strand in Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to the hotel.

Three days passed quickly. We hope to return for a longer stay, to experience whale watching, snorkeling and other local activities when we have more time.

Our hotel was an easy walk to the harbor filled with boats and lovely vistas, and of course we couldn’t help but price the local real estate.  It never hurts to look, eh?

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our trip highlights.

Turtles sunning themselves in a pond next to a Japanese restaurant.

The hotel cat name Mitzy

Some of the brilliant colors of Mexico

Con afecto, Alys.

 

 

 

Our Beloved Village Mural

Our living room mural garnered lots of comments and interest when readers spotted it on my In A Vase on Monday post. I decided to write a little something about the artist and her process.

I met Donna through our mutual friend Roger. Bodywork By Roger is in a nondescript building owned by a credit union, but when you walk in the door the space is stunning. Donna designed and painted the lobby and all of the rooms. I asked Roger for her contact information, and started referring her to my organizing clients and a few friends. I loved being able to peek at some of her projects and enjoyed seeing the breadth of her work.

I’ve dreamed of a wall mural my whole life. I have magazine clippings of murals dating back to 1970, hoping one day the dream would become a reality. I came close once about twelve years ago, but I didn’t connect with the artist so the idea fizzled out.

It’s been five years since Donna painted our mural, and memory is sketchy, but at some point I approached Donna with an idea and it manifested as this:

Completed mural

Donna took inspiration from a canvas we loved, creating her own colors and glazes to bring it to life. She sketched the idea, then literally drew a simple outline on the wall using an overhead projector. It was magical watching her work. Click on any photo in the gallery below for a closer look.

She painted over the course of a week, fleshing out the mural as she added fence posts, buildings and the beautiful sky.  She even added a small cat to the stone wall at my request. See if you can spot the kitty.

cat in silhouette

Kitty in silhouette

cat in silhouette on stone wall

Kitty in silhouette on stone wall

We have an open space plan with our kitchen, dining area, entry way and living room all flowing into an L shape. This allows us to see the mural from many angles for maximum enjoyment. One of the things I love about the mural is the way the colors change with the seasons or simply with the time of day. The mural always feels alive.

Wall mural (living room) and textured wall (dining area) by Donna Pierre, Felted wool oval runner by Randi Adams of RanDisignFiberArts

It’s a tremendous privilege to have Donna’s work in my home. I’m glad so many of you asked.

Of Note: You may recognize Donna as the artist behind our revitalized Little Free Library. You can read more about that project on my post Our Little Free Library Becomes a Work of Art.

How to Trim A Christmas Tree: The Tessa Edition

The vote was unanimous: no breakable ornaments on the Christmas tree this year.

Kitten in Christmas Tree

Those eyes! That face!

Our growing kitten, Tessa could hardly believe her luck. Were we really putting up a tree in the house?

We have an artificial Christmas tree that we set up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving. With the boys home from school and Mike off work, the four-day weekend is the perfect time to trim the tree.

Kitten in Christmas tree

Mike may have needed a bandage after this encounter

kitten in christmas tree

Mike and Tessa exchange looks

Like most kittens, Tessa’s curiosity peaks at the sight of anything new. So after assembling the tree, we let her explore. She wasted no time climbing into the tree for a little adventure. As Mike sat on the floor opening the branches she jumped up, climbed down, rolled around and peered out at me with excited eyes.

two faced kitten in Christmas tree

I’ve got my eye on you

From now on, when I hear the expression “lit up like a Christmas tree” I’ll think of our tiny terror frolicking through the limbs. Who needs lights when you live with Tessa?

Well…we still wanted some lights. Once she lost interest we strung the lights and the boys carefully chose the soft, unbreakable decorations to hang low on the tree. I gave it a second pass, and moved up anything that hung too low. You have to think like a kitten. We unplug the lights when we’re away, and nearly two weeks in, all is well.

kitten in christmas tree

Tessa gymnastics

two faced kitten in christmas tree

She may never come down from the tree

If Tessa’s likeness were a tree ornament, they might look like this.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, do you also decorate a tree?

Tessa's back side in the Christmas tree

The End

Loving and Losing Sylvia

It was 1982. Freshly graduated from the theatre program at San Jose State University, I had just landed my first theatre job. Feeling both excited and terrified, I also felt entirely out of my league. That’s when I met Sylvia.

Sylvia Muzzio

With Sylvia in the San Jose Rep costume shop, November, 1982

If you follow the money, you won’t find it in the theater. San Jose Rep’s small costume shop occupied a couple of classrooms in a vacant elementary school, in an unremarkable part of town. Yet between those walls, magic happened.  Under Resident Costume Designer Marcia Frederick’s guidance, Sylvia Muzzio, Marcia and I crafted some of the most extraordinary costumes you’ve ever seen.  We were three  creative women working in very close quarters, yet we always got along.

Sylvia mentored and mothered and minded the shop and taught me about theater and life along the way. She personified warmth and care. I shared things with her that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others. Her open nature and gentle soul invited you in. It was a gift at the time, though it took age and maturity to fully grasp how special she was.

Sylvia nurtured her children, her grandchildren and those of us lucky enough to be part of her circle. She always wanted the best for people. She was modest and unassuming, but honest and direct as well. I loved her.

While I was in an unhappy relationship in those early years at The Rep, Sylvia told me that I needed to find an Italian, someone warm and affectionate (like her). When years later I met and married Mike Francini, I enjoyed recalling that memory with her. “Sylvia,” I said, “I found my Italian.”

Sylvia Muzzio

The four of us gathered for the first time in many years in 2010. Alys, Jim, Marcia and Sylvia

Marcia Frederick, Sylvia Muzzio, Alys and James Reber

Marcia Frederick, Sylvia Muzzio, Alys and James Reber, Founder of San Jose Repertory Theatre, November, 2013

Sylvia Muzzio

Sylvia and Rick share a laugh at a reception for The Snow Queen, November, 2013, San Jose Rep

Sylvia had a year of major health problems, hospitalizations and treatments, then seemed to miraculously kick every last one of her ailments to the curb. I saw her earlier this year for lunch, and though frail, she was upbeat and engaged. I started one of those “let’s get together when you get back from Shasta” emails and hoped to see her again this fall.

Sylvia Muzzio

With Sylvia and Marcia, 2015

Marcia called me on Monday to let me know that Sylvia was gravely ill. Sylvia and Marcia have remained close friends for many years. It came on suddenly in the last two weeks.

I spoke with Sylvia for the last time Wednesday morning. She was groggy from her pain medication, but she knew who I was and said it was good to hear my voice. She died this morning in her sleep.

And so I weep.

Death lies on her, like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

Romeo and Juliet (1597) IV, scene 5, line 28.

Goodbye dear friend.

Halloween Cards: Crafting from my Garden

This year I’m crafting Halloween cards from my garden. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’m having fun.

My approach to crafting Halloween cards is often catch-as-catch can. I’ll spot a few things here and there in a store, or I’ll pull together items from my stash. No two cards are alike, and I’m fine with that. For me, that’s part of the fun.

Halloween cards

Halloween cards from prior years

This year, using my Big Shot die-cutting gadget, I’ve made several chlorophyll prints from the abundant pumpkin leaves trailing across my garden. The leaves transferred beautifully, revealing wonderful detail.

pumpkin leaf chlorophyll print

Pumpkin leaf impression

With success on my side, I decided to try making prints using the bright yellow pumpkin flowers. I had to be judicious, because although the pumpkin’s leaves last for weeks, the flowers close and drop within a day or two. I made flower impressions in phases, also enjoying the process.

Pumpkin flower impression

A: Pumpkin blossom, B: Pressed pumpkin blossom, C: Partially removed, and D: pumpkin flower imprint

Though the flowers transferred well, the color didn’t last. Within a few days the brightness faded to a soft peach. I used the imprints anyway, for a subtle suggestion of color and because they work well with my Halloween theme.

Since I was on a roll, I braved the crazy heat, and gathered a few more items: the drying flowers of the Nepeta (cat mint) and some of the dropped pine needles from a neighboring tree. The dried flowers left a mottled brown impression, perfect for the pumpkin stems, also known as a peduncle.

nepeta going to seed

Nepeta going to seed

Drying Nepeta flowers and leaves on paper before pressing

Drying Nepeta flowers and leaves on paper before pressing

nepeta impressinos

Nepeta impressions for peduncles and background

The pine needles made a wonderful textured paper. I wanted to suggest the ribbing you would see on a real pumpkin. It’s subtle, but I like the way they turned out.

I rubbed yellow ink on the textured paper, then stamped two more layers of the stamp set with orange and russet ink. After stamping two different pumpkin shapes, I cut the small pumpkin images using my Big Shot. I made the stems using the Nepeta paper print.

Here’s the design:

I used a clever die to create the black card-stock base of the card. I used the pumpkin leaf imprint on one side and the flower imprint on the other. In the center I cut two small pumpkins from the pine needle paper using a clever die and stamp set that allows layering for a more realistic effect. I cut the stems, known as a peduncle, from the mottled Nepeta print for a natural look.

This particular style is labor-intensive, so I only managed to make eight cards. That said, I did a lot of experimenting along with using new tools. Next year I’ll be able to apply what I learned.  I punched squared out of all the different materials I used and mounted them on a piece of card stock. This will help me remember the different techniques for next year.

I used the remaining chlorophyll prints to make traditional fold-over cards. They were equally fun. I’ll blog about them later this week.

Are you trying something new and interesting?

Note:

To my friends out of the area, please know that we are safe. There is an active series of fires, 100 miles north of San Jose. Though we are sheltering from the heavy smoke as best we can, we are not in danger. My friends in Santa Rosa are safe. You can read more at the link below.

http://m.sfgate.com/news/article/2-big-wildfires-prompt-evacuations-in-Napa-County-12262945.php

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Not a Zucchini?

There are three volunteer pumpkin vines growing along the side of our deck. At least I thought so. Upon closer inspection, one of the plants might be a zucchini.

Zucchini or Pumpkin plant

Zucchini or Pumpkin? July, 2017

Zucchini or Pumpkin?

Zucchini or Pumpkin? August, 2017

Zucchini is an American term for courgette or summer squash. They’re harvested when the fruit is small and cooked in a variety of ways. When left unchecked, they will grow substantially. I learned from Sarah the Gardener that overgrown courgettes are known as marrows.

I’ve never been a fan of zucchini. People wonder “how can you be a vegetarian and not like zucchini!?”  I don’t mind it in soups or zucchini bread, but otherwise I’ll give it a pass. My favorite greens, in the following order, are broccoli, green beans, snow peas, bell peppers, and several others I’m forgetting and then zucchini. Technically, zucchini are a fruit, but most of us think of them as a vegetable. That said it still doesn’t make the list when I could be eating pears, green apples, kiwi, grapes, and melon. Sorry zucchini.

I digress.

Pumpkins and zucchini (or courgettes) are members of the Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita genus. The leaf and flower of both plants look quite a bit alike. Our plant, however, didn’t develop a trailing habit. It grew more like a shrub.  While making the garden rounds, I notice the unusual growing habit of the fruit. Unlike a typical pumpkin it was long and narrow. When Mike returned from a long trip to South America, he pronounced “It’s a zuke.” He grew up in an Italian family where his mom prepared lots of zucchini in her day.

Apparently I had an overgrown zucchini (marrow) on my hands. I would follow Sarah’s lead and prepare it for eating. Sarah made marrow chips with her overgrown fruit. She’ll show you how here.  Sarah says they’re delicious. I could disguise the flavor and texture through food preparation. Brilliant!

I cut the fruit from the plant and left it to harden off on the deck for a few days. I kept an eye on it outside my kitchen window.

Zucchini or Pumpkin?

Miniature Buddha for scale

You know where this is going, right? It started turning orange!

Not a zucchini?

Time will tell.

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