Loving Cats, Real and Imagined

I’ve always loved cats. I like their grace and intelligence, their independence and there warm and affectionate ways. I love all animals, but I grew up with cats and they’ve remained a constant in my life. When you have a soft, mushy heart, one cat often turns into two…or three or a number you’re embarrassed to say out loud. No one wants to be labeled the “crazy cat lady.”

So perhaps it’s not a surprise that this beautiful bit of green moss growing in the garden looks just like a cat.

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Look closely at the garden wall

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Mossy cat bending over for a drink

I adore the bright green spongy texture of moss. It reminds me of romantic period movies, pixies and garden fairies. I’ve never seen a mossy cat though, so I’m feeling quite special. The green goddess of gardens has graced my garden wall.

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Wordy Wednesday?

word-cloud-wordy-wednesdayAre you familiar with #Wordless Wednesday?

Bloggers, Twitter users and Instagram aficionados publish a single, captioned photo mid-week. Wordless…as in no words. Hmm.

Either I lack the confidence to post a photo that I think should stand alone, or I simply have too much to say.  I would like to propose a new hashtag called #Wordy-Wednesday.  Of course “wordy” sounds like something my 7th grade English teacher might abhor.

“The rain, in Spain, stays mainly in the plane” would never fly when

“It’s raining in the Spanish planes” is more concise. (Apologies to My Fair Lady)

It could be #Words-Wednesday but that would probably just get shortened to #words. I wonder how many hits the hashtag #words might get in a day?

Okay, I’m back. According to Google, about 2,120,000,000 results (0.90 seconds)

With that, I think I’ve come full circle. If you’ve read this far, you’ll know that I’m just over the 150 word count, and you’re probably thinking “Alys…get to the point!”

The point is, I like to write, and I like to read what you write and I like to read the comments that you write when I write. Here is my #Wordy-Wednesday.

The atmospheric river is back, delivering more heavy rain in back-to-back storms. I headed over the hill (for the appointment I cancelled last month due to the storms) only to be thwarted yet again. The rain cleared for a few hours mid-day and traffic reports said I could get there in about an hour. Crews were clearing a mudslide, with one open lane. Then as I approached the area of the highway without any easy exits, traffic slowed to a crawl and then stopped.

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Stopped in traffic on Highway 17

A second major mudslide lay ahead and there was nowhere to go. Close to an hour later, crews created a turnaround and both lanes of traffic slowly made u-turns going back in the direction we came. Nearly two and a half hours later I found myself back home thinking that perhaps I’ll cancel all of my over the hill appointments until late March. What a slog.

The amazing news is that no one got hurt. The massive slide dumped mud, rocks and trees along two lanes of the highway, lifting a man in his truck up and then over the side rails, dropping the truck upside down. The man walked away from the accident unharmed!

Dozens of people worked over night to try to clear and shore up the area. They expect more slides today. Here is some amazing footage of a mudslide in action, taken from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser.

https://www.facebook.com/CHP-Santa-Cruz-940796342622481/

If you click on the Facebook link, then scroll down to February 7th, you can see the video.

Again, no injuries.

Throughout the Bay Area, massive trees are down, homes flooded and at least one home split in two and slid part way down the hill. I’m grateful for the people who keep showing up for work with chainsaws, heavy equipment, and a can-do attitude.

When it rains, it pours. #Word

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Results May Vary

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A pair of voracious snails

The expression “results may vary” always make me laugh. Since the early days of advertising, we’ve been sold a bill of goods.

  • One size fits all (ahem)
  • Guaranteed results (or your money back)
  • New and improved

and so on.

Do you ever find yourself applying these terms to everyday life?

Mine would go something like this: I’m going to head out into the world today, knowing full well that results may vary. I’m going to shrug into my one size fits all sweater, which is actually a size large…just in case. Life does not come with guarantees, but if it did, I might be able to get compensation for that big bruise on my shin.  (My life’s mantra: slow down, Alys, slow down!) And finally, far from being new and improved I would like to offer up a more accurate slogan: Old and improving.  I like the idea of being a better person with the rise of each day, but there is nothing new about the four step maneuver it takes to get out of bed.

These same advertising slogans have been rattling around in my head when I’m in the garden. One example:  I planted an old packet of broccoli seeds figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained. A small cluster of seedlings sprouted giving me hope. I thinned them to a respectable number and waited for the plants to take off. They’re not dead, but they’re not growing either. The seedlings remain in a suspended animation weeks after planting. Results may vary.

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Broccoli Seedlings: Grow baby, grow!

Last summer I planted our fountain with succulents. It’s a long story for another day, but suffice it to say that is one expensive planter. I’m not well versed on the variety of succulents available, and the nurseries provide scant clues. The pot might say “two-inch succulent” or “four-inch succulent” which tells me nothing about growth habits.  As you can see from the photo below, it’s not a one size fits all proposition. The plan was to have the center plant gradually grow up, while its companions to the left and right gracefully trailed over the edges.

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Copper planter with succulents, September, 2016

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Copper fountain planted with succulents, November, 2016

Nature is as nature does.

As for “guaranteed results or your money back”, I’m pretty sure there is a disclaimer for acts of god or nature. There are no guarantees when it comes to gardening. You can plant a seed, water it, and hope that it grows. Have you seen those seed packets? Those plants are amazing! I’ll buy a hundred, and grow produce for the entire neighborhood. I’ll have vases of gorgeous, fresh flowers scattered throughout the house. It’s guaranteed!

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Tulip Bulbs: So much promise, so little return

Darwin knew what he was talking about. It’s all about survival of the fittest. I plant seeds, and they refuse to grow. I plant bulbs, and the squirrels dig them up and either eat them or toss them on the deck. Seedlings pop through the soil but then snails eat them in the dead of night. Plants that overcome these obstacles, must contend with birds, squirrels, rats, drought, stink bugs, fungus, scale and sometimes this careless gardener who forgets to water a dried out pot. Guaranteed!

Finally, new and improved might mean pesticide-laden seeds. I like to garden old school: heirloom plants and seeds in a pesticide-free garden. As I mentioned earlier, old and improving.

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Beautiful Illustrations of hope and promise…guaranteed!

And that, my friends, brings me back full circle. Results may vary. Sometimes that’s a wonderful thing. My entire front garden self-seeded once again, with Nigella, California Poppies, Cornflowers and Sweet Peas. They seem impervious to the recent frost. They’re lush and green, planted by nature, watered by recent storms and back by popular demand. Now that’s a slogan to celebrate.

Advertising: the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it. Stephen Leacock

If you were running an ad campaign for your daily life, what would you say?

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Have Yourself a Fairy Little Christmas

New Christmas Traditions

I’ve started a new Christmas tradition. It’s called patience.

I’ve learned to wait patiently in line at the post office. I peel of all my layers before going inside so that I don’t pass out from the heat. I know all the post office regulars, and look forward to a brief yet satisfying chat when it’s my turn at the window. I use the time in line to people watch. Sometimes I make productive use of the wait by addressing a card or filling out custom forms.

Patience is a gift you give others, but it’s also a gift to yourself. I feel better about myself when I’m patient.

I’m patient with my husband’s annual fretting over the lights. He once spent four hours on the floor of the garage trouble shooting strands of Christmas tree lights. Our boys were young at the time, and I grew frustrated with what seemed like such a waste of family time. I’ve mellowed. And I’ve come to understand that it’s his thing. He hangs lights on the tree, strings lights on the house, and replaces all the lights in my son’s Christmas inflatables. He makes multiple trips to the hardware store to find replacements.  Small packages arrive in the mail containing  fuses and bulbs. Mike is a fixer and that’s what makes him happy, so with patience comes an understanding. Everybody wins.

I’m patient with Lindy’s demands for more and more (and more) attention, but I’m patient with myself, too. When I know I need to buckle down and get some work done, I relocate her to a sunny spot in the house and close the door.  Prior to that she gets pets, cuddles, treats and a roll in the catnip, but after repeated demands for ear-scratching, I finally remove her from the room so I can get things done.

I have two remarkable teenage boys requiring no patience. I guess all that earlier guidance and patience eventually paid off. They’re both delightful young men. Perhaps this tradition of patience isn’t so new at all. That said, it takes patience to cultivate any good habit, so I’m learning to be patiently patient with myself.

Go figure?

I’m sticking with a few favorite traditions this year, too.

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I’m adorning my dress-maker selfie with Christmas cards once again. I love putting her to use sporting all the beautiful cards we receive by mail. It’s a dwindling tradition, but we continue to send our own cards each year and love the ones we receive.

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The boys decorating the tree a decade ago. Gifted ornaments over the years reflecting my love of gardening and hot tea.

We pull out our artificial tree the day after Thanksgiving and decorate it with the ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Every  ornament has a story and that’s what makes it fun. We hang hand-made school ornaments from the boys early days along with ornaments we’ve received as gifts. We like to pick up an ornament when we travel, each one a fun reminder of a different holiday. Thomas the Tank Engine sits among the branches along with a hand-painted Christmas ball from Cannes France. It will come as no surprise that fellow bloggers Julia, Kelly and Marlene also contribute to the history and diversity of our tree. In the few days leading up to Christmas, I enjoy sitting in the dark, tree illuminated, grateful for the love in my life.

Our acrylic globe, a gift from my friend Marcia, becomes a “snow globe”  this time of year. Each year is a little different from the last. Here’s the latest: I made a path using Petra paper left over from a holiday plant and some artificial snow. I added a few tiny trees  from prior years and a twenty year old wooden snow man. I can squint my eyes and pretend that it’s snowing in San Jose.

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Snow + Globe

Tomorrow I’ll start one more tradition. I’m volunteering for a toy distribution shift at Sacred Heart Community Services. Sacred Heart will distribute over 18,000 toys and books to 6,200 children in need in our community. This is a big step for me, as I used to get mired in depression when working so closely with the disadvantaged in my community. I retreated to a “safer” form of volunteering, either hosting drives, or serving on committees or board of directors. Since the election, I’ve been motivated to get up close again. The goal is to remain open, while at the same time protecting my tender heart. Wish me luck.

‘Tis the season…of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Solstice; a time to share of ourselves.

What are your special traditions this time of year?

The Giving Pumpkin

On a cool winter day, long before its scheduled appearance, a tiny pumpkin seed broke ground. How quaint, I thought, but how could it last? It was still cold at night.

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Pumpkin Sprout * March 4th, 2016

According to my seed packet, pumpkin seeds should go in the ground in May after “danger of frost has passed.” It was early March after all.

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The start of something special

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Pumpkin Vines (foreground). My crop grown from seeds in the Earth Box. RIP my failed little crop. * May, 2016

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Pumpkin Vines and a Strolling Mouse the Cat * May 26th, 2016

As weeds appear, they are unceremoniously tugged from the earth, but I let other tiny seedlings grow. When it comes to my garden I’m part dictator (off with their weedy heads) and part socialist (everyone deserves a fair chance).  I didn’t pamper the pumpkin, but I didn’t discourage it either. Before long, we were checking on the plant every day.  In the heat of summer, pumpkin vines grow like weeds. Curly tendrils grab hold of nearby plants and meander across the garden. The Giving Pumpkin took off before spring!

If you’re new to planting pumpkins, it goes like this: the seed sprouts and a small plant appears. Several leaves form and the vine trails. Male flowers start to grow on the vine, opening by day, closing at night, and dropping from the vine within a day or two.

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Male Pumpkin Flower * May 7th, 2016

Then the female flowers appear and the bees are on the job. The bees travel between blooms, cross-pollinating as they gather nectar for the hive.

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Female Pumpkin Flower

Presto! Tiny green pumpkins begin to form on the vine. It’s not a done deal by any means. Those tiny pumpkins might last a day or two before shriveling and dropping to the ground. Sooner or later though, a glorious pumpkin takes hold and off it grows. If you’re lucky, the fabulously forming fruit goes undetected by rats, squirrels and the dreaded squash bugs.

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Turning Orange in the Sun * June, 2016

The size of the mature leaves closely determines the size of the pumpkin.

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Pumpkin leaf correlates to the size of the fruit

Here’s what’s new this year with this fabulous giving pumpkin. As the fruit forms, the energy diverts from the plant to the fruit.  In the past, once that happened there was no turning back. In rapid succession, the leaves turned ashy, literally crumbling to dust in your hands.

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Pumpkin leaves turn to ash

I removed the dead leaves, harvested all three pumpkins, and figured that was that. My son asked it we could leave the vine a little longer, as we spotted a tiny budding pumpkin. So we did. To my delight, several new leaves formed at the joints and the vine took on a second life: more leaves, more flowers, more fruit. I’ve never “grown” such a prolific pumpkin.

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Pumpkin Vine at Dusk * June 10th, 2016

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New growth on the self seeded pumpkin

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Tall twins and a cousin * August 9th, 2016

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A Second Pair of Pumpkins * August 9th, 2016

The average life of a pumpkin plant is 90 to 125 days from seed to maturity. When I harvested the last pumpkin we were well into October.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

What a fabulous crop! I may start following Pauline’s advice. I’ll just toss a bunch of seeds over my shoulder and let nature do the rest. This season was great fun.

*With a tip of my hat to Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree.

Note: On October 31st, my husband carves the pumpkins and we display them on the deck. We average 300 costumed children at our door each year. It’s a festive night. Here are some of his carvings from prior years.

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A Fairy Garden for Elizabeth

I’ve said it before: creating a fairy garden is a shortcut to our inner child. That’s why I jumped at the chance to make one for Elizabeth.

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This way to the fairy garden

Elizabeth Cassidy is my Pilates instructor. I’ve been taking classes at her studio for nearly a decade. We’re a close-knit group of women, who regularly offer bounty from our gardens, clothes or shoes in search of a new home, references and referrals and the like.

At the end of class one day, she asked if any of us wanted this empty concrete planter.

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Elizabeth’s grey planter

Since no one else wanted it, I offered to make it into a fairy garden for her studio. Oh my gosh I had fun!

I wanted to bring a bit of warmth to the grey pot, so I added a single coat of rust-colored spray paint along the top, bottom and sides.

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I used a single coat of rust-colored spray pain to add warmth

I added recycled packing pellets to the bottom of the pot to reduce its weight and to provide drainage. Then I filled it to the top with plants and soil.

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Recycled foam pellets lighten the load

I bought assorted succulents at Yamagami’s Nursery one of my favorite garden centers. They’ve been in business since 1948.

Elizabeth has a pink corner in her studio, so the “fire-stick” succulents were the perfect addition. I found the sweetest little ceramic house and copper fence,  also at Yamagami’s to round out the garden.

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Sticks on fire ‘euphorbia’ succulent

I made a fairy cot or lounging bed using a small wooden block from a rubber stamp collection. I added a curved twig for a headboard, covered the bed with moss, and added a wine cork for a pillow. A bit of moss from my garden stash made a nice accent cushion. For an added bit of serendipity, the chocolate wine cork is from a gift Elizabeth gave me a few years ago. It was in my fairy garden stash, waiting for its debut.

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Assembling the fairy cot

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A resting cot for the fairies

Once the plants were in the “ground” I laid a cinnamon stick path to the door, then added gravel and other bits of moss here and there.

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Succulents and a cinnamon stick pathway

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The long view

Wildfire Updates:

There is good news on the wildfire front!

The Loma Fire I mentioned in An Ominous Autumn Beginning should be fully contained by today. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the 2-week-old wildfire remains 95 percent contained after burning 4,474 acres, destroying 12 homes and 16 outbuildings, and damaging but not destroying one other home. The blaze, which began Sept. 26, is the area’s third largest in the past 15 years, and the latest damage estimate is $15 million.

The Soberanes Fire, mentioned in my post August Doldrums, is 99 percent contained, with full containment expected by Saturday, October 15. The fire started July 22nd from an illegal, unattended campfire. It’s burned 132,127 acres, and destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. A total of 682 personnel and nine engines remain fighting the fire.  The cost of fighting the fire is currently $236 million, making it the most expensive fire in California history.

Needless to say, I’m glad our rainy season is on the way.

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