A Hollow Halloween

I love Halloween!

I look forward to decorating with pumpkins, making costumes, attending parties, and finally passing out candy to the costumed children that flock to our door.

Halloween 2020 was none of that. It felt like the hollow of a carved pumpkin on November 3rd: sad and empty.

Mouse agrees

I found small ways to enjoy the season but left the traditions at the proverbial door.

I made Halloween-themed card making kits for neighborhood kids. Over the years, I’ve amassed an assortment of Halloween paper and stickers. I pulled it all out and spent hours making die-cuts and stickers using my Silhouette. I bought a package of craft paper cards and envelopes from a local craft store, and over a period of weeks, assembled card kits to share alongside our Little Free Library.

The card kits were a hit. I put out ten at a time for a total of 40 kits and enjoyed seeing them disappear in ones and twos each day. 

I used narrow scraps of the same paper to make simple bookmarks and placed them in a tin marked “Boo-marks.”

Earlier in the month, I made Halloween cards for friends using a Jennifer McGuire Ink video technique. She used a Gel Press, a brayer, and Tim Holtz Oxide Ink to create interesting patterns. Like Jennifer McGuire, I made several backgrounds, let them dry, then used them on my cards.

Here are a few:

I made a second batch of cards last week, but I never got around to taking photos. It was more important to get them into the mail. Our post office produced Halloween stamps this year. It made me happy to do my small part buying stamps and mailing cards.

This may sound strange to those of you knee-deep in creativity, but I’ve struggled to focus on writing, crafting, and other creative endeavors. I’ve written a dozen blog posts in my head but lacked the focus to sit down and make them a reality.  I’m trying to recommit to creative endeavors. Making cards and card kits has been a good start.  It’s good for the soul.

I continue to volunteer several hours a week with Lifted Spirits. We’ve been providing our services outdoors over the summer from behind the safety of a clear shower curtain. With colder weather approaching, I reorganized the program to serve the women from behind the building in a garden setting, with volunteers standing behind glass screens.

I pulled together a rack full of clothing pieces that could be used as costumes. It was a hit with our women. Living on the street robs you of so many things. Making someone smile for a few moments and letting them choose a few pieces to put something together made it fun.  I packaged candy and pretzels and passed them out the day before Halloween.

Our team of volunteers wore a simple costume that day. I pulled together a few pieces from my stash and called myself the gardening goddess. I wore my favorite broccoli earrings, a gift from a friend many years ago,  and a garland of pink satin flowers, paired with a long, green dress.

We changed our clocks today back to standard time. This Tuesday is the last day to vote. My favorite meme this week is, “Don’t forget to change your clocks on Sunday and your president on Tuesday.” I have a knot in my stomach and a horrible sense of dread, but I remain hopeful that meaningful change is finally afoot.

Poster supplied by ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)

Here we go…

A Weary California Burns

We are all weary and exhausted, but we are doing okay.

California’s wildfires are making international news, so I wanted to let you know that we’re safe. Sadly, dozens of friends have been forced to evacuate their homes. Others are packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. We’re all on edge waiting for the second wave of dry lightning storms later today.

Smoke and ash from the fires are creating unhealthy conditions throughout Santa Clara Valley.

If you look at the map below, you’ll see that San Jose is sandwiched between thousands of acres of wildfires burning on both sides of the Valley.

According to the Los Angeles Times, The recent weather events are the result of three distinct meteorological phenomena combining in a way rarely seen in California:

1) The heatwave broiling the West — longer and harsher than is typical for August — was the first to arrive. It is a high-pressure system rotating clockwise over California, Nevada, and Arizona that steered hot, dry desert air over the Golden State, breaking heat records across the Central Valley.

2) Then Tropical Storm Elida off the coast of Mexico began feeding the heatwave moisture, which created instability in the atmosphere. This moisture is why so many of the wildfires burning in California recently have created towering pyrocumulus clouds, said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.

3) A thunderstorm some 1,100 miles south of the Bay Area in Sonora, Mexico, sent an invisible rippling wave of uplifting pressure north through the atmosphere, where it mixed with the heat and moisture to produce hundreds of lightning strikes across hundreds of miles of the Bay Area on Saturday and Sunday. That created dozens of fires, while farther inland a tornado formed.

This is what the beautiful skies looked like over my neighborhood the morning after the storm.

Three days later, the skies were an eerie brown, casting a yellow tinge in the garden below.

In January, I thought that recovery from brutal foot surgery would be the hardest part of my year. I took my first painful steps in March, and within a week, Santa Clara County was the first in this country to issue a three-week order to shelter in place. We were afraid to leave the house. A once-mundane trip to the grocery store had us firmly in fear’s grip. Would a trip down the aisle for milk mean exposing ourselves to COVID-19? To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, “April was the longest ten years of my life.”

Things gradually eased, but many of us feared we were opening up too early.

In late May, a long-simmering fury over police brutality, and racial injustice, spurred by the killing of George Flloyd, lead to widespread protests and continued civil unrest.

Civil unrest: Black Lives Matter protest police brutality in San Jose

We hope to vote the current “criminal-in-chief” out of office come November, but even that is fraught with tension and fear.

Today, California burns. Ash falls in my garden, as heavy smoke permeates the air. We’re trying to stay indoors as air quality spikes to unhealthy levels.

We are all weary and exhausted, wishing this nightmare would end.

I am grateful for our relatively good health and for the safety of our home. At the same time, I’m carrying the weight of the world.

I hope you are safe and warm and loved.

Scrap Happy in Miniature

What’s a ScrapHappy post?

It’s an opportunity, or an excuse, to make something entirely out of scraps. Our host Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, encourages the use of scraps to make something useful or beautiful or both.

If you would like to join us, please see the details at the end of this post.

Several years ago, I bought a beautiful felted wool birdhouse, hung it in a tree, and patiently waited for a nesting bird to make it home. How could they resist something so appealing?

The wooly nest has a small opening, soft, felted wool for warmth, and it’s even perchless to avoid predators.

I hung the cozy nest in different trees and at different heights. Year after year, nothing, and eventually, I gave up. I forgot about it, mostly. Earlier this year, I removed it from the tree, inspected it for insects, and brought it inside.

The wool was dirty and crusty from years outdoors. Even the paper wasps were indifferent. I rinsed the nest in warm water and watched years of dirt and grime fall away. My wooly nest came clean almost immediately.

In honor of ScrapHappy June, I turned the wooly nest into a fairy house.

woolen bird house

Felted wool birdhouse converted into a home for visiting fairies.

Once washed and dried, I removed the bottom stitching and inserted a glass sauce jar.

Glass jar viewed through nesting hole.

Now it can stand up on its own.

Jar inserted inside the birdhouse.

I tucked the wool leaves into the opening and added a piece of broken jewelry to make a window that a woodland faerie might enjoy.

glass jewel faerie garden window

An old piece of glass jewelry makes a superb window

The faerie house sits nestled under our Little Free Library.

Woolen faerie house sitting at the base of the faux tree.

My second scrappy project this month involved revitalizing a miniature version of a Little Free Library. The little, LFL is made from a cardboard box, with matchbook covers and toothpicks inside to form books. Twice, the heavy winds sent the miniature library tumbling through the yard. I knew sturdier measures were in order.

I employed a pair of joined wooden chopsticks that could be plunged deep into the soil, but they looked too new and shiny. I rubbed the sticks with the contents of my morning Roobios, and that did the trick.

chopstick legs

I used chopsticks to make legs for the miniature LFL.

chopsticks stained with tea

My morning tea leaves made a lovely stain.

The wee Little Free Library is in the shadow of the larger one, staked firmly into the ground. If your line of vision is in sync with your imagination, you can spot it from the sidewalk.

Refurbished miniature LFL.

Faerie’s can grab a book from the miniature LFL nearby.

As seen from the walkway.

I love repurposing items into something fun and whimsical. Creating from scraps is both challenging and rewarding, not to mention relaxing. I highly recommend it.

Check out the links below on June 15, 2020, to see the other scrap-happy posts.

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin, and Vera

Scrap Happy Faeries Relax at the Lake

What’s a ScrapHappy post?

It’s an opportunity, or an excuse, to make something entirely out of scraps. Our host Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, encourages the use of scraps to make something useful or beautiful or both.

If you would like to join us, please see the details at the end of this post.

This ceramic container is the base of a former cat fountain. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was a pain to keep clean. It needed a new filter once a month, and it was heavy to pick up when it was time to transport it to the kitchen.

Our three kitties now get water from several glass bowls, except Tessa, who waits for a running faucet. Mouse prefers the water draining from Mike’s morning shower. Cats!

So this…

Once upon a time: a former ceramic cat water fountain

Empty container, only three-inches deep

…became this.

A quiet retreat in miniature

I couldn’t bear to throw out the container. I started with the idea of a small garden, but the dish is too shallow. Instead, I created a miniature lake-side retreat for imaginary faeries.

I lined the container with blue painter’s tape. In retrospect, I’m not sure it made much of a difference, as the bottom doesn’t show through. I cut a piece of plastic packaging into a wedge, dividing the container into two. The wedge is held in place with more blue tape.

Container lined with leftover blue painter’s tape

A scrap of stiff plastic divides the container

A few more blue pebbles would increase the depth, but scrap happy is all about using what you’ve got on hand. Instead, I used leftover glass vase filler to create volume. I sprinkled smaller blue pebbles on top. A couple of smooth rocks from my garden act as stepping stones into the cool, blue retreat.

The other side of the container started with medium-sized pebbles, graduating to small gravel (think sandy beach). I’ve used these tiny pebbles to mulch my potted succulents.

Protruding ceramic opening wrapped with leftover jute

A mix of New Zealand seashells adds charm to the pebble beach. Those seashells flew home with me from a fabulous New Zealand holiday two years ago. They continue to remind me of a spectacular holiday as well as time with dear friends.

I added a scrap of jute twine to the tube-like opening on the gravel side of the retreat. It once housed the cord for the fountain’s pump.

Rounding out this faerie retreat are three flowering nigellas. They make perfect, faerie-sized parasols, for sheltering from the sun. Nigella seed pods remind me of a few broken umbrellas with spokes still attached, so I placed the pods in the tube for interest.

Faerie sisters enjoying the view.

Nigella blooms make perfect parasols.

These wee faeries sit on a cushion of French lavender, sharing secrets and tossing their cares to the wind.

It’s been a while since I channeled my inner faerie gardener. It’s been so much fun.

Check out the links below on March 15, 2020, to see the other scrap-happy posts.

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin, and Vera

Serendipity: Wish You Were Here

How’s this for serendipity: While visiting a vintage shop in San Jose, I stumbled across this postcard.

Mike Roberts iconic photograph of the San Francisco Bay Bridge

Postcard: Mike Roberts photograph of the iconic San Francisco Bay Bridge

The reverse side of postcard | Sunset, San Francisco Bay Bridge

To the average viewer, it’s unremarkable. The card is a reproduction of a photograph of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Photographer Mike Roberts photographed the bridge multiple times in order to capture this shot. He published the photo in September 1959, five days before I was born.

My family moved to the US in November 1966, and a year later my father painted this oil on canvas. Dad died in 1969.

My dad Eric Milner’s oil painting, painted in 1969, two years before he died

Stumbling across the postcard literally stopped me in my tracks. My heart did that strange flutter as I tried to make sense of the photo. I realized at that moment that a small piece of unknown history grazed my fingertips. The postcard photo had been my father’s muse. I never knew.

Returning home with my friend Kelly, we jumped online and looked up Roberts and his work. From there I discovered this book

book cover Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here: Mike Roberts | The Life and Times of America’s Postcard King | by Bob Roberts

Mike Roberts was working on a memoir when he died in 1989. According to his son, Bob:

…yellow Kodak boxes snoozed in my basement for twenty years. For reasons financial, literary, and personal it took twenty years to pull together the pieces of Wish You Were Here. The words and photos were rummaged from his early musings, classic transparencies, and drafts. The rest of the story springs from our family, his friends, media accounts, and those yellow boxes. Enjoy! – Bob Roberts, March 2015

A page from Robert’s book describing the photoshoot

Title page of Mike Roberts book purchased used online

Here’s one more bit of serendipity. While thumbing through my husband’s family photos, I came across this snapshot. Check out the art on the wall!

My husband Mike’s family gathered in front of a painting of the Bay Bridge, circa the 1960s | Mike is wearing the burgundy shirt, lower left

I’ve loved reading about Mike Roberts’ life and work. I appreciate his incredible artistry and his love of the humble postcard. Most of all, I’ll never tire of those serendipitous moments in time, when a daughter stumbles upon an old postcard, bringing forth a snapshot in time.

I wish you were here.

A Month into Spring

Time may be a social construct, but Spring arrives reliably year after year. Paper calendars are optional.

Welcome rain for a parched garden

The first bulbs emerge in February, a little pre-season treat. In our garden, that means hyacinth and once-upon-a-time, crocus. I haven’t noticed the crocus in recent years, but given their small size, they may simply be growing out of view.

Pink hyacinth

Soon the narcissus follows, bright and showy and strong.

Harbingers of spring: Yellow Daffodils

Freesias are my new favorite. They multiply year after year, adorning the garden with an assortment of color and an intoxicating scent. I planted one assorted packet several years ago, and have reaped the reward of purples, reds, pale yellows, and the prolific whites. They dazzle our passersby from the curb garden and along the curving ramp to our front door.

A trio of colored Freesia

Brilliant white Freesia

As the flashy bulbs finish for the season, perennials carry on with the show. Bright pinks, lavenders, and yellows contrast against the ever-present greens.

Dark pink azalea

Azalea close-up

Pale pink Azalea

Shiny new growth emerges on all the plants like a chick from an egg, small and tender at first, then vital and strong.

It’s not all fun and games. The weeds emerge, even with our meager rain, opportunistically growing beneath the established ground cover. They grow parallel to the lacy foliage of the California poppy, perhaps thinking I won’t notice.

They’re no match for this gardener.

As I hobbled to and from the car earlier this year, I would bend down and pluck one or two weeds. Now that I’m fairly mobile, I’m methodically clearing them from the garden.

The worst of the weeds gather near the curb, so I sat on the pavement there and got to work.

Over a few weeks, I worked my way down both sides of the drive, around the raised bed known as the curb garden, and then finally into the main garden.

Front Garden

Getting lost in thought as I pull weeds and tidy the beds is wonderfully therapeutic. It helps keep the worrying thoughts at bay. I hear bird song from the trees. I try to count bees, smiling to myself when I lose track. An abundance of bees is essential for our survival. My garden is content to do its part.

Garden Gallery:

Occasionally a lizard darts out of its hiding place and they always give me a start. They too are a gift to the garden, so as my nervous system relaxes, I count my many blessings and carry on with my day.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. – Audrey Hepburn

Two-Faced Tessa in the Garden

Tessa came to live with us in the most round-about way. She stowed her wee self into the battery compartment of Mike’s Tessla. We’ll never know how she got there, and it was a production getting her out, but after that ordeal, she was here to stay. We were not in the market for a third cat and certainly not a kitten, but as John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Tessa's portal

Tessa lounging in her kitty portal

Tessa turns three this May.  She’s affectionate when it suits her in the most endearing way. Our sweet tortie climbs on your chest and looks into your eyes, before tucking in her chin and producing a raspy, satisfied purr. We adore her!

Tessa near the rocks

Tessa near the rock wall

Tessa spends her time prowling the compost bin for rats, chasing squirrels and play-fighting with Mouse the Cat, aka, Bubba. He’s more than twice her age and close to double her weight, but they go at it like a pair of kittens.

Tessa in the garden

We call this “the look”

When Tessa first arrived, a steady stream of friends stopped by, intrigued by her unusual markings. Eventually, I created a Two-Faced Tessa The Cat Facebook Page and my son set up an account for her on Instagram as twofacedtessa.  My son attends university several hundred miles away so the updates naturally dwindled, but the pics he posted in the early years are delightful.

Tessa in the fruit tree

Tessa in the fruit tree

I hope her sweet face cheers you as you go about your day.

Tessa in the sun rear view

Tessa on her own terms

Here is a gallery of some of our favorite pics:

Autumn Days and Anniversaries

It’s the autumn equinox here in the northern hemisphere, or in simpler terms, the first day of fall. It’s also our wedding anniversary.

Today (September 23) sees the 2019 autumn equinox, the moment when the planet’s northern hemisphere swaps with the southern hemisphere to become the one furthest from the sun.

Autumn is a good time to reflect, especially in the garden. While the perennials remain robust year-round, summer annuals are closing up shop.

We had a second year of disappointing tomatoes. Despite my best efforts planting the EarthBoxes with fresh soil and fertilizer, moving them to a new location and ensuring they got full sun, production was blah. My garden mojo took a hit.

end of season tomato Don’t be fooled. It looks juicy, but the sweetness has gone.

This stripey variety took months to set fruit. While they look interesting, I didn’t care for the thicker texture. All in all, one plant produced half a dozen tomatoes. Sigh.

stripes tomatoes A trio of Stripey Tomatoes

This was also my first season without pumpkins. We’ve relied entirely on the squirrels to plant them each year, even if their planting methods are unconventional. By the time I fully noticed, it was too late to plant on my own.

I had brief hope. After amending the mix in a planting box with heavy, sandy soil, a few pumpkin plants appeared. It seemed unlikely that they would amount to much, but while I was traveling in July they took hold. Alas, they didn’t establish in time. Although the plants became vines and proffered a few blooms, there was no time for setting fruit.

spent pumpkin vines Spent pumpkin flowers and vines along with other pruning debris

On a brighter note, I received this gorgeous yellow calla lily in a pot last year. Mike transplanted it for me in the front garden and it’s spreading its proverbial wings.

Yellow Canna lily, a thank you gift from FDC

It’s flowered twice and is now showing off its interesting seed pods as the plant goes dormant.

Calla lily seed pod Calla lily seed pod

Our garden is densely planted now, requiring careful thought when a new plant joins the mix. This calla lives in the shadow of the Magnolia tree, not far from the deck. I love the cheerful display.

Nepeta or catmint Nepeta going to seed

Nepeta, also known as catnip or catmint reseeds every year. It’s an herb, pleasing to cats, and humans alike. It produces a subtle scent in the garden unless of course, you’re a cat.

cat and nepeta Tessa enjoying the nepeta
white cat and nepeta Mouse the cat lounging on the nepeta

 

 

tuxedo cat in nepeta Lindy sleeping near the nepeta

Our cats become quite possessive of the plant near the patio, though Mouse likes to visit the plant in the side yard as well. We all have our favorites.

As for anniversaries, I married this wonderful man 24 years ago today.

Celebrating then and now (Went Brothers Winery, Livermore | Winchester Mystery House fundraiser, San Jose)

It was the first day of autumn that year as we wed on the grounds of Wente Brother’s winery in Livermore. The day went by in a blur, so I’m grateful for the photographs that help solidify the memories. I’m grateful for Mike every day and for our life together.

I’m grateful for you, too, dear reader, for continuing to show up and read my posts.

Pine Needles and Paper Wasps

Pine needles and paper wasps were not in the weekend plans.

We were just sitting down to dinner when one of our regular Little Free Library patrons knocked on the door. She’d mentioned once before that she thought she saw yellow jackets, a more aggressive type of wasp, on the top of our Little Free Library (LFL).

I inspected the library and the surrounding areas at the time and didn’t see any activity. Perhaps they were just passing through.

Little Free Library San Jose

Little Free Library, 2018

She spotted them again this weekend, hence the knock on the door. About a dozen wasps decided to hunker down on the roof of the LFL.

paper wasp cluster

Paper wasp cluster on roof of LFL

We had an unusually windy day, but the sun was warm. They gathered in a cluster, barely moving, perhaps enjoying the sun.  One or two flew out of the birdhouse portion of the library, but I had no way of seeing inside.

Our LFL is a work of art by artist Donna Pierre. I was reluctant to dismantle the birdhouse which is artfully attached to the larger library. That said, dozens of neighbors visit the library daily. I didn’t want anyone getting stung, least of all a small child.

After a brief debate on our plan of attack (ours, not the wasps) we trudged out to the garage in search of the auguring tool. Mike usually welcomes the chance to use his power tools, but it was the end of a busy weekend, after a week-long business trip to Mexico.

I said I would do it.

Mike shouted encouragement and Chris took pictures (because I’m a blogger after all) while I donned a heavy leather jacket and gloves, drill at the ready. I wore my son’s mosquito hood from his back-packing days in case they all flew out at once.  I drilled a large round hole in the back of the birdhouse, hoping they would fly out and be on their way. Once they exited, we could put a small screen over the front, return the removed piece from the back, and then call it a day.

As the augured piece fell into the birdhouse, imagine my surprise when a stream of ants came racing out of the birdhouse and down the back of the library. It was so unexpected.

ants

Ants swarm out of the back of the LFL

Mike produced a flashlight so we could look up into the birdhouse through the larger hole. There it was: a nest filled with grey, honeycomb-like cells, with a few ants dotting the nest. That birdhouse had to go, at least for now.

Paper wasp nest inside birdhouse of LFL

Mike pried a few supports loose and we gingerly inched what is now a nesting box, out of it’s home.

The gathered cluster of wasps sat undisturbed on the roof as I carried the nest to the back garden and hung it high in a tree.

So how do pine needles factor in the title? After all that activity I was a bundle of energy and nerves. As I mentioned, the winds were fierce, knocking pine needles from our roof and the neighbor’s tree. I raked and swept and gathered them into a pile, occasionally checking on the relocated nest. Eventually the adrenaline wore off and we called it a day.

I would like to say, “Problem solved” but the wasps are back. They’re sitting in the same spot on the library roof, even though the nest is no longer there. I’m relieved to know via my search that our wasps are the docile kind, but when I look out the window and see people flailing their arms, it’s a worry.

After researching here: The difference between a yellow jacket wasp and a paper wasp

I decided to post a couple of signs saying:

Our flying visitors are European Paper Wasps (non-aggressive) vs Yellow Jacket wasps (which are aggressive).  We relocated their nest, but a few of the adults are still hanging around.

These wasps are beneficial for the garden, which is probably why they are here.

If you’re concerned, please visit another Little Free Library in the neighborhood until they move along.

Thank you!  Alys, Little Free Library Steward

Yellow Jacket vs Paper Wasp

What, then, is the difference between a yellow jacket and a paper wasp?

When it comes to appearance, both look similar. Both are black with yellow bands. A paper wasp, however, has a longer body than a yellow jacket, which has a shorter and fatter body. If you look closely, a paper wasp also has an orange-tipped antennae while a yellow jacket does not.

A yellow jacket is more aggressive and can sting repeatedly, while a paper wasp only attacks when threatened. Both feed on garden insects, but a yellow jacket scavenges for food and even feeds on food found in the trash or on picnic tables. A paper wasp, on the other hand, feeds on pollen and nectar as well.

Moreover, a yellow jacket builds its covered nest underground or in hollows, while a paper wasp build its coverless nests in a tree, eaves or spouts.

Source: DifferenceGuru

The research I did for this post also solved a mystery. I’ve mentioned wasps in the past, and noted that they never bother me. They make paper nests in the eaves, come and go without a fuss, and of course they do wonders for the garden. Yellow jackets and paper wasps look nearly identical unless you view them up close.

What I thought was a “pass” from the yellow jackets for providing an appealing garden smorgasbord was mere smugness on my part. It turns out that our garden visitors are their more docile cousins. May it always be so.

My Garden Sows Content

The sweet peas are out, but the cornflower will remain for awhile

Life is full.

Since my last post we’ve celebrated three family birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and my oldest son’s graduation from college. My youngest son came home from his first year away at college and my oldest son moved home mid-June. Somewhere in there we took a two-day getaway to Las Vegas after Mike finished a big work project.  Next week I leave for a long-anticipated trip to British Columbia and Alberta. I’ll be traveling with my friend Kelly, a dear friend whom I met through blogging nearly eight years ago. I am really looking forward to this trip.

Through it all though, my garden continues to sow content.

We had some brutally hot days in the low 100’s (104 F or 40 C), but it has settled down into cooler temps.  During the heat wave I arrived home to wilting hydrangeas and burnt ground cover. The flowers recovered but the ground cover is done till the rains return.

On the subject of rain, we had the loveliest, late-season rain in May, bringing about larger and taller flowers, fuller blooms and a short-term delay in the unbearable heat. It was such a gift.

I spent some early mornings this week pulling out the spent Nigella, also known as Love-in-a-mist and the sweet peas. I let both of them go to seed, reaping the benefits of a self seeded garden each spring. The cornflowers are the last of the self-seeded spring flowers. The bees are still pollinating the remaining blooms while the birds swoop in for the seeds.

I’ve been musing to myself that some of my garden favorites are the ones that return year after year with no effort on my part. They attract birds, bees and admiring neighbors. I get several month’s worth of small garden bouquets, and enjoy sharing the bounty with others.

Now that summer is here, our plums are ripening and the four o’clocks are about to bloom.

My miniature Hobbit garden, planted a year ago in celebration of my New Zealand friends and hosts is also robust.

I’ve added a tiny rusted table and a few flower “lights”, a gift from my friend Laura. I noticed this week that a tiny violet has self-seeded near the Hobbit door. We’ll see how it grows.

The tomatoes are looking promising this year!

Over the years people ask “is your garden a lot of work?” and the answer is always the same. Yes, it can be back-aching work, bending and lifting, pruning and pulling weeds, especially during the hot days of summer.  But the work is joyful. It’s not so much the ends but the means. I love working in the dirt, discovering new things, seeing what works and learning from failures. Working closely with nature is uplifting.  I marvel at the different shapes and sizes of the bees. I’m honored when a hummingbird comes close, inquisitive and open. I hear the rustle of the lizards and hope the cats will let them be. I laugh at myself when I’m startled by a spider, but I’ve learned to manage that fear while respecting the gifts they bring to the garden. A few ladybugs came for a visit last month and polished off the invading aphids. These are some of my favorite examples of nature at her finest.

I get dirt under my fingernails and sometimes in my teeth. Bruised knees and a sore neck mean I’ve stayed out too long. It takes me a lot longer to get up from the ground, and the pain in my hips reminds me of my advancing age. It’s all worth it for that time in the garden where I find a real connection to this earth.

Laboring in my garden sows content.