The End of the Lawn: Our Garden One Year Later

I’m excited to share photos of our garden one year later. We replaced our lawn last November with drought tolerant and California native plants.

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November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in front of the house

Not only do these plants survive and thrive on limited water, but they also attract hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Those visitors are a boon to any garden.

native garden

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

Salvia and native grasses

Salvia and native grasses

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Once established, the plants only need water about once a week. It’s been an exciting step away from the outdated monoculture of suburban lawns to a more bio-diverse garden. As the drought dragged on, I let go of the fantasy of a cottage garden and fully embraced a garden that fits my environment. San Jose averages only 15 inches of rain a year, and virtually no rain throughout the hot summer months.

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November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in back of the house

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

native garden back of house

2016 Native garden near swing

native garden near patio

2016 * Native garden near patio

Adding a rain catchment system earlier this year meant I could fill a box with tomato plants and water them guilt-free. I’m also enjoying letting things be, which means making sure a weed is a weed before yanking it from the earth. We’ve had a number of self seeded flowers this year including Sweet Peas, Nigella and Mirabilis Jalapa.

Halloween “Postmortem”

We’re exhausted (because we’re not twenty anymore) but boy did we have fun. We attended two Halloween costume parties, back to back.

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First Halloween costume party of the season

We were too darn tired for the final party, but missed out on seeing those friends.  On Halloween night we opened the door to over 400 candy-seeking trick-or-treaters.

Halloween Night 2016

Halloween Night 2016 * These two homemade costumes were my favorite of the night. Upper and lower left, our front garden under blue lights. Mike’s pumpkins after dark, lower center

Mike expertly carved four of the seven pumpkins, leaving the two round ones for my first attempt at pumpkin soup. The smallest of the seven is part of my Thanksgiving display.

pumpkin-carvings-2016

Spiderman, a Minion, Arching cat on a slate roof, Socks the cat

Our costumes needed explaining at the Friday party (what…you’re a meat pie?) but Saturday’s party was a different story. Pretty much everyone dressed up as either a character from the movie Sweeney Todd, or as someone from the Victorian era.

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Our hosts, who are also from the UK, served a variety of traditional meat pies, but included a vegetarian option for yours truly.  They really got everyone in the spirit. We played a few games, danced and Martin gave all the guys a pretend shave, fully embracing his role as host and the deranged barber, Sweeney Todd. Diane dressed as Mrs. Lovett. You’ll see photos of the two of us and other party-goers in the short video clip below.

My lovely host awarded me the prize for best female costume at the second party. I’m pretty sure it was my crazy wig that pushed things over the top.sweeney-todd-party-alys-and-diane

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I bumped into this skeleton in the lady’s room. The cheek!

All in all, it’s been a fabulous Halloween season.

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The Clock is Running Down: Four More Days of Halloween Fun

Who knows where this month went. It was here just a moment ago, a freshly turned page on my wall calendar. I think the unseasonably warm weather led me to believe it was still August…or September. Is it really October 28th? Only four more days of Halloween fun.

Just chilling in the wee garden

Just chilling in the wee garden

I had a restless night with so much rattling around in my brain. I got up around 5 am and finished Mike’s costume. We have a party tonight and two more tomorrow. I really cut things close this year. Life doesn’t stop just because I want to play all month-long. That said, I squeezed in a lot.

October 1/2:

I celebrated my birthday weekend in Santa Cruz. It coincided with Mike’s company picnic along the Boardwalk, so we celebrated with work friends, then slipped away for some shopping, dinner, a movie and a night’s stay at Chaminade.  We had lovely weather and a relaxing time.

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All month-long, friends and family treated me to dinner, high tea, a movie, a live show, wonderful cards and thoughtful gifts making me feel just like one of those entitled white men we’re always hearing about. (cough-cough) It’s nice to be pampered, eh?

October 8:

I took a four-hour crafting class with my sister where we created a mixed media Haunted Graveyard. It inspired lots of additional Halloween card making at home. She took me out to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants at Santana Row, then we browsed the glass pumpkins on display.

glass-pumpkins-santana-row

The last of the pumpkins are off the vine. In the end, three different plants produced seven pumpkins. What a generous bounty. I enjoy arranging them in different places around the house, as they await carving day. That makes me smile.

Over the course of this month, I’ve spent hours pruning three vines away from the side yard fence. Up and down the ladder I went, using best practices to remain safe and still favoring my surgical foot. There will be no accidents on my watch! Now that the vines are off the fence, I need to start getting quotes to replace it. Broken boards, dry rot and possible termite damage stayed hidden behind the vines. No wonder I’ve been putting off this big job.

It’s finally done and I have the sore neck, dull tools and blisters to prove it. And since I’m a blogger, I have pictures too. Ha!

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Vines intertwined in the lattice-work made it tricky to free the tangled mess. That’s Mouse the Cat’s tail exploring the scattered vines.

October 28/29th:

We’ve been invited to three costume parties this season, but only one with a specific theme: Sweeney Todd. If you’re not familiar with this gruesome musical, you can read about it here. It’s been a penny dreadful serial, a stage musical, and most recently a film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. We rented the movie to learn more about the characters, and frankly I found it dark and dreary, beginning to end. There are only three female characters, Mrs. Lovett the baker, Sweeney Todd’s young wife shown in brief flashbacks, and later his teenage daughter. Not a lot to choose from. Since I like to mix things up a bit, I decided to dress as the baker, and make my husband into one of her meat pies. They’re not any old pies, by the way. After the barber slits his client’s throat, they’re cooked in the oven and baked into pies. Did I mention how gruesome the story is?

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Paper bag pattern (my favorite), distressed inks and stains, silver lame fabric covering a pie-shaped piece of foam, distressed fabric and the back side of the pie tin.

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I cut two circles of tan-colored felt, then sprayed the edges with stain for a distressed (baked) look. I hand-sewed the two pieces together, stuffed with batting and made slits for various gruesome body parts. A bit of theatrical blood adds drama.

I rented my costume from a family owned shop called Natasha’s Attic. They pulled together all the pieces I needed including Victorian era boots, tights, lace gloves and layers of dresses. I love that place and all the wonderfully creative people who work there.  I bought a crazy wig ’cause that’s how I roll, and if I get the makeup just so I’ll be unrecognizable. Stay tuned for pics of both of us in costume.

Of course I had to make time to bewitch the fairy gardens. The succulents loved this summer’s heat, and doubled in size, making the garden look over-grown. Perfect for Halloween! How do I get so lucky?

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Setting the Scene

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It’s a fairy garden jungle

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Hollowed trees and gauzy skies (the neighboring tree shed’s its bark in late summer. I picked up a few pieces and saved them for the bewitched fairy garden

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A little fairy garden haunting (tombstones from my son’s long ago Halloween crafts)

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Come join the ghosts for tea and pumpkin soup (I found the tea set at a craft store for $3)

Happy Halloween!

When Spider Webs Catch The Light and Friends Make a Fuss

A wonderful package arrived shortly before my birthday, all the way from New Zealand. Pauline of the Contented Crafter says it’s been in the making for a while.

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Beautiful package

She decorated the box with her own customized decorative tape which you can read more about here. Isn’t it cool? She created the art for the postcard as well using postage stamps from my dad’s collection. The original hangs on my wall. It’s quite special.

Now look at what she tucked inside:

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An enchanting spider web light catcher

This isn’t any old spider web. It’s a hand-crafted, bead-encrusted, gem of a birthday/Halloween gift from Pauline. I love it!

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Faceted glass spider

My special spider web arrived with an impressively sized, faceted spider with its own hook (but no fangs). You can move her around the web, then watch it catch the light.

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In the center of the web

Guess what else was in the box? A Halloween-themed light catcher. The charms include spiders, witches hats, cats and brooms.  Did I mention the pumpkins? There are several of those too.

The reflective nature of the faceted glass makes it difficult to photograph, so I took some video as well. It will give you an idea of the light and movement.

Mike installed hooks in the nook above the sink so I could hang the web near the light. Interestingly, the web is just as beautiful at night. The lower light mutes some of the colors, while the facets shine.

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Halloween-themed light catcher hanging in the kitchen window (Mouse the Cat looks on) Thank you, Pauline

 

Gathering friends with the years

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The stunning sunflowers are a gift from Laurie, surrounded by birthday cards and condolences on losing Slinky. The sunflower painting was a gift from Kelly last year.

My mother never liked a fuss on her birthday, so I grew up following suit. A few close friends sent greetings through the mail or by phone which I loved, but I otherwise kept my birthday a secret.

I’ve come to realize that I like a bit of a fuss. Not a loud, brash, in your face fuss, but the warm greetings that arrive by post. I love receiving cards in the mail. Happy birthday wishes via Facebook and blogging are a delight as well. I  smile at the beautifully animated e-cards and the thoughtful friends who send them. My friend Carrielin calls me on my birthday every year and has since we were in college. Each greeting is a reminder of the richness of friends and family, relationships that have grown and deepened with the passing years. I feel loved beyond measure.

Thank you all for making a fuss.

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Did I mention the second spider?

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And Just Like That It’s November

Halloween came to a screeching halt at midnight, October 31st.

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Thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time, the clocks rolled back an hour the next day. We spent part of Sunday putting things away and adjusting to the time change.

We’ll leave our Jack ‘o Lanterns on the deck until the inevitable decay. Mike’s pumpkin carvings were as wonderful as ever. He carved three masterpieces, two from commercially bought pumpkins and the third one from our garden: The Great Drought Pumpkin of 2015.

The tall, slender pumpkin is a Minion for the popular children’s movie.
pumpkin carving collage 2015

The squat pumpkin is Jack Skellington. Jack is a fictional character and the protagonist of the 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town and lives in a fantasy world based solely on the Halloween holiday.

jack skellington pumpkin

Jack Skellington

I found inspiration for the smaller pumpkin from a fellow blogger. Mike used small saws and a drill to create the stars. It’s our beacon of light.

pumpkin stars beacon of light

A Beacon of Light

My sister and I celebrated our birthdays together with a cheese fondue and salad lunch and a full-screen viewing of My Fair Lady. That beautiful movie just turned fifty years old. (We’re still older).

Today I woke up to rain.

azalea after rain

Azalea after the rain

In other parts of the world, rain is a big bore, something to endure till the next sunny spell. Here in our drought-parched state it’s the topic of conversation on Facebook. I woke up at 3:30 this morning and could hear the rain coming down outside my window. Large, musical drops fell and fell and fell. I stepped out on the deck in my bare feet with my camera, wanting to preserve the moment. Then I came back inside to warm my toes and grab a few more hours of sleep. Bliss!

As I write this late in the afternoon, the wind is beginning to howl. Be still my heart. It might just rain again!

Have a terrific week.

Decorating for Halloween

This is my favorite time of year to decorate. It’s fun cobbling things together, letting my creative juices flow.

My 15-year-old son also loves to decorate using over-sized lawn inflatables. Between the two of us, we draw lots of passersby, though with the under five set, my son is the reigning champ.

marcia in the arms of the dragon

My friend Marcia poses with the dragon

That’s Boomdee on her recent visit, checking out the dragon after dark.
kelly with dragon inflatable

Our home office and kitchen both face the street, so part of the fun for me is watching others enjoy the decorations. Neighbors  stop to comment and occasionally pose for pictures with the giant cat or dragon. My next door neighbor runs a daycare, so those children run and play between the inflatables in the late afternoon as they wait for their parents.

Occasionally the inflatables annoy one or two dogs, which makes me smile. It’s hard to imagine what must go through the dog’s head when he sees a towering dragon suddenly appear on his daily walk. Lots of barking ensues, but by Halloween, even the dogs have sorted out real from pretend. In short, it’s a lot of fun outside my window this time of year.

Here’s what we’ve been up to.

Throughout the summer, tree rats feast on our oranges, then drop the hollowed rind to the ground. Most of the fruit decays, but several simply dried leaving a hard shell. One of them reminded me of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.  I started collecting the hardened rinds and created a  display.

I used one of my glass vases, some dried moss, old bits of Baby’s Breath flowers and the dried oranges. I topped it with a spooky spider for a “decadent” display. I used a burlap remnant left over from Fran’s bunting project as a table runner. You can read more about that here.

dried orange arrangement

Dried Orange Arrangement inspired by The Scream

Halloween decorations on deck

Rearranged Deck Furniture

Every year I haul out this old, plastic skeleton. The head is long gone, so I improvised with a plush pumpkin, a rain stick and my garden hat. That’s my doppelgänger this year. She has her feet up and an elongated neck from slumping too much on the couch. I seem to need an inordinate amount of sleep lately, so when I sit in the evenings on the couch, it’s not long before I fall asleep.

garden skeleton

Skeleton Gardener

Indoors, I decorated a side table with several of my autumn and Halloween treasures.

My friend Stephanie made the chalk art as a gift for last year’s birthday.

That gorgeous art canvas is the handiwork of Boomdee’s fellow Urban Girl, Lynette. Boomdee convinced her to part with this beauty and brought it all the way from Canada for my birthday.

The Halloween card is also a gift, along with the bewitched cat. It’s pretty cool having a birthday and Halloween in the same month.

indoor Halloween decor

Halloween-ready side table filled with personal treasures

Do you remember this?

dried pumpkin

Last season’s pumpkin shell

When I turned my compost pile, a shell from last year’s pumpkin rolled out in near-perfect shape. The crown is missing but no matter. I brushed away the dirt, wiped the surface with a soft rag, and painted on a bit of sparkle. Good as new. I filled the opening with a handful of green yarn and this toy ring. It’s my pumpkin send up to Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster.

compost pumpkin

The shell of a pumpkin, rescued from the compost pile

This little clay pumpkin is a favorite. My son made this in art class a few years back. He did a nice job reproducing the details of a real pumpkin from memory.

clay pumpkin

My son made this clay pumpkin one year in art class

The clock is ticking. Halloween is just four days away.

Do you like Halloween as much as we do?

Ms. California Drought: Costume on the Fly

I’ve been on again, off again with a Halloween costume this year. My foot surgery was tentatively scheduled for October 9th. That would have put the kibosh on the whole month. I eventually landed on a November 4th surgery date, so the costume was back on.

We’re invited to a few parties each year and we always have a blast. The first party was last Saturday so I needed something quick and easy. I like to put together a costume that’s topical and usually make something up.

For the third time in six years, I started with this lettuce-green slip.

Halloween Costume starting point

Thrift store find: lettuce green slip

I bought it at a thrift store several years ago for my Lady Gaga inspired vegetable dress (the year she wore real meat (GAG) to the VMAs.

Lady Gaga Halloween Costume 2010

2010: Lady Gaga inspired vegetable dress

A few years later I used the slip again in my Year of Trash costume. I collected things throughout the year that couldn’t otherwise be recycled and made it into a costume. It really makes you think.

Year of Trash Costume 2011

2011: My Year of Trash Costume (That’s my sister Sharon as a gruesome witch)

Lindy loves raffia

Lindy loved the raffia. She played in it, on it and around it all week

This year, the green slip is the foundation for Ms. California Drought. I found six-foot bundles of raffia on sale at a local craft store and used it to form the dress. I hand stitched the narrow ends to the bodice, then machine stitched the lengths around the waist. I used a few single strands of raffia to sew the loose ends to the dress and to attach my bra the night of the party. I used a length of wide ribbon for the waist and called it a dress.

2015, Halloween Costume ms california drought

2015: Ms. California Drought and her Minion for the night

I used a length of burlap and my rubber stamp letters to print Ms. California Drought on the sash.  I gathered a bunch of dried flowers into a bouquet, used a burlap plant cover for a purse, and within a few hours, my costume was party-ready

Do you celebrate Halloween? Are you dressing up this year?

October 31st: A Journal

pumpkin carving

Mike’s carvings 2014

Today’s post is a tiny departure from the norm. Since you’ve followed my Halloween preparations throughout October, I wanted to share details from our action-packed day. Here we go.

6:40

I woke up without an alarm to overcast skies.  Rain in the forecast.  Super excited, except that it’s Halloween. Hopefully it will rain before and after the candy gatherers come out to play.

7:30

Carpool three teens to school.

7:45

Wait for the school parking lot traffic to clear.Read a few of my favorite blogs. Leave a long comment on Pauline’s fabulous garden post (one of my favorite subjects of course) but apparently never hit the ‘post’ key. I’ll head back there today, trying to recapture in detail how much I love her garden and her post.

8:15

Tidy the kitchen and start some laundry. I live a glamorous life.

Under strict instructions from my youngest son, I remove all items from the deck. The fairy garden isn’t scary enough.

Line the walkway with pumpkins, candles and the aforementioned fairy garden.

lining the deck with pumpkins and candles

Lining the walkway/ramp with candles and home-grown pumpkins

Inside, Mike guts three pumpkins and decides what to carve. He traveled the day before, up at 4:00 am and home at 10 so he’s tired.  Lindy offers moral support. Mike chooses three of his pattern favorites.

lindy offers moral support

Lindy offers moral support

Mike carving pumpkin

Carving the deadly diva

The skies open up. Puddles form. Honest to goodness rain in San Jose. Giddy with excitement, but still hoping it stops by 5:00 pm. Go out to brunch with Mike, an incredibly rare treat on his day off from work.

rain in the gutters

Rain!

halloween garden in the rain

The rain makes everything look off-kilter

2:00

Well, someone has to fold the laundry.

2:30

Gather the teens from school. It’s still raining so my youngest son is indecisive about hanging black plastic on the deck awning. He waits.

tasty treat trifecta

Tasty treat trifecta: Candy corn for Mike, kitty treats for Lindy, and left over seeds and pulp for the neighborhood squirrels

2:45

Pick up a self-bake pizza, narrowly avoiding a car accident in the process. To my tremendous surprise, the driver follows me into the pizza place and apologizes! Life is good. Note: Halloween is the biggest take-out pizza day of the year. Back home, I review college application materials with my oldest son. UC applications open November 1st. He’s ready to go.

4:00

It’s now or never. With Mike’s help, my youngest son covers the awning and sides of the deck with heavy black plastic, saved from year to year for this purpose.  His friend arrives around 5:00 and they scope out hiding places, adding black lights and string. The boys ready their masks. I repeat firm instructions:  they’re not to scare anyone under the age of 14.

scary halloween deck 2014

Converting the deck into a frightful state

5:15

Pizza in the oven.

5:17

Pizza devoured.

5:30

Race down the hall to get ready for the second of three Halloween parties. The boys man the door as the trick or treating begins in earnest.

Attaching the false eyelashes is always the trickiest part for me. I don’t wear much makeup throughout the year, so I’m always out of practice.

6:00

Dressed and ready to go, I continue passing out little bags of pretzels. Most of the little girls at the door ask if I’m Elsa from Frozen. I nod and said yes. I was going to make bookmarks to go with them. When did I think I was going to find the time? Next year?

8:00

We’ve passed out all the pretzels, a box of gummy candy, packets of cookies and granola bars from our pantry and anything else we can think of. 240 bags and buckets have passed by our door. The supply of acceptable give-away treats depleted, we post a note of apology and close up shop.

8:45

Walk through a cool mist to Lisa and Roy’s Halloween party a few blocks away. Eat. Socialize. Try really hard not to drift off in the comfy chair.

party hosts

Halloween Party Hosts Mary Poppins and Bert the Chimney Sweep

Late

At this point I am so tired that I’ve lost track of time. I manage to remove my makeup before crawling into bed, though briefly considered sleeping with it on. Yes, I was that tired. Drift off, patting myself on the back for finishing off my no-candy countdown.

decal and makeup

Decal eye makeup, false eyelashes and some eyeshadow in between

If you’re still here, thanks for reading.

Today I’m readying our garage for voting tomorrow.  Friends in the States, don’t forget to vote November 4th.