Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall: California’s Pineapple Express

What a week! To say it rained is an understatement. Back to back storms battered California for several days, wreaking havoc up and down the state. Dangerous mudslides, overflowing waterways, downed trees and snarled traffic have been the norm.

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California Grey Squirrel using his tail as an umbrella

Much like the proverbial flood gate, we’ve endured five years of drought and then the rain all flowed at once.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

atmospheric rivers come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor and the strongest winds can create extreme rainfall and floods, often by stalling over watersheds vulnerable to flooding. These events can disrupt travel, induce mudslides and cause catastrophic damage to life and property. A well-known example is the “Pineapple Express,” a strong atmospheric river that is capable of bringing moisture from the tropics near Hawaii over to the U.S. West Coast.

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Flooded sign at the head of Los Gatos Creek Trail

Here in San Jose we’ve been incredibly lucky. Other than losing power for several hours after the first storm, we’ve been otherwise okay. Our street didn’t flood, and we didn’t lose any trees (thank goodness).

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From the PG& E website

The only nail-biting experience was my attempt to get to an appointment mid-week “over the hill” in nearby Felton. There are only two ways to get there from here, by highway 17 or highway 9. Both routes travel through winding hills. I checked the traffic reports before heading out (CHP closed Highway 9 but 17 remained open), but it was not to be. Just a few miles in to my trip, the rain started to fall in sheets. There were mudslides the day before, and heavy puddles were already forming. I found a safe place to exit the freeway, canceled my appointment by phone, then headed home. What timing. The traffic had already stalled, backing up for miles in the southbound direction. Another mudslide snarled traffic. My friend who lives in Santa Cruz left work around 6 Tuesday evening, and didn’t arrive home until 2 am. She sat on the freeway for hours, finally got off the road in nearby Los Gatos, until road crews were able to clear one lane.  Several of us offered her a place to stay, but I think she was anxious to get home to her dog.

Unfortunately, many others in the state have not been so lucky. When trees endure years of drought, their roots shrink as a form of self-preservation. When heavy rains come along, the ground is quickly saturated and the water has nowhere to go. Massive trees toppled all over the area, destroying cars, a few homes and stalling our Bay Area Rapid Transit.  Several rivers and streams reached and then exceeded flood stage, spilling water into nearby communities.

I took this video of Lexington Reservoir after turning back for home on Tuesday. An hour and a half later, it overflowed its banks into the Los Gatos creek flooding the trails and closing the park.

In between storms, I walked with a friend near Almaden Lake.  I’ve never seen it so full, and again, parts overflowed washing out trails.

There are many positives in all of this. For the first time in years, most of the state’s reservoirs are full. Snow pack in the Sierra, which provides a third of our fresh water doubled in a week. On January 3rd, it was only 70% of normal for this time of year. After this series of storms it’s 158% of normal!

According to our local paper, the storms delivered a whopping 350 Billion gallons of water to our reservoirs. I can’t begin to wrap my brain around that number.

The Rainy Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Beautiful poetry aside, rainy days lift my spirits. I’m not feeling dark or dreary, just hopeful that this could be the beginning of the end of this California drought.

What’s your weather up to today?

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Gathering Losses

nicole meredith the art map sweet peas

Original Watercolor by Nicole Meredith

Grief is a strange companion. You go about your days, carrying on with life’s mundane tasks, yet the undercurrent of loss is ever-present.

In late December, Katherine who blogged at Pillows A-La-Mode lost her battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Everyone liked Katherine. She blogged about sewing, refashion and paper crafts but it was her warmth and spirit that kept you coming back. I started following her  in my early blogging days and always looked forward to the conversation. In 2012, her daughter-in-law, Shannon, secretly contacted many of us and asked us to take part in a “card shower”. Fellow bloggers sent cards from around the world, unbeknownst to Katherine, and we all held our collective breath till she learned of the surprise. She posted a photo of all of the cards displayed on her mantel with these words:

I can’t thank Shannon enough for this incredibly thoughtful gesture, and I can’t thank YOU enough for being my wonderful friends and encouragers.  As this card that Shannon made for me says, “One kind word can warm three winter months.”  New Year blessings to all of you, with love from Pillows A-La-Mode. ♥

You can read the full post here. Katherine let us know she was ill and that she would be taking a break from the blogging world while she sought treatment for her cancer. My heart skipped a beat when her post appeared in my feed. It was a shock realizing that her husband David authored the post to let us know of her passing. What a brave man.

I didn’t know Katherine in person, but those of you who blog know that it doesn’t matter one wit. She was here and then she wasn’t, and I feel saddened by her loss.

That same week I learned that Nicole Meredith’s rapid decline led her to take her own life. For twenty years Nicole struggled with a complex set of health issues related to her environment. At one point she was so ill that she had to sleep outdoors in a tent, unable to tolerate electricity. Frail and exhausted, she finally found treatment at a clinic in Texas. After months of therapy, she was finally feeling better. She was able to paint once again, though she never ventured far from poetry. Nicole’s work appears in a number of poetry journals, with many gathered together in a chapbook entitled Thanksgiving for a Hungry Ghost.

Within three months of moving to a new home, the illness returned with a vengeance. Jason drove from Washington to Texas seeking treatment from the same clinic, but Nicole continued to decline.  She quietly took her own life, leaving family and friends and all that knew her devastated. She was only 40.

We shared our last correspondence in July. She wrote:

I’m so emotional reading your email that J just forwarded me. Thank you! The lovely supportive words, I have to say, hold as much currency as your amazing gift. Too much. But your heart is felt on many levels and so gratefully received, Alys!

Now what will set life straight once and for all (hoho!) is if you perchance have ANY interest in me blending you up a custom oil based perfume? No pressure, but it would be a most welcome undertaking to get to focus on a project for a fellow “flower person!” Especially now…

I can certainly take no for an answer, but if there’s a scent-shaped desire: boom, I’m here to fill at least that!

Either way, thank you again–so much–for your sincerity and kindness. Nicole

That’s who she was. When her health improved, she continued to shine light on others with her art, her poetry, the essential oils and her gift with words. She made you feel like *you* were the special one.

Following is an excerpt from one of Nicole Meredith’s poems:

Playing the Tin Whistle

You ask me again when I will recover.
Instead I describe
how I taught myself to trill
so the note hooks upward
then drunkenly swoons,
then rights itself and holds steady.
All I can promise is that it is truly a lovely, haunting effect.

Nicole Meredith (Reinart) Legacy.com

Goodby My Friends, by David Scraper at Pillows A-La-Mode

GardeningNirvana: Sweet Peas: Art, Friendship and Second Chances

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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?

Honoring the Gift: Three Wise Men Get a Bit of TLC

Making something from scratch has its rewards. We all like new and shiny things. Honoring the past, though, also has its rewards. I love the challenge of bringing something back to its former self, especially when it has history and meaning.

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Three Wise Men, Originally crafted by Laura’s Aunt and Mother

My friend Laura grew up with these treasures: three wise men, lovingly crafted from the remnants of home-made holiday dresses. Laura’s aunt and mother followed a craft idea of the day. Each of the wise men started with a brown glass beer bottle. The head is a silk Christmas ball, popular in the sixties and the crown is the top half of a Styrofoam coffee cup. Sequins and felt are used for the eyes, with jewelry findings decorating each crown. I think they’re charming

These wise men are in remarkably good shape after nearly fifty years in and out of storage. But as with any well-loved object, they needed a bit of TLC.

Here’s what Laura has to say about these family heirlooms:

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My restored wise men on display in my home. I particularly love their sparkly new eyes which stand out better than the originals.

My Mother, Donnetta, and her sister Anita created the wise men when I was about six years old. I remember watching them work, knowing  the wise men must be precious because of the way my Mom handled them. I wasn’t allowed to touch them. They made two sets, one for each house. I looked forward to their appearance each year for the holidays. I was in awe.

After years of hosting many homey family Christmases, my Mother passed away in 1997.  The Christmas decorations remained with my Father until he  passed in 2012. At that point my sister and I divided up the decorations and I was lucky enough to get the three wise men. They were in rough physical shape (which I never noticed until then) and I was in rough emotional shape. I packed them away for a few years until I was able to open the Christmas box. Wonderful memories spilled out.

It was then that I found out a lot more about the wise men, and their history became even more meaningful for me. Nana (Mom and Anita’s Mother) had a box of notions and buttons for collecting miscellaneous strays and broken bits for future use. My Aunt became a professional seamstress and added a fabric scraps and bric-a-brac box. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the crafty gene.

Finding a picture of the three girl cousins was my first clue. Anita made velvet Christmas dresses one year for me and my sister Karen and for her daughter Claudia. Mine was the purple velvet dress. She saved the scraps of the three dresses, eventually using them for the wise men. Bric-a-brac remnants from her various sewing projects became the trim, broken jewelry the jewels on the crowns, and out-of-fashion hatpins that my Nana wore in her younger days adorned the tops of the crowns. They created these treasures from family belongings! I loved them even more.

When I began to examine them closely I laughed out loud. They made the wise men out of  beer bottles! Who knew? I soon found the magazine article they’d saved detailing the project with a Styrofoam cup as the base of the crown and a plain ornament as the head. Now I was laughing for several reasons: something I’d considered so valuable turned out to be made from common materials; the materials were from memorable family possessions.  My family didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, so I could only imagine the scene as my Mom and Aunt asked their friends to save some beer bottles.

I wanted these precious wise men restored to their former glory. I asked my dear friend Alys if she would take on the project because I

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My beautifully restored wise men in their custom storage box, Capes are held down to prevent wrinkles, and cushioning supports their delicate neck. Hat pins are up off the packing and protected.

know she enjoys this type of creativity. I knew she would return them to their original form as closely as possible.

Am I ever so grateful to Alys! I have no idea what “fray check” is, and the repaired hole in the purple cape is done so well I never would have noticed it. I couldn’t have begun to do the level of restoration that Alys did.

On the day she returned them to me they arrived in a beautiful, custom box. She box is the perfect size and it has a magnetic closure. She thoughtfully added cushioning to protect the crowns and the capes are held down to stay unwrinkled.  This way they’ll last in good condition for many more years. What a wonderful surprise.

Alys, I can’t tell you what it means to my heart to have them back to full glory and displayed in my home again at Christmas time. I know that my Mom and Aunt are smiling about it too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and my warm-Christmas-memory soul!!!!

I wanted to honor the original design as closely as I could, using modern-day materials but keeping the original design in place.

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Materials used

Blue Wise Man:

I trimmed the fraying edges of the velvet, then added fray check along the new, clean edge. I added a strip of blue, see-through ribbon along the front of the bottle to prevent further fraying. It worked out fairly well.

Purple Wise Man:

The gold trim and the corner of the cape were badly damaged. I found a close match for the original trim and replaced it along the cape’s edge. To avoid disturbing the neckline, I kept a half-inch of the original trim, then added the new trim below. I patched the hole using a swatch from inside the crown, matching the nap of the velvet as best I could. It looks shiny in the photo, but in person it’s far more subtle.

Red Wise Man:

The third wise man needed eye surgery and a few replacement jewels along the front bodice, but he was otherwise in good shape.

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Missing an eye and a few sequins, but otherwise in good shape

After steaming out a few of the storage wrinkles, I added new hat pins to each of the crowns. I found these beautiful pins last summer when I was traveling in Edmonton, Canada. My friend Kelly works for Urban Scrapbook, and writes a regular blog feature called Kelly’s Korner. We popped into the store and there they were on the counter. Serendipity!

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I found these pre-made at Urban Scrapbook in Edmonton, Canada. They’re perfect!

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Updated crowns

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Three Wise Men Refurbished, Posing in My Garden of Course

Once Upon a Time: My First Thanksgiving Day in America

fall colorsIt was 1966. After a three-day train ride through the cities and countryside of America, our family arrived in Northern California. As newly arrived immigrants from Ontario, Canada, we didn’t know a soul.

Why we arrived on Thanksgiving day is a long story. My parents were smart, hardworking people, but neither of them had a formal education. They wanted their girls to get a college degree. California seemed like the land of opportunity, especially for my dad the horticulturist. The plan was to finish the school year, sell our house and come to California. The house sold, we said our goodbyes and we gave away most of our worldly possessions. Then we hit a snag. The US government delayed my father’s visa while they continued to research his background. Dad was a British immigrant first, moving from England to Canada where he met and married our mom. Long story short, we were not allowed to immigrate for another five months. We stayed in a hotel at first, then later with a relative. From there we stayed in the home of our former babysitter and finally rented rooms in the home of an abusive man. These were traumatic months for all of us. We were homeless in a way, straddling uncertainty between two countries. Dad took odd jobs while we waited and our savings kept us going during the wait.

Memories are a fascinating thing. Our brains record everything, but our hearts seem to decide what we recall. The highs and the lows often play out, with the minutiae of daily life lost to the ether.  I remember the brief layover in Chicago. Mom bought us a kit of paper chains to keep our hands busy during the wait. We traveled by coach, so no berth for sleeping. We took turns draped across our mother’s lap. Three days on a train is a long journey when you’re seven.

We arrived in Loomis, California on that wet Thanksgiving day in 1966, welcomed into a stranger’s home. The man who would be my father’s co-worker invited us to dinner! Most of the details remain a blur, but I remember sitting on the floor of a small, warmly lit room watching an episode of Star Trek with a large, lumbering dog nearby.

There were many dark days ahead, but in that moment I felt safe and warm and welcomed, one immigrant family to another, in a vast, complex country called America.

The names and faces of our hosts that day are lost to history. But in my heart I’m thankful for that gracious family that opened their doors and hearts to ours.

Soft Rains and Healthy Brains

While enjoying the sound of a soft rain outside my window, I looked for articles that explain my sense of euphoria with each passing storm.

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Anna’s Hummingbird having a drink at one of the feeders

Apparently I’m a pluviophile!

According to an article in LifeHack

People who love rain bask in their experiences. They can describe the rain in vivid detail, from the mesmerizing pitter-patter sound, to the hypnotic way each drop magnifies and changes the scenery on the other side of the window pane. Pluviophiles appreciate the scent of a fresh storm and the delicious feel of water dripping down their skin. They even know the taste of fresh drops as they look upwards with arms outstretched and welcome a cool drink from the clouds.

It’s nice to be understood. There are dozens of articles on the mood-altering effects of rain, most of them describing how people feel sad or out of sorts when it rains.

curb-garden-variegated-plant-in-rainIt took some digging to find an article supporting my rain-loving ways. I quickly forwarded a copy to my older son. He’s home from college for the Thanksgiving break, and heads out the door every time it rains. He loves it as much as I do.

My garden certainly appreciates the rain. The plants stand a little taller, grateful for the cleansing rinse. Leaves brighten to a shiny green as the plant’s roots welcome the long, steady drink.

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Sweet Peas, blooming for the second time this year

This Anna’s hummingbird took a shower from the branches of the Chinese Pistache. Apparently he’s a pluviophile too.

Anna's hummigbird in the rain

Male Anna’s Hummingbird enjoying the rain

Post-Election Processing

I read a blog post this weekend that resonated with me, so I’m sharing it here. Martha Brettschneider writes of the benefits of mindfulness to help us process and move forward in a positive way.

She described the election outcome as triggering a sense of “social mistrust.”

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that social mistrust is a stress response to not feeling safe, respected, or valued in our community. It’s a deeper, more toxic level of stress than your normal everyday stress, with even stronger physiological impacts on our health and well-being.

You can read the full article here.

Martha discusses ways to transform your stress from “paralyzing to empowering.” If you’ve been struggling with this as I have, than this article is for you..

I’ve done a number of things in the past ten days along these lines. I’ll share more in a future post.