I Miss My Blog: A Haiku

I miss my dear blog
A yearning, hard to describe
Another sun sets.

Gardening Nirvana feels like a cozy little place on the internet. It’s not quite a room, or for that matter, a garden.

In internet lingo, it’s simply a URL. That said, it’s uniquely mine. I share through words and pictures. Kind strangers stop by from around the globe. Kindred spirits become friends. It’s magical.

Even in my absence, I feel the pull. It’s the strangest thing for a place that didn’t exist several years ago. Gardening Nirvana is my blogging home.

Since you’ve stopped in for a visit, I’ll briefly share what’s new.

In early October I turned 60. The lead up to what my friend Laura calls a “zero birthday” was strange. Sixty! Good grief that sounds old, yet here I am. It all amounted to a hill of beans. I have absolutely nothing unique to say about crossing into another decade. (I have plenty to say about the abysmal state of this country, but I’ll spare you that drama).

Our beautiful state caught fire once again. Autumn used to be a favorite time of year when temperatures finally cooled and the possibility of rain stirred the air. Instead, temperatures remain hot and dry, as fierce winds and low humidity whip into a frenzy. We just passed the one-year mark of the Camp Fire, the worst in our state’s history. It claimed 85 lives and destroyed a community.

This year, everyone has been on edge.

I get first-hand updates from my friend Laura who moved to Paradise six months before it burned. The Camp Fire destroyed her fence and several trees and left heat and soot damage throughout her home. Miraculously, the fire stopped there. Her home is one of the five percent to have been spared. Her friend, Christine wasn’t as lucky. She fled her home with four children and two dogs packed into the car, with forty-foot flames on both sides of the road. I’ll never forget the video she shared as they fled.

This season’s fires started later. We felt a collective relief. Then the predicted “wind events” came to pass, and just before I headed to bed, there was news of the Kincaide Fire. Several more followed, and once again it seemed our beautiful state burned.

We live in a bubble here in San Jose. We’re in a valley, so we avoid the heavy winds that swoop across the hills. We have friends up and down the state that lost power for days, endured forced evacuations and the worry of what they might return to. I should, of course, feel lucky, but instead, I feel dread. We desperately need rain.

On a brighter note, we flew to Mississauga, Ontario mid-month to attend a traditional Indian Wedding. The events were full of joy and laughter, beautiful color, dance, and wonderful food. Both families embraced us, helping us navigate the unknown and making us feel welcome. A local shop helped us select the proper attire for each event. We’re so honored to have been a part of the celebrations.

Haldi and Mendhi

Sangeet

Bride Baraat, Groom Baraat, and Pheras

An injured foot kept me off the dance floor. It’s also reduced my time in the garden.

 

A torn tendon kept me from dancing

A torn tendon kept me from dancing

Recent events remind me, however, that I’m lucky to be alive, and lucky to see another day. For this I’m grateful. If you’ve read this far, I’m grateful for you, too.

The New Abnormal

purple Mexican sage, succulents

Assorted succulents against a back drop of Salvia (Mexican Sage)

It’s been a trying time in our beautiful state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in a Sunday press conference called the wildfires ravaging the state “the new abnormal,” warning environmental disasters will only “intensify” over the next two decades.

“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” he added.

I’ve been thinking back to my small efforts to bring my garden into alignment with the realities of living in our semi-arid state. They seem trivial now as we wait for rain, watching helplessly as forests burn, destroying homes and lives.

succulent with red tips

Succulents originate from dry, desert locations

red jelly bean succulent

Succulent comes from the Latin word “sucus”

My friend Laura moved to Paradise, California in June, looking forward to starting a slower-paced life away from Silicon Valley. She’s been fixing up their new home, installing a fence to contain their dog and choosing paint colors for the walls. Their contractor just finished a stairway to the deck.

Last Thursday, Laura’s family and others fled the small town of Paradise as one of the fastest moving and most destructive fires in California history tore through her town. Harrowing tales of fleeing down the highway with walls of flames on both sides are the norm. As of this writing, 138,000 acres burned, over 10,000 structures including homes have been destroyed  and the death toll today climbed to 56. 52,000 people have been evacuated.

peach toned succulent

Succulents thrive in sunlight and dry air

On Sunday, Laura learned that her home was one of the 5% that survived, but it’s small comfort. The fire is expecting to burn for another two weeks, and when it’s finally out, the infrastructure is gone. Without phone lines, cell towers or electricity, there isn’t much to go back to. She’s staying here in the Valley with her folks, desperate to return home and hoping her cat is okay.

Meanwhile, a second massive fire burns in Southern California.

assorted succulent

Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti

Our beautiful planet must surely weep with the agony of her destruction.

I appreciate all my friends out of the area that have reached out in concern. We live in Silicon Valley, and though close to forested areas, we’re a safe distance from the flames. Smoke from the fires hangs over the Bay Area, creating unhealthy air quality for a week. Schools are keeping children indoors and local marathons and foot races cancelled till further notice.

There is a sense of collective grief, with everyone knowing someone that’s been affected by these fires.  We all want to help.

smoky skies

Grey skies from smoke

For now, we wait and hope.

Moving Summer Along

Hello, hello!

It’s been awhile, eh?

I seem to have lost my blogging mojo this summer.

I’m jumping back in with a summer roundup, even though the first day of autumn in California is still weeks away. Part of me is willing it to be October, with cooler temps and that special crackle in the air. I’m emotionally done with summer, 2018.

On a national level, it feels like we’re on a reverse journey to the 1950s, and not in a good way. I wake up feeling a little off-center, wondering what fresh hell the US president has unleashed. It wears on me.

hazy skies in San Jose

Hazy skies in San Jose

To add to the summer gloom, California’s wildfire season started early, with dozens of wildfires up and down the state. The Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California is now the largest in California history.

Setting aside any of the absurdities you may have heard from a certain someone’s ill-advised Tweet, California has one of the most sophisticated fire-fighting agencies in the world. That said, here is what CAL FIRE has been up against. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Across California, the nighttime brought little relief, recording the highest minimum temperature statewide of any month since 1895, rising to 64.9.

California has been getting hotter for some time, but July was in a league of its own. The intense heat fueled fires across the state, from San Diego County to Redding, that have burned more than 1,000 homes and killed eight. It brought heat waves that overwhelmed electrical systems, leaving swaths of Los Angeles without power.

I check the nearby hills for fire activity every morning. Everyone is on edge, knowing that rainfall in this state won’t arrive till late October.

Graduating high school

On the home front, I’m mentally and emotionally preparing myself for my youngest son’s first year away at university. We’ll be dropping him off at college in Southern California in ten short days. Part of me is ready to get the initial separation over with. It’s time to pull off the mommy Band-Aid and let the tears fall where they may. The fine print of parenthood is that one day they really do leave home. Sure, sure, you know that on an intellectual level. It is still a bit of a stunner when they actually do. The part of raising them is over, but the emotional attachment lasts a life time.

Having said all that, I know that my 18-year-old son is bright, capable, kind and engaged. He is also socially astute. He’s ready to leave the nest and I know he’ll soar. I’m taking extra tissue with me anyway.

Lifted Spirits Boutique

Lifted Spirits Boutique

The bright spot this summer has been spending time volunteering at Lifted Spirits, a drop-in program for homeless women in San Jose. My organizing business slowed down at the start of the summer, freeing up time to spend with this wonderful organization. In addition to volunteering in the women’s clothing “boutique” for a couple of shifts a week,  I’ve been reorganizing the front office, the kitchen, the staff room and the boutique. My own spirits lift when I spend time there serving others. I’ve learned a lot about myself as well. I feel a tremendous camaraderie with my fellow volunteers and all who serve the homeless men and women in our community.

growing pumpkins

Pumpkin Crop, 2018

My beautiful garden hums along. The tomatoes are ripening slowly, but they’re delicious as we pluck them from the vine. The self-seeded pumpkin vines have produced five pumpkins so far. Two are small, about the size of a cantaloupe with two more suitable for carving. I had one pumpkin fully ripen, then almost immediately soften. More seeds for next year’s garden I guess.  Most of my pots are now planted with succulents. Unlike me, they tolerate hot, dry conditions. I learned a trick to better watering, too. I place ice cubes on the soil’s surface and let them melt, slowly watering the plants. This way I don’t have any runoff, since the plants dry out between watering. It’s working well.

There you have it.

What’s happening in your world this summer/winter of 2018?

Flu and Fires, Big and Small

Some weeks are better than others.

This wasn’t one of them.

Friday night, as my son left his desk, he reached down to unplug a small space heater. We were together in our home office. When he reached for the cord it was scorching-hot, so he quickly pulled his hand away. Within seconds, sparks started shooting from the electrical outlet.

space heater cord

Two-prong plug and melted cord

If you been through something like this, you know that time distorts. It slows down to a crawl, at least in your mind, as you try to absorb the information at hand.

I kept asking my son if he was okay and I could hear him say yes. I asked again and then I asked again, never taking my eyes off the sparks inexplicably shooting out of the wall. What-do-I-do, what-do-I-do, what-do-I-do?

We have a disabled fire extinguisher in the garage.

Useless.

My older son called into the room: “It’s an electrical fire, don’t use water.” Mike headed outside to the fuse box to cut the power.

scorched drapes

Scorched drapes

Sparks shuttered like oil in a hot pan, popping in place on the bamboo floor. Then the drapes caught fire…or didn’t. They’re synthetic, so they started to melt.

Think.

I backed out of the room, grabbed a chair cushion, and returned. Flushed with fear, I smashed away at the sparks. Suffocate the flames. That’s what I’m supposed to do.  Cushion in hand, I whacked at the sparks on the floor. I hit the outlet, apparently breaking the melting cord at about the same time Mike killed the power. I stood there in the dark, waiting for the fire to come back, but just as quickly it was over.

We all handle these things differently. My son joked that it was his “first fire” and I countered, “let’s call it your last.” Mike assured everyone that all was fine. We managed to make light of what could have been so much worse and even sat down to an evening meal.

About thirty minutes later we regrouped, opened the windows to some cool night air, and Mike helped me take down the scorched drapes to help with the smell. I would deal with the layer of soot in the morning.

Saturday morning dawned. Instead of feeling rested, Mike and I woke up with a bad cold.

Actually, it turned out to be the flu. I called in our regrets to a friend’s Christmas party, an evening we hated to miss. My sister and I were attending a card making class on Sunday to celebrate our October/November birthdays. I had to cancel that too.  We slept for hours, fitfully, painfully, all the while hoping our boys remained well.

Tuesday rolled around and I had to cancel my volunteer shift at a food bank. I felt about two feet tall making that call, but there are other days, other shifts, and you realize life carries on just fine without you.

In the words of someone brilliant: This too shall pass.

Having that tiniest of fires in my home taught me how quickly and unpredictably a fire can start and spread. We’re lucky. My son is fine. There is no significant damage to our home and the rest of my family is safe. We lost a few immaterial possessions and as soon as I’m well, I’ll be updating that fire extinguisher.

I’ll never own or use a space heater again.

California Wildfire Update, December 20, 2018

The big fires are out of my control. I’m trying to heed other’s advice by doing what I can without falling into that deep, dark hole of despair.  It’s been a devastating year for our beautiful state.

[The Thomas] wildfire in Southern California that sparked devastating blazes across the region remains, as of Wednesday morning, the second-largest fire in California history, with only 55 percent of it successfully contained. The Thomas Fire is not expected to be fully contained until January 2018 and is on track to become the largest fire in California history.

The Thomas Fire scorched as of Tuesday night—about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers), or 19 times the size of Manhattan.

Garden Tomatoes: An Uninspired Tale

I’m not sure what to think about this season’s garden tomatoes. The expression “failure to thrive” comes to mind. Sadly, the basil and the corn in this box aren’t doing so hot either.

VegTrug with corn, basil, tomatoes

VegTrug planted with basil, tomatoes and corn. They’ve all remained small

Generally speaking, tomatoes are fairly easy to grow. The plant is part of the nightshade family, so their poisonous leaves remain untouched. The small yellow flowers attract the bees and before you know it (usually!) you have a vine of ripening tomatoes. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the production as they fruit all at once. That has not been a problem this year.

I planted half a dozen bedding plants in the spring. Some years I start from seed, but I didn’t save any last year so I went the lazy route. I put several small tomato plants in my raised VegTrug and three more in my vegetable box.

native garden and veg trug

May, 2017. Everything looked healthy in May. The nasturtiums surrounded the tomatoes, until the heat set in

I had one more plant in need of a home, so I popped it into the curb garden where it would get plenty of sun in the company of the perennials.

It’s taken nearly four months for three of the plants to produce.

orange cherry tomatoes

The first of the tomatoes

orange tomatoes in planting box

The first of the tomatoes in the planting box. They’re small but delicious

The plant in the curb garden never grew more than a few inches tall and the same goes for the plants in the VegTrug.

curb garden tomatoes orange

Tomatoes growing on the left side of curb garden box…all five of them!

I amended the soil, and watered faithfully once the rain stopped. The plants aren’t drooping or diseased and there is no sign of garden pests. They’re just small and sad and completely unremarkable.

Poor soil could be the culprit though I amended the soil with coffee grounds which I got for free at our local Starbucks. I kept an eye on the water and I know they’re getting full sun.

Since I really wanted at least one healthy tomato plant, I bought a larger bedding plant in a different variety and planted it in the curb garden. It’s too late in the season to start over with a small plant or from seed. All the perennials are thriving in the box so I know the soil is robust. The new plant looks healthy so far, no thanks to my mad gardening skills.

tomato plant curb garden

Newly planted curb garden tomato plant

newly planted tomato

Flowers on the newly planted tomato

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, fire season is upon us. Locally, we’ve seen three small fires, two in San Jose and one in nearby Saratoga. They were all extinguished within 24 hours. A fire in nearby Saratoga burned on the other side of the ridge from the camp where my son volunteers. That definitely gave me pause.  The emergency alert system sent out a text saying to shelter in place, but when I checked on my son he said all was fine. We learned the following day that the alert went out to everyone in the county!  I’m glad the system works, but the error unnecessarily alarmed a lot of people, including this worrywart of a mom.  The largest active fire is in Mariposa/Detwiler. It’s burned 76,000 acres so far, but crews have it 40% contained. My hat is off to these firefighters that work tirelessly under unimaginable conditions throughout the fire season.

2017 Detwiler Fire map

Source: Google Maps

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An Ominous Autumn Beginning

These last few days have been surreal. We’ve been under a heat advisory since Thursday, the first day of autumn here in San Jose.  Temperatures climbed into the high 90’s F (34C) and have remained high for five days. It’s been months since we’ve had any significant rain, leaving our state brown and dry as we face year five of the California drought.

Wildfires are always a concern this time of year, but the elevated temps and the drought-produced fuel created a tipping point.  As I drove to my son’s school Monday afternoon I saw this:

loma-fire-by-day

Loma Fire by day as view from my son’s high school

My heart sank. These are the beloved Santa Cruz mountains, part of what surrounds San Jose, creating our iconic Silicon Valley.

When I got home, I checked in with friends that live “over the hill” and all were safe. Cal Fire crews descended on the steep terrain from around the state and we are obsessively checking for updates.

Two hours after the start of this fire, we sat down to watch the presidential debates. An estimated 800,000 viewers tuned in for the first of four televised presidential candidate debates.  Between the fire, the heat and the bombastic Republican nominee spewing nonsensical pablum on the stage, I needed a break.

We turned off the TV and went for a walk around the block. Still out of sorts, we decided to go for a rare evening drive.

One of the most frightening aspects of wildfires is their unpredictability. They rage out of control, change directions without notice and leave damage in their wake. It’s a metaphor for the US presidential election, still an agonizing 40 days away. I’m desperate for it to be over, fearful of the possible outcome, and more than ready to see that bombastic blowhard lose.

loma-fire-at-night

Loma Fire at night, Loma Prieta, California

This morning I received the following email alert:

[the fire]  is now burning upwards of 1,500 acres. Three shelters have been opened for evacuated residents; Soquel HS in Santa Cruz, Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church, and The Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos are all receiving evacuees. San Jose Fire Department still has multiple units on scene including our SJFD PIO and Chief Officers. We are still on high alert for possible evacuations here on the San Jose side. As you know high temperatures and low fuel moisture along with difficult terrain make this fire particularly dangerous.

This is a good day to remind myself to practice self-care. I’m engaging my Tantra breathing, drinking lots of cool, fresh water and sticking to my meal plan.

How do you manage your stress, when things are out of your control?

Loma Fire Day One

Another Busy Wildfire Season

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