Merry Christmas from the Family Felines

It’s hard to time a holiday blog for two hemispheres. Further, not everyone celebrates Christmas.

If you’re celebrating today, or perhaps you’re reading this on Boxing Day, I hope your season is merry.

And if today is just a random Tuesday (or Wednesday), I hope your days are merry, too.

Tessa in a box near Mickey Mouse stocking

Tessa just took a nibble from Mickey’s ear which is part of my son’s Christmas stocking from many years ago.

Lindy sporting Santa hat

Lindy, 16, sporting the miniature Santa hat. She looks sullen, but mostly because I’m blocking the stream of sun keeping her warm.

Lindy the cat sunbathing

Another one of Lindy sunbathing

Mouse the cat on a jigsaw puzzle

We usually have a jigsaw puzzle going this time of year. It’s a popular place to nap as well. That’s Mouse.

Tessa smelling Christmas greens

Who’s misbehaving? Tessa jumped up on the kitchen counter to smell the fresh Christmas greens.

Tessa under the sheets

“…and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” – Clement Clarke Moore

Wishing you all good things in the coming year.

Love, Alys and the family felines.

Merry Christmas, Choo-choo!

Merry Christmas!

Choooooo…chooooo!

model train in Campbell

Model train in Campbell, CA

There is something nostalgic about miniature trains.  They harken back to a time when hobbyists tinkered with cars and rails, built sets and then sent scale versions of magnificent trains, happily around a track.

For at least a decade now, a local train enthusiast in nearby Campbell runs a set of model trains around the track…in his front yard. I haven’t had the courage to knock on his front door, but I would love to hear how he got started. I wonder if the family peaks out the window from time to time to see the joy they bring to others.

The Livingston home converts the front yard into a model train village. A massive platform fills the entire front yard, and stands about knee-high. There is a shorter platform circling the yard as well.  Three different trains run around the tracks, passing small villages, figurines and miniature versions of Christmas trees.

model train campbell Model train set

Some of the scenery has the vintage flavor of a train station in the 1940’s. Leaves drop from the massive tree above, lending a naturalized air.  Surprises include tiny figurines from the Pixar Car’s  movies, Star Wars and Mickey Mouse.

miniature train station

Mickey Mouse and Daisy wait at the train station

This year, there was an even bigger surprise: a delightful cat.

Campbell model train platform

The train platform occupies the entire front yard. (Can you see the cat)

I didn’t see the kitty at first. What an unexpected surprise.  Just before taking the last of my pictures I caught a glimpse of his fur.

kitty by the model train track

Look at this handsome face

Kitty stretched and yawned, then marched across the train tracks for a closer view of me. Far from being skittish, he was happy for a bit of TLC.

kitty near the water tower

Kitty near the water tower

cat yawning

Big yawn

He rubbed up against my hand, then jumped down for a pet.

When it was time to go, I carried him back to his spot. I didn’t want him to follow me into the street, and although he looks a bit cranky, he was entirely unmoved by the experience.

alys with cat

Returning kitty to his spot

I couldn’t help but drive by a week later to see if I could spot him once again. Sure enough he was sound asleep in the same spot. I think I smiled the rest of the way home.

The miniature train runs during the month of December on McBain Drive in Campbell, CA.

Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with your version of miniature trains, nostalgic treats and whatever makes you smile.

Welcoming Christmas in the Fairy Garden

I thought I spotted Santa in the fairy garden! On closer inspection I realized it was a pair of reindeer and a bag of toys. Santa must be down at the local coffee shop, getting his fill before the big night. The reindeer lingered to see if they could spot any carrots growing in the curb garden. Sorry fellows. I’ve been a lazy winter gardener this year.

reindeer on the roof fairy garden

A couple of reindeer in search of a carrot

Boomdee sent this charming little Christmas sign all the way from Alberta, Canada. Isn’t it adorable? It will be welcoming the wee visitors for years to come.

christmas fairy garden

All decked out for the holiday

The miniature cyclamen is back in business, preferring the colder weather to our summer heat. The baby tears revived as well and are filling in nicely. I added a pair of hypoestes also known as polka dot plants  for a bit of white contrast. I’ve never seen this white variety. They’re usually pink.

cyclamen and baby tears

Baby tears and cyclamen

White 'polka dot' plant

White ‘polka dot’ plant

In case they’re looking for some exercise, I’ve added a small ice-skating rink. San Jose doesn’t get that cold, so like our local hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, we made our own ice.

ice skating pond

Fairy garden ice rink (we have to bring in fake ice and snow)

If I’ve timed this right, it’s still Christmas in the southern hemisphere and almost Christmas in the north. Merry Christmas!

Season’s Greetings

fluffy under the tree

Fluffy under the tree, 2011

My friends in New Zealand, Australia and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere are already celebrating Christmas so I’m putting my well wishes here mid-day so I can split the difference.

If you’re celebrating now then you’re not reading this anyway, but you’ll know that I’m thinking of you.  If you celebrate tonight or tomorrow, wishing you lots of good cheer.

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, wishing you a wonderful Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thanks for following along.  Your presence here is  a gift of joy.

Merry Christmas!

Snow-in-a-Can, Winter Wonderland

Early last week, I received a package in the mail.  Not just any old package, but a package from a garden gnome named Alyster.  He’s a clever little fellow, small enough to fit in your hand, but full of big ideas.

Alyster says he’s “up to his eyeballs in snow” and wishes he could come back to stay in sunny California.  I wish he would come and stay, too.  I need to check in with his traveling companion, Boomdee.

Since Alyster is missing the sun, he thought I might be missing the snow.  (You are so right, Alyster).  That clever garden gnome sent me snow-in-a-can.  Just add water and watch the snow grow.  Along with the snow came a tiny glass igloo, and the smallest scarf you’ve ever seen.

snow in a can

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

So what does one do with snow-in-a-can, a tiny igloo and a pint-sized red scarf?  You make a snow globe!

Several years ago, my friend Marcia sent us this super-cool acrylic globe.  We’ve used it in many ways over the years.  It was a terrarium for a while till the plants outgrew it.  One year we filled it with colored silk Christmas ornaments.  It’s also beautiful unadorned.

Acrylic globe

Acrylic globe

This season it’s a tiny winter wonderland.  Here’s what I did:

I filled the bottom with airfill packing, then topped with a paper plate, cut to fit the opening.

Airplus Packing material

AIRplus Packing material

I foraged a couple of Christmas ornaments from our tree to help set the scene.  We bought the tiny wooden snowman for our first tree 18 years ago.  We were starting from scratch so we bought a small tree and even smaller ornaments at a local import store.  The little door decoration came from our local Hallmark store the year we remodeled our house.

snow globe details

Snow globe details

I added sprigs of Christmas greens, a small pathway and then it was time to let it snow.  I haven’t had this much fun in ages.

It’s ‘snowing’ on WordPress throughout December.  I can’t wait to hit the publish key so I can watch the snow falling on my winter wonderland.

PS…Alyster, I found your flip-flops.  You left them on the bottom of the box.  Please pop over to pick them up whenever you like.  🙂  I’ll keep the light on for you.

snow globe

Snow globe

under the dome

Under the dome

falling snow

Now just linger over this last photo and wait for the snow to fall

 

Garden Update: Frosty and Dry

Days of unseasonal frost have left my garden looking desolate. I raced past the dying tomato plant on my way to dump kitchen scraps.  I upended them into the compost bin, then raced back inside for warmth.

frozen tomato plant

Tomatoes last stand

Still no rain in sight, other than one brief storm last month. The days are cold and dry.

The leaves have been off the Pistache since mid-November, but the maple is just now turning color. It’s nice that they set color at different times. It gives us a chance to enjoy each one.

japanese maple

View from my living room window

Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple

Somewhat comically, I won’t need to refrigerate my bulbs this year.  Generally speaking, California isn’t cold enough so we have to tease the bulbs with a six-week chill.  They’re getting plenty of cold in the garage and should be ready to go soon. I’m not ready, but they are.

The hyacinth bulbs are popping up, happy with the autumn chill.  When they finally bloom, the smell is potent and intoxicating.  I can’t wait.  It evokes a happy childhood memory, so I look forward to breathing that in each year.

hyacinth

hyacinth

I’m off to the craft store to buy some ribbon for the finishing touches on a gift. One last seasonal trip to the post office tomorrow.

What’s happening in your corner of the world? I’m behind on my reading, but look forward to catching up with all your lovely comments, and blogs, soon.

 

Lawn Tree Traditions: Greening up the Neighborhood

mother and son

Mother and son

If you drop by this week, you’ll see Christmas trees up and down the block. Our neighborhood has an extensive and coordinated effort to display cut Christmas trees on our lawn each year. The trees go up the first week of December and come down New Year’s day. I’m the block captain for our street.

We try to make it a family affair, but now that our boys are teens, their interest wanes.  This year my older son did the heavy lifting along with his dad, dropping trees at each house while I drove the truck.  My youngest son asked if he could stay in bed!  So it goes.

the muscle

The Muscle

Our neighbor, Greg lends us his truck for deliveries.  I get to dust off my manual transmission driving skills once a year.  It keeps me in the game.

christmas tree bundles

Ready for delivery

The Bay Area is diverse.  Not all neighbors celebrate this tradition.  When I was a young, I wondered why one or two people wouldn’t want a tree in their yard.  Then I grew up and understood that the world is full of different religions and cultures and it all made sense.  We see Menorah in neighboring windows and understand others simply don’t embrace the ritual.  It’s a great time of year to pause and reflect on the richness of diversity.

We have an artificial tree indoors, and a cut tree on the lawn.  I wrote about the pros and cons of real vs fake last year.  You can read more about that here.

Do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you display a tree?  Real or fake…or both?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, below.

Organized at Heart

I’m posting a series of articles featuring organizing around the holidays this month on my blog Organized at Heart. If the subject interests you, please go take a peak. Today’s blog: Holiday Storage: The Case of the Shrinking House. 

Of note: Wikipedia has a wonderful and detailed article on the origins of the decorated Christmas tree.  I’m always learning something new on that site and must remember to make my annual donation accordingly.

Watercolor Hummer

lexi hummingbird

I signed up for a banner-making class a few weeks ago at locally owned A Work of Heart.  They’re a mixed-media art studio, with the wonderful tag line: Where everyone is an artist.

I went for the Christmas banner, but  left with so much more.  I met the wonderful,  Lexi Grenzer of The Shabby Calavera.  She led the class at A Work of Heart and teaches additional classes at  Scrapbook Island.  We connected on Facebook where I spotted this ethereal watercolor.

My dad was a painter and my mom a great sketch artist, but that level of talent didn’t trickle down. We had plenty of watercolor paint sets growing up, but I never got any good at it.  I have great admiration for Lexi’s skill.

Lexi Grenzer is a teacher, jewelry designer and animal advocate in the Bay Area. She has a great love of all things Shabby Chic and Day of the Dead, which lead to the creation of her blog and business, The Shabby Calavera. Lexi’s days are spent creating in the studio, teaching classes, snuggling with her four fur babies and doting on her son and adoring husband. She attributes her love of art and hand crafted beauties to her Grandmother’s amazing influence.

So in addition to appreciating her art, I really appreciate her heart, and her contributions to our local Humane Society.

And the banner…here’s what me made in class:

Joy Banner

Organized at Heart

I’m posting a series of articles featuring organizing around the holidays this week on my blog Organized at Heart. If the subject interests you, please go take a peak.

Wreathiness

Earlier today, ‘Selfie’ was named Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries.  It brought to mind an earlier Word of the Year back in 2005 coined by Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report: truthiness.

Truthiness  is “the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.”  That is how I feel about my garden wreath.

In concept I wish it were beautiful.  If  you look at a small corner of  the wreath it’s pretty.

wreath detail

Closeups are deceiving

If I was going for truthiness I could call it a day.  Alas,  I’m a gardener that likes to keep it real.

The wreath had potential:

  • A  sturdy, but unobtrusive green metal base from a craft store
  • Lovely hydrangeas, dried to a soft purple gray
  • Long strands of velvety, purple sage
  • Snippets of lavender here and there
  • Bits of ribbon and a hair pin, no longer in use.

I wrapped strands of  sage along the edges of the wreath, then placed three hydrangeas in a loose triangle.  I added a small ribbon and a hair pin.  It just wasn’t enough.  I gathered lavender and added sprigs of that, then hung the wreath on the door, scattering dried flowers  as I went.

The wreath lacks volume.  Adding lavender made it smell nice, but it didn’t really help my cause.  Every time I tried to ‘fluff it up,’ I made it worse. I found a few more hydrangeas, smaller and still green.  Still not enough.  Now I have dried petals all over the front porch. They continue to drop  every time I close the door.

wreath of shame

Wreath of shame

balding wreath

Balding wreath

So, crafty friends, what’s a gardener to do?  Should I hide my wreath of shame?  I ordered a Christmas wreath from the local Boy Scouts.  Maybe I should just wait for it to arrive.

Is there still hope for my garden wreath?

Suggestions welcome in the comments below.

Seedy Business

last of the annuals

Remains of the Day

It’s seedy business.

If I don’t do it though, the birds, squirrels, wind and rain will.

Gather seeds, that is.

I’m fairly new to seed-saving.  I’ve always been a seed packet junkie, often buying far more seeds than I could ever hope to plant.  When my son was much younger, he regularly talked me into buying every pumpkin variety to be had.  Santa brought additional seeds for his Christmas stocking each year.  Our seeds runneth over!

Last year I started saving my own seeds and now I’m hooked.

Planting:

I planted four o’clock seeds this summer with mixed success, but collected them again for a second try.   I successfully started one plant in a pot, but thanks to ‘self-seeding’ ended up with multiple plants in the side garden.

Growing:

The compost bin produced an entire crop of pumpkins so I had left over seeds to spare.  I started several plants indoors, then gave them away to friends.  Reports were positive, so I definitely plan to do this next year.

Sharing:

This is the best part of my seed-saving adventures.  I saved handfuls of Cosmo seeds at the end of 2012 and gave them as gifts that Christmas.  I made a tri-fold card using digital software and my own Cosmo photos, then added small seed packets inside.  A few of my friends kept the cards and seeds intact, but others planted them.  My friend Stacie sent me a photo last month of her towering Cosmos.  That was pretty cool.

Cosmos Seed Cards - Page 001

Cosmo seed card front panel

Cosmos Seed Cards - Back Panel

Cosmos Seed Cards – Back Panel

Early this spring, I  gave away pumpkin seeds to a pair of adorable three-year-old twins.  I met them walking with their dad one evening while I was working in my garden.  The girls showed genuine interest, so I went inside and got them seeds to take home and plant…and they did!  I saw the family a few months later, and dad told me the plants took root.  Good stuff.

Saving:

The annual garden is going to seed and temps are finally dropping.  I knew time was of the essence.  I collected a healthy sample for next year, at the same time leaving plenty of seeds on the plants for my foraging friends.

seed gathering tray

My system: I used a portable tote and plastic cups from an Easter-egg dying project. I dropped seeds into the cups, then salvaged a bloom for easy identification later.

I’m looking forward to sorting and labeling seeds this weekend, a joyful activity for someone ‘born to organize’ like me.   I’ll share my progress next week.

seed pod

My favorite seed pod. Tiny black seeds tumbled out when I gently tapped the pod

Happy weekend!