How to Trim A Christmas Tree: The Tessa Edition

The vote was unanimous: no breakable ornaments on the Christmas tree this year.

Kitten in Christmas Tree

Those eyes! That face!

Our growing kitten, Tessa could hardly believe her luck. Were we really putting up a tree in the house?

We have an artificial Christmas tree that we set up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving. With the boys home from school and Mike off work, the four-day weekend is the perfect time to trim the tree.

Kitten in Christmas tree

Mike may have needed a bandage after this encounter

kitten in christmas tree

Mike and Tessa exchange looks

Like most kittens, Tessa’s curiosity peaks at the sight of anything new. So after assembling the tree, we let her explore. She wasted no time climbing into the tree for a little adventure. As Mike sat on the floor opening the branches she jumped up, climbed down, rolled around and peered out at me with excited eyes.

two faced kitten in Christmas tree

I’ve got my eye on you

From now on, when I hear the expression “lit up like a Christmas tree” I’ll think of our tiny terror frolicking through the limbs. Who needs lights when you live with Tessa?

Well…we still wanted some lights. Once she lost interest we strung the lights and the boys carefully chose the soft, unbreakable decorations to hang low on the tree. I gave it a second pass, and moved up anything that hung too low. You have to think like a kitten. We unplug the lights when we’re away, and nearly two weeks in, all is well.

kitten in christmas tree

Tessa gymnastics

two faced kitten in christmas tree

She may never come down from the tree

If Tessa’s likeness were a tree ornament, they might look like this.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, do you also decorate a tree?

Tessa's back side in the Christmas tree

The End

It’s Kind of a Long Story

I was out-of-town for a couple of days visiting my friend Marcia in Santa Rosa. When I got home Friday evening, Mike said all was okay, but that he and my son thought they were hearing things.

“Things” they said, sounded just like a cat’s meow coming from inside Mike’s car. The sound was neither loud nor repetitive so they chalked it up to a song playing through Mike’s phone. Mike drove our son to school Friday morning, then drove across town to work. Late that afternoon they both heard it, but again, couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Shortly before I walked in the door, Mike heard the sound coming through the living room wall. Our living room faces the back wall of our garage.

As the two of them finished the story, the three of us traipsed out to the garage and stood listening for a tell-tale meow. Nothing.

At this point, Mouse the Cat started demanding “where-have-you-been-how-dare-you-leave- town”, circling the wagons so to speak. We took a 15 minute walk around the block, an evening ritual that leaves kitty tired and content. We’ve grown used to the stares and comments by now and when asked simply joke that we’re “walking our dog.”

Back home, my kitty radar had piqued. If there really was a cat in Mike’s car, I needed to know. I suggested we sit quietly in the back seat for a while and just listen.

As an aside, I wonder sometimes what things look like to a casual observer: “Oh look, Mike and Alys are sitting in the garage in the back seat of Mike’s car having a chat.”

Within minutes, we both heard the meow. It seemed to be coming from the front of the car. Mike drives an electric car called a Tesla. It’s assembled differently from a traditional car, so when you pop the hood where the motor would typically be, there is an open storage space instead.

We popped the hood…and found nothing. We searched the interior of the car, the trunk, the front compartment, and I even crawled under the front of the car to see if there was an access point we’d missed. There are two holes under the carriage of the car, but neither one of them large enough for a cat to gain access.

We coaxed and cooed and called “kitty-kitty” to no avail. Somehow, somewhere a cat remained trapped somewhere in the inner workings of the car.

I felt sick.

My son Googled “cat stuck in Tesla” and he got a match. Sure enough, someone captured this video of a cat as they freed it from inside the inner workings of the car.

It’s a different model than ours, but suddenly it seemed possible.

It was after 9 now on a Friday night so there was nothing further to be done. If there was a cat inside the car, it had now been in there for over 12 hours. We left food and water under the car and went to bed, sleeping fitfully.

We drove to the Tesla Service Center in Santa Clara Saturday morning and expressed our fears. They were terrific.  While we waited for the auto mechanic to arrive, two of the service professionals drove the car on to the lift to expose the under carriage. We heard a meow!  They worked quickly to remove one of the wheels and several surrounding parts, then started to remove the covering from the bottom of the car. When the mechanic arrived, he approached the problem from a different angle, removing the lining of the front compartment and several bolts. This exposed a shoe-box sized opening (the auxiliary battery compartment) above the electric panel and one frightened little cat.

I swooped in, nabbed her and immediately placed her in our cat carrier.  Deanna, one of the service technicians escorted me into a quiet waiting room while the team re-assembled the car. Talk about excellent customer service!

Tesla Service Team

Diana, Jimmy and Jake, Tesla Service Team, Santa Clara, California

My son was anxiously waiting at home. He asked the night before “if it’s a cat, can we keep it?”  I blurted out yes, before conferring with Mike, but I needn’t have worried. The desire to keep the cat (before ever meeting her) was unanimous.

It was love at first sight for the lot of us.  Here she is, the little darling, two minutes after her rescue.

kitten in a cat carrier

Safely ensconced in a cat carrier

It’s a holiday weekend here in the states, so our vet won’t reopen till Tuesday. We’re keeping her isolated from Mouse and Lindy till we get a well-kitty checkup, but the rest of us can’t keep our hands off of her. She has a lovely purr and enjoys nuzzling around our necks. Our little darling is a beauty, too, with soft gray kitten eyes and the loveliest markings. Look at that face! She must be quite young but she’s eating solid food so she’s old enough to be away from her mother.  Our postal scale says she weighs 24 ounces or .7 kg.

Our sweet girl has gladdened our hearts and lifted our spirits. We’ll never know her origin story, but we’re happy to have our own story to tell. Welcome to the family, Tessa.

PS: Do you remember this post from February: Loving Cats, Real and Imagined??

Pauline King quote

“It really grew like that? Then it must be a message from the fairies – isn’t it special! I love it! Maybe they are saying there is another kitty on the way ….. 🙂 ❤” – Pauline King, February 11, 2017

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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.

Vintage Postage: A Daughter’s Love Letter and a Blogging Giveaway

daddy's easel

Dad’s easel hangs in my crafting area with special photos

Today’s post is a bit of a departure from my gardening antics. It’s a love letter, a giveaway and a way to celebrate my dad. He died in early August, 1969 at the age of 54. I was nine.

This year, things are different. I’ve worked many hours with a caring and knowledgeable therapist, reaching in to the dark corners of my confusing childhood. My willingness to do the hard work finally paid off. I’ve been able to integrate the vulnerable girl I was into a strong, caring adult. Through Fran’s guidance, I’ve arrived at a happier place.

Will you celebrate with me?

Eric Milner

Dad's Landscape Drawing_0001

Eric Milner Landscape Design

My father, Eric, had lots of hobbies.  Outdoors, he gardened, spending hours working with his hands to shape our beautiful, Ontario garden. He dug a small brook along the garden path to collect water and snow. The garden brimmed with flowers and in the summer, garden vegetables and fruits. I tasted my first cherry tomato from his garden. My sister Sharon and I would race around pinching the snapdragons. Dad taught me why bees are important and why you should never hurt one. Mom gave me a pair of spoons so I could dig in the dirt under the kitchen window while dad played in the garden nearby. There are many cherished memories of our home in Canada.

During the winter months, dad worked on his indoor hobbies. He built a wooden model of the Golden Hind. He painted, collected coins, made home-made movies with his Super 8 and he collected stamps from around the world.

Daddy in India 1941

Dad in India

Born in Oldham, England, dad studied horticulture and design. He lived in Darjeeling, India for many years where he worked on a tea plantation. He was a captain in the army, and worked as a translator. After the war, disillusioned with life back in England, he moved to Ontario, Canada. There he met our mother on a blind date.  According to Mum, she didn’t want to go. Her friend convinced her that my dad was a good dancer so she went. They married a year later.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

Mom and Dad get married

My parents moved to California in the fall of 1966. By Christmas, 1968 dad had lung cancer. He died the following year.

My tall, slender dad loved teasing us. He would exclaim loudly at something outside the window, then when you turned back your dessert was gone. We fell for it every time. He came home from work hiding small gifts behind his back and my sister and I would get to choose which hand.  He saved extra postage stamps to encourage our own collections. He loved animals and children, art and photography, and most of all he loved us.  And of course, he loved gardening.

 Vintage Postage Give-away

My dad collected stamps from his travels and through buy and trade. Packets of stamps arrived in the mail, ready for soaking and mounting in his Burgundy-covered New Age Stamp Album.  May years after his death, Mum sold a few of his stamp albums and gave each of us the money toward college.  She saved the rest of his albums and they came to me after she died.  I’ve leafed through them from time to time, amazed at his vast collection. My oldest son took one of his albums for show and tell in grade school. Recently I sent some of his stamps to a dear and trusted friend and realized the joy in releasing them to someone special. My sister plans to make cards for her friends with the album in her care.

Here is where you come in. My dad would get a kick out of the idea of mailing these stamps around the world again. The album pages have come free of their binding. They’re ready to go.  If you look for a ‘sign’ you can find one anywhere, so for me, this is a sign to mail the stamps to you, and quickly before the post office goes broke.  I once viewed his albums as a life and a hobby interrupted. Now I see them as a gift to be shared, and as a way to celebrate his kindness, generosity, curiosity and care. Will you please take part?

Sample Pages

The stamp issue dates are mid-1937 to mid-1938.

Please make your requests using the contact form.  Click here.  This keeps the requests private and allows you to provide your complete name and address for mailing.

On the form, please request your first, second and third country of choice. Include your full name and mailing address. That’s it. Please make your request by August 31, 2014.  If I still have pages after that date, I will let you know. Click on the list of postage stamp countries to see what’s available:

List of postage stamp countries

postage stamp collage

Pages of postage stamps 1937 – 1938

What can you do with a bunch of old postage stamps?

  • Use them to make mixed-media art
  • Make a birthday card for someone special
  • Laminate them in strips and use them for bookmarks
  • Add them to a scrapbook page
  • Give them to a child and make up a story to go with them
  • Celebrate history
  • Take part in this gardening nirvana blogging adventure.

Pinterest curates some great pieces of art using postage.

Please let me know what you think in the comments, and then send your request via the contact form.  I would love it if you joined in the fun?

Daddy’s Designs, Daughter’s Haiku

In honor of my dad, I’ve written haiku to go with his landscape drawings.

Dad painted and drew as a hobby, but he also studied horticulture and worked at a nursery. These drawings are loose pages from one of his sketch book. My parents sold his paintings before we moved to the US in 1966. These are among the few possessions to arrive with us from Canada. I don’t know if he drew them for a class or for a potential client, but I love them dearly.

Many years ago I had one of dad’s landscape paintings professionally framed. It was expensive at the time, so I never thought about framing his sketches. I should frame them now. The thought just occurred to me as I type this. I guess I needed to write this post.

Daddy’s Designs

Beautiful drawings
lovely landscapes in pencil
Eric Milner. Dad.

Eric Milner: Garden Design

Eric Milner: Garden Design

Art flowed from his hands
three-dimensional gardens.
May I sit under the tree?

copyright Eric Milner

Eric Milner Design: Patio Near Garage

Eric Milner Designs: Planting Pocket

Eric Milner Designs: Planting Pocket

Garden steps and ramps
I’m glad he would never know
Sharon would need one

Eric Milner Designs: Steps and Ramps

Eric Milner Designs: Steps and Ramps

Carport patio
storage wall, movable planter
a caption haiku

Carport Patio: Eric Milner Designs

Carport Patio: Eric Milner Designs

Dad's Landscape Drawing

Eric Milner Designs: Zig-zag

Write your own Haiku here.

The Giving Garden

One of the coolest things about our neighborhood is the general camaraderie.  Neighbors talk to neighbors.

On the surface, that sounds so simple, but time and again we hear from others how lucky we are to live on a street where all the neighbors know each other.  Over the years, we’ve covered for each other with emergency child-care, extra meals in times of poor health, emotional support and carrots.

Carrots?

Yes, even carrots.

The grandfather of one of the daycare kids walked by while I was curbside chatting with (yes) another neighbor.  I reached over to offer him a fresh garden pea, when he stopped me and asked if he could have ten.  More specifically, his granddaughter needed ten items to trade during Kindergarten class for a lesson on trade and Thanksgiving.

Our quick search didn’t  yield ten pea pods, but there were still plenty of carrots.  Not just any carrots, but the very carrots the wee kinder (gardener) planted herself.  He came back with his granddaughter later that day. Her brother gave her special permission to harvest his carrots as well in case she didn’t have enough.

Baggy in tow, she pulled up several carrots, bagged them and happily smiled for the camera.

harvesting carrots

Harvesting

Grandpa asked her to rinse the dirt from her hands in the fresh rain water, and then she wiped them on the grass.  I stepped in and dried her tiny hands on the inside of my jacket, because honestly, once a mom always a mom.  I scooped her into a hug and she was on her way.

harvested carrot

Harvested carrot

all smiles

All smiles

You reap what you sow .  I felt such a welling of emotion as I turned to come inside.  Ten little carrots were on their way to the classroom, and once again the giving garden filled me with joy.

The Colors of Fall: Our Own Special Tree

colorful leaves

Colorful leaves

New England states are known for stunning displays of fall color.  My husband and I crossed the country by train one year so we could enjoy the spectacular (and fleeting) beauty.

We also had the good sense to plant our own fall color in the strip of land between the street and the sidewalk.  Though there were four beautiful trees growing in the back yard when we bought our house in 1996, we didn’t have a single tree out front.

August, 1996

Planting the tree
August, 1996

We planted two that first year, and have since planted a couple more.   The Magnolia shows off in early spring with huge, snowy-white flowers but the fall belongs to the splendid Chinese Pistache.

The City of San Jose requires a permit before planting a tree in the sidewalk strip, the space between the sidewalk and the street.  They provide a list of “approved” street trees.  Approved trees must have non-invasive roots, non-staining fruit and other good-neighbor qualities.  In the past, neighboring streets sported Liquidambar trees.  They’re pretty but a nuisance when planted curbside.  Invasive roots lift the sidewalks, causing myriad tripping hazards, and the seed pods are hard enough to twist an ankle when stepped on.  I remember getting them caught in the wheels of the boys’ s stroller and later in the undercarriage of scooters.  One by one, homeowners removed the Liquidambar, leaving neighborhoods bereft of trees.

A few years back the trend reversed, and once again families are planting trees.

Planting a tree is an act of hope and optimism.  It also says “I’m here to stay!”  My family moved a lot when I was a child, and I moved even more during college and my early working career.  The same was true for my husband. Planting a tree outside our front window said  “we plan to stay awhile.”

chinese pistache newly planted

August, 1996

chinese pistache spring

Spring, 2011

Now and again my husband grumbles that our tree is not as tall or as full as the one across the street.  I immediately come to our trees’ defense and assure him that it’s just fine.  BK (before kids) we used to measure the tree’s height each year.  We settled into life raising two boys, and measured their growth each year instead.

Winter Views of the Pistache

Growing boys, sleeping tree

Now we have three strapping teenagers (two boys and one tree) and all three are taller than me.  The colors of fall, and our beautiful tree, are an introspective time to reflect.

chinese pistache

November 12, 2013

hummer in pistache

This little hummingbird sang while I raked