In Search of Equilibrium

front porch with pumpkins

Welcome to our front porch. There’s a beautifully embroidered welcome sign, a gift from Marlene, and a trio of home-grown pumpkins

It’s hard to comprehend the bleakest October in recent memory. By day I’m trying to regain my equilibrium.  At night, though, my body betrays me. I wake with my hands closed tightly into fists and I have to remind myself to breathe. It’s been surreal.

Historically speaking, October is my favorite month. It starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween, with lots of playfulness in between.

This year my birthday dawned October 2nd with devastating news out of Las Vegas. Another senseless act of gun violence, perhaps the worst in our troubled history. There are more questions than answers; more lives tragically destroyed. Worst of all, nothing seems to change.

I received lovely birthday greetings throughout the day from family and friends. I swung through highs and lows the strangest mixture of darkness and light.

My friend Kelly and her husband Jim were due to arrive October 1st from Canada. They got a nasty flu instead, and were bed-ridden for several days. Jim had to cancel his trip entirely. We were all disappointed to lose our long-planned week in coastal Carmel

Carmel, Calfornia

Carmel by the sea

Kelly came a week later and we enjoyed the abbreviated time we had together.

alys and kelly

Kelly and I took a card class together

The day after Kelly arrived, we woke to more difficult news. An unprecedented firestorm swept through Santa Rosa late at night, destroying an entire neighborhood and damaging businesses and a major hospital. Many of the older residents were unable to escape. The loss of life is devastating.

smoky skies

Multiple spare-the-air days

I’ve been mentally “gathering my people.” My friend Leslie moved to Las Vegas three years ago to enjoy the open space and mountain air. I couldn’t reach her by text, so it was a huge relief when she marked herself safe via Facebook.

My friend Marcia lives in Santa Rosa and plans to visit today. It’s been on the calendar for months, but given the devastating fires, it will be especially good to see her.  Marcia’s mother had to be evacuated from her care home as the fires spread. The quick-moving fire ravished entire neighborhoods. At the height of the firestorm, 100,000 people were evacuated. 20,000 remain displaced and 42 people lost their lives in the fast-moving fire.

Santa Rosa holds a special place in my heart. I spent three summers working at SRT, Santa Rosa’s Summer Repertory Theater. I wrote about my friendship with Marcia earlier this year.

SRT program 1984

Summer Repertory Theater (SRT) Program, 1984

My in-laws lived in Calistoga in their final years. Authorities evacuated the entire town of Calistoga for two days this weekend as the high winds constantly changed course. Mike feels emotionally invested in the well-being of their former home and ranch, even though the property has since changed hands. Authorities allowed residents back home on Sunday and as far as we can tell, the homes in that area are safe.

Calistoga

Extended family in Calistoga (Mt. St. Helena in background)

Throughout this unfolding drama, my colleague Ellen Hovey quietly lost her battle with cancer. Ellen’s strength and courage inspired all who knew her.  She’s survived by her husband and her 17-year-old son with Down Syndrome. It’s a sad loss for all who knew her. I can’t image how hard it must have been to say goodbye to her young man.

I’m craving a walk in the woods, alone with my thoughts. I have my fingers crossed that the long-term forecast is correct and that the hoped-for rain arrives on Friday.  It will aid the fire-fighters and at the same time clear our the dangerous, smoke-filled air.

Equilibrium will return. For now I feel the weight of the world.

In early October 2017, a series of wildfires started burning across the state of California, United States. They broke out throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties during severe fire weather conditions effectively leading to a major red flag warning from much of the Northern California area. Seventeen separate wildfires were reported at this time.[3] These fires included the Tubbs Fire (the most destructive), the Atlas Fire, Nuns Fire and others.

Due to the extreme conditions, shortly after the fires ignited on October 8 and 9, they rapidly grew to become extensive, full-scale incidents spanning from 1,000 acres (400 hectares) to well over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) each within a single day. By October 14, the fires had burned more than 210,000 acres (85,000 ha), and destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures [4][1] while forcing 90,000 people to evacuate from their homes.[5] The Northern California fires have killed at least 42 people[1] and hospitalized at least 185,[6] making the week of October 8, 2017, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

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10 Reasons to Love October

October is my favorite month. I’m not alone. October ranks in the top three in a number of surveys, vying with May for the top spot.

Here is my personal, unscientific top ten reasons to love October.

10. October starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween

Okay, so not everyone is born in October, but if you love cooler weather, falling leaves and crisp air, this is the birthday month for you. If you’re mad for Halloween, also like me, you have 31 days of fun in store.

alys' birthday

Mike finds beautiful Halloween cards for my birthday

9. It’s a lovely month in both hemispheres

I’ve learned a lot about the southern hemisphere in my years of blogging. Most of us complain about the bitter winter months, but October is the start of spring for my friends in New Zealand and Australia, and the beginning of autumn here in San Jose. Everybody wins!

8. The return of gardening weather

Finally! The earth tilts on its axis as we head toward winter and cooler weather prevails. I can water the plants, pull weeds and put the garden in order without risking heat stroke.

hydrangea-closeup

Hydrangea’s fall colors

7. Pumpkins

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I dedicate a lot of blog “real estate” to growing, care-taking, harvesting and decorating with pumpkins. My husband takes over on Halloween, carving the pumpkins we grow into lovely works of art. We save some of the seeds to plant the following year. We offer the pulp and a generous helping of seeds to the squirrels to who are busy foraging for the winter. The neighborhood squirrels planted their extra seeds this year, turning out all the lovely pumpkins in this photo. I’ve even dedicated a page to our love of pumpkins. Can you see it at the top of the blog?

pumpkin-collage-october-2016

Growing and harvesting pumpkins

6. Planning a Halloween costume

My love of theater and sewing merge in October. I get to plan and create a costume for a couple of parties and if I’m not too tired, I’ll wear it on Halloween night. My sister Sharon and I have always had fun dressing up. I gave it up for many years, turning my attention to the boy’s costumes instead. In recent years, I’m back in the swing of things and I always have fun. This year I’m actually renting my costume, but sewing one for my husband. Stay tuned for the silly details.

5. National Chocolate Day

It should come as no surprise that the National Confectioners Associate designated October 28th as National Chocolate Day. As a lifetime chocolate lover working hard to keep sugar at bay, I’m thinking this might be just the day for me. I can choose to indulge in this delectable treat once a year, banishing it from my daily diet and making it a special treat. As always, I’m a work in progress.

chocolate-pumpkin

This chocolate pumpkin was a gift from a friend one year

4. National Cat Day

Every day is cat day in this household. That said, I appreciate the intentions of this charitable organization. They seek to:

” help the public recognize the number of cats that need to be rescued. The day also encourages cat lovers to celebrate the cats in their lives for the unconditional love and companionship that they bestow upon them.

This day is sponsored by the Animal Miracle Foundation and was created by Pet Lifestyle Expert and Animal Welfare Advocate, Colleen Paige, in 2005. Since its inception, it has helped save the lives of more than one million cats.” Source: National Day Calendar

inflatable-cats-and-mouse

My son’s larger-than-life, inflatable cat. Mouse the cat is the real deal.

3. Rain in the Forecast

After months of dry weather, October kicks off our rainy season. I love the rain as much as I love pumpkins. You know that is saying a lot.

tree reflecting in rain on deck

Once upon a time it rained in San Jose

2. Snuggle weather

After months of hot, dry days, it’s a delight to curl up under a warm blanket with a hot mug of tea at hand. Longer evenings give themselves over to more indoor leisure like assembling a puzzle, reading a thick book (or more blogs!) and making crafts.

1. Halloween

Halloween is the second most popular holiday in America, behind Christmas. It evolved over the years “from Medieval rituals to the 1950’s kid-centered activity it is today.”  You can follow this link to history.com to watch a two-minute video on the origins of the day. My youngest son, now 16, still enjoys the festivities. He and a friend create a “haunted deck” each year, using black plastic sheeting and an assortment of props. We live in a neighborhood populated with young children and words gets around. Last year we handed out candy to nearly 400 trick-or-treating children. There are knocks at the door for nearly three hours. It’s festive and fun. Everyone’s exhausted by November 1st, ready to settle in to cooler days, but until then, Halloween is great fun.

Is October your favorite month?

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Gardener in Repose

skeleton doppleganger 2014

Ms. Doppelganger

October isn’t over yet, but my skeletal doppelgänger is putting her feet up for a spell.  That gnarly pumpkin is the perfect foot rest for her bone-weary feet.  Check out that gorgeous gardening apron, beautifully hand-made and gifted via Gjeometry’s Pay it Forward last year. Her seamstress skills are legendary along with her famous cat.

The original skeleton’s head is long gone, so I improvised with a plush pumpkin. A guest brought it to our boys Halloween party one year. Isn’t it a dream?

Ms. Doppelganger is holding a carrot that is just a few weeks shy of its one year anniversary. Somehow it escaped harvest, continued to grow, bloomed and just now went to seed. I’m amazed by nature’s gifts every day.

carrot anniversary 2014

Carrot Anniversary

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve been reading about my (mostly) green thumb.  Here is a never-before-seen picture of the green thumb at rest. Are you suitably impressed?

green thumb

My Green Thumb

We’ve left the rocking chair available for drop-in guests. If you’re feeling weary, please stop by, pull up a pumpkin and sit a spell. I’ll press a cup of steaming hot tea in your hand and we can shoot the breeze.

halloween on deck 2014

Please put your feet up and sit a spell

No-Candy Countdown:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Candy is sweet

But my resolve is too.

October 29th, still candy-free.

Pumpkins on Parade:

I’ve never seen the iconic movie Napoleon Dynamite, but it was one of the suggestions for this month’s pumpkin dress up. I’ve done a frightful job creating this one. The darn wig refused to stay put. It was fun crafting a pair of glasses from a scrap of wire found in the garage. That said, I better stick to my day job.

Julia of Defeat Despair, thank you for the fun suggestion. I hope this makes you smile.

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Final Score: Pumpkins, 8, Squash Bugs, 2

Things got a bit dicey in the pumpkin patch last month.  Nearly a dozen pumpkins grew happily on the vine until disaster struck.  A rapidly producing colony of squash bugs moved in and things turned ugly.  If you have any doubt, take a look:

This pumpkin never had a chance

This pumpkin never stood a chance

Instead of leaving the orange pumpkins on the vine to harden, I harvested all but two and set them on the patio thinking I would wipe them off before bringing them indoors.  The next day, the squash bugs found the harvest!  Eek!

I brought the pumpkins inside one by one, wiping them down with the first thing I could get my hands on: my son’s lip balm. (Desperate times call for desperate measures).  I didn’t want to bring garden pests indoors, so I figured the coating would put an end to anything I missed.

polished pumpkins

Polished pumpkins

We’re big on pumpkins around here: we grow, harvest, decorate and carve them. It’s been a family tradition for a decade.  I also enjoy saving  seeds for the next season. This year I gave a few starters to friends, and passed on some seeds to an adorable pair of three-year-old twins that walk by the house with their dad. They planted the seeds and grew pumpkins of their own. I’m delighted.

The pumpkins hung out in the living room for several weeks, but as October approaches, it’s time to bring them center stage. I created a display on my iron bench combining an eclectic mix of drying lavender, three pumpkins and a refurbished fairy garden. Check back next week for the fall upgrade.
DSC_0012

DSC_0013-001

I love October. It starts with my birthday, ends with Halloween with plenty of goodness in between.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, this Boo season brings a special visit from Boooooomdee. She told me to expect her on the whisper of a dandelion, but I think she was teasing. I’ll go to the airport to fetch her just in case.

Boo season, here we come!

 

The Big Chill: Out of the Crisper and into the Soil

Three's a Charm

Three’s a Charm

When you live in a warm climate like California, it helps to employ a bit of trickery with the tulips.  So when I bought three bags of tulip bulbs back in October, the first step was a cool dark rest in the crisper drawer of our fridge.  Keeping bulbs in the frigid dark, prompts their DNA into thinking they’ve been through an early chill.

Today I planted about a dozen bulbs along the rock wall near the garden fence, convinced that the racing squirrels overhead were just waiting to dig them up for lunch. I tamped the soil firmly and with determination, hoping they’ll stay planted through early spring.  I buried the rest of the bulbs in a variety of pots, and in a few random locations around the garden.

Ready to Plant Tulip Bulbs

Ready to Plant Tulip Bulbs

Squirrel in the Pittosporum

Squirrel in the Pittosporum

Squirrel in the Pine

Squirrel in the Pine

Figuring I could hedge my bets (or chance of survival) by interspersing the bulbs in heavily planted pots, I tucked them deep into the corners and under the canopy of existing plants. I hope they survive the onslaught of the squirrels. They’ll be a magnificent if they do.

Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs

Blooming Thursday: Squirrel Candy?

Pansy in profileWhile my tulip bulbs are having a good chill in the crisper, I planted a few snowdrops. I only had ten, so I alternated bulbs between pansies in three narrow pots along the walkway. What beautiful displays I would have come spring.

Normally I add a layer of organic mulch, but in my never-ending quest to discourage snacking squirrels, I covered at least half of the pots with rough pea-gravel. I used what I had on hand, left over from a summer project. How I wish I had gone out to buy more!

pea gravelIt was a good, though unintended experiment I suppose.Those rascally squirrels dug up all the bulbs in the soft mulch pots. There was nothing stealth about that heist. They left gaping holes, scattered dirt and a disappointed gardener. The gravel-covered bulbs, however, are still untouched.

PansyPerhaps there is something to the rough texture of the gravel or the extra weight.  Maybe it detracts from smell of the tender bulbs buried below.  For now, its working.  Who knows?  Perhaps they dug up the bulbs, so they could hide them somewhere else.  I’ll have to wait for spring before I know.  I’m pretty sure they ate them.

Squirrel in the pine treeThe tulips have been in the fridge since early October.  I’ll plant them in mid-November while the squirrels have their backs turned.  This time I’ll be sure to stock up on scratchy gravel ahead of time.  Alternatively, I’ll purchase large bags of peanuts as a peace-offering, leaving mounds of them on top of the precious bulbs.  It just might work!

Are you planting bulbs this year?

Croptoberfest: Plenty of Laughs, No Beer

The clever folks at Creative Memories came up with the signature event, Croptoberfest, hosted annually by CM consultants.  We “crop” in October, a term used by scrapbook enthusiasts to describe the process of creating personal photo albums and scrapbooks.

Not to be confused with Oktoberfest, the 16-day festival celebrating beer in Munich, Croptoberfest brings hobbyists together to pursue their craft.  Much like gardeners sharing collective wisdom, scrappers are a generous bunch. We fill a small conference room at a local hotel, where we share ideas as well as tools.  Seeds of friendship are sown; nurtured relationships grow.  The rhythm of a new season flows into the next.

Pumpkin collection

Created with Creative Memories Storybook Creator Digital Software

Throughout October, I’ve featured a pumpkin a day on my blog as part of my Halloween countdown.  Today’s signature pumpkin is brought to you by the creative spirit in the room.  Thanks to everyone who willingly and graciously joined in the fun.  The pumpkin will soon return back to the earth, but for now it illustrates our joy and camaraderie.

Special thanks to our hosts for the day: Inger Murdock, Karen Phillips, Pam Peters, and Mary Elizabeth Tait and for creating a relaxing and memorable event.

Halloween Countdown

Pumpkin collection signature

Signature Pumpkin (Part I)

Signature Pumpkin (Part II)