Monday, December 25, 2017

Winter is Coming

Yes, it is now technically winter. But those dark and rainy days counterbalanced by warm embers in the fireplace and hot soupy meals for dinner are a bit elusive. Dark, yes, we've got dark, but no real rain so far. And a warm fire in the fireplace is not permitted for reasons of bad air quality.

But the dawn redwood in the Mountain View Cemetery is working through its annual cycle, as always. I have not followed this particular tree's habits and schedule enough to know if this is early or late; all I know is that the tree is now losing its needles for the winter. We are so unused to seeing a deciduous conifer that it almost seems as though the tree is dying. But just you wait 'til next year...

Have a Wonderful New Year!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Something for the Kids

It's called "amigurumi" - the Japanese art of crocheting (occasionally knitting) small, stuffed figures and animals out of yarn.  "Small" can be relative; "figures and animals" are also flexible, unless you truly do believe in unicorns. Or light sabers, for that matter.

But it's fun, fast, and even if you don't really know how to crochet, somehow, something works out. For me, it's always been difficult to sit still and watch the TV news. But this allows me to abide, just barely, the nonsense. And even get something done. Otherwise, I may be asked to leave the room.  

This year has been a busy year for new babies in the family. Meaning, there is a built-in audience for cute (and just as important, washable) knitted and crocheted items like these. Sure, they'll grow out of them, but in the meanwhile, at least I will be well-informed on the events of the day. 


Monday, November 27, 2017

Perhaps Life Imitates Art, But Automatons Imitate Life

Well yes, we did go to see the movie Coco over the weekend, but this Day of the Dead Band by Wanda Sowry came before that.

Through the end of January, the Exploratorium is hosting Curious Contraptions, a wonderful show of automatons (automata, if you will). And I mean wonderful.

Now I admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Exploratorium - I think that it can induce migraines, even if you are not susceptible to migraines. Or maybe ADHD, or instant memory loss, I forget. But the noise, the crowds of very young, very active and very loud people, the low lighting, and the strange layout are very disorienting. Perhaps that is their plan?

But this exhibit has made up for all of my less-than-positive feelings about the Exploratorium. And the fact that my "date" kept me waiting for over an hour? I got to play with the automatons without his interference, so even that didn't ruin my time there.

I think my favorite automaton was Boy Stabbing Peas (video below) by Andy Hazell. It seems hard to believe now, given how much time and energy I devote to growing vegetables, that once upon a childhood, I couldn't stand the green buggers. Especially peas.

So I was made to sit at the table until I "finished". Or fell asleep with my head in the plate (Truth. There is photographic evidence somewhere.)

It probably was a good thing that way back then teachers didn't hand out much homework, because I spent long evenings sitting at that table. And unlike Boy Stabbing Peas, there were no headphones. It also never occurred to me to try and choke them down with catsup. Lucky Boy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Preparing for Winter

I was talking to my sister the other day, who lives in upstate New York. It was a brief chat.  This is because she and her family were racing around, storing the pool toys, packing up the lawn mower, taking down the screens and putting up storm windows in anticipation of snow. In truth, it had already snowed there, hence the "racing around" part.

Here it's a little easier to get ready for the winter rain storms - or at least one hopes there will be rain. And storms, in the plural. So far, the local meteorologists are not saying much, mostly because there does not seem to be a clear pattern. Perhaps we all could take a lesson - just keep your mouth shut until you actually know something.

At any rate, at this house the picking up and putting away is balanced by the setting out and spreading around. Yes, the patio furniture has been brought in. But in its place every spare bucket and tub is set out to collect extra rainwater.

The ratty old bean plants are now history, but baby snow peas are claiming that garden bed. And the battle with the slugs and caterpillars seems to be won - most likely only temporarily - in favor of the new winter lettuces. Small victories, I know, but sweet victories nonetheless.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

When the Going Gets Easy

We wimpy folk go to Tahoe. It's too crowded in the summer for me, and too crowded in the winter as well, so that leaves late fall as a wonderful time to visit. Hardly anyone else is around, lodging is abundant and reasonable, restaurants are still open, and the weather is usually beautiful. Yay!

Lake Susie

So on the "popular" hike to Lake Susie (someone lied about the distance because that absolutely was the looongest 3.4 miles I have ever walked!) we may have met half a dozen other hikers, or maybe eight at the most, and two white-headed woodpeckers.  We didn't bother to sign up for a permit, mostly because there were no permits to fill out. It wasn't a problem. Yay!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dark Days

So what do you do when it is recommended that you stay inside with the windows closed because of the smokey air? Air so bad that you can see, smell and even taste it.

Aside from fretting, that is.

So while idle hands may not be the devil's workshop, I find that busy hands keep the crazies away. As does drinking wine. Cheap wine for now, since I already blew the budget for humanitarian relief on hurricanes and earthquakes. Now there's fire aid to think about.

So, I have kept busy packing up seeds, plants and gardening books to share at The Plant Exchange's free meet-and-swap on October 21st. Very briefly, it works like this: you bring your garden-related donations and then go "shop" among all the other plants and items offered up by other generous gardeners. You might want to bring some bags to carry home your treasures.

And then there is a new baby showing up in the family (a girl this time, the first!), so that little blanket absolutely needs to get finished. Binge watching helps with the project.

After that, there is that backlog of chores, things such as shoveling out my studio. But first, maybe some more mice...

Friday, September 29, 2017

While the Cat's Away...

Except the cat is never away. And they're rats, not mice. And their play days are now over.

Princess the cat has caught six rats in the past eight days. Now I just leave the broom and dustpan on the patio for the morning's reconnaissance and clean-up.

I am a bit suspicious that someone else is also doing a "clean-up" after Princess. I think our local skunk cruises by in the night and, when possible, takes advantage of a freshly killed free meal.

I'm the one with the mouse project. And I started first. Mine began in ceramics class, as a way to use up a small block of clay. And then another small block of clay. And then maybe a bigger block for some gray mice. Just to keep the brown ones company...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Everyone Could Use a Drink

Not for the birds. Not even for the bees, although they are certainly welcome. But for the butterflies. Yes, they too like an occasional drink, though I don't think they worry about whether it is Happy Hour or not.

First, make a fake rock by covering a chunk of styrofoam with hypertufa (thereby entombing some of that excess packing material that all too often arrives uninvited). The styrofoam interior means that a normal person can lift it and carry it around. If it were a solid piece of hypertufa, it would not be so easy to move about the yard. Rock dimensions: approximately 8" x 9" x 14".

Then, make a mosaic inside of a small saucer for a planter. Since it is small, it really doesn't take much time and you get to use up some of those little left over bits from other mosaic projects. And if you happen to have on hand a stash of, say, chopstick rests that you picked up, say, a few years ago (ahem, say like at least fifteen), then it is easy to embellish the little mosaic.

Attach the mosaic saucer to the fake rock with thinset, fill with water and wait for your little friends to belly up to the bar.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The "Heads on Stakes" Project

Blame it on the drought. And the broken plates that Jean Doak passed my way. And the succulent cuttings that other gardeners shared with me. And, and, and...

So many have contributed to the creation of this project of ceramics figures, tiles, low-water plants, gravel and goofiness.

Now the narrow strip along the driveway no longer looks like an abandoned dirt pile in a forgotten work zone. Instead, it brings in the bees and butterflies.

And, thanks to the gravel and tiled pavers, it only needs a drink every two or three weeks.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: Rosemary

This is the rosemary to want - and we all want and even need it - if you have very limited garden space like I do. Just gotta leave room for those lilies, right?

It's called "Blue Boy," and even after five years, it hasn't gotten any bigger than 1' tall by 2' wide. This means that you can still get the car door open if you plant it near the driveway. Or you may be really clever and put it in a container in the sun but out of the way.

The leaves are perhaps a bit small (just pick more), but they taste just as good as their giant cousins.

And yes, the local honey bees love it too.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Summer of Lilies

Philippine Lily Buds

Regal Lily
First the Regal lilies (Lilium regale) in late May. Then the loooong wait for the Philippine lilies (Lilium philippinense). Their buds kept getting bigger and bigger - up to eight inches long- but they just wouldn't open. Until this week.

The Philippine lily is also fragrant, a mild lily-of-the-valleyish sweetness, quite unlike the powerful spiciness of the Regals. To smell it, you have to stick your nose way up into the bloom, all the while on the lookout for bees. Then you have to brush the yellow pollen off your nose. Just imagine how the bees must feel, with all that sticky stuff clinging to their furry, little legs.

Philippine Lily

Thursday, July 13, 2017


If you want big carrots, you have to thin them. 

That is, you have to remove their neighbors, so those lucky (for now) carrots that remain have space to grow. And although the thinning job is a bit painful ("But they're growing just fine! Can you really just root out healthy plants?"), the reward is that you get to enjoy a fine meal of newly-picked baby carrots.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cat? What Cat? I Don't See Any Cat...#6

We're hoping to change all that. Because Princess is going uptown (heck, so is Oakland).

It would seem that putting a big, bright collar on your cat - a bibish sort of collar - helps make those nasty feline predators much more visible to birds.

Audubon thinks it may work. A scientific study indicates that it helps. So Princess is about to become the neighborhood test case.

First, I made some break-away collars. Easy to do and the findings are available online for not much money. I made a bunch of collars because they are often lost and I wanted to have a stash on hand.

Of course, the first one went missing in less than a week. Then I tightened the next one up a bit. And gave Princess a stern lecture about keeping track of her toys. That seemed to work because this second collar has hung around for months. Yup, it's probably time to put it in the laundry.

Practicing wearing a collar in bed

The next step involved sewing a bright, colorful collar cover for Princess. The sewing was easy, but dusting off and oiling the machine, not so much. Or maybe it just seemed to take up too much time.  
And then threading the collar through that cover without losing the end other was an even bigger time sink. After that, tracking down the cat and convincing her that she really wanted to wear it, well, you get the picture. There went much of the afternoon.

You should know that Birdsbesafe produces these collar covers already put together and ready to go. So you may want to show some sense and simply buy the bugger for your own precious kitty, rather than following my example. Just an idea.

Yeah well, so far, Princess isn't too excited about it this idea of mine, but one has to make sacrifices for fashion, as well as for a few small birdies' lives. I'm hoping that if I keep telling her how gorgeous she looks, she may get over it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Words

Over the years, our dictionary has received a lot of use. In fact, it lives in the dining room, because where else but at the supper table are you wondering, discussing, debating and even arguing about a word, a person, or a place? (And if you have other answers to that question, that's fine. Just don't tell me; I don't want to know.)

But lately there is a entire crop of new words that demand further research.  For starters:

Idiot - Yes, we all have a working knowledge of this word, but perhaps we are not so aware that the roots of the word rest in ancient Greek. The New York Times op ed piece, "Trump and the True Meaning of 'Idiot'"  helps explain.

Impeachment - Yes, this too is a familiar word. But how this impeachment process could play out is described here.

Troll - I knew it was a noun, but can it really be a verb, too? Seems so, and has nothing to do with fishing from a boat.

Emolument/Emollient - Emolument equals hard and bad. Emollient is soft and good. 

Covfefe - Not "coffee" as my spellchecker insists. This one is still undefined. But that hasn't stopped any number of people from suggesting the real meaning. Ahhh, I get it. Those people are trolling.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Poppin' Poppies

I planted these Elka poppy seeds in November and the rewards have been gigantic. Literally - nearly 6 feet tall, with numerous 4"-5" flowers on each plant. They weren't supposed to get quite that big, but I'm not complaining.

And because they were planted in the front yard, everyone who walked past got to enjoy them (although, in truth, a few stems did go missing. Ah well...).

Ultimately, the point of growing all this beauty is to harvest the tiny seeds - in this case, a blondie-tan color, not black - for cooking and baking.