Adventures in Self-Publishing

I've just released two wall calendars of my photographic work, and I'm still in somewhat of a state shock for many reasons but mostly because I did it all myself for free!

Here's the background...

I've been an artist my whole life. I started drawing before I could really walk well (seriously, my mom has the Super 8mm movies to prove it).

I've also always had the desire to share my art with others--not necessarily make money from it, but share it with others. I've had a number of ill-fated attempts at trying to do that on a larger scale, but each attempt was not successful. With each failed attempt my sense of worth as an artist decreased exponentially until it reached it's all-time low about 7 years ago when I had no desire to create visually at all. It's a very sad place to be for a creative soul, trust me.

I threw myself into home restoration and remodeling thinking that would be enough of a creative outlet. It was for a couple of years, but the wheels of a visual artist's mind never stop turning. I had no desire to be in that creative space, but my mind kept seeing the possibilities in blinks and flashs--inspirations that went nowhere except into hanging sheet rock, tiling kitchen countertops and shower walls, and re-creating retro plaster with joint compound.

Then my list of home projects got smaller, and my inner self felt less freaked out about embracing my artistic core (thanks to a trip to Hawaii and a fortuitous walk along a beach on the North Shore of Oahu). That little spark that I had almost completely snuffed out blazed alive again.

I got home and started researching like crazy out on the internet. And I found out something wonderful. All those feelings of rejection were no longer even part of the new millenium model of the internet age. Why? Thanks to companies like CafePress and Lulu self-publishing is now a reality. Self-publishing through companies like CafePress and Lulu takes sending large envelopes of slides to greeting card companies and receiving rejection letters in return out of the equation completely! It is the coolest thing!

Since making this discovery, I've taken out all the paintings that were completed 15+ years ago specifically to be published as cards or prints. Those paintings have now been reborn as part of my maiden voyage into this exciting world of self-publication.

Then to add to that, I've been able to compile photographs that I've been shooting recently and turn them into calendars! I never thought I would have that opportunity in my lifetime! I have been able to take my graphic arts training and combine it with my fine arts training to produce actual publications that don't cost me a dime to layout and market to anyone in the world that might want to buy them.

Here's the real perks:

  • I don't have to carry bulky inventory.

  • I don't have to spend precious creative time pounding the pavement hocking my wares to merchants that don't want to see my face anyway.

  • I don't have to pick and choose which works I will publish and which I won't because of the cost of a run.

  • I don't have to over-order a run in order to take advantage of a quantity discount.

I don't have to do any of it! [Insert trumpet fanfare here, please!]

All I have to do is what I love, which is photograph or paint whatever I like, then figure out what product it would look best on. Next, I do up a layout in Photoshop Elements according to the specs I'm given by CafePress, save it as a PNG file and upload it into my online store. Once it's part of my inventory, if someone chooses to buy it, they can and then CafePress produces it on-demand according to the customer's specifications (i.e., glossy or matte, etc) and ships it directly to them. If no one chooses to buy it, it doesn't concern my finances because I don't have to make back any money to cover any initial outlay. If only one person chooses to buy it, that's okay too because I've shared my work with at least one person. It is the best of all worlds.
Man, I love the internet!

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"Cute Attacks" and Feeling Healthy

Recently, I was listening to Dr. Christiane Northrup on a PBS special where she was talking about a way to create positive chemical and hormonal reactions inside one's body to encourage health. She said that the easiest way for a woman to do it is to think of something that makes her inner nurturing core glow.

Dr. Northrup gave examples. For some it is the thought of a newborn baby. For others it is the thought of baby birds or puppies. For some (like me) it is the thought of baby kittens. It's the "ahhhhh" response (or "cute attack" as we call it in our home) that gets all those good juices firing off inside us and creating health and wellness.

In other words, it's an antedote for all the stress responses that we are barraged with daily.

I've been trying to consciously practice this more often. I don't have a very hard time with my husband around. Every time a cute kitty pops on a cat food commerical, he pauses the DVR and runs it back so we can watch it (sometimes in slow motion). "Ahhhhhh!" we both say over and over. Now that I know it's actually good for me, it just makes it easier to give myself permission to engage in this somewhat silly but fulfilling behavior.

Well, besides baby kittens and fluffy felines on cat food commercials, one of the things that spawns a "cute attack" for me is the sight of a kitty cat lazing in a patch of sunshine. It doesn't have to be one of our own, either. We can be driving through town, and I'll want to slow down when I spot a kitty lounging on a porch or front walk. It's just something I do.

In our own home, I've encountered the sight a lot over the past couple of days (probably because of the sunny summer days we've had of late). Sometimes I've found them in the Tiki Room (named as such because of the vintage Hawaiian decor of this western facing sunroom we have). Other times I've found one of them lolling out the diamond-shaped openings in the Casa Grande cat condo into the rays of sunshine that spill in the windows of my studio. Then other times, I've found them spread out around me early in the morning on our bed that catches the first ray's of the day's dawn.

So today I felt like sharing some of my "cute attacks" that I've photographed. Enjoy and be healthy!

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The Beauty of Artichokes

Why do I find artichokes so fascinatingly beautiful?

Is it their prehistoric quality that seems to come from a different time and place in the world's history?

The leaves are a beautiful green with a tinge of blue and silver. The jagged edges catch the light in amazing ways and cast such interesting shadows.

The buds seem so "prickly" and untouchable. Who was the first person to figure out that they were edible? Who was brave enough to try it first? Was he the brother of a kid named Mikey? "He won't eat it... he hates everything!"

When I cut off a thick stem to harvest an artichoke, it oozes a sticky clear liquid that was probably used as the first glue in some ancient kindergarten class to glue pictures of buffalo to the classroom walls.

If I leave the thick stems to dry naturally, they are so strong that I can't break them over my knee or cut them with my garden shears. Who knew that the strongest building material in the world was the artichoke stem? I wonder if Home Depot knows this.

Then that same mysterious edible bud with its thick waxy petals if left on the stem long enough becomes an electric display of soft purple-blue so soft to the touch I can't believe it came from this plant. The petals of the bud even change from a green to a soft faded aubergine color as if to be in harmony with the center that is such an explosion of electric blue my logical mind tells me the color just couldn't occur in nature. But it does.

Yet it still looks a slight bit untouchable.
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My Dahlias Never Stand Up Straight

I have a friend (who I consider my gardening mentor) that is a professional gardener and highly-respected horticulturalist. The other day, she called to tell me that she had some sunflowers and annual climbers she was giving away that she had originally grown for a nursery that now no longer wanted them.

I was thrilled! All but one of the sunflower seeds I'd planted this spring, the birds had dug up and eaten. Yes, I would take them!

So I drove over to her place to pick them up and bring them to their new home. She had told me to just walk around to the garden because she'd be out there working when I came by. So I did.

I love walking through her gardens. They are full of serendipity and surprise; the kind that causes a beauty-induced ache in my chest that only nature can inspire. I found her digging about her lamb's ear bed. I took a quick look around at the amazing menagerie of flora that surrounded me. And I immediately began the rapid-fire brain process of plant identification making note of where she had each one planted in relation to the sun and its neighbors--gardener-type stuff.

Then I noted that she had a variety of dahlias peeking up in random places throughout the other plants. And I also noted that her dahlias were standing up straight. A wave of "gardener envy" washed over me. It always happens. I think every gardener experiences it. I always find the one thing I don't have in my own garden when looking at someone else's garden and then mentally flog myself about it. So silly.

Since that day I've been finding my mind wandering back to the fact that my dahlias never stand up straight. Every time I pass by them in the front garden, I think about it. I look at them. Why are their green necks curved and serpentine instead of regally straight? It is a dahlia conundrum that I am too embarrassed to ask my friend about for fear that she will judge me as inept when it comes to raising dahlias properly.

For the next couple of days I would avoid looking at them when I was sitting on the front porch or when I was digging about them to plant the 3 foot high sunflower seedlings my friend gave me. I just couldn't bear thinking about it one more time.

Finally, today I couldn't stand it anymore. I went and got one of my metal plant stakes out of the garden bin on the porch, stuck it in the ground at the base of the offending dahlia under the Blue Ribbon rosebush and wired the bending stems to the rigid green pole. There! At least it looks like it's standing up straight now.

And the other offender that is in the brick flower bed under the front window that has already bloomed? I cut it off.

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Brussels Sprouts: My Perennial Decoy

A couple of years ago I planted brussels sprout seeds in the front garden where I don't usually plant anything edible except herbs and horseradish (the produce gardens are in the back). I figured I'd give the brussels sprouts a go and if they didn't work out then it was no big deal.

I didn't have great luck with the brussels sprouts as produce. The buds didn't stay tight enough to be appetizing for my husband (who is the only brussels sprout lover in this household). But the blue-green broad shiny leaves were pretty in the winter garden so I left them there. When they withered and died, I cut them off at the base and threw the withered remains into the green can. So much for brussel sprouts... so I thought.

It was only a couple of months and the brussels sprouts were coming back! Silly me! I thought brussels sprouts were annuals. Apparently, they are perennials. They grew back from the roots just like any good little perennial should. I thought maybe we'd have better success with the buds being tighter and more appetizing. Wait, wait, wait... no such luck.

But I noticed something else going on. The roses in my front garden no longer had very many aphids on them--even on the new growth that aphids love to attack. Some roses had NO APHIDS! But the brussels sprouts were covered with them!

Then I noticed something else. Often as I looked out the front window I would see little flocks of bushtits come down and land on the brussel sprouts to dine on the aphid-feast. The over 3 foot tall brussel sprouts have very sturdy stems, so many little birds could land and dine without any trouble at all.

I left the brussels sprouts in, thinking I had a great companion planting situation going on. I was right. This year I haven't had aphids on my roses. They all went to the brussels sprouts. I've also had the wonderful little bushtits as regular visitors dining on the aphids on the brussels sprouts.

And my ladybug count is higher this year than in any of the previous years so far without me injecting the population with store-bought ladybugs EVER.

The brussels sprouts are apparently here to stay. They aren't doing what I originally intended for them to do, but they're far more valuable as an aphid decoy than as produce plants anyway (in my non-brussels-sprout-loving opinion).

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Lemon Verbena: Our "Forgotten" Herb

Every summer there comes a time when the plants in the front garden have turned into a "jungle" of sorts. I always have to go out and be ruthless in pulling out the mint and horseradish that tries to overtake everything around it and free the rosebushes, poppies, campanula, and foxgloves that are being shadowed from the sun and the drip mist water system.

Well, this year I had to not only be ruthless with the mint but I also had to really trim back the lemon verbena that had gotten so large it was casting shadows on everything. This woody plant is probably the fourth lemon verbena I've put in.

The first spring here at Rosehaven Cottage, I put one in with the other herbs in the bed I had designated for a kitchen garden so my husband could go out and clip herbs for cooking. That lemon verbena was the first for both of us. My husband discovered that it was a wonderful herb to use in whole leaves as part of the preparation of simple pan-seared chicken breasts. By putting the leaves on the breast as it seared in olive oil, the chicken was infused with a wonderful lemony flavor that was rounder and fuller than using lemon juice. The aroma and taste were heavenly!

Shortly after that growing season, the first lemon verbena plant inexplicably died even though it should have weathered our mild winter. For some time I didn't replace it because I couldn't find a small potted lemon verbena available in our local nursery's herb section where I had purchased the last one. I left the dry twig remains of the last plant in the ground where it had been as a placeholder and reminder to get another one... someday.

A couple of years later, I found small lemon verbena plants available again at the nursery and happily picked up three! I planted two in the ground on opposite sides of the front path, and one in a pot near the house just in case it would do better there. All three have survived although the one in the pot and the one in the herb clipping garden always look straggly. The other one that grows amid the rosebushes is quite happy. A perennial bush, I need to trim it back in the winter to a well-shaped bunch of twigs and then it comes back with new growth in the early spring.

This year it was out of control by July. So I went out and began cutting branches off even though the entire time I had fears that somehow I was going to kill it like the first one that mysteriously died (don't all gardeners have unreasonable traumatic associations like this?). I told my husband that we would be harvesting the leaves to dry in our dehydrator so he could use the dried herbs in cooking throughout the winter. He was thrilled about that and lovingly kept me company while I trimmed the bush and piled the aromatic branches on his lap as he sat on one of the front porch chairs.

The scent of lemon verbena is quite heady even if I just brush up against the leaves. When I'm in there really cutting and handling the bush, the aroma is intense. The aroma of lemon drops enveloped me as I transported bunches of branches to my husband's lap again and again, enveloping him in their lemony sweetness.

Finally, after I got the bush under control, we decided it was time to bring our harvest inside. The massive bunch of limbs had to be wrangled in the front door where a bunch of curious kitties were waiting. The cats love when I bring in garden greens for them to sniff. They cry for them like I've brought in a vat of tuna fish.

This mass of lemon verbena really set them off. They couldn't get enough of it. They even started eating it! My ever-vigilant husband immediately wanted me to look up lemon verbena on the internet to see if it is toxic to cats. So I did. It turns out that not only isn't it toxic to cats but it is in fact one of 6 favorite plants that cats like to munch on alongside catnip, kitty grass, and others. Here I had a kitty favorite growing right out in my front garden and I didn't even know it! Silly me!

The kitties went crazy over the lemon verbena branches as I put them on the dining room table. I removed some smaller branches and put them on the hearth where they usually munch on their potted kitty grass. A few scuffles broke out as possessiveness took over for one or two of the kitties (Thomasina in particular). Who knew?

So now we have plenty of lemon verbena to flavor our chicken breasts and experiment with in olive oils, vinaigrettes, and herbed butters throughout the cooler months that are still an eternity away it seems. And in the meantime, I know what I can give the kitties when they need a little treat... lemon verbena!

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While Sitting Under the Shade of the Plum Tree...

As I was doing some minor pruning of the plum tree today, I realized how big it's gotten since we planted it the spring of 2001. It was the first tree we put in after moving to Rosehaven Cottage. I remember thinking it would take sooooo long to get big enough to be anything other than the scrawny little WalMart tree that it was. Now I realize that it didn't seem to take any time at all to get to the place where I and the tree are today.

This spring, I made some changes to the landscaping under the plum tree so there is now space to accomodate a chair for me to sit in when I need a break from the sun. As I pruned today, the thought occurred to me how often this spring and summer, I've sat in that chair in the shade of the plum tree and the things I've done while sitting there.

While sitting under the shade of the plum tree...

I've fed the goldfish in the pond right in front of my chair. I've discovered the newest baby goldfish from that vantage point. I've counted how many older fish are still swimming about. I've discovered the first babies to beginning turning orange from their dull baby brown.

I've been serenaded by a goldfinch just a foot or two above my head. It was completely aware that I was there, because it would stop its song periodically to look down at me as if to see if I was still there listening.

I've had one-on-one time with Tom Tom kitty as he has joined me in the garden for his little walking patrols. He sniffs around and then joins me under the plum tree every 5-10 minutes just to check in and rub on me and the chair. I've also witnessed him get very silly and try to run his pudgy senior feline body up the trunk of the plum tree, only to make it about 6 or so inches off the ground.

I've sat quietly listening to the next door neighbor's prepare for a birthday party and play old Mexican classics on their indoor/outdoor stereo. The music takes me to a different place--a vacation in my mind far away from home.

I have surveyed the state of the garden and made mental checklists of things I need to do when it isn't so hot or I'm not so tired from the project I'm taking a break from.

More than anything else, I've taken the time to slow down my body and mind and reconnect with my serene little habitat of a garden. This is hard for me to do--particularly getting my mind to slow down. Somehow I can sitting under the plum tree. It must be the sound of the waterfall not too far away, the sight of the bees and paper wasps getting drinks from the water's edge, the occasional butterfy or dragonfly that flies through, and the sound of unseen birds in the canopy above me.

I hope in the years to come I will do much more, see many more fish born into the pond, and contemplate lots of new ideas all while sitting under the shade of the plum tree. And I hope it will continue to be there to let me.

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Young Nature in the Morning

There are rare times when serendipity happens in a theme in the garden. This morning was one of those occurrences. I was sitting under the plum tree watching for the fish to come out from under the lily pads to eat and simply enjoying the morning sun.

Oreo was on her usual patrol around the garden, keeping an eye on me as she always does in case I headed back to the front porch where she likes to be petted. She headed for the downspout of the flower pot filter that flows back into the pond like a little waterfall and got a drink from the fresh water that was flowing out.

I was watching her little pink tongue lap up the water when I saw some movement a couple of feet to her left. I looked closer to what appeared to be a dragonfly on one of the edging rocks. But I didn't see any wings. Than I realized it was a baby lizard coming to get a morning sip from the pond. Only the size of a dragonfly's torso, the little lizard was in no hurry to go anywhere--it's little head piv0ting around in lizard fashion to survey the world around the pond. It was an "ahhhh" moment.

I continued to sit and watch for the goldfish (not used to being fed in the morning) to come out and eat. I was also topping off the pond with more water from the opposite end. Evaporation and drinking wildlife necessitate replenishing the pond water every few days.

Finally, the fish started to venture out from the big lily pads on the opposite side of the pond from where I feed them in a shallower area close to my chair under the plum tree. I watched all the babies come out and feed. Some are getting so big so quickly. It amazes me how fast goldfish grow.

The mature goldfish also came out with the shubunkins leading the way. Shubunkins are a beautiful breed of goldfish that are sleek in build with a fascinating coloring looking like one started with a white goldfish and then speckled it with black, grey and orange dots in a random pattern. My shubunkins are WalMart acquisitions from when they were small and only 98 cents. I added them for breeding stock hoping they would add their genetics to the existing strain (which has shubunkins mixed in from one previous male, the infamous Punkin the Shubunkin, that was quite prolific in his lifetime). The two newer shubunkins are now about 5-6 inches long nose to tail and mature enough to breed.

I watched all the babies darting in and out eating with the big goldfish when I saw a flash of a baby that looked different. I continue to watch in the same area and saw the same baby again, then again. There was that different flash again and again! Each time I was able to more completely see that this new baby was white on its body with the telltale orange and black spots instead of the black turning to orange that I see on regular babies! Could it be that I have a baby shubunkin in all its cute spotted glory?

I continued to watch and then realized there was another one! I could see them both at the same time so I knew there were two! And there were the spots again! Yes, I'm fairly certain we have two new baby shubunkins--cute, less than an inch long.

So this morning's serendipitous theme was seeing new babies in the garden.
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Introducing All the Animals of Rosehaven Cottage

When we first moved to our home (that later became Rosehaven Cottage), we realized that we had the privilege of living amidst a great deal of wildlife diversity.

Our gardens were part of the territory of an established feral cat colony that was being watched over by a loving neighbor but she had been unable to spay/neuter two of cats in the colony--one of which was a big black tom cat that considered our garden "home base". Tom Tom was later tamed, neutered, and is now "retired" from his tom cat ways; only going out on supervised strolls in the garden.

We also had a wonderful variety of birds, insects, and night creatures that frequented the garden even in it's early barren state.

With the addition of a 1,200 gallon pond in the second year, came new animals including the WalMart goldfish that thrive and reproduce in it. Adding a water source also increased the diversity of wildlife that frequented our garden. We now have black phoebe birds that feed on wasps, mosquitoes, and flies. Another mosquito eater we enjoy are the dragonflies that breed in our pond as well as feed throughout the upper air space over the garden every night during the spring, summer, and early fall. The tiny Pacific treefrogs found the pond very quickly and serenade us every night from late January until May during breeding season.

We also have brightly colored orioles and flocks of bushtits that forage in our rosebushes. The bushtits are looking for aphids and other bad bugs which helps to keep our garden free from pesticides.

The various finches that are native to our area love when flowers go to seed, so we plant sunflowers for them. And hummingbirds regularly buzz down into the garden to get a drink from the hose when we're spraying and watering.

The goldfish in the pond are so prolific that they provide a food source for the egrets that wade in the pond during the day and the raccoons and skunks that amble through at night. We also have the occasional clumsy oppossum that waddles through too.

During the day we often come across a lazy lizard sunning itself on one of the sunning rocks that we've placed strategically around the vegetable and flower beds.

The rodent population is kept down by a sweet little feral cat named Oreo that was born into the feral cat colony shortly before the last feral female was spayed. Occasionally, she will bring us a "gift" and leave it on our front porch.

Inside Rosehaven Cottage, we have inside-only cats (7 in total) that enjoy the luxury of a life free from the dangers of fights, cars, and contracted diseases. They laze about and watch the world go by from perches that we've strategically placed by windows so they can enjoy the garden habitat too. Although we never intended to have 7 cats, they are very well-mannered, loyal, and sweet companions which we feel very blessed to have stewardship over.

In fact, we feel very blessed to have the choice experience of being stewards over all the animals that call Rosehaven Cottage home.
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We are NOT "crazy cat people"...

...but we do love our sweet kitties that have come to call Rosehaven Cottage home.

Dexter and Dee Dee are "The Originals". We met them when they were only ten days old at a friend's ranch. The 8 year old daughter of the momma-kitty's owner started holding them as soon as they were born. Research has shown that if a kitten is handled for only 15 minutes a day in the first 2 weeks of their life, the kitten will bond to humans and be more personable. Well, this was the case with Dexter and Dee Dee. We fell in love with Dexter at that first meeting and agreed to visit him every weekend until he was weaned. Dee Dee purred her way into our hearts by the 4th weekend. We brought them home to Rosehaven Cottage when they were about 9 weeks old, and they've been our sweet little companions ever since.

Now our original intent was to only have two cats. We never actively pursued adopting more. The others kitties just showed up in our garden at various times, and we have taken them in to give them the love they deserve. It was like we had a sign on our house written in "kitten-ese" that said, "Kitties needing a loving home are welcome here".

Tom Tom was a wild tomcat that was here at the house when we moved in, and he had the reputation for being the fighter in the neighborhood as well as being the father of most litters in the feral cat colony that existed for years before we came. We didn't like him at first because he was such a bully. But Tom Tom and I called a truce late one night on our front porch (initiated by him) over some cat food. My husband was able to pet him shortly thereafter, and he slowly rubbed and purred his way into our hearts. A couple of years after we moved in, Tom Tom went missing for about a week and then showed up in our driveway with badly infected leg and ear wounds that appeared to be from a large animal attack. We rushed him to the emergency vet where he tested negative for feline HIV and was immediately put on antibiotics and fluids to save his life. While in the vet's care, we asked that he be neutered. We also asked the vet his approximate age. The vet determined that based on the size of his jowls (his head is the size of a softball!) he was quite mature--probably 3 to 5 years old. Tom Tom "retired" from his street life after that and now lives inside with the other kitties. He's a "mama's boy" and follows me everywhere trying to sneak onto my lap anytime I sit down. He also follows me out into the garden for supervised patrols of his old haunts. Mostly, he just wants to be where I am.

Shortly before Tom Tom was neutered he fathered a litter of kittens with a female tabby named Seuss belonging to a neighbor up the street that hadn't taken her in to be spayed. She was a friendly little tabby that would play peek-a-boo with me over the fence when I was working in the garden and ask for rubs and pettings whenever I was outside. We knew when she got pregnant from the telltale bulge. Right on time the bulge went away, but we never saw the kittens.

Then almost two months later on Father's Day 2002, she came into our back garden to greet me in the evening as I sat outside enjoying the summer air. She meowed and meowed at me until I followed her around the side of our big garden shed. I peeked around the back to find 3 little kittens playing--a long-haired marbled tabby, a little black-on-black striped tabby, and a short-haired striped tabby that looked just like her mother. Seuss was introducing me to her kittens that she was ready to wean!

I began feeding them kitten chow every morning at dawn. She would leave them with me while she went off to hunt in the field behind our fence. She would also leave Tom Tom alone with them. Her behavior as well as his tolerance for the kittens let me know that he was the father. I also got to know their personalities during those morning feeding times. I called the long-haired mackerel tabby Gus Gus because he was as dopey and clutsy as the mouse on Cinderella. I called the little black-on-black striped tabby Thomasina because she looked like a miniature version of Tom Tom. I called the short-haired striped tabby Suzette because she looked like a miniature version of her mother Seuss.

A week after being introduced to the three kittens, a fourth showed up! She was a round and pudgy long-haired silver tabby. She'd been nursing alone for a week in another location which accounted for her round belly. I called her Lydia after the little sister in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ("I can scarce draw breath, I'm so fat!").

When Seuss had completely weaned the kittens, I brought them inside to acclimate them to the indoors in preparation for having them spayed and neutered. I fully intended to find good homes for them once their recovery was complete. I really did! The surgeries went smoothly for the most part except Suzette had a difficult time once we got home due to fluid in her lungs. I held her against my chest so she could sleep upright and still be able to breathe as she recovered. As we nursed them all through post-op, we fell in love with every one of them. Dee Dee became their surrogate mother (Dexter tolerated them). It wasn't long before they became permanent fixtures in our home, and we couldn't think of parting with them.

So whether we like it or not, we are living the experience of being stewards over our own little indoor cat colony. It's taught us a lot about cat psychology, the hierarchy dynamics of a cat colony, and how much cat's are misunderstood as a whole.

Dee Dee is the matriarch of the house and greets all visitors attentively like a good little hostess. She adores babies and children and will forego naptime in order to play with them. She is a talker and responds to many full sentences that contain words she recognizes (i.e., "Dee Dee", "Whisker Lickins", "bug"). She answers to her name, performs a few "tricks", and loves to be carried around on "Daddy's" arm while licking him profusely. She loves to rub and roll (what we have dubbed "scootching") on newly smoothed bedsheets or a newly made bed. If you say, "Dee Dee... do you like the smooth?" it sets her off into a scootching frenzy. She is highly intelligent and is a perpetual 2 year old.

Dexter is like the male in a pride of lions. He is aloof with all the other cats except his sister Dee Dee and Tom Tom, his guy-buddy. Dexter walks on a leash and will run to me if he hears the sound of it or the drawer it's kept in. He loves visitors just like his sister, Dee Dee, and will greet them by gently touching their leg with his paw in a little "touch, touch, touch" like he's saying "Excuse me. Could you pet me please?". At about 16 pounds, Dexter is all muscle and looks like a big jungle cat. He's magnificent and simply beautiful. Dexter is named after the Cary Grant character in Philadelphia Story--C.K. Dexterhaven. He has chosen "Mommy" as his person and is highly affectionate and attentive.

Tom Tom is the cutest most loyal pet we could imagine. He is as devoted as any dog I've known and will look up adoringly into my eyes from my lap and then stretch his paw to my face to gently brush my chin with his paw pads (no claws out). Tom Tom is also a big kitty at about 15 pounds. He tends to get pudgy during the winter months and then slim down during the summer. Regardless, his head is still the size of a softball! Incidentally, Tom Tom's full name is: Tom Tom Mau-Fang Whiska-Smutz Svatzenbites.

Thomasina is the little diva in the household. She only weighs 8 pounds but makes up for her size in spunk. She loves to play catch from the top of the cat tree. She also brings us stuffed socks regularly wherever we are in the house. We often wake up in the morning to find a collection of stuffed socks strewn about the bed around us.

Suzette is a sweetie that is friends with all the other kitties. She is Gus's favorite sister and will give him a head lick anytime he requests one. She has huge love-attacks on a daily basis when she must have our undivided attention. She also likes to bring us her favorite red string as a gesture of affection, which she announces with loud meows as she drags it into the room. She also does this when one of us leaves the room as if to try to beckon us back.

Gus Gus (aka "Gussy Bear") is still just as dopey as he was when he was a kitten. We call him the "Forest Gump of cat world". He irritates every other cat except his kind sister, Suzette. He often gets scared for no apparent reason and shoots out of the room, then wanders back in sheepishly a few minutes later. He loves to snuggle with us when it's cool outside. He's the only cat that has a seasonal ruff like a lion's mane.

Lydia is our little silver puffy princess. She is the epitome of girly kitty-iness. Her tiny voice sounds very Marilyn Monroe-esque and she likes to flit her big plumey tail around for effect. Her fur has a pearlescent quality, particularly on her paws that makes her shine like silver. She is prissy, adorable, and extremely affectionate. She loves to have her ruff groomed with a brush and will often "ask" for grooming by going to the brush and patting it with her paw until one of us picks it up and uses it on her.

And that's our brood... oh, except for the little feral garden kitty, Oreo (probably another of Tom Tom's daughters), who lives in our garden and sleeps on our front porch during the winter. It took us a couple of years before she'd let us pet her. Now she regularly asks for pettings from us but only on the front porch. If she encounters us in the garden, she will run. We feed her and make sure she's comfortable. She's too wild to ever bring in the house (like we need one more!) so we try to make her life as happy as possible. She repays us by killing mice and rats around the garden and under the house (with the occasional lizard thrown in for variety).

So would we ever have this many cats again--heck no! Would we give any of our kitties away--heck no! No, we aren't "crazy cat people" but we ARE crazy about our cats.
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Dedicated to My Hummingbird Friend

It didn’t dawn on me how much of a fixture I had become in my own garden until I had my encounter with the hummingbird.

My routine was simple. Each evening I would go out and hand water the beds of vegetables and flowers that I had planted with a standard garden hose and sprayer nozzle. That time became a time of reflection and contemplation—akin to prayer. As I watered each bed, I would carefully examine the plants’ progress and ascertain if I needed to do more in my stewardship over them.

It was during one of these evening waterings that I met her—-the hummingbird. She came in quite boldly as if I were a tree or bush and not a person at all. Buzzing about the mist that emanated from my hose sprayer, she would dart in as close as she could and then retreat to a few feet outside of the radius of the spray. In and out she went, seemingly frustrated at the velocity of the water but determined to connect with it anyway. She tried angle after angle, approach after approach, sometimes darting off to a nearby tree or bush to recalculate her strategy. All the while I was standing there, feeling quite invisible, as I tried to redirect the water’s spray to her liking.

At one point the hummingbird simply sped away into the air, seeming to have given up to seek food elsewhere. I finally felt as if I could breathe again. I realized that I had remained as still as possible in order to not break the spell that had been cast allowing this magic moment to happen.

I moved to another spot along the garden path to sprinkle moisture on the scented geraniums along the old cement walk. As the mist rained down on the strawberry essence of their blossoms, the hummingbird came speeding back, readopting her hovering stance. She darted in and out again, dancing the same dance as before. I became aware that she seemed more hopeful this time, primarily because stray droplets on the outer perimeter of the spray were landing on the old cement walk and also filling a worn saucer-sized divot.

I somehow understood what she wanted then and slowly adjusted the spray so that more of the outer mist fell on the cement.

As if saying, “You finally got the hint!” the hummingbird settled her muted brown body onto the moist walkway and proceeded to shower in the spray.

I was overcome with the magic of it all as I watched her ruffle and stretch so calmly with me only a few short feet away. I had never seen such a docile hummingbird before. Most hummingbirds never light close to a person, let alone on the ground in such an openly trusting manner.

Her showering activities probably only spanned a few minutes by anyone’s watch, but to me it seemed like the moment lasted much longer. Feelings of pure trust hung in the air while also enveloping my heart making it burn within me.

And then at her hummingbird whim, she was through and flitting away high to a mimosa tree in the neighbor’s yard. I continued to watch, transfixed as she preened herself meticulously with her long petite beak—putting each feather into place as they warmed and dried in the amber light of the evening sun.

My garden had brought me a miracle, I thought. I held the sweetness of the experience in my heart, savoring it as I finished watering the garden, certain that this would be a unique serendipitous event that would happen only once.

But as I have come to understand with my whole experience in this sacred garden of mine, things would not be as I had come to expect.

The next evening, I went out for my watering routine. Only a few short minutes into my rounds about the garden paths, I heard the short almost imperceptible staccato notes of her call in the distance above me. She was back—buzzing away and dancing the same dance about the spraying water as if we had a scheduled ballet to perform together already choreographed and staged.

She was bolder that evening, often lighting on a nearby wire cage surrounding one of the tomato bushes in order to observe my movements and just “get acquainted”. Her patient observation was what fascinated me the most. Hummingbirds are such hyperactive little creatures. To see her calmly lighted on her chosen perch simply watching me was astounding.

The following day she was back again, even earlier then before, as I worked in the garden installing a drip mist irrigation system. She and some tiny finches were the first to test the mists of the sprayers I installed by the newly planted “Snow-in-Summer” and a rescued and transplanted hydrangea.

I thought that the little bird must be somehow “smelling” the water when I first turned it on and then was seeking it out each day. I reasoned that it must be instinct that was bringing her to my garden.

My reasoning changed a few evenings later. I was in the living room with my back to the large picture window that overlooks the front garden. I had just stood up from the couch, absorbed in telling Brent something about my day. In mid-sentence, Brent uncharacteristically interrupted me, pointing out the window and exclaiming in breathless, almost whispered disbelief, “Look!”

I turned to face the huge pane of glass and there on the other side was my hummingbird friend, buzzing and hovering at eye level, peering into the window at me. I moved toward her a step and she never wavered, just continued her hovering. She seemed to say, “Well, hello! Why aren’t you out back where I normally see you? I’d like a shower now, if you don’t mind.”

It was me she was coming to the garden for—at least, me and the water I could provide. She was recognizing me! The concept taxed every ounce of reasoning power I had. Hummingbirds just didn’t do that! But there she was proving me wrong.

So the companionship is a simple one. Each day I come out into the garden. And each day her chirping from afar announces her entrance. Sometimes she dives right in front of me into a hovering pattern to say hello—dancing in midair only a foot or two in front of me as if examining the pattern on my dress or shirt.

Other times she simply waits until the water goes on and then descends at breakneck speed into the mist, stopping right in the “sweet spot” where the water isn’t too overpowering for her little body. This is usually followed by the now routine perching on the tomato cage to observe, preen, and dry.

And then other days, she simply flits about a few feet behind me so I can see her moving shadow on the ground in front of me. Then she’ll skirt about me and begin to dine on the scented geraniums only inches in front of my feet. At those times she is so close I can see her little sliver of a tongue moving in and out of each blossom extracting the delicious nectar that I am certain must taste like strawberries.

And each day as she appears in my view and begins her ballet, she is accompanied by an orchestra of the spiritual peace that washes in like a sweet yet stirring overture. I have prayed during those moments to know why it is that I have been chosen to have this experience. Why did she choose me? And a quiet whisper replies that it is because she sees me as the steward of this garden and this garden is special. Even this tiniest of creatures feels it. And I am blessed for knowing her.
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A Harvest of Love

There is very little else that can give me as much satisfaction as picking a basket of tomatoes straight out of the garden and bringing it inside to surprise my husband like I did today.

He's the tomato lover in the family and can eat them and eat them and eat them. He's the chef in the family so he makes wonderful culinary creations with them. He's also the allergy-sufferer in the family so he isn't able to be outside in our garden nearly as much as he'd like. It also means that he isn't aware of how many tomatoes are actually growing out there--hence the ability for me to surprise him with a brimming basket left on the kitchen counter in his prep area. It's always fun to hear him from the other room, "Oh Honey! Look at these tomatoes!" I know that he'll usually be making up one of his tomato salads with homemade vinaigrette later that evening

This whole ritual of growing tomatoes for my husband started the first spring we lived at Rosehaven Cottage.

We were immersed in remodeling and restoration--drowning in it actually. Our goal was to simply have access to all the square footage in our home, have a decent bathroom and kitchen, and not freeze from the drafts coming in from the spaces in the subfloor.

Early spring rolled around, and I had this overwhelming need to put in a vegetable garden. I was told by many that I was nuts and should just focus on the interior of the house. "Let the garden go this spring," they'd say helpfully, "Don't try to do everything at once."

But the persistent nagging to put in a garden kept coming into my psyche. I know not to ignor these persistent nagging thoughts. So I moved the installation of a vegetable garden up on the priority list (much to the disbelief of family and friends) and put in the first vegetable plants (including tomatoes) as soon as it was safe.

Summer came quickly and the tomatoes were thriving. I had put in Sweet 100's and the vines were burgeoning with the little round red gems of tomato sweetness.

At the same time that the tomatoes were ripening, my husband was struggling with health issues that led him to the doctor's office. On a hunch, the intuitive physician tested my husband's blood sugar right there in the office. It was through the roof. My husband walked out of the doctor's office that day with the diagnosis of being a Type 2 diabetic weighing on him. It would change his life. It explained a great deal of the health struggles he had experienced over the previous 2 years but wasn't any easier to take.

His mother is also a Type 2 diabetic and, fortunately, he had educated himself when she was diagnosed. He knew his diet would have to change drastically. His sweet tooth would have to be satisfied in some other way than the chocolate he was so fond of. But there is one thing that my husband loves more than chocolate--tomatoes!

It was now so clear why I had felt so driven to plant the vegetable garden. That first crop of Sweet 100's was a ray of hope during a very difficult life transition for him. The sweet little "candies" that he could pop in his mouth without guilt or hesitation made the depressing prospect of having diabetes so much easier to cope with. I knew that I had grown them for a very special reason, and it was no fluke that I had known to plant them.

So every year since that first year at Rosehaven Cottage, the tomatoes always go in the garden as soon as it's safe. My husband anxiously awaits the first tomato that is ripe enough to harvest. He's very much like a child waiting for Christmas morning. It's wonderful to watch. And every time I harvest another basketful and leave them on the kitchen counter for him, I feel a deep sense of love for him, for the garden, and for the blessing that tomatoes represent to us.
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Drip Mist, Salt Lake City, and the Ferris Wheel of My Brain

Have you ever had one of those weeks that feels like a whirlwind? That's been my last week and a half. We traveled to a family reunion in Utah last week. Traveling always makes me feel a little frazzled and causes me to lose my bearings in the time-keeping department of my brain (especially when we travel across time zones). It's like I've gone back to when I was a kid and summer seemed to have no clocks.

Before we left, I realized that since the house was painted last fall I hadn't hooked up a functioning drip mist system for the back garden and there was no way that the potted plants were going to make it until we got back (I didn't want to burden our cat sitter with that task). Silly me waited until the day before our departure to go out and hook up all the mini hoses and drippers to each new pot around the pond. Fortunately, I had to send my husband out on only one run to Ace Hardware for connectors I didn't have because I started the task late in the evening and the store closed shortly after his quick trip. Summer time-keeping has been hard this year--don't know why. I've felt like it's earlier than it really is. Has it always stayed light this late? All logic assures me that it has but this year feels different. Maybe it's because I'm feeling more alive and in tune with myself and my surroundings.

So with the drip mist extensions and changes in place I could go away on our short trip knowing that I wouldn't come home to dead potted plants even if the temperatures soared. Never mind the fact that I had yet to pack, vacuum the living room so the cat sitter won't think ill of my housekeeping, and get my head into the trip itself.

The last was the hardest to do--getting my head into the trip. I was planning on doing some family history research while there what with the LDS Family History Library right there in Salt Lake City. That alone required some fraction of my brain. I have this process in my brain that I like to envision as a ferris wheel--each bucket of the ferris wheel containing an idea that I need to process and mull over. Well, it seemed that my ferris wheel hadn't acquired a bucket for the trip or the items attached to it like the family history research. It seemed that the wheel was completely full of buckets about the garden, the website, the online store, my photography... every bucket imaginable except one for the trip. So finally late that night, I managed to get a wee bucket on there so I could focus enough on gathering my research notes and electronic files on the laptop so I could do some sort of research

We flew the next day via JetBlue--a favorite of ours because of the great legroom, leather seats, wonderful employees, and satellite televisions at every seat that we can listen to with our iPod headphones (universal jack). The flight went out later in the day so it afforded me time to pack. Good thing too because I had come down with a head cold (yes, in the summer!) and my head was foggier than I would have liked. With all my cold medicine and a huge stack of nice soft tissues in my carry-on, we were off.

I hadn't been to Salt Lake City for the past 9 years and was anxious to take photos with my new camera (a big bucket in the ferris wheel). Seeing the city as a photographer was a phenomenal experience! Early in the trip my patient husband learned to pull the rental car over at the word, "Stop!" I would see something that looked like a great photo and just have to shoot it. He was so good to indulge me although sometimes he was purposefully heavy on the brakes just for dramatic effect.

I also found that the family history bucket in the ferris wheel became dominant as soon as I set foot in the LDS Family History Library. Get me around stacks of books with potential research gems and I'm like a bloodhound in the Louisiana swamp. My mom lovingly calls me "Lafayette" for that very reason. I hunted down wonderful pieces of information about my ancestor--a shepherd in Scotland in the late 1700's. I found the farm on which he actually herded sheep and the tenant farmer that ran the farm which his family had run for nearly 300 years before. Yes, I was baying like a bloodhound inside.

The reunion started the following day and covered two days. What priceless experiences we had as a family. I saw cousins I hadn't seen in 10-25 years. I saw other cousins that I begin to crave seeing if I haven't seen them in a year or so. I spent a great deal of time with my two aunts and their spouses; enjoying them and soaking in the experience of simply being with kin that share one's heritage. The experience was enlivening and enriching. I've been on a natural emotional high for the entire week following the reunion. Family connections truly are precious and vital to our core beings.

And despite the scorching heat of Salt Lake City easily climbing up into the 100's, I thoroughly enjoyed the city as I always do. It is a beautiful urban center that doesn't feel like a big city. I particularly became enchanted by the city during the very warm summer evenings. Photographically capturing the lights at dusk became a bit of an obsession (which my sweet husband again obliged).

Now we are home to the cats and the garden. The cats forgave our absence quickly although Dee Dee had to meow at us quite a bit for the first half hour we were home. The potted plants in the back garden faired very well with the new system that I really didn't test before trusting that it would work sufficiently while we were away.

Too bad I forgot about the potted miniature roses in front...

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New Beginnings

Life has a way of coming together in just the right ways at just the right times.

On a lazy Saturday morning, my husband, Brent, was listening to a podcast by Leo LaPorte that mentioned blogs. That led Brent to ask me if I would be interested in having a more formal blog than the one I had on Bebo . That led to a discussion of having my own website which led to securing as my domain with BlueHost as my hosting service (this all happened in a matter of about 45 minutes mind you).

Then I plopped myself down to eat a late WeightWatchers-friendly breakfast and the TV was on our local PBS station (because Brent’s regular Saturday shows on that channel). It was pledge time so Dr. Cristiane Northrup pops up with a new show on life beyond menopause for women. I LOVE her books and have found so much happiness and wellness from her medical wisdom. So I found myself watching that show and it ended up being all about women reinventing themselves! Which is exactly what this Saturday morning had already been about!

That’s why I say… life has a way of coming together in just the right ways at just the right times.

This is not an accident. I know it’s not. It all fits together too perfectly to be an accident. I know I am being led through this process of finding myself at the tender age of 40.

It all started a year and a half ago on Halloween 2005 when I found myself in post-op after having spent 3+ hours on an operating table having a hysterectomy that included the removal of 20+ years worth of never-before-detected endometriosis scarring that had fused all my reproductive organs together as well as fusing the mass to other internal organs. Surprise Doc! She thought she was only going in to remove some ovarian cysts and perform a routine hysterectomy. Her surprise was actually my vindication, because it finally explained the hell I’d been living through almost my entire life.

The next year was filled with healings and awakenings. An excitement kept building within me. I was getting a chance to start my life! It was such a freeing and unique feeling to feel like I actually had a life. I thought I’d had one before but I hadn’t really. The world was my oyster! What to do, what to do!

One of the first significant things I did was to join WeightWatchers online through my Kaiser Permanente membership on July 4th just two months before my 40th birthday. July 4th is now my personal Independence Day. That was such a wonderful step toward caring for my body with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle that I hadn’t known how to maintain before.

The next significant thing I did was to venture out into the world of eBay in order to sell some vintage items for my neighbor as a favor to help her out after there were some unsold things at a yard sale she held in the heat of August. The learning curve was easy thanks to eBay University. I learned how easy it was to ship items (even to foreign countries). The thing that helped me go through the learning process so easily was that I was doing this for someone else—I didn’t feel like it was my own moneymaking scheme (something I loathe). It was a “charitable act” so all the mental blocks that I normally would have had were gone. During the process, I learned about eBay stores and opened my own in order to reduce the fees. I named it Rosehaven Cottage after our own sweet little home of the same name. It stayed dormant for most of its early existence—something for which I felt horribly guilt but now realize it was all part of a larger picture I couldn’t see at the time.

Then came the major step in November 2006 of us completing a major phase in our home remodeling—the master bedroom suite. It enabled us to finally move upstairs and utilize the entire square footage of our home. Spreading out finally allowed my creative juices to not be blocked like they had been for the past 6 years. By vacating the bedroom that had been ours during all the remodeling, I finally had the studio space that I had dreamed of for 6 long years! I could finally “breath” creatively. I could finally think. I could finally be the artist and creator that I’d once been so long ago that it seemed like a different lifetime.

But having the space and having the courage to use it are two very different things indeed. It’s scary to finally have permission to be creative again. It’s intimidating. It’s overwhelming. It’s in need of a good swift kick in the rear!

That kick in the rear came in January 2007 when a long-term temporary houseguest moved into the room that was still not serving as my creative space (too scary, remember). The 16-year-old boy that moved in gave us a taste of parenthood that we had never had the privilege of having. It was wonderful, overwhelming, sometimes stressful, and overall fun. We enjoyed his company for 8 weeks, which ended when we took a vacation to O’ahu to celebrate our anniversary, and he moved back home.

Why is this relevant? I’m still not sure, except it just is. I found myself in Hawai’i with our little digital camera (that we had with us on every vacation) on the beach at Turtle Bay on the tranquil North Shore taking photos of crabs and tide pools. Then I brought the camera the few yards back to our beachfront cottage to download the images to our laptop so I had more memory available in the camera to take more photos. As I looked at the images on the laptop, I realized that I had forgotten how much I loved photography. I was also anxious to share my photos with my husband because he couldn’t climb around on the rocks like I could (he has neuropathy in his feet due to diabetes). As I shared the images with him, I realized I had a passion and talent for capturing how I see the world in photographic images. And those images were beautiful. I shot photos the rest of the time we were there on the island.

I came home with a rediscovered passion of photography, a newly vacated room that would become my studio, a physical energy that I hadn’t ever experienced before in my life, and a drive to do something with it.

Shortly after coming home, I built a free website on freewebs to share my portfolio with my family and friends. I was feeling passionate about something, and it felt so good that I had to share it.

Then within a week or so I read an article in the April issue of Reader’s Digest talking about PhotoShelter being a place to archive photos and share them with members of the photographic community (including potential buyers). For an introvert like me, this was the perfect forum I needed. It was exactly the next step I needed to take to gain confidence to really investigate how to share my photography with a broader audience then just my sweet Hubby.

Everything else has cascaded from there… buying a new Sony Alpha 100 for higher resolution photos; buying a wonderful Canon PixmaPro 9000 photo printer on close-out at our local CompUSA that was going out of business; discovering the wonderful world of informative podcasts on iTunes; spending more time in my backyard wildlife habitat taking photos of the flora and fauna I am so fortunate to be surrounded by everyday; getting amazing support from friends and family as I share my personal passion with them; starting an Etsy store to showcase and sell my textile pieces; and most importantly, realizing that although all this technology seems to have created a frenetically-paced life for a large portion of society, it has actually allowed me to slow down and enjoy life in the simplistic way that it is meant to be enjoyed and savored while connecting me with friends that I never would have met without the technology of the internet.

I truly found life at 40. This is my new beginning.
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