Christmas wishes


The wishes I wish for this Christmas are for all of YOU. And this is what I wish for you...

I wish you the peaceful understanding that you are loved by a Heavenly Father that will always love you no matter what.

I wish for you the eyes of a child that you may see the beauty that is everywhere in the smallest and most common of things.

I wish for you a sense of humor and fun that you may see life with a glint in your eye.

And lastly, I wish for you pearls of wisdom and knowledge that you may have perspective during all of life's experiences, both the happy and the sad.

Merry Christmas everyone!
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Smelling, hearing, tasting and seeing Christmas


1. Santa always left oranges, 2. Before the fudge..., 3. A child's Christmas wishes..., 4. Technicolor Red

I've waxed nostalgic this week thinking about all the memories of Christmases past. As I've reflected, I've found it interesting how many of the memories are sensory memories--smells, sounds, tastes and colors.

I keep all our Christmas decorations in plastic storage boxes in our walk-in attic. When it's time to decorate the house I go "shopping" in the attic and hand-pick the decorations I feel like featuring that year. I don't ever put out all the decorations at once. It would be exhaustive and way too cluttered. Instead, I like to "shop" for things I've forgotten we have or special items that I always remember when I think of decorating for Christmas.

A few years ago, my mother sat down with me and my brother and sister and we divided up all the Christmas decorations we had known as children. Each of us got to keep the things that mattered most to us while divesting my mother of the burden of storing so much.

This year, as I dug through one of the boxes of Christmas decorations I came across the jingle bell door hangers that my mom made about 40 years ago. The bells ring with a deep rich tone just as I have always thought the jingle bells on Santa's reindeer should sound. As my hands pawed through the box, the sound of the bells resonated up through the decorations. To me, that is the sound of Christmas.

Both Hubby and I are big fans of old classic movies, particularly old Christmas classics. One of our favorites is White Christmas. We popped it into the DVD player earlier this week to watch the digitally remastered and restored version we have in our cherished holiday collection. As I watched the brilliant dance numbers in glorious technicolor I found myself drawn to the reds over and over again. To me, that is the color of Christmas.

As I chatted with my mother on the phone this week, we reflected on the homemade Christmas treats that we considered to be the quintessential treat that always meant it was Christmas. Interestingly, it is different for the both of us. For my mom, it is the special butter cookies colored with green food coloring and sprinkled with colored sugar that her mother made every year. And although my mom continued that tradition for us, the Christmas treat I always associate with Christmas is my mom's homemade fudge. The creamy chocolate goodness melting in my mouth and sliding down my throat is what I remember. To me, that is the taste of Christmas.

Every year for as long as I can remember, an orange was left in the toe of my Christmas stocking. After digging my way through the contents of my bulging stocking, the last prize was always a perfect orange (usually a naval orange). During the childhood years we lived in snowy Colorado, that orange was a particular treat.

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, we got a scratch-and-sniff children's book entitled The Sweet Smell of Christmas about a little bear that went through his house smelling all the smells of Christmas. He, too, got an orange in the toe of his stocking and my favorite page of the book was that one where I could scratch and sniff the pungent aroma of orange.

Now that I have a home of my own, I grow a number of varieties of citrus in my garden. When I harvest the fruit, the bright smell of orange oil on my fingertips brings back memories of when everything seemed magical on Christmas morning. To me, that is the smell of Christmas.

What is the smell, taste, color, or sound of Christmas to you?
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Nature's stalwart ones

Last one standing

Our normally mild winter weather has taken on a bit of a chill thanks to the rare polar jet that is sweeping over us. Hubby has educated me that the arctic jet is what often brings us our cooler temps. But to have the polar jet come through is a rare occurrence. Because of this fact, there was snow in the neighboring towns yesterday morning. On the way to work, Hubby was able to see snow on the hills coming right down to the freeway on which he was commuting. That's something we've never seen before.

I spent my day watching the thermometer never get out of the 40's (5-9C) as well as making sure that all my tender subtropical plants (e.g., birds of paradise, hibiscus, and plumeria) were all tucked under cold frames so they could survive the frost forecast for the coming night. I'm careful to choose plants that can handle temps down to 20F (-7C) so I simply need to make sure that they are protected against frost forming on them.

As I puttered about the garden making sure everything would be fine, I interrupted a robin that had lit on the side of the pond to get a drink. I haven't seen a robin in the garden at all this year, even in the spring when robin-spotting would be the norm. Why was I seeing one now? I thought about this lone robin and where he must have flown in from. He probably came from a mountain clime where the weather is much more harsh than here. To him, our winter "chill" must have felt quite comfortable compared to the cold back home.

As I continued my garden chores, I found not one, but two confused lilac blossoms on two different bushes. Last year, I found one as well.

The lilac is a bush that needs stress in order to bloom. Normally, that stress comes in the form of a cold winter in states like New Hampshire where the lilac is the state flower. But here, we don't have severe temps that stress lilacs enough. Warm climate lilac varieties have been bred and these two of mine are of those varieties. Our very dry summers and the stress from lack of moisture can stress the lilac much like a cold winter, causing it to produce buds that will bloom in the spring. That's why sometimes my lilacs get confused once the autumnal rains come and think it's time to send out a measly little blossom or two at the same time that it's losing its leaves for the winter.

Since yesterday, I've thought a lot about the lone robin and the solitary lilac blooms. To some, they may appear out of sync--quirky anomalies with poor timing. Yet, I see them as symbols of steadfastness and stalwart hope.

I see the lilacs as a reminder that my stresses and trials in life are the things that have made me bloom. I haven't reveled in any trial while I'm in the midst of it, but when I look back I can see how each trial has caused me to grow and blossom in a way that I wouldn't have if I'd been spared the trial.

I see the robin as a reminder that circumstances are all relative. My coldest and darkest "winters" in life may be seen as a blessed respite by someone who has experienced even harsher conditions. If they could light in my world for a brief moment, they might see it as a "tropical paradise". I need to remember that when I feel things are dark and cold.

And finally, I see both the lilacs and the robin as wonderful reminders that it is okay for me to be "out of sync" and "quirky". I may not be on the timetable that seems socially acceptable, but that's okay. It's my timetable and my seasons of life. Instead of comparing myself to others, I need to just focus on where I am and make the most out of the season I'm experiencing. I need to take a cue from nature's stalwart ones.

What to do with a lilac blooming on Christmas...
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Hills and Harbor


For the sake of privacy, I don't post photos of our town very often, but this past Thanksgiving weekend was so beautifully sunny that Hubby suggested we take a drive around our town to look at the lovely fall colors before they've been blown away by a storm. I decided I wanted to share s couple of photos from that outing here.

Our small San Francisco Bay Area town is uniquely situated against rolling hills and the water of the San Francisco Bay that stretches tendril-like fingers inland through straits, past us, and far into the interior of the state of California. If we get November rains and overnight cold snaps (as we have) we have the unique privilege of seeing our hills turn green at the same time as the trees turn lovely autumnal shades of gold, orange and red. This fall is one of those spectacular ones I long for.

I remember taking my brother to see our town when we first moved here almost a decade ago. The reason why I remember is because of my brother's reaction. As we stood on the pier at the marina, he looked up at the rolling hills that come down to meet the water. He was quiet. Then he said, "The hills are pensive." And then he was quiet, pensive and meditative again himself.

Many times over the years since I've found myself drawn into deep thought by the hills and the harbor. I've often found a connection with my soul and my Maker because of them.

Yesterday in church, we were discussing the idea of finding a safe harbor in life. The image of our own real hills and harbor resonated in me as a powerful visual image of what we were discussing. The hills protect our harbor from the winds that blow out on the open sea and even on the stormiest days, our waters are relatively calm in comparison to the treacherous waves of the Pacific to our west. The boats that anchor in the harbor bob up and down on the ripples of the harbor instead of being crashed and tossed by ominous curls out at sea.

I noted that as the captain of my own "life ship", I have a choice. I can choose to seek out a safe harbor and put down anchor, or I can choose to sail in treacherous waters. It is up to me.

It is also up to me to identify what is truly a safe harbor. It is up to me to analyze the topography before me at any given time and determine if I am headed for or away from a safe harbor. It is up to me to discern what is a safe harbor for my own little ship.

Another realization came to me. I may not feel the brute force of the elements while anchored in a safe harbor as I would if I cast myself off into the open waters. But I will still be bobbed up and down by the ripples and waves of life. I will still feel the cycles of the tide. I will still feel the wind. And if I'm not anchored properly or if I fail to man my anchor rope, I will be pulled out into dangerous waters. Being the captain of my life's ship is a constant and never-ending job of vigilant analyzing, discerning, and maintaining my bearings--always seeking the safety of the hills and the harbor.

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Lighted Kissing Ball

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The above arrangement is another of the design projects I've been working on for Aqua-Gems using their products--Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles and BrightSPOT Submersible LED Accent Lights.

I've named this design "Lighted Kissing Ball". The above arrangement is made with fresh roses and lemon leaf leaves for greens, but I also made it up in a silk sample. Here are the steps on how to assemble one for yourself.

Materials list:

1 Gala Bouquet Holder by FloraCraft (from craft store)
1 Bright Spot light (used white)
Aqua Gems (any color--I used purple)
48 fresh roses (as shown) or 24 silk roses
Green leaves for filler (for silks use green leaves from stems)

  1. Carefully open bouquet holder at middle seam and remove floral foam (slide a dull knife around the middle if necessary)
  2. Using a butter knife or flathead screwdriver, remove plastic plug separating globe from bouquet handle
  3. Fill hollow handle with Aqua Gems
  4. Turn on Bright Spot and push up into the bottom of the floral foam (cut out foam material if necessary)
  5. Replace floral foam in holder with light shining down
  6. Snap holder back together
  7. Arrange flowers in floral foam so the edges touch and all foam is covered
  8. String ribbon through hole in bottom of holder to hang
Click here to visit the Aqua Gems website for more information
or to buy Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles
and BrightSPOT Submersible LED Accent Lights for this project

Disclosure: I was paid to design the featured project. I AM NOT being paid to feature this project or product(s) on my blog and WILL NOT receive compensation for clicks through to the company website featuring the product(s)
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Lighted Carnation Parfait Centerpiece

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The past two weeks I've been working on a confidential design job that I can finally write about. I've been designing projects for Aqua-Gems using their products--Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles and BrightSPOT Submersible LED Accent Lights. A number of the design projects I've created will be used in a large retail craft/fabric store account that Aqua-Gems has, but I've been given the green light to showcase them on my blog too!

The first is a lighted centerpiece I've named "Carnation Parfait". Here are the steps on how to assembly one for yourself.

Materials list:

1 parfait or sundae glass (I got mine at a restaurant supply store)
1 drinking straw
1 BrightSPOT light (I used pink)
1 package of Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles (I used pink)
6 standard carnations in a color matching the Aqua Gems you use
2 white standard carnations
1 artificial red cherry or cranberry on a pick wire (from craft store)


1) Turn on the BrightSPOT and slide the drinking straw over the bulb of the light (see photos below)

2) Place a small amount of hydrated Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles in bottom of parfait glass and nest BrightSPOT in Aqua Gems (see photo below)

3) Fill the parfait glass full of Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles

4) Position straw just to the right or left of center

5) Cut the carnation stems to 3-4 inches in length

6) Arrange 6 colored carnations in a circle around entire rim of parfait glass (let edges of carnations hang over the edge of glass)

7) Place 2 white carnations in top center (re-position straw if needed)

8) Place cherry on top by sliding pick wire down into center

And you're ready to "serve"!

Click here to visit the Aqua Gems website for more information
or to buy Aqua Gems Liquid Marbles
and BrightSPOT Submersible LED Accent Lights for this project

Disclosure: I was paid to design the featured project. I AM NOT being paid to feature this project or product(s) on my blog and WILL NOT receive compensation for clicks through to the company website featuring the product(s)
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Reminder to self: create beauty not deadlines


Okay, first of all I will admit that the above "mosaic" was supposed to be posted on Monday for my "Monday Mosaic". But that didn't happen. And instead of beating myself up about it, I'm going to just post it halfway through the week. Does it really matter that it's a couple days late? Not really.

I think about how often I impose unnecessary deadlines, restrictions and rules on myself simply because some time way-back-when I decided something was a good idea. Does anyone else do that, or is it just me? Inevitably it's those little things that I end up getting stressed out about--rarely is it the big stuff. And if I take the time to step back from my stress and examine whether the thing I'm stressing over is actually something self-imposed, I usually discover that it is!

I have to wonder how much of my life is robbed by that kind of stress.

The past couple of weeks have been crazy and busy for me creatively with new horizons suddenly opening up for me (I can't share just yet, but I will soon). With all this busy creativity that technically should be stressing me out, I'm not stressed out. I just feel busy, utilized, validated, and content. When my head hits the pillow at night, I feel a good kind of tired. I'm thinking this is how it should be.

Something tells me I'm going to have to come back and read this post sometime in the future to remind myself to not self-impose silly deadlines that will inevitably crop up again. Yup... I know myself pretty well.

~Create beauty and not deadlines~
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The calming activity of corsage-making

I was anxious to get back to floral design class again this week since I missed both my classes last week due to illness*. I wasn't sure what everyone else would be doing, but I knew I had missed the class on fine-tuning our corsage-making skills, so I figured I'd just do that.

I came to class with one small $3.99 bouquet from Trader Joe's in hand that had 5 red roses and some white alstroemeria in it. I knew I didn't need a lot of flowers for a corsage. I took my chances that there would be some flowers left in the classroom fridge that I could use for filler. As it turned out, there were three pretty calla lilies and three sweet orchids left in the fridge that were "begging" to be made into a corsage. So I ended up building two during our 3 hour class.

Making a corsage is an interesting activity that I find quite soothing and relaxing. The pre-work is what is so time-consuming. It involves making a bunch of "floral picks" with bunches of filler around a central flower all taped to a tiny water source and wire with floral tape. We have blocks of stryofoam that we stick each pick into once it's done, then we move on to the next one until we have enough picks to gather together and tape to make a corsage. The act of taping each flower is repetitive and doesn't require a lot of heavy-duty thinking, so I find it relaxing as I sit and think or quietly chat with my classmates next to me as they work on their arrangements.

Corsage-making was just the calming activity I needed today as I'm finally feeling well again after fighting the nasty virus I had*. The corsages made me happy with their lovely colors as I twirled them in my fingers, twisting the floral tape around and around their stems. That is the epitome of soothing for me.

What calming and restful activity do you like to do?

*Illness Note: We suspect I had the H1N1 flu, but the doc didn't feel the need to swab me to verify it. He said a flu is a flu, that they're all A-type flu viruses, shrugged his shoulders and exclaimed that he didn't understand what the big hubbub was about. It's just a normal flu season, in his opinion. In my opinion, everyone needs to calm down, take care of themselves, and be responsible enough to quarantine yourself if you are sick--even if you think it's just a cold. This flu is much like a cold if you are not immune-compromised. So be thoughtful and don't put someone who IS immune-compromised at risk. Stay home.

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Monday Mosaic: Insight


1. I know, 2. Remember when...?, 3. Sparkle, 4. Spent, 5. Autumn lacecap, 6. Up, 7. Golden coins of Autumn, 8. Roses and Apples, 9. Antiqued Abraham Darby, 10. An elephant never forgets..., 11. New and old, 12. Pure love, 13. Let your light so shine...

Last week, my photos seemed to revolve around introspection, remembering happy memories, and insights.
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Kitties, a "bear paw" quilt and UFO hunters


I had to miss floral design class this week because of the "creeping crud". I've only missed my class once before--when Hubby's dad died and the graveside service was on the same day as class. Last week I finally reached the milestone of completely the last arrangement "required" for my beginner's certification. This week I was going to begin tackling solely advanced work. But the "creeping crud" had other ideas.

So I've sat in the recliner with the shade of my trusty reading lamp swung over my head and a full-spectrum light bulb turned up to the brightest setting. My favorite "bear paw" quilt and an ongoing rotation of kitties have kept me warm as I've watched mindless television that doesn't require much thought. Who knew there was an entire series devoted to hunting UFOs?

Hubby was sick all last week, so this week he is extremely empathetic to my maladies and has been an absolute saint even though I've been a lousy conversationalist that has made many "honey-do" requests so I don't have to get up and disturb whichever cat is nesting on me at the time. He is so patient with me.

I've sat and looked up at my floral arrangements on the mantel as they've slowly wilted over the course of the week. Fortunately, as they've wilted I've done the reverse. I feel like I'm entering the land of the living again... thankfully!

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Monday Mosaic: Soft


1. Lavender Blue, 2. Lantana, 3. October Hibiscus, 4. Honeycream and Roses, 5. October Buddleia, 6. Marguerite, 7. Autumn, 8. Red, 9. Different... yet the same

Every week I try to post-process and upload 2 photos a day to my Rosehaven Cottage Photography blog (notice I wrote "try"). Then I feature the past week's uploads in a "Monday Mosaic". This past week I think I was in a "soft" mood.
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Late Bloomers

October Buddleia

Yesterday, I took a stroll around the garden with my camera because the sun was just perfect for shooting. Usually at this time of year, I'm shooting autumn leaves, rose hips, and other autumnal details. On my garden tour, I was surprised to find some late blooms in little nooks and crannies. I found a lovely cluster of white Buddleia blooms ("Butterfly Bush") attracting small skipper butterflies in the front garden. And in a protected spot under the plum tree and pomegranate bush in the back garden, I found a beautiful late hibiscus bloom.

I can relate to these late bloomers, because I am also a "late bloomer". Coming up on October 31st, is the 4th anniversary of when I was given a new life at almost 40--the Halloween that changed my life. I've reflected a lot on this major milestone this past week. I've reflected on the reality of being a "late bloomer" because of the health challenges I faced for almost 25 years up until 2005.

During those almost 25 years, I found myself wondering why I couldn't "get it together" and why I wasn't accomplishing and achieving things like my peers. I felt like a failure most of the time because I had vision but couldn't follow through with what I could see. It was so hard trying to maintain a sense of self-esteem amidst so many setbacks. My misconception was that I thought I had to accomplish and achieve everything while I was in my 20's and 30's in order to lay the groundwork for the rest of my life... silly me.

It turns out that I am a "late bloomer". And I am in very good company. The fallacy that everyone achieves success early in their adulthood is so untrue. And what is even more untrue is that all one's formal learning opportunities end once one ages out of one's 20's. Yes, that is the traditional age when a lot of individuals pursue a college/university education. But there are so many of us that, for whatever reason, wait until later to pursue our educational goals and dreams. There are also many of us that don't find our true life's passion until later when we understand ourselves more.

I am grateful that I live in a time when I don't have to have crammed every pursuit of every dream into my 20's and 30's, or I will have missed the boat altogether. I am grateful that I live in a time when modern medicine is advanced enough to give me a new life after 40. I am grateful that I am a "late bloomer".

October Hibiscus
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The real reason I love floral design

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I have to admit that one of the reasons why I enjoy my floral design classes is because I love looking at flowers before they are arranged. Yes, it seems opposite of what a floral designer would say, but it's true. My whole life, I've been enamored with the big displays of bunches of flowers in florist shops, grocery stores, and sidewalk flower vendors. Seeing all the flowers grouped by type rolled up in cellophane sleeves waiting to be purchased just makes something inside me leap.

So you can imagine what I must be feeling every time I go in to floral design class and get a chance to open up the large refrigerators that are there to see them filled with flowers recently purchased at the flower mart. I'm in heaven!

Yesterday, all the floral design students had a particularly significant opportunity to go in on a non-class day and assist our instructor with a wedding job she had for this weekend. It wasn't mandatory that we be there--strictly voluntary. Many of us embraced the chance to fine tune our skills that we'd been learning in class by applying them in a real world setting of the mass assembly of corsages, boutonnieres, cake topper pieces, a flower girl basket, carry-pieces for the bride and her bridesmaids, table arrangements, and altar sprays. There's a lot of work that goes into producing so many wedding flower arrangements including the prep work in getting the flowers cleaned up and ready to be arranged. Our classroom was full of helpers as well as the wonderful aroma of flowers (the same aroma that hits you when you walk into a florist).

The classroom fridges had to be emptied of the buckets of flowers used for our classes so there was room for the wedding flowers after they were arranged. Then added to that were the bunches and masses of wedding flowers in buckets waiting to be assembled into the various wedding arrangements. I was loving life!

We all assisted with so many jobs from prepping, to arranging, to sweeping and clean-up. Fortunately, I had brought my camera with me and took a break in the middle of the afternoon to take some photographs of my finished work and also the flowers in their pre-arranged state. I have to say that my favorite photos are of the latter.

I stayed until the lights were being turned out in the evening. My eyes were bleary but my heart was singing because I had been surrounded by so much floral beauty all day long. Don't worry... I'll share my finished arrangements (I've already posted them to my Facebook album). But for now, I wanted to feature shots of the flowers before they were arranged--the sights that made me happy I'm taking these classes.

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When it rains... it pours

Japanese Maple in the rain

When we were first married, we entertained the idea of living somewhere else other than the San Francisco Bay Area. We loved British Columbia (and felt like we could easily become Canadian). We loved the Pacific Northwest with its stunning green vistas and proximity to the Puget Sound. We loved the No. California and Oregon coast with the breathtaking land along the Pacific Ocean. All these places had one thing in common... gorgeous scenery, trees, and the color GREEN.

But having SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) limited our choices as far as latitude--we couldn't go too far north or the days would be too short in the winter for my emotional health. So I had to find joy in living where I was planted in the Bay Area.

After moving to Rosehaven Cottage and having my first real garden to tend that was mine, I got into sync with the rhythms of nature fairly quickly. I became more aware of seasonal shifts. Those shifts are far more subtle in our climate than in a climate where there is winter snow (something I had my fill of as a child in Colorado and am thankful I don't have now). But there are seasonal changes nonetheless.

One seasonal shift just happened again yesterday as it always does around this time of the year--the first rainstorm of the rain-season.

Our rain-season starts sometime in October and lasts until early May, with rarely any rain falling during the summer months of late May through September. Our rainstorms are fronts that usually come in off the Pacific Ocean and then move their way west to higher elevations over the Sierra Nevada mountains where it becomes snow. In late spring, the snow that has fallen in the mountains becomes run-off into mountain lakes and reservoirs that we rely on for water during the summer months.

When the first storm of the season comes, it is always big news. And this particular storm that we had come through yesterday was even bigger news. It dumped more rain than was anticipated. Some of the mountainous areas of the Bay Area received over 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. That's A LOT!

Fortunately, with all the micro-climates in the Bay Area we didn't receive that much, but we still got a few inches in that 24 hour period. It was wonderful to watch my rain barrels fill to overflowing. I found myself wishing I had rigged up a system to catch the overflow because the rainwater seemed so precious.

Yesterday afternoon during the height of the storm, I had to go to floral design class. I had to buy my flowers before class and then make multiple trips from the parking lot to the classroom to get everything inside. I didn't have enough hands to carry an umbrella so I simply let myself get wet (fortunately my hair was pulled back in a ponytail). My flowers loved the "drink" they got as the rain fell on them and me. I couldn't grumble about being wet. I was just grateful for the rain. So in my soggy state, I happily sat and arranged flowers as I listened to the rain pour outside the classroom. And I found joy in where I was planted.

I should clarify that the months of October to May are only the season in which we can expect rainstorms to move through our area and we don't get rain constantly throughout those months. In between the usually quick-moving fronts, we have wonderful sunshine mixed with some fog in December and January. That's why I can have roses blooming on Christmas Day. If we had rain constantly from October to May, my SAD would have me in a real mess.

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Another of my life's paradoxes

"Disneyland" rose

The weather has finally cooled enough for me to venture back out into the garden in earnest and do the necessary trimming and cleanup after a long hot summer. Without a lawn to mow, I can let things go for a couple of months.

As I was pruning things, I had to shape up the rosebushes from offending branches that would compromise the form of the bushes. Some of those branches had blossoms on them but they still had to go. Since I had floral design class the next day, I just put those branches in a bucket of water and toted them to my class to use the flowers and buds in the hair wreathes we were making. It ended up that I used almost all of my foliage and flowers for that exercise and it was very rewarding.

Here's the funny thing... if I bring flowers or foliage from home I often get one or two comments from classmates about how spectacular my gardens must be. I guess they see my perfectionist tendencies as I do floral arranging and assume it must be multiplied times a gazillion in my gardens. But that couldn't be farther from the truth.

In the garden, I let things get quite shaggy before I give it a "haircut" so the critters in my "backyard wildlife habitat" have places to hide and nest. I rarely "dead-head" my roses in the summer so they are more drought-tolerant. I don't clean up fallen leaves because I like them as natural mulch. In other words, I let things be very natural. Having it that way makes me feel contented and happy.

I only wield my perfectionist control once I get into floral design class or back in my studio with a photograph or piece of artwork. I think that surprises a lot of people when they come and visit Rosehaven Cottage. But my philosophy is that nature really can't be controlled. As long as something is growing, I can't really control it. I can only be a good steward over it. So instead of trying to control, I try to have a symbiotic relationship with the things that are growing in my garden and let them fulfill the measure of their creation under my stewardship. I think that's why it makes me contented and happy.

"Disneyland" rose (with texture and PS action)
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Lucy Turns Two!

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I usually don't do two cat posts in a row, but one of my blogging friends asked how Lucy is doing. Well, Lucy Maud is turning two years old. We don't know when her birthday really is (because she's a rescue kitty) but when we took her into the vet after she was found, the vet estimated that she was about 8-10 weeks old which means she's an October baby.

Some of you may not know the story of how Lucy came to live at Rosehaven Cottage. So here's her story in brief with links to the original posts in case you want to read more.

Lucy's first day with us was on Dec. 13, 2007 after she'd been found at 6:15 a.m. by one of my early-morning seminary students (back when I was teaching). Lucy was huddled out in the middle of the street freezing to death in the 30F (-1C) December air and suffering from a severe upper respiratory infection. My student didn't know what to do, but his first thought was that I would know what to do. So he bundled her in a fluffy bath-towel and brought her to class.

With a damp paper towel, I cleaned the caked mucus that covered her head and face and blocked her tiny little nostrils. She was a mess. But she was friendly and very grateful. I took her straight to the vet that morning and waited for the vet office to open. I had the vet run all the tests for feline AIDS and leukemia first and the tests came back negative. Lucy was given antibiotics, ear drops, and eye medicine for me to administer to get her well. My intention was to foster her until she was well so a no-kill shelter could take her to find a home for her. No shelter could take her until she was healthy, so I saw that was my No. 1 goal.

I built a cage for Lucy out of storage cube panels and zip ties. I kept Lucy in isolation in my studio where it was warm and quiet. I put lots of fun things in her cage (including a small carpeted kitty condo).

Day 1
(Dec. 15, 2007)

As Lucy started to feel better, I would take her out more and more. I wanted to make sure that she was socialized properly for her future family (I was still in foster mode and we were calling her "Skate" as a temporary name). Look at that cute spotty tummy!

(Dec. 18, 2007)

Day 9
(Dec. 22, 2007)

Day 15
("Skate" becomes Lucy Maud)

By Day 15, we decided that she needed a real name so she became Lucy Maud (named after one of my favorite authors, Lucy Maud Montgomery). I was still considering her to be a foster kitty at this point, but I think by that time Hubby was smitten and Lucy wasn't a "foster" in his mind.

Even at Day 50 she could still squeeze into her little heated bed
(Feb. 22, 2008)

Lucy continued to grow but her upper respiratory infection persisted. She wasn't well enough to go to a shelter. It settled in her right inner ear and would flare up regularly causing her to be feverish and sluggish. Even at 6 months old when she showed signs of going into heat for the first time, Lucy wasn't completely well. We took her in to have her spayed despite her respiratory issues. It wasn't until she was finally seen by a different vet for a post-op "emergency" when her incision opened a bit, that she was given a mega-antibiotic (different from the one the other vet had been giving her) and the upper respiratory and ear infections finally left. But by then, Lucy was a part of our home and our family. Lucy was in love with Hubby (still is) and taking her to a shelter would have been cruel. So Rosehaven Cottage became Lucy's "forever home".

Here on the blog, I chronicled Lucy's many firsts, such as:

Lucy has been very different from the regular domestic short-hair tabbies in our home. Her energy level is much higher. She is much more dog-like (she even plays fetch). It wasn't until this summer when I was looking at one of my cat books, that I saw a cat that looked like Lucy. We realized that Lucy is an Oriental Shorthair "mutt" cat. It all made sense once we made that discovery. Her funny long toes, her super-short coat, her long nose, her petite but very muscular build, and her dog-like personality finally all made sense!

As Lucy turns two, she is rounding the bend and becoming quite the "little lady". In my experience, cats still have devilish little kitten tendencies until they are two years old. Lucy has been no exception. But we've noticed in the past month that she's mellowing and becoming quite proper in her observance of good "kitty etiquette" (the unspoken rules that all kitties follow when interacting with other kitties). We are very pleased with her progress and the loyal little companion she has become.

And finally, a recap of the little song we made up for Lucy (all our cats have at least one):

Lucy Maud Theme
(sung to modified tune of Casper the Friendly Ghost--lilting like a 50s TV commercial)

Lucy Maud...
Is the silliest cat we know...
With her curved "play tail"...
And her spotty fur...
And the longest toes that you've seen...

Lucy Maud...
Here comes Lucy Maud...


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Apparently UPS will deliver anything now!

Click on any image to view larger

Good ole' Gus Gus... he's named after the fat mouse in Walt Disney's Cinderella for a reason. You know the saying, "...dumb as a box of rocks?" Well, a synonymous phrase could be, "...dumb as a box of Gus Gus." And this long lanky fluff-ball always manages to cram himself into small boxes, so the saying is fitting.

Over the 7 years that Gus Gus (a.k.a., "Gussy Bear" or "Gus") has lived here, we've collected quite an assortment of "Gus in the box" photos. Here are a few for your entertainment...

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Uncharted waters ahead

Because the summer heat around here is so oppressive, I spend the summer months indoors staying cool with the air conditioner. It isn't until sometime in October that I venture back out into the garden for the next 8-9 months until the heat drives me back inside again. So during the summer months, I do an awful lot of soul-searching and pondering. I do a lot of pondering while I garden the rest of the year, but it is often a different kind of pondering that is more spiritual in nature. My summer pondering is that of a woman in "hibernation" and often has a "cocoon effect" on me so that by the end of summer I'm ready to burst forth like a butterfly ready to take wing.

This summer, I've done a great deal of soul-searching and self-evaluation during my months of hibernation. And in counsel with my best friend (who is also my sweet spouse), I felt brave enough to take a step into uncharted waters in my creative journey. So I applied to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to the Master of Fine Arts program in Illustration. A large part of me expected to not get in, but I knew I needed to at least go through the process of taking the risk.

My creative journey has been a circuitous one. I've been creating with a pencil in my hand since I was old enough to hold one (my mom has the home movies to prove it). Through some wonderful serendipitous circumstances, I was able to attend a public school in first grade that had an art program with a dedicated art teacher who taught her students (me included) how to draw still life at age 7! Now that I reflect back on it, I realize was an amazing and rare experience that was. As I got older, I plugged along through various public schools (we moved frequently during my childhood). By junior high and high school I was choosing to take art as an elective no matter what. I learned sculpture, pottery, drawing, painting, and just about every other medium you can imagine.

After high school, I dabbled in a few college majors before settling on Commercial Art and earned my Associates of Arts degree at a community college. I walked out of that program with the training to be a graphic artist and the portfolio to prove it. I went to interview after interview for creative positions. But no jobs materialized. My dream had been to work for Disney, so I even trekked down to L.A. for a couple of months trying to get a job there. It didn't happen. It seemed I was not destined to be a professional graphic artist. I ended up working in secretarial and data entry capacities in order to earn money (good thing my mom had strongly encouraged me to take typing and 10-key in high school).

After a few unfulfilling years working in administrative jobs, I decided to go back to school and earn my Bachelor's degree. I was drawn to Mills College and ended up in their Art History program. My two years there were an awakening for me as a 26-28 year old woman. I gained a lot of confidence and self-assurance there. I did a lot of writing for Art History and enjoyed it immensely. My professors said I showed promise and hoped that I would go on to get my graduate degrees in Art History as well. But I didn't. I had to go back into the workforce and earn money again.

"Corporate America" was a bit kinder to me after I had my Bachelor's degree. I was able to get work in project administration capacities. I tried to carve out "creative" niches in my work as a technical writer and computer trainer. I was always the one that got to do the office newsletters and flyers.

But my "real" art still remained in a portfolio and in a secret place in my heart. My creativity found outlets in the privacy of my own home. I never earned a living creating art. And it always seemed like a very sad disappointment that I felt I needed to hide. Sometimes I'd get brave and send a set of slides to a greeting card publisher. I even invested in having some cards printed up professionally but couldn't sell them to retailers. I let my inner artist slowly go to sleep in a place deep inside me.

I got married when I was 31 years old. Within months of getting married, my physical health deteriorated rapidly. I had been burdened with chronic pain since I was 15 years old, but no doctor was able to diagnose anything other than PMS. By the time I was 31, I became completely incapacitated. So my husband became the soul breadwinner in our home. I stayed home and thought it was a good opportunity to try to get creative again. I tried my hand at cross-stitching. Once (at the prompting of my brother when he gave me a beautiful wooden easel as a gift) I brought out my paints and a canvas and painted one painting. I gave away most of my art supplies to my brother who was in art classes at the time. I figured I was passing the torch on for good. All my creative pursuits were limited and very "safe" like embroidery and sewing. I couldn't venture to the place where I had taken risks a decade before. That was too scary.

A couple of years after I got married, we bought our house and I delved into the adventures of remodeling and renovation. My creativity found an outlet in home construction as I tiled, sheet-rocked, taped, textured, laid hardwood floors, and installed trim. It also found an outlet in the garden as I took our dried up lot and made it bloom into a drought-tolerant cottage-style garden.

After a few years of working on the house despite my chronic pain, I finally found a doctor that listened. A month after my 39th birthday, I underwent the surgery that revealed I had been plagued with a crippling case of endometriosis for over 20 years. I was given my life back. For me, life really did begin at 40. I spent the next 1-2 years healing my physical body. But my inner artist was still fast asleep.

It wasn't until the spring of 2007 on a vacation, when I started shooting photos on the beach that I realized there was a creative artist in me that, like Sleeping Beauty, was ready to wake up. However, because I have to allow myself to be slightly vulnerable when I create, I had to take things slowly and ease into it again. The more involved the creative method is (like painting), the more vulnerable I have to be to create. I had to take baby steps. I couldn't just jump back in with both feet. It was too scary.

First, I ventured into photography again because that was the safest place to start. I could shoot what I saw. With a digital camera, I didn't even have to worry about wasting film. If a shot didn't turn out, I hadn't taken a huge creative risk. I could just delete the image. I started dabbling in some post-processing techniques using Photoshop to get a little more creative with the photographs. But things still remained pretty safe. And it helped that I shot a lot of my images in my gardens and places that I loved.

Then after about a year of that, I started playing with some digitally produced art. I doodled using my computer and a newly acquired digital tablet. Creating that way was pretty safe too, because I could always hit "undo" or erase something. Nothing was really permanent.

I did that for a while, until I felt safe enough to get my sketchbooks back out and started sketching in them. One sketchbook hadn't been touched in over 10 years. This step was pretty hard. I found myself wanting to make every sketch be perfect. Sometimes, I would find myself paralyzed and unable to sketch anything because of the fear of sketching something wrong and not creating a "masterpiece" every time. It was very hard to make myself take risks in that sketchbook (it still is).

I also invested in a new set of watercolors (my original tubes from 20 years ago had dried up). I brought out my unused watercolor paper from 15 years before and started painting in watercolors again. I successfully took that step into a more vulnerable place.

Then my father-in-law passed away in April 2009. In his spare time, Dad was a very talented painter in acrylics and oils. After the funeral, my mother-in-law gave me all Dad's blank canvases, his vast collection of exquisite brushes, and his entire set of paints. I drove home with a mini art supply store in the back of our vehicle. I let the canvases sit for a couple of days, but they kept "calling out to me". In the midst of my grief, I knew Dad wanted me to paint something with everything I'd been given. I brushed the dust off that wooden easel my brother had given me 10 years before (it still looked brand new), and I made myself put a paint-laden brush to canvas. That was really hard. I couldn't hit the "undo" command when I was painting. It was just me, the brush, the acrylic paint and the canvas... and Dad, who I could feel quietly prodding me on. But once I got into the groove, boy, did it feel good.

Every step of the way, I felt myself getting closer to my artistic core--the place where I had to be willing to be vulnerable in order to create.

At the same time as I was taking up painting again, I also started taking floral design classes at our local adult education center. I am an introvert with some social anxiety, so going back into a classroom setting again with strangers was a huge step for me in my creative journey. I had to learn all over again how to allow my creative work to be critiqued; how to create in the midst of others observing my creative process; and how to make mistakes in front of an instructor and classmates. It was hard at first. But I persevered and can honestly say that I welcome those aspects of the creative process now. I actually thrive off of it.

It seemed inevitable that my next step would be to revisit the idea of pursuing my graduate degree after I had put that goal on hold for 15 years. I chose the Academy of Art University in San Francisco mainly because of it's online degree programs. Only a few years ago, the idea of being able to get an MFA in Illustration completely online was unheard of, and now the Academy of Art University is the pioneer in making it happen so an artist can earn an art degree and live anywhere in the world.

After I sent in my application, I braced myself for rejection, because rejection is what I've known when it came to the art that came from my core.

To my pleasant surprise, I received my acceptance letter to the Master of Fine Arts in Illustration last week! I will start the program the Summer semester of 2010 (just after I've completed my floral design certification program). This past week has been a week of letting it really sink in that this is real. The artist in me is finally fully awake again.

And now I'm taking a maiden voyage on uncharted waters. I hope you'll join me as I do. I'll continue to chronicle my artistic journey at the Dusting in Pearls blog while keeping this blog devoted to my adventures with home improvement and the garden. And I hope that somehow as I share, my experiences will benefit someone the needs to awake their inner Sleeping Beauty as I did.

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