One solitary rose is blooming on the mystery rosebush in the back garden. Its pink petals stand out so starkly against the grey browns of that corner of the garden in winter. The light was shining behind it and lighting up the edges of the pink petals so beautifully. I brought the shot into Photoshop and worked some texture magic to make it look old.

Used my Granite texture available along with my other free textures.
Used the Photoshop action Retro Love by pseudonymfreak
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The Birth of a Workshop

There are some garden projects that fall into the "weekend warrior" category where you can complete them in a day or two, and then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labors. I have plenty of those mostly because I divide up my big mongo projects into smaller increments so I can enjoy a sense of satisfaction along the way. I subscribe to the old adage, "What's the best way to eat an elephant? A bite at a time."

Because of this, many of you have been following the progress of the back garden for well over a year. For a quick refresher of what has transpired, you can click on the following links and take the quick journey:

Before and After: The Drainage Project
If I Had a Hammer... (actually I have two!)
Houston, The Shed Has Landed!
You know you've been working hard when...

After all the sledgehammer wielding and rock throwing, I ended up with a number of raised planters made from recycled chunks of concrete as well as some retaining walls made from the same materials. It was time to get down to business and prep the site for my "Dream Workshop".

The first order of business was to call the landscape guys and have 6 cubic yards of pea gravel delivered to our driveway. And the second order of business was to shovel that pea gravel into the wheelbarrow and haul it one wheelbarrow at a time to the back garden. Here's what almost 6 cubic yards of pea gravel looks like (I'd already started taking loads back when I realized I ought to take a picture)...

After the first day of hauling gravel, the site started to take shape. I learned the best load for me to haul in the wheelbarrow consisted of 20 shovels full of gravel.

After speaking with the installer that would be constructing the workshop, it was decided that I should leave the last section of concrete pad for stability and put pea gravel on top of it. That was fine by me! It meant I didn't have wield my sledgehammer anymore.

By the end of the second day of hauling gravel, the site was really begin to fill in...

After a few more days (5 calendar days in total), the site was completely filled in with all the gravel. It looked exactly how I had pictured it in my head...

There was also enough gravel for me to complete the rest of the drainage area that I put in last year...
With the gravel all in, it all looked seamless--exactly how I'd envisioned...

We only had to wait a couple of days more for the installer to come and put in the workshop. Interestingly, as he was putting it up and getting the shingles on it started to rain for the first time in weeks. He continued to work through the sprinkles and by sundown the workshop was up.

Although I still needed to paint it, I was more than happy to take a couple of days off while it rained.

Once the rain let up, I had to get a floor covering down so we could move all the tools out of the garage in preparation for the foundation work that would commence--in two days. I had one Saturday to get the floor in and the stuff moved before the crew was coming. We chose nice peel-and-stick vinyl floor tiles that look like ceramic tile. I got 100 sq. ft. down in a few hours.

As angry looking clouds gathered overhead, we hastily moved all the tools from the garage. Miraculously, the dark clouds never dropped any rain on us. It was a huge blessing, and I was able to get all the tools organized in their new home by the time it grew dark and chilly outside.

All that work made Sunday's day of rest, even more sweet and special than it usually is. Both of us had nice long naps after church.

Monday came, and it was time to paint. So while the foundation crew was jackhammering and digging around the house to re-level the foundation on the 1961 addition, I had to climb up on the roof of the new workshop and paint the cupola first (easier said than done). Hubby spotted me on the ladder and handed me things, while I maneuvered around on the steep pitch of the roof on my belly while avoiding the two skylights and the ridge vent. The roof pitch sure didn't seem that steep from the ground. It was tricky, but I did it! Whew! Never again will I do that!

Then I tackled the rest of the painting which was far easier. Over the past few days of this week, I've managed to get the front and one side painted with two coats on the trim and the body. With the front done, I thought it was about time I photographed it and debuted it here for all to see!

With an adorable little double-hung operating window, I can open it for ventilation. And the window box is all ready for me to plant some annuals for color. I wonder what I'll plant first... maybe some pansies or some violas.
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Soaking up rays

Click on image to view larger

No, I didn't steal away to Hawaii like I usually want to do in January although the above photo may make you suspect that I have. When I looked out across the street at the lone palm tree that grows behind a neighbor's land and saw the above scene, I wondered the same thing myself. Did I accidentally board a plane in my sleep and wake up in my beloved Hawaii? Even the clouds didn't look like our usual clouds as the sun parted them after a day or so of much-appreciated precipitation.

I don't remember a January that has been more beautiful, sunny, and warm than this. I feel very blessed to have my SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) reduced significantly because of it. It is a very special January for Hubby as well. He hasn't had to endure me frantically searching the internet late at night for travel deals to a tropical locale. He hasn't had to talk me down from threats of heading to SFO and taking whatever plane is taking off the soonest. This is a good thing for poor ever-patient and loving Hubby.

Instead, I've spent time in my ratty chaise lounge that's planted in full sun in the middle of the gravel in our back garden. I know it needs a new cushion, but I can't seem to find one that I like better than the sun-faded one that's there now. And because it's ratty, I don't have guilt about getting my muddy work boots on it sometimes when I take a break from my work to bask in the sun.

Today, dressed in my painter's overalls, I was out painting the workshop a sunny yellow with white trim (I promise I'll post photos soon). While I am doing my painting, there is a crew of men working on repairing the foundation on one side of Rosehaven Cottage. At one point, I realized my back needed a break so I took the time to stretch out on the chaise and just enjoy the sun. I could see that the workmen thought it was a little odd, and I caught one of them stealing some inquisitive glances in my direction. And, frankly, I didn't care. It's my garden and if I want to sunbathe in painter's overalls, that's my business! Being in your 40's does have some advantages.
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The Camellias of Winter

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Amidst the rain of winter, the pink camellias bloom and bring a touch of spring to the cool and damp landscape of our garden. This lovely camellia was added to the garden about 7 years ago. On the north side of the house where it is protected in a nice shady spot, this year's pink blooms are now tall enough to be seen through the living room window. As I sit and take breaks during the day, I can see the ruffly crepe paper edges of the blooms drooping under their own weight.

There's another camellia bush that was well established on that side of the house when we came here: it's a red camellia. Along with the newer pink one, the camellias are almost always blooming right about the time that I get the yearning desire to see Valentine decor--around the third or fourth week of January. By that time, I've had enough of a break from Christmas decorations, and I start to get the hankering for some beautiful reds and pinks to cheer up the grey of winter. These camellias have perfect timing. I love how nature decorates for me.

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Oxalis and Ivy

When my siblings and I were young, our mother took us on a leprechaun hunt in the forests of the California Redwoods. We spent the time looking in every hollow log and stump for leprechauns. We didn't catch any, although we thought we spotted one or two.

To this day, when I see the oxalis blossoms begin to emerge among the ivy in the month of January I find myself thinking, "We don't have much longer to wait until the leprechaun hunts can begin again".
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A Mistake Can Really Be "Photographic Serendipity"

Okay, I've written about the phenomenon of "photographic serendipity" before, so bear with me. Since I'm posting the photo above, I need to write about it again.

"Photographic serendipity" is a phrase I've coined to describe what happens when me and my camera are in the right place at the right time. It also describes the phenomenon of my camera capturing something that my natural eyes don't see. And the term also encompasses the instances when a photographic "mistake" actually yields something I like.

The latter is what happened when I shot the above photograph. I was out in the garden this weekend, enjoying our weird January heatwave and taking some shots of the few blossoms that are around. The orange and yellow gazanias (a native flower of South Africa that grows well here) are in bloom. Low to the ground and planted among rocks and other protectors, these stalwarts often bloom at odd times during the winter when everything else is dormant.

I was shooting the orange gazanias when I realized that I wanted to get some good "bokeh" shots of the flowers. The term "bokeh" (derived from the Japanese word "boke") is used to describe the appearance of out-of-focus areas (particulary backgrounds) in a photo that is produced by a camera lens using a shallow depth of field. In order to create a shallow depth of field, I switched my camera to a setting where the aperture setting was dominant over everything else. Well, apparently in doing so, it also overrode any automatic white balance adjustment my camera would perform which meant that since I was shooting in a slightly shady area of the garden, everything in the background behind the orange flower that was normally made up of greens and russet burgundy tones turned blue!

When I first looked at the photos in preview mode on the back of my camera, I thought, "Well, those are throw-away shots." Fortunately, I have learned to not delete shots in the camera and wait until I get them back to the computer to toss out rejects. When I got back to the computer and looked at the shot bigger on my computer monitor, I realized that the white balance "problem" was actually "photographic serendipity".

The first thing that crossed my mind was that the orange gazania had a perfect backdrop of blue. The reason it is the perfect backdrop is that orange and blue are complementary colors.

Here's a quick color theory lesson from my art school days...

Every color has a perfect complementary color. Complementary color pairs are determined by the simple circular color wheel. Colors that are directly opposite each other on a circular color wheel are a complementary pair. In a very simple color wheel there are the following complementary pairs: orange and blue; red and green; yellow and violet.

Color wheel courtesy of St. Lawrence Place

The human eye likes looking at complementary colors together. Why? Because the human eye is the most comfortable when it can see the presence of all three primary colors (red, yellow and blue) in the same composition. The only way this happens when viewing just two colors is for one of the two colors to be a mixture of two primary colors. Orange is a mixture of red and yellow. Green is a mixture of blue and yellow. And violet is a mixture of blue and red. When one of these mixed colors is viewed with its perfect complement from the opposite side of a circular color wheel, the human eye just loves it and tells the brain, "Ahhhh... I like what I'm seeing right now. Everything is right with this picture."

Going back to my photograph, when I saw this "mistake" of a photograph up on the computer screen I realized that if I could brighten the oranges and deepen the blues, I could possibly have a really cool image on my hands because it was a perfect complementary color composition.

With the color adjustment features in Photoshop, I was able to pump up the orange tones from the original image that came straight out of the camera ("SOOC" is the acronym). But it also made the blues a little greener than the original, lessening the complementary color impact.

Then I got the idea that I should try using one of my Photoshop actions on it. Photoshop actions are scripts made up of a list of tweaks and adjustments. Actions make it possible to apply the same list of adjustments to different photos without having to go through every step manually. There are a number of generous Photoshop users who, after discovering a great way to enhance an image, make their action available for free download.

I only have a few Photoshop actions in my arsenal. One is to make a photo look like it was shot with a Lomo camera. Produced in the 1980's and 1990's by a Russian camera manufacturer, the colorful and sometimes blurry images became all the rage even though the camera was just an inexpensive little 35mm compact camera. This spawned what is now known as "lomography"--a casual, snapshot type of photography that can include the following characteristics: over-saturated colors, off-kilter exposure, blurring, "happy accidents" and alternative film processing. Ambitious Photoshop gurus found ways to mimic the "lomo effect" digitally with various tweaks and adjustments to a regular image. I happen to have a few Lomo actions that were free downloads.

So I used one of my Photoshop actions that fakes the "lomo effect", and then the image really popped with the blue deepening behind the relatively untouched brilliance of the orange.

As happens with a lot of my photographic work, if I stare at it too long I begin to doubt my own judgment. So I asked Hubby to come take a look. His reaction of "WOW! I think that is my favorite photograph you've done of all time!" was confirmation that I had done the right thing by following my instincts.

So next time you think you've got a "mistake" photograph on your hands, you might want to take a second or third look at it. You could actually have a piece of "photographic serendipity".
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Some yellow "sunshine" for my frigid friends

While most of the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. are having the typical cold weather one expects in January, others are having a particularly cold blast right now. Oddly enough, our little part of the world is experiencing some bizarre but wonderful warm sunny days. Monday's temps broke records throughout the Bay Area. It was 72F (23C) here. I was stunned. As I went about my garden work, my body was loving the warmth like it was April or May but then I would notice that the light was different with longer shadows. Tuesday and Wednesday were not as warm but the temps were still over 60F (16C). Normally out temps are 10-20 degrees cooler. In 2007, we didn't see the sun for the entire month of January--literally.

Because this feels like such a special gift from above, I really wish I could share all this warmth with all of you, my dear friends. If I was a billionaire, I'd fly all of you here so you could soak up the real sun. Since I can't, I decided to share little bits of yellow "sunshine" from around the gardens.

Along with the warm days came the bloom of the first daffodil in our garden. I found it tucked up under the hydrangea in the front garden.

The narcissus at the base of the olive tree in the back garden are still blooming. When I was photographing them, I kept getting wafts of their heady fragrance. It was heavenly.

The Eureka lemon has a wonderful cheerful crop hanging on its branches. The great thing about citrus is that I can leave it on the tree for a long time after its ripe, and it's just fine. Some citrus will stay on the tree for months without going bad. Hubby had me pick a couple on Monday so he could make me some delicious pan-sauteed lemon chicken. It was so yummy.

And there's still many lovely little Kinnow mandarins that are ready to be plucked when we feel like a sweet treat. Similar to Clementines, these are wonderful guilt-free sweets for us both. Did you know that there really is no such thing as a "tangerine"? The proper name for the fruit is "mandarin". I didn't know that until a few months ago.

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Work while the sun shines...

There's a hymn that has the line "Work while the sun shines, work with a will..." I've found myself following that counsel a lot this past year. The tune and words often run through my head. I find that my day's activities are frequently determined by the weather. On days when it is cold and overcast, I will usually hole up in my studio and focus on creative things. But when the sun is shining, I want to be outside in the garden doing anything that needs doing.

The times when I don't have the luxury of letting the weather dictate my day's schedule are when I have chosen to commit myself to some sort of deadline. If it's a creative deadline, then the sun can be shining but I'll be holed up in my studio. If it's a home improvement deadline, then I will end up outside in less than optimum conditions.

This week has been the latter of the two. Why? Because last week, Hubby and I FINALLY found the workshop/shed we've always wanted at an amazing price at Lowe's (ours will look just like the one at left only we'll paint ours yellow to match the house). The clincher for the whole deal was that the price included installation! Woohoo! We don't have to risk our marriage to get the shed (I don't play well with others when it comes to garden projects).

The instructions we received from the installer were that we needed to provide a site that was within 6 inches of level and would have 3 feet clearance on all sides of the footprint of the workshop that is 12'x8'. And the installation will be happening in less than two weeks. So you know what that means... it was time for me to crack the whip on myself and get the site prepped.

I am happy to report that after a week of heaving concrete blocks around in the back garden, the site is now ready to accept a deep layer of pea gravel which will be the foundation of our dream workshop. But that also means that the first week I've been well since my "lovely" Christmas cold has been completely devoid of creative pursuits in the studio--no pretty photos to share.


I just realized that I still haven't shared my latest "vintage" botanical print that I created before I got sick.

Fresh Lemon (vintage treatment)

Originally a photograph of some of our Eureka lemons growing in the garden, I brought the photograph into Photoshop and, using my digital Wacom tablet, turned it into a "vintage" botanical print. Because of the aforementioned deadline, I haven't had a chance to format this and print it up into notecards and other pretty stationery as intended. For now, it's just fun to look at on the computer when I dart in briefly on breaks between forays into the garden to engage in manual labor--manual labor that I LOVE!

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The Serendipity of the Unexpected

Life is full of the unexpected. It's ironic that one can expect the unexpected. I think there are different ways of dealing with the unexpected. I tend to deal with them in one of two ways. I either view the unexpected as a wonderful stroke of serendipity, and I revel in the magic of it. Or the unexpected broadsides me with such an impact that I am overwhelmed to the point of an extreme emotional response.

When I chose to follow my heart and plant a garden that could be certified as a backyard wildlife habitat, I had no idea all the unexpected things that would occur. I felt pretty green when I embarked on the whole plan, so I expected the unexpected because I didn't know what to expect (there's that irony again).

Let me share just a few of the things that I, in no way, anticipated or expected but have been magically serendipitous:
  • I became passionate about growing citrus trees even though I had very little experience doing so. Being situated in a hilly town where each street can have a different microclimate, our home happens to be on a street that is prime for growing citrus and having them thrive through the winter.
  • After digging a 1, 200 gallon pond with a shovel and sheer willpower, I quickly found out that I also needed to be a steward over a population of fish, or I was going to have a mosquito farm on my hands. I had no idea that Wal-Mart goldfish would breed year after year and become "indigenous natives" in my garden habitat pond. Wild goldfish... I never would have expected it.
  • With the original vision of having two sweet little indoor housecats, Hubby and I had no idea that we would end up being the rescuers and stewards over many others that would cross our paths. Some would only need temporary assistance, and some would end up becoming permanent residents. Regardless of the length of our association, we have considered it an honor to assist in each of their life's journeys.
  • Being a habitual traveler with a heart full of wanderlust, I had no idea that I could fall in love with my own home and garden so much that the desire to wander would fade to almost nothing. I had no idea that my roots could grow so deep in one place.
The other evening I sat down in our living room with my camera to clean its lens and brush up on some less-used features. I was wiping the optics and raised the camera to look through the viewfinder to check its clearness. What I saw through the viewfinder made me laugh spontaneously. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to snap the shutter...

This experience encapsulates the beauty and magic of the unexpected for me. This is pure "photographic serendipity" as its best. And this is the experience that got me thinking about this whole idea of the unexpected being a positive thing in life if I let it.

As I read over the many comments left on my post about the mandarins on our tree, I thought about how many of you could probably cultivate citrus where you live, but don't know it. I thought, "What a great unexpected treat would that be for someone to realize that they could grow the very thing that they are pining over, but they just don't know it yet?"

The link to the right is to a book I found that showcases more than 100 citrus varieties that can be grown outside year-round in the U.S. states of California, Arizona, Texas, The Gulf Coast, and Florida. Each of those states is big with lots of micro-climate variations in them, so there are many parts of the world that are similar. Then when you consider that many citrus varieties can be grown inside anywhere in the world... well... the possibilities are endless!

So what unexpected and serendipitous experience are you going to embrace this coming year? Will you plant your first citrus tree like I did a short while ago? Will you decide to turn your condo balcony into a butterfly and hummingbird garden all with potted plants? Will you grow tomatoes from seed for the very first time even if it's in a 5-gallon pot in your kitchen window? Tell me... what unexpected magic will stare you in the face (just like Lucy stared into my camera lens) and make you take a moment to laugh and feel pure joy?
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I have to post these...

Okay... I KNOW this will torment those of you in colder climes. I know... I know! But it seems to be an absolute "must" that I post photos of the ripe Kinnow mandarins on our little tree. I HAVE to!

Remember the old line "Please don't hate me because I'm beautiful?" I'm coining a new phrase. Please... don't hate me because I'm in this microclimate. ;-)

Despite the frost and chill that has caused all the leaves to fall off my plumeria and brugmansia, this little puppy just keeps plugging along. It's less than 4 feet tall and is fairly new in this location (less than a year). But look at that crop! And that's after I picked 5 or 6 yesterday! I just love a little tree that can do this--even after I accidentally fell backwards into it last summer during a mishap with the wheelbarrow (don't ask). What a trooper (the tree not me... I'm just a garden klutz).
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A New Year and my 300th post!

Happy New Year!

I can't believe this will be my 300th post. I'm sure there are many of you that have far more posts on your blogs because you blog daily. However, I'm not a daily poster. I post whenever the mood strikes me or when I want to share something. So to have 300 of these "brainstorms" under my belt is a major accomplishment for someone who has been the queen of "Mr. Toad mania's" most of her life (me).

What is a "Mr. Toad mania", you ask? Well, the reference is from the Disney animated film based on the Wind in the Willows books. In the Disney version, Mr. Toad's eyes begin to spin in bright Technicolor every time he is overcome by a new mania (a new obsession-driven hobby or interest). His mania's come on strong, take over his life, and then eventually wane. The mania portrayed in the film is his mania with motor cars. When Mr. Toad's eyes begin spinning, he holds his hands out in front of him as if holding an imaginary steering wheel. Then he makes sputtering sounds like a old Model-T Ford. This is the classic "Mr. Toad mania" stance that became well-known in our home when I was growing up. If one of us was showing signs of launching into a new mania, it was appropriate to take on the "Mr. Toad mania" stance and then offer a few sputtering sounds for good measure.

I've been known to indulge in some "Mr. Toad manias" in my life. I won't bore you with details. But let me just say that when I launched my blog simultaneously with my newfound creative pursuits the summer of 2007, there were some family members that just chalked it all up to being another "Mr. Toad mania" for Cindy. Deep in my heart, I knew it wasn't. I knew I was on the horizon of a new season of my life that was much more permanent and rewarding than any old mania. But when one has a history of being Mr. Toad-ish, one has to expect to have naysayers. I can happily say that I believe 300 posts de-bunks any vestiges of this blogging thing being simply a "Mr. Toad mania".

It seems fitting that this milestone of 300 posts comes on New Year's Day. It also seems fitting that I have nothing truly profound to write about the close of one year and the beginning of a new one.

I used to be the type of person that was focused on sketching out my "5 year plan". When I got a new calendar, I was all over it marking everything I could think of all the way to the end of the year. The older I get, the more I realize that living in the moment is how I can best release the extra drops of joy out of my experiences. The richness of my "now" is far more vivid and delicious than daydreaming about or trying to calender the future.

As I pulled some mandarins off the tree today to bring them inside as a treat for Hubby and me, the oil from the rind rubbed onto my fingertips. Even hours and a number of handwashings later, there's a faint tang of the citrus oil left as I press my fingertips to my nose. It's so yummy. I stopped typing right now just to sniff. That glorious essence of fresh mandarins will eventually slip away. Whether I stop to breathe it in before it fades is all up to me. How sad would it be if I were too busy to stop and take a whiff?

So here's to a brand new year full of new mandarins to sniff. And while I'm doing the sniffing, if I happen to feel like writing about it... I will. Happy New Year everyone!!!!!
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