Chap 1: The fastest 35 miles I've ever driven

The first installment in the story of how Rosehaven Cottage came to be 9 years ago (click here for the "Introduction")

"How quickly can you drive up here?" I heard Hubby say excitedly when I picked up the telephone. His giddiness was evident.

"Where are you?" I asked.

"I'm standing in front of a house that Joan called me about. We didn't go in yet. But I'm peeking through the window of the living room. It has high ceilings, Honey! And hardwood floors! And there's already a white picket fence!"

I immediately went into action getting shoes on and grabbing my purse. I had a 35 mile drive to make on a weekday evening. And I had to make it as quickly as possible without getting pulled over by the highway patrol or getting into an accident. This would be tricky considering the time of day and rush-hour traffic. But I had to get there. Hubby was certain this was finally "our house".

We had been looking for a place to buy for almost six months. One of the first houses we looked at when we started our quest had been a listing we called on ourselves. The normal listing agent was on vacation, so the agent that would be showing us the property was filling in for him. That's when we met Joan. She was a first-time home buyers' dream. No nonsense, down-to-earth, and full of practicality, Joan helped us write an offer on that first home she showed us. The deal didn't fly. And for the next almost 6 months, Joan was our dutiful home-seeking agent. We wrote offer after offer in a market that was so hot it wasn't uncommon to have 5-10 competing offers going against us. Each time, our deals went sour. And because the market was so hot, we had no hope of getting into anything other than a townhome or condo without a yard. It was a sacrifice we were willing to make.

We had only been married two years. Shortly into our marriage, I started having severe health problems (to be diagnosed 7 years later as endometriosis). I had to stop working full-time which made Hubby the sole breadwinner in our home. My physical health problems began to be compounded by terrifying flashbacks I started having of childhood abuse I had experienced when I was so young that I had been able to block it out for decades. We were living in the town where I had been born and where the abuse had started. Despite a very supportive mother and siblings that lived close by, I was headed into the dark downward spiral caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. After much prayer, we had determined that we needed to move. We needed to go somewhere else within driving distance of Hubby's job that would be free of all triggers for me. And despite it being the worst time to try to buy, it was necessary.

And so the hunt for a new home, a new town, and a new life began.

Our agent, Joan, was privy to why our search was so important. And she took her role very seriously. That's why on that Thursday in late June 2000, I was driving like mad to get to a house that could potentially be "the one". Joan had been hunting the newly released listings that afternoon and saw a listing go up for a house that was in our price range. It wasn't a condo or a townhome. It was a house--with a yard. That was a miracle in and of itself. She had immediately called Hubby at work and because he was only 15 miles away, he went to see it first before calling me into action. That's why I was getting the giddy phone call as he peered into the living room window.

I drove that 35 miles in less than 25 minutes. It was as if all normal rush-hour traffic had been removed just for me. I hit every green light. I didn't have to speed... much.

When I pulled up in front of the little house, I knew why Hubby had made the call. It was truly our house. Yes, the sun-baked clay soil was covered with dry sunburned weeds. But it had the white picket fence I had always dreamed of having. And it had a yard! I peeked in the living room to see what Hubby had described. Yes. He had been right. It was just what we had been looking for.

Joan managed to get the key and let us in so we could look around inside. The poor little house was in such a state of disrepair and neglect. The hardwood floors had dry crumbling patches old urine-soaked carpet-padding sticking to it. The tub in the bathroom was so nightmarish I wouldn't have set one bare toe in it. Someone had taken a circular saw to the hardwood floors in the hallway to remove water damage and had replaced it with triangles of particle board but hadn't fixed the pipe that was leaking. So the particle board was water damaged. And the dark cave of a kitchen had a sink that couldn't drain. The bedrooms were dingy and appeared to have cracking plaster on the walls. One had 1960s era acoustic tiles stuck to the ceiling. A dark room off the eat-in kitchen was paneled floor to ceiling in fake wood paneling. Even the stairway was encased in the fake paneling.

A clean-up crew had been sent through the house to remove all the rubbish and debris from the former resident. Even with that, there were still vestiges of dirt and nastiness throughout the whole house.

And yet, Hubby and I were beaming from ear-to-ear. Through the dirt, grime, and rust we could hear the house calling to us ever-so-quietly that it was meant to be loved, and we were meant to love it. It sounds horribly corny to say that, but it's true. An inner voice kept telling us individually that we were walking through our future home.

Without hesitation, we went from the house to Joan's office to write an offer. We offered over asking price to ensure we would beat out other offers. We knew of at least one competing offer even though it had only been listed for a few short hours. We didn't know if there would be others that would come in as well. It was around 9 pm when we submitted the offer by fax. We would have to wait it out overnight to hear back from the seller's agent in the morning.

That night, we slept restlessly. We hoped and hoped that the seller would be drawn to our offer beyond any others. We knew we had to have that house.

The following morning a couple of hours before noon, we got the call from Joan. Our offer had been accepted over the other offer! We were officially in escrow! We would have our little house!

And that's when the adventure began.

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Intro: Collecting rocks

When I was in 4th grade, I was "interviewed" by my elementary school's newsletter editor because I had won a contest for a drawing I'd done. I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I'm sure the interviewer was expecting me to say I wanted to be an artist or something having to do with the fact that I'd just won a drawing contest. But no. Without hesitation, I told her I wanted to be a geologist. So that's what got printed in the newsletter article. I think back on that and can't help but chuckle.

I have inherited from my mom and her family, a love of rocks. I started collecting rocks when I was a child. I even asked for (and got) a rock tumbler/polisher for Christmas one year. It was probably the Christmas just prior to the aforementioned "interview". I had this dream only a child would conjure up that I would make all my rocks beautiful and shiny and discover the hidden beauty in them so I could make jewelry and other pretty things for others to enjoy.

Fast forward over thirty years (and many career path changes) later to when Hubby and I bought this little house that would become Rosehaven Cottage. It was in a shambles. To most it definitely qualified as "scary". I know it qualified as such to most of our family members. It needed so much work. But it had "good bones" as our house inspector said. And we saw the hidden beauty within it.

We would be only the third couple to own the little 1947 house. Consequently, much of what the original owners had put into the home when they custom-built it almost 60 years previously was still there. It was just buried in years of dust, dirt, and neglect. The garden was no exception. I came to dub the garden the "Winchester Mystery Garden" because I would find the oddest things while digging in the dirt.

One quite serendipitous object that I would uncover periodically would be a single old child's marble. The first time it happened, it was a small joy. Then the second, third, fourth, and consecutive times it happened it became sort of a good luck charm. If I found a marble while digging in the garden, it signified to me somehow that I was doing the right thing by bringing this little place back to life.

Another wonderful discovery I had while digging in the dirt was the day I uncovered the former owner's rock pile. It had been buried in compost and sediment from years of leaves and rain falling on it. I dug and dug that day finding every wonderful rock I could have ever dreamed of finding back when I was in 4th grade. The owner had used many of the rocks to embed in concrete slabs as part of the walls of a lanai that was built (and dedicated with a plaque I uncovered) in 1961. The rest of the stock pile had been buried. And I was the lucky girl that found them. Be still my dormant little 4th grade heart.

Along with the rocks, the former owner had collected abalone shells from days of abalone diving expeditions out on the bay (a neighbor that has lived here for decades told me this). After removing the contents for an abalone feast for the owner and his diving buddies, he would take the lovely shells and embed them into the concrete wall of the lanai along with the rocks. I found many abalone shells, whole and broken, as I dug around the garden. And when the dilapidated lanai had to be torn down, I carefully removed each rock and abalone shell to use it somewhere in the garden. Interestingly, the abalone shells would often pop right off the concrete completely intact while the rocks wouldn't fare as well.

Now all the rocks and abalone shells that the former owner lovingly collected are showcased somewhere in the garden either as a path border in the front or as a pond border in the back. And the marbles have come inside to reside on a shelf in my studio.

Am I disappointed that I didn't become a geologist? No. What I didn't know in 4th grade, that I know now is that I can collect rocks and love them without being a geologist. I also didn't know like I know now there are many other things in life that need to be polished in order for their inner beauty to come forth... like little old houses, neglected gardens, and even people. And when you throw them all in together into the big proverbial "rock tumbler" of life's experiences, they polish and smooth one another.

As I've reflected on this wonderful phenomenon the past week, I've come to the conclusion that I need to share more of my own "rock tumbler" experiences here--particularly the ones I've had while bringing this little house back to life and making it into Rosehaven Cottage.

And I hope that you will indulge me as I take this introspective journey that I am about to embark upon.

Scroll up the sidebar for the additional "chapters" to the story -->

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Sunset over the workshop's cupola and weathervane

There are many people that love the dawning of a new day--the freshness of the morning. I have to say that my favorite time of the day is just as the sun is setting--the twilight of a day. There is a restful peace in the air at that time.

I particularly like twilight time between the months of April and October. Each month's twilight times have their own special nuance that strikes the strings in my heart with such a pang, I cannot even describe it.

I could probably devote an entire blog just to each day's twilight sights and observations (I promise I won't though). That's how inspiring this time of day is to me.

Oreo, the garden kitty, loves to socialize at twilight

As we draw nearer to the first official day of summer, twilight often brings relief from the heat of the day. Twilight enters on cool calming breezes blown off the waters of the San Francisco Bay. Those breezes are always so delicious to my skin if I sit out in the garden and "just be". And on those cool wafts come the silent wings of dragonflies that swoop and dip in a canopy over the garden as they catch their evening meal on-the-wing. I love sitting under that magical moving canopy.

"Montezuma" rose

I know that in the world of film making, twilight is known as "golden hour" because of the amazing light that it casts and how beautiful it looks captured on film. Maybe it's my photographer's eye that has entranced me with the light of the ending day. I don't know.

What time of day makes your heart flutter and sing inside you?

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Sunday Evening Discovery in the Garden

The new deck across the back of Rosehaven Cottage
(construction clean-up is set to happen this week)

With the major construction on the deck completed, I spent Saturday hooking up and updating the disconnected drip mist irrigation system for the back garden. And I set the timer to go off at 7 pm every evening and water for 15 minutes. Because the entire system is made up of mostly single drippers and a few small misting heads, it is extremely water-efficient if I set it to water for a short period everyday. On Sunday evening, I ventured out into the garden a little before seven o'clock so I could check and make sure the timer was set correctly. Because the temps hit 101F (38C) on Sunday, it was the first time that I'd gone out into the garden all day.

My view from the chaise lounge--my "sunning chair"

I have chairs strategically placed in different spots around the garden. Excepting the chaise lounge that is my "sunning chair" for getting my sun (even during the winter months), most of the chairs are in the shade of one of the garden's trees. All chairs allow me to watch the wildlife and/or the fish in the pond. On Sunday evening, because I was wearing one of my subdued Hawaiian print muʻumuʻu's I was well "camouflaged", and the birds were venturing quite close as they came in for drinks and baths in the waterfalls or the pond.

As I often do, I changed chairs a couple of times while I watched the water system come on. There is something extremely soothing and peaceful about watching the mist come from the sprayers and land on the surrounding plant leaves and on the pond's surface. From the chair under the plum tree I was watching the fish in the pond pop to the surface for their evening meal. The mist from the sprayers was carried lightly on the hot evening air and cooled me.

I turned to my right to look at what might be sprouting in one of the raised planter beds when I noticed something on one of the stems of a volunteer native that I let grow on the banks of the pond (aka a "weed").

I didn't have my camera with me, so I hustled inside to get it. I came back out and photographed my discovery (above). It was covered with little water drops from the mist system. I gently shook the branch to help it dry off. It moved a bit to get a better grip but held on tight. I shot numerous photographs and then meandered around the garden photographing other things in the light of an almost-summer evening.

When I came inside, I immediately went to the internet to find out what my discovery really was. It had a horn on its backside. From my limited experience with horned caterpillars I thought it might be a tomato hornworm. But when I saw the photos on the internet at various sites, they didn't look the same. I only had to hunt a little further to find a correct identification. My new discovery is a white-lined sphinx hummingbird moth caterpillar! I am thrilled! I have never seen a hummingbird moth in person... EVER! And to have a caterpillar in my garden means that I just may see one yet! And since it's living far away from any vegetables or ornamentals that I care about, I'm happy to let it munch away on the pondside plants until its ready to pupate and change into a moth.
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We have poppy seeds!

Do you remember the wonderful Hungarian Bread Seed Poppy that bloomed on the first day of spring? I've been anxiously anticipating the time when that seed pod would be dried up enough to harvest. And today was the day!

I carefully brought it inside and slit the side open with a kitchen knife to spill out the seeds. Look at how many were in just one pod!

I then took the seeds and carefully poured them into a small seasoning shaker that I'd labeled appropriately. Hubby is a big poppy seed fan so these seeds are for him. When he saw them his first comment was, "Anyone have a bagel?"

The first poppy bloom was the earliest of many flowers that followed weeks later and have been delighting us for the past month. Now I'm on "pod watch" as I wait for the rest of the pods to dry. At least one of the pods will be emptied into a seed envelope for planting next year. But the rest will end up seasoning breads and salads.

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Weeks Nine and Ten of Floral Design

Because I missed my floral design class last Tuesday (funeral stuff), I had to make up a class period by attending both the afternoon and evening classes yesterday.

Week nine was the L-shaped arrangement that I made up in the evening. In my garden, I have been fortunate to have quite a few of my roses grow long straight stems this spring (probably because of our rainfall patterns). So I was able to bring a dozen long stemmed Tahitian Sunset roses from my own garden to make this arrangement! How cool is that?!?!

For week ten's arrangement, we learned how to make a topiary out of asiatic lilies and roses. The stems of the lilies are so long and straight that when we bound them together they made a great "trunk" for the topiary. The lilies are already starting to open up more as this arrangement sits on my mantle. I'm enjoying watching it evolve.

Yesterday was the last class of this term. So I get a two week break, and then I'll be in the shorter summer term doing double-duty every Tuesday with 6 hours of instruction in total every week. That means I'll get two arrangements done every Tuesday. By the end of the summer term, I'll be much closer to my first milestone--beginner's certification with 30 arrangements completed. Yay!
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I Often Go Walking...

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I often go walking in meadows of clover,
and I gather armfuls of blossoms of blue.
I gather the blossoms the whole meadow over;
Dear Mother, all flowers remind me of you.

O Mother, I give you my love with each flower
To give forth sweet fragrance a whole lifetime through;
For if I love blossoms and meadows and walking;
I learn how to love them, dear Mother, from you.

Phyllis Luch, 1969, for song "I Often Go Walking"

Yesterday, my mom got the above art on a Mother's Day card I made for her. Now I can post this for all the other women, living and passed, that I love so dearly.
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Lucy's weirdness

One of Lucy's favorite places to sneak into is the little flap of fabric the bloops down when the recliner chair is reclined. Since this is Hubby's favorite place to sit, Lucy usually climbs in there when he is sitting in the chair relaxing after dinner. Being a true "party animal" personality, Lucy is always up for a game of chase the feline flyer and this spot in the chair makes the game extra fun for her. I took these photos because Hubby can't ever see Lucy when she's in the chair.

These photos are further evidence why we think that Lucy isn't really a kitty cat. We think she's a cross between a squirrel, a weasel, and a meerkat. In other words, she's a "squeaselkat".

As I took the photos, Hubby swung the feline flyer around to entertain little Lucy. All the action attracted the attention of Lydia (who cannot stand Lucy one little bit). Amusingly, Lydia didn't realize that Lucy was right next to her in the chair or she never would have come that close.

And then Lydia finally did see who was perched by her shoulder. Talk about the "evil eye". Goodness! Lydia is NOT a fan of squeaselkats! Can you tell?
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Flower therapy

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As things have finally settled down after an extra long weekend of family gatherings in honor of my father-in-law, I'm getting a chance to post once again. All of your words have meant so very much. You have no idea the profound sense of peace that your friendship and love has brought to us both. It is times like these that I am extremely grateful for the technology that shrinks the world and makes it possible for me to reap the reward of having so many kindred spirits across the miles reaching out to me so that I may benefit from those important connections.

I had the very choice experience of taking my newly acquired floral design skills and putting them to the test by creating floral arrangements for Dad's funeral and graveside services. We chose to rent a cargo van so that I could buy all the flowers here and then transport them and my supplies with us the 3 1/2 hour drive to where the memorial services were being held. Then we could also transport some flowers back to our area for the graveside service that would be local to us. With the help of large blocks of ice and a number of ice chests (including two 150 quart monsters), we successfully transported all the flowers and kept them fresh.

As soon as we drove up to my in-law's home, I set up shop out in their garage and started arranging flowers. I had specific arrangements I did first, but I figured I'd just keep going until I'd used up all the flowers I'd acquired. I finally used up the last daffodils in two small tied bouquets in round glass bowls on Sunday night. Those two bouquets brought the grand total of arrangements to 10 arrangements in two days! I told Hubby that if I ever had any doubt whether I like this kind of work, this would be the test. And I'm happy to report that after all that, I love doing floral design work more than I did before I started.

The whole process was an extremely therapeutic one. I sat out in the garage at my work table. Family members would come in and out as they joined me for quiet chats around the flowers. The wonderful conversations that happened around that work table were so precious. Each arrangement just happened in the midst of all of this love and warmth. Although the first two arrangements were something I had somewhat pre-planned, the rest were born as I sat at the table. It was a profoundly sweet and poignant experience that I will always cherish. And I felt like it was the best way I could honor such a special artistic man--quietly creating while surrounded by family and flowers.

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