Sweet salt water taffy

Sweet taffy
There is something about historic candy stores that I love (turn-of-the-century ice cream parlors too). The funny thing is that I don't really want the candy, I just like looking at everything.

There's an old-style candy store on Santa Cruz's Beach Boardwalk called Marini's. It's been there forever and has one of those old taffy pulling machines in a window so you can watch the taffy being made right before your eyes. I could stand there and watch the glistening sugar pull all day (especially if its pink).

What's really funny is that I can't recall the taste of saltwater taffy because I've maybe tried it once or twice. Like I said, I don't want to eat the candy I just want to look at it.

I guess that's a very literal definition of the term "eye candy" isn't it?

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The January thaw

The Thaw

I'm posting something different today... something that requires quite a bit of courage. I'm posting a watercolor landscape painting. I haven't painted a landscape in watercolor for a very long time... probably over a decade (if not more).

After I wrote my last post, I felt this urge to paint. It was the kind of urge that drives from a place deep inside like something needing a way to get out. That urge doesn't come very often. For many years it didn't come at all, and I never thought it would again. But a couple of days ago it did.

I taped up the watercolor paper onto my painting board, pulled out the paints and parked in front of the easel. I just started putting water and paint on the paper without any idea of what it would become or what I was painting. I was thinking I'd probably end up with a texture I could use for my Photoshop work.

I was way off.

In the end, I found myself with a landscape painting of the January thaw that often happened in the Rockies when I was small. For a brief time almost every January, the sun would come out, the temperature would rise and some of the snow would melt. It would be a brief respite before more snow would begin to fall again.

The painting really isn't that good, but I painted a landscape and that's a very good thing!
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Winter pears, winter gardens and Alcinous


Digitally painted photograph "Winter pears"

I spent a significant slice of time in my childhood (over 4 years) in a very cold clime in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where the first snows of the year begin in September and the last snow of the year is usually the first or second week of June. My mom used to tell people that we had three seasons--Winter, July and August.

When I was 10 years old, we moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born. It was February, and we exited blizzard conditions in Colorado and entered what I thought was Eden on earth with sunny balmy days and frost-free nights. Daffodils were in bloom, almond trees were laden with pale pink blossoms, and the thrill of spring was in the air.

When I was a 15, we spent another 18 months living in Colorado. Again, I dealt with the cold and the snow. When we moved back to the Bay Area again, I was so grateful.

So many years have passed, but I have never forgotten the contrast between the two worlds I grew up in--Colorado and California's Bay Area.

I have never forgotten how much snow I lived in and through back then. How cold it was. How the world didn't bloom for so many months of the year.

It is why I have an extreme aversion to snow now as an adult. When others are dreaming of a white Christmas I am perfectly happy with my foggy San Francisco Christmas. When I see weather reports of blizzards and snowstorms in other parts of the United States, I shudder. When ski bums and snow bunnies are heading to the slopes in the Sierra Nevadas (only 3-4 hours north of us), I happily stay put in my snowless environs.

Homer spoke of the sublime mythical orchard, Alcinous:
"Therein grow trees, tall and luxuriant, pears and pomegranates and apple-trees with their bright fruit, and sweet figs, and luxuriant olives. Of these the fruit perishes not nor fails in winter or in summer, but lasts throughout the year."
Odyssey vii
Although I do not have a pear tree, I look out at my garden that is partially leafless with deciduous trees and partly lush and green with citrus, rosebushes and palm trees, and I often feel as if I am living in the mythical Alcinous.

The pomegranate is dormant right now, but the lemon tree is full of bright sunny fruit. The plum tree is waiting until spring, but the rosemary and lavender are blooming with periwinkle blue blossoms. The silvery leaves of the olive tree sway in the rain against a backdrop of pink winter roses from the rosebush that I loved back to life and has no name.

My childhood keeps me from ever taking this all for granted.

And in a corner of the garden under the dormant hydrangea, the yellow trumpets of daffodils are heralding the transition from January to February that is coming soon when the almonds will bloom and the pear trees will look like they're covered with snow.... but it won't be the snow that makes it shudder. It will be the delicate white petals of spring.

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Mourning dove in winter

Mourning dove in winter

High on a branch
In the mulberry tree
The mourning dove sits
Waiting for spring.
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The hummingbird calls from the winter wisteria

The hummingbird calls from the winter wisteria

I hear him before I see him.

His tiny chirp
Easily missed by unaware ears.

He sits atop a leaf-bare vine
Singing to the mid-day sun.

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The little things brightening my January

January viola

January is a never an easy month for me. I brace myself every year for the month when my seasonal affective disorder hits the hardest and I find myself surfing the internet at midnight looking for flights to Hawaii.

But this year has been a bit different, in a good way.

January violas

This time last year I had spent the last 5 months of 2010 significantly incapacitated by my own body, and I was waiting anxiously for surgery to rectify the issues. The garden was overgrown and unruly, and I was helpless to change that fact as I sat inside watching anything entertaining I could find on Netflix.

Having been through that experience and journaling it on a blog so I can go back and read about it has provided me with a significant amount of perspective. I took mental notes then and have enacted them this year.

January lavender

This year I decided that I would make sure and plant a small winter container garden on the back deck. In the past I haven't wanted to spend money on annual flowers because it seemed like a waste of resources.

But this year was different.

In November, I went to the local nursery and bought potted herbs--chives, oregano, marjoram and a couple of varieties of thyme. Then I bought winter annuals (we have those here) to plant in the pots next to the herbs. I got pretty little violas with purple and white faces, pansies in rich jewel tones, and ruffled snapdragons in a pale peachy pink (my favorite). I couldn't resist a beautiful purple and green decorative kale so I got it too.

January kale

I filled the terra cots pots with the little splashes of color. When I was done, it seemed like a lot of work for such a small space. But I knew it would be worth it come January.

And I was right.

Sheltered against the house on our southwestern facing deck, the flowers have thrived despite frosty nights with temps below freezing. And around 1 pm when the afternoon sun makes its way to that side of the house, I go out and bask in it for a while to soak up the important rays that fend off my seasonal affective disorder. Along with some potted lavender that's chosen to continue blooming through the winter, the little potted flowers are my companions and they are brightening my January, making it so much easier this year than in years past.

If that isn't enough and I really need a pick-me-up, I stand under the loquat tree growing on the super-sunny-south-side of the house and watch honeybees buzz from blossom to blossom as if January never happens in their little world. The honeybees on the loquats remind me that February almond blossoms, daffodils and narcissus are right around the corner. And soon it will be spring.

January loquat blossoms

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Love and paradise

Love and paradise

There are two rosebushes that don't bloom during the warmer months along with the rest. Instead they bloom in the cooler months. I don't know why. They just do. One was a gift from a friend when my father-in-law passed away. It is fittingly called "Paradise". During the grey days of winter I have the bright luscious blooms of this rose to enjoy. It seems appropriate that it should be so.

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January is when the rosemary blooms periwinkle blue

January is when the rosemary blooms

A decade ago I browsed the herb section of our local nursery and picked up little 4-inch pots of various herbs. All the herbs came home and I put them in the ground right outside the kitchen window. Among them was a small little rosemary plant.

That same transplant is now a rosemary hedge that I keep cut down to just a little higher than the height of the white picket fence that borders our front garden. When I prune it the heady fragrance of rosemary wafts throughout the entire garden and settles all over my clothes, hair and skin.

The rosemary's grey-blue-green foliage has seasoned many of Hubby's culinary creations. Its winter blooms of brilliant periwinkle have provided much sweet nectar for countless honeybees, hummingbirds and other pollinators. When I see the blooms beginning to come out like they are now, I know that spring is not so far away.
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A rare winter strawberry

Winter strawberry

Imagine my surprise when I found this lone strawberry growing in my winter garden. In the winter, I always enjoy watching much of the foliage of the strawberries turn to a beautiful shade of cherry red. But I've never had a plant produce fruit at the same time as the leaves are turning for winter. It provided a rare opportunity to get a shot of the red fruit and the red leaves together--photographic serendipity indeed.
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A photo-walk through the garden looking at the New Year's roses at Rosehaven Cottage

"New Year's roses" in the garden on Dec 30, 2011
There are many things I love about living in a mild-winter climate. I think one of my favorites is the chance of having New Year's roses blooming while the trees and plants in other parts of the garden have gone to sleep until spring. The overnight frosts nip at my bougainvillea and calla lilies making them wither and turn brown. But the roses seem impervious even to below-freezing temps.

The roses got a late summer haircut this year and spent the autumn sending out new green growth that resulted in a particularly spectacular late December bloom. When the skies are grey and overcast, the roses are just the splash of color needed to brighten my day. I hope these photos brighten your winter day too.

If you keep scrolling down you'll see the special surprise that I encountered at the end of my photo-walk through the rose garden.

"New Year's roses" in the garden on Dec 30, 2011

"New Year's roses" in the garden on Dec 30, 2011

"New Year's roses" in the garden on Dec 30, 2011

"New Year's roses" in the garden on Dec 30, 2011

"New Year's roses" in the garden on Dec 30, 2011

Male Anna's hummingbird taking a chilly winter bath and getting a drink

While I was out photographing the roses, a cheeky male Anna's hummingbird decided that my presence was not going to deter him from taking his "regularly scheduled" afternoon bath in the chilly water of the fountain. He was very leisurely and also got a few drinks. If you look closely you can see his little tongue sticking out. I didn't have to use my zoom lens to photograph this little guy. He was only about 4 feet away when I shot this photo. Like I said... cheeky.
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