All is right with the world... until it isn't

The above photograph is a perfect metaphor for my life right now. I took this photograph last week because the garden was finally trimmed and coifed and looking like I want it to look. When I sit down not far from the spot pictured above and relax in my chaise lounge, I finally don't feel the compulsion to go over my to-do list because of all the things I see that need doing.

After I took this photograph and was post-processing it on my computer, I took a closer look...

That's poop. Probably grey fox poop (otherwise called "scat"). Or maybe it's raccoon poop. But it's still poop.

Even when I thought I had everything tidied up and "just so", I discovered later that there's poop in the scene.

Why is this a metaphor for my life?

In my last post, I wrote about the wonderful experience Hubby and I had enjoying the summer solstice in our back garden and the miraculous sighting I had of a grey fox. To quote A Christmas Story, "All was right with the world."

Little did I know that 24 hours later I would be laying on a gurney in the ER waiting for the results to come back from a chest x-ray, ultrasound and blood tests to determine why I had pain in my upper right abdomen and chest.

I had already determined that I could thank the heavy cream in the Coldstone Creamery ice cream I had the evening before (just before enjoying the summer solstice). Before heading to the ER on Friday evening (in rush hour traffic), my general practitioner had seen me in his office right before closing for the weekend. He concurred that my suspicion was probably correct about the ice cream (since I usually don't indulge in heavy creams and fats). He thought I might have a clogged bile duct in my gallbladder and strongly (STRONGLY) suggested I go to the ER to have further tests done. What I wanted to do was just go home. I asked if I just couldn't do that. He said no. The possibility of an infection was a risk I shouldn't take, in his opinion.

So I went to the ER. Such a "fun" and "romantic" way to spend a Friday night with your Hubby, don't you think?

By 10:30 pm, I was being sent home (the place where I'd wanted to go in the first place). My heart was fine (I knew that). The ultrasound showed I didn't have any gallstones (that was good). But... BUT... the ultrasound showed that my liver is enlarged.


So just like the metaphorical photograph above, I thought after my surgery a year and a half ago that I had everything cleaned and tidied up inside me, and I was ready to get on with my life. But then along comes an enlarged liver (my proverbial pile of poop) to besmirch the tranquility of my path forward.

There are many things that can cause an enlarged liver. I have my suspicions what has caused mine, because I've had some definite warning signs.  I still have to consult with my general practitioner after more blood tests to try and determine the true root cause. The past few days have been uncomfortable and achey as all the muscles on the right side of my torso try to recover from the muscles spasms I had for about 36 hours straight. I'm eating foods that are high in antioxidants to give my body the tools to reduce the swelling, and I'm paying close attention to what foods make me feel worse and what foods don't.

Needless to say, I can't garden like I want to, and the Cecile Brunner roses that were ready to go into the ground last week are still in pots waiting. Fortunately, I got a lot of cleanup done over the past month so I can go out and sit in my chaise lounge under the wisteria and just relax instead of compulsively seeing things that need to be added to my to-do list. That's the good thing.

Now if the washing machine hadn't decided to freak out and start making a horrendous racket today, I'd be set. *wink*
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Taking time to enjoy the summer solstice brought me an unexpected surprise

Hubby and I had late afternoon doctor's appointments so we found ourselves going out for a dinner at our favorite salad bar restaurant afterward. I realized while we were there that today would be the longest day of the year. We drove home the long way, enjoying some beautiful scenery as well as the quaint business district of our smallish town.

When we finally made our way home, I didn't want to go inside until it got completely dark. I wanted to enjoy every little bit of sunlight left in the sky. So we went into the back garden, and I got the idea to have a fire in our pretty "firepit" (handcrafted by a dear friend from a reclaimed propane tank).

I love to build open fires. It's my thing. I LOVE it! Probably too much.

Hubby gathered small pieces of scrap off the nearby woodpile, and I built the fire on top of a pile of pine needles that had collected in the bottom of the "firepit" over the winter. It wasn't any time at all before we had a lovely fire blazing with its amber light flickering and dancing through the dragonfly silhouettes cut out of the sides of the former tank.

We sat and sat watching the sky grow dimmer as the flames burned lower. This is something I've never done before to enjoy the longest day of the year. It was all a new and fun spur-of-the-moment experience for us both.

As the last light was leaving the sky and the flames had burned down to almost nothing, we thought we should probably make our way inside. But we sat a little longer.

I'm glad I did.

I heard a rustle in the garden plants just 7-8 feet away from where I sat under the wisteria. I squinted into the dark thicket under the cherry tree to see if it was a skunk or an opossum. I could barely make out a furry form climbing onto the rocks that are stacked around a large horse trough I have filled with water and recirculating through a bio-filter for the wildlife to drink from.

I squinted harder and could see the form was much bigger and lighter than a skunk. And its tail was too bushy to be an opossum. Was it a raccoon? I couldn't see stripes on the tail and the body looked too lithe and lean.

Then my heart leapt in my chest with excitement. Could it really be what I thought it was?

All I had was my iPhone for light, so I turned on the screen and pointed it in the direction of the animal. It kept its head down drinking. The light was so weak it wasn't helping much. But I could see the long fluffy tail that looked too long to be a neighborhood cat.

Then the animal's head turned and the light reflected off of its beautiful eyes as it stood and stared trying to figure out what the iPhone was.

Yes. It was what I thought. It was a grey fox!!!!!

It stood there looking at me for quite a few seconds. Hubby couldn't see it from where he was sitting only a couple of feet farther away. I finally said, "Honey, it's a fox!" in a loud whisper.

As soon as I did, the fox turned its head and with a quiet rustle disappeared as if it had never been there.

I cannot begin to express in words how moving it was to see the fox and how grateful I am for the rare opportunity to see it in my own garden. They are rare anywhere in these parts, and rarely spotted by humans because of their stealthy shyness. Hubby spotted a fox two times in less than a week last year. It had been the only time in 12 years either of us have seen one. He wished so badly I would have seen it too. Now I have.

Welcoming in the summer solstice by being spontaneous and enjoying the moment brought me a gift I will never forget.

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Solving the conundrum of sharing the fruits of my labors

Over the years, I've noticed a phenomenon with my blog. When I post about "life stuff", readers leave comments or send me a private email. But when I post about "work stuff"... well... it's like in the cartoons when you only hear the sound of crickets. I don't know why that is but it has made me reticent to post anything about my professional creative pursuits. 

Here's my problem... a huge part of who I am is that creative professional. Being creative and running my design studio takes up most of my day. I spend hours on end in my home studio. So when it comes time to blog, I'm always faced with this conundrum of whether I share anything that I'm doing and risk the "sound of crickets". 

Consequently, my blog posts end up representing only a fraction of who I am. Yes, I am a nature lover and steward over a small backyard wildlife habitat. Yes, I am also a survivor of some serious DIY projects.  

But I am more.

Here's an example of what has happened to me many times. I'll be in a conversation with someone in person, and they'll mention my blog as something they enjoy reading. Then they'll ask, "So what do you do for work? Anything other than work in the garden?"

*sigh* [my conundrum has once again reared its ugly head]

Or here's another example that's happened more times than I can count. I'll be in a conversation with someone in person and suddenly they'll say, "You're a graphic designer?!?! You design stationery?!?! I had no idea. So-and-so just ordered their wedding invitations. I wish I'd known. You probably could have designed exactly what they wanted instead of what they settled for."

Again... *sigh*

I thought of a potential solution. Add a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page to this blog. So that's what I did. Look up at the top right and you'll see the "FAQ" link. In some of my answers in the FAQ, I include a link to my newly created "Design services and fees" page (or click here to see it). I hope you'll take time to go visit what I've written. 

Oh... I guess I should add (just for the record)... I am a designer, illustration artist, and photographer. Rosehaven Cottage Inc. is the name of my design studio where I create beautiful custom stationery, custom web elements, logos and just about anything else graphic design related.  That's what I "do for work". And, yes, I design invitations and other stationery. So don't ever settle for something that kind of looks like what you want when I can design something that looks like the invitation of your dreams.

And hopefully after I post this I won't get the "sound of crickets" as a response.
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Lavender blue and garlic blossom purple

Is anyone else mesmerized with the cool tones of purple and blue flowers as much as I am? What is it about those colors on a flower that makes me swoon? They always have, and they always will.

Last year, a 5-inch+ diameter garlic blossom volunteer showed up growing next to the pond. I loved it so much I didn't dig up the garlic bulb to use in the kitchen. Instead it stayed in the ground... and multiplied. This year I have THREE blossoms to enjoy! 

I know that I could probably grow more showy alliums, but I don't ever seem to get around to buying and putting in the bulbs in the fall.

Maybe I love blue and blue-ish purple flowers so much because of one of my favorite childhood songs--the 1948 recording of Burl Ives singing Lavender Blue for the little-known Disney film "So Dear To My Heart".

Mr. Ives restful voice singing the words "Lavender blue, dilly dilly... lavender green... If I were king, dilly dilly... I'd need a queen" would tug at my little heart strings and make my insides ache. Even as a 4 year old child, there were some things that would do that to me. Sometimes my eyes would tear up as I listened to the scratchy record play on my little portable phonograph with one speaker. The sentiment truly would pierce me to my core.

All those hundreds of times listening to Burl Ives and imagining what lavender blue and lavender green must look like... I didn't know because I couldn't remember every seeing real lavender before (I wouldn't until I was a 10 or 11). I only knew the colors from my box of Crayola crayons. Thinking of those colors on flowers seemed so magical.

Maybe that's why I love blue flowers so much.

If you're a lover of blue blooms, why do you think you love them so much?

Click here or below to listen to the version of "Lavender Blue" I listened to as a child

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The weatherman says the heat is coming... and the dragonflies have finally arrived

With temps expected to get to 100F (38C) over the next few days, I'll be trying to find cool places to duck into. And I probably won't venture out into the garden during the day... well, maybe for just a peek at the pond. If I sit under the pomegranate bush the heat isn't so bad.

And going out in the garden at twilight after a hot day is one of my favorite things to do.

It's "dragonfly weather" right now and as the sun sinks in the sky the dragonflies begin their evening hunt--darting back and forth in an aerial display forming a canopy 8-12 feet over the garden. "Dragonfly weather" is magical.

Hubby and I were out working in the back garden at twilight today and got to witness the first time the dragonflies have been out en masse. Hubby finished installing a trellis on the fence for some climbing roses I'll be putting into the ground, while I dug a hole and transplanted a rose that was in the wrong spot for us to complete the garden plans we've been working on the past couple of weeks. We've been fighting mosquitos when we go out to work in the evening, but this evening the dragonfly squadron helped considerably. It was wonderful.

So if I have to put up with the mid-day heat to get "dragonfly weather", then so be it.
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A ranch visit and a chance to meet barn kittens

All last week I was immersed in a design project for a client, so when Saturday finally came a day trip to another part of the San Francisco Bay Area was just the ticket. I have in-laws of in-laws (Hubby says that makes them "outlaws") that recently moved to a ranch not very far from John Steinbeck country. They were holding a housewarming gathering at their new spread. We "dropped in" for a visit.

I knew I was going to have an extra-good visit when our hostess informed us that there were "new" kittens in the barn! She happily escorted us out to the outbuildings, introducing us to the chickens along the way while the ranch dogs tagged along behind us. We waved hello to the horses (who we've been introduced to before) and headed into the barn.

In a neat and tidy stall the size of a child's bedroom, we found the 8-10 week old kittens lazing about on hay bales. The kittens weren't born at the ranch, so they aren't all from the same litter. They were adopted to be raised as working kitties on the ranch for catching mice and vermin. Despite they're working status, these kittens aren't wild or feral in anyway

Our hostess always makes sure that her ranch cats get lots of love, affection and socializing and raises incredible cats. Our cats Dexter and Dee Dee are offspring from one of her best former ranch cats, Skittles (who lived and died at a previous homestead). 

As these kittens "asked" to be held and cuddled it was clear they are getting the same great upbringing.

Each kitten had a distinct personality. 

The male tabby (whose whiskers have been chewed down to stubs by one of the girls) didn't mind sitting on the edge of the truck bed, but was nervous about being held up high unless he was held close. Once I cuddled him close, his purr-motor started up and he was a real love bug.

The female tabby with the white socks was curious and adventuresome--exploring the bed of the ranch truck and playing with bits of leaves and straw. Hubby held her first and discovered that she preferred to ride around on his shoulders while getting pettings--walking back and forth across shoulders behind his head.

The all-black female with white socks (and whiskers that resemble Salvador Dali's moustache) was such the little princess-in-training. She greeted us from the comforts of "her" pillow on a hay bale and wanted us to come to her. Once I sat down on a hay bale next to her, she got up and wanted lots of love and attention. She walked around high on her tiny kitten toes kneading the hay bale, purring loudly and mewing intermittently if she thought my attention had strayed away from the task at hand (giving her lots of pettings). She was also fascinated with the sound of my camera's shutter and played with my long braided hair.

All three kittens were incredibly photogenic. It was hard to narrow down the photos for this post. And even after narrowing it down, this is still more photos than I usually post. I guess that's what happens when you've been smitten by barn kittens.
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Even after living here twelve years, nature still continues to surprise me

Just when I thought that I've got the rhythms of my backyard wildlife habitat all figured out, Mother Nature decided to surprise me and remind me that I have much to learn and discover.

At "golden hour", I ventured out of my studio and went out on the back deck to check the water level in the pond (with the heat and lots of critters drinking from it, I need to replenish it almost every day). I stepped out toward the railing to lean forward and squint to try and see the water level even though the setting sun was shining in my eyes.

Then I saw some movement under the lemon tree. At first glance my brain said, "Some doves are waddling around looking for food."

But then I realized the two birds weren't doves...

... they were California quail!

I quietly eased myself back into the house so I could go get my camera and hoped my movement hadn't scared them off. I had to switch out lenses to my telephoto lens praying the whole time that they'd still be out there when I got done messing with my camera. I finally crept back out.

Thankfully, they were still there.

I shot from up on the deck so they wouldn't be frightened. The sun wasn't in the best position in relation to the two quail but I got as many shots as I could before they both walked into an area of the garden where my view was obstructed. Even though I snuck down in the deck stairs and went around the opposite side of the pond to try and get a better vantage point, I didn't get any more chances to take shots after those first few.

I did get to watch them sauntering around in the shadows of the workshop. I could tell they'd come into our completely fenced-in garden through a space critters have dug under the back fence we share with a large grassy open lot sometimes used as a car repo yard. We're almost even with the back corner of the lot, so I suspect the quail must have come from the significant open space just over the car lot fence less than 25 feet away. The large amount of land that almost completely surrounds our semi-rural neighborhood serves as a buffer for an oil refinery and its tanks. Despite its industrial purpose, the acreage has lots of wildlife living on its grass-covered hilly terrain. We've spotted wild turkey, pheasant, hawks, owls, egrets, heron, grey foxes, deer and we've heard coyotes. Our garden visitors usually are limited to opossum, skunks, raccoons, and an occasional rabbit or egret. Once we even had a mother mallard duck and her ducklings visit the pond for the ducklings first swim.

Now that they've come over to our garden to pay us a visit, we can officially add Mr. and Mrs. Quail to the list of callers at the gardens of Rosehaven Cottage.

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Sometimes when you just leave things alone, beauty happens

I think one of the hardest lessons for me to learn has been... sometimes when you just leave things alone, beauty happens. Thankfully, my garden reinforces this concept to me often enough that my thick-headedness never gets too out of control before I see it evidenced again and remember, "Oh yeah! Just calm down. You don't have to control everything. Leave things alone and beauty happens."

During the winter, I put out seeds for the birds that are wintering over here because the bugs aren't as numerous as in warmer months. After much trial and error, I've finally concluded that the only seeds I need to put out are simple black sunflower seeds. Even the smallest birds prefer them to other seed. I will also put out some suet cakes for the chickadees and woodpeckers that like to forage differently than the others. 

Everyone gets fed, and I get an added bonus... 

I get sunflowers!

Birds are messy eaters and inevitably stray sunflower seeds end up on the ground under and around the feeders. I don't have any lawn to mow in our garden so the seeds can stay where they fall. The winter and spring rain waters them, and I end up with at least half a dozen or more volunteers that sprout and bloom.

When this sunflower's petals of sunshine are spent, I'll leave the stalk standing and let the seeds ripen in the hot summer sun. The birds will come along and feed from it like a natural bird-feeder. And some seeds will fall to the ground and become volunteers for possibly some autumnal sunflowers (having them bloom in October is the best treat). Some may even winter over and produce blooms for next spring once the winter rain hits them.

Such a beautiful natural cycle repeats over and over... if I simply leave things alone.
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