One tiny twinkling star

one tiny twinkling star
in the dark night
makes all the difference
to the person navigating a journey
with nothing else to guide them.

Let your light so shine
it may be someone's
one tiny twinkling star.
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Maintaining some semblance of holiday cheer despite the flu (thanks to Netflix and cold medicine)

I spent all last week watching every Christmas movie I could find on Netflix while being sick with the flu (the real flu as in "influenza" and "don't-go-outside-your-home-and-spread-this-to-anyone" or you could be "patient zero" in your neck of the woods).

I gotta say that sitting around watching endless Christmas movies sounds really great until you overlay a 102F/38C fever on top of it. You get a pretty funky experience when you do that. One of my favorite movies "Elf" was a bit odd to watch to say the least. "Scrooged" was really strange. And other Hallmark/made-for-tv Christmas movies all blurred into one big massive plot line that I don't think I could possibly mentally unravel now unless I watched them all over again (I won't be doing that).

I'm not sure if I'm infused with more of the Christmas spirit than I usually am simply for watching all those flicks back to back. Between dosing myself with fever reducers and decongestants every 4 hours, I've definitely heard about every rendition of every Christmas carol I could imagine. I've watched just about every romantic scenario involving a girl falling in love with a guy around Christmas (how many more movies can you make about a girl needing a boyfriend/fiance to take home to her parents for the holidays?). And I can attest to the fact that Santa does come in every shape and size imaginable thanks to Hollywood.

And I think it should count for something that I was wearing flannel jammies with Santas all over them almost the entire time. That should warrant an extra candy cane in my Christmas stocking... or something.

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It truly is a wonderful life if you always remember, "play" is the action required to start every great film... including your own

This evening, on his way home from work Hubby stopped at the store (he often does since he does the grocery shopping). I came into the living room to find the television screen full of the start menu of one of our favorite classic films "It's a Wonderful Life". He had cued it up to surprise me. He had found the dvd at the store and bought it.  I wandered into the kitchen to find that he had bought a little advent calendar full of chocolates. I opened the little "window" for December 1st and handed him a chocolate. Then I opened the little "window" for December 2nd and popped that chocolate in my mouth.

A thought... an idea... a concept that's been percolating in the back of my mind this past holiday weekend started bubbling to the surface and taking form in words instead of just feelings and impressions.

I went back to the television with the start menu still up for "It's a Wonderful Life"... the thought continued to take shape.

I went and got my camera and photographed the television (Hubby thought I was a bit odd at this point... but that's normal).

Then I sat down and started playing with the photograph on my computer–letting the words that had bubbled to the surface in my mind come out onto my screen on top of the beautiful graphic from the dvd.

I thought to myself... It truly is a wonderful life. But I have to engage in the process for that wonderfulness to happen. I have to take action. Just like I have to hit the "play" button to enjoy a great dvd, the smallest actions can bring about wonderful and beautiful experiences. Those small actions are like hitting the "play" button of my life, taking me out of "pause" mode or "waiting" mode and making my life story or "film" roll forward one scene or even one frame at a time.

It's the little things that make life rich. Those things rarely cost money and usually don't require a huge amount of planning and preparation. Like when Hubby decided to try his hand at making a homemade cherry pie last Friday. He knows I love cherry pie. And he asked me earlier in the week, "How hard is it to make a cherry pie?" I told him I didn't think it was that involved. He hunted around on the internet and realized it wasn't hard at all. So while I was sleeping in on that lazy post-Thanksgiving morning, he went down to the kitchen and baked a cherry pie... for me. It wasn't elaborate but it was one of the sweetest and most kind gifts of love from him to me.

A homemade cherry pie... a little advent calendar... a classic Christmas movie on dvd... by themselves they aren't much. But when combined with love, they are the things that make up a truly wonderful life.

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It's perfect weather for garden installation around here

I think normally when someone says, "Yeah, I'm taking the whole week of Thanksgiving off because we have plans" it means that the person is traveling to spend the holiday with relatives or go on a vacation of some sort to celebrate the holiday.

Not so around here.

When Hubby said he'd be taking the whole week of Thanksgiving off because we have plans, it's because:

  1. a portable storage container is being delivered to our driveway
  2. the last of 1500 pounds of boulders needs to be moved out of the back of our low-riding pickup truck
  3. the invasive ivy and vinca major that's grown through the fence from the neighbor's yard over the past few years needs to be hacked away
  4. the boulders that were in the pickup need to be arranged to line the path down the south sideyard in preparation to install a pea gravel and flagstone path (which we'll probably tackle during his time off around Christmas)

Oh... and Hubby is also doing the pre-holiday food shopping that needs to be done while I'm sitting here typing this blog post. Yeah, I married a saint of a man.

The garage has, up to now, been our storage area for my floral design supplies (including some massive coolers too big to put anywhere else and big boxes of blocks of floral foam), home construction materials, and food storage in pantry units down one wall. Over the past few weeks, we've relocated the pantry units to available temporary space in the house, but there isn't room anywhere for everything else in the garage that needs to be cleared out in order to begin the work of transforming the space into my new studio.

So last week, we made the decision that we'd just have to bite the bullet and include the cost of a portable storage unit in our construction budget.

The portable storage unit was delivered on-schedule mid-day on Monday. It's called CoolBox because (unlike other portable store pods) this one is completely insulated so the interior stays more temperate. The 16 foot x 8 foot unit is now sitting in our driveway taking up one parking space with its door facing our garage door. Today, Hubby started the transfer of stuff from the garage to the unit while I worked on setting rocks.

Hubby had done the monumental task of cutting back ivy the past couple of Saturdays (despite being plagued with an allergic reaction to all the stuff he was kicking up in the process). Once he had cleared the ivy away to reveal bare ground, he started moving rocks from the back of the pickup and pre-placing them in a line.

Then it was my job to come along and apply my vision to the placement of the rocks. I had to dig, scoot, and rearrange to get each one looking just right. The long course of rocks now forms a raised bed for the warm climate lilacs, loquat trees and Cecile Brunner rosebush that form the dense arch of foliage leading down the sideyard to our "secret garden" in back.

Hubby smartly discovered one rock with a little "mouse hole" on the bottom and placed it perfectly over the irrigation line that runs to the raised bed (you can see it in the photo above). (I'm telling you, he's awesome!)

With the November air cool and crisp, it was the perfect time to be doing this hard labor.

This time of year is always interesting in the garden. There are some trees and bushes (the liquid amber, plum, pomegranate and cherry) that are turning beautiful shades of yellow gold or russet red. At the same time, the leaves of the non-deciduous trees and bushes, like the thick glossy loquat leaves, remain a lush green. The hummingbirds and bees still have plenty to snack on since the lavender, loquat and navel orange are in bloom. At the same time, their deciduous neighbors have bare branches ready for winter.

It's such a wonderful time to be out in the garden, I may have a hard time breaking away for the Thanksgiving festivities. Then again I'm "a bona fide turkaconis freak" of major proportions so it probably won't be that hard to lure me away.

We are not being compensated in any way by CoolBox Portable Storage or for the photo of their storage container or mention of their company's services in this blog post.

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I love Autumn... but I'm not a big fan of the fall

I love Autumn... but I'm not a big fan of "the fall"... "the fall" of the leaves, that is.

The leaves look so beautiful as they change colors while on the tree--nature dressed in the same colors I love to wear myself.

As brilliant as the inside of a tropical fruit, the orange-yellow leaves of the pomegranate is a delight to behold... until those leaves start loosening their grip and descending to the ground and pond below.

Every day or so I sit on my "tranquility bench" with pool net in hand sweeping leaves off in gentle strokes being careful not to scoop up little mosquito fish in the process. It's slow, methodical and eventually very rhythmic.

As I sit on the bench, I look above me at all the leaves still hanging on.

I know I will be scooping those out in the days to come.

There's no easier way to do this delicate work.

I am the steward of a backyard wildlife habitat, and I must be gentle in my stewardship opting for slow and methodical sweeps of the net over get-it-done-quickly techniques that would most likely involve noisy leaf blowers or nets over the pond that would prevent animals from getting the water they need while our region still waits for the replenishing autumn and winter rains to fill up seasonal ponds again.

The "tranquility bench" takes on a slightly different purpose this time of year, yet I still find tranquility there.

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Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and garden installations

I know it is officially autumn when the Japanese maple tree begins to change color. It has. The leaves dance in the breeze in colors ranging from russet red to bronze to a pale Granny Smith green. Fortunately, this tree holds on to its leaves a long time after they've changed color, so Hubby and I can enjoy them and savor their beauty.

With the cooler daytime temps, I've been able to go back out into the garden to do involved hardscape installation that I can't do in the summer heat. However, I do have to keep telling myself the old adage, "Slow and steady wins the race" and that it's perfectly okay to do things at a slower pace than what my creative imagination and my ambitious brain would like.

Last Saturday, Hubby and I went to our local landscaping yard and handpicked over 1500 lbs of beautiful moss-rock boulders of various smallish sizes. Actually, I picked and Hubby lifted. I wasn't able to help because of a minor fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue flare-up. He loaded each rock onto a palette. Then the landscaping yard guy came and picked it up with a forklift, drove it to the scale and then to our truck where employee unloaded the palette into our truck and Hubby was able to finally get a break. The poor little pickup was riding pretty low on the way home, but it handled the rocks like the champ it is.

My flare-up has been keeping me from moving forward with installing the rocks as the border for a future pea gravel and flagstone path down the side yard, so the truck it still sitting the driveway (very low) full of rocks.

I keep repeating to myself, "Slow and steady wins the race... Slow and steady wins the race."

Because I haven't pushed my body (as I often do) I'm feeling this flare-up wane already. And if I don't jump the gun and let it completely subside, I'll feel just fine to start hauling rocks around in a couple of days.  Then I can line the path in preparation for a pea gravel to be put in so flagstone can be set in it.

I just have to remind myself, "Slow and steady wins the race... Slow and steady wins the race." You know, now that I think about it, I feel a little like Dory on Finding Nemo.

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Abalone shells and lavender blooms--two small things making a big impact in my garden

Think small to make a big difference tips for creating your own backyard wildlife habitat in any size space

The makings of a backyard wildlife habitat are often unexpected, small and don't seem like they would be significant at first glance. The same is true for all the wildlife that benefits from the small additions. Most wildlife that will benefit from a backyard wildlife habitat is small and diminutive like birds and beneficial bugs. But these small creatures can provide very large benefits to your outdoor space.

Saving money and time
By working as a partner with these little guys I've stopped having to spend money on bug sprays and killers, I spend less money conditioning the soil to get things to grow well, and my garden maintenance chores have slowly decreased because nature does a lot of the work for me.

Abalone shells used to catch water for wildlife

Abalone shells as "water features"
Decades-old abalone and clam shells left from a fishing trip on the Bay that happened long before we came here, now grace the raised garden beds I made from chunks of repurposed concrete. The shells catch water from rainclouds or the garden hose so lizards, bees and butterflies can get a sip of water when they need it.

Just about everyone loves seeing butterflies in the garden, but why do I want lizards and bees to have a place to drink?

Western Fence Lizard on flagstone

Why I want lizards in my garden
Lizards are a key component of my garden because they eat a lot of bugs (A LOT). They eat all the bugs I don't want including big nasty flies, young cockroaches and other creepy crawly nasties. And that's not all when it comes to the most prevalent lizard in my garden, the Western Fence Lizard. According to the California Academy of Sciences, the Western Fence Lizard's blood contains a protein that kills the Lyme disease-causing bacterium (Borrelia) that is carried in the guts of ticks. But if an infected tick bites a Western Fence Lizard, the Borrelia is killed off completely, leaving the tick's future bites harmless to other creatures. So the occurrence of Lyme disease is lower in areas where these wonderful little lizards live and thrive. Of course I want them as permanent residents!

Why I want bees and paper wasps in my garden
Bees (honeybees, carpenter bees, paper wasps and others) are also a key component of my garden. They pollinate all the fruits and vegetables to make a good harvest possible. They are all extremely docile while on the hunt for nectar and water. I never worry about being stung. I provide them with year-round nectar with hardy bloomers like the lavender. Even though it's November right now, the lavender is in full bloom again, and the pollinators are happy. The lavender will continue to be a nectar source throughout the bloom-deficient winter months when bees in our climate still forage because daytime temperatures are often mild and above 40F/5C on the coldest days.

Benefits of potted lavender
Again, the lavender is growing in simple terra cotta pots set directly on the ground. They take up little space and are drought tolerant.  The large pots also provide habitat for the lizards to hunt in and around. I often find them sunning themselves by one of the lavender pots waiting for a flying insect to come into range so they can pounce on it. Over time, each potted lavender has turned into a mini-hub-habitat. Strategically placed throughout the garden along paths, these pots help to balance each area by drawing the attention of beneficial bugs and critters to every place I need them. The added bonus of the simple system of potted lavender is that the scent of the lavender repels bugs I don't like (e.g., mosquitoes) away from places I like to sit. Another added bonus is I can go out and harvest lavender anytime I want to bring sprigs inside to repel unwanted bugs in the closets or pantry.

Back to the benefits of the simple abalone shells strewn about the garden beds...
If I lift one of the shells, I often find other insects have made a home underneath in the cool damp space out of the sunlight. Skunks and opossums rearrange the shells periodically to get to the grubs living under there. I patiently right the shells that get turned over so they can hold water again and brighten the garden with their pearly interiors.

Why I want skunks and opossums in my garden
Skunks (despite their smelly reputation) are great omnivores that eat insects, small rodents, lizards, and frogs as well as roots, berries, leaves, grasses, fungi (like mushrooms) and nuts. Opossums eat insects too--beetles, cockroaches, snails and slugs. Both skunks and opossums eat fruit that's fallen from fruit trees that would otherwise lay around and stink up the garden as it rots. Thanks to these two great critter species, I no longer have a problem with snails and slugs eating my beloved garden plants. And I don't have to spend money on pricey snail and slug bait to get rid of them either. These two species also keep my home and garden free of small rodents, as well as successfully preventing my garden from being taken over by the non-native bullfrog that can be a nuisance resident.

Little things mean a lot to Mother Nature
Over and over since I embarked on this journey of being a steward over a backyard wildlife habitat, I have had one simple truth reaffirmed... little things mean a lot. This is especially true when it comes to the beautiful balance nature can provide if given the opportunity.

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Even hummingbirds get itchy sometimes

photograph taken in the Rosehaven Cottage gardens 
28 October 2013

My mind is focused on hue, saturation, restoration and recovery.
One photo at a time gets preserved from the family albums.
I rest my eyes and back while wandering the garden paths.
I check the water level in the pond.
It's low.
I turn on the tap to replenish it for all the critters that drink from it.
Meandering out to the front garden, a tuxedo kitty greets me with raspy meows.
I sit on the porch to pet her.
Together we wait.
For what, we don't know...
Any movement that catches our eyes.
The tiniest chirps approach from the distance.
I see her sip sweet snacks from the red Japanese honeysuckle.
Then she lights on a leafless buddleia branch
And scratches an itch.

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The roses are in bloom for autumn

Last month, after the summer heat-waves seemed to have left for another year, I gave the rosebushes in the front garden a "haircut".  Trimming during the hot summer months makes the roses thirsty for water (not good), but if I leave them alone and don't cut them, they are quite drought tolerant.

By September, the roses are always looking a bit shaggy. Some of them are vigorous growers that need neatening up every 6 months while others can be left to only get shaped once a year. I don't do a hard prune on my roses because with our mild some-night-frost-but-no-snow winters, it isn't necessary. If I time my pruning just right, I can get a big beautiful display in the spring (April to May), again in the fall (October to November) and then again around Christmas day.

This year I seemed to have timed the pruning perfectly because I'm getting a lovely October bloom from several of the varieties including 'Our Lady of Guadalupe' (below), 'Ronald Reagan', 'Janice Kellogg' and the infamous mislabeled rose that was supposed to be a 'Sterling' but turned out to be what I think is a 'Queen Elizabeth' (above).

There's something magical about having the roses in bloom while everything else is going through the changes of autumn. It reminds me that I don't live in a place where snow will envelope my world for months on end (something I lived with for a large slice of my younger years that has left me traumatized when it comes to snow). And I am happy.

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Why it's best not to be heavy-handed when it comes to digitally cropping photos

In the last year or so, I've taken on several different projects involving the scanning and digital restoration of family photos for others. Lately, I've been spending my efforts on our own family photos that my mom brought to be in neatly organized albums.

As I've completed small batches of photos, I've been uploading them to a common viewing area ("photostream" in the world of Apple) and all family members have been able to look at them on their iPhones and iPads as well as make comments. I've spent a few evenings this past couple of weeks laughing so hard I couldn't breathe because of the comments flying back and forth over select photos.

The above photo seems innocuous enough right? It's me on my 12th birthday right after the candles have been blown out. I'm guessing the bouquet of zinnias and bachelor buttons were freshly cut from a garden that I remember was burgeoning that year. It seems like just a typical birthday shot right before the cake is cut.

Don't be deceived.

The uncropped version of the photo looks like this...

That "monster" on the right is my four year old brother, photobombing the shot before "photobombing" was even a word.

As everyone in the family exchanged comments back and forth, my brother's comment on this photo was the best by far:
"I look shockingly like Lou Ferrigno in the Incredible Hulk, except I'm not green, have no muscles, and am slightly shorter than him in this pic... but other than that... dead on."
Let's see...

You know... he's right!!!

The moral of the story (there is one believe it or not)
In this world of easy digital editing...

Just in case you can't see the above photo... don’t be too quick to crop a photo. You could inadvertently be cropping out some of the best memories.

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Stand out from the crowd and lead

Going through my photo archives, I came across one of my October favorites. This concept has been on my mind a lot as of late, so I thought it was appropriate to share it again in a pin-able format for Pinterest. (Is "pin-able" even a word?)

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October's bougainvillea

The bougainvillea blooms away along the white picket fence in the front garden 
in vibrant bright oranges and hot pinks. 
It's as if it doesn't know that October has arrived.

I continually remind myself that seasons are different here. 
Frost won't come until December. 

The sun-loving bougainvillea 
will continue to stretch its branches and blooms skyward 
until the first frosty night arrives months of now.

Between now and then
I will imagine I'm living in a tropical paradise
that never sees winter.
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Dropped and forgotten? Or lost and always missed?

While walking, I happened upon a guitar pick on the sidewalk.
It left me wondering...

Was it dropped and forgotten?

Or was it someone's favorite or "lucky" pick?
Something they never intended to lose
that they will always miss for the music it created in their hand?

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I'm declaring it here and now... I love classic beauty

"I love classic beauty. It's an idea of beauty with no standard." 
~Karl Lagerfeld

I've been keenly aware of my interior design aesthetics the past 6 months or more. It started when I decided to create a Pinterest board called "Finding my interior design style" after reading a very well written blog series entitled "How to Overcome Decorating Paralysis" at Fieldstone Hill Design. I saw the article pinned on Pinterest and despite the fact I was feeling just the opposite of "decorating paralysis", I clicked through and read it out of curiosity. I ended up with some epiphanies I hadn't anticipated.

I've felt like I've made some good choices when designing our cottage's renovations over the past 13 years, but was frustrated that I seemed to be making choices that didn't have as much lasting power as I'd initially hoped they would. I was wanting to change things after only a few years that were supposed to never be changed as long as we lived here (50+ years). Through the series mentioned above (particularly the Personal Style Boot Camp) I discovered that I had to define some "don't buy words"--style definitions of things that I'm lured to but are, in fact, my design "kryptonite".

Here's an example of what I mean... my head is easily turned by mid-century malt shoppe/soda fountain/diner decor, colors and accessories. I will ignore all else if I see something in that style. But (and this is a big BUT) 50's diner/malt shoppe kitsch in my own home doesn't really sit well with me for very long. It's too busy... too much like a movie set... too kitsch-y for my long-term aesthetic. As stated in the blog series that enlightened me, " ultimately will not have 'staying power' in my home".

Once I read that, I felt free for the first time in a long time! And I could finally declare that what did have staying power in my home was classic beauty—the kind of design that could be hundreds of years old or brand-spanking-new and you'd have a hard time discerning which it was. The classic design that emerged in the early part of the 20th century is a great example because you can see it in very modern homes today and it doesn't look dated.

My other realization was that just because something was "vintage" or "antique" didn't mean it belonged in my design aesthetic. And just because something was "new" or "modern" didn't mean it was verboten. I could mix the two and be quite happy... so happy that I never feel the need to change out that design element ever again.

Man, I wish I'd had Pinterest 13 years ago. I really REALLY wish I had. Fortunately, I'm resourceful enough and thrifty enough that I'll figure out ways to switch to my real design aesthetic without spending a lot of money.

And I just have to keep telling myself, "Lesson learned... move forward" instead of looking back and bemoaning my previous choices. I think that will be a bigger challenge than the actual work. In fact, I know it will.

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Memories of Jessica McClintock Gunne Sax dresses and a nosegay

I am a word nerd. I think many bloggers are (whether they know it or are willing to admit it).

Back many moons ago, in my junior high school at the end of every year the 8th grade students participated in "Eighth Grade Graduation". It was a big deal. The school band played "Pomp and Circumstance" while the entire 8th grade class walked in a procession decked out in the finest dress.

Back then Jessica McClintock's Gunne Sax dresses were all the rage so there was a sea of 8th grade girls wearing long calico dresses with lace-up bodices and fancy cuffs on long puffed sleeves. The graduation ceremony happened on the afternoon of the last day of school day, so all the 8th graders showed up wearing this formal attire at the beginning of the school day. The first half of the day everyone went to their regular classes. Those of us girls in 7th grade got to watch the 8th graders gliding across campus from morning class to morning class in their beautiful dresses while we dreamed of the next year when we could do the same.

The year I was one of those starry-eyed 7th graders, one particularly stylish and gregarious 8th grade girl we all loved and admired wore a beautiful Gunne Sax dress while carrying in her hand what appeared to be a miniature wedding bouquet. I was enthralled by flowers even back then, and I thought it was beyond sophisticated and charming that she got to carry around this darling bouquet of fresh flowers. I was transfixed. I heard her mention again and again that this "nosegay" was from her mother.

"Nosegay"... it sounded to enchanting and alluring.

It was a word I'd never heard before.

My flower-loving-word-nerd heart was hooked.

I never forgot that day... that moment... that space in time... when I was introduced to the concept of a "nosegay".

According to Merriam-Webster:
"Nosegay" is a homegrown word -- that is, it originated in English. Fifteenth-century Middle English speakers joined "nose" (which meant then what it does today) with "gay" (which at the time meant "ornament"). That makes "nosegay" an appropriate term for a bunch of flowers, which is indeed an ornament that appeals to the nose.
Is it just the 7th grader coming out in me, or doesn't that still sound so enchanting and alluring?

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Dahlias that never stood up straight or "The Dahlia Principle"

photos taken in Golden Gate Park

Years ago I wrote a blog post about how my dahlias never stood up straight. No matter what I did or what measures I took, when the dahlias would grow they'd always grow sideways with large green serpentine stems stretching out horizontally instead of vertically. It seemed like something so straightforward. You put the bulb in the ground. The flower grows straight up from the ground. The flower blooms and looks like all the other dahlias you've ever seen. Easy peasy, right? Not so in my case. It's like their "dahlia dna" got the wrong set of instructions. It wasn't the weight of the blossom that caused it because they'd start growing like that long before there were flowers. It was maddening. One year, those dahlias didn't come back. Something must have eaten their bulbs. I never bothered to replace them. I decided to just admit defeat and learn to appreciate dahlias in other gardens besides my own (the photos in this post were taken outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco).

This weird dahlia problem is somewhat of a symbol for certain things in my life. No matter how hard I may try to prevent some cyclical patterns from repeating themselves, I can't. I end up either having to adapt or just admit defeat and move on.

Case in point... after 13 years of living through restoration/remodeling projects in this house Hubby and I know that no matter how straightforward a project appears to be at the onset, something will crop up that puts it into the "difficult" or "Man, I didn't see that one coming" category. It is a general rule we've come to have a sense of humor about (believe me, it took a long time to get to the point where we could chuckle about this phenomenon). We've actually come to expect it--particularly when others besides ourselves are doing the work.

Sometimes we've called it "the Home Depot Curse". That term came about because whenever we’d get into a line to checkout at Home Depot with a cart full of supplies, the customer ahead of us would suddenly have an issue with their purchase—their card would decline, a bar code wouldn’t work on an item, or something else would occur that the cashier insisted “had never happened before”. If anything happened when we were standing in line, we felt an obligation to apologize to whomever was standing in line in front of us or behind us by saying, “Sorry. It’s us. We have ‘The Home Depot Curse’.” We got to the point where we'd split up and have one of us stand in one line and the other in another line and then whichever line "broke down", we'd switch to the other person's line. When my brother was helping us with major construction, we'd split into three different lines and really fake out "the curse".

At other times, we've simply said, "We've got the Midas touch in reverse. Instead of everything we touch turning to gold, everything we touch turns to crap." That started to sound too cynical and faithless for our spiritual and good-natured sensibilities, so over time we abandoned that notion and phrase.

I think I'll call it the "Dahlia Principle" from now on. It sounds much nicer than either of the first two nicknames, don't you think?

We've had the weirdest things imaginable happen during the course of our home improvement adventures. While digging trenches for french drains around the perimeter of the house several years ago (another seemingly straightforward undertaking), we unearthed counterfeited engraving plates buried by the former owner's felonious son who was involved in many nefarious activities including counterfeiting checks. A phone call later and we had a member of the sheriff's department collecting the evidence as we all stood next to the small trench. After taking the evidence and our statement, the sheriff's deputy parted with a smile and a chuckle and said, "Give us a call if you dig up anything else... like a dead body." Thanks officer.

That gives you an idea of how bizarre things can get around here.

So in case anyone is wondering why I haven't written an update on the progress of our latest remodeling project, know that the "Dahlia Principle" is in full swing right now. The wonderful and competent contracting company that we hired to do our drainage and foundation footing across the front of the garage has been sucked into the vortex that is our lot in life when it comes to home improvement. A seemingly straightforward day-and-a-half job has turned into much more than that. Everything is on hold until they can find a slot in their schedules to come back and resolve things.

Sorry... I guess I should have warned them.

The good news is that while digging to install the foundation, they didn't find anything that warranted calling the sheriff's department. That's a good thing, right?

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Rainless rainbows and giant prisms in the sky... that's what ended our Labor Day

Hunkered down inside all day (despite the holiday) because of the heat and humidity, Hubby and I finally decided it was cool enough to venture outside to take a short drive just before sunset. We wandered out to the car in the driveway and looked up. What we saw stunned us both.

Above us was a sky lit up like fire as the setting sun reflected off the unusual clouds. And in the midst of it all was a big rainbow coming down out of the middle of a cloud.

It hadn't rained. It wasn't going to rain. Yet there was a rainbow.

Our iPhones came out and we starting taking pictures thinking there was no way we could capture the intensity of the moment with little cameras in our cell phones.

We finally got in the car and headed out of our little hamlet and onto the big freeway that takes us up and out of our hilly terrain into the large valley that sits at the base of "our mountain" which hovers over the valley at 3,864 feet (1,178 m) in elevation. This is a drive we've made a thousand times. Our car always goes up and over the rise in the freeway until we reach the crest and suddenly the valley opens up in front of us with the majestic mountain rising in the distance (a camera never does this scene justice).

Yesterday evening the vista was even more magical than usual. To the right of "our mountain" was a giant shaft rainbow. I've never seen one before. It was like a huge prism hanging in the sky from the clouds overhead. The mist from the clouds was hanging in vertical bars and refracting the setting sun so perfectly that it was creating this beautiful phenomenon of nature--not a rainbow but a shaft prism.

I took out my iPhone again and started taking pictures as the car jiggled along the freeway toward "our mountain". I hoped and hoped that it would even capture a tenth of what we were seeing. It did capture that (and then some). Even though it couldn't capture all the bands of color our eyes were seeing, it caught enough to show the enormity of the miracle we were witnessing.

For those of you that experience summer rain and/or summer heat and humidity, you'll have to forgive our childlike excitement. These cloud formations aren't what we normally witness here in the hot, rainless summers of the San Francisco Bay Area. And we certainly don't experience them by the time September rolls around and we're completely starved for rain. Usually we still have a month or so to go until the autumn and winter rains come. So you can imagine our sheer childlike wonder and delight seeing rainless rainbows and giant prisms in the sky as the sun set on a September evening.

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Late August in our little part of the world

A quietness has descended on our little hamlet--a quietness that feels anticipatory but peaceful.

Afternoons bring...
Days that aren't quite so hot...
Breezes that are a little more refreshing...
Tiny birds flitting from the sky to pick seeds off
the heads of petal-less Lazy Susan's.

Nights bring...
Cooling breezes off the Bay...
Twinkling eyes peeking out of the storm drain as a mama raccoon leads her babies to "training" in our pond leaving the water lilies leafless...
Faint whiffs of the perfume of a skunk surprised as it digs for grubs in the dry August soil.

Neighborhood children are in school...
no longer playing outside...
no more adventurous stunts on bicycles accompanied by excited laughter and cheering.

A lull between work crews here at our cottage
as we wait for them to come back and correct some work done last week
gives us time to organize and do some clear out of other areas we will be working on.

And dragonflies still flit in the twilight sky overhead each evening
catching dinner on the wing
reminding me that winter is still quite far away.

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Chapter 13 (cont): New beginnings and promising horizons

I never thought I'd love the sight of a safety-orange traffic cone as much as I do the two that are sitting in front of our garage right now.

The work crew was back today bright-eyed and raring to go... except they got word from the county inspector that the inspection would be happening between 1 and 4 p.m. instead of the preferred time in the a.m.

So that kinda put a damper on the crew's plans... kinda...

Most work crews would just kick back and hang out until the inspector came. But not these guys. They had other tasks they could do without the inspector's visit. So they dove right in and hooked up the drains and pipes, drilled into the side of the subterranean storm drain box, created a connection to the downspout coming off the eaves, and finalized them all before the inspector got there. Nice.

Look at how beauteous the connection is on that downspout (below). You have no idea the relief I feel knowing the winter rain will go right down that tube and back to the storm drain instead of gushing out right in front of the garage door.  

In all the excitement of actually getting this job done, I had forgotten that there would be two drains! One drain is in the driveway (below) and the other is in the middle of the utility area of our side yard (above). No more slogging through ankle-deep water in my Sunday shoes on Easter Sunday ever again!

The concrete pour on the footing happened this afternoon once the inspector signed off on the forms and everything. Fortunately, this crew has a great working relationship with the county so the permitting process goes a lot smoother than it could working with another contractor company. It's a joy to work with these guys.

I can't help but smile looking at the beautifully poured concrete footing with the bolts coming out of the top of it. That's where the framing for my new studio window will bolt into the new foundation.

It's all really happening!
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Chapter 13: New beginnings and promising horizons are afoot at Rosehaven Cottage

New beginnings and promising horizons are in the forefront of my mind (my last post was about it). I have reason for them to be. We have several "new beginnings" happening around here. Hence, a new installment, Chapter 13, in the story of how Rosehaven Cottage came to be. And this time we're living through it as I write it.

'Our Lady of Guadalupe' is in full bloom again as if she's excited for the new beginnings too

Every year since 2000, when the winter rains come we've braced ourselves. We knew we were moving into the southernmost part of the rainy region of the "North Bay" and it's notoriety for deluge rain in the winter. What we hadn't anticipated when we bought this home was that our southern property line is, in fact, the lowest point on a long keyhole court with water draining downhill toward us from both directions. That's right... uphill to either side of us.

We soon realized why, during the first year of digging in the back garden, I kept finding completely buried brick walls that had once been part of a terrace system throughout the whole backyard. The water would run with such velocity diagonally across the yard that the 2-3 foot high brick walls were eventually buried in runoff silt, mud and dirt.

So over the course of time since our first winter in 2000-2001, we have installed a cleverly disguised drainage system throughout the back garden so the water is moved away from the house and under the garden instead of through it.

From February 2008: in the midst of installing the drainage system in the back garden.

From March 2008: after the drainage system was completed (click here to read more)

The last piece of this difficult drainage puzzle has been in front of the house.

Our driveway slopes downhill away from the street and toward the house. If the storm drain a few inches from the edge of our driveway is clogged with leaves and debris (as it was last Easter Sunday), water diverts down the driveway straight toward our garage. In 2005, after I had a strong intuitive feeling that we needed to do so, Hubby and my brother jackhammered out the 8'x8' section of driveway right in front of the garage door. They thought I was nuts to insist upon it... that is until 2 months later we had torrential rain that flooded many homes and garages in our town. Ours would have been one of them and we would have lost over a $1000 in building materials being stored there for the other restoration we were doing at the time.

Since 2005, we have had to live with an embarrasing gaping hole in our driveway. First, we filled it with pea gravel and then realized that wasn't the best solution because the neighborhood cats thought it was a giant litter box. Then we moved the pea gravel and used it elsewhere (I always have a purpose for pea gravel in our garden). It remained an empty "pit" for a few years that would get soggy and muddy every time it rained. The last couple of years, we've had larger rocks in it that are difficult for an ankle-spraining-klutz like me to traverse regularly. All the while we knew we needed a permanent solution, but funds had to go elsewhere (like when the south side of the house suddenly started sinking in 2008).

The embarrassing but very necessary hole in our driveway that we've lived with for way too long
Finally, this last spring we determined (thanks to a healthy income tax return) we could venture to ask for a bid for a permanent drainage solution to be put in by the same skilled company that had saved our house and its foundation a few years ago.

We also determined we needed the garage less as a garage (it's too narrow to pull a car into anyway) and more as a studio space for me where I would get the right natural light I need for photography. We concluded that if in the process of installing a drain, we also had a foundation footing constructed across the existing garage door opening it would be advantageous for two reasons. First, it would be further protection against flooding, and second, we could install a beautiful set of windows in the existing opening that would mirror the living room windows on the opposite side of the house. The light from the new east-facing windows would make the space ideal for the official headquarters of Rosehaven Cottage Inc. that currently resides in a bedroom with south- and west-facing windows that are not conducive to the work I do.

We had the foundation company come out and draw up a bid a few months ago and then had to wait for their very busy docket to free up so they could do our job. They are a reputable company with solid ethics and a phenomenal end-result, so they are in high demand.

In the meantime, I was able to get my head around the design of the new studio space; what I would be using it for; and how I was going to accomplish it.

Through much prayerful pondering on the subject, I was led to some conclusions about my own career path. My true passions were brought to the forefront of my mind--photography, historical research and preservation; digital restoration of rescued antique and vintage graphics on paper ephemera; creating digital art from photos and rescued images; and teaching.

I set goals for myself.

I spruced up (my companion blog that focuses on my creative career).

Then I decided to completely overhaul my digital download shop and reopen it as an Etsy store at with the express purpose of using the proceeds to finance the buildout of my studio space. And I determined that I wanted to do most of the work myself while learning more construction skills and cabinetmaking in the process.

So that "new beginning" started for me about a month ago. And I must admit that writing about it here (or anywhere on my personal social media accounts) is a hard thing to do. I have a hard time being a self-promoter, because I'm always concerned that I will offend someone. But I finally realized that my friends probably want to know about the promising horizons I'm exploring. So I'm going against my natural tendencies and being more open about the goals I'm setting for myself.

There... I did it... back to the house...

Today (August 19, 2013), first thing in the morning, work began on we have waited so many years to see completed. It makes us emotional if we sit and think about it. We have waited so long for our little home to be truly safe in a rainstorm. And... it... is... finally... happening!

By mid-morning today, trenches had been dug for the foundation footing as well as the drain and drain pipe that would take water away from our house underground to connect to a storm drain box we share with our neighbor who also has to deal with flooding issues.

After the end of the workday, I felt it was okay to go out and take more photos. I didn't want to get in their way while they were working so I waited (Hubby took the ones above because he's braver).

The trench for the drain wraps around the corner of the garage and down our side yard to connect to the subterranean storm drain just on the other side of our fence. Our neighbors won't have to have anything dug up on their side. All the work can be done on our side.

The forms for the foundation footing are all constructed and ready for the concrete pour to happen once the county permit inspector gives them the thumbs up.

Another view shows the beautiful rebar work that's been constructed (well... at least we think it's beautiful).

Only a few feet away on the other side of the front porch, our highly prolific but completely unplanned 'Sweet 100' tomatoes are unaware of the goings-on. Planted by tomato-eating critters last summer, these volunteers have given us a produce garden this year even though we didn't think we were going to have one because I was out of commission when planting season was upon us with a back injury, then a cold, then a fibromyalgia flare-up, then another back injury. By the time I was actually functional, the volunteer tomatoes were already producing sweet, ripe, red fruit.

Once again, our needs are being met. We are being watched out for and blessed with what we need, when we need it.  I couldn't ask for more than that.

The 'Sweet 100' tomatoes the critters planted

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