Saturday, December 30, 2006

Blue skies

So we had Round 2 of the Holiday Blizzard on Thursday night and all day Friday, but this time the winds didn't howl, so it was merely a storm. By the time it was over we had another thirteen inches of snow. This towering Blue Spruce is across the street. Notice my neighbor's trash piled below. Not sure when we'll get pickup again. Today, the day after the storm, the skies are blue and sunny, and the trees look gorgeous glistening with snow.
My neighbor's snowblower bogged down with this very wet and heavy snow so I started shoveling my driveway by hand. The snow kept sticking to the blade so I tried out that trick I'd heard of spraying cooking oil on it and it worked. I was very surprised. A few neighbors borrowed the spray can too and now the odor of olive oil is redolent in the air.
Out in the back yard, I can no longer get to my feeders, so I scattered some seed and peanuts close to the house. Some Black-billed Magpies were my first customers and I caught their tracks in the snow on my camera.
Even more cool is this imprint of a Magpie's wing and body he left when he landed on top of the snow to grab a peanut. They're a big bird with a wingspan of about two feet. Looks like those fossils you see imbedded in stone, doesn't it?
Much smaller birds grace some holiday dishes that I love using at Christmas. Don't you love the feel of beautiful bone china? The heft of it is very pleasing and the translucence always amazes me. Forgive me for carrying on. Years ago I worked in the China and Silver department of a May Company store and I've never quite gotten over it. The House Finch above is common at my feeders and the Eastern Bluebird below never will be. But its cousin the Western Bluebird will be back with the blue of the summer skies.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Holiday Blizzard

That's what they've named it: The Holiday Blizzard. I think it's a good idea to give blizzards nicknames. That helps me distinguish it from previous ones like The Blizzard of '82, The Blizzard that Damaged all the Trees (1997), and The Blizzard that Closed Work for Three Days (2003). The latter was my personal favorite. Don't you just love the rocking chair on the front porch? It looks like it's been covered in cotton batting and is ready for new upholstery.
Oh, yes! My neighbor remembered that I babysit his dog a lot. He plowed his way across the street first thing this morning and started on my driveway. He dispatched 17 inches of snow a lot faster than the first 12 inches I shoveled by hand yesterday. Later I stuffed him with cookies and wrapped his Christmas presents for him. A fair trade, I thought!
The overhang of snow above the front porch reminds me of that cute scalloped edging I've seen decorating some kitchen shelves. But this decoration will undoubtedly come thudding down as soon as the sun warms up those gutters.
My faux "Gloire de Dijon" rose is almost visible on the right of this big snow mound. "Gloire"outgrew a five-foot-tall obelisk this summer and is still reaching for the sky. Just think of all that winter insulation for it. I won't be watering outdoor plants this month.
In the back yard, an old flat-topped pedestal got a smart pyramidal cap. Nature's symmetry!
The only diner open today... a covered birdfeeder. Those indentations in the snow below the feeder are normally a set of wide open-back steps that lead to the upper lawn. I didn't dare try them as they are rather crevasse-like at the moment.
Next to the Adirondack chair you might be able to make out a mound on the right. That's a matching table. I trudged through drifts up to my thighs to get this picture. All for you, my blogging friends! (Well, I also had the birdseed with me).
By late afternoon, the snow ended and the storm clouds headed northeast toward Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Hopefully, by the weekend, all the stranded travelers will be making their way to their destinations too. I'm sure they won't be dreaming of a White Christmas!

On, Donder! On,...Blizzard?

On Monday, the weatherman said there was a storm coming in. We could get a dusting of snow, or up to 8 inches. By yesterday afternoon, he'd changed his forecast: 15-24 inches. His later prediction was the right one. I did rather want a white Christmas, but the dusting was what I had in mind. This is what it looked like Wednesday afternoon. You can almost see the third path I dug down my front walk. After the fourth shoveling, my back and I gave up. Another 12 inches overnight and I'll worry tomorrow about how I'm going to get the car out of the garage and get up my hilly street. At least I'm inside and have the comforts of home. There are 4,000 travelers stranded at the airport tonight, and they probably won't get out Thursday or Friday either. A lot of ruined Christmas plans. Not to mention the many cars stranded or abandoned on the highways. The National Guard will be working all night to make sure no one is left in those vehicles.
I can almost see the house across the street belonging to my neighbor-with-the-tasteful-light-display. He also has a snowblower. I will try to remind him tomorrow of the many times I've babysat his dog when he's out of town.
Inside it's a bit more snug. These birds are on a smaller Christmas tree in the kitchen. I love wild birds and I pick up bird ornaments at garage sales and here and there. The birds on my indoor avian tree were the lucky ones. The birds outside were desperate for shelter and favored the covered birdfeeder today for their sunflower seeds. I was surprised to spot a Rufous-sided Towhee who must have been blown off-course in the 40-50 mph winds. Towhees don't frequent my yard and the last one I saw was several years ago. And first thing this morning, before the snow started in earnest, there was a gorgeous red fox hunkered down in the grass, while the winds howled around him. He gave up and trotted off towards a huge spreading juniper bush which could offer him better cover. Those junipers are good for something!
If I saw this bird in my yard, I'd have to be on a different continent. This is an English Robin on an old crackled ornament I've had for a long time, and it's one of my favorites.
I'm not sure if English Robins lay blue eggs like their American cousins, but here's a nest of delicate porcelain eggs that also graces the bird tree. When I'm mowing the lawn in the summer, I always look for pieces of blue egg shells the robins have dropped away from their nesting sites. Summer seems very far away tonight! Where was I? Oh yes... On, Prancer, On, Dancer!

Friday, December 15, 2006


I have a few angels among my Christmas things, this is one of them. I like her sweet face and the detail of her gown. I put my angels on high atop the mantle. Across the room on the table under the window are a few Santas. I wouldn't say I collect these things, as I never think of myself in the same status as a collector. I don't have the focus to concentrate on only one group of items. With perhaps the exception of my village houses which would take a much bigger house than mine to do them justice. More about that later.
I like to perch on the back of the sofa in the evening and look out the window at my reindeer in the front yard and the twinkle lights and silver snowflakes on my little Amur maple. My neighbor across the street has a display of blue lights on the ridgeline of his roof and a few lights outlining the chimney and I like to look at that too. Unlike mine, his display is tasteful and understated. I appreciate it but I can't do it myself, I've never been a minimalist!
The Christmas tree is on a low coffee table so I'd have a place to put up a few village houses underneath. I haven't gotten the people figurines out yet but maybe tomorrow.
This is one of the Santas, he has a great beard. I like that he's holding a birdcage. I have a bird Christmas tree in the kitchen, but I'll save that for another day.
This Santa is in a canoe. I don't get it, but I like it, especially his fur coat and snowshoes. Santa of the trappers? His face looks a lot like my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law is not quite as old as Santa Trapper.
And now the ubiquitous village. I never gave these lighted houses a thought for most of my life. They just weren't on my radar. And then a few years ago someone brought a lighted village library into my workplace (which also happens to be a library). Some of us ran down to Lowe's at lunchtime to buy one for ourselves and we discovered they were half-price. One thing led to another and before we knew it we each added houses here and there. The bonanza came after Christmas when they were all 75% off. Some kind of frenzy overtook us and by the time Christmas rolled around the next year we were able to set up the mother of all villages right there at work. We were relieved that the fire marshall never came around.
I began to rue the day we ever started this. Exactly where does one put all this and who has the energy to set it all up? And don't even think about taking it down and putting it away! I have a basement storage room full of every conceivable village establishment, including businesses, townhomes, churches, windmills, farmhouses, mountains, trees, and woodland streams. Oh yeah, and lighthouses with beacons. So now I put up a few and call it good. But I do have a solution for this. As soon as my daughter buys a house of her own I'm going to rent a U-Haul and take it all to Oklahoma!

I read a column in the paper the other day about decorating for the holidays. They said just because you bought it on sale after Xmas last year doesn't mean you have to display everything you own. Not a philosophy I subscribe to, obviously. Meanwhile, I enjoy the angels on high and the village down below.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


This is inspired by my blogging friend "Gardener in Chacala Mexico" (see sidebar). She has blogged several times about her growing fascination with the veneration the people of Mexico have for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Since December 12th is her feast day, this seemed an opportune time to share this picture I took in a clothing store in Puerto Vallarta earlier this year. Gardener from Chacala is right; Our Lady of Guadalupe images are all over Mexico, and it's rare to find a home and even most businesses without some tribute to her. From chipped, scarred statues to postcards or a photo on the wall, or even more elaborate displays like this one, it's an iconic image throughout the country. I've even seen her statue in the banos (bathrooms)! This shop, for instance, is a women's clothing and jewelry store, and doesn't sell religious goods. Yet there, front and center, is their tribute to the Blessed Virgin. And yes, the roses were freshly cut.

Having attended Catholic schools, I grew up with the story of the Blessed Virgin appearing to the peasant Juan Diego in 1531, and telling him to relay to his bishop her message to build an abbey on the spot where she appeared. The sceptical bishop asked for a sign and got one when Juan went back to the Virgin and she told him to gather the roses that were suddenly growing on the hillside in the dead of winter. When the peasant returned to the bishop and opened his cape to allow the roses to spill out, a perfect vision of the Virgin was imprinted on it. The cape, or tilma, is displayed to this day in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. After the church was built, it's said that 9 million indigenous people in Mexico converted to Catholicism and human sacrifice in that country came to an end. I wonder if Mel Gibson covers this aspect in his new movie "Apocalypto"?

Now, on to the roses. They were Castilian roses, common in Spain, but not seen in Mexico. The Spanish-born bishop recognized them though. Miraculous, indeed!

Friday, December 01, 2006


My mother and father on their wedding day, December 1st, 1934.

I love this picture and often wished it was in color so I could see the dark green velvet of my mother's dress! I always thought the pose was very Gatsby-esque, not your typical wedding portrait. Because my mother was Catholic and my father was Protestant theirs was considered a "mixed marriage". Pre-Vatican II, couples like them were not allowed to be married at the high altar but in a side chapel of the church and the wedding had to be small and private. The photo was taken in the parlor of my mother's family home. I've never much cared for chrysanthemums but these large, mop-headed ones seemed to be in abundance that day!

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I know, this isn't a very good picture of the wreath on my front porch, but I'm tired after stringing lights up outside all day and then babysitting my five grandchildren (age 5 and under) this evening. I think you can get the idea anyway. It's starting to look a lot like Christmas at my house. Or at least outside. It was a decent weather day, about 50 and sunny, and since a bitter cold front is moving in from Alaska next week it was now or a very shivery later.

As soon as I brought the stepladder outside to start stringing the lights on my little Amur maple the neighbors gathered to offer advice and suggestions. The neighbor across the street said she wanted to see the animated reindeer from her kitchen window and could I move them a little to the left so the juniper bushes wouldn't block her view? The neighbor with the two-year-old asked if I could hang one of the glittery stars on a low branch so the little one could reach it. The triplets next door gave everything a thumbs-up and then ran home to ask their dad when they were going to decorate.

If I have any energy tomorrow the tree is next. When the ornaments have all been hung, I'll reach for the angel topper. But I do have my own live Christmas angel, and not to be outdone, her brother the little devil (whose sweet nature belies his costume!) They are my darling three-month-old grandtwins. A little young to enjoy the lights and decorations, but they and their siblings sure put Christmas in my heart. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Okay, I noticed these in WalMart the other day, and my friend the neophyte gardener tells me they're at Lowe's too. No, these are not plastic, but real poinsettia plants. I'm pretty sure I hate this blue poinsettia but there was another bunch that had been painted a kind of creamy gold-apricot with gold glitter on them. I had to hesitate over those before I told myself no and walked out the door. Are you cringing? Or have you already bought some of these? Apparently they've been painting poinsettias in Europe for some time, but not particularly for the retail trade. But suddenly these have caught on big in the U.S. and because they're about twice the price of a red poinsettia, greenhouse growers are overjoyed that they might finally make enough profit to offset the cost of rising energy prices.

I guess I'm not really a big fan of poinsetties, red or whatever color they get painted. In the past I've received those big three-foot tall ones as a company Christmas gift. I've watered and displayed them until the first trash day after the holiday when I set it out on the curb and watch to see who will get it before the trashman comes. Someone always does, so I don't feel quite so guilty.
I've tried to like poinsettias. One year I bought this variety that I think is called Jingle Bells. It's kind of a watermelon color and is that Christmas-y? On the other hand, it's been a long time since red and green were the only Christmas colors. And that's something else I read about the blue, lilac, apricot, and gold colors. "They're not your grandma's poinsettias." That's supposed to be the appeal of the new colors to a younger generation. So would you buy a blue or lilac poinsettia? Or would you prefer that Joel Poinsett not turn over in his grave? Am I going to buy a creamy gold-apricot one with gold glitter? Wait, I think my tree skirt is gold, that could work!

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Some of us at work collect these Audubon stuffed birds. You press on their back and an authentic birdcall sounds. Sometimes, to relieve the monotony, one person will start it off and soon answering birdcalls come from around the room. It's rather amusing and fits in with my belief that a huge room filled with staffers is not much different from a kindergarten class except for the work being done and the naps not taken. The birds in this shot from last Christmas were decked out in holiday hats.

Which brings me to my point. I looked out the kitchen window yesterday to see workers swarming over the grounds of the assisted living center behind my house. On the grass they were setting up a life-sized Santa in his sleigh with eight not-so-tiny reindeer. Multitudes of white lights were being strung on the gazebo, stapled across the rooftops, hung from the gables, and swagging the trees. This is the beginning of the holiday display that the center puts up, a bit more elaborate each year. When it's in it's full glory and the lights are switched on every evening after Thanksgiving, I no longer have to turn on the nightlight in my kitchen to find my way around in the wee hours. It's rather like living next door to Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation" but at least it doesn't blow all the power in the neighborhood now that public utilities has put a new transformer in.

After reeling from the thought of Christmas decorating coming right up, I opened my door to find a package from my daughter. She sent me these glass lanterns from Gardener's Supply Company to kick-start my own holiday decorating. These are really charming, with little leaded glass window-panes. They take a votive candle at the bottom. Bearing in mind an unfortunate incident from a couple of years ago, she also sent battery-operated votives. They flicker like a real candle and aren't likely to set my wall-hung kitchen clock on fire from a candle burning too close to the plastic frame which would scorch the brick wall and send burning bits of toxic plastic floating across the kitchen. As if!

So when do you start decorating for Christmas? Thanksgiving weekend? Sooner? The night before Christmas? All I know is that soon I'll have to throw out the pumpkins and the frost-blasted chrysanthemums lining the front walk and haul out the boughs of holly.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Last weekend I flew to Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum. It was marvelous but "no picture taking allowed." Darn it! But I could and did take photos at the Garfield Park Conservatory. I found these Joint ferns astonishing. They covered every rocky surface in the Fern Room. Living in a semi-arid climate I'm always agog when I see lush growth like this in a moist, humid environment. I almost took off my jacket but did I mention it was windy? The cold seeped into my bones and stayed with me even in the hothouse!
I almost warmed up when I saw this version of a prickly pear cactus. I couldn't find the sign with the botanic name but if it was up to me I would call them chenille cactus. Instead of spines they had soft white dots on them just like those chenille bedspreads we used to have when we were kids. Speaking of bed, I slept on the best mattress at a Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. I would like to have taken it home with me. Or maybe it wasn't that good but just felt like it in comparison to the lumpy one at my house. I ventured out into the small walled garden at the hotel a couple of times (I guess that was the Courtyard part).

It was actually quite charming with frescoes and sculpture on the walls. This guy summed up my feelings about the weather quite well. I understand the wind ceased as soon as I left, but I came home to my own windy city in my leaf-strewn yard.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


After two snowfalls last week the snow has melted (mostly) and even though my trees have shed only about half their leaves, I spent the afternoon blowing them into huge piles. Then the wind tried hard to scatter them again but I did manage to get a few bags filled. Those piles of leaves aren't half as much fun as they used to be when there was a small child or a pet to jump in them. I bought some Halloween leaf bags to fill and take over to the grandchildren's house since the trees there are too small to produce enough leaves to fill even one of these.
While I raked, old man tree kept an eye out on his fallen progeny. Small children don't know what to make of this face, but squirrels like to knock the nose off. Now if they'd just finish knocking the leaves down they could make themselves useful for a change.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Brrr! After a long snowy drive home from work this afternoon this is the view outside my living room window. I've already knocked the snow off my first-year Flame Maple tree but it's pretty icy and the branches want to hang down. I'm going to have to do it again before I go to bed. A lot of the leaves in the neighborhood are already off the trees but my 50 feet tall Silver Maples and the Honey Locust have barely started so I'm hoping this storm doesn't bring down any large branches. Looks like I'll be forced to pull out a few plants I've been enjoying till the last minute like the Nicotiana Sylvestris which the snow has flattened. And oh yeah, the ones that are blocking the front walk are going to have to go before the mailman attempts to deliver tomorrow!
The good news is I got some tulip and daffodil bulbs planted last weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing them surrounding the base of the maple tree in the front yard. But that's only if some creature doesn't get them first. As I finished laying mulch over the planted area a mouse went skittering past my feet. I think he was taking notes on where to find something to eat when times get tough. But even if he does get them it can't be as bad as what happened to my friend the neophyte gardener. She planted all her bulbs using bone meal in the holes (I'm too lazy to do that) and as she finished the last few she turned around to see her German Shepherd digging up the first ones. He apparently appreciates bone meal.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Wow, I'm back from a week along the Oregon Coast and what a great trip. One of many amazing sights was these tree islands that look so improbable growing in the middle of enormous sand dunes. The dunes stretch for about 50 miles along the lower coast of Oregon and the "islands" are apparently remnants of forests that the sand has not covered. Yet! And I thought we had huge dunes in Colorado. So ours are just tall.

An interesting note: when we inquired at the Chamber of Commerce in the town of Florence about the ecological aspect of dune buggy rides, we were told that the state of Oregon encourages them to help keep the European beach grass in check. They spent years planting that species to try to control the dunes and now they want it eradicated! Oh, those invasives. They might need some of that beach grass on the dunes behind the local Fred Meyer store. They have to send in bulldozers regularly to keep the sand from engulfing the parking lot!

When I returned home I found the fall colors in full swing. What had been a few leaves turning when I left had morphed into a full-blown display of reds, oranges, yellows, and russets. Our higher elevation gives us the fast-forward on autumnal glory and this year seemed especially brilliant. But I think I say that every year. This photo is the view of my neighbor's yard from my front door. A few days later a strong wind blew most of these leaves off. It's fun to crunch through them as my neighbor and I take our evening walk. But I do wish the leaves would stay on the trees longer so we could enjoy our own "tree islands" of color.

Friday, September 22, 2006


I love this purple fountain grass. This is an annual here but long after it dies back I'll enjoy watching the plumes blowing in the wind or lightly dusted with snow (or mashed flat by a heavy snowstorm). I planted this one in a pot so I can move it to the front yard for a nice fall display with the pumpkins and the potted chrysanthemums. But that's after I get back from a week exploring the rocky coastline of Oregon. Happy first day of fall!

Monday, September 11, 2006


My friend the neophyte gardener goes to Home Depot and Lowe's two or three times a week. She and her husband are busy buying landscape edging, concrete blocks, trellises, fencing, and anything else they can still find in stock to finish up the hardscape on their first-year garden. She's always looking for bargains and so when she told me this fountain at Lowe's had been marked down to $29 I had to stop by and see for myself. It was pretty cute but maybe not my first choice for a wall fountain. But at $29 I couldn't pass it up. Plus it was the last one left. And since I'd had an earlier failure with a "water feature" this seemed like a good buy and a boost to my end-of-summer doldrums. I didn't have a really good place to put it because my back porch is crammed with a mish-mosh of assorted stuff, none of which goes together and it all takes up a lot of room. So I removed a wooden shelf and slapped the fountain onto the wall. Instant ambience! I spent most of the weekend on the porch so I could listen to the sound of the water and pretend like it was still summer, even though I was shivering most of the time.
Earlier in the season I'd purchased a solar fountain to put in my miniscule pond to help aerate the water. Since I quit buying goldfish (otherwise known as raccoon hors d'euvres) the water tends to get a little yucky. But it seems I grossly underestimated the amount of sunlight that area receives. The solar panel doesn't store energy, it works only when the sun is shining directly on it. So when I'd leave for work, no bubbling fountain. When I got home from work, no jet of water. It became a weekend fountain, and even at that, I had to keep moving the solar panel to catch the direct rays. I felt like a sunflower constantly turning my face to follow the sun. It didn't help that the raccoons threw the darn thing out of the pond each night and I had to keep resetting it. So being the lazy gardener that I am I finally gave up on it. My new fall fountain seems to be just the thing I needed. But I am careful to turn it off at night. I have visions of raccoons swarming over it washing their food while I sleep and then me coming out in the morning to find it all in a heap on the patio floor. This may happen anyway, but I won't tempt them.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


He died two years ago tonight in a car crash at age 15. An amazing kid. He loved bold colors, especially orange and hot pink. This bouquet is for Kameron.