Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Under Pressure

This round robin activity is killing me. Killing me! It's fun ~ so fun, so creative, so interesting. I am just not a very experienced sewer, and my quilting skills are even slightly less honed than that. Brit has had to talk me off the ledge twice, I've commandeered my friend Monica's time and expertise at least 4 times, and I even have my husband in the mix (who, by the way, only confuses me because if there's anybody who knows less about quilt design than me, it's my husband).

Plus, I adore Juls, and the last thing I want to do is ruin her quilt. Apparently, this is all part of the Round-Robin protocol...letting go...moving on...letting people 'love you in their own way', as Brit so eloquently put it. So Juls's block is going into the mail tomorrow** and then I'll get another block, and then I can start losing sleep over that one and then it starts all over again.

** We are such a bunch of lawless chicas! We're supposed to keep the block for a month, and send it out no later than the first day of the next month. So right around the 29th or 30th of each month, emails start flying....and they all start the same...."So sorry, but..." I swear, there isn't one of us capable of following deadlines or structure!

Here is Juls's block when it came to me.

I knew right away that I would do 'flying geese' blocks for the border I was adding. Running is the theme, and running fast is like flying. Juls is definitely the fastest! Plus, she chose really unconventional fabric, but the block she made had a very traditional log-cabin feel to me. So, keeping with that, I thought I'd do yellow blocks with black "wings", using lots of interesting scraps, but keeping a more traditional feel by using the flying geese pattern.

I started making some geese (using this amazing tutorial...so fun and easy! plus, virtually no fabric waste, which was a big deal for me) and then realized no, there were two things happening here...white base AND yellow base. So I made some with a white base and some with a yellow base (all with the same black wing selections) and that's where things got dicey.

Do I put the yellow on the yellow side?

Or do I put the yellow on the white side?

I knew which one I liked, but when I asked Erik, he chose the opposite one! And used words like "hodge podge" and "busy". oh no. I asked both Brit and Monica for advice. They both liked the one I liked (yellow on the opposite side), but more importantly, they both told me the same story about how it just doesn't matter. They both said that I should do what feels right to me, and never second guess it, because in the end, it belongs to the person (Juls) and she'll either love it, or she won't. Either way, it's hers to do with what she will! Sometimes these get cut apart and repurposed, sometimes an element is added or removed, and it just doesn't matter. Monica said she does tons of round robins and exchanges, and there are plenty of times when she just doesn't like what comes back to her. So she trades them, repurposes them, or adds on to them until it does please her...but she's never sorry that she participated.

whew That does make me feel better!

In my panic (busy! hodge podge!) I had the idea to border the original block with plain black fabric, before adding my flying geese, and I have to say...I do love that, a lot. It looks about eleventy million percent better with it!

And because I'm just like this, I added a wee little surprise in the corner! The 261 is her running number (I'm dying to know, was it her Boston number? Was it more sentimental, like a race she ran with her late husband?) and she made it the center of her work. So how could I resist when I found this 2, 6, and (upside down) 1, all together in a festive number-fabric? I stitched it into the corner. Because I'm full of whimsy. hahaha

Now, here's a little game we can play! This is a picture of "my studio" (aka: kitchen table) while I was working on my round robin project. You'll see several can't-live-without sewing tools. Iron, mats, rotary cutters, etc. Which item is MY must-have for sewing?

Yep. Seam ripper. Jack The Ripper. The words "right sides together" are...problematic... for me. In every project I've ever made, I inevitably stand up from the sewing table, head over to the iron, and realize that my piece is sewn together backwards. And then I have to rip the seams out. Again. *sigh*

Monday, June 29, 2009

Date Night

I love this kid.

We had a date night tonight, and I took him to dinner and a movie.

It's nice to have a special outing with My Big Boy, but it's especially nice to just hold hands in the car and talk. Tommy is seriously funny, and he has a great laugh!

Tonight, as we were heading over to the movies after picking up our sandwiches, he asked me, "Mom, would you rather not blink or not have movies?"

I didn't want to shortchange how important this decision is, especially for a not-quite-9-year-old, but I have to say that my answer came immediately. After a bit of probing (turns out he'd really miss movies, so that's what he would pick) I told him I'd definitely keep blinking, because it's really important to keep our eyes healthy, and clean, and moist.

He thought he could probably do without it.

Me: You just blinked.
Him: No way!
Me: There it is again.
Him: Nuh-uh!
Me: Again!
Him: I did not!
Me: Oh, yeah. There. And there.

He threw down the visor and stared in the mirror. He blinked a few times in the next minute, and every time, he'd call out, "No way! Not even! I didn't even know I was blinking!" over and over again. How could I not laugh?!

Tommy is one of the most naturally funny people I've ever met, actually. The number one reaction people have to him? "He's such a character!" And he is! But I especially love how his humor is getting so much more sophisticated. He makes lots of funny word plays that crack me up.

One of my favorites? Scotty, Tommy, and I like to make pancakes together. My Boys are getting really good at flipping flapjacks! There's rarely a mishap, but occasionally a hotcake will fold in half when being flipped, and when this happens, Tommy laughs and says it's a "panquadilla" (pronounced "pane-kuh-dee-ya") and then I laugh so hard I can hardly see, because he's right, it looks just like a quesadilla!

Boy in the Bubble

It finally feels like summer! We had one of those 'I'm melting' kind of weekends, and it actually felt good! We sat on the back patio when it cooled off (to 80 degrees) in the evenings, and we grilled hamburgers on the porch because it was too hot to cook in the kitchen. Oh! Oh! We even ate watermelon! Yes, summer is officially started.

The pool has been in constant use for a few days now, and Scotty (with his green cast) was watching sadly from the sidelines. No matter how many times I asked them to please don't splash so hard, it only deterred them for seconds before their excitement creeped back up to levels I can only describe as 'obnoxious, bordering on beligerent'.

But, as Erik loves to tell me, I'm an accidental Taoist; meaning I don't know anything about Taoism, but apparently we share an unerring to desire to 'let it be'. I do not resist what I cannot change. If the dog insists on digging in the planter, for example, I move the plants. If the kids refuse to put their shoes in the closet, I set a basket for them next to the couch in the living room. For some people, it may appear that I am weak or unwilling to discipline. But the truth is, I was raised to 'not sweat the small stuff', and the corollary, 'it's all small stuff'. I don't want to spend my whole life angry about shoes or yelling at the dog. So this works for me.

And, since the kids were having too much fun to worry about where the water was going when they were splashing, I ran into the garage, grabbed a plastic bag, and tied it over Scotty's offending arm.

He loved it so much that he wanted to keep it on the whole rest of the day, even when they were riding their bikes in the court, and during dinner too. I was able to convince him that he wouldn't need it for bed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Cup of Water

I've been feeling....hmmm....quiet I guess is the only way to put it. It happens. It's not a bad feeling, just a 'pulling in' (as opposed to a 'shutting down'). So much of my life (as mom, wife, teacher) is about projecting out, and this seems to be part of my rejuvenating process. It's a typical way for me to start the summer season, though it's a bit premature this year, as I'm still working this week.

During these times, I think a lot and I do a lot. Do you think when you're driving? I used to believe I did, but now I know that's not true at all. Well, that's not entirely accurate; I do think when I'm driving, but it's such a distracted, unpredictable kind of thinking that it's more like a skipping from idea to idea, or from daydream to daydream, and I can hardly remember anything I was thinking about by the time I get to wherever I was going. I've been so lost in careless thoughts that I've driven past my exit on the freeway, only to get off at the next exit, return to the freeway, and (getting so lost in NEW thoughts) I drive past my exit again, going in the other direction.

For me, my very very very best thinking, always, happens when I'm cleaning or gardening, and when I'm running, no question about it. Today after getting everybody home and settled in, I went straight out to move dirt, plant strawberries, clean the deck, and move pots. I was just getting a good groove going when I brought the action indoors, and began cleaning the appliances.

Which brings me to right now, where I want to tell you that I learned this super great cleaning tip (and I think it was from Moose and Kelly!) and I use it all the time. I used it tonight, in fact! And now that I'm about to share it, I'm starting to second guess myself. Am I the last person on the planet to know this trick? Am I about to show what an ignoramus I am in the kitchen? Let's just say I'm thinking too hard, and here it is:

Before you clean the inside of your microwave, put a coffee cup full of water in and run it for about 3 or 4 minutes.

The water will condense on the inside of the microwave, and then without chemicals, and very little elbow grease, you will be able to wipe down any (and every) microwave mess. We don't use the microwave a lot, but it's inevitably for reheating something with tomato or barbecue sauce, and we all know what a little cheese can do to the inside of the microwave...it's like chipping off cement once it's sat for a day. Or two. Or three weeks. What can I say? I'm not always feeling so reflective.

Now I just need to figure out how to use the same trick in the refrigerator!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Pitiful little boy. That's his super-special-neon-green-cast (that's for you, Tra!). My nephew's fiance drew a 'flagship enterplise' on it, and now Scotty holds it over his head, shakes his other tiny fist, and yells "Kaaaaaahhhhhhnnnnnn!!!" at the top of his lungs.

I love this kid.

(Don't worry, it looks way worse than it is...the oxygen tubes and ekg monitors were for the 'manipulation', where they use a real-time x-ray to watch as they set the bones. You can imagine that would be quite painful without some sedation, but they don't put them under for this. They dose them heavily with ketamine and put them in 'twilight', which means he's awake for everything but doesn't really feel the pain (though there's a physical reaction as though he does) and he also forgets the whole ordeal just about immediately. Parents, however, are shook for a week.)

Monday, June 22, 2009


I finished! This is the valance I made.

I almost didn't get it in my own kitchen, because when I showed my mom my progress yesterday, she said, "That would look great in my kitchen!" And that's just about all it takes to get me to say, "You can have it!" But, unlucky her, I'd already lost two purses that way in the last week alone.

I gotta draw the line somewhere.

It looks so perfect! I never truly realized how 'naked' the window looked before, but now that I see it all dressed up, it looks so homey and cozy and happy. *deep sigh*

This was the embroidered rooster piece that sort of inspired the whole thing. I found the pattern free online. (Click on the jpg file ~ in red ~ to download the pattern...other fun vintage patterns found here too!)

I used threads in the same greens and reds and browns that are in my kitchen, plus I did some of the flowers in fabric pieces that I also used in strips to create the valance itself.

I also sewed in a lining so it would look good from both inside and outside the house. Actually the lining is just plain old muslin/canvas material, so it doesn't look like much from outside, but at least you're not walking up to the front door and staring at the knots in the back of my amateurish embroidery!

And here we go. I may have mentioned how messy I am when I'm cooking....kind of a nightmare when I'm crafting, too. *cough*

Of course, this will have to wait until I've cuddled my little Scotty. BOTH of my boys are really needing some love right now, actually. Scotty for obvious reasons, but it's been hard on Tommy too.

So, first hugs, then this.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

After a rather dismal June, weather-wise, this weekend was bright and sunny and warm. Finally!

So Erik took the bikes in for a tune-up. He got the bike shop to put training wheels on Tommy's old tiny bike so Scotty could use a Big Boy Two-Wheeler. (He's only used 'big wheel' three-wheelers up until today.)

Then we packed up the bikes and some water bottles and hit the park for some practice time.

Scotty did great! He had a blast, circling the park on the bike paths, chasing Tommy, until he realized that no, he was actually being chased by Tommy.

And then the peals of laughter that rose over the water and to Erik, who captured it all on his new iPhone.

Good times. Good times.

He crashed a few times, dusted himself off and got right back on, to tear around the park again...right up until the crash where we were pretty sure his arm wasn't supposed to look "like that".

But what do we know? He wasn't crying very hard. Tommy had snapped both his arm bones clean in half when he was in kindergarten, so we were pretty sure it wasn't broken. But did it always look like that?


So we went to the emergency room, just to be safe. And look at him here in the waiting room.

Obviously, he's fine, and we are feeling pretty silly for spending the afternoon on Father's Day holed up in the E/R, when an ice pack would have solved the whole problem.

Except. Except. Are you sure his arm always looked like that? I feel like the other one is straight? Straight-er?

And look at him! He's watching a Star Trek II clip on You Tube. Maybe we're crazy.

Oh! No! We were right. It's broken.

Good to know our intuition is right on.


A "stabilized fracture" that they set temporarily using a fiberglass sprint, instead of a cast. He'll have to go to Children's Hospital in the morning. They'll check it out, and if the swelling is down enough, he'll get the proper cast tomorrow. Otherwise, the proper cast goes on in a few days, when the swelling is gone.

He didn't swell much at all, during the whole transaction, which sort of contributed to our confusion.

Kind of a rotten way to spend Father's Day, except, honestly, we all got to feel especially thankful for our family's daddy, who does all the cuddling, worrying, form-filling-outting, and encouraging any little boy (and his brother and mommy) could possibly need.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I was in my math class this week, and I watched the gentleman across the table from me, using a colored pencil to shade in the bound region he had just created. No biggie, happens all the time. But then, he turned and used the same colored pencil to work out an equation and it made me laugh. It was like a little kid, turning in his homework written in crayon!

So I go, "Joe, do you want a pencil?"

He tells me he'd love a pencil, and that he's really been suffering all day without one.

So I reached into my hair and grabbed him a pencil.

He thought that was really funny.

Is it strange? That I wear my hair clipped up nearly every day? And that I often use the little nest created, when I put that clip in, to keep pens and pencils handy?

Because I was just thinking that it is really smart to do that.


I originally wrote about this dragonfly handbag back when I was vowing to do more making for myself.

I tested the Starling Handbag pattern for Alice (now available as a free download!) and I LOVE it. I fussed around with how to embellish it, and landed on the dragonfly pieced together from wool.

I was really wanting to try Alice's lining tutorial (her craftsmanship is insane, and her attention to detail is stunning) but I hemmed and hawed on fabric choice.

And then I just couldn't carve out the time to get it done. Even though the school year ended last week, I've been so busy leading up to it, and this week too (I'm taking a non-Euclidean geometry class at the university. And even I ~ lover of all math ~ am completely exhausted after 8 hours of math every day this week!) and.... well. You know how it can be.

Wednesday I went to Monica's house to play with fabric and do some quilt piecing, and she sent me home with an enormous tub of fabrics.

This remnant was in there, and it was plenty of fabric to line the bag and make a wee-pocket, too!

See what I mean about Alice's tutorials? Do you see these seams? These are my seams, but without Alice's kind but firm guidance ~ in other words left to my own devices ~ these seams would be a wonky, tangled mess. Just saying.

So here's what I noticed. This adorable handbag, when I was making it for myself, languished on the sewing table for more than three weeks. But I got the idea to give it to my friend Cynthia (she will LOVE it!) for her birthday. Her actual birthday passed on Monday, but I'm going to see her at a planning meeting tomorrow....so I came home today, printed out my lining worksheet, got my supplies, and got cracking.

What you need to know about me, is that I'm very deadline oriented. This bag got finished because of a birthday deadline, coinciding with a in-person meeting deadline to give it to the birthday girl. I'm like this at work too...just tell me when it's due. First of the year? Next week? Four hours? I don't even care! Just tell me, and it will be done. But until there's a deadline looming, I tend to procrastinate... I have so much time! What's the rush? Slow down and smell the roses, folks!

This is why it's so hard for me to craft for myself. I can put all projects off indefinitely, since there's no danger that I'll miss a non-existent deadline!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Yesterday afternoon we were sitting at the patio table, and I couldn't help but take this picture when I looked up and saw those little clothespins clipped there. We use the clothespins to attach the butcher paper to the table when Scotty wants to paint (and he always wants to paint) but when I need to move the paper, I used to just lay the clothespins on the table. Then I would find them all over the place; or worse, I couldn't find them at all when I really needed them most!

In order to keep them in one safe location, where I could easily find them when I needed them in a hurry, I clipped them to the most handy spot. This is one of those totally organic, mama-in-need solutions that, by happy coincidence, turns into something I just love.

What is it? Is it the wooden clips themselves? Is it the old-fashioned petunias? Is it the little wire rack, that reminds me so much of the little racks bottles of milk used to be delivered in? I'm inclined to think it's all of those things, together, that make me so happy.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Round Robin Quilt Block

Here is the quilt block I made for Brit's round robin. It's my first pass at such a project.

The theme is "running" and Juls and Jessica and Brit and I are the team. Here's my rudimentary understanding of how it works: We each made separate blocks and then we send them to the next person on the list. When we get somebody else's block, we add a border. Then we send the block on, and the next person adds another border around that. When you get your block back at the end, each person has added on to it. Then you can finish it off, or, if you like the size for a wall hanging or small quilt, you can add batting/backing/quilting/binding to your heart's desire.

I did my quilt block on the San Francisco half-marathon I ran in February 2006 (holy!!! time flies!!!) (edited to add: uh, no, 2005. *sigh*) and it was a fantastic experience! I loved that 'race'. I use the term 'race' rather loosely, by the way!

I picked the happy yellow background because it was an incredible, clear, sunny day. Crisp and sunny and perfect. (Though, truthfully, entirely too sunny about 8 miles in. Ahem.) I used the famous wool to make a 13.1, freehand style, which is the number of miles in a half-marathon. It's sort of an inside joke, to myself, because whenever somebody finds out that I've run a half, they all say, "You ran 13 miles?!?" and in my head I always add, "Point one." Because I'm sorry, that tenth of a mile is the hardest part of the half.

In the lower left corner, the green fabric represents Golden Gate Park, where the run began. I sewed on leaf buttons I had, and added some running stitch. In the upper left corner, the psychadelic fabric represents the Pan Handle of the park, which ran us through the Haight-Ashbury. I added flower buttons because, you know, flower children and hippies. The upper right is blue, because the ran took us down Highway One to the zoo, and back, which is a lovely trot along the ocean. I added the blue buttons because I could. The little pocket has a red wool heart inside, attached with a red string, and there are three french-knots on the outside of the pocket, also red. I was three months pregnant with Scotty when I did the run, and he's the little heart, hidden in the pocket (my wee co-pilot!) and the three dots are me, Tommy, and Erik. Bottom right is a cute turtle fabric (for obvious reasons, and because I'm a turtle) and I embroidered my time, 2:27, onto that space.

Now, what you need to know, is these folks are very forgiving. My "design" is unbalanced, my work is amateurish, but they have been nothing but supportive. I'm so excited to get my block back! I'm also incredibly nervous to work on other people's blocks. : |

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cheap + Easy is Cheasy!

My friend from last week, she's been taking painting classes for a while now. She was sharing some stories about how the class has been introduced to certain painting exercises....they might use a piece of poetry, a religious reading, a yoga pose, some music.

Some of the things she learned: Don't start painting a picture that's in your head. Instead, completely, randomly, fill the space with color, color, color, then start to pull up and develop certain areas that make sense based on your inspiration.

And: Don't paint any area just once. The painting will develop over 4 or 5 "passes" in the same space. The layering of the colors is part of the process.

Also: Instead of buying canvases, she said they use roofing felt. I bought a huge roll for about $25 at the Home Depot (the local hardware store was out, but they usually carry it, too, if you aren't into werehouse store experiences) and I cut off a very large piece. In the first picture, you can see that it's nearly the size of our kitchen table.

A canvas of this size would be prohibitively expensive, but with this roofing paper you can make hundreds of enormous paintings for just a few dollars!

There's something about using such a large space, where you're actually required to use big, sweeping, painting gestures, that feels so liberating. We had so much fun, and it couldn't have been easier. I had some oil colors that are really old. I think I bought them in 1995. Yeah. I think at some point, I thought maybe painting could be my hobby. This was before I realized that my abilities were squarely between where my lack of talent met my lack of training.

We used them, and they were just fine. Tommy couldn't be there, but Scotty, our friend, and I, all worked together to smear paint around for quite sometime. Scotty loved doing this! He loved squeezing the paint from the tubes, and using the brush, and mixing the colors together. (I got a sheet of wax paper, and that's where we laid out the colors, and did some mixing, too.) He did a great job!

In the future, now that we know we like doing this, we will replace the oils with acrylics. Easier to clean up, less angst when Scotty is running around with the paint smeared on his hands, and I think it will give us better coverage, too. But I'm not complaining. I think it turned out so beautifully, and it will always be a special reminder of our time with our friends.

Nothing could be cheaper or easier, especially for ending up as such a big, splashy product!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I just wrote about my neighbor, Leor, who took down many un-savable pine trees from the hill behind my house. (I have some pretty awesome pictures of the whole thing, but the memory card was not in the camera, so the photos are currently stuck on the internal memory...if I ever figure that out, I'll post them.) (Also, have I mentioned here that Scotty used to call Leor "Eyore", which made me laugh, and now he's graduated to calling him "Yo-lore", which is still the cutest thing ever. I'll probably cry when he starts saying his name correctly, though Leor will probably be pretty stoked.)

Parenthetical sides aside, hahaha, it's really affected how I see things lately. It took him about 6 hours, and it was really hot that day, and yes, I worked my ass off right there alongside him, but, hello, it's my house, so I can hardly say it counts. I was driving the boys to school shortly after all the work was done, and I saw two men moving a couple palettes of enormous rock and flagstone over a fence and into their backyard. One man was on the outside of the fence, with the materials, and one was on the inside. Outside Guy was handing them over the fence to Inside Guy. As I was driving by, I thought to myself about community, and how such a big job could have been made so much easier if many neighbors had come out to help move those rocks.

Not because people have to help you do such hard laborious jobs, but because it would be so nice if they did. I stopped and helped with a particularly large boulder, and they were so cute about it (I'm freakishly strong), but I needed to pick up the boys, so I didn't linger. It just really had me thinking.

A couple of days ago, Leor came over to see if Scotty could play. Does that sound nutty? It's not, it's sweet. Scotty likes to 'help' Leor, who has a pretty large piece of property (about an acre, most of it on a hill), and he has an enormous tractor he uses to take down trees, grade the hill for the orchard he's putting in, etc. Scotty is in heaven.

Inevitably, because I think Leor is hilarious, and we actually have a lot in common, we all three end up working on a little project, hanging out, and laughing quite a bit. When Erik came home from work, he took the opportunity to thank Leor again for all he had done with the trees.

Leor has said all along that he did it because he said he would, in some offhand way, when he first moved in, but honestly, nobody was holding him to that! He knew that, too, but he wanted to 'keep his word'. Okay, but seriously, it's fine! But standing in our driveway, he said the most interesting thing. He's from Israel, and he said, "Here, everybody needs to get paid, for everything. That's how it works, you need trees removed so you call the tree service, and they make their money. But in Israel, there is no tree service. You need trees removed? You call your buddy, because he has a chainsaw, and he comes takes down your trees. Then he calls you when you can do something that he can't."

That's what I'm talking about. Then Erik sent me this link about Amish finances, and it's really a great read, but it's funny because I've been thinking about the Amish a lot, in this other context. I'm sure there are other wonderful communities that have that 'chip in' mentality, but this is the one that comes to my mind (I know nothing about them, sorry, if I'm stereotyping here!) and I think there's a lot to learn from people who think this way. The financial story is really good, on it's own, by the way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Inspiration Journal

I was at a colleague's home yesterday, where we were doing a few hours of work, catching up on some business, and enjoying fish tacos for lunch in downtown Santa Cruz. Her home is lovely, just like she is! Her own artworks, plus art she brought back from her travels around the world, are on every wall and surface. She has a tri-level house that opens up at the back to the redwoods and canyons of Felton.

As we were leaving her home for the restaurant, she excused herself to use the restroom. I took the opportunity to slip into the back yard and take a few photos! This is, by the way, exactly the kind of thing I do, without thinking all the way through to the inevitable conclusion where I'm awkwardly trying to explain why I've been found, squatting in the garden, trying to find the right angle to get the blue water fountain peaking through the long grass. "Oh, uh, sorry! I, um, well, I like to keep a journal with things that I think are pretty, or give me ideas for other things, and, um, well, I hope you don't mind......" And I love her, because her response was, "I do that, but I use the pictures to write poetry!" Hmmmm....do I feel a haiku coming on about this adorable folk-art flamingo? I just might!

I use my journal for just about everything, when it comes to homemaking and making things.

These pages are mostly just written ideas. On the left, I was trying to talk myself off a ledge about this round robin quilting thing I'm doing. I've never made a quilt, or followed a pattern to make a quilt block, let alone designed something on my own. But that's exactly what I had to do, with "running" as the theme. In the end, I was happy with my block. It's a hot mess, but it's my hot mess, and I'm happy. On the right, I saw a little embroidered family, and I thought maybe I would do a similar one of me and my boys. So I cut out the picture and made a few notes to remind me what I was thinking.

I like to look through gardening magazines, and when I find something I like, I cut it out and write a note to myself about where I think I would like it. In this picture, there are old colored-glass bottles, half-buried upside down to make a cool little border. I thought I'd start to keep an eye out for some and try something like this in a little section around my waterfall.

In this case, I found an article about 10 plants good for making butterfly gardens. I could have just torn the article out and filed it away, but honestly, it's so much cuter to cut the individual flowers and their descriptions and arrange them on the pages of a journal.

On other pages, I also cut out pictures of flowers, braided rugs, hutches, animals, barns, anything at all that makes me happy, and it may have nothing at all to do with my journal topic for that day (in this case, documenting the pattern for my very favorite crocheted dish towel), but I'll use it to decorate the pages just the same.

If I haven't been clear, up to this point, let me say it plainly...more than a homemaking tool or garden documentation tool, it's a 'makes me happy' tool, and that really is the only guideline for what gets put in on any given day!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back Yard

Warning!!! This is a long post, with a drawn-out tour, of work I've been doing in my back yard. I use at least two swear words. (If you hear me tell this story in person, I will curse like a sailor.) I blatantly and unapologetically discuss how much things cost. It is, by far, the most annoying post on the planet.

Over the last two weeks, I have been doing a lot of yard work. Not at Runner Susan levels, but quite ambitious for little ol' me, working by myself over about 25 hours. I never took proper 'before' photos (bad habit!) but you'll have to picture weeds, dirt, and YUCK everywhere.

Now, this is what you'll see standing on the back stoop, looking left. The weather has been schizophrenic, but we spend every sunny moment hanging out here with our meals.

This is the patio table from the opposite angle, where you can see the simple double layers of bricks that I brought in to keep the mulch in it's section, and the patio clean. It was looking pretty ratty before I swept and made the deliniation! This is a good angle to see that I had some brick issues. First I bought 200 bricks. Then, I returned 125 bricks. Then, I re-bought 45 bricks. And now, as you can see, I'm about 8 bricks short of a full two layers. That's not annoying, or anything.

From where I took the picture above, you can turn right and be looking directly into the 'play yard'.
The little house is under my bedroom window.

The sand and water table and sandbox are very popular. I used shredded redwood (also called 'gorilla hair') in this area of the yard because it's so soft for standing on in bare feet.

There's also a clothesline that stretches across this area. It's the only place now in the yard (now that the pool is up) where there's two places to tie the line off. The boys love it when a sheet or duvet cover is hanging on the line! It turns the play yard into a little cubby hide away, and they are in heaven.

The little gate goes behind the house and into the side yard, which is where my winter garden used to be, and where my potting bench and lawn mower now live. Let's call it "industrial space". Why I own a lawn mower, when I have no lawn, is beyond even me.

The is the waterfall and pond that is right next to the play yard.


In the pictures below, you can see the hill behind our house. This represents the most dramatic changes, even though I know it looks like a whole lot of nothing. Actually, it's very accurate to say "a whole lot o' nothing" is a HUGE improvement. Tall, dead weeds. A half dozen decrepit, leaning, half-dead pine trees were felled, chainsawed, and hauled away. I had gotten an estimate to do this work, and at four thousand bucks I was feeling like maybe I was destined to wake up with a pine tree in my bed when it finally gave up the ghost and took a tumble down the hill and into my roof.

But then my sweetie-pie neighbor downed them with his chainsaw (for zero dollars) and I hustled with smaller pieces, hauling and stacking and dumping. Then I hired some labor (a few hundred dollars) to come in take down the biggest stumps and logs. That's all seasoning in the sideyard, as of now. I've been showering my neighbor with homemade cookies, breads, and eggs from my mom's chickens, ever since. It's hard to say how long it will take to make four thousand dollars worth of banana nut bread, but he refuses to take payment, so I'll keep trying.

This hill is deceptively steep. I've had water and electricity run all around it (when I had the waterfall/pond/raised patio project done last fall) so it's ready for something besides two plastic chairs! My cousin gave me a book, Gardening With a Wild Heart, and with such inspiration, I am planning some native plantings, a butterfly garden, some fruit trees, a few paths, and some groundcover for the hill area. I'd like to keep the 'seating area' at the top there, with some stairs going up to the back fence (wouldn't a little gate be so sweet there, so we can go into the parks land and trails behind our property? Yes, I think that's perfect.) From those chairs you can watch the sunset over the bay, from San Francisco to Coyote Hills in Fremont. It looks really spectacular when you're enjoying a glass of wine and holding hands with your husband. It's a keeper.

So, keeping on with the tour, I'm taking these pictures by backing away from the play yard and toward the side fence. The patio is raised about 30 inches or so. I love this patio! I love to sit on my second hand furniture (the whole set was purchased off craig's list for 200 bucks!) and watch the boys in the pool, knit or crochet, and enjoy the koi fish in the pond and the birds playing and bathing in the waterfall.

When you get to the fence, watch your step because there is a huge stump and a wooden ladder hanging on the fence. I used to have one of those fiberglass, green ladders hanging there, but the real ladders (6 and 12 feet) are now stowed elsewhere, because they are u-g-l-y. This old-fashioned wooden ladder makes me happy; it makes me think of my family. I come from a family of laborers... of painters and insulators and mechanics and tinkerers, and that wooden ladder reminds me of my connection to all the 'do-ers' of the world.

The stump is to make habitats for the critters I love to lure into my yard. I took some native habitat and gardening classes through the local parks department, and they said to make sure there was water (check!), food (check!), places for lizards and snakes to bask on hot stones (check!), and places to hide from predators, like felled tree stumps (check again!). Now that I've enticed all this wildlife into my yard, I live in constant fear that my cat will show up with a lizard in its mouth. That's happened before, but I'm hoping to chalk it up to one stupid skink, and not an ongoing issue.

This picture is taken from the patio (not far from the table) and facing the fence. The first huge vegetable bed has cucumbers, eggplants, yellow squash, a pumpkin, and some herbs (basil and marjoram come to mind). The second smaller plot has tomatoes. Grape tomatoes, pear tomatoes, roma tomatoes, and 'just tomatoes'. It's a lot of tomato going on. There's a wee sage plant in there too. All other herbs are in the 'kitchen garden' in a plot under the kitchen window in the front yard. I brought in a yard of composted soil for the veggie beds. I made the beds out of reclaimed materials, found hither and yon in the travesty that was my backyard.

Backing out of the yard, and down by the garage, you can now see what amounts to a labor of love. I sheet mulched the entire flat ground surface of my back yard. This involved cutting and placing carboard over every square inch of exposed terrain. Then I brought in 2 yards of brown mulch. I had to bring in the composted soil and the mulch up the driveway (it's on a hill) and into the backyard, one wheelbarrow at a time. I did the same thing with a half yard of the shredded redwood for the play yard. I will say this: It was big job. Un bien gran trabajo, no? I will also say this: There are muscles, in your ass, that will demand retribution when you punish them with 8 straight hours of pushing these loads up a hill. They will not go quietly. And now I have nothing else to say about all that.

I suppose someday I'll need to decide what this flat part of the yard will look like. My cousin had me laughing with her good lawn-bad lawn post! It's so true, there are some haters out there when it comes to lawn! I don't care for it, but mostly because I don't mow it, water it, or fertilize it, so it always looks like crap under my careless rule. This sheet-mulching is such a lovely transition choice. It's cheap (I spent about a hundred bucks for the mulch, dirt, and bricks), it's fresh feeling and clean looking, and I want to concentrate my energy and resources over the rest of this year on getting the hill area nailed-down. This mulch will hold up fine, and next summer, when I'm thinking about what I want to happen in the valley, the cardboard will have composted into the soil, and the mulch can be rototilled under, and I can move on.

Oh, did you catch this? This is 'the pool' I keep talking about. It's no joke, my friend. Fifteen feet in diameter, four and a half feet deep. Easily entertains all during pool parties and birthdays. It's...not quite my asthetic, am I right? The big, blue, plastic eyesore? It's not on any native plant list that I've ever seen! I had it up last year, when the yard was a total disaster, and now that things are looking up, I actually debated with wether it should be installed for the season. It would have to go right where my biggest clothesline was residing. In the end, I decided that yes, it needs to be part of our lives. The boys get constant enjoyment from it. They use it every time there is even 5 minutes of sun. I'll stop putting it up when they've moved on to other things. In the case of my boys, I'm thinking "other things" will be college. And that's fine by me. I've made my peace with The Big Blue Blob.

Behind the pool, barely visible here, I'm seeing now, is a huge butterfly bush that I transplanted from my friend's house to my front yard, and then from my front yard to my back yard. He's a trooper! He has big purple blooms right now, and the bees and butterflies line up at the non-stop buffet all day. You can also see here the stoop of my shed, my bucket of extra clothespins, and the lifejackets I make the boys wear in the pool. It's not that they can't swim (or even stand) in the water. It's that they need help getting them on. And the, "Hey mom, can you buckle this?" ritual alerts me that they're heading in to the pool, and I like to be present ~ at all times ~ for this occasion.

Backing out of the yard, towards the side gate, you can see the garage on one side and the shed on the other. The shed is more like a wee wooden barn, at 10x12 feet. The garbage cans have extra composted soil and...I think one is empty.

The metal can has bird seed and pumpkin seed for the squirrels.

Just before you leave my yard, you can peek behind the shed and see that I completely and totally cleaned out that mess, too, and moved the half-cord of oak firewood and the aforementioned ladders to their new home.

Okay, and if you've read this far, you can't say I didn't warn you! :)