Saturday, December 31, 2011

Today's Progress and One Last Look

Had a second morning of raking in my neighbor's yard and came home with this huge pile of pine straw and four gigantic bags of leaves shown below. My neighbors are so happy to have their yard raked and we are so happy to come home with natural mulch that is environmentally sound. It's kind of our way to continue recycling while following our mantra: "What do we need; what do we have; what do we do next?" It is our way of minimizing our environmental footprint while not wasting resources.
One last look at the firebush which has grown to over seven feet tall this season. After next week's cold snap, it will be dead-looking but will come back in the spring in glorious profusion.
In the meantime, I have received my seed catalogs and will be ordering vegetable seeds to plant in the spring. "To everything, there is a season..."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Gift So Far

I have been searching for my friend Brenda for an entire year. Brenda lived in Cottage Grove, Oregon but prior to that, we used to work together in Tampa where I was an Assistant Principal and she was my assistant. Brenda was a very important person during a very difficult period of my life. She seemed to have this uncanny ability to feel and sense things before they happened and so she would give me very good advice that I carefully followed.

Brenda and her husband moved to Oregon in 1989 and have lived there ever since. She sends me a card every Christmas and never fails to include all the news of her family. Last year, I did not receive a card from her. I sent her a card anyway and followed up with a very lengthy letter in January. She did not respond and I began to get worried. Was she ill; had she moved; what was wrong?

Knowing that the internet makes it possible to find almost anyone, I began searching on the internet for new addresses for this family. I went to and to but had no luck. The most I could find was Brenda's daughter's name and so I searched on Facebook for her. I found someone with the same name and sent her a private message but no one wrote me back so I probably had the wrong person.

I called the phone number associated with Brenda's daughter but found the number to be disconnected. I called Brenda's phone number and found that to be disconnected as well. I did some more research, found a new name for Brenda's daughter, and mailed a letter of inquiry to that address. The letter was returned to me stating that no one by that name lived at that address.

Yesterday, Janet came home from errands and said as she entered the door, "There's a Christmas present for you in my bag." "Really?", I said. And out came a Christmas card from Brenda. Oh my gosh, I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to see that handwriting because I thought at the very least that she was seriously ill or something even worse. I read the message and she said, "I've missed hearing from you." So maybe she had not received my card or my letter. It just didn't make any sense.

So, once again, I went to and did a reverse phone search. I entered the phone number I had for her, the one that was disconnected. The location that came back from the search was an address in Louisiana. I knew that couldn't be right. I must have had the wrong area code all this time. So I looked up the area code for Cottage Grove, added it to the base number I had for her, and dialed. Well, you know it. Brenda answered the phone. She is fine. The family is fine. She doesn't remember if she received my letter or not but has had a year with some sadness in it which she will elaborate on later in a letter.

I, however, have found my friend and was so happy to be able to talk to her and hear it for myself. So it is definitely the best gift I have received so far this Christmas. The gift of friendship and the gift I have been given that I never give up and never take "no" for an answer. It's a great quality to have although sometimes frustrating for those around me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Having A Merry Little Christmas

I just read a post from one of my friends in the blog world stating that she and her family were having a "little" Christmas this year. Nothing big and crazy; not a lot of decorations, that kind of thing.

That's what I'm doing and that's actually what I have done for the past few years out here in the country. I shop for the six year old granddaughter, send greenback greetings to the teenagers, and that's about it. Once that box is mailed, I really don't worry about anything else.

I did not put up the Christmas tree this year. Instead, I decorated the piano and tables with ceramic trees from Dept. 56, arranged the stuffed bears and moose (or is that mooses?) around the room, and will complete the scene with fresh cedar and pine that I traditionally cut on Christmas Eve. This year, I splurged on a live wreath for the front gate and last night I cut Nandina berries and arranged them on the porch. The back porch is decorated with a pot of poinsettias and chrysanthemums, a gift from a friend.

I love using natural elements in holiday decorating. I have a yard full of nature which allows me to use what I already have and it is really easy to clean up after the holiday is over. I just gather everything and take it to the compost bin to be used again in my garden beds once it turns into beautiful soil.

My youngest daughter and her friends will come for Christmas dinner and we will have a Cuban dinner to be envied by all. Roast pork, black beans, plantains, Cuban bread and the homemade cookies provided by Janet's superb baking skills. That's as "over the top" as we get but it's pretty awesome. And it's simple. We don't get too tired; we don't overspend; and everybody has a good time, including us. What a concept!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Laughable Memory

I was looking for a receipt today in my large box of receipts. Each time I do this, I run across this note that my father wrote during his declining years. I get such a chuckle out of it each time I see it that I can never throw it away. This note is part of a grocery list that he would keep tucked under his place mat at the kitchen table. He called it his "office" because he conducted all of his financial business from that location. When I cleaned out the house to move him nearer to me, I found this note and did not have the heart to toss it into the trash.

"2 or 3 pks doughnuts with a hole in the middle"
I love the part about the hole in the middle. That is a very specific type of doughnut, don't you think?

I don't know why he has been on my mind so much lately. I would guess it is because Christmas is approaching and that was his favorite holiday. Maybe it's because I bought the Christmas pork. Perhaps because I roasted the nuts. I don't know. I just know that this note will be among my things when my daughters clean out my house. They probably won't be able to throw it away either.

Practicing Shading

I have been practicing shading with my watercolor paints and it's not as easy as it looks. However, I'm pretty proud of this effort even though it took me about an hour to paint. Or maybe more because I had to lay down the light wash and then wait for it to dry before applying the darker colors for shading. I'm happy with it for now. I wish I had more confidence and didn't have to use pencil for my initial drawing but that's ok. I like that the flower looks like the "old fashioned" variety that it is and not something more structured and perfect like some of today's hybrids.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reminder of the Past and Sketch For the Day

Sketch of the day from one of my favorite gardening books.
The holiday filberts that I roast every year.....a reminder of my dad who roasted filberts each Christmas and shared them with me while sitting at his kitchen table. My children and I carry on the tradition and keep the memory alive.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fun Things For Today

The metal butterfly, my sketch for today.

Yesterday's sketch of the flowers I collected in Hemingway's Garden in Havana last year.
The maple tree in our yard changing color a little at a time. I was fascinated by this when I saw it yesterday.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Holidays Are Quickly Advancing

It's just amazing how fast time flies. There we were just trudging along through the summer and all of a sudden, here it is December. The holidays are like that. They kind of sneak up on you when you aren't looking. It was especially noticeable this year because we were on our trip for two months and didn't return until November. We had barely been back when Thanksgiving appeared. And so it goes.

However, we are busy, busy, busy and not just because of the holidays. We are having the house washed and painted and the crew is coming tomorrow. So we have spent the day moving all of the stuff that has accumulated in clay pots around the house for the past ten years. Now that everything has been cleared away, it will be wonderful to begin anew with just those objects that have importance.

We eagerly await the new paint....I hadn't really noticed how much the house needed tending to. Sometimes it's easy to ignore things like that when one is busy traveling and doing art and riding her bike.

We also hooked up the trailer because it must go to the dealer for some badly needed warranty repairs after such a long trip. Remember, we drove over eight thousand miles. So the little POD also needs tending to and taking it to the dealer right now will get it out of the driveway and out of the way of the painters.

We moved one chair out under the trees and the other out into the Zen Garden (a meditation garden I have out back). We plan to sit in these places and do some daily sketches. This afternoon, while we were outdoors, we saw a gorgeous pair of red-shouldered hawks (it's mating season). Shortly thereafter, we saw three of our neighbors riding their horses down our street. We love to hear the sounds of the horse's hooves on the pavement. We feel so lucky to live in a place where things such as hawks and horses are common everyday occurrences.

Finally, yesterday on our way home from Tampa we stopped at Fresh Market, a wonderful grocery store specializing in organic and local foods. There, we found the beautiful wreath at the top of this blog post. It is real fir and smells lovely. It will go on the front gate when the painting is done but for now will live on the garden gate out back.