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MAY, 2015



Boy, the older I get, the faster time zooms by.

Then again, it's been a mighty busy stretch—writing a new book, scouting for gardens to photograph for it, and a little side project we took on—redoing Matt's dad Lou & Lila's front yard.

Last one being the most fun for me, natch :) While our own yard was buried in snow, I got to have fun digging long before I could do it at home.

"Clean and simple" was the mantra for the redo. Transforming a yard that had so many attention-getters into a yard where the eye goes first to Lou & Lila's fabulous purple front door, and everything else supports that, steering the gaze towards the parts we want people to notice.

We've put in about 70 hours of work so far on the project.

Some of it was decluttering—scooping up lava rock along the walk that distracted the eye, so the beautiful curving walk would show off.



Some of it was "janitorial"—getting rid of grown-in landscape fabric that was exposed in winter like a sad gray corpse.




But the best parts? Making a new trellis for a bare house wall (another focal point, another reinforcement of the signature purple). And making new beds that will bring beauty and color right up to the house.




We're getting near the end of the project, which is kinda sad for all of us.

We've loved seeing Lou & Lila more often. (Though I'm sure they'll love having their yard back ;) )

And I've loved playing with plants while making gardens that aren't anywhere near my usual style—controlled (well, somewhat...), instead of crammed-together profusion.




And yep, we've also loved the compliments from passersby.

My favorite one? "This looks like something we could actually do ourselves!" said a couple, who asked if they could walk around the yard to get a better look.

"Come back when you're ready to do yours," I urged, "plenty of plants to share!"

And there's a big point of pennypinching pride in all of this—total cost so far, $50. For brand-new garden beds that cover, oh, maybe about 250 square feet.

$20 for lumber for the trellis; $30 for coral honeysuckle to climb the trellis and for two gorgeous red-leafed heuchera plants.

Everything else—the 100+ plants in the new beds, the big rocks, even the woodchip mulch—came from our own yard, or were plants of Lila's that we rearranged, giving them new homes in better spots.




And now that we can take a deep breath and lift our heads lol, why, it's time to focus attention on our own place!

The snow is almost entirely gone (even the 2 feet we got in late April), the birds are singing... and the #$%&* running grass that's sneaking back into my beds is calling my name.

Happy Spring, everybody! Hope your month has been just as jampacked with fun projects!








MARCH, 2015



Oh, that's right— we took a working road trip for a month or so ;)

And what a trip it was! Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, Washington, Montana and back again. The endless summer of California, the mossy forests and crashing waves of the Pacific Northwest, the stark, snowy landscapes of the western mountains. What a beautiful country we live in!


A "Pink Lady" Victorian house in sunny Eureka, California (USDA Zone 9b, for us gardening nuts). It's for sale, in case you're interested, for a measly $1.3 million. Sure seems like a bargain! But we gotta save money for birdseed....


But as usual, it was the people we met along the way that made us just as happy as the sights we saw.

Visited friends and family, made new friends, talked to everyone we ran into, whether it was five minutes about the weather or as-long-as-it-takes to hear the story of how they'd ended up moving to wherever we found them. So many wonderful heartwarming and heartbreaking stories. Aren't people just GREAT!



Pink violets in the yard of new friend Pat, who put us up near Seattle, WA, without ever meeting us in person first. Her yard was incredible, springy moss under big old firs, with splotches of these fabulous pink violets and blue forget-me-nots soon to bloom. And yes, she sent us on our way with a sample of these violets :)


Which is not to say that we aren't still hermits at heart. What felt best of all was coming home to our own place, where all we have to keep up with are our birds and critters, and a handful of neighbors.

I'd say, "The quiet is wonderful," but it hasn't exactly been silence around here. An ever-growing flock of evening grosbeaks decided our feeder is the best place to call home for a while.

Every morning, an hour before sunup, they wake us with their constant loud queep-queep-queep calls as the flock arrives, clamoring for sunflower seeds.




We usually host maybe a half-dozen evening grosbeaks every year; they nest here as well as stop on migration. But this is a full-fledged "irruption," coming from Canada and parts unknown—140 birds, as close as we can count.

We figure at least some of them are seeking refuge here from the Polar Vortex that's slammed the eastern two-thirds of the country.

But wherever it is they came from, they aren't talking. All they say is, "More seeds! NOW!"

P.S. We actually timed them—10 pounds of black sunflower seed gobbled to nothing but shells in 15 minutes. Yep, no Pink Lady Victorian house for us this year. Not that we'd want it anyway ;) Even with a horde of grosbeaks, there's no place like home :)









DECEMBER 25, 2014

Homemade & Heartfelt

That's been my motto forever, when it comes to Christmas gift-giving.

It started one year when I had no money to buy presents. And it's kept on being the general rule—at least one gift, anyhow—no matter how rich or poor I am in any given year.

Oh sure, when the wallet is bulging, I yield to storebought stuff just like everybody else. But...at least one present must be made by my own hands, or else I feel like I've wimped out and taken the easy route.

That doesn't mean I'm a superb knitter, or a magazine-worthy crafter, or a Master Chef baker, or anything else. It just means I get a lot of fun out of trying to make things, no matter how they turn out.

Sometimes I surprise myself, and those usually clunky, lumpy, too-much-glue, "um, thank you... I think" projects turn out beautifully, despite my lack of skill.

More often, I don't.

And sometimes, my most creative ideas never even get started.

This year, I was going to make snow globes. Homemade snow globes.

All year long, I'd saved interesting jars—a lovely pot-bellied urn-shaped one from expensive fig jam I found at a discount grocery outlet (I meant to give the whole jar of jam as a gift, but forgot; what else could I do but eat it myself? ;) ); a chubby mango chutney jar; plus a bunch of low, wide salsa jars. I'd even saved the lids, too.

This wasn't because I dreamt up the idea of snow globes a year ago. No, I just like to save jars. And lids.

But when I was brainstorming about fun things to make, the jars came to mind. Snow globes! Perfect!

Matt likes to say that he overcomplicates his projects, but I think we're neck-and-neck in that regard.

Not only was I going to make snow globes. I was going to make personalized snow globes, with little scenes inside that would tickle the recipients.

One would be Mount Rainier, with tiny mountain goats, and two people on a path. Or maybe the city of Tacoma at its base....




Another would be the Donner Party, with pioneer figures gathered around a skimpy fire in the midst of a blizzard, their decrepit covered wagon parked behind. Never mind what they'd be roasting on a stick over that fire.




Great! Brilliant! Now to figure out how to make those scenes.

Not with Fimo clay, as I'd planned. Reading online showed me it turns squooshy and white when submersed in water.

Fine. I'd just buy the figures to set the scene.

Five hours later, I'd learned that, yes, maybe I could buy a tiny covered wagon and pioneer figurines, but they were going to set me back $30 or more. And as for Mt. Rainier and white miniature mountain goats, sorry, no such figures existed.

More reading up on various plasticine clays. Nope. None of them would hold up in water.

Painted metal? Maybe two-dimensional cutouts would work if I painted them realistically? Bah. Only if I used enamel paint. Which I don't have. Starter set of enamels: $35.

Back to the drawing board.

Instead of obsessing over the figures inside, I'd read up on making snow globes. Surely I couldn't be the first person to want to try this.

Okay, this looked easy enough: Add glycerine to the water, so the snow wouldn't fall too fast. Um, but what is that snow, anyhow? Nothing a regular person can buy, apparently. Fine. I'd use glitter.

Clear caulk, to seal the lid. Great! We have plenty of caulk!

Epoxy, to glue the figures in place....

Oh. Right. The figures.

More searching online. More nothing-quite-right, unless I was prepared to shell out big bucks.

So much for snow globes for presents.

They got cinnamon candied almonds instead, those lumpy reddish ones you get in a cellophane cone at fairs and carnivals.

About half an hour, start to finish, is all it took to make them. Didn't have to google a thing.

But, hey, at least they're homemade! And heartfelt!

And there's always next year for cannibal pioneers for Christmas.



1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 cups almonds


Combine sugar, cinnamon, and water in a saucepan, and bring to boil. Pour in almonds and stir. Keep boiling, stirring frequently, until all water evaporates and sugar starts to crystallize (about 20-30 minutes). Watch carefully and stir constantly in the last few minutes; easy to burn! Dump out onto a cookie sheet, breaking clumps apart with a fork (they're HOT!), and let cool.











December 1st as I write this, and you know what that means. ONLY 21 DAYS!

No, not 'til Christmas.

'Til the days start getting longer, oh boy!

Winter Solstice is December 21, and it’s my favorite day of the whole year (well, except every day is my favorite day :) ).

And it’s about the last day I can manage to keep a rein on spring fever. Wait, I take that back—out of respect to our Christmas tree (wouldn’t want to hurt its feelings!), I wait til after the holidays to go crazy with seed shopping, and seed starting, and covering every flat surface with trays of little pots full of treasures-to-come.

Not nearly time to start tomatoes yet, and besides, that’s not even a tempting thought, since I still have a potted cherry tomato plant in the sunny window, giving me a genuine fresh little tomato every two weeks or so.

I’m talking flowers, of course.

And, since the gardens are already pretty much crammed full, what to try next is going to take some thought.

That’ll take a while, of course. And require endless paging through seed catalogs (first one came last week, oh joy!).

Can’t think of a better thing to do on these long, dark nights, to keep me busy until we start turning toward the sun.










After we wrote the story of Snowflake, our oddball leucistic chickadee, for the Birds page... He came back!

He's been here every day, visiting frequently to snatch another peanut.

And Matt even managed to get his picture, which is not an easy thing to do with any chickadee. Those little guys move fast.

Meet our newest feeder friend, Snowflake :)

(And read all about him on the Birds page.)







November already! How'd that happen? Seems like it was just September.

Ever wonder why it seems like the weeks just fly by, and the months, too?

Brace yourself—it's because we're getting older.

Remember when you were a kid, and whatever special day you were waiting for—Christmas, or summer vacation, or your birthday—seemed like it would never get here?

The time just dragged on and on. Each day felt like a week, even if you X'd them off on a calendar.

And, boy, by the time you managed to X off a whole week, wow, that felt like a really big deal.

And now—well, it's Friday again before you know it. "Was that a week ago?" Matt and I often ask each other. "Or two weeks? A month?"


A beautiful hand-drawn calendar I found in an old school notebook that once belonged to Solon Schwoyer, a fellow from Berks County, PA...



It's not an illusion. Time really does go faster the older we get.

At age 6, a stretch of two months, say, is 1/16th of the entire time we've been alive.

At age 60, two months is 1/160th of the time we've been alive.

That "proportional time" effect is what makes the weeks fly by faster and faster, the older we get.

The length of time we've already lived is way, wayyyy longer than it was when we were kids waiting for Christmas. So any length of time seems, and is, much shorter—proportionately speaking.

Doesn't hold true when we're talking about just a single day, though. Or maybe it's just not so apparent, because, come to think of it, I well remember how the school day seemed to last forever. And nowadays I look at the clock and say, "Wow, it's 2 o'clock already! How'd that happen?"

How many days til Christmas? It'll be here before you know it.




That's it for now, but don't forget to check out the Flowers and the Birds pages for more news!

And if you enjoy Sally's columns in the newspaper, or her books, or her articles in Birds & Blooms, or our postings on Facebook, check out Nature Ramblings, our latest book project. Thanks!