Takin' Back the Back [Yard]

Once upon a time there was a fuzzy duckling that
longed to be a beautiful swan. Or an overgrown lot
that longed to be a Lovely Backyard.

This is what the approach to the Park used to look like:
It was kinda Secret Garden romantic with hidden surprises around every turn and all that, but we happen to be creatures of the light so we tentatively began trimming and then became emboldened to really clean and clear and let the light into the yard. It's shaping up to be every bit as nice as we hoped.
The hill where the butterfly bush used to live was
in the middle of the jungle. We transplanted two climbing
rose bushes and the butterfly bush, cleared out a
California pepper tree that had laid down, along with
a pine tree and a half and some tough old rosemary bushes.
We mowed and yanked and wrestled tough, leggy bermuda
grass. I loathe and despise bermuda grass. And don't get me
started on snails.


The Amazing Mr. Last, in his spare time --
after his 40+ hours of employment each week--
excavated and laid forms and concrete footings
and built a cinderblock wall. It will be 130 feet long
when he is finished. He has done every single bit
of the work himself. Lifted every block, mortared
every joint. A lesser man would have hired the job
out for someone else to break their back doing.
But I'm awfully proud of his beautiful work.

He's the brick mason and I'm the lumberjack.

Tonight he is painting the interior of what we affectionately
call "The Citrus Box" with water sealer. It's a cinderblock planter that's about 32 feet by 7 1/2 feet that will contain our dwarf orange and lemon "orchard". It replaces the north jungle and hill.

Speaking of boxes...remember these? Mr. Last built
them, too, and I rigged up the Tater Tower.
Lookit 'em now! I picked the first cucumber tonight.
`Sadly, we've determined that they only get about four full hours of sunlight each day now that the Ash tree to the south is all leafed out. That's not really enough for these veggies. So we are making plans for a couple more boxes southward where the sun shines all the time, and maybe I'll fill these with nasturtiums. And pickling cucumbers. The nasturtiums and pickling cucumbers seem to be happy here. 


This is slice of our life right now. And the projects are stacked thick and deep so it'll be a while before we ease up. I expect next summer we will have the east and north sections of the backyard in pretty good shape. Then we'll work on the Far West woodland garden and on to the front Castle Gate.We are having a great time.


If You Plant Sticks in January...

...you might get berries in May!

We did not expect any this year, but there are a few. Next year could be a Berry Good Year. We hope to springboard from success making pomegranate jelly to add boysenberry jam to the cupboards (in jars, silly, not smeared on the cupboards!). 

Here's a picture of the berry patch supports Mr. Last built, complete with arms on which hang the Topsy-Turvy tomatoes.
Look behind the hanging tomato plant to find another surprise...

This photo was taken 6 or 8 weeks ago. The hanging strawberries were an over-priced splurge from the big box store to make up for my disappointment over failed strawberry plants I put in the ground earlier. And I am happy to report that for the last month we have enjoyed finding a ripened berry or two and plucking them right off for an immediate sweet treat.

Gardening bores some of you to tears, I know. These blog posts are my way of tracking our progress taking a lovely yard and shaping it into our Garden of Paradise. It is a project that keeps us healthy and happy and we prefer to spend what little discretionary time and money we  have entertaining ourselves in this way.

And look at the delights we discover along the way:


I thought I did not like them. But these are so lovely.
And look at the front walk. It's all neat and tidy with gravel to the left with a whiskey barrel planter, and on the right we have a sunflower forest gaining height.
Here's a better look at the sunflower forest. Buds are beginning to form on some of the stalks.
The ballet tutu blossoms are spreading all over the mimosa tree.
And look! The mimosa is sheltering a nesting Robin Redbreast.
We've slowed down improvements in the front yard so as not to disturb the Robin Family. But in a few weeks we will resume the stepping stone progress towards a paver patio behind the olive tree. The gardenia hedge beside the hose bib (the plants are just babies now, but one day they will be a full grown gardenia hedge) replaces a languishing iris bed that harbored an enormous snail population.
That's all for now. Another time we'll look at more of the backyard projects, including the vegetable boxes and the Tater Tower. I know you are quivering with anticipation, but try to be patient.

Patience is it's own reward. But also, when you plant sticks in January and wait patiently until May sometimes you get berries.


Young Love Can be True Love

He's my son by birth; she's my daughter-in-law.
They are each so dear to my heart.
This photo was taken near the time they found each other
over 13 years ago. This week they celebrated their
fourth wedding anniversary. It is approaching that
tipping point in their lives when they have been 
with one another longer than they were without.

 Life is a long journey and they are good traveling companions
for one another. I wish them continued love
and friendship all along the way.

I'm So Happy You Were Born

This one has been celebrating for
a couple of days because
now he is THREE!!

he has visited
where (he told me)
some of the dinosaurs
were scary
but some were not.

I wish I could have a piece
of his delicious birthday cake, but
in his honor I'll have a slice
of cherry pie.

Cherry pie always makes me sing:

"Can she bake a cherry pie,
 Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she bake a cherry pie,
Charming Billy?"

I think I learned it when
I was not much older than three.

I wonder what songs my
grandchildren will remember
when their grandchildren
are three...

Happy Birthday to
My Very Favorite
Three-Year-Old Grandson!



Some things are just better together: Oreos and milk, peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and movies, hugs and kisses.

Here are a couple of gals who are clever and creative and lots of fun individually, but get them together and SHAZAAM! Look out! Stand back! The stories and the ideas and the projects just keep coming.

A photo shoot was long overdue, so their recent reunion required costumes and makeup and location-scouting for what we like to call

The Frontier Sisters in the Wild Southwest. Enjoy.


They like the one with the orange truck, but this close-up is my favorite.



I gave birth to these two a long time ago. One at a time. Eight years apart.

You are welcome.

I approve of their high-jinx.

Even the ones they think I don't know about.


Oma Flew to SLC and Back

And, boy, are her arms tired.

It is still difficult putting words to all the beauty and happiness of the weekend just past, so I'll just kinda narrate the photos, 'kay?

First, I met up with the Sopho-NO-More and we rode the moving sidewalks to the rental car counter:

Then we navigated ourselves past ferocious dinosaurs:

and giant holey rocks:
to meet up with these guys for pizza at the Wagon Wheel:
The next day they talked their folks into taking a Ten Minute Walk. Some people have to hike ten miles to find exceptional scenery, but not the Super Lucky GrandBoys. It's right where they live and it's just a Ten Minute Walk:

This artfully edited self-timed shot was taken in the ruins of ancient native dwellings in the side of the cliff that we carefully and respectfully explored. At the end of our ten minutes we headed to Edge of the Cedars Museum.

Well, whether or not shadows have meaning, they are interesting to look at and contemplate. Also interesting to look at and contemplate are the clouds in the blue sky we enjoyed this day. When he's happy The Wee One waves his hula hands, and for a moment it looked like he was conducting the movement of the coulds or as if he was preparing to flap his arms and fly away.

That concludes the highlights of the first full day. And, trust me, it was a very full day. Later I'll post the highlights of the Frontier Sisters photo shoot, including some outtakes.

But for now I'll leave you with this groovy garden goat.


Every Mother Was a Daughter First

 I am Julie,
daughter of Annetta,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Elizabeth,
daughter of Anna,
daughter of Magdalena...

This is as far as I can trace
my matrilineage back right now.

My daughters and granddaughter
extend this line into the future.

A few years ago I discovered Mother's Day
is a great time to visit Yosemite Valley.
This year I discovered Mother's Day is a
great time to visit Blanding, Utah. I have
more pictures and stories about my recent
travels, but right now the women in
my life are on my mind.

President Obama had some important
things to say about women recently
and if you are so inclined, you can find
his commencement address to the
Barnard College Class of 2012


Explorers Are Only Explorers If They Don't Know

This 1967 National Geographic magazine introduced me to Snowflake, the albino gorilla, who still has my heart. Firstborn daughter was enchanted by Koko, the gorilla who learned to communicate with hand signals. Maybe one day I'll craft an intergenerational tale of mothers and daughters and gorillas.

Hold that thought.

More on National Geographic in a minute, but for now...
...don't you just love a good commencement speech?

I do.

'Tis the season. And my remarkable friend, Patti Digh (she invited me to her book club without even knowing me, that's how remarkable she is), delivered fine words of wisdom to the graduating class of Guilford College the other day. You can read it here if you'd like. I highly recommend it.

It covers all the bases from Cheerios, to maps, to desire, to stories, to hiking, to dying, to getting some right. All stuff that resonates, but especially the part in the middle about explorers. Patti says:

"We orienteer through our lives like explorers, or not. We leap, or we don’t. We see the space at the edge of our seeing as either a boundary – or horizon. And explorers are only explorers if they don’t know. Safety is not part of the explorer’s world – it is not knowing that forms their ground truth. That’s what it means to explore and to map new places." (Emphasis added)
A million years ago I explained in a college entrance essay how National Geographic fed my explorer's heart when I was young by introducing me to astronauts hurtling into space, and a family of archeologists (the Leakeys) exploring human origins in Africa, and a curious woman (Jane Goodall) studying chimpanzee behavior in the jungle, and a French diver (Jacques Cousteau) whose passion was the strange world under the sea. I finished on a humble note, acknowledging the adventure of my life was likely to be less exotic than the adventures that inspired me, and yet my modest ambitions would be moved forward if they would accept me as a student.  

They did. I have student debt to prove it. 

You know, there is a popular misconception that adults become calcified in habits of thinking and action as we age, but I believe I have softened in many wonderful ways.

And I think that's why Patti's words jumped out at me. I say, "I don't know" a lot more now than I used to. And the not-knowing opens avenues to explore.

Or not.

I have also learned how to let go gracefully.

Another gift of aging.

And you thought I was just getting old.


For Those Who Love Little Animals

She should be doing less of this now:
 Because another academic year is behind her and
a great big bunch of Summer is coming right up. 
Today she moves (moved?) into a new place!
With. Awesome. Roommates.
If she looks too young to be doing such things
(living independently, I mean) it's because she was indeed underage when this photograph was taken a number of years ago.

But she's half-way done with undergraduate studies already. And her juggling skills have served her well over the past months, but perhaps going forward she'll practice more yoga and meditation.

Or napping.
Or daydreaming.
Or writing poetry.
Or reading fiction.
Or eating Popsicles.
Or bicycle-riding.
Or country swing dancing.
Or building model roller coasters.
Or anything else she wants to do. 

But for anyone thinking about acquiring a new pet,
please consider the following:

The Guppy
Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens.
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.

from this lovely 1942 volume
recently acquired at a Friends of the Library book sale.
The black and white and read-all-over title page is beautiful, yes? 

I know bibliophiliacs can get annoying, inserting into every conversation or dialogue some little ditty or obscure fact or anecdote or bit of a story they once read or heard or imagined.


Have I mentioned I'm a bibliophile
with sesquipedalian tendencies?


Sorry. Sorry.
But really, isn't it curious that guppies only have little guppies?

OK! OK! I'll go away now.


Tres de Mayo

Over here in the Left State when the fifth day of May rolls around we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which this year falls upon a Saturday. So to avoid the crowds on the weekend, Mr. Last and I are having Friday night on Thursday and heading to Senor Pancho's tonight for some fine Mexican food in celebration of Tres de Mayo. We're crazy like that sometimes.

Speaking of loco, it's not just for chicken anymore. Look...

Twitter-pated sparrows!

**Happy Tres de Mayo**