January 2017: Amateur Bot-Ann-Ist is Back!!!

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img_1108It seems only fair to write a post after a week-long snow event. This will be short though—much like my patience after being snowed-in for so long. Last year I felt that I needed a break but I didn’t know why and now I feel better about a return to regular posts. So much has happened. It is sad to think that there were many things I didn’t post about but I will try to add them when I can in the future.

img_3249This fall we lost Maurice the Cat. He was an old guy who sadly passed away from cancer on his jaw. Luckily he’s been immortalized because the back garden was named after him so we will forever think of him. He spent many summers in Campiello Maurizio sunbathing on his favorite bench beneath the living willow arbor. He will be sorely missed. img_4266Last spring this little guy made his appearance. Felix has been quite a handful ever since he arrived here. He was abandoned by his mom the day he was born and sadly outlived his sister. With no mama cat and no siblings to play with I have had to do a lot of work. We received him when he was about 3 weeks old and I will forever be grateful to his foster mama.

He will certainly be showing up here a bit more now although both he and LuLu are primarily indoor cats since we lost Quincy just over a year ago to an urban coyote. They do get to go outside but both are doing well with supervised trips.

Felix is an alleycat of the highest degree and there is NEVER a dull moment when he’s around. Never have I owned a cat who enjoyed knocking over garbage cans and breaking glass so much. Lucky for him he’s a love bug. We look forward to those moments. He is a tiny terror, but he was also very sweet to Maurice in his final days. He’s not all bad. img_5674

At the end of 2016, thanks to my underground dinners, I was finally able to pay off the debt incurred by my back surgery several years ago. In 2017 the goal is to work on paying down the debt owed to my ex-husband from the divorce. If you’re in the Portland area and are interested in attending, please find the page somewhere here on my blog and add your name to the list. That’s the best way to find out what I’m up to and what menus will be coming up next. img_8126The other big news in 2016 was my first official job in the horticulture industry. It’s something I’ve longed to do for years and thanks to my friend and mentor Sean Hogan (of Cistus Design Nursery) it happened. I’m only a part-time employee, and this works well because of my health limitations, but the best part is that I’m a “Seedstress”. Only Sean could manufacture a name that great.

In 2017 it would be wonderful to be working more and more in the horticulture field but I’m not yet sure how much I can handle physically. Luckily, my health has been fairly stable since I started new treatments, and I guess that’s another reason I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been living my life and have been having a wonderful time getting up and around and developing and strengthening friendships. I was more active in 2016 than I’ve been in many years. It was great! img_9818Clearly I’m doing just fine! Obviously! So send me some new clothes. The ones I’ve been wearing are old (tight budget) but I DID get a new hat. (Roars with laugher.)

Ok folks, I hope someone is still out there reading this blog! See you again very soon. Can’t wait to update the world on all of the dead plants that we’ll be seeing in the next few months thanks to this weather we’ve been having. We only ended up with about a foot of snow here at our house.

Brrrrrrrrrr.

Our Garden Home After 1 Month Away

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It’s always nice to come home. Normally I would have freaked out at the mess in the garden and all the work I needed to do but one month in Italy has performed its magic. My Italian side still has nothing but positive, wonderful, and charming things to say about the place.

“Look at all that green? Where did that come from? It’s fantastic!”

“It looks like a lovely cabin in the woods. Who lives there? I do! What fun!”

And lastly, “Let’s straighten things up and have friends over. We must have something to celebrate, right?”

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Home Sweet Home.

From the plane I’d been able to see roughly where I’d grown up just outside of the city, and then I saw one of the few Italian family farms left in the area. Not too long ago there were so many more and all of the large Italian families in the city had one of their own.

All of this was quite emotional for me. In the space of a generation or two so many had disappeared as Italian-Americans were able to become so many more things because we do have that ability here, or at least we did. Now I’m not so sure about the American Dream, but I know for many of the immigrants in my family, it was real.

Having just returned from Italy were there are so many small farms, it made me sad—but proud too. Oregon is a great place and I am so happy to live here. It’s not always comfortable for me, but overall, after this last trip to Italy, I feel like both of my feet are firmly on the ground now. Funny I find myself wanting to sell produce or plants or even food more and more, but I know exactly where that impulse comes from and I am proud of it.

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Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon.

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Rossi Farms on NE 122nd Avenue. One of the few Italian family farms left in the area.

After passing out for a few days I was able to get up the energy to walk through my garden to see how things were going.

So many of my favorite plants were blooming, and thanks to friends, all of the seedlings were doing great too.

The plane rides had been really hard on me and my swelling was very bad initially but it got better and eventually I saw my doctor and we discussed where I was at concerning my health but I will get to that in another post. I just wanted to emphasize, it really took me several days to get out and walk around and when I did it was quite painful.

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Rosa “Sombreuil”.

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Clematis “Jackmanii”.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.

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Rosa rugosa.

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Billbergia nutans, Billbergia Bromeliad, Queen’s-Tears.

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Fave blooms.

The fava bean plants immediately excited me—even though I was in pain. As much as I’d loved being in Italy, I missed my kitchen and while there I’d wished I could have spent more time just hanging out in kitchens watching people cook. I have so much to learn and often feel like a pokey and useless creature but what comes out of my kitchen usually makes me proud. There was so much I didn’t see in one month. There were so many words I didn’t get to hear.

Back home I recommitted myself to cooking more difficult things and I’ve set out to learn more skills.

I also decided that my war on the edible garden is over now. My distaste for my former life is done and I’m ready to move on and I knew I badly need to do the garden renovation dance.

So, during the last week I’ve attacked the front yard with a great gusto, but I have a few big projects to get through before I can say the kitchen garden is up and running as it should be. I am renovating and clearing several areas at the same time with particular goals in mind. Yes, I want more food space, but I also need to dedicate my time and energy to plants which produce seeds I can sell. Maybe I can even get to some plant selection of my own in time. I hope so. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

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LuLu gained a little bit of weight while we were gone. I hate to call her neurotic, but she has her issues. Overeating nervously is one of them. 

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Maurice wanted us to know we were missed. Many stern looks were tossed our way between naps.

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Mona was happy to see me and couldn’t sit still. Even at her age she’s still Miss Wigglesworth.

The cats were happy to see us—as you can see. At first LuLu was in shock and hid from us but she continued to look at us with a pinch-me-is-this-real? look. After a few days we all settled in again. I think that’s in part due to the fact we had a great house sitter who really cared about the cats. Additionally, I think that we have 3 cats now who like one another. Mona getting along with LuLu has been a welcome surprise.

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Sweet souvenir: my new Bialetti.

We brought back a few things from Italy. Since we had to carry everything, I wasn’t feeling quite as generous as I wanted to be but my back survived.

My first gift to myself was this lovely little coffeemaker. Now I can make a quick shot of espresso just for me. Or, I could make one for you, the garden visitor. It works perfectly and makes a great cup of espresso.

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Not sure yet where we will hang this up.

The second gift to ourselves were these terra-cotta pieces for the back garden. We had to have St. Mark’s lion, and for me, well, something more historic.

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I mentioned LuLu is a bit neurotic, right?

That first week after we returned this is what always greeted me when I left the house or when I returned home. She melted my heart all over again. We immediately went on diets together too and I’ve been enforcing strict activity goals for her. Ok, maybe not that strict, but both of us have lost some weight.

Been a long time in the garden: Wine, Women and Song

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Was taken to a few wineries in September for my 41st birthday. Here I am shoveling some very delicious Willamette Valley grapes in my face. Thank goodness for friends and their cameras.

A few months have passed since I last blogged. With a blogoversary on the horizon I think it’s time for me to begin again. This time of year is always very busy for me with all of my indoor gardening and seed work. I have plenty to share so stay tuned.IMG_5477

Cooking has continued to play an important role in my life. As a gift, my combined wedding anniversary and birthday gift from my husband was an amazing meal at Castagna.

I could write a book about that incredible meal but instead I’ll recommend that you read about the chef and go there yourself. It was an incredible dining experience and one I’ll never forget.

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LuLu and Quincy loved to chase one another in the willow arbor.

Mid September our little buddy Quincy went missing one Friday night. He wasn’t with us for long, and we miss him dearly. I refuse to give up hope and continue to search for him. Luckily our county has a wonderful system for lost animals and I receive daily notifications.

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Gardener, garden writer and designer Kate Bryant enjoying a bit of salmon fishing.

Dad took two of my friends and I salmon fishing back in September. It was a quick trip but we all had a wonderful time with lots of laughs and great food. We may not have caught anything, but a boat of fishermen did offer us a free fish to take home.

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During September I also visited Sarracenia Northwest for their Open House. This is a beautifully fun story and I promise to write more about it in an upcoming post.  IMG_5814

The tomatoes kept coming this year and they kept me busy. As a matter of fact I finished up eating them just a few days ago. I was a bit shocked to have ripe tomatoes from the garden on November 1.

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With a tromboncino squash I was gifted I made homemade gnocchi with butter and sage sauce. It was a great idea for a little garden writing group that I’ve helped to start just to get me to write more. I want to write more. I really do.
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I decided to purchase my first fancy apron after catering for a small party. This was a lovely reward after having succeeded with all of those fundraiser dinners this summer. As difficult as that work was, I do miss entertaining and making menus. Am taking the holidays off too because I cannot afford to feed as many people as I used to so taking a holiday will be a nice break.IMG_6783

To thank friends who offered to help me this summer after my last surgery I hosted a pizza party. I avoided making Italian-style pizza for a very long time, but I feel comfortable with it now. IMG_6057

As I stated a few months ago, I was yearning to return to school. I did. I am taking one class right now and am loving plant ID in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

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There have been the garden visits to friends’ green realms with more meals and laughs. I am a big fan of Felony Flats Botanical Garden and its head gardeners Eric and Robert.

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Petunia exserta.

In addition to school and a new part-time job (more on that in my next post), I’m beginning to take care of my seed shop again and have been collecting, accepting by mail from friends, and shopping online again for things I’d like to grow. As I rip out the garden, I am looking for new growing spaces while considering the possibilities.

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White alpine strawberry.

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Pelargonium peltatum, the species from Cistus Nursery.

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Lastly, I also hosted the Fall Garden Blogger Plant Swap. It’s kind of like Fight Club so I won’t go on and on about it, but if you’re a blogger and you live nearby, let me know. The primarily requirement is that you be a blogger. IMG_6183

LuLu has been my new little furry rock since Quincy disappeared. She’s taken up as my stalker where my little old lady Macavity left off when she passed away last year.

Here she is loving up Maurice but we all know she’s just letting him know who’s in charge. She’s a bossy pants, piglet. In addition to climbing the walls and my pant legs, she’s almost always underfoot. I adore her and her youthful kitten energy.IMG_6246 Luckily LuLu goes out a little bit, but she’s not going to be allowed to be an outdoor cat. Here she is helping me to collect tomatoes. IMG_6264She also helps me with my botanical studies. Here she is letting me know that DOGWOODS bore her.
IMG_6859So welcome back! Welcome to indoor gardening and there’s more to come. I promise!

The Official Introduction of Quincy Mercurio Carbone, Alpha Cat

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This isn’t an easy introduction to make on my blog and that’s embarrassing to me for some reason. I lost my beloved old lady Macavity last fall and I’ve waited to talk much about our new kitten for several reasons. Primarily, I didn’t want to feel like I was replacing my sidekick and shadow—and I’m not.

That’s because Quincy has a mind of his own and he does what he wants. He’s an Alpha cat. I guess that’s fitting though, because Macavity was too. I loved that about her. She bossed me around and was the most stubborn thing, but she was also very connected to me, and how I felt, and she seemed to really enjoy spending time with me.

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Oh those eyes of his…

Quincy is mysterious to me in ways that are very unlike Macavity. Half the time I think he’s just a pretty boy with his handsome Maine Coon looks, then the rest of the time I just can’t quite figure him out.

Although he’s very loving and incredibly sweet, he’s terribly aloof and truly has simple needs. I think that by far he has the most even temperament of any feline I’ve ever known, and according to my mother’s count, there have at least been several dozen cats in my life since I was a girl so I feel like he’s very special.

It’s not just his even temperament though, this cat is positive. He wakes up every morning and he’s happy, and excited to be alive. This might sound a bit odd, but I think his attitude has been rubbing off on the rest of us old grumps.

Each morning he greets all of us with his characteristic Maine Coon head butts, plenty of chirps, and he just seems so excited to communicate to all of us that he’s happy to see each of us.

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He always gets as close as is possible to Maurice. Sometimes he even wraps he tail around Maurice’s after the old guy has fallen asleep.

He’s my husband’s cat (technically) so let me unpack the name for you.

Quincy: taken from the TV show Quincy, M.E. He thought it would make a great cat name.

Mercurio: I gave him this first surname in honor of Freddie Mercury. He’s one of my all-time favorite singers who also happened to be an incredible cat lover.

Carbone: This is because Quincy was a Christmas gift and in Italy you give lumps of candy coal (carbone) to children in their stockings. Quincy is our little sweet lump of coal.

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Several months ago, it was clear that the kitten “owned” Maurice. I appreciate his help.

I think that he’s expressive with his body in different ways than I’m accustomed to and this is also how he shows his Maine Coon DNA. Often, they’re described as clowns and he certainly has plenty of those moments too!

He rarely sleeps like a normal cat and often you find him with his belly up in the air. I guess this makes sense if your breed gets a bit warm with all that fur surrounded by blankets and other warm bodies.

Never have I seen such an affectionate black cat. He’s been attached to Maurice ever since he arrived although Maurice still thinks he’s crazy after 6 months of this treatment. After Macavity passed away, Maurice was sad, and it was clear that he missed harassing her, but she never liked him, even though he tried very hard to get close to her.

Enter Quincy stage right: he’s turned the tables on the old man. Maurice was always a sweetheart, and now he has another cat in his life that thinks the world of him. You’d think he’d appreciate it, but Maurice is a different kind of cat. He’s adjusting.

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Quincy also likes to mimic Maurice and we often find him mirroring or copying Maurice’s poses. I think he’s just messing with him.

Whenever Maurice comes back inside after a little walk around the house Quincy greets him like he hasn’t seen him in a week. He gets head butts and nose kisses galore.

But we still don’t really know what Quincy is going to become. I’m introducing him now only because he started jumping off the roof, onto my Japanese maple, and into the garden this week. There is no holding back this little guy from the outdoors. (I shouldn’t say little either. He’s quite large for his age.) It’s also his desire to be with Maurice and I when we’re outside all day. He already punched a hold through one screen door with his head, and he’s body slammed and climbed the other so many times it was only a matter of time before he’d break it down to get outside to be with us.

Maurice feeling confident enough to try out a new spot in the garden.

Maurice feeling confident enough to try out a new spot in the garden.

So Quincy is the newest garden character, and I should add that he comes back inside when I do, and for the most part, he’s only just discovering things outdoors.

For the last few months we’d let him out of the upstairs window onto the roof of the back of the house. We discovered then that he liked to collect and hoard moss he’d picked off the roof himself. Some of this was brought in to us, some was hoarded under the bed with all of his toys.

Yes, he hoards his own toys and will pull them out on his own to play and then he’ll pull them back under the bed to his “den” or “lair”. I like to make Grendel jokes about this behavior because his turf under the bed seems like some secret and special place for him. It’s where he goes when he needs “space” and to be surrounded by all of his possessions and victims. He’s kind of methodical that way.

In closing—since I just posted this on social media—I think I should add that he’s become the Alpha cat at our end of the block and today I saw the bully cat run away from him. Quincy didn’t even do anything. There’s just something about him that other cats can sense. I’ve watched him this past week as all the other mean cats have run away from him. It’s been comical. He doesn’t even need to fight them, they just run.

I also felt my two older and wimpier cats relax as Quincy entered into their outdoor lives to save them from the tougher cats. Maurice went outside for most of the day today, and for a very long time this evening. Now that he’s my old kitty, I want him to be as happy as possible. I hate the idea of losing him, but he’s 15-years-old so you never know, but at least he’s got a little buddy who adores him and follows him everywhere.

Quincy is going to be Maurice’s friend ’til the end. I like knowing that Maurice has such a loyal and tough buddy. He deserves it, and I’ve got to say thanks to my niece and her random friend who had that one last kitten no one wanted—because he was just right for us. He’s made this little cat family whole again.

Quincy on his first day in the garden.

Quincy on his first full day in the garden.

Quincy, Mona, and Maurice partaking in their daily catnip.

Quincy, Mona, and Maurice partaking in their daily catnip.

RIP Macavity the Cat (May 1997 – October 2014)

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It has taken me 4 weeks to gather the courage to write about the loss of my cat Macavity and yet I’m still in tears on the couch as I write this tribute to her.

It wasn’t a sudden loss. She died here at home of old age though I’m sure some kind of organ failure was involved.

It’s what she would have wanted and I know that must sound strange, but she was a very unusual cat.

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Everywhere I went, she was there. She demanded a great deal of my attention. Unlike many other cats, she had no secret life. She lived to spend time with me.Photo on 2012-02-27 at 21.05

When I was doing whatever it is that I do, she’d be there.

I called her my shadow, my stalker. She sought me out and was always by my side but she was never cuddly. She was just always around.

She was not fond of other cats. She was the kind that preferred the company of people. If you got up from the dining room table at one of my dinner parties, she’d take your seat and look around as we all talked. It was not unusual for her to feel as though she fit in with all of us. If we all pointed and looked toward her ears sticking up above the table, she’d look annoyed.

I imagine is she could, she would have said: “What? Haven’t you ever seen a cat partake in after dinner conversation? Get over yourselves!”

She was a cat with a ton of attitude.

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I saw this and my heart just fell to pieces as the tears poured out in buckets.

Maurice and Mona have adjusted to life without the Alpha cat, but I miss Macavity a lot.

Even if she will always be the cat who loved lawn…

An Autumn Field Report

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My life feels like it’s on fire right now—but my house looks like it thanks to the annual display put on by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
While my life takes off, I’m too busy to even sit and consider what’ll happen to me now if I swell up. It took me a long time, and it took a lot of searching and self-acceptance, but finally, I seem to have a professional life and a work schedule I not only can manage, but I’ve set myself up to succeed and it feels so much better.

The garden is no longer neglected. In my mind, it’s on hold. It’s slowly starting up again (really coming to life for the first time) and I’m introducing John to it little by little.

His first unique seed experience was this ‘Cruel’ vine seed head (Araujia sericifera). It’s the only one produced by this non-hardy vine that has survived a few too many winters here in Oregon. I grew if from seed. To see it set seed after several years is very exciting to me.

The vine is in front of the house and isn’t really that special. It chokes out all that gets in its way and I was getting tired of its unneighborly behavior. Then it bloomed rows of small, pretty white fragrant flowers and my dislike (aka hatred) for the plant relented.

I am a proud mama now. I can’t kill my baby. I’ve got to collect its seeds!

The small autumn-blooming Camellia ‘Silver Dollar’ is currently bursting with blooms. I appreciate and admire its restraint and grace. So many of the other garden plants are dressed up like painted ladies this time of year. I love the little touch of class this plant offers my eyes.

The Amsonia I grew from seed a few years ago is looking beautiful next to this Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)—speaking of painted ladies!

Life in the house and garden is changing though. Our family has changed and I’m working more and more outside of the house now.

Maurice the Cat is ever the trooper and despite his age, arthritic pain, and weight problem, he’s soldiering on and has enjoyed every last bit of sunshine he can grasp in his polydactyl paws.

Cats do not like change and only now are they trusting that their lives are not being tossed hither and thither.

The leaves are changing and falling. The air is crisp and tonight we may have some frosty temps in the Portland metro area.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and I’m preparing again to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing a novel again in November—but unlike last year—this story is fully cooked and ready to go. I am also preparing to write many other things. Actually, I’m already doing so. It’s time. I am well enough now.

There is still some physical recovery to do. A decade of illness is not easy to repair. I need to lose more weight. My blood pressure and heart need a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight and have continued to regain and build muscle but my body needs to be leaner and meaner. I am caring for me now and it feels good too.

I will do all of these things that I’ve set out to do now. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s good to be me again.

I’m working as a caregiver now, and I work all kinds of odd shifts with the elderly and those in hospice.

Illness has prepared me for this and I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

It’s not a forever job, but for now, I’m enjoying the pleasure of working hard and the opportunity of getting to know new and interesting people.

They’ve lived different lives than mine and we honor and respect one another as we work through basic daily tasks that have become increasingly more difficult for the clients. The adjustment has not been easy for me, but it’s improving. I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help them.

It feels good.

This autumn we’ve talked a lot about eventually buying a place in the country near the ocean. I’ve thought about the garden it would have and what palate of plants I would pick. This is another project I’m working on right now.

I’ve never really designed a  project like this, but oddly, I’m ready and willing to accept the challenge.

This has led to me thinking a lot about my own design aesthetic. I never knew I had one but it runs through almost everything I do. It ties into the novel writing, so I’m a happily contained little mind now. Inside I am germinating.

There have been many meals and many recipes recently. John has been cooking new things, learning new techniques in the kitchen, and he’s been shopping at farmer’s markets. As for me, I’m in love with my Cauliflower (Brassica) ‘Minaret’. Yes, I’ve been cooking too, but I’ve been enjoying all of John’s food more. I’m proud of him. He’s a great cook.

For me, food has become another job. This is a good thing—literally, a job! I’m still kind of in shock this even happened, but it did.

So, it’s exciting to announce this publicly. Here goes: I’ve been hired to work as a ghost blogger for a food blogger. That is all I can say, since I am obviously a ghost blogger, but to say that the experience is thrilling is an understatement. I want to be a paid writer. I crave it. I need it. I would like to continue working as an editor too. With this opportunity, I will be able to do both of these things.

And from here it will only get better…

Lastly, I’ve returned to arranging flowers and that’s been good for me during the times when I still feel chronic pain from either swelling or injuries I sustained years ago. I’m arranging plant material weekly in an effort to relieve stress and to be creative. It gets my juices flowing and it gives me a problem to solve. I relish that kind of thing.

The whole process brings a kind of value to my life that’s irreplaceable.

It’s still cleanup time in the garden—my garden: I’m still blogging, there are seeds to sow, I see a future garden to begin designing, and there are many words in the air. My mind has been swept and it is still a bit shady in there, but I see leaks of light and the words are in lines now that float and I can grasp their syntax.

Someday I will describe the mind of chronic pain to show how dull and slow it can become and how one can lose so many words. The feelings and thoughts were all inside of me but I couldn’t get them out. I struggled. I was inarticulate for so many years.

It is difficult when the words come to me quickly now. I still feel as though I’m sitting behind the wheel of a fast car as the words pour out. I know that I am not yet as suave as I once was though, I’m rough, I repeat a lot. I could use better words—and I will.

But I will use them for my novel and it will have a garden and it will have plants and there will be so many other wonderful things. My many layers are peeling away now and as winter comes low over the horizon from the cold north I will let the chilling winds lay bare that which I want so badly to articulate but have yet been unable to do so.

Wordless Wednesday: I giardini delle due donne

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Climbing Monkshood (Aconitum episcopale) grown from seed.
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium) in its new home.
Pink Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) grown from seed. Sadly the plant was eaten a bit this year.
The backyard.
Tradescantia ‘Bridal Veil’.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).
Fuchsia ‘Celia Smedley’.
Unknown Rosa.
Unknown cabbage (Brassica).
Notorious female feline.
Potted geraniums (Pelargonium), with St. Francis statuary, at the home of an Italian woman.