Nature

Befriending Blue Jays

We’ve had blue jays as visitors to our yard for years, but this year is unique. I think one of last year’s fledgling jays picked our yard for his home. Specifically, the pair of jays nested in this pine tree right next to our porch.

This has led to our cats watching out the front windows and the blue jays watching back.

So our house is filled with the sounds of jays yelling at cats while cats chitter at the jays. Even when neither is making noise they still keep an eye on each other.

It is hours of solid cat entertainment.

The jays are less concerned about humans. In fact they seem calmer if a human is in view along with the cats, as if they know that the humans will control the cats. However on the day when I was photographing flowers near the nesting tree, the jays expressed loud opinions.

They kept a close watch on me to make sure I wasn’t going to find their nest.

However it is also possible that the yelling was less about the nest and more because they wanted me to go get some peanuts for them. So I did that too.

Blue Jays are noisy, pushy, bossy birds. I like them and am happy to befriend this pair. Sometime in the next few weeks their babies will be ready to fly and then they’ll stop guarding my front porch so closely. I will be glad to have the yelling and chittering be a little less constant, but I also hope they still come and visit.

A Rainy Walk Through Thanksgiving Point Gardens

I almost didn’t go even though I had a ticket. I bought the ticket a month ago to assign myself to leave the house, but on that morning it was raining. Howard had to chivy me out the door. Thus I arrived for my meander along rainy paths, admiring growing things.

The gardens still require masks and everything is outdoors, so I felt safe from risk of pandemic infection, but I still found myself avoiding people where I could. Because of the rain there were far fewer people than usual, but it still felt like too many. I’m not sure why, but I always love displays with parasols or lanterns hanging over the trail. They lift my spirits and make me feel like I’m flying too.

With my own umbrella, I felt an even greater-than-usual kinship with the parasols bobbing in the wind. Though I was definitely a raven to their bright songbirds.

The Koi were completely unbothered by the rain.

The geese were also unfazed.

I got significantly damp.

And I discovered that wearing a face mask while being rained on presents something of a dual challenge for wearers of glasses. Foggy! With Dripping!

I didn’t even notice it until I got home and was editing photos, but while I admired the many blooming flowers, I mostly photographed the statuary, water, and set pieces.

And there were many things I couldn’t photograph, like the feeling of standing in the man-made cave behind the waterfall, hearing the roar of the water and feeling the thrum of the engines that hurl that water over the rocks into the pond below. Or the wide open vistas when my eyes have been used to looking at the contained spaces of my house. Or how hungry I was for green. Green trees on green grass with bushes just starting baby green leaves doesn’t make a great photo even if it makes my heart happy. I did get a picture of this tree trunk that looks like a frog.

I love Thanksgiving Point for how beautifully it is created, and how much care they take to make sure that every part is accessible to people who use wheels to get around. I also hunger for a wandering experience in a place that is a bit more natural, so perhaps my next outing will be a hike up a canyon. There will be fewer flowers, no tulips at all, but full of beauty. Walking in the rain was lovely.

An Early Spring Garden Walk

Today it is 70 degrees out (21 celsius) which makes it a lovely day to walk in my gardens and see what is growing. The front flowerbeds have begun to put forth new growth. Soon these red peony shoots will turn green and leafy.

Dandelions are cheerfully growing in places where I don’t want to have dandelions.

I have my first tulip blooms.

The spring star flowers and grape hyacinths are out in force.

In fact, the grape hyacinths have started invading the lawn. I love it and put off the first mowing until after they’re done blooming.

Above the invasion of grape hyacinths, you can see the grape row. I need to trim it back and build a better structure for them to grow on. I should do that soon before the vines start to leaf out.

Another trimming project is this pear tree that I’m trying to rescue from blight. Those last tall branches will come off as soon as I figure out how to put the chain back on the pole saw. When it grows out again, we’ll be able to watch for blight and trim it out.

The apricot tree is in full bloom, though some of the blooms got caught by a freeze, so I had to pick a bloom cluster that didn’t have freeze damage.

The first daffodils have made their appearance

I’ve got a birdbath, wind chime, and bee hotel to put up now that the weather is nice. I’ve already got this stacker feeder to draw birds into my patio space. Some day I need to sit outside long enough to catch pictures of the goldfinches which have started coming around. They look so dapper in their spring colors.

The new garden bed next to the patio is getting ready to bloom.

Parts of it are blooming already. This is going to be lovely spot to sit in the warm weeks to come.

Spring always gives me joy. Thanks for coming on this walk with me.

A Tour of House Projects in Progress

After last summer’s detour into flood damage repair, this year I’m back to working on the house projects I want to get done. Because of financial and time constraints, the projects move slowly, however the life shifts around pandemic have me needing hands-busy-not-too-thinky tasks. Home improvement fills that need nicely. Progress has been made.

The largest and most ongoing project is our Long Slow Remodel of our kitchen. The current goal is to get rid of that wall in the middle before November launches the holiday season.

The next step is to waiting on flooring to arrive. I have to tear out flooring in front of this wall, lay new flooring, and then we can install a pantry wall with a secondary sink. (The plumbing for the sink was installed spring of 2019.) We’ll live with a patch of mis-matched flooring while we take a bunch of other steps like new counter tops, wall removal, re-wiring the location of the fridge, etc.

I already have the cabinets which will go on the pantry wall. They’re waiting out in my garage.

We had paused the kitchen remodel because purchasing flooring is a big spend and I was worried about finances. But we think that re-configuring our kitchen to match the way that our brains work will help Howard in his quest to improve his health. So we’re moving forward. During the pause I was in need of projects, and my son was also in need of things to do, so we decided to put a patio in the dirt patch that used to be under our deck that we had to demolish because it had rotted. (Deck demolishing Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) Here is what the patch looked like in 2014 after we removed the deck:

This is how the dirt patch spent most of the intervening years: Covered in leaf piles and various other detritus.

This is the current state of the dirt patch, which is well on its way to becoming a patio. We used the wheelbarrow to haul excavated dirt to a large (and growing larger) pile of dirt in the corner of the yard. I’m thinking we’ll use some of it to fill raised garden beds. Hopefully we’ll do that faster than the six years it took us to move from dirt patch to patio. The pile of sand on the tarp was salvaged from an old sandbox which we disassembled in early spring of 2019. We’re using it in the laying of pavers, but the size of the pile suggests that we’ll have some left over for other projects later. Process is dig, remove tree roots, level dirt, lay landscape cloth, layer gravel, layer sand, place each paver carefully using a level. At the end I’ll use polymeric sand to seal everything into place.

While hauling dirt to our big pile, I noticed that one of our pine trees had been so overtaken by wisteria vines that it was in danger of dying. I cut the vines to give the tree a chance. Unfortunately that created this situation:

Instead of having a wall of green, there is a wall of dead. Dried, crispy dead just waiting for a spark to turn the whole mess into a massive torch. Particularly since the underside of all that dead wisteria looks like this:

So in between digging and laying pavers, I’m taking time to cut back and remove all of the dead from this tree. I’m also raking up a decade of dead pine needles and wisteria leaves from the ground. I’ll probably need a young, nimble person to get on a ladder or climb the tree to help me get some of the dead vines removed. Bit by bit it is getting less hazardous.

Not a hazard, but definitely an eyesore is this weedy patch which flanks the other side of my small deck. It used to be raised garden beds framed by railroad ties. Then we realized that all the terrible chemicals from the railroad ties would leach into the soil, and be taken into the food plants. We pulled the railroad ties, which left a couple of mounds. Then life got busy and the mounds went to weeds. Since there were mounds, we couldn’t just mow them. So in order to get this spot under control we need to clear the weeds and level the ground, or reinstall garden beds. I’m considering making this spot into a patio too or we could return it to being lawn, which is what it was before very-young me decided to make it raised garden beds. This project is on the list, but I doubt we’ll get to it this year.

Last, but not least urgent, are the front flower beds which have reached their usual state of July disarray. Weeds need to be pulled, plants need to be cut back. I need to fertilize to give all of it a chance of being pretty again in the fall and next spring.

Owning a house is a lot of work if you want to keep the house in good condition. I’ve lived in this house and tended to it for over twenty years now. Some of my current projects are me correcting my own past errors (railroad garden beds,) some are me fighting the natural entropy of living things trying to take over (tree rescue, weeds,) and some are me correcting long-standing problems (removing that wall in the kitchen.) It is a good thing I like having projects.

Frosty Morning


The air was crisp against my face, the ground crunched with ice underfoot. I looked up at the dawn brightening sky, attempting to determine why this morning was lovely when others had merely been cold. It was certainly not the task which occupied my hands. Pulling a garbage can to the curb is arguably the least-lovely of possible tasks. The sky had no explanations for me, just a broad expanse, pink tinged at the edges. The difference then, must be in me if the sky, cold, and ice were unchanged from days prior. This morning I carried with me a soul ready to appreciate and see the beauty when other mornings I focused on my steps and task. Work focus is so often necessary in a world where productivity is survival. Yet the tiny pause in appreciation of the frosty sky did not impede the completion of a mundane task. It elevated it. And I returned to warmth and light a little better for knowing the frost.

Fall Break

My kids were out of school for five days. Instead of packing up everyone and heading out for adventures, we stayed home to do comforting things and a few projects. Some of the projects took place in the video game world, but mine were house and harvest.

Years ago we planted grape vines. The starts were gifted to us by a Schlock fan who worked at a vineyard, so we have varieties that aren’t typically seen in home gardens. The vines have matured and we now get a huge harvest each fall.

This year there was a boom in snail population, because for each batch of grapes we brought in, I had to rescue dozens to a hundred tiny snails. The finger pictured is a pinky finger.

The snails had to be rescued because once the grapes were de-stemmed, we cooked them into juice.

Then the juice was cooked into jelly. It was a lot of stove work and glass bottles.

The kitties had their own ideas about how to spend the weekend.

On the Monday of the break there was a different project entirely. We had a big solid redwood playset that we purchased when our kids were little. For the past five years or more, it has sat in our yard unused gathering detritus. We decided that it was time for the playset to move to a home with two six year old boys and a baby. So bright and early we began work.

The job and playset were bigger than the new playset owners expected. But I put my crew of adult-sized kids to work and things came down pretty quickly.

The disassembly process showed me all the ways in which this playset is amazingly solid after sitting outside in the weather for more than 15 years. It also let me see that being disassembled is the best possible thing to happen to it. The new owners will be able to clean everything up, replace aging bolts, re-stain, and replace the few boards that are showing structural wear. I’m glad it is going to people who are excited to do that work. I would never have gotten around to it.

It is always interesting to see what you find in a project like this one. I figured out where all the kid scissors went. We used to have so many rules about scissors not going outside. Rules that were apparently not heeded as evidenced by the graveyard of lost scissors.

Now there is a big empty space in my yard where the playset used to stand. Everything feels open and new possibilities are beginning to be mulled over.

All in all, it was a lovely use for a long weekend. Though I was physically tired at the end of it.

Amaryllis

amaryllis
My amaryllis is blooming. It sits on the edge of my tub right by the bathroom door. I can’t see it until I enter the bathroom, then it is right there, a giant beautiful flower. I keep being surprised by it, “Oh that’s right. I have a flower.” Life needs more big beautiful surprises in it, particularly in mid winter.

Things I Learned While Cruising

Dolphins have a series of sounds that they always use when approaching another dolphin. Each dolphin has a unique set of sounds. This means that dolphins name themselves and routinely introduce themselves by name.

If you place two Tayler kids at adjoining tables, they will create little fortresses and villages out of sugar packets.
sugar-forts

Different ships have different social structures between staff and guests. This one felt more stratified than the last ship. I kept trying to put my waiter and my room attendant at ease and was never able to quite do it.

The world is full of amazingly kind people. Many of them were our attendees and teachers for this event.

Having a larger ship does not mean I’ll feel the ocean less. Because the ship was so tall and the underwater portion shallow in comparison, I felt the motion of the ship most of the time. I never felt sick with it except on the one night where I was in the highest lounge of the ship while the ship was skirting the edge of a storm.

I do not like it when they make the dining hall staff dance to music. I’d much rather be having conversations. They danced four times during the week. It was a lot.

Sometimes the light strikes the water in a way that makes crepuscular rays reflecting down into the water. This is hard to catch on film, but I tried.
reflection-crepuscular

There were lots of knowledge gaps in my children’s experiences of travel. Howard and I were frequently explaining things and demonstrating things. They had to be shown how to navigate an airport, how to order room service on a ship, how to share elevators with lots of other people, how to be polite in all the small ways that are necessary in crowds.

Bringing kids onto a crowded ship with fourteen decks, then making them stay for a week, is an effective way to exterminate elevator anxiety.

While some of my kids dove in, did their own research, and ran off to do things, I had to be cruise director for some of the other ones. I had to book tickets to shows then require them to actually attend those shows, which they then enjoyed.

Nassau has iguanas everywhere. This delighted all Taylers.

Dusk while pulling away from port is beautiful.
island-dusk-2

Standing on a balcony and watching water flow by is a huge destressor. Riding a smaller boat with wind in my face is also a destressor while simultaneously being invigorating.

Dan Wells will let his assistant paint his nails if the polish is glow in the dark with tiny bats.

If we leave the room set up and the mics hot, apparently attendees will host a spontaneous Writing Excuses episode with various people playing the part of the cast members.

Swimming with dolphins will make my daughter vibrate with joy.

Other people genuinely like my kids and find them charming. This is nice to know because I often worry that their various intensities will make them bothersome in public.

Old Heidelberg is a marvelous restaurant and I should eat all the potato pancakes.

When there is a fire at an airport, security will completely empty the terminal and we’ll get to stand in a long line waiting to get into the building. Once inside I could smell that it had been a bread fire, it smelled exactly like scorched toast. Then I thought about it and realized that the evacuation was not an over reaction. A small fire could be a staged distraction and they had to rule that out before allowing travelers back into the building.

If you let Gleek loose with a free afternoon and a pool area populated with little lizards, she will become so expert at catch and release that she can practically just walk up to them and pick them up. Also, she will manage to tame them so that they’ll just sit on her hands and shoulders.

Those photos with water and hair flips are a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Water up the nose is a serious issue. Also if you have long hair, it requires serious back muscles to move the weight of the hair and water.
splash

Given the opportunity, a conference of writers will claim space in a lounge and gradually all the other people will leave because we’re talking about weird stuff.

While on a cruise, strangers will use the elevator ride to divulge random details about their lives. Sometimes this is delightful, other times it’s just weird.

If you put siblings into tiny cabins for a week, all the latent rivalries and tensions will come to the surface.

Day three is when kids melt down and want to go home. Day five is when they really settle in to the rhythms of ship life.

An autistic adult who is removed from most of his familiar routines, will need someone to be with him pretty constantly so that he doesn’t retract inward into loneliness and sadness. Also the newness of things means he can’t fully enjoy them. They have to repeat and become familiar before he can evaluate if he actually likes them.

When we are willing to be vulnerable with each other, a powerful connection can be formed in a very short span of time. Also a single sentence can tell a powerful story. I witnessed nine people take painful personal stories and distill them into a single sentence as part of an exercise. It was amazing.

My camera has settings that let me catch moon on water (If a bit dark and blurry). You can also see the constellation Orion if you look right of the moon.
moon-water

I need my trips to have spaces of unscheduled time so that I can process the experiences I’m having. I’m home now and life is moving onward. Some of those thoughts are going to be lost or buried unexamined.

I love writer people. (This isn’t a new thing I learned, but it is a thing I’ve been reminded of.)

Royal Caribbean has an entire Autism program. I knew that before embarking, but I thought it was kid focused so I didn’t tap into it on the ship. After disembarking I learned that they’re trained to help autistic adults as well. If I’d engaged with guest services we would have had a different week. But since every single hard thing opened up new knowledge and realizations for all of us, I’m not sure I’d trade away the week I had. If there is another time with my son along, I’ll have a conversation with guest services.

Sand and water are good for hours of entertainment, even when the kids are all grown up.
wave-and-sand

Sometimes when I make my kid go along on an excursion that he really doesn’t want to do, he will discover that he loves part of it. Same was true for dinners and shows. I need to make him do more things that make him uncomfortable so that his world can become larger.
snorkling

Sometimes it only takes small things to create happiness.

There are people who can understand what I’m dealing with and will give me hugs when stuff is hard.

The WXR staff is amazing. We watch out for each other and tell each other when to take time off or to nap. When an emergency comes up, everyone steps in and helps so that the conference proceeds smoothly while the emergency is managed. And happily the emergency was minor and resolved without any long term consequences.

Ships on the ocean leaves trails in the water, much like airplanes leave contrails in the sky.
water-trails

All of that, and I’ve only begun to mention the things I’ve learned in the last ten days. I wish I had the funds to travel more with my kids. I wish I had the time to travel more. I’m looking forward to next year’s WXR cruise in Europe.

I had a marvelous, wonderous, complicated, challenging, stressful, joyful, beautiful trip.

Garden Walk

My neighbor invited me to run away from responsibility for a few hours and join her for a wander through lovely gardens. I know better than to say no to that.
Archway

So we wandered paths and found hidden nooks where we could sit and visit.
The Bench

The garden is having a tulip festival, so there were many other people at the gardens with us, but that didn’t change the beauty of the flowers. And I managed to keep them out of most of my photographs, thus giving the illusion of a solo walk through beauty.
Stream side

Following the stream led us to the Monet pond. The waterlilies aren’t blooming yet, but the koi were abundant and beautiful.
Koi

Many of the flowers were familiar to me, even if I didn’t know the particular variety. There were tulips everywhere, of course.
Tulips skyward

Other flowers I’d never seen before, like this plant which was as large as my head, and seems to be related to a cabbage.
Cabbage flower

I think that the tulips I loved best were these ones, which were like sunlight in flower form, particularly when planted en masse.
Tulips bright cropped

As we were wending our way to the exit we were delighted to discover a flight of umbrellas hanging from the trees.
Umbrellas 1

If you’d told me before I saw them that a grouping of umbrellas could make me think thoughts of taking joyful flight, I would have had a hard time picturing it.
Umbrellas 2

I came home with a heart filled with happiness, a camera filled with pictures, and my head filled with hours of visiting with my friend. Sometimes running away is a beautiful thing.
Tulip 1

Flowers and Change

Tulip pink and yellow I’ve had tulips for as long as I’ve owned this house (18 years and counting). There was an abundance of them in the front flowerbed the first spring after I moved in. The thing with tulips is that most varieties of them will only come back for a few years before dying out. There are a few exceptions, mostly in bright yellow and solid red. Over the years I’ve dug up beds, redistributed tulip bulbs, bought new bulbs, and generally been a disturber of the earth. Some years I tend my flowers. Other years only the fittest will survive the incursion of weeds and neglect. Yet I’ve always had yellow tulips because they persistently grow and spread. One patch will die out, but another will thrive. In my backyard, yellow tulips are the only ones I have because I’ve not taken time to re-plant other colors. Except this spring I looked out my back window and saw a surprise. Pink tulips in my backyard flower beds. There are three of them in three different places and I don’t know how they got there. I’ve never seen pink in the back garden before. I know I didn’t do any planting last fall.

My mind spins on the puzzle as I stand at the window. I ruminate on spontaneous hybridization (happening identically in three locations) or an accidental scattering of seeds. I assume that tulips can grow from seeds though bulbs work much better. Then I stop myself. This is not a problem that needs a solution. I don’t need to know how they got there, I can just enjoy the fact that they are. tulip apricot and sky This is one of the things I love about seeing my garden year after year. It always changes. There is always some surprise or a new manifestation. This trio of apricot-colored tulips used to be giant and in classic tulip shape. Yet this year they are small and airy. It probably means that in another year or so they’ll vanish as tulip varieties so often do. Then I’ll plant some other tulip in that spot, or perhaps the lilies will take over. Each spring my flowerbeds change. They are different than the year before.

In fact the beds change not just year to year, but day to day. I’ve been noticing this as I spend five or ten minutes wandering outside with my camera in hand. I’m looking for things to photograph for my April photo a day that I’m posting on twitter. Some of the flowers I photographed only a week ago have lost their petals and are done for the year. Others have shown up where I didn’t expect a flower at all. And then there is the slow watching of plants and flowers developing. This peony won’t bloom until late May or June, but the buds are beginning to grow now. They’ve grow in just the past week.
Peony comparison 1 web

I’m always a little sad when I see the flowers begin to lose their petals. The tulips drop theirs fairly dramatically. One day flower, next day just a stem. For today the palm-sized petals are still lovely even on the ground. I know the tulips will be back again next year and they need to make way for the summer flowers which are just beginning to shoot up. Fallen petal 1 I wish that the serendipity of unexpected beauty were as easy to see as in my garden. I wish that emotional growth and development in my children were as simple to spot and photograph as the buds of my flowers. I wish that life made it easier to see that sad things sometimes have to happen because without them future happiness can’t be. I wish these things, but for now I’ll walk my flower beds and feel that the sorts of things I see there are happening in other parts of my life as well. Life is full of beautiful growth, but I won’t see it unless I stop and pay attention.