Life as I know It

My photo
San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Peaceable Kingdom

One day, as I worked in my gardens, I found a lizard clinging to the side of a terra cotta pot that held an old conifer. A jay swooped onto the top of the tree, and nearby, a hummingbird zipped between the blossoms of a pineapple sage. Butterflies visited flowers, a dragonfly hovered, and stopped to rest on a peach.

This beautiful dragonfly would hawk an insect out of the air and then return to rest on the peach.

I looked around and thought, this is my version of a peaceable kingdom. Sure, I have days when I think that the aphids and the gophers are conspiring to defeat me, but mostly I am in awe of how everything seems to work together to keep the garden (and me) healthy.

Let me introduce you to some of my friends. They're not flashy like butterflies, and maybe they're not your favorite garden dwellers, but if you get to know them, you'll realize how much they help to keep your garden thriving. I'd love to share their stories with you and would love it if YOU would share their stories with a child in your life. Gardens and children belong together. They make our lives richer in every way.

Frogs serenade us on warm spring evenings, but they're not just songsters; they also rid the garden of pests. 

I'm always cautious about washing aphids off my plants. When I look closely, I often find these aphid wolves feasting on the culprits. These look like little crocodiles with orange spots. They're the young of lady bird beetles (aka ladybugs). The aphid wolves are voracious, and they can out eat their parents (but isn't that true of lots of kids?).

Green Lacewings are gorgeous, but they're not predators; they feed on nectar and pollen. When you see one out in the garden at night, be sure to shine a flashlight on it. The large eyes will glow golden-orange. Lacewing eggs, which are small, pale, oblongs, are attached to leaves by long "stalks." I always think they look like some sort of undersea coral dweller. The eggs hatch and the young of the lacewings, which look like an alligator with pincers, will feed endlessly on mites, aphids, eggs, and more. 

My granddaughter Sara May and I watched this elegant caterpillar, which looks like a fine piece of enameled jewelry, turn into a gorgeous chrysalis, then an Anise Swallowtail butterfly. What a lesson of the circle of life.

I taught Sara to gently (GENTLY is the key word) touch the top of the caterpillars head. See the little orange spots on top? They are osmeterium (also called stink glands). They pop up (a great scare tactic and threat) and emit a strong odor, which discourages predators. 

A Monarch caterpillar. Oh, what a life this little beauty has ahead. Imagine being a fragile butterfly and migrating thousands of miles during your life.

Thousands of miles on paper-thin wings. How can we overlook such miracles?

Bumblebees make me happy. Look at this woolly bumble sipping nectar from a Echeveria bloom. Look closely at those legs. Can you see the golden pollen basket on the rear leg?, The bumble will pack the basket with nutritious pollen and carry it back to her nest. Can you see the long tongue (really a proboscis, which is a sucking tube). You can close your eyes in the garden and hear the deep rumble of a bumble bee. These native pollinators wear a soft, hairy jacket. They're able to get out into the garden on a cold day, long before honeybees are up and about. 

This beautiful alligator lizard patrols my garden and gobbles pests, larvae, and eggs. I love him (or her) and have seen this lizard dip into a tiny pond and swim.

My garden abounds with fence lizards. I love watching them hunt, do their push-ups in the sunshine, and bask like sunbathers. Yesterday, as I watered, this guy ran into the spray from the hose and took a long shower.

I don't have a great photo of a toad, but I do have this little painting I did of one in my herb garden. These plumpy-bumpy critters are some of the best pest patrollers you can have in your garden, eating dozens of bugs, centipedes, and slugs a day. And who can resist that wise old face and gorgeous golden eyes? I sure can't. Having a toad as a neighbor is a blessing.

Well friends, this is a short posting, but I have assignments to finish today and must get back to work. 

Thank you for all your support, your e-mails, Facebook ramblings, Pinterest input, etc. Phew, it is tough to keep up with you all.

One of my favorite mail order companies, Imagine Childhood, did a wonderful interview with me and posted it on their blog. If you visit Imagine Childhood and leave a comment before Thursday, you will be eligible to win one of my books AND a pottery toad house. 

Sending love across the miles, OH, and come hear me talk about organic gardening, nature, and publishing on Saturday, June 2nd at 2 P.M. at the Curious Cup Bookstore at 925 Linden, Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara). California! Y'all come!


P.S. Please drop by my recent Lowe's blog and leave a comment!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Entirely Happy Under the Sun

This is my new, little book (front and back covers)

You get the first peek of my new bird book, My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder, for children (regardless of age). See how it is packed inside a neat, window-mount feeder? The back of the feeder has a round porthole so kids can look through it and watch the birds in action. Ask for it in October 2012 or order now.

Dear Friends,

Thank you for writing and sharing all the adventures that you're having in your lives. I want to answer all your letters, but the new children's novel and some other projects (not to mention the garden) are stealing every waking (and some sleeping) hours.

Jump on by and visit the Imagine Childhood blog, which features a fun and personal interview with me. Please leave a comment, and you'll be eligible for their great give-aways. You can choose any one of my books AND a pottery toad cottage for your garden. Enjoy!

Carla and others who have written to ask for another video–here it is. I'm not great at this though, so forgive me for the shaking hands and moving too fast. Just as you look I am already moving on to something else. This video features half of my garden.

"I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy."

My Antonia (1918)
by Willa Cather

I'll do another video in a week or two. I am more myself, whatever that self is, when I am working in my garden. Whether I am weeding or just sitting, watching, and listening to the life of a garden, I am happy.

Sending love across the miles,


p.s. Come visit me on Saturday, June 2, at the Curious Cup Bookstore in Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara), California, at 2 p.m. for a free garden talk and Q and A about publishing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Version of the Chaos Theory

Do you want a simple (and not totally scientific) definition of the Chaos Theory? Well, I can reduce it down to one word. SPRING. Spring hit my garden, and it exploded with growth, seedlings, climbing vines, wildflowers, weeds, name it; I've got it, and it is out of control here.

Section of our front yard. Zillions of peaches and nectarines.

Each corner of the front beds boast handsome spears of silver artichokes (some of them are 6 feet tall)

Ten tall artichokes are producing like crazy. I can't get enough of them, and Jeff doesn't like them. Says they are too much work for too little food. I like the whole, satisfying act of scraping the leaf and eating the heart.
I run around at about 80 miles per hour. Don't do that because you'll soon find out (as I did) that you'll trip and do all sorts of horrible things to your body. The roses will bite you, the stone steps will remove your toenails, the hollyhocks will make a rash pop out on your sunburned arms, the stairs will trip you, and the constant lifting and bending will make you take to your bed with an ice pack and Ibuprofen. What a hobby.

Let's talk about weeds– you'll work on a patch, think it is totally clear, then turn around and find more sow thistle and dandelions that you somehow just didn't see the first time. And watch out; those over exuberant self sowing flowers that you thought you couldn't get enough of? YOU CAN get enough of them when they take over your carefully planned, mixed borders and turn them into a sea of love-in-a-mist (or? pick your plant) that tower over and shade everything.

They ARE glorious though.
Griping, no not really. Just stating facts, but I must also admit to loving every second of work. (I'll have to check and see if Jeff feels the same way. He helps me with all the heavy stuff.)

This pomegranate is blooming like crazy. I have high hopes for lots of fruit this year. This was the first fruit tree I planted here six years ago. Now there are 66. Jeff keeps saying that we don't have room for more, but I usually find another few inches of sunny space for ones I can't live without.
Ok, I'm a permissive parent. Hollyhocks are coming up everywhere... is borage, but who can get enough of this? It is popping up in containers too. Green lacewings deposit their eggs on borage, and the voracious young (aphid lions) of the lacewings love to eat aphids.
The delicious kitchen garden with a peek of my studio doors in back.

The borders around the kitchen garden entice children and birds. I am accustomed to Robins taking these berries, but lately the Scrub Jays have really been chowing down on them. These are delightful little fraises des bois.

Delicious and easy-to-grow chives are always a part of my borders.

Edible Sweet William flowers in the kitchen garden (aka potager) .

I plant Cecile Brunner roses wherever I garden. These sweet, thumb-sized flowers fill the air with their scent.
The back yard is crowded with figs, grapes, apples, apricots, kumquats, Mandarin orange, Washington navel orange, loquat, strawberries, nepeta, poppies, blanket flower, salvia, red osier dogwood and more. Heaven for me.
Sorry I've been away so long, but too much has been going on. I finished my article for Country Gardens magazine, and I just finished writing all the captions for the photos. I think the piece will be coming out in the Fall issue. I'll let you know as soon as I know. The piece is fun and shows a bit of the inside of our home. The bad is that I had just been in the hospital with a drug reaction to sulphur and my face literally looks like a pink pumpkin. I could barely open my eyes in the photo, so please excuse the way I look. Yikes.

If you'd like to see me with my normal face, please join me at the Curious Cup Bookstore, a wonderful, independent book store in Carpinteria, California, on Saturday, June 2 at 2:00 p.m. for a demo and booksigning. (Click here for more upcoming appearances.)

I've also been working on other assignments, reviewing books for a university to help them decide if they want to publish the book, and finishing my middle grade novel. I have about 10,000 words to go.

My granddaughter Sara has been totally involved in the process of my writing this and listens to every word, then adds comments, asks salient questions, and really helps me write from the viewpoint and with the voice of an eleven year old. I love the process of writing; it is similar to the process of gardening.

One of my favorite writing quotes is:

"Better to write for yourself and have no public,
than to write for the public and have no self."
Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)

Our WINNER of the fantastic antique quilted cow pillow is  Julie Marie of Congratulations, Julie Marie.  (e-mail us your mailing address) Julie Marie is a member of the Grimy Hands Girls (and Men's) Club so she'll receive a bonus gift.

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. Please visit my newest Lowe's Creative Ideas blog posting. Also visit Dee Nash's great posts, well heck, visit them all. They're filled with great ideas and inspiration.

P.P.S. I just attended the Cayucos Street flea market. We arrived late because I have this feeling that if something is meant for me, it will be there. And it was! This mid-1800 paint box if filled with raw minerals, a glass mortar, the slab of Stoke-on-Trent ceramic tile for mixing paints, a bottle of gold dust, and a slate pencil. I feel so lucky to have found it.

Look at the lovely writing and the beautiful blue pigment. Amazing.