Monday, January 24, 2011

A return to self

early sign of spring coming: euphorbia tips
Life was different this weekend. The majority of it was spent outside, in the fresh air, working and breathing deep, being once again in the garden. It was the first garden work day of 2011, and today's sore legs and lower back are proof, beyond the two truckloads of yard debris we hauled away, there was much to do.

Last fall we left the garden for the birds, and after some major editing, didn't refill some major holes in the garden beds. Perennials needed to be cut down, and tough love has begun on some much needed pruning.

Proof of tough love:
tough love in the garden
Copicing one of three black elderberries in the garden: this one will be more of a shrub than a tree, thanks to tough love.

It's so bare in our garden, form and structure are apparent, so tough love was applied to wisteria, dogwood, and a variety of shrubs. More proof of tough love:
Tough love wisteria, tough love
The wisteria responds well to tough love, and without it, will grow into our roof line. No no.

There are no beautiful photos of lush garden to share with you, no flowing waves of pink blooms and black foliage. Now is the time of year I relish the excitement of uncovering a wee bed of tiny violets in bloom, the lichen on the north facing tree trunks, and the bright green moss covering one side of the fence:
The January garden in Portland
Okay yes, I may have over saturated the photo a bit from reality, but still, it's pretty green with moss.

Crowns are forming on the base of sedum, and bulbs are showing themselves a few inches above soil. I haven't taken tough love to the roses yet, but that's a whole other (dangerous) day I'll tackle in the coming month, hopefully if we're gifted with a day like Saturday. This year, the roses are getting a hard prune.

This Saturday was a return to self. A return to seeing the sun, shadow, and colors. I saw Mt Hood in her majestic snow-cloaked glory, and the colors of buildings warm in the rosy sunshine. I could have sworn Mt Hood had shades of pink, too. We visited with neighbor after neighbor, many greeting for the first time of the year. Gardening in your front yard is like that. We caught up on lives, gardens, summer plans and dogs. Yes, there was a lot of laughter in there too, and maybe some neighborly gossip.

Soon my gardening column at Just Out will begin again for the season, and already, I've been visiting my favorite and new favorite garden blogs, dreaming and taking notes for the coming year. I talked with a grower at the Hillsdale Farmers Market this weekend, and new connections are being made. It's starting to feel abuzz a bit, and the little things AdRi and I experienced together this weekend—like finding ladybugs alive and kicking among the composting leaves and getting buzzed by hummers drinking from the feeder—reminded us of life in the garden. As it awakes, so do we.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I put a bird on it

My holiday twig has transformed in the new year.
I put a bird on it.
Yes I did. I put a bird on it.

I love Portlandia almost as much as I love Portland. How did they know I love birds?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mama's lil' helper

Mama's little helper
It's amazing what a little blast of color from a shocking flower arrangement does for me. Fish oil, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B6, elderberry, st. john's wort, lightbox therapy, exercise, primrose oil: I've pulled out the big guns in self care this winter.

But my friend protea here? She makes everything feel just right.
My friend protea

See? You feel better now right? I'll be right over here researching airfare to tropical locations.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A wintertime shot

a shot of color in a grey winter
For my fellow northern gardeners, here's a shot of color for you. Happy Friday!

Okay, okay, I'll write more than just that. But that's how I'm feeling. Grey, grey and more grey, what can I write about during these grey winters when there's no tending to the garden? Yes, yes, I can read the seed catalogs. Perhaps I'll do that this evening. But honestly? We have such great nurseries here I'm getting most of my plants from starts this year. I know. Can you believe it? It's time to admit: there are some things I am successful at, and others I'm not. On the latter end, houseplants and seedstarting. My poinsettias died a long slow death here, well, not that slow, but once they entered our front door, they began their rapid descent. It's my special touch. And seedstarting? It's my moldy touch. Mold starting is what I do.

The photo above is a lovely mass planting of red twig dogwood, as seen in South Waterfront here in Portland. We have two of these in our garden, and seeing how these were grown, I'm going to make sure to cut ours down to the ground this summer. It is the new growth that turns the brightest of reds in the winter. My light touch in pruning in the garden? Not this year. There shall be great pruning.

But for now? Back to the grey. Hang in there. It's winter.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Transition through fire: letting go and moving on

Letting go of 2010
Fire is a tool for beginning and endings. For pauses, reflections. For a transitional point in your story, like rain in a movie signifies a new stage or epiphany for the main character.

I think, then, it's fitting, that last night we stood outside, around a fire, while a few large raindrops fell on and around us. The fire of letting go of 2010 (much like the fire of 2009) was finally held, 9 days after the new year began.

I wrote eight words on pieces of paper to be burned in that fire. Things to let go of from the past year. Emotions, actions, deeds: time to let them go. Included in that was my ponytail. And no, it did not smell.

AdRi set up the fire, we burned some applewood, it smelled lovely, actually. Despite the few raindrops, portions of the sky were clear and open, and the moon swung low with the north star at its side. Cold and crisp, dark—very dark—it was the perfect way to let go of 2010, and finally, say hello to the new year, 2011. Great plans for 2011, this, the new year of the decade. And it feels good to let go of 2010.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Warming from the inside out: champurrado

hot champurrado
We've been having those cold as a witch's tit in a brass bra in the middle of winter days. That means, it's been cold here. I had a warming cup of tea the other day, followed by hot towels on my face thanks to a truly wonderful facial, and I think it was there, and under my giant waterfall rain shower head, that I finally got warm. When it's cold, it can take a while.

But there's another way, and it comes through drinking a mug of champurrado. Yes, those double r's mean you roll them, and feel free to do so with grand sweeping hand movements, or with a punching of the fist forward. Champurrado is a great sounding word delivering warmth from the inside out when you drink it.


I first fell in love with champurrado in San Jose del Cabo, a little town in Baja California of Mexico. Hot, thick, chocolate, I literally felt it warming me as I drank it. (Actually, I think I may have panicked a bit about its warmth: it's thick, and hot, and I thought I could be literally cooking my insides. Sip this carefully! Hot drink!) While it wasn't the coldest of nights, I knew it was perfect for warming the cold Northwest winters.

Champurrado is a kind of atole, a hot drink made with masa, or corn flour. Atole is AdRi's favorite, and is made with fruit for flavors like strawberry or with vanilla. But champurrado is chocolate, and uses mexican chocolate, masa, milk and a raw form of sugar called piloncillo (it still has the molasses in it and comes in the shape of a small cone). Some recipes call for condensed or evaporated milk, but I went looking for the real thing, using whole ingredients, and this is what I came up with.

piloncillo with chocolate in the background

If you're cold and missing a trip to Mexico this winter like I am, head to your local tienda and acquire the basic ingredients to make your own champurrado. (A pedicure to reintroduce you to your toes this winter may also help.)


2 1/2 cups milk (we used 1%)

2 cones of piloncillo

1 disk mexican chocolate, chopped coursely

1/3 cup masa

1 1/2 cups water

In a blender, blend the masa with the water until smooth. Pour into saucepan and add milk, chopped chocolate and piloncillo. Heat over medium heat, whisking as you go. Sugar and chocolate will melt, and champurrado will thicken. If you're using a wooden spoon, the champurrado should coat the back of your spoon in thickness. Too thick? You have pudding, add more milk. Pour into mugs and enjoy.

You can listen to AdRi and I talk about champurrado, atole, and another hot drink from her childhood, on this week's Lelo Homemade here. (She pronounces champurrado much more beautifully than I do.)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Link love: things I'm seeing and digging right now

I love hanging baskets, but this is the largest hanging basket EVER. How crazy fun.

The average person complains between 15 and 30 times per day and this post has had enough of it. Love this piece shining light on complaining and committing to positive. Here here.

I have sketch books. Lots of them. Ideas, sketches, clippings, they all live in these for projects mainly professional but sometimes also home or garden projects too. I've been oogling over these sketchbooks. Yummers. So voyeuristic into someone elses creative process.

What if it's not the content of your photos, but how you frame their composition? This has stayed with me for some reason. Unusual and lovely.

In my visioning for the year, I'm building a playlist of songs. This is the first...

Monday, January 03, 2011

Blue sky Portland

Blue sky Portland
It's funny how grateful I can be for the simplicity of blue skies when you live in a place where they can be few and fleeting during many months of the year. I'm grateful for Portland teaching me this lesson.

Fleeing Southern California many moons ago, I left a place where blue skies were the norm, and I grew up wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts year round. I don't miss that life one bit—don't be fooled by my waxing poetically about blue sky. You don't realize what you have when you have it all of the time, and you certainly don't have the extreme beauty of seasonal changes: spring blooms, fall color, the quiet of snow as it covers a neighborhood.

A friend recently reminded me without the dark, there can be no light. And that is how it is with winter, with sunshine, and with rain. I so value this dark time of year to be introspective, mindful, focused, and questioning, but when that sun comes out? I go to it like a meth head jonesing for a fix. (You thought I was going to use a lovely nature inspired analogy there? Ha!)

Go to the sun, fellow winterbees. Drink it in, feel the Vitamin D curse through your veins. Fill up your sunshine tank and bask in the euphoria of your high. I certainly am.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

It's a new year

And a new year, calls for new things.

It began a few weeks back. AdRi was away on the east coast, coaching a baby out of her sister. I told her she should have brought her softball glove, but she opted to leave it at home. The baby still came, and she indeed did catch it, and we have a beautiful new nephew to add to the growing brood of nieces and nephews and babies galore. And rumor is this summer may see the return of Camp R.

But I digress. New things. Case in point #1:

Chop chop. Time to let a few things go and lighten the load.
chop chop

You can see the updated version in my About Me page there at the top of the blog, which, by the way, is a fairly new addition here. There's also this page to check out, if you like.

There are so many things brewing in my cauldron for the new year, and today I plan to stir it up a bit. I can't possibly write all about them in one post, so over the course of the coming days I'll share bits and pieces with you here. But here are a few thoughts....

Last year my word for the year was Shine. I wrote about it here. And while I didn't ask myself every day how I was going to shine that day, I have been reflecting these past few weeks on how Shine was instilled in my life throughout the year, and it is amazing to me.....

For the first time in my career, I entered my work in a design competition—the most prestigious of competitions in my book—and I won. I MC'd a fundraising event, I was recognized with Most Future Thinking Master Gardener of the Year. We hosted a fundraising event in our garden for a national and a local LGBT organization. I donated over 300 hours in volunteer and pro bono time to causes, political candidates, and organizations I believe are working to make the world a better place. I started a podcast. There are many more things to add to this, but these are a handful of ways I incorporated Shine into my life, and my life reflected it back to me, ten-fold. There is a powerful tool here; part manifestation, focus, dreaming, hard work....and it's so easy to rush right on and move on to the next....the next list of to-dos, or goals, and we all know those are never-ending. Instead, I've forced myself to reflect and capture the past year, to look at it, to tally some numbers and hold things in my hands, to examine it closely and acknowledge where I've set the bar and jumped over it, and where I didn't.

But now it's a new year, my long hair is gone, and I'm ready to step into a new one. Are you ready? I am. Let's do this thing.