Bowling Ball Garden Art

I’ve become a Pinterest junkie. There are so many great ideas that I can (and have) implemented around the house. I’ve found plants I want to grow, recipes I want to try, lots of words of wisdom to take to heart. But I’m always looking for cheap and easy ways to decorate my house and yard. My latest addition to the family: the sparkly bowling ball!

Pinterest had dozens of ideas of things to do with bowling balls. Most of those ideas involved a fair bit of work. Some even involved a fair bit of expense. Neither work nor expense are part of what I like to do! Here’s what I did:


First, I got a bowling ball. It was free on Craigslist. I couldn’t have actually bowled with this thing, it was too heavy for me. But I could lift it well enough to work with it!


Then I went to the Dollar Store. They had flat back marbles in assorted colors. My bowling ball was red, but I really liked the ocean colors in one of the marble sets. (I got 5 bags.)

I found some silicon adhesive at home; I ended up needing to get another tube. Cost: about $4.

I already had a stand from a gazing ball that broke.



All I did was put a blob of glue on the flat part of each marble, and then stuck the marble on the bowling ball. Then I repeated this process about a zillion times (to cover most of the ball, I just omitted the area right by the prongs of the stand that would directly touch the bowling ball.


Garden art is also a great way to reduce water in your garden; you don’t have to have quite so many plants (which require water) when you can add artwork to the yard!


Cheap, sparkly, and easy. What’s not to love?



Rose Gardening During Drought



garden1Roses aren’t just mere pretty flowers to me. Growing roses has been a wonderful hobby of mine since I used to help my father in his Maryland garden when I was a kid. When I moved to California and we bought our house, I inherited 12 rose bushes. My rose garden has changed a lot over the years; it’s moved around to various places in the yard, it’s contained as many as 100 rose bushes of varying types, and it has seen ebbs and flows in terms of how much care it has received from me. Growing roses has been a great hobby for me and it has allowed me to become friends with a lot of folks that I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. But now growing them is a significant challenge due to the severe drought here in California.

I used to be a fairly serious rose exhibitor. I haven’t been as involved for the past few years, and the drought has convinced me that I really don’t NEED to exhibit. (My competitive juices have waned anyway.) I enjoy helping other people exhibit far more than I feel the need to do so myself. In order to be a successful exhibitor, you need to START with very well hydrated roses. You simply won’t get quality, sizeable blooms otherwise. But just because I don’t feel like exhibiting doesn’t mean I don’t still want a nice rose garden.




Roses are by nature water hogs. Ideally, they like to get about 1″ (or roughly 5-6 gallons) of water per large bush per week. They’re not exactly drought tolerant. But I’m not willing to give up my beloved hobby because of the drought. There are things that I can do to mitigate the effects of reduced water.

I had a plan, way back in January, of how I would deal with possible water rationing in my yard. I implemented a few of these ideas, and others have just not happened (despite my best intentions). But here’s the original plan:

  • Change the goal of having exhibition-quality blooms to keeping the bushes alive.
  • Cut back on fertilizer, to reduce the quantity of blooms and new growth. (The reality this year: I didn’t fertilize AT ALL.)
  • Cut back on water 20% (which is what Governor Brown requested all Californians to do across the board).
  • Mulch heavily. (This year’s reality: the front yard is heavily mulched (thanks to my fantastic neighbor who needed to get rid of the remnants of a huge pine tree – and HE spread the mulch for me! The back yard has some mulch left from when I last added some a few years ago, but really needs a lot more. It’s high on my To Do list, although I may end up waiting for the Labor Day sales at the garden centers.)
  • Don’t cut back the spent blooms so severely. This was a suggestion from American Rose Society President, Jolene Adams, when she spoke about drought at a meeting of the Santa Clara County Rose Society. Cutting each cane back far down the cane just makes the rose want to produce a lot of new growth, which requires a lot of water. (This year, I have not deadheaded on any consistent basis, and many of the roses have formed hips. While I have had reduced quantities of blooms on each bush, the plants are still alive and fairly healthy.
  • Don’t plant anything new. It’s easier to keep an established rose alive with reduced water than trying to introduce a new baby into the mix. New roses need extra TLC, and I’m not giving any of that this year.
  • Use an antitranspirant. Some friends of mine have used antitranspirants (like Cloud Cover) successfully in reducing disease in their garden. They have even been able to exhibit roses, since the concentration of antitranspirant they use is extremely low (*I can’t remember the exact percentage they use, it’s either 1% or 5% I think.*). (This year’s reality: I had planned to use about a 25-30% solution of antitranspirant in water since I wasn’t going to exhibit – you can’t use that high a concentration without having it show on the rose foliage, and your entry could be disqualified for having a “foreign substance” on it. I got as far as purchasing the antitranspirant. Maybe next year…)

Careful irrigation is another key to drought gardening. Even though there isn’t a whole lot of existing mulch left in my back rose garden, the roses are still doing well because I have a very reliable Netafim drip irrigation system there. Netafim is basically like using a soaker hose, so when you don’t have emitters that can clog, the maintenance is minimal. Putting in the Netafim system a bunch of years ago was the smartest thing I ever did, since I used to lose a few roses each summer due to clogged emitters in my old system.

The front rose garden (which only has about 10 roses, half of which are miniatures) has not fared quite as well because it still has the old emitter-based irrigation. As a result, a couple of roses are suffering because of clogged/damaged emitters that I didn’t catch for a while.  I have some surgery to do on that system ASAP. Have I mentioned how much I detest dealing with irrigation issues?

I made a conscious decision to sacrifice blooms this year in order to keep the roses alive. (I also let part of my lawn die so that any available water could go to the roses. If the drought worsens, the rest of the lawn is going. I know where my priorities lie.)

I’m hoping that this winter we will have an El Niño, and our reservoirs will fill up again. But I’m not going to bank on it. I am researching rain barrels and other types of water storage so that perhaps I can mitigate the high water bills that roses induce. And there’s also the usual water conservation tasks to implement, like catching the warm-up water from the shower in a bucket and then using that on the landscaping. Or catching the rinse water from washing vegetables and taking that out to the garden. Lots to think about, lots to try to implement. But letting the roses die is simply not an option.


August….Some Goal Setting


Inertia often wins in this house. I’ve got a whole encyclopedia of excuses (some of which have actually been perfectly valid). I am famous for starting projects and never finishing them. (I get bored. I’m also starting to think I have a bit of ADD.) Concentration, let alone determination to get a task accomplished, is a really variable commodity. I have two friends who have encouraged me to set goals: Major Julie (who gets a frightening lot done while holding down a full time job and having a menagerie of kids and animals at home), and Sarah from Things I Make. (Sarah manages to quilt/sew, decorate stunningly beautiful cookies, and chase around two amazingly active and articulate children.) I am in awe of what they can accomplish over the course of a day.

So in that spirit, I am going to Make Some Goals for August. These goals reflect all sorts of aspects of my life, like fixing up the house and garden, dealing with my digital nightmares, and getting organized. I figured if I blog about it, you can all hold me accountable if I don’t get ‘em done. Plus, I get to make lists, and crossing items off my lists is one of the greatest joys of my life.

So here’s my list of goals for August. I am hopeful that I didn’t bite off more than I can chew. What do you think, am I being realistic?

  • Read 2 books. (Currently checked out of the library: August: Osage County  by Tracy Letts, and Drive by Daniel Pink (who spoke at Sarah’s college graduation and was fantastic). Cookbooks do NOT enter into the 2-books/month equation.
  • Fix all irrigation problems. I’ve mentioned before that dealing with irrigation is the bane of my life. I have several areas in the front yard, and at least 2 in the backyard that have issues. I’ve managed to avoid large water bills by turning off various stations, but even in the front yard (where the water is still ON), I have dying roses. Unacceptable.
  • Add mulch to the back rose bed. This will take a LOT of mulch. But it should help keep the roses hydrated.
  • Get the carpets cleaned. This requires cleaning up huge messes around the house before a steam cleaner can even enter the premises.
  • Get skylight film installed. I am hopeful that this will help our dining room be a comparable temperature to the rest of the house. (It’s currently a LOT warmer.)
  • Move photo albums. We have stored our non-digital photo albums in a server in our dining room. Problem is that when they are located there, nobody looks at them. My “ah-ha” mment occurred when I was at a friend’s house and saw that she had hers on her bookcases. Why didn’t I think of that? Maybe then I can actually enjoy all those photos that I took over the years…
  • Organize and shrink all my digital photos. For some stupid reason, photos taken with an iphone are usually about 2M in size. Ridiculous. I need to shrink them down and then I bet I can backup all my data far more easily. This process will not be trivial. (WHY are they so huge? I need to find an app to shrink them before I transfer them to my computer.)
  • Get on the exercise bike 3 times/week. (I have never managed to have the self discipline to do this on any consistent basis.)
  • Update this blog 3 times (this entry doesn’t count). It’s not like I haven’t had anything to say….

I’m hopeful. And I’m working on nullifying all those excuses that get in the way of my being productive. (And this doesn’t factor in any of the started crafts projects that I really ought to get done, but…there are only so many hours I can potentially waste in a day!)

How do YOU stay engaged in getting things done?

Beef Veggie Soup from Memory


Many years ago, when I still lived in Maryland, my parents and I used to frequent a lot of craft shows, festivals, and the like. One of our favorite shows was the annual fall festival in Thurmont, MD. Invariably the weather would be cool and brisk, and there’d always be some vendor who was smart enough to serve a phenomenal beef vegetable soup.

Then I discovered that one of my co-workers, Liz Smith (are you out there, Liz?) regularly made this soup up at her farm in West Virginia. She had a big garden and did lots of canning, so she always made huge quantities of this soup. But she used a pressure cooker to cook the beef, and that always intimidated me, so I never got around to making it.

Years passed. I moved to California and lost touch with Liz (although thankfully I have reconnected with many of my other old buddies from the National Agricultural Library). And as I’ve become increasingly adventurous with cooking, I decided to see if I could recreate this soup – a dish I hadn’t tasted in over 30 years. I am convinced, however, that there is a distinct connect between taste buds and memories, and figured this would be a reasonable experiment. So I dug out Liz’s recipe and made some modifications. Here’s what I started with:


And then there was the beef…


The first potential problem was cooking the beef. I still didn’t have (or want) a pressure cooker, so I seasoned the beef with salt and pepper, and then opted to brown the chuck roast in a big pot and then finish cooking it in the oven. Liz’s recipe cooked the chuck roast in a cup of water with a bouillon cube; I opted for a can of consomme and about a half a can of water.



While the beef was cooking, I started prepping and assembling all of the veggies. Liz’s recipe called for quantities like “quarts of tomatoes” and “quarts of green beans.” I didn’t have any of that. So I took some wild guesses and started throwing ingredients together.

Once the beef was cooked, I took it out to rest for a few minutes on a cutting board. Then I skimmed off the surface fat from the broth.


Next, I chopped any veggies that needed to be chopped,  and then added them to the broth.


Then came all of the veggies.


Next, I cut the beef into small pieces and added them back into the broth along with the remaining seasonings.


Oops! This pot wouldn’t hold everything AND the remaining liquid (still to be added)…how about another pot?


Much better! Finally, I added the tomato juice and mixed everything together.


Yup, that fit a LOT better!

I brought it all to a boil, and then let it simmer for an hour (it’s done once the potatoes are tender).

Liz and the various festival vendors always added some sort of noodles (e.g. elbow macaroni) to the mix at the end, but I decided to leave it out. I like it both ways.

Served with some crusty bread, it makes a great meal on a sloppy winter’s day.



Beef Veggie Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American
Serves: a small country
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
  • 2 lb. chuck roast
  • 1 can consomme
  • ½ can water
  • 1 package frozen green beans
  • 1 package frozen corn
  • 1 package frozen peas
  • 4 handfuls baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • tomato juice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • handful of dried parsley
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 can lima beans, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups elbow macaroni noodles, cooked (optional)
  1. Brown chuck roast in 2 TBSP oil in a dutch oven. Add consomme and water. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours, or until tender. Remove beef from broth, skim fat from surface. Chop/shred beef, return to pot.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to the pot.
  3. Bring to boil, then turn down heat and simmer for an hour or until potatoes are tender.
  4. Optional: add cooked noodles at the end of cooking time.



Getting Home Shouldn’t Be So Hard

Oh, the jet lag. This is just one of the by-products of a big trip to Australia/New Zealand. While the trip was fabulous, I had no idea that merely getting home could be such an arduous “adventure.” It’s yet another reason why maintaining a sense of humor is not only important, it’s vital.

We’d been away from home for over a month, culminating in a few days visiting friends in Melbourne. After all the previous traveling, it was wonderful to just unwind and visit (and play with an adorable 1-year-old, who really bonded with Larry). We flew back up to Sydney the night before the first leg of our scheduled flight(s) home, thinking that we’d get a decent night’s sleep near the airport and be able to get to the airport easily in the morning.


We arrived at our hotel near the airport, exhausted, but without incident. But that’s where all sense of normalcy ended. We checked into what was probably one of the smallest hotel rooms ever; there was a structural pole in the middle of the room, and there were about 4 inches around the sides of the bed in which one could move. We were sufficiently tired that we figured we could deal, and got ready for bed.

As I pulled the covers off the bed, a giant cockroach scampered out from beneath the blankets. I was sufficiently freaked that I didn’t get a chance to kill Megabug; it wisely headed under the bed where I couldn’t get to it. There was no way I was crawling into that bed, so we called the front desk attendant.

The attendant then showed up in our room with a can of roach spray. I was not keen on staying in the same room after the spraying of pesticides, so we were moved into another room (the hotel was going to clean up our room in time for some other folks who were checking in later that evening). So far, so good. The pole in that room was all the way on the side, so it didn’t interfere with normal movement and gave us a few more inches of space. We thought all was well.


About half an hour after we’d gone to sleep, we were jolted awake when our heads were sprayed with cold water. It seems that the air conditioner, which was located on the wall over our heads, decided to spew water all over us. Strangely enough, even though Larry turned the entire unit off, it continued to blow frigid air (to the point where the room became an icebox) as well as spray water. The front desk could do nothing for us; there were no available rooms left in the hotel and given it was the middle of the night, there were no repair people available. We ended up shoving the bed against the far wall (which was only about 3 feet away) and attempted to sleep.


Larry was unable to sleep after all this nonsense, but was able to determine that if he rolled up a towel and put it on the ledge underneath the air conditioner, he could stop most of the spray from reaching the bed. This worked well until each towel became saturated and fell onto the floor from the weight of the water. So every few hours, Larry came back, picked up the fallen towel, and replaced it with a dry one. When he wasn’t on towel duty, he ended up hanging out in the lobby (where there was NO ONE but the shuttle driver around). I managed to scrunch down to the end of the bed and cover my head with the blankets. Sheer exhaustion won.

I woke up in the morning feeling like something was crawling up my leg – I couldn’t find anything (and this could have been purely psychosomatic), but I jumped out of bed anyway. Larry came in and asked me how I wanted to deal with paying for the room. Based on the look on my face, he decided to turn me loose on the front desk attendants.

Strangely enough, I didn’t even need to rant in order to get a full refund. Merely complaining about how unacceptable our accommodations were in a calm voice did the trick. Score 1 for civility. For once.

Once we arrived at the Sydney airport, we discovered that our connection in Fiji (from Nadi to LA) was canceled. Apparently scheduling a flight without actually having a plane available isn’t all that unusual. This became especially problematic since I was scheduled to work on Monday. Then again, I was seriously becoming confused as to what the current day was. That pesky International Dateline thing kept rearing its ugly head. No worries, I’d just let my boss know about the snafu.


For some bizarre reason, the international terminal at the Sydney airport does not have wifi. Anywhere. The domestic terminals do, but not international. If there is a hidden message in here somewhere, I am missing it. At any rate, I managed to find a terminal that provided free Internet access via some random provider, so I was able to access email and let my boss know I would be AWOL.

Ok. No worries, we got to Nadi, Fiji, where apparently it’s a sauna. Washington, DC in August pales in comparison.

Those of us trying to get to LA were herded like sheep (and yes, I know what this looks like, I was just in New Zealand) through a series of lines where we were eventually told that we couldn’t fly out until Sunday morning. And we had to be back at the airport to check in at 4:30 AM.

It took about 40 minutes to get a shuttle bus from the hotel that was literally across the street from the airport to pick us up, but we were dropped at the hotel and the hotel folks were really nice. They helped us deal with our luggage, provided a room that was three times the size of the one in Sydney (and the roaches were the size of a dime, and limited to the bathroom, at least initially). They provided us a nice dinner, even with ice cream for dessert, in a room so heavily air conditioned that when we left it, our glasses immediately fogged up.

An actual human being gave us our wake-up call at 4:15, and we staggered out to the shuttle and got to the airport at 4:30 AM. Even at that hour, the climate was crazy hot and humid. But the Nadi, Fiji airport had it covered, with air conditioners like this:

(I did mention that a sense of humor was required, right? Here’s Larry, putting forth his best effort at 4:30 AM with piles of luggage. And it was his birthday.)

We had hopes that we could still get home on Sunday (given that International dateline thing), albeit very late.


We landed in LA at about 8:30, and it took so long to get our luggage and get through customs (which we had to do before the airline would book us a connection) that we were too late and were herded yet again through a series of lines that culminated in our being told we’d have to stay overnight in LA and have to get home to San Jose on Monday morning. The day really took a lousy turn when we realized that Larry had left his ipad – a birthday present from last year – on the plane. On his birthday.

Fortunately, we got to stay at the Hilton at LAX. Beautiful place, decent food, really nice people. Downright luxurious after the last two nights. I can’t even fathom how much the airline had to shell out for this place…(the place in Fiji was listed at $165!)

We’d had the foresight to schedule our trip home for 11 AM so that ostensibly we’d have time to check with lost and found at LAX for the ipad, and not have to get up at o-dark 30 again. We were SO close to actually getting home.


Strangely, American Airlines had no record of Air Pacific’s booking for us at 11 AM. There was a supervisor at the counter, so after about 30 minutes of finagling, she managed to get us seats on that flight. At least she got Larry a seat. We had to deal with the resurgence of a problem that had occurred when we first LEFT on our trip: somewhere in the booking process and many changes of flight information by the airlines, my last name was truncated. Therefore, the name on my passport didn’t match the name of the reservation and TSA will not let you onto a plane under those circumstances.

This was supposed to be fixed back on 11/3 when we left; we had spent an hour on the phone with the airlines, had to miss our flight to LA from San Jose, and ended up paying to get the name changed on the reservation AND having to buy a ticket from another airline (since AA had no available flights for us). This was FIXED, or else I wouldn’t have been able to leave San Jose. Why was this rearing its ugly head AGAIN?

Apparently Air Pacific had exchanged the ticket to be under my correct name, but did not give any indication to American Airlines what the exchange was FOR. 30 minutes later and multiple calls to Air Pacific (which apparently does not answer its telephones with any regularity), I had a ticket.

But then there was the issue of luggage. American thought that we were restricted to 2 checked bags. We had 3. We had not previously paid for any bag fees. American thought that we needed to pay for the 3rd bag. Then they couldn’t figure out how much to charge us for said bag. At one point they wanted to charge us by the kilo since we’d started out in Australia and that’s what they do there, with a cost of $273 for the one bag.

ANOTHER 30 minutes later, the American counter person said that the system was no longer asking for bag fees, so we somehow got the bag covered without cost. I have no idea what happened.

Larry had about 20 minutes to run next door to the Air Pacific counter to see about lost and found items. Unfortunately nobody was there. He figured his ipad was gone forever. What a lousy birthday.

We got on the plane and finally arrived home on Monday about 1 PM. Even the huge piles of mail did not affect my sense of relief.

But the most incredible thing occurred: Larry got an email from the airline saying that it had found his ipad and wanted to make arrangements to get it back to him. WOW.

So while getting home was incredibly hard, the vacation was fabulous. More on that soon. Once the jet lag abates.