Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter beauty

One of the highlights of our Easters when I was growing up was a trip to the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota.  As children, wearing our new patent leather shoes and Easter bonnets, we looked forward to it. A family of eight, I'm sure my Dad was happy that a tour for all of us only cost a free-will donation.

One room of the large, beautiful greenhouse was dedicated to lilies. Another had a stream with lily pads and beautiful orchids, gardenia and tropical flowers. The exhibits changed with the seasons, but always featured plants in full bloom.

Aaah, the sweet fragrance from those fresh blooms. I can smell it yet.

Yesterday's Easter Sunday offered a similar treat when we toured the Boyce Thompson arboretum in Superior, Arizona, a pleasant half-hour drive for us.

What awaited us there was the true beauty of the desert: Trails of exquisite flowering cacti, and a greenhouse with rare species of endangered plants from all over the world. An Australian walkabout. A children's horticultural garden. A hummingbird and butterfly garden.

An afternoon of beauty and pure pleasure, with blue skies and a spring breeze offered another delightful Easter treasure.

Cactus flowers have a mild fragrance, but there were flowering bushes and trees as well. The breeze allowed their perfumes to waft through the trails and was most enjoyable.

This tangled cactus in the Chihuahuan desert is unique.

The children's garden for climbing, touching and smelling
is full of surprises to "tickle the senses."

The Australian walkabout

Over 300 species of cacti and succulents
are displayed throughout the gardens.

Prickly pear in bloom

I love tea roses. They have always been my favorite flower, especially white ones.

Roses were first developed and grown in Europe, I learned, and the tea rose originates from China.

This gorgeous tea rose tree grows in the arboretum's Heritage Rose Garden.  Yellow, pink, white and red roses perfumed the area around it.

We didn't think we had the stamina (sorry to say) for the rugged, higher trail climb. But it looked inviting and worth getting in shape for hiking. The trail follows the cliff side through the Upper Sonoran natural area.

Can you see the steps leading up to the trail?

Perhaps this will become a new tradition: an Easter visit to the arboretum, much like our traditional tour of the Como conservatory.

That's definitely worth the anticipation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A royal wedding

The anticipation is building as news broadcasters keep reminding us that it is almost time for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. April 29. Now less than two weeks away.

Coverage of the wedding is scheduled to begin at 2:00 in the morning. I'll be sure to set my alarm. 

But in the event that I will likely sleep right through the night, we are sure to see it repeated, repeated, and repeated again throughout the days to follow.

Planning this wedding has to be akin to producing a Broadway musical. Bigger, actually, because the entire city of London is getting an extreme makeover to prepare for the big day.

The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment have been busy rehearsing for their role. Two choirs, the London Chamber Orchestra, and two fanfare teams will perform. It is a huge production.

If I were William and Kate, I might steal away to a remote island and be wed in private. Then announce it and fool the whole world.  But wouldn't we all feel cheated?

While we are all set to watch the beautiful occasion on television, I am reminded of similar royal events we were invited to join via television: Prince Charles' and Lady Diana's wedding, Princess Diana's funeral with Elton John performing Goodbye, England's Rose. There wasn't a living room anywhere that didn't have viewers with dry eyes.

But the most memorable Royal occasion for me was the crowning of Queen Elizabeth.

A while back, I told you of the little duplex our family lived in during the early 50s.  Next door to us, in a huge house that was our church parsonage, lived the Drews family.

The Drews’ had purchased a television set, perhaps for the express purpose, but definitely just in time for the broadcast of the Royal Coronation.  It was June 1953, and I was watching my very first television program.

It was an exciting evening as we all gathered around the little black and white television with the rounded screen, its place of honor on top of the dining room buffet.

We watched in awe at the Royal procession of the Queen. And we were breathless as the Queen bowed her head ever so slightly and the heavy, jeweled, platinum crown was placed on her head.

She was so somber, yet so beautiful, so regal. A Queen.

And now, we will catch our collective breath again as we watch this graceful, young bride walk down the very long aisle of Westminster Abbey to meet her groom, and become royalty.

Every so often, we need a glimpse of royalty in a fairy-tale land that is not ours. We need our faith restored in dreams that come true, in beauty, grace, and goodness.  We need this wedding.

So I hope they do not secretly escape to a remote island. And as I watch and hold my breath, I will remember the other royal events that made me feel a bit of magic and majesty.

I'm so glad we are all invited.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Still counting

Yesterday we visited some friends in a rather affluent section of Mesa.

We had a great visit with them, shared in their wonderful hospitality, and then they took us on a tour of their lovely park. Like a city in itself, it has two 18-hole golf courses, several pools, lakes, fountains, ponds, streams, walking trails, green grass, concert halls, a beautiful library, a cafe, and three separate recreation centers.

Their home was very lovely with new cherry hardwood floors, a formal living room, two patios, and so tastefully decorated with southwest and Mexican art.

On our tour around the park, we stopped with them to see some other friends, who also live there. On a golf course. With a huge stone patio. A master bedroom that walks out to the huge stone patio. Furniture and furnishings that I have only dreamed of.

Such great visits, and such a fun day.

But why, then, could I barely stand to drive back into our humble park and into our lowly park model?  Poor me.

If you have ever had this experience as well, you may know the feeling.

Envy, self-pity, life is not fair: they all pervade your thoughts. Like cancer. Eating away at your satisfaction with life.

We love our friends dearly. We don't begrudge them their good fortune. So shame on me for feeling less than.

As I crawled into bed at the end of the day, I said my prayers, as usual. Intercessions for friends with serious illnesses. Family members who are grieving the loss of loved ones. A friend who lost her job. Troops fighting for freedom, separated from their families. The longer I prayed, the more trivial my feelings became.

Then I counted my blessings. And counted. And counted. And counted.

And counted.

I guess our negative thoughts and feelings are what they are. They come. But recognize them for what they truly are: transient and fleeting.

And if they ever come for you...start counting.

Today, I am grateful for my many blessings. It's a new day, and I am content and happy.

And still counting.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another me day

Yesterday, I had another me day.

I told you about my occasional me days in a post last October. A me day is when I declare a day all to myself to enjoy spending time with me.

October was my last me day, when I spent the day in Minnetonka, Minnesota, spending hours looking at fabrics and patterns at Stitchville USA; then to the Country Store gift shop, browsing through their two floors of selections and buying a few special treats for, who else? Me.

Yesterday's adventure didn't start out with that intention.  But basking in the glow of having a ladies' lunch and ginger-peach tea with my friend, Judy, at Mrs. Thomas' Tea Shoppe in Mesa, I just allowed a me day to commence all by itself.

The tea shoppe was so quaint, cozy, and charming. Linen tablecloths decorated Victorian tables, all set with china tea cups and plates. Elegant silverware and a teapot perched on top of a silver candle-warmed tray to keep the tea hot completed the table.

Well, not quite. There was a small porcelain stand with a welcome message bearing our names at the table.

We dined on scrumptious chicken soup, quiche, little tea sandwiches, fruit, and scones with lemon curd, honey and butter. A scoop of raspberry sorbet for dessert. All the makings of high tea.

Then we shopped in their little gift shop area for a bit, and hugged each other as we parted to resume our day.

Well, hmmm, thought I.  This is just a perfect entree into a me day.  And I decided to continue on.

My first stop was Attic Needlework. This shop is so artistically arranged, it's like being in an art gallery. Or a kind of museum, as the shop specializes in samplers, a colonial art of old.

They have many finished pieces hanging on the walls. I took my time looking through patterns and threads.

It's a me day, remember.

I bought a stitching tool. One end has a needle threader and the other a stitch remover. It also offers a way to even out and repair stitches.

My mother gave me one many years ago, but I forgot it in Minnesota. I've missed it. Now I have one to keep in Arizona.

My next stop was the very large Goodwill store on the corner, next to Attic Needlework. I am always searching for bargains, especially Southwest pottery and the like. A voice over the loud speaker announced it was half-price day.

I bought a bedroom lamp, priced at five dollars, much in need of a good, thorough scrubbing and a new felt bottom. Two dollars and fifty cents. Half-price.

My next stop was to be the Fiber Factory for yarn. I had not been there yet, and I want to make a lap-size afghan for our Arizona home. I drove around a bit to find it, and discovered it's in "Old Town" Mesa, a folksy, artsy part of town.

I parked the car, and as I walked to the middle of the block where the yarn shop was located, I passed a vintage shop with a great window display of retro tables, chairs and dinnerware. The door was open, and, of course, it called me in - insisted, actually - to take a look.

It was another museum-type shop with all kinds of used knick-knacks, vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture, you-name-it.  Kind of an upscale Goodwill.

I found these old pottery vases, the kind we had looked at for our Mesa living room but couldn't afford anywhere else.  For eight dollars, they were all mine.

Okay, on to the Fiber Factory. It might be a me day, but the afternoon was almost over.

No bargains here, exactly, but a good yarn shop is a real treasure. There is nothing like the feel of well-spun, soft yarn from a quality mill.

This shop has spinning wheels in the window, which they sell. They offer classes on how to use them, and one was in session.  So many beautiful, colorful and creative yarns to choose from, one could easily get carried away.

But I stuck to my mission of finding yarn for my afghan and found this beautiful yarn from Sweden, in perfect colors for a southwestern home.

Isn't it gorgeous?
 My watch tells me it's now almost five o'clock, and time to head for home.

Ahhh, another perfectly wonderful me day. I highly recommend it.

You are so worth it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Desert in bloom

It is spring in Arizona. 

The birds are chirping away and we even have little ones in a nest in our patio drainpipe.

And all around our park, you see the cacti in bloom. They are very beautiful and colorful. Here are some for you to enjoy as you await spring in your corner of the world.

Bees were pollinating all around these flowers

Pincushion cactus
Perhaps because I am a stitcher, my favorite cactus is the Pincushion cactus.

Barrel cactus flowers always grow at the top of
the plant. Fruits become fleshy and often juicy
when mature, but are not usually considered edible. The pulp is used to make candy.

Barrel cactus in full bloom

This cactus
is loaded with very delicate flowers with a mild scent, similar to a tulip.
But you have to sniff carefully!
This Prickly Pear cactus is loaded with buds
waiting to blossom into yellow, delicate flowers.

A "furry" looking cactus with red star-shaped flowers
Below is another Prickly Pear cactus.  The nectar from the Prickly Pear makes wonderful jelly, very popular in grocery stores and gift shops in the southwest.
But this one is unusual in that its "blooms" look (and feel) like wood.
Here is a "fish-eye" view of the blooms:
I hope spring comes soon to your area, bringing with it the welcome buds on the trees, green grass, tulips, crocus and daffodils.
And ah, yes, the fragrances!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Goodbye, friends

One by one, our Mesa friends are leaving for their summer residences.

It has gotten noticeably quiet on our block as RVs have pulled out of their winter spots, leaving only a concrete slab.  I have marveled at the way in which they're able to make their temporary locations look like home.  Some put up awnings, outdoor area rugs, bright colored flower pots, and sometimes even solar lights and lanterns.

Now, as you walk through the park, you see some park models (as we have) covered with heat-resistant panels in the windows, the steps moved away from the doors, grills covered and empty driveways.  No sign of life in those units. Quiet and obviously empty.

Activities and clubs have been suspended for the season. Woodworking, lapidary, quilting, ceramics, oil painting, and silversmithing have all come to
a halt. No more morning bikers and afternoon hikers. Concerts and other  entertainment offerings are no longer scheduled. Last Sunday was our last community church service in the park. Friday burger bashes around the pool have come to a close, as well.

We had a farewell lunch yesterday with some park friends. And then an impromptu "Happy Hour" later in the afternoon as some were busy packing up for their long journey home.

Bob, George, Nancy, Mary Kay
We couldn't have gotten half of what we accomplished since our arrival without the collective help of the "project boys" who pitch in and help each other with home maintenance projects.  Many hands making light work. Each with his own skills and expertise. The work got done and camaraderie was built.

Worker-bees: Bob, George, Jim, Glen
This morning, we bid adieu to our friends, Mary Kay and Bob. Of course, we will see them in Minnesota, but it was sad to watch them load their car, drive down the block, around the corner, and out of sight.

Then this weekend, we say goodbye to Glen and Nancy. Again, we will watch as they pack their vehicle and head home to Spokane, Washington. Neighbors, Ardis and Don, will leave next week for Fergus Falls, Minnesota. And Jim will leave for his summer home in Show Low, Arizona, where the days are cooler than here in Mesa.

As for us, we'll be a bit lonesome without them as we stay here until May. But we have several projects to see us through, and want to do some sightseeing in outlying areas before we leave for home.

Goodbye, dear friends. You have made our first winter here so enjoyable and memorable.

Friday, April 1, 2011

In the water

Yesterday, I put on my bathing suit, grabbed a towel, and biked up to the pool.

And I actually got into the water.

If this doesn't sound like a big deal to you, it is to me. I am water-phobic.

I love the water. Looking at it, sitting by it, listening to its waves, fishing off the dock, riding on a pontoon. 

But getting into the water?  Another matter entirely.

I never learned to swim as a child. My sisters and I biked up to the Highland Park pool where they offered lessons, and I did try. But there was some innate instinct, it seemed, that made me resist. I could put my head under water and blow bubbles, but panic set in at the mere thought of floating and letting go under water.  A definite lack of trust.

The summer I was 15, my friend, Mary Kay, and I went to the beach at Lake Nokomis: me to sunbathe, she to swim.  As she was out swimming, I decided to wade along the shoreline. I walked along the shore, a bit out of the swimming area, and then decided to see if I could walk in just a bit deeper.

The next thing I knew, I was drowning. I clearly remember thinking: This is what it's like to die. And wanting my mother.

I had walked into a drop-off.  As my head bobbed up, someone nearby saw me and came to rescue me.  Then Mary Kay saw the commotion on the beach and came rushing over. I was shaking, and what seemed like an hour all probably happened in seconds.

But it transformed a mild mistrust of the water into a heart-pounding fear.

When my own children were small, my husband preferred that I not be anywhere near them if our family was by the water. We often spent weekends at his parents' lake home, and the kids were learning to swim. But I was transferring my fear with my gasps and overly-cautious warnings. Thankfully, today they can swim and are not afraid.

So yesterday, with record heat levels in Mesa (99 degrees today!), I got into the pool.  And Mary Kay snapped this photo as proof.

I must say, it felt wonderful.... long as my feet could touch the bottom and stay firmly planted there.