I never thought I'd welcome the downhill slide into September that August becomes, but this is one seasonal change that I am anticipating.
We're finally in the home stretch before school starts and I have never been more happy to see September roll around. Instead of the usual melancholia that engulfs me at this time of year- (Gone again is summer, the lovely! Oh, the fun not had! The things we meant to do and didn't!)-I feel like I'm gasping for the finish line. It's been a long summer. Having a newborn and an exuberant four year old at home all day every day has definitely been wearing on me, especially as I navigate these waters with much less sleep than usual. I can't keep my eyes closed for too long (hide and seek; pre-meal prayer) without getting groggy. I didn't think it was possible for me to read any more books than usual, but I have been devouring them at a frantic pace. I think it's because I need a momentary escape into a different world than mine. Which feels strange to even say-I love my world, and those who inhabit it with me. It just feels a little intense right now.
B's teaching gig has a 9 month contract, which means in the summer he is ostensibly unemployed. So we have less money to spread around, and this time of year is usually the leanest. We're getting good at stretching paychecks to the last minim. Thus far we have seen a lot of God's provision for us all coming from unlikely places, and are generally feeling more grateful than usual, which is always a good thing. And B just started back to work last week, and G's preschool starts soon, hurray hurray.
I am grateful for this time in my life, I know I am. If only I could just look at it properly-surrounded by my loved ones, taking things as they come, one diaper change at a time.
I don't know what the next few months will bring but I hope they include:

-more of Laurel's Kitchen Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup
-Abbey Garden redo
-new compost piles
-and of course



We've been cowering indoors all morning. It's the heat, you see...well over 100 degrees up here in the redwoods. We're heading for the beach!
Anyone else hot?


Gardening Forensics

My soil and I have come along way together. In ways its like an old friend, familiar and careless. I know that it is so sandy it seems to grow pebbles, that its black and acidic nature is due to the oak trees overhead, and that if I dig around the rhododendrons, I'll smell the old coffee grounds that anoint it daily.
Our tiny little spit of lawn is edged with river rock, at least it was-now the garden beds have been sucking stones into their soil like giant gumballs; I unearth them every now and again when I turn the beds over. I found the rocks in the nearby creek and hauled them all up in the rusty red wagon that now lies slowly being subsumed by the vinca behind the house. Most of the rocks turned out to be sandstone, and fell apart years ago, but a few of the original river rock remain. These tend to surface every now and again in the garden beds, like submarines or whales, spouting compost, partially decomposed mulch and old pieces of my 4 year old's sidewalk chalk.
I love how the soil in my garden tells the story of my life in it. If I ever had to move away from my garden, I might have to lift the topsoil and take it with me as my flower beds contain a strata of my last 13 years in this one place. If I dig down far enough I can find the remains of our broken Fiestaware dishes from our early days of marriage, we used the broken saucers and teacups as edgers, as I remember. B called the broken bits 'Fiascoware'. Gently decaying pieces of irrigation tubing, plant tags and twist ties add heft and bulk to the soil and remind me of old planting schemes gone awry. "Here's where I tried to plant those peonies two years ago! What was I thinking, putting them so far from the drip hose?" I mutter to myself as I poke around with a trowel, pulling out shards of plant tags. Old gladiolus husks, iris tubers and decayed roots are like the Ghosts of Plants Past, murmuring the stories of their lives to me as I bend my ear to the earth, stretching my fingers through the soil.
I feel so attached to this space, to the coming and going of seasons, the new growth and slow decay. I daydream about a larger space, with more sun and privacy, but honestly, I wouldn't know what to do with another garden; this is my home.


Favorite Small Places

It's little wonder that I have a love for the diminutive: I live surrounded by tiny things: children, clothes, booties. I've never managed to recover from that intense desire of childhood: entering the world of the Borrowers, or The Littles or Thumbelina. And our house is like our own private diorama, especially by American standards: under 1,000 sq. ft. Our car is a VW Beetle. And every seat is taken. I don't want to sound virtuous, we really struggle with the lack of space, and I admit to occasional pangs of desire for one of the ridiculously monstrous SUVs, you know, the sort that should be named Goliath or U.A.E. (named after the country whose oil supply it depletes just backing down the drive.) But most days, I am content in my small life.
B is particularly adept at small space living, we have a lot of things hanging behind things, nested in other things, under beds, or somehow given dual purposes. I think he'd have been happy living on a boat, or designing train berths.
We've always equated small with coziness, like Mole End or Ratty's snug home beside the river in Wind in the Willows, always preferable to Toad Hall when you want to be cozy. It is easier to curl up with a book in 800 sq feet than in Buckingham Palace which, as we all know, is 828,818 sq feet. I do hope the Royal corgis will budge up for Her Majesty and Prince Phillip....
I've realized recently that there are a few places in town that give me that feeling of smallness, a sort of coziness/small town America feeling. Things that sort of reset my cultural vestibular system. So here are a few of the places- local charms on my Santa Cruz bracelet-just for you.
1. Porter Memorial Library
Soquel Village
This little place is part of a vanishing breed -the private library. They rock the card catalogue, and the dusty display case to patron ratio is high. It is volunteer run, and my library card is made of card stock and my name is written in by hand. And even though I've had a book overdue since 1982, they still welcome me back with open arms. There's so much to recommend about this place (Shannon Marie, if you are still a rosa-sinensis reader, you would definitely love it).
One of the last times I visited this library I spent a lot of time in the little local history section with the librarian who looked to be in her 70's. She told me about growing up in the mountains outside Soquel, off Old San Jose Road, educated in a little one room school house-her school would occasionally go to 'town' to share some classes with Soquel Elementary School (my alma mater.) She pulled out one of her old class photos, one of those long, thin, panoramic pictures that showed the entire school lined up on the grass in front of the school. It dated from the late 20's or early 30's. She pointed out a young woman at the end of a line of children, dark haired and smiling. "See her?" she said, "That's Miss Woolsey. She was my favorite teacher." I looked at her dumbfounded. "Miss Woolsey? Alice Woolsey? But she was MY favorite teacher!" We stared at each other for a moment, and then laughed. Sure enough, this septuagenarian and I had both been taught by one of the most exemplary teachers I've ever known, she at the beginning of her teaching career, and myself at the end. Alice Woolsey taught my second grade class, immaculately dressed in sweater sets, brooches & makeup. She was a classy lady. When we would take a paper to her desk and tell her we were 'done', she would reply archly, "Rare or well?" We'd all watch in awe as she would dance & sing to scratchy recording of 'Yellow Bird'. I felt loved and believed in & able to achieve with Miss Woolsey as my teacher. It was due to her that I won the second grade spelling bee. When she died, they named a street after her.

A Eulogy:
The Village Diner
Soquel Village
This place has been gone for many years now and the ache is still palpable. Does anyone (besides the Elevens/Izzie) remember this little spot? It was next to the Hairy Chair barber shop, across from the Bagelry in Soquel Village. A tiny little diner with heart-breaking retro decor and burgers and fries that would make you weep. The chocolate cake was exactly the size of the cake in Roald Dahl's Matilda, (masssive), the coffee was strong, and we were on 'hey-how's-it-goin'' terms with the proprietor. What more could you ask for in a restaurant? Even now, 7 or so years after its demise (help me out here) I still have to avert my eyes when I drive by. It's now the home of a garishly painted taqueria. Gone, gone. Here's an old review just to pound the nail in the coffin.

3. The Word Shop
The Word Shop is a sweet lil Christian bookstore,very tucked away and homegrown. Allie, the proprietor, is lovely and will sit around and talk about life, the universe and everything with you all afternoon. We know this from experience. There's a section on heretics, poetry and old hymnals. I love it. It's volunteer-run, and needs more exposure. Check out the website link, and go give them your custom. An added bonus is that it is right down the street from the coolest remaining 50's sign in the county, the Sno-White Drive In. The food I can't vouch for. But the kitsch is outstanding.
4. El Salto
This is a nice little neighborhood, perfect for walkies. It sits on Depot Hill above Capitola Village and boasts many beach cottages with sweet little gardens and a walk along the cliffs above the ocean. I believe the parking just might be permit only nearer the cliff, so watch out for that.
5. Prayer Mountain
This little gem is located in Scotts Valley, right before you hit Mission Springs, one of the ubiquitous Christian camps in the area. What sets Mission Springs apart, by the by, is one of its Maintenance staff alumni. Which goes to show that you never know just what sort of mindless trivia you'll find on rosa-sinensis.
So I discovered Prayer Mountain years ago. It's proper title is the Fasting Prayer Mountain of the World, modeled after Dr. Yongi Cho's prayer retreats in Korea. If you are able to find it (and a lot depends on a little sign written in Korean on your left) you will be happy you made the trip. It's basically a retreat place dedicated to prayer, seeking God and getting away from it all. You need to register when you first arrive, after which you'll be assigned one of the small one-room cabins that litter the hillside. You can stay overnight if you wish, and it's free. But don't bring food-this is a place of fasting. It's incredibly peaceful and landscaped in this very Eastern sort of way, though without pagodas or Zen gardens. It's hard to describe. It's in a redwood forest, but every now and again you'll chance upon old stumps that have been planted with shade plants, mainly of the impatien type. Everything is meticulous. Why this means Eastern to me, I'm not sure. And I'm also not quite sure why I've included it in this list, but you'll be glad I did if you ever go there. Here's some yelp reviews (of all things!) to give you some more practical info.
6. Super Secret Staircases
downtown Santa Cruz
There are some fabulous little alleyways and streets that connect different parts of downtown SC to each other. I have fond memories of tramping them in the dark with friends, coffee in hand, the smell of jasmine and ocean air in our nostrils. I'm not giving you any real directions to find these places, since part of the delight comes when they are just happened upon. Start looking near Walnut Street, across from Santa Cruz High. Or Mission Plaza to Green Street. Find Walnut Street and the pristine and hidden Lincoln Court where I spent most of that Crazy Summer with Oliver and Scout. The summer I met the Contessa and was an official Slacker Employee at the Del Mar Theatre. But that's another story. So go to the Abbey, get something to go, and then start walking.
7. The Mystery Spot &
Gift Store
What list of favorite little local gems would be complete without the Mystery Spot? When I was little I remember some Japanese tourists, very polite and lost, knocking on my grandparent's door, asking for directions to the Mystery Spot. As a child this was akin to watching a space ship trying to parallel park out front.
I love this place so much it hurts. It's got all my favorite components in a tourist destination: a mention on Ripley's Believe It or Not!, kitsch, nature, dizziness, balls rolling up hill, free bumper stickers and goofy tour guides. (I think the suspenders over T-Shirt/belly/beard might be requisite). Did I mention the kitsch factor? It's high. When I was a kid the staff used to go out to the parking lot and put Mystery Spot bumper stickers on your car while you were on a tour. That was in the days when bumpers were not attached to your car, and they made those stiff paper bumper stickers with wire to wrap around your bumper. Now they are properly plasticy and sticky and they hand them out free. But it's not the Mystery Spot on its own that earns a place on this list. No, it's the gift store, which is an incredible treasure trove of 50's Americana, complete with buffalo nickel rings and redwood burl carved into clocks, cribbage boards & crosses. Add to it dubious tom toms and Native American jewelry which may or may not have been made in the USA and you'll have to agree that the tat is pretty outstanding. Now what did I do with my Mystery Spot shot glasses?


My Little Synesthete

G, in from sandbox, reports busily to me:
"Mama, I just want you to know that the soup I'm making you is Hawaiian soup."
Me, preoccupied with a book & a nursing infant:
"Hmmm...does that mean it's got Hawaiian stuff in it?"
"Yeah! Rosemary and rattlesnake grass! Pretty Hawaiian, huh? And daddy's is English soup! Daisies and woodchips!"


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Leonard Cohen

These Heroics
If I had a shining head
and people turned to stare at me
in the streetcars;
and I could stretch my body
through bright water
and keep abreast of fish and water snakes;
if I could ruin my feathers
in flight before the sun;
do you think that I would remain in this room,
reciting poems to you,
and making outrageous dreams
with the smallest movements of your mouth?
-Leonard Cohen


Flora Grubb Gardens

B and I wandered around last weekend in the windy fogginess that is San Francisco. We took refuge in Flora's garden and nursery and enjoyed a good hot latte from Ritual Coffee. I wish more nurseries would catch on to the idea of giving their customer a little shot of something hot and stimulating whilst they shop. The only other place I've seen this is at Cardwell Nursery Garden Centre in Gourock, Scotland. Except that place is sort of like a Cracker Barrel with a nursery tacked on to the side and lots of coach buses in the ample parking lot, which seemed to emit hordes of geriatric Scottish women in capacious & bedazzled track suits without cease. And did I mention the cafeteria? Awesome.
Where was I?
So Flora Grubb Gardens-it was great. And you should go. The lay-out was great, with plenty of plants in the Dramatic Color/Architecture genre. And they appear to be the winners of the Most Blood-Curdling Succulent Collection-Bay Area Awards. But for me and my Aberdonian blood I found it to be a place of inspiration rather than actual purchase. $6.50 was a little steep for a 4" plant, and $49.50 for the uber-cool silk screened T shirts in the gift store elicited a hollow laugh. But maybe the price range is fine for the urban gardeners that shop there; me, I contented myself with taking pictures and garnering ideas-the few things that were in my price range. (Free!)
I put my name down for an Angelica archangelica (which is proving to be an elusive plant) and talked up the Abbey. I particularly loved the big wire bins of tillandsia for sale; they could be sold via bulk bins since they are epiphytes (in other words, they don't need soil & get their H2O from the atmosphere.) Apparently, a tillandsia comes with your purchase of a pound of coffee beans from the adjacent Ritual Coffee kiosk. Which I thought was classy.

I think my favorite thing besides the latte-in-the-garden was the hanging succulent portrait. I would dearly love to replicate this for the Abbey Garden, but I am sure that it's just a leetle too expensive. Maybe something on a smaller scale? Anyhow, I definitely recommend a visit to this nursery, especially if you have any junker cars that want planting out.
But go, have fun, and tell them Rosa sent you!

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.