Wrong forecast, right day

spring dawn by JulieAnn Corbin

For the past few weeks if the forecast calls for overcast skies and/or rain, it’s pretty certain it will be overcast and/or rain. Even if the forecast doesn’t call for such conditions, it’s pretty certain they’ll arrive. Yesterday the forecast said fog in the morning then clearing and becoming mostly sunny. Well, it was certainly foggy in the morning but it never really cleared and I can count the times I saw the sun through the clouds on one hand. On top of that, the predicted high was 55 and it only got up to 46. I was rather bummed because I really wanted to see the sun after days of cloudiness and rain.

I didn’t have much hope for seeing the sun today as when I checked the forecast last night it was predicting rain and clouds all day long. However, when I woke up this morning, the sky appeared brighter than usual and lo and behold, when I looked out the window, I could see the sun! I was so happy I almost did a little dance! I managed to control myself though and went about the usual morning duties of waking the girls, making their breakfasts, packing their lunches and seeing them safely on the bus to school. You can bet I was smiling the whole time though!

plum tree in country by JulieAnn Corbin

Plum tree, my back yard and the farmer’s field beyond.

After I did a couple freelance blog posts, the clouds had returned but the forecast had changed from all day rain to chance of scattered thunderstorms. I considered that a vast improvement! As it wasn’t raining yet when I finished my work, I decided to tackle cleaning up and arranging my backyard bird oasis. I started the bird oasis two springs ago and every year it’s in the same spot, but always a little different. I put a little fence up around my bird feeder poles and I set planters of flowers around them with a fountain/bird bath in there somewhere.

After mowing the grass that had grown a foot tall around the formerly fenced border of the bird oasis, I then arranged the area, put the little fence pieces back in the ground and filled the fountain/bird bath. Unfortunately, when I turned the fountain on, it didn’t work so I’ll need to buy a new pump to get it running again. Not a big issue and the fountain can serve as a water holder for now. True to form, I hung my bird feeders, crouched down to fix a few things and then stood up whacking my head on the bottom of one of the feeders. I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do that at least once and it’s usually more than once…

backyard bird oasis by JulieAnn Corbin

Needs a few more flowers and feeders but otherwise good!

I usually move all of my bird feeders off the deck and into the backyard bird oasis, but I’ve grown so fond of watching the birds out my desk window that I’ll be leaving some on my deck this year. That means I have to get a few more for the oasis, but there are two hanging back there now and the finches have already found them and started feasting.

Once the bird oasis was arranged, I had some lunch and then took Jazz for our daily walk. The sun popped out a few times as we walked, which helped warm the day up further. After the walk I eagerly spread the comforter out on my deck swing, grabbed my beading supplies and settled out on the swing to focus on beading up flower earrings. I hooked Jazzmin up to the lead I attached to the deck and as it’s long enough for her to sit in the grass next to the driveway, she happily stayed there watching for squirrels.

Beading on that swing with the birds eating at the nearby feeders and Jazz on squirrel patrol nearby is one of my new favorite past times and I beaded away blissfully for a couple hours until I realized it was past dinner time. I wasn’t especially hungry yet, but I figured Jazz was so I brought her inside and got her dinner before assembling my own. Once I was done eating, I was back out on the swing, refusing to waste a single moment of warmth and periodic sunshine after being trapped inside for so many days lately.

beaded flowers by JulieAnn Corbin

My beaded flowers and new bead mail. Tons of happiness!

Eventually the sky turned rather dark, the temperature dropped and it started to sprinkle as a little rain cloud passed over so I decided it was time to call it a day and head inside the house. I took my beads inside and then went back out to fold up the comforter to bring inside and I realized that my cheeks were sore because I’d been smiling so much while I was beading. My mind, body and spirit had really needed the warmer temperatures, sunshine and fresh air that I got a huge dose of today and although the forecast had been wrong, the day had gone very right!

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Playing in the dirt

pansies in planters by JulieAnn Corbin

Although the weather forecast changed overnight from mostly sunny today to mostly cloudy, the predicted high was a vast improvement over yesterday as was the lack of rain. I know exactly how cold it was to be outside yesterday because I was at Home Depot in the evening looking for pansies, snapdragons and other flowers for what I call my “bird oasis” behind my house. I hadn’t worn a coat because it didn’t feel too cold to me when I left the house, but walking around outside at the store looking at the flowers showed me just how cold it was as my fingers and face froze.

I suppose the chilly weather was a good thing though because I tend to get carried away buying tons of colorful, happy flowers that I’ve browsed through. Browsing happened rather quickly yesterday evening though as I picked out my favorites of pansies and violas along with some new additions of phlox, foxglove and silene (catchfly). Those last three plants are perennials and although I’ve never had much luck with perennials actually coming back, I thought I’d give it a try again.

When I got up this morning and saw my flowers still sitting safely on the deck where I’d placed them last night, I knew I had to get them transferred to my planters today, rain or shine. Usually I get the bird oasis set up and put the flowers in the planters all on the same day, but the bird oasis area needs a bit more work than I realized and the grass was still wet so I decided I’d just deal with the planters today.

I carried all of the planters from the bird oasis in the back yard to my deck walkway by the driveway and brought the flowers down from the top of the deck to begin the transplant process. I opened all the windows in my car and played the music from my phone through the car radio via my FM transmitter so I had a soundtrack to my gardening. It was still overcast out but considering how easily I burn in the sun, that’s probably a good thing.

I had Jazzmin out on her lead with me and she chose to sit in the gravel driveway of all places. There was plenty of soft, green grass for her to lie in, but she preferred to lay behind my car as if she were guarding the driveway from intruders. She did at least keep the squirrels away from my bird feeders by sheer pup intimidation (lying like a lump in the gravel) so that was a nice bonus.

I always get my leather work gloves out when I plan on working with flowers, but I never actually wear them because I prefer getting my hands right in the cool, moist soil to move it around and settle the individual flowers in their spots. As I sat on my walkway with my upbeat music blasting from my car speakers I took my flowers out of their store containers and settled them in the dirt of the planters, feeling immensely happy and at peace. It’s impossible for me not to smile when I see pansies because they have such unique color combinations and are hardy enough to survive my oftentimes brown thumb.

I didn’t know this until a friend pointed it out to me, but apparently playing in the dirt, i.e. gardening, has scientifically proven mood-boosting properties. Antidepressant microbes in the soil stimulate serotonin production, which makes us humans happier and more relaxed, according to the article, “Antidepressant Microbes in Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy” from Gardening Know How.com.

I’ve experienced this mood boosting effect many times when planting flowers, but I thought it was purely from the fact that I was playing in the dirt just like I used to when I was a kid. I’m not a woman who’s afraid to get her hands dirty and her work jeans too in the process as I used them as towel to wipe the dirt off periodically. As I always say, everything washes and really, the whole point of work jeans is to get them dirty. I had dirt all over my hands and under my fingernails, but I didn’t care.

If I hadn’t run out of flowers, I would’ve kept planting and playing in the dirt for hours and if I had endless money and time, my entire 1.4 acres of property would be covered with flower gardens. Maybe I’ll get it to that point someday, but for now, I’m happy to play in the dirt of my planters as I bring a spot of color and joy to my home and life.

Berries and Bravery

Black raspberries ready to be picked!

Black raspberries ready to be picked!

The black raspberries are ripe early this year. I imagine it’s from the non-stop rain we’ve been getting around here. I love black raspberries and it’s hard to stop picking them once I start. The thing about black raspberries though is that they grow on pickers and are surrounded by lots of underbrush, tall grass and weeds. It’s always hot when I’m picking them so I’m dressed in shorts and a tank top. This means I inevitably get scratched somewhere or other but that doesn’t deter me. The sweet reward of those berries is worth the sweat, scratches and hard work. The same is true for more than just berries.

I’m not known to take the easy route. I do occasionally get stuck in a rut and trudge along with the status quo but that never gets me where I want and need to be. I have some really big dreams I know I can accomplish but it will take bravery, determination, persistence and a bit of stubbornness.  Giving up on those dreams is like giving up on berry picking the first time a pricker pokes my finger. My tender fingertips can attest to the fact that I keep going for more berries.

Gloves would protect my fingers from the prickers but trying to pick berries with thick leather gloves makes no sense. Berries need a tender touch or they get squished. Dreams can be the opposite though. Sometimes grabbing onto dreams tightly is the only way to achieve them and to protect them so others can’t squish my pursuit of them.

When I first started picking black raspberries this afternoon, I only saw a few clumps here and there. As I continued searching I found more and more until the bowl I chose was overflowing and I had to get a second one. Amazing how pursuing one little thing can grow into something so plentiful and rewarding…

Fruits of my labor.

Fruits of my labor.

Everyday Adventures in this Extraordinary Life

Snapshot 1 (5-31-2013 6-18 AM)

I often joke with my best friend that I could write a book about my life and sell it as fiction because no one would believe it all happened to one person. I haven’t climbed to the top of Mount Everest or formulated the cure for the common cold, I’ve just lived my life and done my best to roll with what comes. I think we all have an amazing and unique story to tell when we escape the mundane of daily existence and see life for what it really is: an endless adventure!

My beloved English teacher and friend, Derek Hulse told me when I was 16 that I should write my autobiography. I found the idea silly because I was only 16 and felt I hadn’t experienced anything that justified an autobiography. Apparently he saw great things in my past and future that were worthy of being told and I’ve been telling them for the past few years in my blogs. I am certain that numerous people live far more interesting lives than I do and I don’t profess to be an incredibly amazing, crocodile-wrestling, swashbuckling woman of the world. I’m just a girl who wakes up every day grateful for another dawn.

I never know what my day is going to bring. Even the smallest tasks turn into large undertakings sometimes. My quest to find a more fuel efficient-and yet still standard transmission-car involves renting an automatic car for the weekend when the first auto deal falls apart. I set out to dig up thistles and the handle on my garden spade snaps like a twig. I go to mow my lawn and the neighbors chicken decide to hold a parade through my lilac bushes. A weekend trip to Boston leads to a whole new direction and purpose in my life that continues to motivate me onward. These are the adventures I’ve lived and continue to live.

So I created a photo montage set to music and uploaded my video to Vimeo for your viewing pleasure…or to at least take up three minutes of your day. You can watch it by clicking on the photo above or the link at the end of this entry. In it I’ve featured several photos from my blogs and others I’ve taken just to document the mind-boggling little mishaps that occur in my life. Stars include my darling daughters, adorable dog, samples of my baking, creatures from the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, my mower, the Massachusetts locations of Boston, Newburyport and Amesbury, some of my artwork and everything in between. I believe it tells an interesting story about the everyday adventures in this extraordinary life that belongs to a simple woman just making her way in the world.

Everyday Adventures in this Extraordinary Life

The Valor of Violas

I am an inept gardener. Or to put it in nicer terms, a “hopeful” gardener. I am always hopeful that my gardening efforts go better than the year before. The first time I tried growing flowers in pots I forgot to water the flowers to the point where they looked like they’d been set on fire. Last year I attempted a flower garden from seeds and even dug up a nice little plot next to my deck walkway. The seeds grew and I lovingly planted them…only to have the oddest selection of weeds materialize where I expected daisies and sunflowers.

This year I’m trying growing flowers in pots again. I started with already grown violas (and their larger variety called pansies), snapdragons, flowering ground cover and a couple of kinds of daisies. Thus far the violas are showing themselves to be the strongest of the bunch! They’re such valiant little things and they always perk back up when I water them after forgetting for a day or two. It’s lovely that those happy looking flowers continue to smile up at me even when my “garden amnesia” strikes.

My snapdragons and daisies are still hanging in there but the ground cover got a bit too fried in the full sun that the other flowers like. There’s currently a rather excessive heat wave where I live and while I’m wilting in the temperatures, the violas are loving every minute of it. This year’s gardening efforts have taught me two important lessons. One lesson being that from now on, I’m planting only violas. The second lesson is that I’m not hot-weather-resistant enough to display the same valor as violas.

Branching Out

I bought a plum tree today. This is a rather big thing for me because I’ve never bought any kind of tree before, let alone a fruit tree. I probably should have started with something easier like a hardy pine tree but as my yard is already full of pine trees, that seemed silly. I wanted a pear tree but the store didn’t have any. I could have bought an apple or cherry tree but those seemed too ordinary to me. Then I saw the plum trees and they looked so sturdy and friendly that I just had to have one.

The plum tree I chose was about a foot taller than me and I wasn’t sure it would fit in my car but I figured I’d make it work somehow. So I folded down all the seats on the passenger side, laid down a blanket and carefully angled the tree down and into my Toyota Matrix. To my delight, the tree just fit! On the drive home my tree and I became a bit snuggly a couple times around curves but otherwise it stayed put and behaved.

The plum tree just fit!

The plum tree just fit!

Sitting in the front seat looking back

Sitting in the front seat looking back

The plum tree cozy in the passenger seat

The plum tree cozy in the passenger seat

I haven’t decided where I’m going to plant my plum tree yet. I thought about putting it in the front yard but then everyone and their brother driving by would have the pleasure of watching me struggle to dig a hole deep enough for it. I think the back yard is a better choice where only my neighbors can look out their windows and point and laugh. Digging the hole is going to be an interesting challenge since my ground can be rather hard. I’ve tried standing on the shovel before to make it go in further and it barely sinks an inch. I might be a little thing but my stubborn determination is gigantic so I’ll get that puppy planted one way or another!

When I got home I placed the plum tree in the back yard just to see how it would look and I rather like it back there. It’s final place hasn’t been decided yet because I’m going to do an experiment with my new bluebird feeder, but that’s a story for another day…

The plum tree in my back yard

The plum tree in my back yard

After dinner I decided to take Jazzmin on another walk to test the Dr. Scholl’s Active Series insoles I bought to put in my new Asics GEL-Kayano sneakers. I’ve been wearing Skechers Shapeups for the past three years and I’m so used to their rounded bottoms that flat bottom sneakers feel awkward to me. To test the insoles, I thought Jazz and I would take the short, hilly walk but as we came to the first sharp curve, my eyes were drawn to the path the local farmer uses to access the fields behind my house. There’s a gate up but no posted sign. I’ve been wanting to take Jazz hiking somewhere and this seemed like a perfect place to start! I steered Jazz off the road and onto the path that’s been well-traveled by trucks and tractors.

Looking up the access road

Looking up the access road

Jazzmin was quite excited by this change of course and had to work a bit harder to walk over the rockier terrain of the access road. My sneakers were not the proper footwear for this venture but having my hiking boots on would have meant I’d planned ahead. I rarely plan ahead, too many things fall apart when I do that. The view up the path was a beautiful canopy of green trees and underbrush and the only sounds to be heard were the songs of birds. We walked to the top of the hill and down the other side where the road opened up to so much open space and woods that I felt miniscule. Gazing out across the endless rolling green and expansive blue sky reminded me how small I really am on this big world.

The view where the road turned

The view where the road turned

Looking toward the continuing road

Looking toward the continuing road

Heavy rains washed out a section of the road

Heavy rains washed out a section of the road

We started to walk back and I realized we were being serenaded by a rather familiar bird song. I stopped and peered into the tree above us and saw the bright yellow plumage of a male goldfinch. He was perched there all by himself, no sign of a mate but he was happily singing away. I’d been smart enough to bring my camera in Jazzmin’s backpack this time (a smidge of planning ahead there) so I quickly got it out and zoomed in on the branches as much as I could. I snapped a couple photos as the goldfinch sang and then he promptly flew away.

The goldfinch way up in the tree

The goldfinch way up in the tree

A moment before he flew away.

A moment before he flew away.

I took the time to look around me more on the walk back and I discovered I’d overlooked a lot of interesting and beautiful things. I’ll speak more of that journey tomorrow. For today I am content that I branched out by buying a tree and exploring a new path. Every day really is an adventure, you just have to see its potential!

Backyard Adventures

I am someone who always tries to see the upside of things. Sometimes it’s harder to do than other times. I’ve learned to see the potential in situations and objects that perhaps other people don’t. A little belief and hope can go a long way toward achieving your dreams and as I often say, I always have hope!

While doing yard work two weekends ago, I looked behind my smaller shed and realized for the first time that there was a wooden bench thrown back in among the prickers. I don’t know how I’ve missed it the past two summers but the moment I saw it, I saw potential.

Wooden bench tossed behind my shed

Wooden bench tossed behind my shed

It looked sturdy and solid so I stepped back in among the prickers and dragged it out, suffering numerous scratches to my shins and forearms in the process. Once I set it upright in the grass I discovered it was a little dirty and a little wobbly. Nothing a good sanding and tightening of screws couldn’t fix!

The bench free of the prickers

The bench free of the prickers

I’ve been wanting a bench to sit in and enjoy my yard and I felt it rather fortunate that the previous owners had discarded something that I knew I could easily refurbish. With some sanding, adjustments, painting and the addition of a cushion, I felt the bench could be a lasting addition to my property. I also decided that I wanted to have it all fixed up by my father’s birthday so I could dedicate it to his memory. It seemed simple enough.

The following Friday I headed out after my office job on the quest for a bench cushion and paint. I’ve become rather fond of spray painting because it covers fast and dries quickly so I picked up some medium blue spray paint at the store. I thought I’d be able to find a bench cushion in the same store but alas none of the cushions they carried were even remotely appealing. I also realized that one-piece replacement bench cushions might not exist. I then checked three more stores but couldn’t find an adequate replacement cushion and I felt extremely discouraged.

I’m not one to throw in the towel so I decided I’d at least sand and paint the bench Saturday and head out Sunday on the cushion quest again. Saturday was a beautiful spring day and I spent almost the entire day outside mowing, weed whacking, trimming trees, raking, cleaning my car, walking Jazz and yes, I even managed to fit in thoroughly sanding the bench and tightening the screws. I was exhausted by the end of the day but still hopeful that Sunday I’d find a cushion for the bench.

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful as the sun streamed in through the curtains of my end window. I’d planned on getting an early start but my tired body said otherwise so I lingered in bed until almost 9am. Once fed, showered and dressed I headed out to the nearby town where I was certain one of the stores would have the cushions I needed. The downside of it being such a lovely weekend was that everyone had already been to the stores and pretty well depleted the stock of attractive replacement cushions. I now knew there was no way I was going to find a one-piece bench cushion so I’d decided I’d buy two chair cushions. Even that decisions didn’t seem to help.

I finally found cushions that were pretty, inexpensive and the right size and I was able to return home triumphant. I placed the two replacement chair cushions on the bench and they fit perfectly! I was so pleased with myself. That afternoon my oldest daughter, Jordan helped me spray paint the bench and as it was windy, that proved quite an interesting undertaking. By the time we’d put two coats on the bench, my arms and legs were speckled with blue paint.

That task accomplished, I set about refurbishing the red Radio Flyer wagon my mother had given me. It had been sitting out behind my house in the elements so the inside had become too rusty to safely sit in. I’d had the brilliant idea to use it as a planter for the flowers that were overcrowding my pots and I felt it could be a little portable garden. I placed rocks down in a layer then the soil on top and dug in with bare hands, playing in the dirt until all of my snapdragons, pansies and daisies were happily planted. Once it was complete and the chair was dry enough to put the cushions on, I set both projects under my big back pine tree and snapped a photo of my accomplishments.

Comfy bench and portable wagon garden

Comfy bench and portable wagon garden

I’d done it! I’d finished the bench and the wagon garden by my father’s birthday! I knew his spirit was proud of me and I was proud of myself. My daughters and I sat on the bench that evening watching the birds at my back feeder and the bluebird even made an appearance atop my other back pine tree. The next evening my mother came over for dinner for my father’s birthday and we sat in the bench watching the birds again. It was very calm, comfortable and peaceful.

My daughters enjoying the bench

My daughters enjoying the bench

I’d discovered yet again that even the simplest seeming plans don’t always turn out being that way. Never giving up hope and purpose really are the key to success at anything and sometimes if you can’t go over an obstacle, you have to find a creative way around it. Life is all about the journey and it’s full of more than a single destination. Adventures don’t have to happen in exotic, far off places. They exist right in your own backyard.