Tag Archives: House Work

New Front Yard


During the last week or so, we have been following up on the water conserving landscape plans I wrote about in August. So far, we have removed the old lawn, brought in new topsoil and decorative boulders, created Paul’s seating area, and placed hundreds of new plants. While I am in Monterey tomorrow with the TechWomen mentors and Emerging Leaders from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, John is going to finish installing the new watering system. The last step is to put mulch (bark chips) around the plants to conserve water and protect them. So far, I am happy with the results!  Once everything is complete, I can submit receipts to the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) for a refund of part of the cost of this big project.

August 2015:

October 2015:












Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Water Conservation Landscape Program – Santa Clara Valley

MyPlanImage2 17June2015

We have been reducing our home water use for many years and have recently been approved to proceed with a landscape redesign as part of the Landscape Rebate Program of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD). In April 2015, we started the process of replacing our 1006 square feet of water-hungry front lawn with a garden that needs less irrigation. During the last four months while the severe California drought has helped our our lawn to die,  John and Paul and I have completed these process steps:

  1. “Pre-Inspection Survey” by Conservision – in which our eligible landscaping was officially measured and evaluated and reported to SCVWD, 8 May 2015.
  2. Returned “Landscape Rebate Program Request for Application Form” to SCVWD, 8 May 2015.
  3. Received blank “Landscape Rebate Program Application Form” from SCVWD – mailed to us 3 June 2015
  4. Returned “Landscape Rebate Program Application Form” to SCVWD – mailed 22 June 2015, complete with detailed garden diagrams (created using Garden Planner software) with plant, materials, and irrigation equipment lists. This required much cross checking of the Sunset Western Garden Book against the SCVWD Qualifying Plant List – as well as family discussions about what we want at the end of this process.
  5. Received “Notice to Proceed” from SCVWD, dated 28 July 2015.

In designing the new garden, I was very disappointed that many of the California native plants I had originally thought to use in my landscape design were marked in the Qualifying Plant List as having “Genetic Concerns”.  I think most home gardeners will be like me – unwilling to hire/pay a plant ecologist (or find a qualifying native plant database) to determine the local wild populations. I ended up picking from listed plants that are non-natives.

“*G = Genetic Concerns This genus contains species native to Santa Clara County or cultivars that have parents which are native to Santa Clara County. Consult a plant ecologist or native plant database to determine if your landscape project is located within 5 miles of wild populations. If so, please follow these suggestions to protect local genetic integrity: 1) select a local ecotype 2) avoid use of cultivars or hybrids, especially those with non-local or unknown parentage and 3) avoid use of nonnative ornamentals which share the same genus in order to prevent unnatural hybridization.” (from the SCVWD Qualifying Plant List)

I think that the complex and drawn-out application process assumes that most people will be hiring a landscaping company to do the work.  The Landscape Conversion Rebate potentially pays $2 per square foot for converting high water using landscape to low water using landscape (through December 31, 2015).   SCVWD will only reimburse for materials (plants, equipment, dirt, mulch, rocks), not labor, so even with the rebate this could be a very expensive project for those who cannot do the work themselves.  My planting list includes:

  • Phormium – flax (purple/brown)
  • Bearded iris (red and purple and yellow)
  • Muhlenbergia rigens – deer grass
  • Helictotrichon sempervirens – Blue oat grass
  • Verbena lilacina (purple)
  • Verbena peruviana (red)
  • Achillea tomentosa – woolly yarrow (yellow/grey)
  • Agapanthus inapertus (purple)
  • Narcissus – daffodils (yellow)
  • Dymondia margaretae (yellow/grey)

I have 90 days from 28 July to finish!


Photo Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson. Diagram created using Garden Planner software


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New Fire Hydrant in Willow Glen


Three years ago, I wrote about our north east Willow Glen neighborhood losing one of its two fire hydrants and what it took to get it replaced. A fire hydrant helps firefighters tap into the municipal water supply to extinguish a fire. We are delighted to be getting a third local fireplug – even if it has meant dancing do-si-do with large construction equipment to get into our driveways all week. It will be a month before the new/larger water pipes become active but with the severe California drought continuing into its fourth year, having better access to emergency water is one less thing to worry about.



The San Francisco Bay Area saw a big dry lightning storm last night – which fortunately does not seem to have added to the count of wildfires already burning in the Golden State.  On the drive home from vacation in the San Juan Islands in Washington State, last week John and Paul and I drove through the thick smoke of the Stouts Creek Fire in Oregon, which has burned over 20,800 acres (32.5 square miles) since 30 July. There was smoke along Highway 5 for more than 200 miles south of that fire – giving us a great sunset over Shasta Lake in California.  It was a scary reminder of how destructive fires can be.



Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I had an accident while working on a home improvement project, which resulted in a 5 hour visit to the Good Samaritan Hospital (San Jose) Emergency Room.  We were lifting a big air filter in his workshop and it escaped our grasp.  I came home from the ER with a bruised left hand and seven stiches in my little finger. I am ridiculously right-sided but even so, it is hard working with one hand.  So far, the most difficult part of being unidextrous is washing on my right side and earning stabs of pain when I unthinkingly use my left hand.  The wages of clumsiness.


Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson


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Dumping the Landline


Northern Californians who lived through the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 often have a fondness for landlines – phones that use a metal wire telephone line for transmission rather than a mobile cellular line, which use radio waves. After Loma Prieta, only the landlines worked.  Nonetheless, this week, we are dumping our landline phones. Beside that our family uses our personal iPhones much more frequently – even within the house as an intercom, the number of daily telemarketing calls have become overwhelming.

Our energy company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is proud that they “…have helped customers connect more solar systems than any other utility in the country”. However, that means we get far too many landline calls from companies aggressively wanting to sell us solar systems.  While I support the installation of home solar power in general, our house in Willow Glen has a beautiful 80+ year old ceramic tile roof in good condition – not appropriate for solar panel installation. We only receive about six landline calls a day and usually four or more of them are telemarketing calls from solar vendors. I called PG&E and they say they are not responsible. We are on the Do Not Call Registry and routinely ask the companies to “Take Us Off Your List!”.  Nothing has helped against the relentless tide of telemarketing.  Enough!  

The calls that we get that are not from solar power shills are often from companies trying to sell us new construction or carpet cleaning.  Only one or two calls a week on our landline are from friends and family. Now that I am working from my home office daily, I would rather take my chances that the cell phones will work after a major earthquake than talk to six telemarketers every day. At least on an iPhone, I can easily block unwanted callers.

John is now transferring our home phone number to Google Voice on our temporary ZTE phone. In a week, we will have reduced our daily frustrations, saved $71/month in payments to AT&T, and have more space on our desks where the landlines used to be. Hooray!

28 Feb 2015 Update:
Our house is old enough to have a niche for a wall telephone. What do I do with that now that the landlines are dead? Maybe a sculpture niche? The birds are not sure if they want to share their corner with a cat sculpture…

IMG_0159 . IMG_0164

Photos Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson


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New Tablecloths from Africa


I just picked up my two new tablecloths and sets of napkins from Alterations by Ioana (in Willow Glen, San Jose, California). I challenged Ioana to take the two lovely bolts of polished cotton I bought in Rwanda with the TechWomen delegation in February 2014, and turn them into something that would fit my formal dining table. By adding panels to the sides and using the pattered selvage as the border, Ioana did a great job!

P1150847 copy



Images Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson

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Easter Egg Hunt 2014


This morning was our annual backyard Easter Egg Hunt – a very popular event among our friends, family, and neighbors. About 15 children (ages 18 months to 21 years) joined the search for hundreds of plastic eggs filled with chocolate candies. For the adults, there were two specially hidden eggs: gold and silver. Only the following poems gave clues to their locations:

I know a bed where the wild thyme blows,
Where iris and nodding rosemary grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious lemondrops,
With sweet musk-roses and with nasturtium:
There sleep sweet bees sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there snake throws her cold enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

I have 3 guards for my home-place
The same number of eyes and legs between them
They keep for me in a safer space.
One would walk if he were fitted for a mind-Chem
but instead keeps me in the cool.
One is anxious but smiles except when asleep
One at ball’s drop can only drool
One was born only to be buried down deep
Can you find my comfy ark?
Or will you get lost in the barks?

Thanks to the Associate Easter Bunny, my daughter Jessica for her contributions to the poems (from Washington DC), and thanks to Paul and John for helping create today’s festivities! Clara and Paul and Dan teamed up to find the gold and silver eggs – and were rewarded with Peeps Chocolate Eggs for their hunting prowess.

Each Spring, I work for weeks to make our garden a demi-paradise for this event – full of flowers and rock borders suitable for hiding eggs.  Easter coincided this year with the seed storms of the cottonwoods on the Guadalupe River in San Jose. Fluffy white seeds blow over everything like dry snow – so much spiderweb removal was needed, especially on WP668, our backyard caboose.

It is such a joy to watch the children filling their baskets, then re-hiding eggs for each other once the hundreds of eggs hidden in the morning by the Easter Bunny have been collected. A delightful celebration of new life and renewal!







21 April 2014 – On the day after the Easter Egg Hunt, I am still finding eggs in the garden (some after the dogs have chewed them)…


Images Copyright John Plocher and Katy Dickinson

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