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Cement Art – Birdbath

Our challenge this week was to make a birdbath that looks completely natural, as though it evolved from wind, water, sand and rock.

Can you find our beautiful birdbath? undefined

How about now? undefined

This birdbath is made of cement, using the imprint of a leaf, and has been left unpainted so that it looks really natural. It gets its texture from the dirt upon which the leaf was placed before we put on the cement. Here is how we did it.

We started by gathering up as many things for our project as we could find on the beach or amongst our belongings. Because we are on a small island, we try not to use imported items for our local art projects. Instead, we work with items that might easily found on the beach or are readily available in local stores.

Things we used for our project:

Some rubber gloves and a teapot for carrying water

Additional items:

Bucket found on the beach used for mixing cement, sand and water
Yes! We got lucky and found a bag of unused Portland Cement sitting in someone’s shed and they kindly shared it with us.
Scissors and a garden trowel
Plastic bag found on beach that we used to cover up the cement while it cured

The recipe for making the concrete is as follows:


  1. Portland Cement
  2. A shovelful of garden dirt
  3. A small bucket of beach sand
  4. Water
  5. Some pretty leaf or leaves of your choice


If you have ever made mud pies as a kid, then you are going to love this project. Mix Portland Cement and sand using a ratio of 2 to 1. In the project shown below, I used about a total of 12 trowels of Portland Cement and 6 trowels of sand for the birdbath.

Measure the cement and sand and mix well in the bucket, using the trowel to mix it. Then add small amounts of water and continue mixing the cement, sand and water with the trowel. Make a mixture that is sticky and easy to pick up in your hand and squeeze into a small, messy mud ball. You do not want the cement mixture so wet that you can pour it. The less water used, the better. Mix some more.

There, your cement is ready to go!

Making the Concrete Bird Bath

Put a shovel full of garden dirt on the bucket top and mound it upundefined

Place the leaf (or leaves) of your choice on top of the mounded dirt. When doing so, try to imagine how it might look when it leaves its imprint on the cement . undefined

Place mixed cement on top of leaf and mound of dirt, using your trowel, and then your gloved hands. Smooth the cement until it reaches the edge of the bucket top while keeping cement approximately 2 or 3 inches thick. It ends up looking a lot like a Shephards Pie, made of cement, of course. undefined

Leave it in a shaded place for 24 hours.

Splash water on a plastic bag and use it to cover the cement and leave it for another two or three days.

Gently flip the cement over, remove the leaf, hose the cement down and take a look at what you have. Surprise! It is really beautiful. undefined

Mistakes we made thus far: On our first attempt, we left the cement out in the sun to dry and it dried to quickly and cracked. The second attempt, which is the one you are looking at, we left the cement in a shaded, cool place so that it dried more slowly and it came out really well.

Things to Remember: This project is for artistic fun. Please have fun and if it doesn’t work out the first time, try again adjusting it a little bit. If you start with a small project like this, it really doesn’t take much cement to make a beautiful birdbath. Even if you make a mistake, you won’t lose much if you have to do it over. Besides, it is enjoyable to play with cement. Have fun, and innovate! Let us know how it turned out.

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Bike Riding in the Abacos

We don’t really need complicated gears on our bikes in the Abacos.  What we do need are wider wheels to take on dirt roads and baskets to carry food and drink.  Most of the island is flat. It is perfect biking for people wanting a simple, quick and quiet way to get from one place to another, in most cases.

An essential piece of gear for our bikes is the rear view mirror to help us keep track of cars and for ourselves, helmets.  Both are available in local hardware stores in Marsh Harbour, as are the bikes and the baskets.

Recently, we started to ride on the major highway and Sunday morning is an exceptionally good time to ride.  There are very few cars on the road.  Traffic looks like this.

Liz, Marge, Jimmy, Merle, Mary and Melanie

As a challenge, we decided to take a 30 mile ride from the Esplanade of Bahama Palm Shores to Sandy Point.  Since the start of the New Year, in preparation for the longer trip, we have been riding daily with a group of friends for 7 or 8 miles.

Today was the day for our thirty mile trip.  Three of us took off this morning at 8 am for the big ride.  Our husbands photographed us at the starting point.  It was a surprisingly cool morning and we headed out actually wearing light jackets and sweatshirts, which is unusual.  We more typically wear shorts and a t-shirt.

Merle, Lavonda and me.

 I carried a small can of juice and my camera in my bike basket.  In contrast, my well prepared partners were carrying oranges, bananas, water, and some delicious raisins and nuts that a neighbor packed for us. They kindly shared their stash with me.

One of our bikers, Merle, was wearing a special helmet that her husband Pete had prepared for her.  She was concerned she might not be up to making the whole trip.  Pete duct taped a special hat on the front of her helmet saying, “Sandy Point or Bust”. 

He also contributed shirts to encourage us to complete the trip that say ” “Work Hard…..No Surrender….No Giving up!”

We took off down the road from the Esplanade and made the 10 miles to Schooner Bay in less than one hour, which pleased us to no end.  We were riding fine.  We stopped at the sign to celebrate and take some photos.

The guard at Schooner Bay kindly agreed to take our photo at the 10 mile point and here we are. 

We soon realized it was time to get serious and get back on those bikes until we hit the 20 mile mark, our next stopping point at the turn off to Hole-in-the Wall.  The next part of the trip was particularly beautiful, because we were headed through Crossing Rocks, an area where the island is least wide.  Birds and butterflies are everywhere, and the marsh is very pretty.  

From there we actually took a little hill before it leveled out and we quietly cycled our way through the Abaco National Forest.  I never tire of looking at the wide variety of palms and trees on either side of the road.,

We pedaled steadily for the next hour, usually one cyclist following the other on the left side of the road.

There were several miles where we cycled through an area where there was a forest fire, just a few days ago.  In parts, some logs were still smoking. Luckily it just rained and the fire is essentially out..

In what seemed like a relatively short period of time, one hour, we made it to the 20 mile mark where we stopped long enough to peel an orange and eat a banana, then get back on our bikes and head on down the road for the 30 mile mark..

After the fire

Before we knew what happened, we were at the 27 mile mark, just outside of Sandy Point, where we were met by our husbands and some friends who cheered us over the line.  We stopped for some photos then headed on into Sandy Point to the beach.  

At that point, we hit the wind head on and really had to push to make it the last few miles.  If we were going to be punished by weather, that was a reasonable time to have it happen.  We were already over the finish line and headed to our stopping point.

On top of having a great trip, we had the pleasure of meeting up with our husbands and friends who threw our bikes on a pick up truck and took us to Nancy’s for a delicious lunch.  That was a terrific reward for our efforts and will keep us on the path to new adventures here on the island. 


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A Friend Passes Away

A friend passes away silently one morning
just as
the sun touches his window
one last time

The grass wet with dew still
breeze just beginning
clouds accumulating
palm trees sway
boughs bend

Palmettas flash their silver sides
over the insect-infested, bird-filled marshes.

The night heron marches away,
this time not screeching.

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What happened to 2012?

We thought we had things figured out for 2012.  We were just going to steady the course, keep everything as it is, and just coast for my husband’s first year of retirement. 
Instead, in our usual fashion, we changed our minds.  We decided instead to downsize and hit the floor running by announcing to our surprised children in January that we were thinking of selling our New York home of 30 years.  Then, after we decided that we should sell our home, we also decided that it was a good time to renovate our 500 square foot seasonal cottage at our lake.  Then we decided to renovate the 200 square foot guest cottage so that there would be sufficient space to have kids visit in the summer months.
Having just about filled up every waking moment with the job of examining our closets and bookshelves, throwing things out, making runs to our local  library with book donations, then driving over to Goodwill with some of our belongings, then having a garage sale for some of our furniture, and then readying our home for sale, then completing our transactions with the various contractors who did the renovation,  we decided that we should also begin looking for a condominium. 
We looked everywhere.Then we decided just to skip getting a condo.  Then we changed our minds again, and we picked up a condo in Portland, Oregon.  
By the end of 2012, we managed to sell our New York home of 30 years and complete the cottage renovation.    
I really did not believe that we could have packed much else in this first year of my husband’s retirement!  Looking back at the year that I retired, I guess we did something almost equally crazy.
With respect to 2012, we are grateful for our children’s patience, for their love and support, and for our loyal group of grandchildren, who always manage to make us look on the bright side of life.  
This is best summarized, perhaps, by one of our grandsons when he and his family visited us at the cottage this summer.  He sneaked out of the main cottage where he slept with his Mom and Dad and baby sister, to knock on the door of the small wooden guest cabin to visit his Grandma and Grandpa who were sitting in bed together for their morning cup of coffee.  He crawled into bed with us, where we were surrounded by boxes, blankets and items stacked in the corner while the renovation was being completed.  The early morning sun was coming through the windows. 
He looked around and said, “This is my favorite cabin in the whole world.” 
For a couple of doting grandparents, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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After Sandy, What Next?

Hurricane Sandy raged through the Caribbean causing much damage, destruction and death  We wondered what she would do next as she roared up the eastern sea coast.   There was so much commotion in the news about her impending arrival

Almost exactly one year ago, we were warned about the dangers of Hurricane Irene.  Would this be a situation where the bark of the dog was bigger than its bite?  We had survived Irene relatively unscathed. Were these warnings the real thing this time?  Public news announcements and warnings continued throughout the day  and along with everybody else we prepared for the storm.  We filled up jugs of water, bought a battery operated radio, checked for candles and matches, stored some extra food and wood for the fireplace, then hunkered down and waited.

Neighbors looking over damage in front yard.

Toward evening, the winds  started to blow more incessantly.  In the early evening we looked out our window into the valley and saw what looked like fireworks as transformers exploded and sparks flew.   Soon after, we watched most of the village go black.  It was 8:25pm and most of us had no electricity.  We watched the fireworks, the whipping trees, then finally went to bed.  Then at around 3am my husband and I awoke at the sound of an enormous crash.  We looked out the windows, counted all the trees and didn’t see any missing.  When we opened up the front door to see what we might see,  we heard the winds roaring over our heads, sounding like a train going by.  Eventually we went back to bed and fitfully slept, waiting for the morning light.

Down by the Hudson River, there was a lot of water damage and flooding.  I took this photo of the river from our local library.

Hudson River after the storm
Fallen tree in neighborhood

Once the rains and winds calmed down, we grabbed our jackets and went outside to see what was happening. Fallen trees and branches were all around us.  Some had fallen on cars, some on homes and some across electric lines and onto the street.  The damage was considerable.  

Cottage damaged from fallen tree

After several days, we also drove an hour away and checked out our seasonal cottage up in northwest Connecticut.  Although our little cottage was fine, our neighbor’s was damaged very severely by a fallen tree. 

 On the way we witnessed lines for gasoline that were very long and sometimes used police management to keep the lines orderly.  My husband counted 52 cars in one line, just waiting for gas to be pumped. 

Line for gasoline station is on the right.

For the following week, wind and water damage and shortages of electricity, gasoline and heat was all we talked about.  We shuddered to learn of the deaths and destruction that happened, especially along the coast. Commuting stopped.  Schools were closed.  Businesses also closed, or opened their doors under difficult conditions.

Sign on front door of local store

From a personal point of view, we were very lucky. Many homes were severely damaged by water and some were destroyed. Our home was not damaged by the storm.

Here are some personal examples of ways that our own situation changed that week we had without electricity, internet, or telephone.

First, we came up with a very fancy heating system in the kitchen by filling up pots with water and heating them up on the stove and letting them radiate heat.  It sort of worked.  We felt lucky that the top of the gas range worked. We reverted to lanterns and candles for lighting.  And we went to bed early.

Lighting system
Our hot water heating system
Refrigeration system

Then, things got better for us personally, when our neighbor shared a line from his generator with us, allowing us to have a light in the kitchen and to use his internet.  That was a huge improvement.  Everybody pitched in and helped out.  On the whole, there was very little complaining and a whole lot of good spirit. 

We were also lucky because we have a gas hot water heater that continued to give us hot water.  Numerous people came over and showered at our place.  It felt good that we had something to offer.  But here we are, more than seven days away from the storm, and we still have a lot of people without heat, light, or in some cases, even a home.

There are still roughly 500 households in our little village that have no electricity, and we are expecting a pretty big storm tomorrow.  People are worried about how the northeast will handle this big storm so soon after Sandy.

We got an email message from our Hastings mayor, Peter Swiderski this evening that updates us on the situation and also very effectively summarizes the frustrations that we feel.

Here is the first part of his message:

Fellow Residents –

Perhaps the most frustrating day yet – aside from some assessment teams looking at the remaining damage, not a single restoration crew was in town today.  Not one.  Con Ed offered no good explanation other than they were allocated elsewhere and they once again proved a disconnect between what they say in the evening and what happens the next day.  Howls were met with apologetic shrugs.

The mayors of the various village and towns in the Con Edison service area are experiencing very similar frustration – teams yanked unexpectedly, unreliable predictions, poor information. When this crisis has passed, there will be hearings and inquiries on these issues – very clearly, while this storm presented a historic challenge, there are huge issues with Con Ed’s resource allocation, information provision and planning. A number of residents reported Con Ed robocalls in the evening indicating they would be lit this morning, only to wake to the crushing disappointment of nothing but cold and dark.  Cruel. I can only say that if you are without power, about the only thing Con Ed can say for certain is that it will be restored.  Believe nothing about when until the lights come on.  I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I have seen too many people just crushed.

Almost too much to consider, the upcoming storm expected tomorrow is predicted to start mid-afternoon involve rain and wind and proceed through the night.  Locally, it is likely to involve sustained winds of 20-30mph winds with gusts of forty or more.  It may turn into the a wintery mix overnight.  YOU ARE STRONGLY ADVISED TO SLEEP IN A LOWER STORY AWAY FROM POSSIBLE TREE IMPACTS if there are tall or overhanging trees in the vicinity.  They may be weakened and this may be just what they need to go over. If you are unheated, and have doubts about handling temperatures likely to dip five degrees colder than we have seen, please accept the offers of housing from the Village or your family and friends.
We can only hope and pray (hard) that the storm will stay far enough to sea so that it impact is lessened.  I hate to say it, but bring the flashlights and lanterns out, line up the batteries, and brace for impact. We just don’t know for sure, but I think we’ve learned to have an abundance of caution.”

Sandy arrives

Our mayor said it perfectly.  We don’t know when things will get better for our neighbors.  And we are not happy with the current outcome.  

 It is not clear what this next storm holds.  But there are predictions of snow and cold while people are still without heat.  This has been a very fragile repair job to our electric lines, to the distribution systems, roads and homes, and I am not sure that things will hold with a storm so immediately following that blast we just received from Sandy. 

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Sandy is on her way

Earlier this morning, around 8am I took this shot of the sky over Hastings on Hudson.  The clouds were in long fat rolls of different shades.  There was little wind.  We expect this to be an eventful day, and we are concerned with the outcome.  But, right now, it is beautiful and quiet outside, but dark and ominous.

It is now 3:09 in the afternoon and half the sky is bright and shiny; half the sky is grey and rainy.  The winds are gusty and coming in the opposite direction from usual.  Trees are swaying.

We took precautions, as advised by our governor and our mayor of NYC.  We left Connecticut early in order to get back to New York to prepare the house for the storm.  This morning we prepared vegetarian meals to get us through a loss of electricity that is expected.  We have filled up containers with water, cleared off the decks, and are now sitting tight.

The worst thing to do now is to peek at the news to see what is coming.  It doesn’t look good.  The alarms just went off in our village.   I have seen photos showing flooding by the river into our local parks.  Most of us are a bit nervous and concerned, but at this point there is little we can do beyond watch it happen.  I worry about the size of the damage that is about to be done.  Such a large area is affected by this storm.

My husband’s flight to California on Wednesday was just canceled. The subways system, and all public transport in the city and areas surrounding it are stopped.  The buildings in south Manhattan where our son works are evacuated.  Wall Street is silent.  This is not a happy day.

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Potholes can be pretty

According to a guerrilla group of gardeners who are gardening on public lands,   a garden can be so small that it fits in a pothole, a purse or a shoe.   Pothole Gardening: An Example   What a playful idea this is.

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We seek  ways to make our transition easier as we move from a big home to a smaller one.  A site that is very helpful to me is the Tiny House Blog .  This blog draws attention to the many ways in which living in a small space can be both challenging and fun. 

I can vouch for one thing already.  Downsizing to a smaller home is invigorating.  It provides lots of exercise just running up and down the stairs, for example, carrying mattresses, blankets, sleeping bags, boxes of old toys.  And then there are all the pieces of furniture to move around, like dressers and couches, old cots and tons of books.  

Recycling is a very popular activity.   Yesterday, we put a sign sign saying “Free” on some items we put out in the front yard, next to the front road.  It included a large chair and ottoman, barbells and weights, and a lamp.  Much to our pleasure and surprise, they were all gone in a matter of a few hours.  It feels like a miracle to put items no longer wanted or used outside and watch them usefully disappear.

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It is not easy to leave our home and garden after thirty years.

View from South Deck

Our home is located in the Hudson Valley and our garden is on a long and steep slope that eventually ends up at the Hudson River, facing the Palisades. When we walk to the train station to go to the city for work, we walk 0.7 miles straight down the steep slope to the river, using a sidewalk, of course, and not by rappelling in our backyard.


Our garden is a small tamed area sitting on a slope in rather wild and natural surroundings.  It is a place to enjoy for all seasons and has a character all its own in spring, summer, fall and winter. For as long as we have lived here, we have worked on taming it, just a bit.

When we sell our home, we leave the garden behind, but we will take our gardening ideas to our next location  and will design and experiment in a new context.  We have several principles that we use in our garden that will no doubt apply to the next:  

  1. The fun never stops; 
  2. Our legs and back always ache and we are on our knees a lot; and
  3. If you water the lawn very heavily, it will rain.

We practically have no lawn on our property.  What lawn that we do have is set on a terrace and is surrounded by flowers and bushes that mingle and match in their own ways. As the years have moved along it has become quite unpredictable what flowers we will find in the spring that have settled into our lawn.

Our North Deck in Summer

The north deck overlooks the small lawn and peers out into the terraced garden.  The deck is low and faces the Palisades.  We have spent many a summer dining out here on this deck with the children.

North Deck in Spring
South Deck in Winter

The south deck overlooks the Palisades and the Hudson River and sits much higher.

South Deck in Summer

 In any season, this deck is a great spot to watch the sun set.

Our garden is sloped and terraced. 

 There are stairs to help us get from one level to the other.

  The garden shifts from tame to wild as it heads toward the woods.

We get an interesting perspective on our garden from our attic window.

The circle of bricks surrounding the bird bath out front was built by my husband as a gift to me, some ten years ago.

The plants that we have put in in the garden are not treated in any way with chemicals.  These roses are neither fertilized nor treated with chemicals, nor are they watered regularly.  Yet, for thirty years, they have grown multiplied and thrived on the slope.  At the top of the garden slope, we compost leaves, all our cuttings and vegetable scraps from our kitchen.  The result has been wonderful. 

In the autumn, the Palisades are in full view from the North Deck, as is the Hudson River, from the South Deck. 

THere is a patch of flowers left  as a gift for me in the middle of the lawn by my son when he went to college. 
He mowed around them and said to me, “Here Mom, a present, something to remember me by.”  Fifteen years later, in the spring, they are still popping up in the center of the lawn.  
 It makes me smile.

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The work is begun.

We are renovating our seasonal cottage so that we can live in it comfortably in spring, summer and fall. That sounds rather simple, doesn’t it?  But our goal has resulted in a pile of old materials heaped up in our yard that used to be our old interior kitchen and bathroom walls.  We will soon have new walls, freshly painted and tiled and all this rubble will be removed.  But for now, it looks pretty messy. 

We are removing old appliances such as our 1952 Frigidaire made by General Motors and still running beautifully even though it eats a generous amount of electricity and has no defrosting capabilities.  But at least it still runs after 60 years.  We have put it up for sale and I am sure someone will give it a good home. We talked about keeping this wonderful old fridge, but decided to get a new one that has a freezer on the bottom to reduce the amount of time that we spend kneeling in front of our refrigerator as though it were a sacred relic or famous religious leader.

If there is an interested buyer who is on a diet, I might add that one asset of this refrigerator is that it takes two hands (and sometimes two people) to get the door open and if you are a little kid at least one foot as well.  This reduces the amount of time spent snacking on unnecessary food items and it is also good exercise for people who need their arms (and perhaps their legs) strengthened.

If we get depressed from looking at this heap of rubble, all we do is go around the front of the cottage and look at the lake instead.  It reminds us why we are doing this.

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