Welcome to Mary Laudien's Blog


Never ever did I aspire to be a gardener. What happened?
– We moved to beautiful Vancouver Island.
– We bought a home on a corner lot in a neighborhood where every yard could be featured in Fine Gardening Magazines.
– We purchased our home in January and never gave the yard a second thought…it was flat and looked somewhat pretty in the rain.
– We never questioned the low areas where the water pooled… or the lawns that produce mostly moss and quack grass… or the wild area in the depression filled with dead, sickly trees…
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Smart husband, Ryan, decided to continue employment, realizing that our new property was going to be a challenge. He conveniently schedules himself off the Island (for business) whenever the heavy-duty gardening must be done. Who knew he was so devious? Well, let’s just say that most of April/May looked like this:
– A record year for moss. The (lawn- if you can call it that) had to be chemically treated (2X), thatched (4X), critically raked by hand (4X), treated with lime, and fertilized. And where was he? You guessed it- out of town!2015-04-14 15.29.52
– 3.5 yards of soil had to be distributed to all the shrub beds and the bald areas of the lawn. (This was accomplished after the entire yard had been weeded, which took so long that it was time to start the weeding procedure all over again!) Where was he? GONE! GONE! GONE!2015-04-14 15.30.16
– The highlight in the neighborhood was when our next door neighbor rented an aerator for his lawn and offered to aerate our lawns, as well.(Husband Ryan was on the mainland – GONE! Of course he was!) He totally missed the flocking frenzy of neighborhood men, caused by the unloading of this miracle machine. (Curiously, not one offered to pick up a rake….) And guess who’s lawn was deemed “aerator unworthy” due to lack of soil depth causing the spikes to hit rock? Apparently, “NEIGHBORS WHO AERATE LAWNS TOGETHER REMAIN GOOD NEIGHBORS FOREVER!” (Too bad GONE BOY missed the bonding experience!)
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Needless to say, there hasn’t been much time this spring to write blogs! The cedar hedge still needs trimmed, (more weeding), dead plants must be replaced,(more weeding), everything is thirsty, (more weeding),and all plants need nourishing fertilizer, (more weeding), …

So GONE BOY is seriously contemplating retirement. One has to giggle at his naivety of envisioning a life of relaxation and freedom. If my vision of the future is realized,GONE BOY will be renamed, GARDEN BOY, and my new name will be GONE GIRL (gone shopping, gone hiking, gone lunching, gone writing…) Looking at the results of my gardening efforts, our neighborhood will be relieved to embrace Ryan as the RESIDENT GARDENER!

I know I’m not the only person out there who is singing the GARDENING WOES SONG. Leave a little tidbit in the comment section, for all of us to enjoy. (I’m waiting for someone to share a cougar visit in her backyard, just after WEEDING…) Come on, there have to be more of me out there!


So now we’re headed back after our two months away, and I’m back to rain and wind in Portland. I feel cold and chilled, but this too will pass. Whenever I think of our vacation, the warmth and the sunshine is front and center. My husband and I are both looking forward to returning home and spending time with our family and friends, repairing the damage done by the deer in our yard (Did I say looking forward to that?), and settling back into our Island life. I know that more than ever, I will be hiking, biking, sailing, and just enjoying my time spent in the outdoors and nature. Hopefully the sun will cooperate and it will remind me of our sunny, warm time in the desert. Our plants may not resemble the flora of the desert, but I certainly have more ideas for the grasses in our backyard.



And most of all, we’ll be going through a difficult “DE-WINE INTERVENTION”, when we walk into our first BC Liquor Store and get shocked by the insane cost of a mediocre California ZIN!


Many of you have had some extended holiday time in the desert. Perhaps some of you actually own a condo, house, or park model in the desert around Palm Springs or Phoenix. Share some of your experiences and highlights in the COMMENT SECTION below. Let us know your favorite months in the sunshine and why you choose those particular months. And remember, you can pass these EXTENDED VACATIONS IN THE SUNSHINE blog installments by forwarding this link to other SNOW BIRDS:



Something I’ve known forever, but just never acknowledged before this trip to the desert, is that I’m an outdoorsy girl. I craved to be outside in the sunshine all day long. I’d start my day off with a 2 hour hike or walk and then sought every other available opportunity to be outside. With the sun shining, it was painful for me to sit in front of my computer or scrub bathrooms, when I could be:

  • swimming,
  • outdoor shopping in Scottsdale,
  • outdoor touring (e.g., the spring training baseball game (Los Angelas Angels versus the Arizona Diamondbacks), Queen Creek Olives, wineries, Tucson Western Movie Museum town, Roosevelt Dam, South Mountain),
  • visiting Outdoor Cafes and Restaurants,
  • touring show homes (AND NO… We aren’t buying a vacation house.), etc.

There was always something pulling me away from the condo and I loved that – just spending time outdoors without guilt. (I know I was more successful with this than my employed husband, but I also believe I’m more of an outdoor person than he is- with or without his job!)






I think this extended trip gave me my first true feeling of being liberated from the workforce. There is no doubt in my mind that I am further along the retirement spectrum than my overly productive husband. When you reflect on your extended desert stays, what have you learned about yourself? I know my readers and I will get a kick out of this answer, so please, please, please leave a COMMENT in the COMMENT SECTION below.

 Mary with Map








Having pedicures available across the street from our condo was fantastic. My toenails continued to be flaked, dry and ugly looking from swimming. Scraping one’s feet and nails against the rough concrete sides of the pool was disastrous!

The fellow giving me my pedicure took one look at my toes and remarked, “You’re Canadian, aren’t you?”



I admitted I was and asked him how he knew.

He replied, “It’s March! No one in Phoenix swims in March! It’s too cold! (Oh yeah, 86-90 degree weather is chilly… right!) We never hit the pool until May. You have to be Canadian to go swimming in the middle of winter!”

 Who knew my pedicure would reveal my nationality?

 Please use the COMMENT SECTION below and tell my readers and I how the Americans you befriended realized you were Canadian. What were you doing? What were you saying that tipped them off? (Maybe, just maybe, you dropped the “EH” bomb?). Please send the link to this “Extended Vacations in the Sunshine” blog series to as many Snow Birds as you know, so they can be part of the conversation. (http://www.twocandobooks.wordpress.com) And remember, you can also subscribe to my blog, so that way you’ll receive an email reminder, each time I send out a new post.


Fortunate for us, we had lots of family vacationing or living in the Phoenix area, so we had tons of get-togethers and went several places with one another. That was a real plus to our desert experience!

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2015-03-01 17.39.34We also had the good fortune to have friends vacationing in Palm Springs. A highlight for us was having them stay over for a couple of nights on their way home. Now, you have to know that these two are extremely fit, and so we planned a couple of early morning desert hikes with them. Of course, the one morning when we wanted to be up and at it before it got too hot, the hosts slept in! We found our friends sitting silently on the couch, waiting for the sleepy heads to get ready. (My husband rarely sleeps past 6:00 am, but that morning…. visualize 9:00ish!) Could it possibly have been the Zinfandel?

Our friend has some knee issues, but he assured us that he could manage the elevated hike up South Mountain… no problem. And it wasn’t a problem because my astute husband noticed that his buddy wasn’t wearing his brace, as we pulled out of the garage. Yep, he was up hours before us, but had completely forgotten his trusty knee brace for the climb….

Ken's trusty knee brace.

Ken’s trusty knee brace.

We also discovered things about having company (friends and relatives) in the condo. The kitchen was well supplied with dishes and pots and pans. However, when one is camping in someone else’s apartment, it’s somewhat tricky preparing meals for company. Let’s just say, COSTCO and TRADER JOE’S did a brisk business selling us such delicacies as: frozen scallion pancakes with red chili sauce, kale salads, quinoa salads, garlic shrimp and pasta, crab cakes and rice, etc. We were wary of using the communal barbeques (It wasn’t our own and we were a little squeamish about preparing food on it, okay?). Thus, entertaining was a bit challenging, as we weren’t equipped to make complicated meals. Thankfully the shortcomings of the menu were more than adequately compensated with the quality of the California wines served and consumed. (Everyone loved the BOGLE OLD VINE ZINFANDEL!)





Please go to the COMMENT SECTION below and be part of our extended desert vacation conversation. Tell us what cooking and socializing looks like for you when you’re having a stay in the desert. My readers and I want to learn some tips from you.


What does it look like when you rent a condo for the duration? First of all, I recommend that you arrive in daylight to find your specific apartment. We paused in Palm Springs to wash the car… visit a flea market… and meet up with some friends from home for lunch. So by the time we arrived in Phoenix, it was dark and all we had was an address. The condo addresses were hidden in alcoves and impossible to read from the street! It took us forever, scurrying from building-to-building, before realizing there was no logical pattern to their numbering system. Thankfully, just when we thought we’d be spending the first night in the parking lot with the coyotes, we stumbled upon a map at the entrance to the complex …DUH! NOT SURE HOW WE MISSED IT on the way in! We gratefully collapsed into our new digs, once we had unloaded the overburdened car.

The condo belongs to a family member and we were so pleased to have the opportunity to use it. The location is a lovely subdivision of Phoenix (AUWATUKEE) and the patio doors butt up against a desert mountain- complete with javelinas, coyote packs, and desert rabbits. (Notice I don’t mention SNAKES!) That’s right, here we were in the middle of the city and right outside our apartment, we were smack up against the wild desert. Quite a contrast! We slept with our window open and got so that we missed the coyote packs howling when the night was silent. (I’m serious! Okay, I didn’t miss hearing them tear some innocent little animal apart outside our window; I’ll admit that!)





Living in a condo for an extended period, in contrast to vacationing on a cruise ship or an all-inclusive, meant actually setting up house – just like at home. Thus, the day-to-day drudgery of cleaning, laundry, bathrooms, grocery and supplies shopping, etc. became an integral part of one’s day. (Do you denote a bit of spoiled attitude coming through?) As well, this condo complex is not filled with Canadian Snow Birds who have social gatherings together or special activities coordinated for them. No, we were immersed with real, live working Americans who were making a living and raising kids. It was so real that the neighbors above us appeared to be working on different shifts from each other. The nights were filled with the woman literally running overhead- we nicknamed her “BIG FOOT”. What was she doing up there? Really? Her husband snored his way through the nights and made sure husband Ryan was up and at it early with his alarm clock going off at 5:00 am.  (No vacationing, sleepy SNOW BIRDS here!)

Please use the COMMENT SECTION below and tell us about the accommodations that you’ve rented, bought or borrowed, while spending an extended time in the desert. My readers and I would love to explore what alternatives are out there. My husband and I think we had the best of all worlds with our niece’s condo, but I’m sure some of you have some interesting options to share. Let’s get a conversation going people!




What was it like to pack for a two month car trip down to the Phoenix desert? Well, considering one needed to take one’s office – computers X2, printer, iPads and tablets, cameras, phones, besides all the anticipated clothing and shoes for the different climates- it was a most daunting task!

Reflecting back to what was packed and what should have been left at home is an interesting exercise. Yes, we used and needed every technology gadget packed. No, neither of us required multiple pairs of shoes, hikers, and boots (especially since, we still bought Sketchers, Sperry Shoes, and Nordstrom Rack deals). Clothing items could have been cut down to one single soft-sided suitcase- with bathing suits, caps, hiking and exercise clothes, two pairs of jeans, one fancier outfit, shorts and tees, a raincoat (for the trip down and back- once one hits Oregon), and a couple of warm sweaters. Yep, I’m going to develop the knack of packing less. (Why, oh why do I always say this when I return from a trip?)

It’s obvious to anyone that does this that you ALWAYS spend time shopping in the USA- the deals (even with the diminished dollar) are just too tempting. Did we end up returning with a carload? UNBELIEVABLE! (And that’s without even purchasing a single special bottle of wine from the Nappa Valley on our way home!) UNFORGIVABLE!




(Tell me WHY I brought 1 sunhat, 1 Panama hat, and bought 2 caps and my husband brought 1 cowboy hat, 1 Panama hat, 3 ball caps AND he bought 1 old guy’s WINTER cap and 2 baseball caps (LA Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks)? (And those are the only ones I know about…!)

What have you learned about packing for extended vacations in the desert. How can one improve and make better choices regarding what to take? My readers and I want to hear from you, so join the conversation in the COMMENTS SECTION below.



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