Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Whispering Leaves

The trees are whispering their autumn song. They swish, rustle, murmur, as they sigh and dance close to each other, then twist and twirl to the ground.

Hey Sharon, I see you picking up fallen apples...don't you want to share with a friend?

I always have plenty of harvest to share with friends, especially friends with such gorgeous brown eyes.  These were all picked in the last couple of days. Those Brown Turkey figs are the best, the Feijoas (the green fruit in front), are commonly called pineapple guavas. They do have that great taste. I eat them straight from the trees, freeze them, juice them, and include them in apple crumbles. These are the sweet  fruits of my childhood. My playhouse-hide-out was in a huge guava tree where the picking and eating was always good in the autumn.

And at the hundred year old ranch of our dear friends Susie and Ellis Bassetti (you saw Susie and Ellis in my last post with Sue Branch and Joe Hall at our house), the sugar in their award winning grapes is perfect, so yesterday was a harvest day for us. 

Really? I am responsible for totally picking every ripe fruit on one of those rows (which stretch out of eyesight). 

How long are those rows?

And, though I love the big leaves, no big leaves or stems to ruin the crush. I filled this first trug, but then I had to spend ten minutes pulling out my artful displays of leaves.

You didn't necessarily see the person working across the vines from you, but you had great conversations, as juicy and rich as the grapes.

Trug filled till we couldn't move them.

Workers picked up our trugs (like they were feather light), and tossed them into the big bin behind the tractor.

The big bins were loaded onto a truck. We picked 23 of these big bins, which equals about 11 tons!

Where Ellis (the owner of the ranch), Matty, and Bruce offer their two cent$ worth of input.

Cindy Steidel's kale, brussel sprout, and almond salad.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, (as has been the tradition for eons), the talented women cook up goodies for all of us hungry workers.

Ginny gives things the taste test.

Fallen pomegranates for decoration.

Vito and ChaCha look for anything we drop from the serving table.

Susie Bassetti (ranch owner) is perhaps the best hostess I know. Next month Susie and Ellis, Jeff and I are hosting a book celebration for Sue Branch here at the ranch. Hopefully, if it is a nice day we will be able to eat outside under the arbor.

The grape and wisteria arbor is our favorite outdoor dining room. Ellis and Bruce made the twenty foot table and used four empty wine barrels as legs. Pretty nifty, huh?

Ellis Bassetti, our host and the consummate grower.

Ginny (left), Susie, our hostess, Matty the willing grape slave.

So now dear friends, you've seen some (tip of the proverbial iceberg), of the work and love lavished on a crop. This is done daily by a huge force of farmers and ranchers across the countryside. Bless them all.

May the fields, the vines, the trees, and the workers take rest. (Beautiful banner by talented artist Victoria Greene of Cambria).


Lucky number 104-CHRIS MORGAN.

Chris, please send us your mailing address so we can ship your autographed Susan Branch book. Congratulations!

Joys to all,


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sue Branch–Ever Dear-Ever True

A wonderful new book by my friend Susan Branch. WIN YOUR OWN SIGNED COPY. Just leave a comment on this blog posting. After our drawing, we will contact you and ask for your home address and exactly how you want the book signed by Sue. Thank you Sue for your generosity.

Her glorious hand-lettering fills each page with joy, wisdom, history, and travel hints.

Jeff and I loved turning the pages and finding the bookstore, Much Ado Books, of our friends Cate and Nash (formerly of Marblehead, Massachusetts), but now in Alfriston in East Sussex, England. Their bookstore won the award of Best Independent Bookstores in the U.K. You MUST stop by their shop and visit them. You'll be amazed by their knowledge, their philanthropy, their artistry, and to boot, they're great people and great cooks!

Anyone traveling to England would be well-served to take along a copy of this book. It gives an intimate peek at so many things it would be hard to find on a typical, fast moving holiday. Sue and Joe's ramblings have served us all well. I'm ready to go again!


Late at night, and I'm talking midnight when others sleep, Jeff reads aloud to me. By night time, my eyes are tired, and it just feels so good to be read to. I look forward to this part of my life. Don't like to admit it, but sometimes I am lulled to sleep, but not when Jeff started reading Sue's new book.

Snap, my eyes opened. I laughed, nodded my head, clucked my tongue. Lots and lots of the beginning of the book was familiar territory to me because of the voluminous letters Sue and I used to write back and forth (internet changes it all, right? I vow to write more real letters!).

Jeff read on and on until I couldn't stay awake. We did not want to stop the adventure, but we knew that we would be sharing the journey again the next night.

The book is more than a travel book or memoir, but you have to read it and experience it to totally appreciate the depth, humor ,and joy Sue shares. I promise, you won't regret a second of your time.


A desktop full of memories. Sue and I used to correspond by actual mail! She would often do little watercolors for me and include them in the envelope. I always snipped herbs and stuffed them into my notes.  We wrote voluminous letters to each other.

Sue, Joe, and Jeff doing the "kitchen dance" in my teensy Cambria kitchen (which I loved).

Joe Hall, Jeff, and me in the dining room on the Vineyard. Great place to sit and talk for hours. Oh, and did I mention that it is a great place to eat for hours?

Girlfriends all dreseed up and celebrating as Sue's guests at the Madonna Inn. This was in 1994. I remember that there were little gold boxes at each place. The boxes were filled with Godiva chocolates.  I am on  the far right and sitting down. Sue is behind me, second from the right end. Her dear sister Shelly, who I adore, sits on my far left.  Her close friend Diana (mentioned in the book) is sitting to my left.

Sue dancing with a silent partner on Martha's Vineyard. She won't be stepping on any toes here.

Making more sweet memories

Two Sues. Two of my favorites in the world. Sue Branch and Susie Bassetti hugging in my kitchen. I'm lucky! Um, Sue Eiler, don't want you to think that I forgot YOU. Of course, you're one of my favs too.

Mr. Adorable. Joe Hall is pondering a table laden with food.

So dear, but where is his black beret??

The girls talk and paw through my coffee table basket filled with photos (which is where I found some of the old ones pictured above).

The best part of a meal. Friends. We had so much catching up to do, but first, we all held hands in thanks for the food and friendship and told what we are grateful for. Friends, family, health...who could ask for more? Isn't it funny how you can be separated from beloved friends, but when you join together the conversation just flows, like it had never stopped. True friends are a comfort. No artifice, no excuses, just friendship.

Ellis Bassetti gets his just desserts from Sue. She said, "If you knew Ellis, then you'd know that he deserves this!" I must agree. He is the worst tease in the world, but we still love him.

I think we were singing. Not the best photo of me, but hey, it is about the moment!

So my friends, I'll end this posting with an invitation for you to leave a comment to win one of Sue's signed books. You'll love it. Contest ends October 20th.

...but it is NOT THE END!

Sending love across the miles,


Friday, October 4, 2013

Decorating with Mother Nature

Naturally. Someone asked me what I would call my "decorating style," and all I could say was "naturally." Here is an example of an easy, natural, "stained glass" window. All you need are two sheets of Plexiglass, some dried leaves and blooms, and duct tape to "frame" the two sheets. Simple! Directions for this and many nature crafts are in my book Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars by Workman Publishing.

I love this time of year and try to bring as much nature indoors as possible. So simple and free and all a gift from Mother Nature. Thanks Mother!

This time of year all my pockets are crammed with acorns. Who could resist them?

And pottery bowls are filled with mosses, lichens, and bayberries.

It's all about the leaves...and twigs...and bark...and acorns...and mosses...and gourds...and pumpkins...

...And how to use them. Now is the time to collect and press your favorite leaves to use as gift cards and place cards.

Sara May made this for her mom.

Simply soak branches of leaves (crush end of branch to allow absorption) in a bucket of one part vegetable glycerin to two parts warm water. You'll be able to tell when the leaves have absorbed all they can when they have little beads on them that look like dew. I NEVER hang these indoors because the glycerine can drip off the leaves onto furniture, etc.. 

Apples, pepper berries, and snowberry in a wooden bowl. Snowberry is a Symphoricarpos that is native to North America and is NOT edible.

The best table decorations. Candles, gourds, squash, pumpkins, pomegranates, persimmons...

I love having the pumpkins as kitchen guests.

Not many words, but you get the picture, right? I love it simple and natural. My bountiful gardens and the local farmers' markets keep me stocked with every bit of decoration that I, or you, could possibly need. Love it.

I am working on my two new novels, one is about a young girl on an island in Maine, the other is a contemporary novel about a girl who grows six inches in a summer and is taunted by her friends. If you have any stories to relate about being tall, well, I would love to hear them.

As of today, most of the work on Running Out of Night is finished. Next time I see it it will be in book form. I love the cover and the interior illustrations, which I'll share with you as soon as my publisher allows. This has been an exciting and busy ride, but I've loved every moment of the process.

If you, or someone you know, would like me to make a school visit and presentation, just drop my husband Jeff a line. I will be available in winter 2014. Talking to groups of children is one of my favorite things.

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. DeeDee Osborne, I never saw it in bloom! We were gone, but the birds enjoyed everything.