Life as I know It

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Little Song of Life

"Glad that I live am I;
That the sky is blue;
Glad for the country lanes,
And the fall of dew.

After the sun the rain,
After the rain the sun;
This is the way of life,
Till the work be done."

Lizette Woodworth Reese

"After the rain the sun." Thank heavens. When we go through a particularly bad spell, it is a relief and a blessing to think of those words. I love this poem, "A Little Song of Life," from one of my favorite books (given to me by one of my best friends, Marilyn) Silver Pennies-Modern Poems for Boys and Girls, published in 1933.

Tonight we will take down our little living tree and tomorrow we'll plant it outside our front door. It is a bittersweet time for me, thinking of the promises of the new year, but wondering-WHAT HAPPENED TO 2009???? I keep asking myself if I'm wasting too much of the precious time I have left, but I guess it is not wasting time when you're enjoying every step of the journey.

This morning I continued our family tradition of cutting the bare and sleeping branches of a fruit tree to bring indoors. Although these twigs look lifeless, I know that in a few weeks, in the middle of a dark and cold day, tiny bundles of green life, and tissue paper petals of white will fill our home with the promise of spring.

Until next time, I thank you all for your friendship and for your long letters and e-mails.

Happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year,


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holiday Blessings

This is the time of year when memories flow through me like a clear mountain stream. I love the traditions of the holiday season, and my greatest joy is tending them the way a gardener tends her herbs.

What are holidays without baking? Sara May and I spent time together this week baking cookies. Without any prompting from me, she made a faerie-sized platter of tiny cookies and tucked them into her faerie mailbox to share with our tiny garden visitors.

Sara and her Amma baking cookies
Freshly baked cookies for the faerie...
...tucked into her faerie mailbox

Out come the Christmas Cove Designs hand knit stockings from Maine-one for each child. Four miniature stockings will magically appear on the faerie mailboxes on Christmas morning, stuffed with tiny whimsical gifts.

I remember how each Christmas Eve I searched my grandparent's tree for three things that always hung from the lower limbs. A bright red apple, which honored my Bopie's best friend Bob Lee. A potato, and I can't remember who that was for (but it could've been me), and a carrot, the favorite vegetable of my Bopie's brother.

Edwardian Squirrel
Since my grandparents passed, I've kept that tradition alive, along with some of my own. At the top of our tree is a glass eyed Edwardian squirrel who once decorated a fancy lady's hat, but now reigns supreme over our celebrations. A hundred paper origami cranes, a symbol of peace, were hand folded for me by my daughter-in-law. The multi-colored birds perch happily on every branch of the tree. An old clip on chickie, an early 1900's Santa, a birdhouse my husband made from a walnut, and a Santa Claus painted mussel shell from Burnt Island, Maine, are all keepsakes of many Christmases past.

Walnut bird house and origami crane ornaments
Mussel Shell ornament from Burnt Island, Maine, off the coast of Boothbay Harbor

I'm sick in bed today and missing a much anticipated gathering at the home of a special friend talented illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson and her husband Fred. I'll take this missed opportunity as a time to wrap stocking stuffers and a time to reflect on the blessings I've been granted–a good family, dear friends (and that includes YOU, my invisible, but ever present blog friends), good health (today excepted), the love of simple pleasures, and the ability to make a living doing something that gives me joy.

Thank you all for your enduring friendship (that includes YOU, Eleanor, friend for 40 years)!



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Candlelight and Friendship

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well,
if one has not dined well."

Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941, from A Room of One's Own

Before the whirlwind hit the kitchen

Phew, I made it. For the past week I fretted over the upcoming storm. Don't get me wrong; I wanted the storm; we need the water; but I wanted it AFTER the gathering at our little house. To have a comfortable sit-down dinner, we needed to use the farm table under the grape arbor as well as the long harvest table in our dining room.

My friend Kary and I talked on and off during the week. Kary's husband John was to be the bbq man, and I was worried about him working in a storm-all alone, but my luck held. The clouds broke, the sun shone through and slowly a trickle, then a rush of my oldest friends arrived with FABULOUS foods in hand.

Ciro Pasciutto's homemade bread and Susie and Ellis Bassetti's focaccia

When we all gathered in a circle in our kitchen, I felt my eyes fill with tears. As I scanned each face, I saw the history of friendship–Kary, David and Julee, Steve and Heli, and my someday husband had all helped me move to Cambria in 1982. Patrick and Susan had provided Noah and me with a home we could afford, Susie and Ellis were two of our first friends (Susie filled Heart's Ease with her legendary wreaths). Vicki and Dick, Bonny and Lee, Ginny, who is a friend from both Maine and Santa Barbara, Kim and Ciro, Johnny the bbq King, and Karin...all a part of the colorful patchwork of my life.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Tranquility

Post-Thanksgiving Kitchen

"Things taste better in small houses."
Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

Phew! The flour settled in drifts on the floor. Gravy splattered the wall behind the old stove. Dishes were stacked in haphazard piles on every flat surface in the kitchen. Leftovers filled all the refrigerator shelves, but the day was memorable and filled with love.

My husband Jeff and my brother and sister-in-law all pitched in to help cook our family's Thanksgiving meal, and although we were tired beyond belief at the end of the day, it was all worth it. The four of us crammed into my little kitchen, prepped, chopped, spiralized, tossed, whipped, sauteed, seared, baked, roasted, and finally, voila, a memorable family meal around the long farm table.

I loved it when my 7 year old granddaughter Sara said that she was "grateful that our family is together today." And I loved it when 2 1/2 year old Moses picked up his long stemmed water glass (yikes, was he going to spill it?) and clanked it into his Dad's glass and said, "Cheers." (Which we all did).

Today the house is empty. The flour dust is vanquished, the gravy scoured from the wall behind the stove, the dishes are back on their shelves (my Great Great Gran's gravy boat and blue willow platter made it safely through their 100th plus Thanksgiving), and the turkey soup simmers quietly, or as the French say, "smiles" in the pot.
I've been thinking a lot about the traditions that make Thanksgiving so meaningful for me and my family, but I'm also interested in what traditions are meaningful to others. I'd love to hear your stories, your traditions. Hopefully I will be able to incorporate you and yours into a holiday story for next year.
In this quiet time, I'm going out to harvest my 'Painted Lady' runner beans and take down their tepee. I'll plant my beloved California wildflowers, and read, read, read whenever I am indoors. Tonight will be turkey-alphabet soup, a fire, and yikes, I'll just have to admit it, I'm making lists for Christmas and wrapping stocking stuffer gifts.

Tranquil times to you!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Support Your Local Independent Nursery and Hort-Zealot

Since my teen years, visiting nurseries has always been at the top of my favorites list. What better place to learn about plants, visit with fellow hort-zealots, and buy unique specimens for your own garden. Nowadays, it isn't easy to find many small independent nurseries, but I'm always searching for them.

Jeff and I were zooming along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, and I yelled, "Stop!"(and I'm probably lucky Jeff didn't drive off the road). "It looks like there's a little nursery tucked behind Trancas Market." It took about 4 or 5 minutes for us to find a legal place along the road to make the turn around, but it was worth it.

We rolled into the small parking lot and were greeted by a big, colorful sign announcing that we'd arrived at the Malibu Garden Center. Just inside, the entry tables of unusual containers, plantings, and plants awaited us.

We wandered the pathways, paused to watch the koi (which looked big enough to ride), visited the mini-"farm" in the back of the nursery, and filled our wagon with succulents, salvia, and trays of edible flowers for our kitchen garden.

I bought a selection of these gorgeous succulents to make one of my plant "mosaics" in a shallow terra cotta saucer

As we checked out and talked with the knowledgeable owner of the nursery, we realized that we had known her many years ago when she worked at Sassafras Nursery in Topanga Canyon. Shelby Basso is a Master Gardener with a love for working with children in the garden (we're soul sisters). Please visit her if you're ever in the Malibu area, and oh, don't forget to support YOUR local independent nurseries.

Shelby Basso
Malibu Garden Center Landscaping
6444 Trancas Canyon Road
Malibu, CA 90265
(310) 457-3981

Thinking about Thanksgiving

Last week we drove down the Old Stagecoach Road about a mile from our house. We were greeted by a flock of turkeys who gobbled back and forth with us for five minutes. Next a covey of about 20 quail flushed and sat along the top of a fence (they looked like fat clothespins on a line). Squirrels leapt along the branches of the roadside trees, and a shower of acorns lured me out to collect some for our Thanksgiving table.

Yesterday my granddaughter Sara and I collected fresh leaves to use as place cards at our table. She was so excited to pick a specially shaped leaf for each member of the family. "The big one is for Daddy, the little one is for Mo, I want the heart-shaped one for me." Just talking about how we were going to share Thanksgiving together made me smile.

That's what it is all about–isn't it?? The simple things that give us joy-the offerings of nature, our family, our friends, and traditions that we carry on and pass to the youngsters in our life.

I wish you all great joy during this Thanksgiving season.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Evening with Friends

Yesterday, Jeff had to pry me away from my garden and into the car. We had registered for the Garden Writer Association's regional meeting in Malibu, and we had a four hour drive ahead of us.

We arrived at the old Casa Malibu Inn (no web site; call 800-831-0858) and checked in. When I walked through the door to our room, I shrieked. Smack on the sand, waves crashing almost to our deck, and a long, lovely yacht moored nearby. Picture perfect and the gardens are soothing, lush, and very old timey California. I can see why actress Jamie Leigh Curtis described this hotel as her favorite hide-away.

Our meeting was held at the fairytale home and gardens of Lance and Aime Lindsay of Stone Manor Lighting. Some of my favorite writers and friends attended, Nan Sterman of Plant Soup, Debra Prinzing of Shed Style, Cindy McNatt of Dirt du Jour, and too many others to mention.

Peapod sculture by Terra Sculpture

We talked about how newspapers and magazines have been on their way out for the past few years (Met Home is the newest casualty), and how blogs are the wave of the future, but then we already knew that, didn't we? Blogging brings people together in a way that magazines never could. We interact immediately, answer questions, form deep friendships with people who love the same things, in short, it is here to stay, and we need to tend our blogs the same way we tend our gardens.

Stone Manor Lighting by day
Stone Manor Lighting by night

Onward to the gardens of the beautiful little gem called the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu.



Sunday, November 8, 2009

What Gives YOU Joy?

Every day I am thankful for my family and friends, but I always try to find other, less obvious things that make me smile and experience what is called the Joy Factor.

I walked into the kitchen this morning and saw my Kitchen Fun: A Cook Book for Children (1932) with a cover by one of my favorite 20th century illustrators, Jessie Willcox Smith. A slant of autumn sunshine lit the companionable huddle of pumpkins, squash, and a jewel-like pomegranate surrounding the book. It gave me joy.

What is YOUR joy today?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Old Friends-New Places

My dear friend Kim Moreno is 1/6th of the Fab Fems, who are also known as the Slumber Sisters. We have all been "no-holds-barred" friends since high school, and in the case of Sue Eiler, since about 5th grade. My "sisters" know the worst about me, yet they still love me.

Twice a year on pre-set weekends we have an extended "sleep-over" at one of our homes or in a place where we can have an adventure. This November we're renting three great cottages at the Victorian Centrella Hotel in downtown Pacific Grove. We'll gab all night, eat too much, and spend too much time trying to decide where we want to go, but we will have a ball together. My hope is that when I am checking out of this life my "sisters" will be there rooting for me.

Now back to Kim, who is an indescribable personality and over-achiever. She is just getting her doctorate, and we are all proud of her. When Kim found out that we were planning a trip to Italy, her mouth dropped open because we would be there at the same time she and Ralph (her adorable husband) were there.

Lucca by night

So we set up a rendezvous spot in the incredibly beautiful town of Lucca, which is a walled city (actually surrounded by three ancient walls) in Tuscany. I had high hopes that we would be able to pull it off, but I wasn't sure how we could connect and all hit the target at the same time.

Kim told us to meet them "at the Santa Maria Plaza entrance to the city between 8 and 9." We hustled out of our room, which was on the opposite side of Lucca, and trekked over to a bistro where we could munch a croissant, drink coffee, and keep a look-out for them. When they didn't show up, I tried to call them on their cell, but it didn't connect. I was disappointed and felt sure we wouldn't meet, but just as I lost all hope, the phone rang. "WHERE ARE YOU?" Kim asked. Jeff answered, "Exactly where you told us to be."

Kim and Ralph were on the opposite side of Lucca (a block from where we'd started). We set up another meeting place. We came together like a confluence of four rivers, bubbling, laughing, shouting, jumping up and down and hugging each other. It felt so great to see friends half a world away from home.

Although we had talked about bike riding the ramparts (wide wall encircling the city has a pedestrian and bike friendly road), we ended up gabbing, walking aimlessly from one place to another (because we couldn't stop talking), and we did manage to visit a few high spots.

Kim says, "You guys will love this place!"

Kim is off to the next find while Ralph and I linger at the market

One "MUST VISIT" for me was the home of Puccini, who composed some of my favorite music La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, etc. .We found his home and Ralph, Jeff, and Kim stood by as I kissed his door. Wow, he might have actually touched exactly where I planted my lips.

Puccini's home with Ralph and Kim
I plant my lips

Kim and Giacomo

After Kim and Ralph left for Pisa, we rented bikes and rode the ramparts. It was beyond lovely looking down into gardens, a moat, an arboretum, and riding through whirling clouds of golden autumn leaves.

Tree lined rampart where we biked the two mile loop around Lucca
View from rampart into backyard gardens

Humble backyard garden

Moat at base of inner city wall

Memories are woven of love, laughter, old friends, and new adventures.

Our favorite cafe in Lucca

A simple supper

May your memories be as golden as Lucca leaves,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knock Knock-Who's There?

We trudged through the cities and villages armed with my friend Alexa Barre's invaluable maps and critiques of the best restaurants and Rick Steves' Guide to Italy 2009-and what did I focus on? Door knockers. I love them. They are so enticing and can be indicative of an area or the people who live inside–wondering what those two suspicious Americans are doing lurking outside their door.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

A close up
Castiglione del Lago
Magliano Sabina

Teaser for the next blog entry. What is Sharon doing? (This is from Jeff)

Buona notte!