Life as I know It

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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dear Miss Potter-Please leave your garden gate open...

A night sketch of Hill Top by Miss Potter

"This is my birthday and I am always nine years old.
 Sarah Orne Jewett

A dream come true. We're leaving today for Britain. Despite lost passports, family visits, emergency trip to Boston, and working on Comfort Found (which is now finished. Take a peek!), we are setting off today.

Last night I was astonished to walk into our local River Grill Restaurant and hear a shout of "surprise" as I walked into the back dining room. There before me sat a group of some of my best friends in the world. To say that I was stunned is to put it mildly.

I saw the "9" and "5" on the cake and asked myself, "Did life speed past me?" But this was Jeff's inimitable sense of humor. He said, "Tonight is a dual celebration. We're celebrating Sharon's 9th book and 5th book for Workman Publishing."

The menu Jeff planned.

"Thee is Welcome Here Friends," was a sing at my old Quaker Meeting house. I always had these words hanging on the wall in my store Heart's Ease.

Goals for Britain?

A visit with my friend (Sue Branch is our connection) Rachel Lucas (Mozart's Girl), museums, as many as I can cram into our schedule, including the Museum of Garden History, Tate, Victoria & Albert, and Kew Gardens, Chelsea Physic Garden, and then...TO THE LAKE DISTRICT, which is my favorite place to visit. We will spend a day at Beatrix Potter's gardens at Hill Top, walk the villages, go to her museum, and eat the best gingerbread in the world at Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.

I'll post photos of Beatrix's garden and the exterior of her home, and, of course, photos of gardens and wonderful country cottages.

A HUGE thank you for all the birthday cards, letters, gifts (mostly books, hurrah), and celebrations.

I want to share some great news with you. Workman Publishing wants me to do a new book for children. This is one I've mulled over for years, and I hope that it will be different, lively, and filled with lore and facts that will entice children into the world of birds. This will be my 5th Workman book, and I feel blessed to have them as my publisher.

Sending fond thoughts to all of you, and, again, thanks for your well wishes,


Friday, September 10, 2010

September Blessings

September and October are my favorite months. The 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories claim their glory. The basil thrives; the bumblebees visit every tiny blossom. On the porch, the Argiope spiders spin their doilies of lace. The loons move from the inland lakes and ponds and take up life in John's Bay. During the night, I wake to their haunting calls. In the morning, we watch as the male and female, never far apart, dive for fish and nuzzle into the sea, eyes just above the water line. 

The hummingbirds left early this year. Normally they leave mid-September, but by the 2nd of September, the group of 4 who fought over the feeder had already left. I still keep the feeder filled with fresh sugar water (4 parts water to one part sugar) to help those hummers migrating south. First they're lured to the porch by the brilliant blooms of morning glories, cypress vines, and Verbena bonariensis. Once they're near they realize that a hummingbird feeder awaits.

This is half of my pitiful, yet incredibly tasty "crop" (I use that word loosely) of tomatoes.

The feeders are a blur of wings, chattering, comings and goings of visitors and migrants.

The goldfinches give me so much joy–their plaintive callings, their lilting songs, the way the young beg, ruffle their feathers, and beg their parents for food. They'll probably leave us this week, and I will so miss them. I wish them safe passage south.

The chickadees are always here. Their eastern call of "feeeeed me, feeeeed, me" and their chittering conversations are a comfort to me. 

Oops, well, I'm not a good photographer, but this profile is of the red-breasted nuthatch. I love the nuthatches and the way they travel down the tree branches and search the bark for insects. Their "yank, yank, yank" call is unmistakable. Last week one of the nuthatches would land on the feeder, extract a black oil sunflower seed, then fly to the porch rockers. I watched as he secreted sunflower seeds in the loops of the woven seats and in the cracks of an old basket. He would no sooner tuck away the seeds than the red squirrel would hop onto the chair and steal them.

Jeff's morning chore.

The mourning dove is grateful.

You can barely see the vociferous and demanding family of two adult crows and three babies who keep us in laughter. I talk to them and call them, and they all fly to the red oak, ride the branches, and set up the loudest cacophony. I talk to them; they answer. They love the treats I carry in my pockets. I think they're spoiled.

Another September blessing is my dear pal Lynn Karlin, one of the best photographers I know.  Lynn did the books Maine Farm, Gardens Maine Style, and Gardens Maine Style Act ll. They're gorgeous books. This shot was taken in Lynn's tiny (and honest) kitchen in her camp "Three Bears." The camp was built in about 1906 and sits on the edge of a large, quiet, and magical pond.

This is the dock. Can you see the big wheels?? Lynn and Barry roll it out of the water at the end of the season.

Where we shared a fabulous and simple supper of fresh Maine fare.

My favorite place to sit when I am inside Lynn's cabin.

The apples are ripe at Clark Cove Farm. I printed out the apple crisp recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, and used it twice in the past week. I ran out of oats for this one and topped the crisp with the walnuts, etc., but in place of oats, I used ginger snaps. Just crushed them with a rolling pin and added them to the nut, flour, brown sugar mixture. This was fabulous and enjoyed by all.

Last night some friends from Los Osos, California, came for dinner. Mother Nature decided to put on a show for us. What could be a better September blessing? 

Thanks for your visits and wonderful e-mails. I loved learning about the student from Tokyo who took my books home with him. I loved seeing photos of your gardens and photos of children who once attended my faerie festivals and are now all grown up and gorgeous. 

Please stop by my newest blog posting at Lowe's Garden Grow Along. It is titled "Can Plants be Happy." One of the photos is of my ever busy potting bench. The two wash tubs beside my bench were purchased at an antique shop in Illinois. Nothing is ever easy. Jeff had to take it all apart to fit it into our already crammed car. When he reassembled it in California, he ran water to both sides of the tubs so I can pot plants, soak them, and work on them with water handy. 

Sending love from Maine,


P.S. Jeff and I finished Comfort Found Literary Lodging at 11:15 the night before our first guests checked in. We promise to post photos, but I left my camera at a friend's house, and it is being mailed back to me today.  It was a true labor of love, but phew, what happened to summer?????

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One Thing You Can Predict About Mother Nature is...

...that you CAN'T predict Mother Nature.

Last week I woke, sniffed the air, and said, "Autumn is here." "You think so," Jeff asked. "Yes," I answered, "the signs are everywhere. Look at Old Ivory Tail the squirrel; she is fat from eating that hailstorm of acorns that fell last night. All she can do is lounge. Apples are plunking onto the ground, the goldfinches are rallying, calling to their young that it is time to move on. The tidepools in front of the cottage are full of migrating shorebirds. And in the middle of the night, I can hear the distant piping of the warblers and thrushes wending their way through the night skies."

So I decided to clean all my old aqua bottles that I use for bouquets and store them in the cupboard.

Then, I hung our comforters and quilts outdoors to air. Changed the beds to flannel sheets, built a cozy fire (see the glowing eyes in the owl andirons?), and decided to have the last tea of the season on our porch. Late August ALWAYS turns to autumn here.

That was the prediction, but I was WRONG. I did have a tea party on the porch, but on that day, the weather turned from autumn to HOT, HOT, HOT. We're sweltering here and that is why I haven't

The table is set with antique sherbet dishes that were a gift from my friend Linda Blitzer and green luncheon dishes, given to me by my dear friend Ginny Holihan.

Gourmet Magazine's Stone Fruit Tea Cake

Mise en place, I at least TRY to be organized when I cook.

Here it is in use-my Carrara marble mortar and pestle with crushed demarara sugar for the topping.

Stone fruits, blueberries, and cranberries.

Ready to go. This is my beloved pie plate carried home from Apt, France.

Gorgeous! Well, I walked away at the end and left it in about 3 minutes too long, but it was great (if I do say so myself).

Our tea party was to honor my friend Anne Ramsey, who is still, at the young age of 90 plus, a force. She is a conservationist, gardener, and lover of life. We all appreciate her youthful mind and joie.

Enjoy my tea party and DO try my recipe. I tweaked it a bit from one I first saw in our loved but lost GOURMET MAGAZINE. It turned out perfectly, and I'm baking it again tomorrow for a group of friends.

Rustic Stone Fruit Tea Cake

1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temp
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (Gourmet called for 1 tsp)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temp
3 eggs at room temp
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups coarsely chopped stone fruit
3/4 cup blueberries (I used fresh, but frozen works fine)
1/4 cup of dried cranberries reconstituted in 1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon of turbinado or demarara sugar 

Preheat your oven to 375 and 
butter your pie plate.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cream the sugar and butter for 3 to 5 minutes on medium speed (until fluffy). Add eggs one at a time while mixer is on low, scrape sides of bowl as adding eggs, add vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir till smooth. Separate the dough into two equal pieces. Put dough on plastic wrap, and pat it into two 1 inch thick circles, which will fit your pie plate.  Chill in freezer for half an hour. Pat half the dough into the buttered pie plate. Mound the fruit over the dough in the pie plate. Top the fruit with small (50 cent size) pieces of dough. Sprinkle the demarara sugar over the pieces and bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes-till golden.

Good Luck! Don't walk away and forget it as I did.

Still putting the finishing touches on Comfort Found, still working on a new book, still enjoying every second of this hot life, but NOT sleeping on flannel sheets.

Oh, and wish us well. We're monitoring the approach of hurricane Earl. Maybe we'll be boarding our windows and moving the old porch rockers indoors.

All joys,