Life as I know It

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Take Peace–Take Joy

In unison, my grandchildren and I choose one special ornament to begin the decorating of the tree. This year my granddaughter Sara May chose the Christmas tree angel made by artist Julie Whitmore about 15 years ago. Sara cradled it in her arms then reached up and placed her as Asher, Ilyahna, and I hung our favorite things too.

Dear Friends,

"I salute You! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven. No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take Peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take Joy. And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away."

Fra Giovanni (from a letter written in 1513)

This was sent to us by our friend Marilyn. I keep it inside one of my Mary Oliver books right by my bedside. I think it is wonderful.

Out came the boxes of ornaments...the dog and badger are bread dough by Julie Whitmore.

This is such an emotional time of the year for many of us. I can't help thinking of friends and family no longer with us, but as we hang their ornaments on the tree and talk about them with the younger members of our family, I can feel that invisible thread of tradition and love continuing, unbroken, into our futures.

The days will be at the shortest this week, but I don't dwell on the darkness. I think of the fact that from December 21st onward, the days will begin to lengthen. I am living in the scents of this season, but almost smelling the sea-scented air of summer time.

This thumb-sized snowman is an antique. I love him and look forward to nestling him into the branches every year.

Finally, after years of not being able to locate it (since we moved from Cambria), Jeff found the old Christmas tree fence for the base of our tree.

Last week a small package arrived from our dear friend Marilyn Brewer of Maine. Inside it were some old-fashioned clip on Christmas ornaments and this small stocking with the work "READ," worked into the knitting. This is a handmade piece from Christmas Cove Designs of Maine. Doesn't every author, librarian, and book lover need one of these?

This year when Jeff asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, "Nothing," but then I amended my words, "except I would really LOVE to have a fireplace mantel again." My wish came true. I found a four foot piece of virgin redwood in a dumpster outside an 1890 building renovation downtown. Think of it; they threw out a piece of redwood that was probably 3,000 years old when it was harvested in the 1890s. Jeff milled it, stained it, made the supports, and now I have it...and a place for my beloved German stick sheep that always graced my mantel in Cambria. My grands were so happy to have them back..."just like old times," my 13 year old said.

The fabulous wreath above the mantel is a gift from my talented friend Carol Umbarger of Creekside Farms, who supplies many famous retail companies with her handmade wreaths.

I know this is corny, but I love having the lights reflected against my pots and pans.

Tomorrow evening, eight special people in our lives will gather around the old farm table for a feast. Here is the wonderful thing, my friends know that I'll be working straight through the day for a deadline, and also getting ready for a small surgery, and so they are bringing the entire dinner. All Jeff and I have to supply is seating, etc.. So I just finished setting the table and will deck the center with fresh pine and cedar boughs tomorrow before they all arrive. What a great gift–friendship, a meal shared with people we love, candles flickering, a glowing fireplace, and the sweet scent of evergreen.

Above is my wish for you. Heaven give you many, many merry days!



P.S. Lowe's posted two of my on indoor plants, one on gifts for Christmas. Stop by the posting for a quick peek.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"What's new?"

What a glorious surprise to find an envelope of handmade Christmas ornaments made and sent by my friend Suzanne Lamprecht (Down in the Meadow) of South Africa. Her card touched me deeply. Sometimes it is hard to imagine the deep and meaningful friendships we form with bloggers all over the world. Thank you, dear Suzanne, for the beauty you create for your family and friends. My family will treasure these for years to come.

Even the envelope is gorgeous!

Dear Friends,

Your sweet e-mails and gifts continue to fill my life with light and love, but the recent e-mail from my long time girlfriend Susan Branch made me realize that just dropping out of blog world isn't an option.

Sue's e mail (received last night) said, "I just went to your blog to see what you've been up to. So now I'm worried.  What are you doing?  Are you traveling??  Hope everything is OK and you're just having too much fun!!!  Let me know, what's new pussycat? Love you, Sue"

Ok Sue. I'm a flake. I have been wanting to write a post, but my life has been boring. Nothing but work and tending to some medical conditions. And about the holidays? YIKES! How will I ever do all the things that need doing, especially for the young ones in my life who expect a fairyland holiday?

My little bird book is time consuming, but lucky for me, my husband Jeff, who has the eye of an eagle and the grammatical finesse of his tough parochial school English teachers, is giving me some much needed help. In the next two weeks, I'll be finished, the book will be in the copy editor's hands, all art will be in the art and production department, and I will collapse and ask the next day, "I wonder who will buy my next book?" Which, by the way, I am working on in the wee hours of the morning and night.

Jeff talks with my editor.

What would I do without dozens of yellow legal pads? 

The kitchen table is our command center now.

Lists, lists, check lists, compare, make sure everything is covered.

Catalog all the tiny bits of art and tell the art department where they belong in the text.

We drink lots of water. To jazz up the taste, I slice lemon and lime and add spearmint. This container of water lasts a couple of days. I empty the container, rinse it, and add fresh lemon, lime, and mint. It is wonderful!

To keep myself sane, I stop working, run out to the garden and pick fruit and herbs, make arrangements, pick up fallen leaves to press...and then the voice bellows, "SHARON, where are you? Get in here and let's finish." He always gets me back on track.

My 'Bonanza' peach lost all its leaves last week. I wanted to save all of them, but settled on three!

The little niche in our hallway is where I do a daily display of beautiful bits of nature.

Okay, I got off track here. What I want to say is that I haven't had time to visit many of you, but that doesn't mean I don't care...or that I don't want to. So please bear with me and know that when my time is again my time I will be back on track.

Please take a moment to view my TV interview that aired last month on Central Texas Gardener on KLRUWatch the complete children's gardening segment, edited by the amazing Linda Lehmusvirta. Linda did a job above and beyond. It's a must watch if you are interested in school gardening. THANK YOU, LINDA.

Sending love across the miles and stay tuned. My first book Sunflower Houses is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this month. I will be doing a give-away after the holidays that includes an original, hard cover copy of SFH and some of my other books.
The original, hardcover, 1st printing in 1991
A true collector's item
The "new" 2001, paperback version now in its 13th printing on its 20th anniversary



Saturday, November 12, 2011

The River of Life

The bounty and beauty of autumn.

Celebrate nature by doing this simple daily ritual: collect natural things you love and arrange them on a saucer. This seasonal saucer has lichens, haws, acorns, oak leaves, a sprig of thyme, and an oak gall, which is also know as an oak apple.

The river of life swept me away the past few weeks. I have a dear friend who is ill and in an assisted living home, friends passing through town and stopping for dinner, family (grands) who are with me all day a few days a week, and when night comes, I collapse. But, I am filled with joy to have so much life around us.

The kitchen has overflowed into the dining room where I am storing the bounty until it is cooked. Gosh, I love some of these so much I don't even want to cook them.

Who wouldn't love the beauty of this Blue of Hungaria...


the gorgeous Berentina Piacentina?

And personally, although I usually want heirloom varieties...

This beauty, called "One more Time," has become one of my beloveds.

I've been working, trying to catch up with my garden, taking care of my grands, traveling, and writing and rewriting two manuscripts. Now it is time to get ready for my twice a year get together with dear friends, some of whom have been in my life since fourth grade and Brownies. Also, there is the push of the holidays now. Aren't you feeling it? I am trying to do small chores every morning so that I am not slammed to the ground when Thanksgiving arrives.

I'll keep this posting short and sweetened with brown sugar and maple syrup (Maine Grade B, of course). Here is a wonderful, stuffed, baked pumpkin recipe that you must try. Our friend Jane Taylor of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, served it up to a bunch of foodies in October, and it was the hit of the day. I'm doing it for my friends. Now, I just have to decide which pumpkin/squash will be the one?

Stuffed Pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1 pumpkin (about three pounds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/4 pound cheese (try Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 to 4 garlic cloves (I go for the 4)
4 strips bacon (I like pancetta)
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

These are Jane's words and thoughts:

"Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment, or find a Dutch oven with a diameter that's just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkins in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it might stick to the casserole, so you'll have to serve it from the pot–which is an appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a sheet, you can present it freestanding, but maneuvering a heavy stuffed pumpkins with a softened shell isn't so easy. However, since I love the way the unencumbered pumpkin looks in the center of the table, I've always taken my chances with the baked-on-a-sheet-method, and so far, I've been lucky)."

"Using a very sturdy knife–and caution–cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o'-lantern. It's easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkins generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot. Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper–you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure–and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkins should be well filled–you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little–you don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it's hard to go wrong here.)"

"Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours–check after 90 minutes–or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little."

Ok friends, there you have of the most delicious baked pumpkin recipes ever. I hope you'll try it and that you are the hit of the Thanksgiving circuit.

Sending love across the miles to you (Ok, Chris, is this posting what you've been checking for?). Sorry to take so long.


P.S. The winner (chosen by the random number generator) of the fabulous Hales book of gardens is Grace Peterson of Gardening With Grace. Hey honey, we'll mail it out to you this week. It weighs a ton, better work on those biceps some more.

I love these books (Earth From Above and others) because every day you turn the page to a new discovery.


Oh, and if you haven't had the chance, please visit my new Lowe's blog posting about attracting birds to your garden. Don't just read my posting; the others are filled with information that you can harvest and use in your own gardens.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don't Blame Me

Don't Blame Me!

Don't blame me...I must pick the hips of my California wild roses and scrape out the seeds for planting...

California wild rose

Don't blame me for being away so's the garden! The garden entices me outside every morning and I don't come inside until my nightgown is caked with mud and my body is permanently kinked over in a weeder's crouch.

Don't blame me...the 'Painted Lady' runner beans need to be harvested...

Plants need trimming and feeding...

and blossoms gathered...

Edible flowers must be dried...

Bronze fennel seed heads must be capped with paper bags and processed into herbs de Provence...

The Feijoas (aka pineapple guava) must be made into jelly...

Straw must be spread on the beds of artichokes and herbs (and soon chard)...

My crop of sunflowers must be bundled for the birds...

Tiny clumps of "faerie berries" must be separated and planted...

I'll be pressing the borage flowers for cards and Midsummer Night's blend...

and potting up the Calandrinia...

Harvesting the last of the apples...

and pomegranates (did you know that you can cut them underwater and remove the seeds? Much cleaner and simpler than staining everything)...

and a bumper crop of figs...These are so great cut in half and topped with a triple cream brie...

 Oh, and did I mention that whenever I climb into my car I am lured up the canyons to hunt for chanterelles and to pick up yet another variety of apple?

picking apples at a friend's home (isn't the apple ladder great?)...

and foraging for Chanterelles in hidden spots among the hills...

and cooking for friends and family...

Here is a simple recipe that will use some of your supply of sage leaves.

Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap and roll a cold block of cream cheese until a thin layer.

Top cream cheese with leaves. Use the plastic wrap to tightly roll the cream cheese. Store in the fridge for a few house till thoroughly chilled. Cut the roll into thin pinwheels. These are great on crostini or crackers.

So there you have it. I have been trying to catch up with life. 

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. Please leave a comment to be eligible for a give-away of this fabulous big book. You'll open a page every day of the year and become acquainted with a new and wonderful garden.

I'll do a random drawing next Sunday (November 6th). Good luck!