Life as I know It

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome to Mockingbird Studio

When we first began searching for a home in town, I naturally gravitated toward old houses with charm, but it seemed like all the houses I loved were in noisy, crowded neighborhoods. When we drove up to a little Spanish Revival home on one of the busiest corners in San Luis Obispo, I said, "NO WAY!" I didn't even want to get out of the car.

We finally stepped inside the door to the house and I loved it, but still I said, "NO WAY!" Well, I lived to eat my words. I could see the possibilities with it all IF we built a high wall around the garden, and if we could find space for a tiny studio for me. 

We stepped out a little French door and into the back yard. There stood a small cottage, and I said, "I can't live this close to a neighbor," and turned to go back inside. The co-operating realtor (Jeff is a broker) said, "that's not a neighbor, that's your studio." I nearly collapsed. "Uh oh," I said,  "This might be it." and it was.

Follow the sign, stay on the pathway, and walk to Mockingbird Studio with me. This little "commute" video takes a few seconds to load, so please be patient.

Please come inside for a visit and pardon the mess. I am in full production for my new children's bird book for Workman Publishing. Click the arrow to start the video.

Here are a few close-up views.

Thanks so much for the visit. Sorry I've been out of touch, but there aren't enough hours in the day, not enough days in the week! I do so love hearing from you.

Oh, and the WINNER of our gorgeous house numbers give-away is Sara of Whimsical Wonders Nursery. We don't have your e-mail or snail mail address, so please send us an e-mail. CONGRATULATIONS! These handmade Danish porcelain enamel numbers from Ramsign are lovely. I hope you enjoy them!

I wish you a pocketful of joys,


P.S. Please visit my new Lowe's blog posting to see a before-and-after video of the transformation of our backyard in my posting "Mud, Sweat and Tears." I value your comments.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Lizard on my Doorstep-A Dragonfly on my Peach

I stepped into my slippers and padded outdoors to pick the fresh peach that was near perfection. Waiting for me was something much more magical than anything I'd expected, but then, that is what a garden gives IF you take the time to look.

I sat on the steps next to this fence lizard, and after a few minutes reached over and ran my fingers down his (or her) back a few times. I've never given a back rub to a lizard before.

Dear Friends,

Being ill can slow you until you feel like an insect trapped in amber. That is how I felt this past week as I tried to draw, write, and work. I ended up just crawling back into bed. Sleep is such a powerful healer, and I finally caught up on the hours I've missed the past few months.

The great thing about not being able to do much is that you open like a flower to the tiny changes and life surrounding you.

Whenever I could pull myself out of my cocoon, I would wander the garden for a few minutes with my camera in hand. The most exciting shot was of the dragonfly who remained there in a perfect pose, perched on the ripest peach in my tree. I felt so lucky to catch the shot.

One morning after spending a long night coughing, I could barely make it down the steps, but when I walked out to my herb courtyard, a Monarch was sipping at a verbena. Look closely and you can see the long proboscis probing the bloom.

Below the Monarch, a flighty skipper danced through the flowers. See the clubbed antennae? This is a great way to identify skippers, but once you know them, you know them; the way they hold their wings, their shape, and their flight patterns are simply skipper.

This ragged Mourning Cloak butterfly is an inspiration to me. She has been in my garden for months. She over-wintered somewhere in the tree bark or behind a planter. She is tattered and torn, but she continues to be a butterfly, albeit WALKING from low flower to low flower. Mourning Cloaks (named for their dark wings, which looked like mourning clothes) abounded in my Grandmother Lovejoy's garden. I would catch them, and they would crawl out of my hand and sip at the salt and minerals on my arms.

My paradise

You're looking at what was once a blank canvas. Now hollyhocks jostle with grapes, the apricot stretches its arms, figs nestle against the back wall, and the guava hedge is the center of activity for the mockingbirds who love the flower petals.

We are not able to leave for Maine until later in the summer. We live here; the cove is Little Harbor, our cottage sits on the edge of a huge ledge. My heart is here, but my job and responsibilities keep me in California for awhile. Sigh.

I must finish my book and go on a whirlwind book tour in Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Wichita from July 25-30. Although I am so sad to be arriving in Maine later than usual, I'll be able to attend my sweet granddaughter Sara's birthday earlier in July and also harvest and eat some of the many tree fruits and berries we planted in the past four years. Grapes started from single twigs are now taller than the eight foot arbor and bearing heavily. Figs are bending under the weight of ripening fruits, apples are loaded and just did another flush of bloom so I am hoping for lots of apples. Apricots, nectarines, peaches...ahh, the cobblers I'll make. 

Sweet little Pink Ladies bloomed again last week.

I spent lots of time in the apricot trees in my Grandmother's garden. I loved these so much that my best pal Ricky and I ate them green and hard as golf balls, and NO, we never got stomach aches. Isn't that the most glorious color?

And speaking of glorious color and shape and taste, this fresh chard looks like a tree! We're having friends over tomorrow night, and I am going to bake wild Alaskan salmon on a bed of chard. Oh, I don't like cutting this up so I think I'll save some of it and...

...make a kitchen bouquet

I think that the chard is as beautiful as the sweet peas I picked today; they just don't smell quite as good. The artichokes are for tomorrow night's dinner. I trimmed their tips, cut them in half, and added chopped fresh garlic, squeezed fresh picked lime inside them, and drizzled them with Tiber Canyon lemon olive oil topped with sea salt. I covered them with a wet paper towel, squeezed lime on the towel, and microwaved them for ten minutes (which was tooooooo long) try this for a shorter time and test doneness by gently tugging off a leaf. Next batch was 7 minutes...much better. My friend Susie Bassetti does these this way and at the end she tosses them onto a grill....yum. Removed them from the microwave, scooped out the "choke" bristles, squeezed more lime inside them, filled the hollow halves with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and slipped them into a 400 degree oven for a few minutes. Tomorrow night, just before we sit down to dinner, I will slip them under the broiler for a minute. Yummy.

Today was my first day of feeling like myself. Is that good? I'm not sure, but I've got energy again and I am thrilled with the ever changing, bountiful garden so filled with life. Oh yes, and I must go out and visit the Mourning Cloak butterfly again. She humbles me.

All joys to you. Now back to work!


P.S. Please be sure to leave a comment on this blog posting to be entered in the fabulous house number give-away provided by the Danish company Ramsign. The numbers are hand-crafted of porcelain enamel. They'll outlast me. These are going to be shipped to you at no charge-no matter where you live. Your comments must be posted by Saturday, June 18th, and the drawing will be on Sunday.

P.P. S. Thanks for all your wonderful e-mails and letters. Four of you mentioned Teri's request to see my work space in Mockingbird Studio. Uh, let me tidy it up a bit and next week I will share it with you. Right now there are over a hundred bird paintings strewn across every flat surface. Until next week!

Mockingbird Studio

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trimming My Sails and Making Soup

Sometimes I just need to step back, trim my sails, and make soup. Today is my day for peace and quiet. The phone is off, the computer messages are unread, and I am settling back after a hard, but joyful, trip to Oklahoma City to speak to the Oklahoma County Master Gardeners.

I owe a big thanks to Peggy "Powerhouse" Garrett for organizing the talk, picking us up late at night at the airport, taxiing us all over OKC, putting us into a comfy B and B, surprising me with a charming gift, selling lots and lots of my books, and finally, taxiing us back to the airport early, early in the morning. Also, a big thanks to all the people who made us feel so welcome (Debbie, you know that means you too!) and to Robin, who presented me with a bouquet of fabulous garden markers.

Peggy and James at the Thyme Table

Meeting the great people after my talk

Signing books

Today is  unusual for June because it is raining!! I don't remember rain in San Luis Obispo in June, but it is coming down steadily, and my garden is humming with contentment for the unexpected drink of fresh water.

Returning from a few days away usually means I'll have triple the amount of work to do in the garden, but the rain has given me (and my plants) a blessed respite. I am happy to stroll the pathways when the storm breaks and look closely at the plants glittering with raindrops. Glorious. I only wish that I could share some of this rain with the plants, animals, and people of Arizona and New Mexico who are suffering from the horrible fires.

The Eriogonum looks like jewelry

The Echeverias glisten

Every web looks like a faerie's cape


The redbud leaves are satiny

Cilantro trying to set seed

Enough garden roaming for the day. I am catching a cold, and the soup will be so satisfying and good for our dinner. I'd like to share the recipe with you, but I am not famous for following recipes. Riffing off on my own makes me happy and feels creative, but I have to warn you, it sometimes leads to disaster! Jeff can attest to that.

Get out the huge old skillet, find the Tiber Canyon olive oil, cut lots of onions and garlic...

 ... and fresh carrots from the garden.

After I sauté the veggies and add the beans and broth, I slip in my secret ingredient–the tasty skin of a hunk of parmesan cheese (after 3 hours of "smiling," I just tasted the soup, and the parmesan, which has a nutty flavor,  zips this into success instead of disaster.

Then put the soup pot on a iron heat diffuser, set the gas on low, and tip the lid slightly off so that the soup thickens and the flavor deepens. My Nonie called this "tipping the cap." For the rest of the afternoon, the soup will "smile" on the stove, greeting Jeff with its welcoming aroma.

Tomorrow, if this cold lets me, I'll be back in the studio working on my bird book. This is truly a labor of love for me, and what keeps me going is knowing that someday this will touch the lives of children.

I slip each illustration into a "sheet protector" so that I don't accidentally spill tea on them

Time to curl up in bed with a thick book and lots of honey-laced tea. Sending love across the miles and CONGRATULATIONS to FlowerLady, the winner of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

FlowerLady is a member of the Grimy Hands Girls' Club, and she will receive an extra gift packet along with her book. FlowerLady, we have your address and will send the package out on Monday. Hurrah!



P.S. Please visit my new posting "What's Your Point" (about focal points in the garden) on the Lowe's blog and leave a valued comment.

P.P. S. GIVE-AWAY DRAWING. Leave a comment on this blog posting for the next giveaway for a house number sign. These elegant, porcelain enamel signs are handmade in Denmark by Ramsign.

These are so unique, and such an exceptional value, that I am going to run this contest for two weeks. Comments must be dated on or before June 18, 2011, to qualify. Any blogger who posts a link to this page (June 4 posting) on their blog will have a double chance to win. Leave your comment and indicate that you've provided a link. 

Tezz Hagelin, Marketing Assistant, told us, "We usually let the winner choose one of our house number signs (not name signs or address plaques) to make the award as personal as possible. There are signs available from 1 digit and up to 5 digits and with five different styles. We do ship worldwide, so everyone can participate in the contest.