Life as I know It

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Downstream like a Leaf Boat

My granddaughter Sara inspired me to draw a scarecrow that tends the birds instead of scaring them. So I sketched and painted this scruffy guy with a bird's nest in his pocket, a Downy woodpecker feeding at the bucket dangling from his arm, a wren feeding at a bowl, a Hermit Thrush on a glove, and a Mourning Dove nesting in his hat. Oh, and did I fail to mention the hard-to-overlook crow?

Dear Friends,

The strong current of 2012 has washed me downstream like a leaf boat. My sweet husband Jeff had surgery last week and I have been busy tending him. My friend Ginny drove up to help me and between the two of us, we could move him, feed him, and keep him entertained. Thanks Gin! You saved me.

I love all the letters, e-mails, and cards I've received from you in the past few weeks. Thanks also to Diane Peterson for the gift of the children's garden book written by her friend Paula Frechette. Paula (like Diane) is a person who gardens with her heart and soul and that is evident in her book "Gardening with Leo and Bill."

Every time I sit down to scribble a note, write a card, or draw a garden plan, birds escape from my pencil and wing their way onto a page. Then, they beg for a splash of water, a dab of color, and a dash of fine-tipped black pen so they can come to life on a page.

This will be a shortie today. First, let me congratulate dear Pondside for winning the Timber Press, Marty Wingate book, Landscaping for Privacy, give-away, which was chosen by the random number generator. Since Pondside is a member of my Grimy Hands Girls Club, she'll receive a bonus gift.

Thanks Timber Press for sending me such a great book to share with readers.

In my last posting before my memorial tribute to my dear friend Marge, I showed a photo of my Molten Lava dessert. A few of you wrote and asked for my recipe, which I am happy to share. It was a great and easy dessert with some little tweaks I added for a contrasting salty/sweet taste. 

I made the Molten Lava before a dinner date with friends. When we returned to our home, I popped the desserts into the pre-heated oven and the house instantly smelled like heaven. And, if you don't mind me saying so, the dessert was fabulous.

I dare you to keep your fingers out of this

Molten Lava Cakes

Prep time 25 minutes
Cooking time 14 minutes

6 (1 ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate)
2 (1 ounce squares bittersweet chocolate)
10 TBSP unsalted butter (MUST be unsalted)
1/2 tsp sea salt (choose the flaky sea salt)
1/2 cup Soft-as-Silk cake flour 
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks (large eggs)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 TBSP orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)

Note: I add the flaky sea salt AFTER I mix in the butter. The sea salt won't dissolve, and when you bite into the warm, delicious cake, you will be able to taste a hit of salt contrasted with the deep sweetness.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Grease 6 (six ounce) custard cups or ramekins. Melt the chocolates and butter in a double boiler. Add the flour and sugar to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Ladle the batter into the custard cups, which, for the sake of your oven, should sit on a cookie sheet. Clean the sides of your ramekins so they look neater than mine. Bake for 14 minutes. The edges will feel fudgey, but the center will be thick and gooey.

I topped these little gems with fresh-whipped, heavy cream laced with vanilla, 2 teaspoons of confectioner's sugar, and a light dusting of  finely grated orange peel. You and yours will LOVE this dessert.

In between working and tending Jeff, I've been loving every second in the garden. Many of my terra cotta pots are filled with herbs, lettuce, and edible flowers. I call these pots, which are just steps from my kitchen, my "Fingertip Gardens."

One of my favorite greens in the garden is "Miner's lettuce," so named because the 1849 miners depended on this early spring green. This is a California native plant that is succulent, delicious, and easy to grow. It is great in green drinks and salads. I bought seeds for my California garden from Larner's Seeds, but Johnny's Seeds and Territorial Seeds also carry them. Like many of our plants, these are called many other names besides Miner's lettuce. Some refer to this as Indian lettuce, winter purslane, and penny lettuce, but the correct genus and species is Claytonia perfoliata.

Back to work now. So wonderful visiting with you. I love reading your comments. Keep in touch!

All joys,


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Marjorie McClure Carnes-One in a zillion

Margie and Bill smooching in a tree when they visited us on Orcas Island

That laugh, that smile, that twinkle in her eyes. The love she had for family, friends, and the passion of her life, her husband Bill Carnes.We were friends for 30 years and we NEVER ran out of things to talk about, argue about (politics), and agree on. She shared her opinions freely, sometimes when I didn't even want them, and was always there to talk about the vagaries of life.

Within the past month she talked to me of friendship and how we must not try to blame another for the failure of a relationship. At age 89 she still had a great sense of humor and wisdom. She encouraged me to work, work, work, and she said, "I wish I hadn't given up painting." She was a wonderful painter.

I will always miss you dear Margie.

Please, no comments. I just wanted to say good-bye to a cherished friend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What happiness is...

It makes me happy to spend time on an illustration. I try to think of the children and what will intrigue them when they look through a book. My granddaughter Sara May gave this her thumbs up endorsement. Then she sat down at her drafting table in the studio, and as I worked on a new scarecrow painting, she did her own rendition of a scarecrow.

Watching Sara work on her illustration made me completely happy.

Dear friends,

I am overwhelmed by your many kindnesses. Your daily doses of e-mails, letters, cards, and gifts  have cheered and strengthened me beyond measure. No thank you is enough, but please KNOW that these things all helped beyond the ken and made me realize the power of a simple card or get well wish.

I want to clarify some confusion from my last posting. Believe me, I was out of it when I wrote it and maybe I did not express myself properly. The bump on my forehead did NOT cause my major problem. The bump actually led me to the problem, which was a skin cancer that had grown and turned into the worst one I've ever had. The surgery was to remove a large tumor, and it was successful. I am thankful, but now know that when a wound doesn't heal that is a warning sign of cancer. Take care of yourselves and don't let what could be a minor problem turn into a major one. I had two friends who died of this same skin cancer, so don't think that a skin cancer is nothing to worry about. Tend to them immediately! Please.

What happiness is to me? Being with friends and family. Cooking. Pottering amongst my plants and
hearing from you.

Feeling strong enough to work on a molten lava dessert for friends makes me happy.

Pottering around in my garden with some of my favorite succulents makes me happy.

Watching Ginny, one of my dearest friends, commune with the GIRLS and a rooster.

Seeing Uncle Bruce and the boys sneak away from a party (and all the boring grown-ups) for an adventure.

Ambling along the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach–pure joy.

Susie and Ellis Bassetti (Bassetti Vineyards) made this wonderful olive branch wreath and gave it to us.  I think it looks great above the small mantel that Jeff made for me for Christmas. The Bassettis are our dear friends. Some of you may remember the classes I co-taught with Susie at the ranch their family has owned for over 100 years. Susie and I are discussing doing some more classes together in the future. Makes me happy just thinking of the possibilities. (I'll be posting more about the Bassettis in the near future.)

I'm happy that Jeff and I were able to pull it together for a photo shoot here last week. Ed Gohlich, who works with Meredith Publishing, and Matt, his assistant, spent an intense day with us. I won't divulge about what the upcoming COUNTRY GARDENS article is going to be, but it will probably appear in the fall issue of the magazine. Maybe this article will lead you down yet another garden pathway.  I'll let you know when the piece will be published as soon as I find out the details.

My writing friend Sharon Christian Aderman of Topeka, Kansas, and Damariscotta, Maine, (she is a food/lifestyle columnist) sent me a journal to start my new year properly. I loved this little tag that she glued inside the cover. I've been writing my lists of five things to be thankful for each week.

What a wonderful exercise. Try doing it yourself and let me know what you think of it. Thanks, dear Sharon, for your thoughtful and heartfelt gift.

A Gardener's Give-Away

Timber Press sent me this copy of garden writer Marty Wingate's newest book, Landscaping for Privacy. Yum. I found some great ideas and inspirational photos and writing that tweaked my imagination and my green thumb. You'll enjoy it too...I promise. So, just leave a comment on my blog and next Tuesday I'll draw a lucky winner.

A view of a couple of pages of this delicious book. Who wouldn't love to own this?

Now it is time for me to get back to my drawing board. Again, I thank you for everything.



Monday, January 2, 2012

Fresh and Eager Eyes (albeit swollen shut)

Tap lightly at my kitchen door...

Dear Friends,

So much time has passed since I last wrote or answered your e-mails, but I have been tucked away in bed and recuperating for the past few days. I am just sitting up and checking e-mails and a stack of real mails, and for the first time in nearly a week I just padded outside to visit my sweet little garden.

I remember that when I gave birth to my son Noah I experienced the same kind of fresh awakening that I felt today. I had been in the hospital for a few days...and we all know how dull a hospital room can be. When I got home and walked into my garden and colorful house I felt like I was seeing things for the first time. That is how I felt today. Fresh-eyed, although they're still swollen almost shut, but eyes that really saw all the life and color everywhere.

This day reminded me of a portion of a Theodore Roethke poem I have treasured for many years.

The Manifestation

Many arrivals make us live; the tree becoming
Green, a bird tipping the topmost bough,
A seed pushing itself beyond itself,
The mole making its way through darkest ground...

My garden greeted and reassured me with its powerful and comforting thrust of life. Even though yours may be sleeping beneath a mantle of snow, it is there, awaiting the first warmth of spring sunlight, and the touch of your gardener-hand.

The hollyhocks dance on their stems.

Uh oh, what's going on here? My young 'Tropic Beauty' peach tree is blooming months early.

My fuchsia flowered gooseberry is in bloom and the hummers love it. They not only like the nectar, but they often build their nests on the spiny branches, perhaps these spines deter some of their predators.

A long hedge of jade plant is in full bloom and thronged with bees. These flowers are tiny stars, just slightly larger than a honeybee.

I haven't been able to bend over for days, so when I knelt over this patch of dianthus I was shocked by their vibrant color and their piercing clove aroma. Delicious.

The hummingbirds are fighting over the blooms of our native columbines...they've never bloomed this early in my garden.

My first sweet peas. Aren't their tendrils amazing? See the blur of kumquat in background?

I think this stellar pelargonium is 'Fandango," but I'm not sure. The cutting was given to me by my oldest gardening buddy. I love this and he keeps it in his dining room indoors throughout the winter. It just shines in the New Mexico sunlight, but it is happy on the patio here at our house.

These dependable white roses bloom almost continuously. I like to tuck them into tussie mussies of scented pelargoniums. 

A big box arrived outside our gate just before Christmas...

and inside was this wonderful bee skep sent from my dear (and opinionated) girlfriend Susan Branch. I used to sell these at my herb and garden shop Heart's Ease many years ago, but never kept one for myself. So now I have one that was a gift and will always think of sweet Sue when I look at it.

Let me end this day of fresh and eager eyes with a cautionary tale. I am usually very private about personal issues, but I think my oversight may somehow help you in the future.

In October I bumped my head on the brass bell outside our Maine cottage. When I lifted my bangs I saw a sore, washed it, added some neosporin and ignored it. The sore persisted. I kept ignoring it. By the first week of December the spot was about the size of a dime. I went to my dermatologist and he said, "this is a bad one." 

Last week in a prolonged surgery he removed the tumor and had to make an elliptical incision to sew me back together. Now I have four inches of railroad track stitches on my forehead, and beneath that a row of subcutaneous stitches. The surgery went well, but it was extremely painful afterward. On Saturday, when the big pressure dressing was removed, Jeff discovered an infection. My doctor opened his office for me and did a culture and sent us to the pharmacy. By that night, New Year's eve, my face had swollen until my eyes closed. Jeff took me to the hospital and we found out that I am allergic to sulphur-based antibiotics. The rest is just boring medical information, but what I want to say is that YOU must be pro-active about any abnormalities. If I had let this go another month? Who knows the end of that story? So take good care of yourself. Celebrate life, friends, nature, family, and the miracle that is your own precious body.

Sending love and thanks to all of you who have taken me into your lives-and HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2012 is going to be a great one.


P.S. The winner of the hardcover (twenty year old) edition of Sunflower Houses and my latest book, Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars is Vee of a Haven for Vee. Congratulations dear blogging friend.