Life as I know It

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homemade Handmade Happiness

A stack of old quilts are on stand-by for winter guests

Dear Friends,

Gentle rains are falling on my thirsty garden, and I can hear the trees and seedlings humming contentedly. I feel so happy when Mother Nature gives a deep, healthy drink to the earth.

Can you see the tiny buds of this happy plum tree?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the electronic gadgets in your life? I sure do, and when I am feeling this, I step back, switch off the computer, build a fire, make soup, garden, draw, or do other handwork. I also take pains to surround myself with one-of-a-kind, handmade, homemade things. Lately, I've vowed to always purchase handmade, recycled, repurposed, and antique products whenever possible.

Picking up a pencil and brush makes me feel connected to my world. I never feel better than when I am making something, whether it is food, a garden, or a book.

I found this in England, and it is unsigned. I wish I could locate the artist.

My Quaker grandmother Abigail Baker of Chester County, Pennsylvania, made this in 1852...

...and her mother Mary Ann Mitchell made this in the 1820s.


A hand-me-down chair reupholstered (what was I thinking doing white?) and draped with one of my favorite quilts, a 1920's sampler made into a pillow, and a flower basket pillow made and embroidered by artist Julie Whitmore.

I don't know, but I think that my childhood was greatly influenced by friends who had an old house with wing chairs. This is an old wing chair, reupholstered and draped with a soft and cozy handwoven throw by artist Stephanie Arehart of Cambria, California.

A covered faience vegetable dish by artist Julie Whitmore. Most of my favorite pottery was broken during the 2003 earthquake, which rocked our old cottage in Cambria. Somehow (luckily) this survived.

Faretheewell and good-night!



P.S. Congratulations to Lili of Fearless Nesting (Maine blog) who is the winner of the wonderful gardening book The Complete Kitchen Garden by my friend Ellen Ecker Ogden. Lili, I know you'll get lots of ideas and use from this book. We will ship it out next week. Lili will also receive an extra surprise since she is a charter member of the Grimy Hands Girls' Club. Hurrah!

P.P.S. Visit my Lowe's blog "All Gardens Begin with Dreams" and please leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


My Baltimore Oriole on one of his favorite snacks.

Stoop, kneel, tug weeds, plop them into an old tin bucket, scoot onward, ever onward. I've been smiling at the lengthening days, the awakenings in my garden, the near completion of my book, and the arrival of family and friends for my grandson Moses' fifth birthday. On Saturday night, we had 18 people crammed into our little house for dinner and celebration. Phew, what a crush.

Although we still have chilly nights, the days feel silky, warm, and filled with bursting life. As I walk my garden paths, I am amazed by the brilliant oranges shining from so many pots and plots. And then, to add to the plethora of oranges, as I worked in my studio, this flaming orange Baltimore Oriole appeared on my new pages of paintings. It felt like the easiest drawing I've ever done, and it seemed to flow off my brush and onto the page. Why couldn't every illustration be this easy?

Won't you join me on a short walk through the gardens? We'll stop and look closely at some of the magical unfoldings. Spring is careening toward us.

The aloes provide welcome nectar for hummers, orioles, and the warblers who hover in front of the long, tubular blooms and sip.

The little kumquats, which are the size of my thumb, are all ripening, which makes my grandson so happy. He is a fruitaholic and loves picking fruit fresh from the garden.

I have a small crop of blood oranges, which are almost ripe. I love using these in salads. Their deep red flesh is always a surprise for my guests.

This small Washington navel is loaded this year.

Yum, it will be time for my Grandmother Lovejoy's California orange marmalade. Her recipe came from my Great Grandmother Abigail, who was born and lived in Pasadena, California. 

The old-fashioned Calendulas are in full bloom now. I pick them every few days and dry the petals for my salad mix toppings, but I also love them fresh and scattered in rice dishes, custards, and on salads.

My potted and in-ground Meyer lemons are producing like crazy. Wow, these Meyers are the best. Zest them and put on a parchment covered cookie sheet; bake at 250 degrees until they're dry. They have a hint of vanilla taste to them and are great on desserts.

Ok, I know these are humble flowers,  but I adore them. These nasturtium (called Lark's Heel in olden days for the spurs on the backside of the flower) are ubiquitous in coastal California, but I never take them for granted. I know it is old hat to use them in cooking, but I do it. I cut the petals and confetti them over salads, stuff the whole blossoms with my homemade cheese mixture, and plant them in pots for my beloved hummingbirds.

I am not a great photographer (where is Carol Duke of Flower Hill Farm when I need her? ) Here are the hummingbirds who bring so much life to my garden. 

I photographed these three (one behind one on right) through my bedroom window. At dusk, there will sometimes be 5 hummingbirds feeding here. I keep two feeders filled and hanging close by so I can always watch them. They give me so much joy, and they love all my Salvias and the pots of colorful nasturtiums.

I mix fresh syrup for the hummingbirds every day. I scour the feeder with a bottle brush, and clean it with hot, hot water.

Many of you have asked what I feed them. It's simple. 1/4 cup of pure granulated sugar (NEVER use sugar substitutes or honey), and 1 cup of water. I mix the sugar and water and microwave it for about a minute and thirty seconds, then let the syrup cool thoroughly. I keep a jar of prepared syrup ever-ready in my fridge so I never run out.

Hummer syrup

Every morning when I feed the Scrub Jays and Mockingbirds, I stick a small fruit atop a birdhouse. The birds love the fruits and now someone (maybe a little woodpecker?) is working at opening a larger entry hole in the birdhouse. 

I must return to my work table now to finish some illustrations of Pine Siskins. Before I leave though, I wanted to offer my readers a chance to win a wonderful and colorful gardening book, The Complete Kitchen Garden, written by my friend Ellen Ecker Ogden, who is the co-founder of The Cook's Garden.  This special book, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, will give you a wheelbarrow load of ideas. The plans, plant lists, and 100 recipes are great. Good luck to you. Be sure to leave a comment to be eligible for the drawing to be held on the last day of this month.

Next month, I'll begin my spring give-aways of goodies from Gardener's Supply Company.  Check back in March thru May.

Here is a delicious little tidbit from one of the pages of this inspirational AND useful book.

What gardener could resist this???

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. I want to thank one of Indiana's BEST teachers for her thoughtfulness. Thank you Lori Hibbard for the antique bird book AND for the faerie doll for Sara May. It even looks like her, and she loves it. You're a peach!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday from my Little House to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura's simple kitchen

Happy birthday, dear Laura Ingalls Wilder. You are such an inspiration to me and to millions of others who love your life and your writing. Imagine this–Laura did not begin to write until she was in her sixties. I find that both amazing and an impetus to myself and so many others to get out and just DO IT. Write, create, celebrate the beauty in the commonplace, which is what Laura did in her works.

Jeff and I drove waaaay off our normal route to visit Rocky Ridge Farm, the home of Laura and Almanzo, which is located near Mansfield, Missouri. The home's simplicity is stunning. Laura designed the farmhouse and most of it is built from the raw materials found on this beautiful Missouri farmland. It rests there easily, like a cat curled up on a sunny windowsill. I adored the kitchen with its vintage stove, the short countertops for tiny, five foot Laura, and the wavery view out the window and across the property. Just think–Laura looked out at this same view.

When researching Laura and Almanzo's life, I found that Laura had designed the sunny, little kitchen, and she and Almanzo, between bouts of working the farm, built it for under just under $50.00. Amazing.

Laura was quite a good cook. She had to be because her cooking helped earn their livelihood. She and Almanzo welcomed paying guests to their ten room home. The guests, who were summer boarders trying to escape the heat of the cities, enjoyed Laura's plain and wholesome offerings. Imagine being fed by Laura and sharing a table with both of them.

"There's chicken and dumplings for dinner;
With salads and vegetables fine
And fruits just fresh from the orchard
Oh who wouldn't love to dine!"

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Jeff and I wandered Laura and Almanzo's property, went on the small tour of the little house, and visited the museum dedicated to her and her works. We've stopped at some of their other homesites, one is Pepin, Wisconsin, another along the shore of Plum Creek in Minnesota (watch the videos at this link), but this was our favorite. You really can feel the strength and beliefs of this remarkable couple.

That is me on the left in the red jacket. I am absorbing every sight, sound, view

Tonight I am going to bake Laura's famous (and one of her favorite recipes) gingerbread, stick a candle in the center of it, and sing a hearty happy birthday song. 

Laura's Gingerbread

a cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water (measured in a 2 cup or larger measuring cup because you'll be adding baking soda)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and ground cloves (Laura used a teaspoon each, but it is overpowering)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, well beaten

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9X9 baking pan (I use a square iron skillet)
Blend the sugar and the shortening and slowly add the molasses
Add the baking soda to the cup of boiling water and mix well
Combine the flour and the spices and sift. Combine the sugar-molasses mix with the flour and the baking soda/water.
Add the well-beaten eggs. Mix ingredients well and pour into greased skillet.
Bake for about 45 minutes.

I make homemade whipping cream, but use your imagination. I think Laura would approve.

Happy day to you all!


P.S. Here is some of my recent work for the bird book, which is deliciously close to its finish.

Birds on a wire to teach kids comparative sizes

Side portrait of a Barred Owl so kids can see the powerful, flesh-tearing beak

So this is not my normal blog posting, but I really wanted to share this with you.