Life as I know It

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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Staring at the Oven and Farewell Dinner

Isn't it amazing how we all seem to gravitate toward water and flames? How we sit and stare at both of
those mesmerizing elements and lose ourselves in them. That sure happened on our last night out at the Bassetti Vineyards where Ellis and Susie Bassetti did what was called "The Maiden Voyage," with their new, hand-built (but not finished yet on exterior) outdoor oven. A labor of love and a long time dream for them and for all their friends.

Ellis (back turned) shifts some of the oakwood to the side and situates the chickens and pumpkin in his new oven. Soon the entire oven will be faced with pieces of sandstone hand "harvested" by Ellis. To the right is our beloved Susie Bassetti, in front of Susie is John Gonyer, to the right of John is me in the blue top, behind me is Bonny Spencer, and to the left of Bonny is Lee Spencer. 

We all arrived carrying food and wine, but the Bassettis, who have their own vineyard, olive grove, herb gardens, and fruit trees, were already stocked with food. The Bassetti family has owned this ranchland for over 100 years. Imagine, in California, which is such a movable culture, a family of many generations has owned and worked this land.

Susie and I have taught classes on herbs, crafts, and cooking together. We have a ball doing this and talk constantly about teaching some more classes at their ranch, Green Valley Flower & Herb, and at one of her best friends' (Harriet Scully) home near Cortona in Italy (you've read about Cortona in Frances Mayes' books about Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun. Now we have a new dimension to add to cooking classes, this fabulous outdoor oven, which we'll be learning to use for the next few months BEFORE inviting you to the ranch.

We'll also be teaching a simple cheese-making class and some classes on drying and blending your own herbal concoctions, like herbs de Provence, fines herbs, and more.

We've had weather of 106 degrees here, but finally, the fog began to cool the land, and we watched as a bank rolled from the sea toward Green Valley. Here Susie is trying to get Ellis under control. He is cooking his first meal in the oven and is pretty excited about it. John Gonyer is sampling fresh picked figs drizzled with balsamic vinegar, stuffed with cheese, and tucked into the new oven.

When Jeff shot this photo, we were adding up all the years we've been friends with this group. The total was over 160 years. Amazing. Bonny once worked at Heart's Ease, which is where Lee met her. We ladies all loved Lee and tried to be cupids. I've known John since he was a teenager, and Ellis for the past 30 years. When a group like this gets together, it is like a rich soup that has simmered on a stove for hours with all the ingredients melding and producing a complex and satisfying taste. 

Here are the spectacular "Maiden chickens," of which Ellis can be VERY proud.

A big stuffed squash filled with herbs and stuffing. This baked in the oven, too. It was delicious.

John and Jeff don't waste any time lining up for the food.

Bonny and Ellis (our chef) fill their plates with great food.

The table awaits friends and laughter.

And at the end of the meal, we counted our blessings for having such a joyous gathering with great food and well-seasoned and beloved old friends. 

The next morning, we began packing for our five week book tour. I know this is an odd selection of things to be taking, but I need to be able to explain birds to children with real things they can touch. The antique egg carton is filled with the eggs of domesticated birds–zebra finches, button quail, turkeys, and ducks– and with a guinea hen feather tucked into the nesting materials. On the table are a turkey flight feather and a turkey tail feather.

Slipped into acetate envelopes are parrot feathers–flight feather, tail feather, contour feather, and down feathers. The big white "egg" is actually a gourd. The old straw hat is one I pictured in my book. It was a perfect home for a thriving wren family.

On our last afternoon at home, a lovely family came to visit and left this wonderful card.

Time flew past and before we knew what had happened, we were at our first stop on the book tour, Family Day at the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, CA.

We were warmly greeted by Pam Karr, who is the children's librarian at the FABULOUS (you will have to experience this library, it is beyond compare) A.K. Smiley Public Library. Dr. Marjorie Arnett (who is a great cook) made Hester, Christina, Pam,  and us a great welcoming dinner. We ate outdoors under an arbor with her two dogs, Ben and Lily, at our feet. 

A long line of children waiting to pick up a copy of My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder.

I got a chance to speak with dozens of children who are fascinated with nature and who love reading. This was an amazing crowd of inter-generational families. One family that attended brought FIVE generations!

The afternoon ended with a bang when my friend, writer, and blogger Lydia Plunk, drove fifty miles to greet us. Lydia, thank you. Your smiling face was such a joy to see.

Tonight we are in Boston, and it is gently raining. Tomorrow we will work our way up the coast to Maine and drop in for spot signings at bookstores and toy stores. We will also be looking for more props for a television appearance Tuesday morning on "Good Day Maine," WPFO 23, Portland, Maine.

Please stay in touch and let us know if you'll be visiting with us as we travel.

Sending love across the miles,

A weary traveler,



Anonymous said...

very good!

Vee said...

I think that you have brought the sunshine if not the heat, Sharon.

What a wonderful gathering of dear friends. It looks like so much fun. I can imagine just a wee bit how delicious everything tasted as I remember chicken that was roasted in the old wood cookstove was so much more tasty than in the regular oven. The pumpkin looks delightful.

Happy journeying up the coast. I'm looking forward to trying to see the show! Happen to know the time?

Elizabeth Ann said...

Congratulations on your newest book! Thank you for sharing your pictures of your friends and dinner party with us. I will be enjoying your travels on your book tour!

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What a lovely dinner and time had with long time friends.

A book tour would make me weary too, even though you are meeting lots of wonderful people who love you and your books.

Love and hugs to you dear Sharon,


Rebecca said...

I will look forward to hearing more about The Oven and the wonderful experiences that will result....

I really like your description of your group of friends being like a rich soup that has simmered on a stove for hours... I may have to "borrow it"--with your permission or lack of protest :)

The children's event looked very well-planned & executed. It's great to see so many children interested in the subject AND books!

Wishing you much stamina & safety on your tour.

Blondie's Journal said...

It's so exciting that you have started your book tour...I bet you love it as much as the children!

Thanks for sharing your pictures of the vineyard dinner! Good friends, good wine and great food, a wonderful recipe! I didn't know you taught so many fantastic classes. What an interesting lady you are (as if I didn't know already!).

Safe travels and many good wishes, Sharon!


Lori said...

Hello Weary Traveler! I hope that as you continue on your tours that everything goes well. I continue to keep Luke in my prayers. Loved the comparison of friendship and soup - both warm and nourish us!
Blessings <3

Julie Marie said...

Oh Sharon, what a fabulous oven!... good food, good friends... and good times!... everything looks just wonderful and those chickens... YUM!... how fun you have all been friends for so long... and still get together to enjoy each others company... hope you are having a fabulous time on your book tour... and I know the kids adore you!... I do!... sending much love cousin, xoxo Julie Marie

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Hi friends,

I finished this posting at about 1 A.M., so am hoping there aren't too many bloopers.

Vee, so good to see your name pop up right away. I am almost in YOUR neighborhood.

Jane at Blondie's Journal, yes, my former life before I began writing full time, was as the owner of an herb and garden shop called Heart's Ease (for the flower of the same name, Johnny-jump-up.

I taught classes (especially popular was the Christmas class) to some wonderful people, many of whom have become close friends.

Trying to click into New England time now and stowing my sandals. It is chilly, but gorgeous this morning. We are heading north! Hurrah.

Thanks for your sweet words and e-mails. I so appreciate them.



Pat said...

Someday you will have to share how you maintain that amazing energy level! Sure part of that comes from being blessed with such special friendships & the joy of all that fabulous food. Wishing I lived nearby to take the herb blending classes -
Ah Cortona - one of my favorite stops on a long ago trip to Tuscany. I remember the winding roads always climbing upward to the towns & stone walls with huge rosemary plants cascading over the sides.

Wishing you safe travels - all those young readers to inspire - they will become devoted followers too!

Rebecca Sweet said...

Best of luck to you both on this wonderful 5-week journey! There are countless children out there who have no idea what joy they're about to encounter - yippee!! :)

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Hey Sweet Rebecca,

I am sitting here in my nightgown and waiting for a plumber to fix the hotel shower and unplug the drain. Ahhh, the glamour of travel.

I am the one loving every second with the kids.

Lucky me.

Love to you and the MIX-Meister,


Lemon Verbena Lady said...

I remember a clogged drain on a bus trip once! Not fun! Each day you will be closer to Cincinnati and me and Bonnie! Can't wait! xxoo Nancy

Vicki Boster said...

Sharon- your cups runs over with your many blessings. I enjoyed the photos of your evening with friends-- special times for sure.

I love that you are speaking to the children- I'm sure they love having you to teach them- truly this is priceless.

I hope you have a wonderful tour!

Nellie said...

What an amazing evening! How wonderful that you have been able to share your book with children! I do hope the tour will go well for you. I'd love to be at one of the stops, but distance is a great factor in my missing out on this. xo

Unknown said...

So great to stop in for a visit Sharon. Blessed you are for having such a rich circle of ' old ' friends! We enjoy such a circle in our small beach community... being with those folks just feels like home. You were in Boston last night! So close! Wishing you a wonderful book tour.. It already looks like a perfect success! Congrats!
Deb and Boz

Farm Girl said...

It looks like a fun packed time. I love that oven!! I am so glad the heat has finally broke. I really didn't think I was going to make it after this last heat wave.
Each day with the cooler weather I feel better and better, now if I could just see some fall color, I might be right as rain. :) Have a lovely week.

Dawn said...

Congratulations on your new book, Sharon! It looks wonderful! I'm ordering it asap, for my little chickadee. :)
I'm so glad John joined you all, and that you could bring a smile to his face.
You're in Boston...I'm a wee bit envious, as it's my favorite city! Say hello to it for me.
Keep up the good work sweet friend...and remember to pause and enjoy autumn here and there.

tamlovesran said...

Such a beautifully full life! Thank you for sharing it with us.

Happy Fall!

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

What a send off. Safe travels. Loved your items packed for the tour. All important!

Lori ann said...

dear sharon,

i loved your friend soup analogy, what a blessing. i loved seeing you on friday too, even if only for a moment. best wishes on your tour, i hope you and jeff have a wonderful time, i'll picture you sowing seeds of inspiration everywhere you go. can't wait for your new book here! enjoy chilly maine!
love, lori

Lorrie said...

Dear Sharon,

I love the metaphor of friendship as a soup - rich and mellow as it simmers through the years.

Take time to breathe along your travels. The children must be so thrilled with your book, and your presentation with the lovely items from nature.

Beth said...

Hi, Sharon! I've told my 22 and 25 year olds that we are going to build an outdoor bread oven together one day, using stones from the bay. Did your friends wing it, or did they have some instructions? Does the dome have to have a certain dimension? All I know about building a bread oven is that the colonists built theirs out of mud, on top of a form made of sand, which they removed later. They had to build a little roof over the mud oven to protect it from the weather. Beth

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Hi dear Beth,

How are you doing in Switzerland?

Susie and Ellis and friends laid a special foundation of concrete and (I think) vermiculite mixture, which holds the heat.

The walls were laid by them and the big dome was purchased from an Italian company that has a business up near Monterey. You can surely access an Italian company easily from where you are. Anyhow, the dome comes in four pieces (VERY heavy).

Soon to come is the iron door and the facing on the oven.

I have to say, it makes a wonderful, wonderful beating heart in a dark garden. We were all just huddled around it and enjoying the entire experience.

We're journeying for five weeks, but when I get home if you have any questions for Susie and Ellis, I'll ask them to answer you.

I think it would be a great project to do. Believe me, I've surely been thinking about it too.

Sending love to you in Switzerland,


Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Darling Sharon, I love these posts about your travels and feasts with friends. Did you know Ellis is my dad's middle name and also one of my daughter's middle names. I'm told it means Elijah. Love and hugs.~~Dee

Pam G. said...

Hi Sharon-how exciting-wish your tour would be close to me or better yet my granddaughter Maddie-who lives kind of near Annapolis MD. (I am in Rochester NY) A copy of your book is wiunging its way to me for my sweet granddaughter-can hardly wait. Have fun on the tour-isn't it wonderful to be around young children-so innocent and curious about everything-they just soak up knowledge.

Zuzana said...

Dear Sharon, you are absolutely right about water and flames, they do attract our gaze.;)
Sounds like a wonderful evening spend with good friends.;)
Good luck on your book tour.;)

Anonymous said...

Spot on with this write-up, I really think this website wants far more consideration. I'll probably be again to learn way more, thanks for that info.

Cindy (Applestone Cottage) said...

Hi Sharon,
I have been meaning to leave you a note for just the longest time.
I have been so busy helping raise my grand-baby and so our life has changed a bit.
This is just an amazing post! I enjoyed reading every bit of it.
That oven, wow, just amazing!
And your tour sounds busy and fun.
You have such an inspiring life!
Big Hugs friend,