Life as I know It

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Meanwhile, I Keep Dancing

"I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing."
Daniel Hillel

Dear Friends,

Congratulations to Susan (My Mother's Apron Strings) who is the lucky winner of Marta McDowell's wonderful new book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life. Susan dear, I don't think I have your new address. Please send it along. 

Sending love across the miles,


Remember to keep getting up. Dance your way into 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Warmth of Love

Dear Friends,

Every day during the busy holiday season I look forward to reading cards and catching up on the goings on of good friends and family. Thank you, thank you for all your many kindnesses. Thank you dear herbal friend Nancy Heraud, Lemon Verbena Lady, for the unexpected trove of glorious, jewel-like jellies and jams. Nothing is better than something cooked or crafted with love.

How can it already be time to unpack our family treasures from the old green blanket chest? It feels like I tucked our favorite ornaments away only a few weeks ago, but it has been a year. The first things to come out are always our old stick sheep from the beginning of the 20th century.

Our old German stick sheep line the mantel. When the horrible San Simeon earthquake hit us in 2003, the sheep were all hurled across the room and onto the floor. Many of their ears are broken and legs are wobbly, but they've been a part of my life for almost 40 years. The children expect them to watch over our family.

The handmade Edwardian hat-topper is now our tree-topper. Imagine wearing a hat big enough to support a ten inch squirrel. I found this in an antique shop I always loved. Do any of you remember Millie Fairie's fabulous store in Cambria? I'll never forget it. I think I bought this guy about 35 years ago.

This little snowman (smaller than my pinky finger) is about 100 years old, and he is one of my all time favorites. 

Mary Margaret Klug stitched the Christmas hearts, my daughter in law made me over a hundred origami paper birds, my friend David Krause made the tiny walnut basket in the lower left. It has a gingham table cloth and is filled with berries. I included his walnut basket in my first book, Sunflower Houses, so this basket is over twenty four years old.

An early, clip-on glass bunny.

A tiny cotton Santa and above his left shoulder is the ferry boat that traverses the sea between Anacortes and Orcas Island where we once had a tiny cottage. Waiting for the ferry was always so exciting.

This is as close as Jeff will get to having the sailboat of his dreams!

Or maybe this is! This red canoe is in honor of the one we have in Maine. This canoe topped my 50th birthday cake and now always sits in a place of honor in our tree.

The little clip-on chicken is one of my favorites. I think it is from the early 20th century.
Corny as it is, the Santa face ranks near the top of beloved keepsake memories. This is actually a half of a mussel shell, which has been painted with Santa's face. Our friends in the Brewer family took us out for a memorable boat ride and picnic at the tiny Burnt Island Lighthouse out of Boothbay Harbor. I bought some of these from the girls who lived out there and tended the island. When I hang these on the tree, I smell the aroma of the firs, the sound of our feet scrunching through the shell-strewn pathways, and I see the play of clear Maine light across the blue, blue waters of the bay. 

I'm a sucker for little holiday stockings.

An old, clip-on bird ornament was a gift from Susan Pendergast, who also made the string/garlands of old glass ornaments. Another few origami paper birds. I love their flight across the branches.

I treasure all the handmade ornaments sent to me by Suzanne, Down in the Meadow, all the way from South Africa.

Out come the old Christmas quilts and the memories of blazing sunshine over vast fields of antiques in Maine, Massachusetts, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And the stockings from Christmas Cove Designs, which Jeff and I will fill with small gifts for each grand.

And five little socks to be stuffed for the faerie mailboxes out in our garden. I know that the more grown-up grands are shaky about their belief in the garden faeries, but they still go out to check their mailboxes and many times find fanciful gifts tucked inside them.

So now the stockings are stuffed, the tree is finally hung with the memories of our lives, and we await the arrival of family and friends, which is really what this season is all about.

I send love across the miles, and remember, the days are already beginning to lengthen; they're loping toward spring time. Holiday blessings and the warmth of love to you all.

Believe me dear friends, one doesn't need to grow up!

LUCKY US! Timber Press sent an offer for a give-away copy of Marta McDowell's new book about Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life. This is a must read for anyone who loves Beatrix and for anyone who loves a garden. This book is amazing! Be the lucky winner, just leave a comment on this blog posting. If you're an anonymous commenter, please check back to see if you've won Marta's book.

Remember, don't grow up!

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 7, 2013


This is Jake. He is my morning alarm clock. Jake taps at my bedroom window to let me know that it is breakfast time for him. So, I load his feeder with whole peanuts and he is a happy Scrub Jay.

Dear Friends

I know, I know, it has been a long, long time, but you all know what a hectic and joyous time of year this is. We had company for five days, cooked many meals, and had lots of great adventures. I am hoping that your Thanksgiving was wonderful and filled with love. Ours was. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving with a little boy who fought hard and long for life. He is our blessing.

Thanks so much for your letters, cards, and gifts. I can't believe how thoughtful you all are. Oh, and a wonderful gift was this autographed book from the author herself. It was a surprise, but oh how welcome in my library. 

Marta McDowell's book, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, is scholarly, but homey, elegant, and filled with information for all the fans of Beatrix and her works. I LOVE this book. For those of you who are Beatrix lovers too, please visit my blog posting I did on Beatrix's beloved Hilltop a few years ago.

Thanks dear Marta. I wish you great success. YOUR book is brilliant!

And to my dear Cousin Julie Marie at Thank you for the little squirrel friend who is doing her best to get me through my separation anxiety with my little Audrey.

As I work through 280 pages of what is called First Pass on my new middle grade novel, Running Out of Night, (Delacorte Press/Randon House, Fall 2014), the sights outside my window keep me going. What could be tedious and trying is punctuated by the beauty and grace of the birds in my life. I love them.

What better gift for a youngster than a simple feeder or a birdbath? Such a great way to introduce a child (or someone who is infirm and housebound) to the nature right outside a window. I treasure my bird friends and love them so much.

The shy Hermit Thrush visits a few times a day for berries and baths.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler ...

... drinking daintily.

Dear little Chestnut-backed Chickadees and White-crowned Sparrows feasting at the wooden feeder Jeff built for me. Such a busy stop for so many birds.

House Finches try to run the show...

...but the chickadee never gives up. (A good lesson for us all?)

An immature White-crowned Sparrow

Jeff shows our little guy how to feed the birds.

And at the window feeder he drops in seed by seed. Phew, that took awhile. This is a great feeder with heavy duty suction cups to hold it on the window and an easy fold out front for quick cleaning. This comes with my book My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder (Workman Publishing).

You're never too young to enjoy nature. And, never too old.

This is my girlfriend, author Sherry Shahan. Her grandsons used the recipe for my bird booster, which can be found in Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars and My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder.

Bird Booster Recipe: 

Note: please replace peanut butter with almond butter IF your child has an allergy to peanuts.

1 cup almond or crunchy peanut butter
1 cup canola oil
4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup white flour
A few tablespoons of shelled sunflower seeds and/or raisins.

Mix together and stuff into a pine cone. Hang the cone from a wire or string. Place it where you and your children can enjoy all the activity. The birds need protein and fat during the winter months. Feed them and feed your soul!

NEWS FLASH!! The winner of Susan Branch's new book, A Fine Romance, has never responded. So Jeff did another random number generator choice and the winner is number 67, Bonnie K at Birds, Bees, Berries, and Blooms. Bonnie is a Grimy Hands Girls' Club member so she'll be receiving a bonus gift.

Joys to you and love across the miles,


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

This stuffed squash was one of the main dishes. I bought the squash at a farmers' market in San Clemente. The farmer didn't know the name of it, but he said it was a "good baking" one–he was right.

A few years ago my friend Sue Branch mentioned that in all the years she has been writing, she has never had a book party. She wasn't complaining; it was simply a statement of fact. When she said that I decided that when she finished another book we would somehow celebrate it with a wonderful party.

When Sue finished A Fine Romance I talked with Jeff and with our friends Susan and Ellis Bassetti and told them I wanted to throw a party for her. Ellis and Susie quickly seconded the idea and volunteered to hold it at their ranch, which has so much more space than our home. (And who wouldn't want to attend a party in the middle of an olive grove and a vineyard?)

So onward and upward. Plans began to form, close friends were invited, and helpers were enlisted. Let the cooking begin!

Our little kitchen turned into an assembly line for a couple of days as we prepared for the party.

Recipe to follow at end of posting.

Ellis Bassetti mans/chefs the outdoor wood-fired oven he built.

Somehow Ellis knows exactly when his foods are finished to perfection. Practice, I guess. I have a tough enough time trying to get them right when I use an oven.

My granddaughter is wearing an official server's apron, but forgets her chores and loses herself in an adventure with the two pups. Much better than working!

Congratulations Sue dear!!

My pal Matt Spurr helps dish out and serve the cheesy peppers.

Joe Hall (alias "THE DREAMBOAT") surveys the box of oysters he flew in from a favorite fish market, The Net Result, on Martha's Vineyard.

Joe shucked the oysters for all of us newbies.

This is hard work! One slip of the knife and...

My salad was filled with all sorts of goodies from our garden, including pears, apples, and pomegranate arils. 

This is a nine pound pork loin seasoned with my homegrown herbs and marinated for two days.
I usually cook these for an hour, but in the hot, hot oven (which immediately sears in the juices) it took very little time and tasted great!

Setting the buffet table. 

Ok, so you can't actually see who is who, but some of the guests didn't want their photos taken...I understand that 'cause I never want my photo taken either.

The twenty foot long pine table had a garland of pomegranates, persimmons, and grape vines...

...and an array of beautiful and loyal friends (including Sue's original girlfriends from high school).

Sometimes I'd look around and see maybe a dozen people with their phones out and happily photographing the goings-on. 

A Fine Romance book cake by Renee Linn of Linn's Restaurant and Bakery. Renee spent hours working on this piece of art, which tasted as great as it looked. Thank you, Renee, for all your creativity and giving.

Don't drop the cake, Jeff!

Through the herb garden and to the grape arbor dining room.

Sue was surprised and she loved it!

Umm, I like the corners. Lots of frosting please. If I'm going to blow the calories, I might as well go for the good stuff.

Cute boots, Sue. 

The adorable Julie Marie (Idyllhours blog) sent two hand felted squirrels to the party. One for Sue and one for me. They are darling. Mine will go up on the animal shelf in my studio. Thank you, Julie Marie, for your thoughtfulness and caring.

I'll wind this posting down with the announcement of the winner of the vintage Anne Morrow Lindbergh book, Gift from the Sea, which I have treasured and read over and over for years.

I just hope that you all get the chance to read this, and that our lucky winner (automatically picked by the random number generator) is number 30,  Donna, but I do not have an e-mail address or any information about her. Donna, if you read this, I need your address, etc. It won't be published. If you are a member of The Grimy Hands Girls' Club, you'll receive an extra gift.

Also, I am in a bit of a dilemma here. Our winner of Sue's personally autographed book, A Fine Romance, from my last drawing, was never claimed. Chris Morgan won it, but I can't find Chris and she hasn't written me. I am going to wait for another week and then draw again if I am not contacted by Chris. Does that sound fair?

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

Here is the recipe for the baked, stuffed pumpkin, which I plan to also do for Thanksgiving.

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees 

You'll need:

Large baking pumpkin or squash
Box of cremini mushrooms (they're more flavorful than white buttons)
2 stalks celery
1 sweet yellow onion
2 cups rice (I used Basmati and wild)
1 container organic chicken broth (32 oz)
2 tsp. butter
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 apples diced
1 cup pecans toasted

Cut the top off your pumpkin and clean out seeds and strings. Save the seeds and toast them (or dry them and replant them); they taste great.

Rub butter on the inside of pumpkin and lid and set aside.

Slice mushrooms.

Dice celery and sweet onion, add sliced mushrooms.  Drop a tsp. of olive oil and a pat of butter into a skillet and cook the mushrooms, celery, and onion till tender. Sometimes I add a splash of red wine or a good balsamic vinegar and make a reduction sauce from the juices. Gives these a richer taste.

Pour organic broth, two teaspoons of butter, and soy sauce into a heavy-duty lidded pot. Bring to a boil, add rice, turn heat to simmer. It took about 25 minutes for my rice to cook. Lift lid, check that all liquid is absorbed, and fluff rice with a fork. Add mushrooms, celery, and onion. Keep rice uncovered and set aside.

Cook diced apples in a buttered skillet. Stir constantly, add the brown sugar, stir till apples just start to soften. (They'll cook thoroughly in the squash.) Add toasted pecans to the apples, stir to incorporate. This will coat them with a bit of the brown sugar.

Stuff squash/pumpkin all the way to the top. Perch lid on top, and it is safest to bake the squash in some sort of a pan, preferably one attractive enough to sit right on your table.

Here is the tricky part. I baked my squash for a little over two and a half hours. You MUST be able to slip a spoon into the flesh of the squash, which you'll also be eating with the stuffing. Since this is a trial and no error dish, just start it baking early, keep lifting off the lid of the squash and poking at the flesh. When finished baking, set it atop your stove and keep the lid on. I covered mine with aluminum foil and it stayed hot for an hour.

Baked Baby Bell Peppers

Pre heat oven to 350

Selection of baby bell peppers
Olive oil
Sea salt
Goat cheese
Mixed herbs (I use oregano, lemon verbena, smoked paprika and something called Perfect Pinch Salad Seasonings.

Cut peppers in half and discard seeds and any pith
Spread peppers onto a baking sheet lined with parchment
Drizzle lightly with olive oil and top with a few twists of salt
Bake till sides just begin to brown. You must bake the shells empty first or the bells won't be cooked enough and will just taste raw.

Mix equal parts goat cheese and fresh Parmesan, drizzle on a bit of olive oil,add some herbs (make sure all herbs are cut into teensy pieces, especially the lemon verbena).

Stuff the cooled baby bells with the mixture. Top with a snowstorm of fresh parmesan, another drizzle of oil, and the Perfect Pinch Salad Seasoning. Toast in oven for about 10 minutes.

These are a huge hit! They've become a family tradition at our house. They take a bit of time, but when we cook for people we love it is fun.

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. Many thanks to the editors of Garden Gate magazine for their glowing review of my recent book, My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder, published by Workman and available through my site and many others. Hurrah! Introduce children (and maybe yourself) to the world of birds right outside your window!

I like how Garden Gate has pre-punched pages that can be easily inserted into a notebook or journal.