Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Season of Giving

It's the most Wonderful time of the year!
This is the time of year when we count our blessings and plan our gift-giving. It won't be long before Santa begins his annual journey 'round the world! We plan feasts, we bake and create and we shop until we drop (well, almost!).  

We think about all of the people who have come into our lives, people who have made a difference in some way during the year...friends, loved ones...strangers. It is during this reflection, interestingly enough, that I find myself wishing that I could give back to each one with a little remembrance. A little thank you for the smile they shared, the phone call they made, the time they took to listen to me.
When I was small, gift giving centered around the children. Grandparents, parents, friends and Santa showered us with surprises that were lovingly left under the Christmas tree. My mom always said that Christmas is for the children. Now in my 60's, I continue to embrace the magic of giving. While I strive to work in my studio year-round, I especially love to create at this time of year. 
Our kitchen is always awhirl with activity!

Trays and trays of shortbread, pounds of espresso chocolate bark,
loaves of pumpkin bread and lots of peanut brittle
 are prepared annually for everyone.
Special attention is given to the wrapping to complete the presentation!
The advent calendar reminds us of the approaching celebration. 
The Nativity is gently unpacked and displayed.

Special notes ♪ ♪ are handwritten inside Christmas cards.
The Christmas tree takes its place in the corner of the room and
waits to be adorned with colorful lights and decorative treasures. 
Art projects of long ago reappear just in time for the holidays!
 Stocking stuffers are carefully selected for
each recipient and wrapped with love.
Letters of wishes are written and left for Santa with a cup of milk and
homemade cookies.  Bits of carrot are left for the reindeer. 
Like a well rehearsed dance, we repeat each wonderful tradition year after year. Silently, without even thinking about it...the traditions are renewed and embraced with love. These small gestures are gifts from the heart. Many don't cost a dime and yet, they are all priceless. With every ornament we hang, every task we complete, we are giving with love.
So, as the season of giving begins, may your preparations be wrapped with love. Give with your's the thought that counts!  I'm looking forward to the hustle and bustle of baking and creating! I hope you are, too! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Autumn Bliss

We have just bid farewell to a very hot and very humid summer. And, as I went about my errands last week, I noticed that the merchandise in the markets and specialty stores had quietly shifted from beach gear to wool jackets, flannel shirts and faux pumpkins. Swags of decorative synthetic fall leaves are strung up everywhere. Bags of miniature candy bars line the grocery shelves.  September's morning sky is streaked with pink as it weaves in and out of wispy clouds. We can feel the shift in the weather....we catch the subtle hint of dampness in the wee hours of the morning.  And, we want to bring out the quilts, lay a fire in the fireplace and bake cookies.

What is it about Autumn that reels us in?  Acorn fever (the love of Autumn) is stealth in its approach...but even when I am not looking for it, I know immediately when the first hint makes its presence known.  It very often times comes on the heels of my birthday in July. Just a hint... Sometimes its the way the gentle breeze switches direction. Other times, its the damp warm September dew that appears on the grass. I can't help but take a deep breath and feel myself re-center. The delicious anticipation of my favorite season sends me to the moon and back.  Autumn. When the leaves begin to, yellow and rust... and acorns begin to fall and scatter on the road.

Children are back in school and I am reminded of a line from You've Got Mail..."Don't you love New York in the Fall? It makes me want to by school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address." That is so me. I did that, too, one year. I sent a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils to my husband at work. And, I was thrilled that he knew exactly what I was saying!!!


Each year, in early October we return to Yosemite National Park.  We honeymooned here in 1985 ~ four nights in a cabin without a bath. We had rain, cold crisp mornings and no crowds. I think we've only missed two years since that trip. This annual trek is a magical time...days without a plan. Nights with starry skies and the sound of owls hooting in the distance.
Fresh air. Bike rides. Lots and lots of picture taking. Like we are seeing it for the first time...again!!!
In the evening, before dinner (and, sometimes after dinner) we sit out on the porch of our cabin to enjoy the sunset. We are in no hurry. We have a drink, kick back and rediscover what a vacation is really supposed to be. 


Nature is at its peek in the fall. We take pictures of fallen leaves....every one, a different specimen. Milkweed pods pop open and release their feathery seeds. They sail just above the meadows on the tiniest of breezes. 
Sometimes it takes just one leaf to start the ball rolling......
An afternoon autumn shower will find us back at the cabin...
just inside the door...listening to the rain's opus.....
A walk after the rains brings us to moss covered boulders. The cracks and crevices are highlighted by the light from the overcast sky.  
Here are some of the treasures we found on our walk.
I love the lacey leaves...
Can you feel Autumn? See it? Even in black and white, it is so pronounced!
(I was trying out my 'Ansel Adams' setting on my came out pretty good, I think!).
As we walked down the bike path towards the Chapel, we noticed a bit
of color peeking thru the evergreens. 

Deep breath..... I did not want to hurry ahead.
I needed to walk s-l-o-w-l-y.
...savoring each step as we got closer.
We walked around the bend....and, then, like the sun after a storm.....
It is overcast this morning....the sky is getting light....time for our morning walk. Roxie stands at the ready as I grab my phone, my keys and the lead.  And, this morning, I'm wearing my flannel shirt.
It's Autumn!!!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Birthday Eve

Roxie and I walked this morning...and, since we have doubled our route she seems to think we need to do it at double speed! 1.2 miles in just 20 minutes! Holy moly, Lady Poops-a-Lot, let me try to keep up!

Actually, it's a beautiful morning and I have done the basic, daily chores (fill the fountains, p/up random Roxie droppings, emptied the dishwasher, two loads of laundry, pulled some more-than-dead plants from the sizzled-out garden, hauled the trash containers to the curb....oh, and made the bed)...and now, the breeze is sailing through the big pine and delicious!!!

I was going to go down into the studio this morning...but got side-tracked by some packages that came in the mail.  You see, tomorrow is my 62nd birthday. My family, close friends, and  (former) co-workers  will tell you that I prefer to be out of the lime-light when it comes to my birthday. It's not that I don't enjoy a's just...well, you know....sometimes a bit awkward. So when the packages started to arrive (I do love snail mail, btw!)...I decided not to wait...and opened them up.

First up, a book on 10,001 Easy Solutions to Everyday Problems from my sister, Candy and her family. Truly, a fun collection of household helping trivia!!! Who knew that soaking a baking dish with stuck-on grease can be easily remedied simply by sprinkling with water and a bit of table salt??? This will be a handy, go to book for sure!!!

Then, a well-traveled box arrived with a familiar stamp on the corner ('reuse me')...and I knew immediately that this was from my long time friend and partner-in-crime-during-our-teenage-years, Tisa. (She had reused the box I had sent her birthday gift in!).

What a great blast-from-the-past! Tisa and I had discovered and fallen in love with the works of Rod McKuen during those formative, teenage years. We discovered his poetry and his LPs: The Sea.....The Earth....The Sky. His narratives put to inspirational music. Well loved....well worn...played often! And, still play with just a bit of scattered skips and pops. I will certainly enjoy reading his work again!!!

A third package arrived (sounds almost like Christmas, doesn't it?).   Look what I found inside!!!

Susan Branch's brand new, hot-off-the-press book, A Fine Romance ~ Falling in love with the English Countryside!  Susan and the friends at the studio (Kellee, Sherri, Alfredo and Bonnie) popped it into the mail the day the eleven pallets of books were delivered!!! It even has a little ribbon bookmark!!!
As the facilitator of the Friends of Susan Branch Facebook page (the gals at the studio call me the 'President'), we (the Susan Branch fans all over the world and I) have been anxiously waiting to see this journal of her 2012 trip to England. A labor of love to be sure and a year in the is so exciting to finally see it up close and personal!

A card from Dad was in the mail, too, with a wonderful birthday check! This will be earmarked for either additional art tools and supplies or shopping when we are in Yosemite or the central coast this fall.

Dad and me.  He's been a parent for 62 years!
So, birthday #62 is under way...quietly...with the gentle breeze in the trees outside and surprises in the mailbox from friends and loved ones. Perfect. 
...btw....this 62-thing is just that....who feels 62?!!!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Fountain of Pearls


I grew up in South Pasadena.  Back in the day, the 4th of July was really boring because fireworks were not permitted. One year, just a couple of days before the 4th, my friend, Tisa and I hopped on our bicycles and rode to Alhambra where the Unimart/Disco Fair/Two Guys, a membership department store, was (I’m not sure which one it was at the time!). We headed for the fireworks stand that was on the end of the store parking lot.  After much window shopping, we selected a packet of snake pellets and a Fountain of Pearls.

On the 4th of July, my grandparents had come over to our house to play cards and have barbecue.  After dinner, the bridge game resumed so I went outside to meet Tisa. She had her overnight tote, ready for another sleep-over.  After depositing her stuff upstairs in my bedroom, I grabbed the bag of fireworks and we went out to the front yard.

While we waited for the sun to set, we lit the snake pellets and watched as they expanded into a trail of ash. It seemed like it was taking forever for it to get dark. Just before the sun began to sink below the horizon, we came up with a scathingly brilliant idea. We thought it would be funny to paint a ‘stop line’ on the street across from my house.  We ran to my garage and found a can of white spray paint. Back on the street, we carefully painted a line from the curb to the center of the street.  We painted the word “STOP” beneath the line. It almost looked official!
Finally, it was dark and time for the Fountain of Pearls!  We set the cone-shaped firework in the middle of the street and Tisa lit it. We quickly sat down on the curb and watched.  It began to spit and sputter and then.....nothing!  We stared in disbelief! We were sure we had been gypped!

After a long, anxious pause the sparks began to shoot up. A few short, scattered sparks sputtered first...then, the display shot into the night sky nearly two stories high!  The cone exploded with sparks rocketing straight up, illuminating the entire street!  We started laughing hysterically! The roar of the firework shower continued for what seemed to be forever! We began to wonder if it was ever going to stop!

Hearing the commotion and seeing the bright ‘something’ in the street, my parents and grandparents jumped up, dashed out the front door and stood on the front porch, watching in disbelief.  This made it even funnier!  My dad, however, was not amused. A few selective words were exchanged between my parents before the adults retreated into the house.  Tisa and I began to laugh again.   

We sat there on the curb, hysterical with laughter, retelling the story and laughing into the night.  At one point, a car came down the street and suddenly slammed on its breaks right in front of us, stopping at our faux ‘stop line’! Another round of laughter ensued!
Finally, when we had caught our breath and had settled down, we knew it was time to call it a night. When we were sure we were all laughed-out, we returned to my house....via the back door!  As we climbed up the stairs, the sound of our muffled giggles indicated to my parents that we were safely inside for the night.
Tisa and me

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mrs. Wallace

Early one summer night (2010), at 7:45 p.m., I heard a lawnmower fire up. I couldn't determine where this was coming from or who was doing lawn work at dark on a work night. I went out on the front porch and listened ~ . It seemed to be coming from a house around the corner. We hadn't seen the owners in years and I think  probably both owners are deceased now.

The wife died years ago. I would often see her working in her garden. To the casual observer, the tiny front yard was just a plot of over grown grasses and weeds; dead flowers that were now dry and brittle sticks with heads shriveled and brown leaves scattered beneath ~ remnants of glorious blooms from long ago. 

Dressed in her down vest, I would see her shuffle up to the tall grass or a petrified rose bush, and slowly work in one area or another. Her gnarled fingers addressed each plant as if it were a prized specimen. I imagine, to her, the garden was in full bloom ~ wild grasses dancing in the breeze and big cabbage roses, fragrant and plentiful. Neat and tidy paths of old red brick led her from plant to tree to bush. She never spoke but quietly pruned and plucked all that did not 'belong'. She would spend hours grooming her tiny garden until it got too cool or the sun began to sink. Then, almost reluctantly, she would straighten her small frame a bit and toddle back to the house.

Every so often, a lone sunflower or a stray cluster of morning glories from previous seasons would appear, unannounced and never in the same place. To her, those little sprinkles of color must have been like diamonds.

Just recently, I learned the family name was Wallace. I never met Mrs. Wallace; she never spoke or acknowledged me when Annie, Pete and I would pass by on our walks. Yet I think we were kindred spirits...both loving our gardens and the beauty they held.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Tut, Tut! It Looks Like Rain!" ~ Winnie the Pooh


What is it about dark, cloudy, rainy days?  Why do they stir up so many memories...and, the uncontrollable urge to want to bake?

Like this I was checking email and facebook, I looked out the window and suddenly, I flashed back to Oneonta Elementary school. The old fashioned cast iron heater in the corner of the classroom clicking and ticking as it attempted to eliminate the chill. The coat closet stuffed with jackets, sweaters and rain boots. The BIG windows allowing for a great view to watch the rain instead of listening to the teacher! Oh, and inside games for recess...Head's Up, 7Up and Bacon, bacon, who has the bacon?. If it was pouring (and when you were a kid, it always poured), everyone ate lunch in the Cafetorium, whether you ate the hot lunch or brought a lunch from home. The packed Cafetorium was filled with chit-chat and laughter as we ate.

The smell of fresh rain makes me want to bake peanut butter cookies. I have no clue why...but that is the first thing that pops into my head when the rain begins to fall!

I remember Winnie the Pooh as the little black rain cloud. Thanks to videos, we watched the adventures of Pooh and his friends many, many times. "Tut, tut! It looks like rain!" Pooh would declare....and next thing you knew, he'd be sailing into the air on the end of a balloon!

When I was growing up, we never stayed inside just because it was raining. We built forts, covered them with tarps and hung out until we were drenched or frozen! Our garage never saw a car. The few odd pieces of furniture stored inside were often rearranged for a club house. There was a large, deep, heavy-duty shelf built in the back. We set up a ladder next to it; this was our staircase. Up on the shelf, we moved the boxes to one side, drape them in sheets to make a  second floor!  Suddenly, our club house became a haunted house! We spent many afternoons mystery-making and adventure-creating, conjuring up all sorts characters and props.

On rainy Saturday afternoons, we often times would watch Creature Features on channel 9. Black and white murder mysteries and monster movies kept our attention as we munched on freshly popped popcorn. Our favorites included Dracula and the many Vincent Price classics, including ~ The House of Wax and the House on Haunted Hill.

Board games were a great way to spend a wet afternoon. Monopoly and Clue were favorites. Col. Mustard in the Library with the Lead Pipe....loved that game! Depending on who was home and how many friends were over would dictate who did what. If there was a bunch of us, we would sit around the dining room table and play Hearts or Spades.

The Carpenters used to sing about rainy days.....
♫ ♪ ♫ Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. ♪ ♫ ♪ 
I love rainy days. They don't get me down...they are a perfect excuse for slowing down...for reading, baking, cooking, and working in the studio. I like the calming, whooshing sounds cars make on the wet street as they pass by. The tapping of the rain drops on the window is music to my ears. 

There is something quite magical about a walk in the rain (when properly dressed, that is). Watching rain drops dancing on the puddles, leafy vessels sailing down the street's gutters...the cool, crisp dampness kissing my it, love it, love it!
Yes, I love rainy days.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tea for Two

There is nothing quite like afternoon tea. How this lovely Victorian ritual disappeared from afternoon tradition I will never know. After discovering a Tea Room in Monrovia, I am convinced that we are definitely missing out.

It all began with the approach of my dear friend, Joyce's birthday. I wanted to do something different that year (1993); something that maybe would be new to her. I had learned about a vintage clothing shop that had a tea room in Monrovia called Frills. Intrigued, I decided to take a drive and check it out.

The shop was jam packed with all sorts of vintage clothing, hats, button-up shoes, jewelry, greeting cards and gifts. I wandered through the aisles, taking it all in. Nestled at the back of the shop was this charming tea room.Of course, nothing matched anything and each table had it's own shape and one-of-a-kind chairs. What a perfect place to go for a celebration! I glanced at the menu and asked to make a reservation.

Due to the popularity of the tea room, we had to wait until June! I took this as a good sign and reserved a table. June finally came and Joyce and I went to tea.
We met GayleTheilacker, the tea room proprietor and her right-armed gal, Valerie who would soon become treasured friends! A new tradition was born! Frills became our favorite tea room. We returned several times to enjoy tea after an afternoon of shopping.

Oh, we tried others ~ and had some great laughs! One tea room, Critters, was down in Torrance. We should have known something was amiss when we called to make reservations. A gentleman answered the phone and I requested the date. There was this pregnant pause...and then, an "Ok."  When we got there, we discovered a froo-frooed coffee shop with very few patrons. We were seated and after what seemed to be a very long time, a tiered tray of sandwiches was presented. There were three or four finger treats ~ stale and almost without filling. The tea was your basic Lipton's and dessert...well, I just don't remember.  We laughed all the way home over this interpretation of 'tea room'.

The J. Adams Tea Room in Whittier was a great. This was an antique store with tea room towards the back. We were seated on the patio. It was a beautiful day and the garden atmosphere was magical! There were wall fountains and colorful flowers throughout the patio area. The tea was divine...and the quiche was delicious! I returned home, determined to add a wall fountain to our garden!

Frills continued to be our favorite tea room, with the Rose Garden Tea Room at the Huntington Library, a close second.

Then, one day we discovered the Frills Tea Room had unexpectedly closed. We asked what happened. The gal at the jewelry counter told us that the owner of Frills and Gayle (the tea room owner) had a falling out and Gayle had moved. "Where?" we asked. While she didn't give us the address, she gave us enough details to track her down.  Arcadia, on Huntington Drive, near an Italian deli. Joyce and I hopped in the car and drove to Arcadia. Once we were on Huntington, we cruised slowly, checking out the store fronts.  We found the deli and low and behold, right next door was a building with a 'for lease' sign in the window. We pulled around to the rear entrance and peeked in the back door. Pay dirt! Just inside the back door we saw Gayle's piano. We left her a note, telling her "Yay! We found you!" and asked her to let us know when she opened.
It wasn't until the following fall that we received word from Gayle that her new tea room, la TEA da, was opening. We immediately made reservations for that first weekend!
The new tea room was larger, brighter and so charming. Hats and boas hung on the wall, ready for guests to wear! Lots of miss-matched tables and one-of-a-kind chairs graced the room. The menu offered the favorites from Frills and new treats, too.

When the Christmas season came, Gayle decorated her menu and offered vocal entertainment for her guests. Her husband and friends would sing Christmas carols throughout the afternoon.

Now, if it was your birthday, Gayle would sing to you. Many times, there were multiple birthdays, and Gayle would come out, and sing her special birthday song, and include each birthday guest's name in one breath as she walked to each table where the honored guests were seated!

Joyce and I enjoyed many afternoons sipping tea over the years at la TEA da. Then, in 2001, we learned that the tea room was closing. Gayle was not well and could no longer keep up with the demands of the business. We went for tea one last time that last weekend ~ a bittersweet time. We had discovered a wonderful past time, made some wonderful friends and were now saying good-bye.

In the weeks that followed, Joyce and I talked about tea and wondered if we would ever find a tea room as special as la TEA da. Then, out of the blue, just when we thought we would never again enjoy a slice of warm peach crumb cake with Gayle's special la TEA da Cream, we each received a copy of her Recipes of la TEA da. The tea room may be closed, but thanks to Gayle, we can continue to enjoy her recipes and reminisce about all the great times we shared at la TEA da!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Huell Howser

On Monday, we learned of the passing of Huell Howser, creator of the California Gold television series on PBS. He was just 67.

I'm not sure why his passing is affecting me as it is. Maybe it is because for years he was a regular in our home ... sharing his stories and introducing us to places we've never been. Maybe it is because his TV series was home-grown and full of down-to-earth dedication.  Maybe ... it is because I actually got to meet him and within a few moments I felt that he was a long-time friend.  Whatever the reason, I feel fortunate to have met and chatted with him.

Without Huell Howser in our lives, I would not have known about Broguiere's Dairy and their amazing egg nog.  I would not have seen the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, heard the inside story about the Fire Fall or 'met' Tom Bopp, the music historian for Yosemite. My son would still be struggling to find something that began with 'Z' for his 4th grade ABC report (All 'Bout California). It was Huell who introduced us to the California Zephyr ~ a train that traveled the coast of California. Thanks to Huell, Whitney wrapped his report with an amazing story!

Huell took us to Oceanic Arts in Whittier, where  island themed movie props and decor can be rented or purchased. He was particularly amazed to see the many Tiki items that were available!

We got to see the inside operation of Ferguson's Marine Specialties in Wilmington, one of the oldest seashell wholesalers, where seashells are collected, cleaned and packaged for sale.

When the episode about the Tear Drop Trailers aired, we were immediately intrigued about how compact they were...perfect for the nomad who was ready for a endless road trip.

Huell was invited to Hearst Castle by a group of people who had won the opportunity to swim in the majestic swimming pool. Twenty lucky people were interviewed as they swam while the sun began the decent to the horizon. We watched with anticipation as Huell kept the suspense going right up to the end of the story...would he jump in the pool? As the show was just about to end...after a little more hesitation, he finally jumped in!

Wherever Huell went, we were right there with him, never knowing what was in store but confident that we would enjoy the ride.

Thank you, Huell, for sharing the stories as only you could. You made us feel truly welcome to come along as you traveled in search of California's Gold. I know that each time we hear the word 'amazing', we will fondly think of you. God speed, Huell. ♥