December 26, 2010

A perfectly lovely Christmas

I love the season.
I loved the day.
As I reflect, it was a perfect day.

We gathered simply at my house, my sister's family and mine for Boeuf Bourguignon, Christmas potatoes, brussel spouts a la Joan and sauteed haricot vert.

We had wandered, in the morning over to the neighbors for coffee and breakfast yumminess, a tradition that just started one Christmas years ago and is as ingrained in my our lives as the big man and the chimney.

After the family was gone, the neighbors gathered for coffee and egg nog at our house while the many kids played Just Dance on the Wii.

Loud fun is good.

I can't think of a better way to enjoy the holiday than with the people I love the very most.
I just can't.

How was yours?

December 23, 2010

These beauties are homegrown.
Last year Elizabeth told me to pot my poinsettia and put it in one place and leave it. Lo' and behold, it became a flowering poinsettia. The little red leaves became flowers in a surprise appearance in December. The rest of the year, it was just green foliage.
I'm thrilled. I've seen those planted in the ground and they get tall and leggy and not so easy to see in the Christmas transformation.
I'm delighted.
And I have a couple of new ones to pot for next year.
Ah, the garden.

Just busy, and you?

We're wrapping and baking and cleaning today.
Christmas is coming!
How is coming along for you?

December 14, 2010

Sharing Christmas - These are a Few of My Favorite Things - Three

The day alone. Shhh. It's a day out of the office. The day to work on the details. The house, wrapping a few gifts, sometimes cards, but really, a day to regain my footing during the busyness. The busyness of finding a concert dress and shoes and then going to the concert, and on and on.

A day to breathe a bit or catch my breath while I do some organizing of what's ahead.

It's one of my favorite things. A day where the outcome is for everyone else...and me.

How about you?

December 13, 2010

A season of tenderness

I'm reminded, speaking with several friends and spending time with my own self, this is a season that calls for tenderness. The wounds and ghosts of Christmas past, our longing for belonging and to be loved, seem to rise to the surface at this time of year.

For me, Christmas music can warm my spirit or bring me to a memory of loss. I'm aware that my awareness is higher than normal. I for one am glad. I want to see the ghosts a little clearer, question my agreements, understand what's at the base of my operating system. But none of it is easy.

Four good friends are looking at their families (of origin) and wondering if they really have to continue to behave the way they do. I'm right there with them. Faced with the family I have and love while longing to drop the messages of the past for a present of kindness and love and trust.

Magical child thinking.

Hard work for the adult I am. And in this season, I need tenderness while I'm in the midst. So, I'll stop, take the beat and decide the next behavior or response without reacting. I'll also pray, slow down to light candles and do some quiet things that warm my own heart.

And I promise, at least for this year, to be very aware, that you just might need some tenderness, too.

December 12, 2010

Now I know how my mom felt

These toes need a big bucket of water.
Yesterday, we went shopping for the Christmas Program outfit.

How many levels does Forever 21 have, I ask? Up the escalator and then back down we went, in search of a simple Christmas dress. Then, off to the rest of the mall because there wasn't a simple or darling outfit in the place. It had to be one or the other.
So we kept going.

With great wisdom, we stopped at the Nordstrom Cafe for a Caesar salad, a Coke and a chat.

All in all, a good day. With great success.
We ended up with a cute dress and and a pretty shrug.

Now the concert will be perfect.

Quotable Sunday - Charles Dickens

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  ~Charles Dickens

December 11, 2010

Sharing Christmas - These are a Few of My Favorite Things - Two

I don't have an exact picture, but we had a slow, Christmassy Saturday morning breakfast (with this tablecloth) that lead away from bowls of cereal to a Bacon and Cheese Frittata.

Over low heat and in a covered skillet, I tossed:
  • six eggs
  • six pieces of bacon coarsely chopped
  • half a cup of half and half
  • and a little more than half a cup of shredded cheese
The kitchen smelled yummy with some Trader Joe's Winter Blend coffee dripping, and the oil of the orange I sliced wafting past our nostrils. We have much to do, but no great hurry today. A morning, gathered around the table is one of my favorite things.

December 10, 2010

Sharing Christmas - These are a Few of My Favorite Things - One

Carols and all kinds of Christmas music are wildly important to me during this wondrous season. And for some reason, this one is snugly wrapped around my ears and heart.

It's an unexpected combination of big orchestra music, Art Garfunkle and Amy Grant. The Frog, approaching the Baby Jesus is a favorite but, really, I can't address Christmas cards without listening.

And, while we're at it, I have to hear the Alfred Burt Carols and I just love sitting around with the candles burning, lights on the tree and, oh yea, the cards, with James Taylor singing his way through my night.

This year my son brought home the dazzling acapella fun of Straight No Chaser. These post college funsters met at the University of Indiana and have been singing fabulous harmony ever since. At our house, we love the 12 days of Christmas and the Christmas Can Can. My Dear bought tickets for the family to see them last weekend. The boy was beaming as Dad told the story was told at the Thanksgiving party table of procurring 3rd row for us all. Unfortunately, darling boy turned out to be darling fluish boy for the weekend, so he and I stayed home. His younger sister accompanied Dad and Uncle Scotty to the event. The next morning she came out to the living room where flu-boy lay, wearing a big T-shirt signed by all 10 members of the group. "Do you like my shirt?" she said. Of course he thought it very cool and responded with a quiet, "yes". At this point she peeled that layer and tossed it to him saying. "I got it for you Big Brother."

Check these boys out on iTunes. The big album is worth every penny - you get videos! You can also find Straight No Chaser on iTunes and YouTube, and their website is pretty fun.

So there it is. A few of my favorite Christmas music albums (and a sweet story of Christmas love).

Fa la la la la la la.

December 09, 2010

The Gift of the Freeze

If you look to the upper left corner of the window, you get just a bit of the beauty of what the frost did to the Birch trees this year. I promise to get out there after the sun comes up today, and share the lemony luster of these luscious yellow leaves.
I love the way the leaves turn here in Southern California. I do understand that I'm not on the east coast.  I've seen the grandeur of that fall, but on my way home each day, I pass a row of about 30 Liquid Amber trees with their varying colors and then I turn onto a street lined, for the most part, with Ginkos.My neighbor Bob has one that's over 50 years old. Some days in fall or winter, it looks to be raining it's particular yellow leaves. So, I anticipate the visual splendor of fall despite the palm trees next door.
This year, with our weird weather (and by weird, I reference a very cool, sweater-wearing summer, a couple of days near 110 in late September, a warm October and a 37 degree low in November) we received the gift of a far more vibrant fall display.
So, beyond the pretty red of the Amaryllis in my window, I'm enjoying the brilliant mix of color this season brings to my world.

December 08, 2010

Ok, it's Christmas.

All I can say it this: the lights bedeck the rain gutters. The tree is up and lights strung. We're eating from the family Spode Christmas plates and we seem to be busier than ever. But me? I'm taking the deep breath and slowing the pace. Yep! There's more to be done, but it just dawned on me, I get to chose a bit of when, where and how.

So, I'm here and wondering: how about you?

October 26, 2010

Easing down the road

I must remark the day. We've come to the end, or the start, of another year on the road of marriage. I dare say, it's an adventure and a very good place to spend my life.
Happy Anniversary, Dear.

October 24, 2010

Quotable Sunday - Autumn

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

~ George Eliot in a letter to Miss Lewis , October 1, 1841 "A warming trend"

October 21, 2010

In the still of the early morning in the yard the fall rose blooms.
Imagine my delight.

October 18, 2010

Noticing Fall - the rush to batten down the hatches

Summer has been long over in many respects, but I have tried not to notice or respond to any great degree. I love fall. Couldn't wait for it. But, would prefer to retain some of the summer trappings: lights in the backyard tree, those around the patio, uncovered wood and barbecue.

The report came in yesterday for rain, rain, rain so in the all hands on deck style, we desummerfied quite quickly. It's so much fun when everyone chips in. My son took on the filling of the wood bin inside and helped make sure the rest of the wood was well covered with the chips handy.

We came in and then proceeded to watch the amazing and glorious summer sun come out.

Jokes on them. Our work it done. Time to play.

October 17, 2010

October 14, 2010

Apples in the country.

It started here in Colonial Chesterfield - Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, CA. It is one of the most beautiful places in the state.

While you may drive up in a four wheeled wonder, you move into the 1700s when you cross into the farm. We've enjoyed much fun here in the past, including a Revolutionary War re-enactment, but that is not this story.

On this day we started with lunch at the Hawk's Head pub including music of the Colonies whilst being served by costumed maidens with British accents.

Then we headed off for our mission: picking apples.

Shenanigans and hi jinx ensued.

And yet, we found the mother load.

And then some.

And apples, beautiful, crisp, fresh and yummy,  came home.
The pumpkins are Part 2.

October 12, 2010

October 10, 2010

Quotable Sunday - it's gonna be 10:10

"Tomorrow morning at 10:10 it's gonna be 10:10 on 10/10/10.
 I'll be really mad if I miss that."
- J.Gelberg, teenager

October 09, 2010

Saturday in the garden

I love fall and I love my time in the garden. Right now, that time is a bit too limited for my taste. We're all back to work and back to schoolish here. That mode seems to have brought with it the practices and meetings and evening events that have muscled their way into onto my summer's once free flowing calendar.

It could be that the once free flowing calendar was a figment of a summer dream. 

It maybe lasted a couple of weeks, but I really liked it and prefer to think of it as a more permanent way of life. Isn't denial lovely?

But I digress. Today I'll spend a while pruning in my garden. It's time for some fall cut back, but I'm a bit reluctant when the Scabiosas, which have been producing since February, continue delighting.

And then, this summer beauty has more to offer in continuing blooms.

Still, I'm going in.

October has many more delights, the salvia is blooming and the Amemonies are just about to grace the yard. It's time to make way for what's coming and the anticipation of the inevitable pleasures a change of season brings.

October 08, 2010

Food Friday - My favorite Vinaigrette - oh, but I repeat myself

Last night I shared dinner with my lovely friends. Our topic is Simplicity for the Soul, so, I brought a simple salad (see what I did there?) I tossed a little arugula, baby greens, a firm, chopped Ricotta Salata and Heirloom Tomatoes. And topped it with my favorite Dijon Vinaigrette and was reminded, this recipe truly is perfection. If all you have to keep in your pantry is Grey Poupon, Apple Cider Vinegar and good, rich, extra virgin olive oil, you'll never have to buy dressing. Ever. In your life. Pretty pure and pretty yummy. It's also quite versatile.

Here's a link to the recipe for Sheri and I'll recommend these variations:
  • Switch vinegars to Rice Wine vinegar, it's milder, tender and subtle, doesn't require so much of the salad
  • Throw in pico de gallo for a Mexicany flavor (crush tortilla chips and add avocados to the salad - it's also good as a French dip for tortilla chips)
  • Pour it over the Cafe Un Deux Trois  salad: romaine, chopped Granny Smith apples, walnuts, crumbled blue cheese (I beg you, hand crumble, the ready-crumbled stuff has a powdery texture). I note they now serve this with endive, but the original recipe was with romaine. It has a good crisp bite.
Do you have a favorite, workhorse dressing?
    This pretty salad is found here. I sure wish they had a location on the left coast.

      October 07, 2010


      Rain yesterday. Today beauty.
      The forecast? Gratitude with a bit of appreciation.

      October 06, 2010

      What Breaks Your Heart?

      I have to start with a caveat: I don't know where this will lead.

      A year ago in summer, I found myself in a Bible study with a lot of other people and my son. He was on the 12 side of 13 and very interested in the style of study; read, consider, discuss. One of nights, we stood in a circle, discussing the injustice we coexist with - the things we find hard to reconcile.. The leader asked us directly: "What breaks your heart?"

      For his wife, a very beautiful and stylish gal, it's that group of young women who don't know their value and turn to the streets. He looked at her with his deep brown eyes and leading voice and said, "Do something about it." The ante was immediately upped. We will name it and then be called on to change it in some small way.

      For my son, it's racism. He can't imagine the values that drive us there and has little tolerance for it. He can name it and he finds a great way to stand in the gap whenever he's near offending behavior. He's strong and gracious in his approach. 

      I immediately gulped. Because for me, it's homelessness. I lived surrounded by it for a while, in Santa Monica, where you can't turn away. When you try, there's always another homeless person or people. I have felt entirely helpless to do much of value because the problem is so big. (One person on the street without shelter and food is big.)

      At Christmas time a year ago, it really came into focus for me. My friend, Mary and I drove in the early, early morning hours to the flower mart, downtown Los Angeles. We drove through the edges of Skid Row, past the tents and tents and tents and past the Midnight Mission, where on this particularly cold night, hundreds were crammed into a patio area for whatever warmth could be afforded. I asked her how often she sees this and she explained that the tents and the people are there every night, until the sun comes up and then they're rousted - sent on their way. I have no idea what it means, what their days are like, how it works. What I know for now is that it moves me. Not just in the tears that stream on my face as I observe, but deeply inside. How can this be in our land of excess?

      I don't really know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I take small measures, largely because I have a very persistent daughter who is also broken by homelessness. We've been moved to stop acting out of common thinking (the turning away because you shouldn't give money, etc.) and have found some of my own personal stop-gap measures. But it doesn't feel like enough.

      A year later, I'm still broken over the homeless. I have had several opportunities to do something. Buy a jacket and gloves here, dog food there (feeding puppies is important too), and lunches. I haven't solved well for the men at my Sunday and weekday off-ramps. But others are on the radar. We drive by, see the need, go shop and return. My girl's heart beams in her chest all the while. She calls the homeless a blessing. I think she's right - and I know there's more for me here.

      It seems, for now, that God is showing me the people who live in the margins.

      The amazing 6th graders from this summer who live at or below the poverty line. The sandwich makers. Beautiful, lovely, interesting and interested kiddos with big hearts. They have home situations beyond my understanding. I feel called to know more about them and to actually be involved in some way. I don't know how - yet.

      And then there are the Alzheimer's victims who are too advanced to live in community with their families and are "placed in institutions." We learned about this by going to visit a friend who has lost the life we shared with her. She lives in an interior place we can't go. My eyes were opened to a whole new community, behind closed and locked doors. I can hardly assimilate this life. My heart breaks here, too.

      This Sunday, this same question was raised, "What breaks your heart?" I'm pondering. I'm sure more will be revealed as I do. I'm also sure, that like Nehemiah, the man we're talking about around our church in these days, I'll be called to do something about it. The pondering will lead to action.

      Oddly, as I ponder,  I hear the strains of an old song, "Only love can break your heart." I'm wondering about the selfless love involved and required here. It is love in some way. I need to know more and I'm confident I will. Pondering and wondering.

      So, how about you? What breaks your heart?

      October 04, 2010

      Over a cup of the bean.

      It's a day that really calls for settling in and enjoying a long chat over a cup of java. It's raining outside, temperature in the 60's. (Last week it was 111 degrees at this time of day. I can't explain it.) But here I am, working from home on a wide range of things and thinking about how lovely a relaxing, bookish, chatting day this would be. Even though it isn't.

      How about you? What are you up to today?

      October 03, 2010

      Quotable Sunday - My husband

      "It doesn't matter if you can type 100 words a minute, you need to check your spelling."

      My husband, and the spelled-perfect author of Rotation and Balance.

      October 02, 2010

      The found delight.

      I have been working. Back to work. Working. Working. Working.

      And this morning my dear husband needed me to make the trek to my eldest's acting class 40 miles north. But he had a carrot. A wonderful little massage place called, "Foot Inspiration." He'd happened on to it several months ago. And on his Saturday jaunts to the Valley, when he isn't writing or brunching with a friend or client, he stops in.

      The initial draw was the foot massage. 1/2 hour for $18. It includes hands and face and feet.

      As I walked out the door he handed me $27 for the massage and $5 for a tip. I figured my feet were going to feel great but oh, there was so much more. A cozy chair, calming music and partitioned areas where the masseuse works. No disrobing required.

      My friend started in on my head, my face, my shoulders, then off to my feet and over (in the Barcaloungerish which flattens out to a chaise) for my back. I was completely relaxed, joints manipulated and muscles all smushy.

      What an unexpected treat. Just as my kiddo was winding down a morning of improv comedy exercises, I was winding down from winding down.

      Don't tell my dear, but I might make that drive again. Foot Inspiration, who knew?

      September 26, 2010

      September 24, 2010

      The fall before Fall.

      Honestly? The end of summer as defined by school starting and long lazy days of well, being lazy and reading like I had all the time in the world and could really stay up until one o'clock in the morning and sleep until seven or eight, got me. In my world, I go back to work before the little darlings. I administrate admissions so, I'm there every week a day or so over summer, but I don't have the routine.

      And this summer was about incorporating some nifty new routines into my world. Like a load of laundry a day, dishwasher on a wash at night, unload in the morning schedule. There's more to it. A reordering of the day and of my thought. It's peachy. A missing piece of my childhood learning which I am now caught up on.

      I like these small changes so much I took on a few new ones for the start of school and I learned something. Being a grown up means you have less time for play. At least that's true for me in these days of new routine and "hot spot" clean up and making school lunches the night before school. It's all very good, but I'm in the shift of the pendulum that hasn't found it's way back to center and the new normal. It will come, but for now, in my dedication, I'm a little worn. But, our home is more orderly, we're on time or early and there isn't quite so much interference of the stuff that doesn't get done but MUST get done. Small changes and a long walk in the same direction.

      Hence, hence, hence a little less time for my input output in the world of expression.

      Get me right! I'm grateful. And happy as I can be for the coming of school and the entering of Fall. I feel a deep sigh of the new grooves of this routine. There's peace.

      There's also this piece.
      I'm here with the flying fingers, inspired by some simplicity and daily tasks.
      Who knew?

      September 12, 2010

      September 06, 2010

      Falling in love, again.

      Last night my husband, driven by love, walked out our front door on his way to see another gal. This move, this compulsive, but well considered decision is why I love him so much and all the more.

      He was going to see our friend, his friend Paula, who at a very young age, has been institutionalized with late stage Alzheimer's disease. Institutionalized. My Dear learned this a few months ago in the turn of a conversation with a mutual friend. His question, "How's Paula? I can't seem to get in touch with her" was answered with that word. "Placed." Placed in an institution where they can handle her, care for her.

      When he told me the story initially, I could see he was processing the questions, the how. He'd been told she wouldn't know him if he went to see her. And while it took a while to get there, there was never a question about whether or not he'd go and take all of himself to this dear, lovely friend. We went together the first time we tried to go. She wasn't at the facility and had been moved. It took a while to find out where she was and when he did, it took only the wait until a weekend for him to go.

      He left, taking all the strength and love he has. He walked with her. Talked with her. Listened to her inner/outer conversations. Prayed for, hoped for a real moment of connection. Took her picture. And came home to share it all with our family. Our kids had a hard time understanding Alzheimer's dementia in the abstract, but when he reminded them of the people we visited every Christmas for the Naples Boat Parade, they took it in. Really? The tall lady with the fun laugh? She didn't remember you?

      The thought was hard for me to reason through. Paula meant and means much to my husband. In her earlier days she was a great work partner and equally great friend. She still is all of that. Tucked in a mind that can't connect the information.

      And she has a great partner and equally great friend in the man who will go and visit her frequently. He'll take all that love and respect and appreciation and go and hold her hand and walk with her and chime into her talking. He'll search for who she is and was, but for the most part, he'll just be with her.

      Because she deserves it,  and that's who he is. He's the guy you want to know when you've hit a worst wall. He's the one undaunted by the hard stuff. He's the guy I fall in love with, over and over.

      If you'd like his take:

      August 15, 2010

      The Good Samaritan was a 6th grader - the story.

      A week ago I spent my week with about eighty 6th graders* in Vacation Bible School. That's a lot of 6th graders. Our structure for the 3 hour morning is that after a very fun and loud gathering (of what turned out to be 440 kiddos), they head out, by grade level and group. Three groups going to three activities and switching during the morning so they get to do all three.

      I love teaching, talking, sharing, all of it, so for about 9 years, I've jumped at the chance to be a story teller. This year, we walked through the significance of the Jesus' Parables. I love the parables. I love these stories that require thinking and learning to open them up, to understand them, to grasp the clues about who God is and how He operates.

      So the 3rd day, we focused on The Good Samaritan.

      I struggled with how this story could go beyond just a good guy - how to make it meaningful. These beautiful kids range widely in their backgrounds and home situations - from white/suburban/churchy to hispanic/gang territory/unchurchy. How do you help them see a division of unspoken law in a way that touches their hearts and minds but doesn't really divide them as a group? So we talked about the division between homeless people and the rest of us.

      I asked them about what I should do about the homeless lady I ran into that morning. They all replayed what they had been taught - you shouldn't give them money.
      Because: they might not be really homeless, they might use the money for drugs, they might use the money to buy alcohol, they might just keep coming back to you instead of getting a job. (The list went on.)
      But how do you feel when you see a homeless person?
      Icky. Bad. Really bad. Sometimes they have homeless kids. And I think sometimes they get really, really hungry and really, really cold. I want my mom and dad to pull over so I can give them the rest of my dinner from the restaurant we ate at. My mom says we can give them a bottle of water - that's all.
      What do you wish you could do?
      I wish I could help. I wish I could give them something.
      How can we help?
      We can make sandwiches. (Light bulb!)

      We continued, talking about how we can share what we have, even if what we have is very little or all we have is a kind smile or a prayer. None of us really wanted to just walk past the homeless person as if they weren't there.

      So the next day, my friend Robin and I abandoned plans for a game or another way to set the scene for the next parable. Instead we set up two tables covered with butcher paper, food prep gloves, bread and knives - one table with turkey, ham, mayo and mustard and the other with peanut butter and jelly.

      As each group came in they found a place at the table and made a sandwich - the best sandwich, or their favorite or one that anybody would love. David tried to make a triple decker with peanut butter, turkey and ham, but it just wouldn't fit in the sandwich bag. They wrote messages, drew smiley faces, and even prayed over the gifts in ziplock bags.

      Then they sat down to hear the story about the friend at midnight

      When we finished and they went on to recreation or games, Robin and I got to remind them that "tonight, someone is going to eat, because of you." They beamed on their way out. A couple of kiddos said they were going to share sandwiches with a kid at school who doesn't bring lunch. And several said thanks for letting them do that.

      I'd asked our Pastor Larry for a place to take these sandwiches and he responded later with a note - they were to be delivered to the Long Beach Rescue Mission. To the division called Samaritan House. (I think of that as a wink from God.)

      So, while I was moved to tears over the miracle of the 6th graders' hearts and hands, my husband took 102 sandwiches, some apples and tangerines to the people we all to often don't really see.

      My own daughter was one of the sandwich makers. She's taken the lead on making sandwiches on Sunday mornings to have with us on the way to church, just in case.

      So maybe the word, "homeless" popped into my mind by coincidence. And maybe the kid said, "We can make sandwiches" by chance. Maybe even, the place was called Samaritan House out of serendipity. But I think, by definition, the remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection was totally orchestrated by the One who wants me to understand His heart and His love for all His creation.

      In the parable of the sandwich makers.

      * And an amazing 5th grade teacher whom I'll share about in a later post.

      August 08, 2010

      Quotable Sunday - The Good Samaratin was a 6th grader

      Teacher: How can we help?
      Jairo, Julio, Gloria, Sarah, Nick, Kenneth:  We can make sandwiches.

      VBS 2010
      - There's more to the story, later.

      August 02, 2010

      Mother Daughter Sunflowers

      My girlie and I had the great pleasure of taking a little art class in the study of sunflowers in acrylics today. The breeze was blowing in the breezeway path as we listened to the instructor tell us how to do what she thought we were doing well. We loved being spoken to so gently. "That's it. Very nice. There you go." And then when I had a change in direction she helped me switch my focus and light source and I felt like I knew what I was doing. Which is a nice feeling.

      We are enjoying the Sawdust Festival in Laguna like never before.

      August 01, 2010

      Quotable Sunday - Summer

      To see the Summer Sky
      Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -
      True Poems flee.
      ~Emily Dickinson

      Image from North Creek Nursery

      July 29, 2010

      And now for your summer listening pleasure...

      How inspiring and arresting is beautiful music?

      I have long loved Jake Shimabukuro. I bought his CD in, well, Hawaii of course.
      This might change your mind about music from a certain island instrument.
      Which brings me to Hawaiian slack key guitar.
      Ozzie Kotani or Jeff Peterson.
      So gentle and beautiful.
      And then there's such beauty in classical guitar.
      The Romeros were my introduction. Here's Angel.
      And how about Bittersweet by musical angel, Sara Lindsay.
      I like this band a lot too.

      So there. What's your favorite?

      July 27, 2010

      and the Seashells

      For summer's sake, here are some of the seashell treasures.

      Since I was little, finding a seashell on the beach (or a very good rock) has been a source of great joy. We'd come home from the beach when I was really little and the shells in my pocket seemed to outnumber the grains of sand in my tennies. Treasures. For years and years I had the cigar box with the best of the best. I especially love the spirally conch shells.

      Then when my eldest was two, we went to visit my dad in Florida. He lived on the gulf coast, midway down the state and near a magical shell beach. Our first night there, Dad took us to hunt for treasure on his beach. It was covered in shells. My little boy learned to scrutinize there with his gramps. I doubt I'll ever forget the scene of the two of them, one in purple houndstooth overalls and one with a cane, heads down, searching.

      He taught baby sister some of the ins and outs a few years later when they searched years later, on the beach across the street from Dad's church on Anna Maria Island. We literally walked across the street, flipped our shoes off and searched while Dad finished his coffee and cleaned the church kitchen.

      My sister and I walked the Dad's beaches,  collecting with a fervor of nine year olds searching for candy. We got up an hour early more than once just so we could beach comb before the day started.

      One cold day in February, a bit of Florida sunshine came in the form of a parcel from Dad, delivered to my Southern California office . It had nothing inside but a big pink scallop shell and a note: "Found it! Love, Dad."

      Many of these shells from those days and the days before, spend the winter and spring in ziplock bags where we keep the collection - when it's not strewn throughout the house. Some are shiny and colorful. Some are gray and broken. Some look like fossils, but all are our historic beach treasures, none the less.

      So tonight, my daughter and I went out to the garage, to the summer shelf and found the shell bags. Evidence of days at the beach in our past. She placed a few shells and sea stars around the back yard and then we scattered more on the mantle and elsewhere in the living room.

      The shells we love have met the rocks from my walk on Capistrano Beach. Oh, and the other random beach rocks and sea glass we hold on to for the sake of recalling oceany days. We're celebrating summer and the beach in the house.

      And very, very grateful for our treasures, gifts from the sea.

      July 25, 2010

      Quotable Sunday - Miss Sandra VandenBrink

      "I do." 
      - Sandra Kay VandenBrink as she became Mrs. Andrew Weltner

      We spent the evening celebrating our beautiful friend Sandra's wedding. We're happy beyond happy for her and the evening couldn't have been more lovely.

      July 24, 2010

      A cup of Joe.

      Can we agree? It can be summer, winter, spring, fall, your house, my kitchen, the yard, the garden, on a walk. A Saturday morning and a cup of coffee is a thing of great joy.

      July 22, 2010

      A Peach Spot

      This is where we sit at John and Mary's. In the front yard amidst the iceberg roses and peaches. A perfect spot for morning coffee, an afternoon's magazine perusal or dinner with the many or few.

      This morning, some of those peaches made it into an Ohio Peach Pie. The recipe is Nora Ephron's, from her book HEARTBURN. The book is full of the story of her life with that Watergate reporter and chocked with cooking tales and excellent recipes. (My youngest would like you to know that Ms. Ephron uses inappropriate words in the book and your young children shouldn't be reading the page right next to this recipe. Negligent Mother's Club, here I come.) I've only ever made a version of her vinaigrette. I embraced and enhanced it in my early cooking days and don't intend to let it go. Ever.

      Oh, do see below.

      Nora Ephron's Peach Pie - the Ohio version

      1 1/4 cups flour
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/2 cup butter
      2 tablespoons sour cream

      Turn in a food processor with a pastry blade until it forms a ball.
      Pat out into a butter pie tin. Crimp if you like.
      Bake 20 minutes at 425 degrees. (Don't worry about beans or pie beans, the crust is forgiving)

      3 egg yolks slightly beaten
      1 cup sugar
      2 tablespoons flour
      1/3 cup sour cream

      Stir together until smooth.
      Pour over 4 or more peeled, sliced peaches layered in the crust. (I used 8 smaller peaches today.)
      Cover with foil.
      Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
      Bake 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more OR until the filling is set. (It can take 20 minutes. Just watch.


      Vinaigrette a la Nora Ephron

      Mix 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon mustard with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar.
      Whisking constantly,  add 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, until creamy.

      Actually, I've been making it so long, I forgot about the red wine vinegar. I've always used organic apple cider vinegar. And Melissa D'Arabian shared a secret, that when making his vinaigrette, a Parisian cafe owner added a few drops of soy sauce as a secret ingredient. Here's that link.

      You can always make it more complex, adding minced garlic, minced shallots, fresh herbs you love. I always return to the basic and enjoy it with champagne vinegar and even the subtlety of rice wine vinegar. Leave out the vinegar, add lemon juice and grate Parmesan. Variations and flavors are endless.

      For my taste this simple recipe means I never have to buy a bottle of dressing.

      Based on a recipe in HEARTBURN, by Nora Ephron

      July 21, 2010

      A fun little find - enjoy!

      Here is one of the cutest things I've seen on this here webthinger. Click to smile (and wish you were in Paris with Kiki and Coco). A find from Design Mom.
      And, c'est mon plaisir.

      July 19, 2010

      More thoughts on breakfast in pajama's ~ with Marjorie.

      My husband made a sardonic comment about people using their blogs to talk about what they just ate. Something about how that's what Facebook is for. I had to laugh. My post this last Saturday was about breakfast at my friend Marjorie's. We ate the Spanish Eggs I prepared.

      It made me think about the post and about how the remarkable thing is gathering the elements of this communal breakfast mid-morning, and walking across the street and a few doors down to cook with my friend in our pajamas.

      It, somehow, whispers of college days. Or camping or something other than this gentrified life in the suburbs. It speaks of collusion. Secret fun. Withheld-then-released joyousness.

      I thought about it and wondered why it was so darned much fun. So meaningful. Why I've kinda savored it for this last day or so. I think I understand that the cooking business and the pajamaness made it familiar and casual and cozy. Marj and I have known each other for 10 years so, the friendie part is natural. But the conspiratorial part, where we opted to drag brushes through our hair, but that was it, made it the special thing is was.

      In all this over-thinking I realized, there was a missing person in the mix. The dad. The husband. The man of the house. This is to say, the cat was away and the mice were cooking. That's where the fragrance of - getting away with a long and lazy day in the company of those who prefer to remain in sleepwear drinking tea and shooing away kids of all ages - emanates. The freedom of a husbandless weekend day.

      Note well, my husband of choice is the love of my life for life. My pal and adventure buddy.  I am reminded here,  that God made men and they are handsome and sturdy and great. Great. Fabulous. Wonderful.

      But then, there is nothing like a girlfriend, and nothing, nothing like a girlfriend who's a mama working the trenches and open to frivolity on a found Saturday.

      July 18, 2010

      Quotable Sunday - THE HELP

      "I watched Lou Anne slip away in the parking lot, thinking, There is so much you don't know about a person. I wonder if I could've made her days a little bit easier, if I'd tried. If I'd treated her a little nicer. Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought." 
      - Kathryn Stockett, THE HELP

      I must say, I loved this book and it's unique voicing.

      July 17, 2010

      Breakfast at Marjorie's

      My girlfriend sent me a little text this morning with a mid-morning query, "Where's my friend?" which led to, the whatcha doin', didjya eat, wanna have breakfast conversation. I dragged a brush through my hair, grabbed my youngest and these fixin's and scooted down the street. Her team was mostly in pj's and gravitated to the TV room with my girl while Marj and I got after the side by side breakfast business. She made her soon-so-be-world famous crunchy, fluffy waffles while I turned this green bowl goodness into my current favorite breakfast: Spanish Eggs.

      I've happily shared the original recipe. Oh, but I deviate and suggest you do to - with great gusto! Red peppers, green, yellow, minced carrots, more onions, add 'em in. It is a delicious way to enjoy a shirred or poachy kind of egg. And best served with good friends, great conversations and today, pear tea.
      Saturday mornings all around, I say!

      Spanish Eggs -- From the Sonoma Diet

      1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin bite-sized strips
      1 fresh jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and chopped
      2 cloves minced garlic
      1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
      1 1/2 pounds roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
      1 to 1 1/12 teaspoons chili powder
      1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
      1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
      4 eggs
      2 T sliced almonds, toasted

      1)  In a large skillet cook bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, and garlic in hot oil about 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and the 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to boiling: reduce heat. Cover and simmer 5 minutes.
      2) Break one of the eggs into a measuring cup. Carefully slide the egg into simmering tomato mixture. Repeat with remaining eggs. Sprinkle eggs lightly with additional kosher salt and black pepper.
      3) Cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes or until whites are completely set and yolks begin to thicken but are not firm.
      4) To serve, transfer eggs to serving plates with a slotted spoon Stir tomato mixture; spoon around eggs on plates. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.

      Derivations: sweat the pepper (red is fine too) with garlic and onion in the olive oil, add tomato and some coarsely chopped mushrooms. I don't always have a jalapeno and don't always add the chili powder. I do use lots of fresh ground black pepper and love a good sprinkling of lemon and a quarter of an avocado to finish. 
      It is a remarkably hearty breakfast. A warm corn tortilla is perfect along side.

      July 15, 2010


      Oh, the summer fruit.
      Who doesn't love the color, the fragrance, the flavor of the peach?
      The neighbor's peach tree is overloaded and I'm dreaming about what each of these darlings will become in the next phase of their lives.
      I'll let you know as we go. But I must ask the question:
      What do you do with your peaches?

      July 14, 2010


      I could go on about the brilliance of time for summer reading, or the de-stuffing projects, but really, all that's on my mind is popsicles. Like these at DesignSponge.
      I have hungry, hot, tired people around and the second best thing I can think of to cool them down is a cool thing on a cool stick.
      We'll maybe even make them out of watermelon, like our favorite watermelon granita.
      Believe me we'll be enjoying Christina's Fabulous Summer Slush. But that recipe is for another summer's day.
      Ah, summer.

      July 12, 2010

      Spatchcocked Chicken Night

      You can't imagine the fun we had last night making this unbelievably easy and unreasonably delicious dish. It may be the 7th wonder of the food world.

      Our dear friends, the one's we call, "Group"  (five families, nine kids and thirteen years of infectious affection), gathered last night for a pool and dinner party. Kids were everywhere - ranging from 10 to 14. Parents came from as far as 300 miles away for the event. (This is close to full compliment with a family out of the country.)

      Of course, we all had responsibility for a dish and the host made scrumptious chicken, from a MS Everyday recipe. We, of course, went right into Julia Child mode discussing the merits of a Spatchcocked Chicken, the method, ("First you spatchcock the chicken by running a knife down it's back...") loudly and joyfully.  It is the most delicious chicken I've EVER eaten. No exaggeration and, I'm posting the recipe.

      Just in case you don't know the cooking term to Spatchcock (which I only vaguely recalled and couldn't define very well) is an Irish term and refers to the removal of the backbone and flattening of a chicken for the purpose of rapid cooking. (We could call it butterflying, but Spatchcock has so much more gusto.) You can also use it to refer to something dispensed with quickly. Good word.

      Beyond the chicken what I loved most about this night was the play occurring all over the house. There were men with cellphones and cameras and apps all kibitzing about new and better and what's next. The kids swam and worked in the studio or performed well-choreographed dance routines and the moms stood around the kitchen laughing and talking and cooking and making friendship bracelets. Friends for life friendship bracelets. Good play.

      Good friends. And a good night.

      Photo credit: Michelle Goldstein  (our Mama G.)

      July 11, 2010

      Spatchcocked Chicken with Tomatoes a la Ms. Stewart

      Use a 3-4 pound chicken. Turn it breast side down on a cutting board and starting at the bottom, cut upward with kitchen shears, along the backbone. Cut along the other side and remove backbone. Turn the chicken and flatten it in true butterfly style by applying pressure with your palm. (Here's a video of a more complete method and a more refined method, which makes it easier to cut for serving.)

      Spatchcocked Chicken with Tomatoes
      Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
      Season spatchcocked chicken with coarse salt and ground pepper and place, breast side up, in a pan (or on a cookie sheet) with 3 unpeeled garlic cloves, smashed. With the tip of a paring knife, pierce 1 pint cherry tomatoes. Add to pan and drizzle tomatoes with 1 teaspoon olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1/3 cup water into pan. (we forgot the wine and it was delicious...) Roast chicken until juices run clear when pierced between breast and leg (to 165 degrees at the thickest part of the meat) 30-40 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup basil leaves before carving.

      Taken from Martha Stewart Everyday Cooking July, 2010. 
      Also see Martha Stewart's website recipe.

      Quotable Sunday ~ Friendship, again.

      If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden.
      -- Attributed to Claudia Ghandi

      I am blessed, beyond blessing with the friends God has given me. Those close at hand and those close in heart. I am more blessed than I can find language to express.

      And I am grateful for my lovely friendship garden.

      July 09, 2010

      More Credit Where Due

      Want to read a really great review of Toy Story 3?
      It's written by a 13 year old movie critic?

      Look here.

      July 08, 2010

      Belated credit where due.

      My son made this.
      In Middle School English, you get to do the Dream Project. Some of the kids made board games, one wrote a song, etc. It's a kind of communication to the English teacher about what you learned from her.

      Well, in true "apple doesn't fall far from the pastry chef" form, my guy baked a cake and decorated it with words. He also learned that decorating ain't quite as simple as it looks. He worked for quite a while and I have to say: I'm keen and not at all aghast at those who veer toward the gnarled folk filled with ample, vital glee and definitely not fickle!

      Belated joy from me.

      July 06, 2010

      Living your life.

      First, a deep breath.
      Then, a realization out of observation.
      We really should be living our lives.

      My friend Mary worked for years and years in her family's food supply business. She was the sales manager. The beautiful, interesting and highly competent daughter of the magnificent founder and owner.
      As her neighbor, I spend a fair amount of time in and around her home. It's beautiful, too. The kitchen is cozy when we're chatting at the big old wooden kitchen table by the fire. You feel a sense of place and ever changing art-stuff throughout. Sitting areas are settings. Outdoors and in. It's peaceful. It's eclectically cluttered with big pieces of furniture and lights draped here and there, for the joy of effect.

      Recently, the recession and credit crunch slowed the family business to a point where she and her siblings decided there was wisdom in closing. It was a horrendous time for all of them. They'd taken over and continued to grow this wonderful small business, honoring their dad and then the plug just seemed to be pulled.
      Within a week or so, another friend of ours found himself in a bind. He owns a couple-story spec house at the beach and needed it completely furnished - beautifully. He hired Mary to do the work.

      The final look, the touch, the setting in each room is magnificent.

      She couldn't have done it if she were doing her old job.
      She's supposed to be designing more.
      And enjoying her home more.
      Her garden more.
      Somehow, this abrupt passage is allowing her to become more of who she is.
      To live her life more fully.
      And it makes me all the more interested, with my heart and ears open:

      Am I living this life to the full?

      All of this is the work of Mary Cecile Landis, for information about her Southern California based designs, contact me. She's busy on a project in Beverly Hills this week, though.


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