Monday, November 29, 2010

Counting down to Christmas

The halls are decked. Now what? Do what Santa does. Make lists. Start checking them twice. It doesn't matter what you start unless you finish. 

However: lists are like medications. They should come with a warning label. Used judiciously, they are energy-enducing, stress-shrinking diets. Shared too freely with a mate- they are known for  nasty side-effects. No man wants to be reduced to being slave to the list on the refrigerator.

That said. this week their are packages to go be wrapped and sent to relatives far away.  For a couple neices and nephews it wouldn't be Christmas without some of Uncle Gerry's beef jerky. One niece in the Rockies misses nothing about California- except our weather and Abba Zabba bars. Some mini's are on the way...

For in-person presents, even the most humble deserve to speak. " I love you" before they are opened. It's all in the presentation.  Sometimes the sticker kind of tags are alright- but more and more I find the hang tag style are more creative. They also allow you more space to write names on the back of the tag large enough to be legible. If the string ties don't work with the ribbon- ornament hangars, floral wire or ribbon can be put into service.
Money saving tip: The floral picks are easy to store in a shoe box for reuse.

Sunday- I let my imagination flow with an appetizer idea.  With my friend Trisha coming over for a break and I know she loves Almond Champagne, I decided she would be the perfect guinea pig.

Running errands was the perfect length of time to allow 5 chopped dried apricots to macerate in 2 spoonfuls of  apricot jam.

Brie fit perfectly into the oven to table vintage pottery.

The bowl is lined with crescent roll dough from the deli: seams pressed together.

As lovely as the box the brie comes in is: it and the rind were discarded.

The apricot mixture is spooned over the brie like a jaunty hat.

Almond slices and dried cranberries strewn across- the hand motion is almost like feeding fairy-sized chickens):-.

The edge of the dough was loosely gathered- like a duffel not quite closed.

17 minutes in the preheated 350° F degree oven and out came heavenly hors d' oeuvres: a love match to the Almond Champagne that dreamed them into being.

Something I've noticed this season. I understand a store clerk not initiating "Merry Christmas". Business transactions in a multi-cultural society makes for dicey situations. However, when I say "Merry Christmas" around the time the sale is rung up- this is clearly the reason I am at the cash register. Wouldn't it be appropriate for some response indicating some level of good will? It is like there is a gag order against a pleasant response. Is anyone else out there experiencing this?

* You won't need to use all the dough in package.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Live Your Fantasy

Forget 'Black Friday'.  If I had any inkling of shopping- stores opening at 3AM killed any shopping spirit in me. Instead, we celebtarted 'Green Friday' here.

Our oldest son, Trevor, is working in the Rocky Mountains. When he called to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving- he reported his work day began in -10 degrees below zero temperature. To Trevor and others visiting from where that kind of chill is possible- eat your hearts out. The fuchsia, iris and rose portraits were taken yesterday.

Next week, I anticipate the salad greens will be mature enough to start snipping away. The two six packs of lettuce may need some supermarket assistance- but not much.

If it makes you feel better- Our Diamond Bar Eden comes with a price. On the calendar tomorrow: chasing gophers, slugs and snails. Our garden war here never ends. Only the critters change.

Thanks to Katie McCreary the Christmas decorating is almost finished. She's the official miracle worker this holiday. While my recovery from foot surgery has felt rather miraculous- no way were the 35 boxes (Gerry counted) were making their way down from the attic and mostly arranged in the house without her help. THANK YOU, Katie! And Gerry. You had an idea of what I did this time of year. Now you know.

It doesn't get more romantic than meals in front of the fire
There is an advantage to a long marriage. If you hang in there- with planning, patience and persistence you can live your fantasy. Our fantasy was to make our home in the spirit of a bed and breakfast.

 Every year, moving the furniture around to make room for the Christmas tree becomes a bit more like solving Rubik's cube. This year the little bistro table which became our game table gave us that ah-ha moment when I realized it could be draped with tableclothes already owned and centered on the fireplace.

When the setting is this romantic, hot dogs, chips and beer are a celebration.

 However, nothing like having your own home as a personal resort to create an opportunity to go seductive.

Last visit our soon-to- be daughter in law- Shannon Morris- brought some Wilson's Creek Sparkling Almond "Champagne"  . Breathing in the tiniest golden sparklers twinkling free of the blond beverage, we plotted what we might plan to serve the next time we shared this unusual almond-tinted darling. What would really show off  the unusual taste that presents itself at the tip of the tongue? 

Shannon and I dreamed up a  hot brie appetizer- presented wrapped in a filo jacket,  dried cranberries casually strewn atop, allowed to melt in. Finished with a glaze of dried apricots in jam....

What is your fantasy?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Friday Philosophy- Harvesting Blessings

Never tire of doing what is good; you will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. - Gal.6:9

Diamond Bar High School Orchestra
 Starry, Starry, Night" was the title for the 7th annual holiday gala by the Diamond Bar Community Foundation. Carrying the baton of community goodwill long now that the Diamond Bar Improvement Association is defunct, once a year the foundation honors someone who exemplifies that verse. In style.

If only the voice of the instruments was heard, no one would know that they were listening to a suburban high school. Their Pachabel Canon in D Major brought tears to my eyes.

Carolyn on the dance floor with lucky date
 This year's honoree, Carolyn Anderson of Waste Management is one of those people who lights up the room when she walks in. In the decade-plus I have known Carolyn, I have never once heard her complain. Her modus operandi is to ask if there is a problem and then get to solving. Always with a smile.

No concern is too small for Carolyn if it helps her company's clients. Can't remember what holidays the trash pick up is delayed? It was Carolyn's suggestion to the company to send a friendly reminder phone call.

DB Friends of the Library President Rick Rodgers salivated over the meal. Running into him the next morning while he moved to one of his myriad of charitable functions, Rick mentioned the dinner was good a meal as he's ever been served at a banquet. Parties by Panache deserves the credit.

Attention to color and detail like sprinkling of parsley set Panache meals above typical catering presentation.  

 Drum Roll- Some of the guests that evening -

Dave Roberto with wife and DBCF President and Chair of Event Jody
Treasurer Jolene Zirbes with daughter Joanna

Gene and Helen Doss

Trisha and John Bowler go together like cuffs and cuff links

Bridget del Rio Cortez (American Cancer Society) and friends take break from DJ Paul Ullrich's danceable tunes: Sinatra through Santana.
Gerry and I
 I would like to thank our hosts for the event, Matt Rezvani (BP Petroleum) and wife Debbi, for an extraordinary start to the holiday season. Without your kindness, I would never have learned that it is easier to dance in a cast than walk):- Knowing you, being allowed to be a part of your lives, is an on-going blessing.

Image of Gerry and I courtesy of Laura Kobzeff

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Philosophy- Eating Success

What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.
-Will Rogers

In 1992  'Brigadoon'  was one of 2 roses William Warriner developed for Jackson &Perkins to be selected an AARS All-American. A nice ending to an 18 award winning career.

Bouquets are Natural Air fresheners

Don't let the hybrid tea designation fool you. The luminous tricolor blend of pink rimmed fading to white furling around a  light yellow center flowers are in a word, robust. Plunked as tight buds from whacking the mother bush to a reasonable height, they joined purple wands of Cleveland Sage  in the glass where the 'African Blue Sage' is rooting.
Hibiscus 'La France' anchors the arrangement near gate

The 'salad bar' has been moved.  The old location was over-run with riff raff. When critters designate your garden the all-you-can-eat buffet- they are not nearly so cute as they are frolicking on the  golf course. So I relocated pots gathered from various parts of the garden to see if raising the salad fixings up off the ground beneath a movement- activated light might not leave some goodies for the people population.
Begonia 'Richmondensis'  cheers up  flat leaved parsley
Miniature Rosa 'Renny' adds drama to pot of Bibb lettuce and ornamental kale
Lemon Verbena's lush scented foliage pushes through obelisk structure
Part of this grand experiment is to custom blend a soiless mix. For every 3 handfuls of  cinnamon colored Cana Coco planting medium, a handful of Vermiblend premium organic soil amendment. Dark as  espresso, blended together the result is as light as deep chocolate souffle. 
To help the roots reach out, I've spiked the water can with a splash of Botanicare Pure Blend Pro Grow and a drop of  Superthrive vitamins.
Now comes the fun part. The freedom to fail or to succeed. To have a garden is to learn the goodness of accepting the challenges of life. Facing them as best we can. Learning as we go along. Both from our successes and from our failures. Letting go. At the end of the season, the enjoyment is truly eating the fruits- and vegetables- of our labors.

Rosa 'Renny' and her more traditional vegetable garden companions  were purchased at Rainbow Garden Center in Glendora. 

Planting medium and nourishment purchased at Bonafide Hydorponics in Brea.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Savoring- Organic Mood Lifters and Pesto Deviled Eggs

"If Mohammad can't go to the mountain, let the mountain come to Mohammad."

As a writer, there are long swaths of time where time at the keyboard makes the garden just outside like a mirage to  to a thirsty man walking across the dessert. Just out of reach.

Along with exercise and kisses - sunlight is an organic anti-depressant. Bringing my garden into my office is my way to avoid need for "pharmaceutical intervention" or vices associated with my profession.

Creating a bouquet of fresh flowers and herbs from the garden enlivens the senses. Trimmings of a half dozen Cinco de Mayo roses to stuff between trusses of  blue Basil and a single exclamation point of scented geranium on my desk make it a holiday.

Anyone whose family has escaped dreary climates understands that what makes a day at the beach in Southern California delightful is sunshine. Why? The body responds emotionally to colors defined in full spectrum.

Admit it. We all know  hydroponic suppliers know full spectrum lighting better than anyone else. The evidence: we humble homeowners struggle to keep a philodendron alive while a certain crop is invariably lush and healthy when the homes are busted. Usually with no one living there.

After years of struggling ill-repute- hydroponic suppliers are main stream. No need to park a block away to walk into the store dressed like a spy- in trench coat, dark sunglasses, hat and carrying cash. No. Pull up to the front parking spot wearing normal go-to mall clothes and use any credit card you haven't maxed out):-.

Bonafide Hydroponics in Brea set me up with  my new office lighting. 3 low-profile linkable full spectrum fixtures. Gerry hung them in the closet cum bookshelf.  No ugly fixture to look at. Just divine light at the flick of a switch.

Good food is essential to happiness. Oregon Sue sent over a gem of an idea. Pesto deviled eggs. So simple. No need for a recipe- just set the ingredients on the counter and go to town.

Hard boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
Salt, White Pepper and Italian Herb seasoning to taste

Whip until smooth.

Stir in
Finely diced red bell pepper

 A drizzling just a spot more pesto sauce and sprinkling of a tad more finely diced red bell pepper dresses up the appearance suitable for a party. Perfect to serve with a Bloody Mary or plain V8 Juice wih a celery stir stick.. 

Red and green- this combination is perfect for the visual tidings of the holiday season.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Work Before Wonder

How can you sing of amazing grace and all God's wonders without using your hands?

Mahalia Jackson

The wicked winds howled this week: autumn breezes flying full frontal through the trees. 

I often pause at the splendor God creates. Then get to work on my little corner. Unlike God's grace- whose beauty is on auto-pilot- without effort, the coming spring would be naked here.

Like a professional model, this pathway offers an effortless look. In reality, when you consider the elements and how they came to be- it took lots of effort. Before it could be raked, the gravel had to be brought to the site. Rock borders in place to contain it. Iris to decorate it. 

Earlier this week, a city maintenance truck was parked on the opposite side of our street. The driver taking a chain saw to a large downed branch of flowering pear tree. The age of this tract is such that when the winds come, the branches on the inferior type the builder provided snap. Leaving an ugly scar. Sometimes, like at our house, the whole tree just falls over without any warning. Like a man dying of a heart attack on the golf course.

Guillermo Victorio has been in charge of our tree maintenance for years. 

In abundant years, Guillermo and his crew are hired twice a year. Once to keep the height down. The second trimming, to thin the trees of excessive crown. On years when maintenance needs are high and the budget low, trimming the trees this time of year is preferred as it causes the least disruption to the bird population.  It is far enough from the frosts of deep winter not force frail growth out before it has a chance to harden.

Diseased branches
Branches clothed in disfigured leaves  on the citrus are cut back. Removing them now minimizes the need for spraying later on. Organic isn't an easier way to garden. It is however the best first line of defense.

Clematis Jackmanii

Angel Geranium
Outside, as glorious sunshine slides in to the garden, it is as though the garden "curtains" have been pulled back. Color shows through in an embarrassment of riches. Time to do my part. Now vines' tender tendrils  are wound tightly to trellising. Cuttings of softwoods, such as geraniums, are taken to multiply the spring's bouquet.
Knowing how much work it is to keep even a small garden does put God and man in perspective. No matter how much we do- it is nothing compared to His work.

Victorio's Tree and Concrete Service can be reached at
714.317.5931 or 714 566-4924

To 2 images by Gene Sasse

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy 35th Anniversary

Bridge in San Pedro
What a road my husband and I have traveled over the past 35 years of marriage.

There is a passage in the book just finished, The English Major which resonated when the protagonist ruminated
"A professor said that what saved writers is that they, like politicians, had the illusion of destiny which allowed them to overcome obstacles... Destiny seemed to be a religious concept on the order of the Calvinist idea of predestination."

Looking back to when we first started looking forward together I am certain we did not understand the power provided vows made to God before family, friends and congregants.  Our early sense of destiny.  that we belong together, became a bridge that helped smooth the crossing when the deep waters of a long term marriage churned in passing storms.
When the send button here is punched. I am going to walk out front with clippers to fill a vase. Fill my home with the illusion fresh flowers provide 5 star hotel lodging. 

'Mary Rose'

My earliest English roses,  David Austen 'Evelyn' and 'Mary Rose' challenged my patience in their early years.
Perhaps it is the sentimentality of an anniversary , but today I look at them as analogous to "In sickness and in health. "  There were days I wanted to divorce their diseased, attention grubbing bodies.

Now that they are established- I'm glad we hung in there. The day would not be so beautiful without them.

Bridge in San Pedro photographed by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Journaling. Cream of Watercress Soup

"All around my house, in my studio, and tucked into backpacks, I have a multitude of journals in progress- different topics, sizes and shapes. If you peeked between the covers of my journals, you'll find everything imaginable- writings- sketches, notes, memorabilia, secrets photos and dreams."
- Janet Takahashi
artist and author

One thought leads to another, wraps and ties past with present in bow. The upcoming hydroponic experiment - what edibles to try- watercress popped on the list. Our 35th wedding anniversary: Monday.  The first recipe I posted in my newlywed's journal- Cream of Watercress Soup. Janet carefully calligraphy on  5 x7 cards for her friends to take home.  

This illustration by Janet of the tools of her trade are from her book  Artful Journals, her  "sketchbook journey filled with artful musings". So lovely, I am inspired to take a calligraphy class.

Janet Takahashi's Cream of Watercress Soup.

BUTTER, 1 whole cube at room temp (plus more for sauté )
1 ONION, chopped fine
1 LEEK, chopped fine
2 CELERY BRANCHES, chopped fine
2 CARROTS, chopped fine
2 lbs POTATOES, diced
HEAVY CREAM (2 cartons)

Sauté  onion, leek and celery in clarified butter until lightly golden. Add watercress (chopped, withold a few sprigs for garnish), carrots, potatoes and seasonings. Add chicken stock until stock is 1" over the top of the vegetables. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Puree  in blender. Return to pan. Add the whole cube of butter and heavy cream to taste. Sprinkle a few leaves of watercress on each serving. 

* If you make this ahead of time, don't add butter or cream until just before serving.


In the writer's spirit of show- don't tell-  See how loved this recipe is by the smears  and drips of repeated kitchen appearances.   

Take a stroll through Janet's lovely Web studio. Listed is a calligraphy conference in next door Pomona.  LETTERS CALIFORNIA STYLE 2011, February 18-21, 2011

I signed up for one calligraphy class through Parks and Recreation when Diamond Bar was first a city. It  included a hold harmless agreement from my heirs should I die as a result of being in the class . LOL. That particular verbiage, I crossed out, initialed and turned in. But I wonder- how many people signed it without questioning what type of ink was being used or in what manner it might be delivered):-