Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas - Transition

Married to an engineer, this time is traditionally "ours".  In our 36 years of married life, less than a handful of times has business interrupted this short period where we could reliably be off together  It is our time to tidy up the loose ends of the previous year and coordinate plans for the next.

Inspired by Santa Barbara garden writer extraordinaire, Joan Bolton,  I am considering retrying a childhood delight- growing poinsettia's in the garden. My mother grew her precious yellow poinsettia in her Whittier backyard just outside my back bedroom window.  It outgrew me long before I outgrew it. This all lead to penning a piece for DiamondBarPatch.com on how to Keep and Repeat Poinsettia. For those fortunate enough to also have Christmas cactus, cyclamen or amaryllis about the house-  Joan's blog article  will guide extending your season with those beauties, also. She is marvelous horticultural writer who communicates mountains of  information into compact words in an easy to follow format. When her stories land in my mail box- they are a MUST read.

To everyone who reads this blog- have a safe and blessed New Year. I treasure each of you. Thank you for prayers sent our way.  Know you made a difference.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve

2 people working 6 hours- the tree alone represents12 man hours of labor

Not every inch of every corner was decorated for Christmas this year. I don't think anything was lost in translation for a family so pleased to be together. Eric and Billie's family supplied us with delicious appetizers to tide us over until the main event. Christmas Eve dinner.

The weather was so nice- we could have eaten on the patio. However, that is our norm for entertaining. For Christmas, it is nice to change things up.

Instead of the usual dining room table as buffet cart- serving stations were set up around counter tops throughout the main living level. Just the last minute seasonings, bread and butter were on the table. The sewing machine held ice water,  the relishes and  napkins within the arms reach of seated guests.

Gerald's younger brother, former MLB pitcher Eric Plunk, masterfully  carved the turkey breasts. With my husband's hand not quite ready for this sort of exertion and both our son's missing from the table- I was so grateful for his help. 

Being short an oven and the repairman short the part, the menu was shortened to just enough to feed 8 Sumo Wrestlers for the 12 days of Christmas.  It has been  decades since we celebrated this holiday here - and I wanted my husband's relatives to know that there was no expense too great or line to long to prepare a memorable feast just for them.

A short blessing was said for the food and for those who could not join us this year.

  The Menu  Actual Menu
 (as in  when I had to stop cooking because my feet gave out)

Cream of Watercress Soup

Butter Lettuce Salad with Candied walnuts and Dried Cranberries
with  Hazelnut-Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
with butter and lavender honey

Sweet Potato Casserole
with Bananas and Pineapple

Brined and Smoked Turkey Breasts  
with Gluten free Cornbread Dressing
and Gravy

Boars Head Ham with Pineapple Sauce

Crème Brule
Assorted cookies

The odd plate was because forgot to count myself in the head count when setting the table):-  Rather than have everyone scoot away from the china cabinet so my plate would match- I just reached in the kitchen cupboard.


After dinner, we gathered in the main room, with the children fascinated by the gallery wall.

Abigail was particularly interested in finding out who was whom. When were her cousins (our sons) so skinny?

So I did what any Aunt would do. Get out her 36 year old wedding album to show the kids that their father wasn't always 6' 6" of athletic prowess.


When Gerry and I were married- Eric was about the height and weight of his teenage professional model daughter. It was time to open presents.


Eric Jr and his girlfriend- Sara Lynne- enjoyed a private joke.

Alden is into animal prints.

My favorite gift  just may have been the pair of rolled pillows I had made for my mother -in- law. For her living room chairs, the main fabric was leftover from our reupholstering her dining chairs. 

Did you have a favorite gift you gave?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas - Guess what Santa Brought

"I" have a new camera. A real Canon SLR to better capture action.With a stabilized telephoto lens for clarity at a distance. An improvement to the story-telling arsenal of tools.

This gift is like his big screen TV of 2009- only in reverse. The TV is really his- but I have full access. It came home while I was at a Pasadena Fiction Writer's holiday party. The camera is mine- but he has full access. Unless he's going to Switzerland - then the camera stays with me. If he wishes to use my camera in the Alpines- I will need a ticket, too):-

It wasn't for my own pleasure and convenience that brought the new camera here just now. 

The surgery that saved my husband's life  presented an unanticipated detour. An arm  nerve was damaged leading to his right hand. It has been painful and altered his ability to use the hand significantly. It is expected to heal- but we want the fastest most reliable route with the lowest risk. Since last week to full recovery is out of the question- this purchase is something of my attempt at alternative medicine without a license.  

My research was quick. I called Sue Maxwell in Oregon. E-mailed with Senator Bob Huff- whose camera I once  drooled over - looked up online what writer's Debra Prinzing and Debra Baldwin are using to augment their written words. Photographer Gene Sasse highly recommended Calument Photographic in Santa Ana.  If you need a camera or supplies- check there. For outstanding service and pricing- it was well worth skipping the more conveniently located big box retailers we had planned to shop from.

It is my theory that through his practicing with the new camera, gently nudging the buttons without overt repetitive motion, Gerry's full recovery will be speeded along with both happiness and haste. That is more important that the images we are already enjoying.

From our house to yours-
A Blessed  Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Giant Gingerbread House

12' high by 12' wide and 6' deep, the diminuative 72 square foot Swiss chalet  gingerbread house inside TAPS  Fish House and brewery at Dos Lagos in Corona is nothing short of enchanting.

Carpenter-designed framing crafted off-site, the structural integrity was assured when it was  brought into the restaurant to be sheathed in a gingerbread recipe by Culinary Director Tom Hope.  With a stained glass front window of rolled butterscotch, the inside sprayed with chocolate icing,  it was time for "the crew" of 8 to get to work on gluing decorative touches with icing.

400 pounds of gingerbread
750 pounds of icing
95 pounds of vanilla wafers
20 pounds of marshmallows
and a gazillion holiday candies

 Gum drops, gum balls, fruit slices, starlight mints and assorted hard candies

 100 man-hours- Anyone care to calculate the calories?

 If your inner-child isn't already for the cheerfulness of the season- get a gander at the complex character made by the balloon-master.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Design Lessons From a Country Formal Wedding

"When the one man loves the one woman and the one woman loves the one man, the very angels desert heaven and come and sit in that house and sing for joy."
 ~The Brahma Sutras

 Tivoli-Too is an enchanting garden event setting in the heart of one of Southern California's premier art communities, Laguna Beach. On rooftops at the foot of the lush canyon side courtyard, cupids stand arrows at ready should destined lovers not understand that it is their fate to be together.

It is at the outdoor altar that long-time sweethearts Tara McCreary and Matthew Campbell exchanged their wedding vows.

The bride's sister, Kaitlyn served as her sister's only bridesmaid.

Father of the bride, Dennis McCreary escorts his daughter to meet her husband with the approval of gathered family and friends.

The wedding suited the couple. Comfortable. Joyous.

While we could not stay for the reception, there was no way I was leaving without a few pictures and notes - particularly on how the landscape architect made use of the topography in designing the country formal event setting.

The altar area is raised and visually organized with symmetrical settings of pots. In a compact area- you can really get bang for your buck customizing just a few pots with seasonal or theme related color scheme at the focal point. 

The natural materials of rock risers, flagstone flooring and rough surfaced pots in neutral tones feel right at home. Timeless and rustic at the same time.

The statuary is appropriately unglazed.  Isn't an elephant spitting into a pond so much more elegant than those dreadful reincarnations of a little boy peeing?  There are some things best left unshown. The only place for those abominations might be hanging over a cliff on the back road in Maui- an ode to potty training on-the- go.  Anywhere else- niet-no. Oops- I digressed...


The little stuccoed hacienda on the side. Tiled rough over a long patio- green mullioned doors- natural hewn wood . This is charming California of old Hollywood movies.  

Statuary birds nesting on little shelves play up the theme of the opportunity for life in the garden. Ferns pull the site away from civilization- to a place more primal. Where one might hear frogs serenading fairies in the dark hours...

The designers understood that succulents are more authentic potted up than bright Disneyland  arrangements would ever be.

There is nothing wrong with mix and match. Here, the formality was where it was best. Where suited up people would dine and dance.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Life Unzipped

Assorted Roses and flowers from my garden in a jar that used to hold a candle

Forgive me. I haven't forgotten you. The last month has been like a computer file- large enough to need to be zipped- but no time to do so.  Not to excuse- to explain

My husband's healing went from short sprint to a more mortal furlong.  We ask God for a bit of patience through some unanticipated "ouch" time. We anticipate that Gerry will soon not only be a medical miracle, but someone feeling GREAT enough to enjoy being a living testament to when God's grace holds hands with skilled and caring medical practitioners.  Before the year is out, we have some serious thank you letters to send out.

Termites know what a wonderful climate Southern California. Those that took up residence here did not ask permission. With a spouse in recovery and unable to pack away food or move mountains of potted plants away from around the house and under the patio covers, it was not convenient. With a good bid from Western Exterminators- the invaders were given the death penalty. 

While the house was under the tent, the puppies went to PetSmart Pets Hotel for 4 days of relaxation with play dates and doggie ice cream. We adults set up camp with my mother-in-law. 

Back home- the kitchen and pantry cabinets are washed and restocked.  Tomorrow I hope to erase the garden disruption from the consequences of hiring a fumigation tent . If fortune and the sun shine, I may even have time to paint a wall so the firewood can be re stacked before the rains start. Just thinking about it my muscles are telling me to call the massage therapist first):-

Life is now pointed straight to the normal seasonal busy.  There are stories to write. Presents to Wrap. Decorations to put up. Mail to send. But if it doesn't all go smoothly, I will not care.

No matter what. In 2012, I start the year with a healthy husband, a healthy house- and we are all surrounded by a bountiful garden.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Gift of A Holiday Letter

In 1843, an enterprising gentleman by the name of Sir Henry Cole commissioned John Halcott Horsely to design the cover for the first commercial Christmas card. Pictured above, notice the small child joining in the wine infused revelry. Leave to a Zazzle vendor to have a drawing of the card available for purchase.

It is good to be back. DiamondBarPatch.com just published my article Send the Gift of Holiday Letter on the art and history of a great Christmas Card, which now extends to all the holidays of the season.  In the age of the Internet, personalizing the message with images is easy. In 2009, the informal portrait of Gerry and I with Tahoe, Vegas, Reno and Quila was featured in our own letter.

Do you send holiday cards?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

When Humor Works and When it Doesn't . Laughter and Healing

Give a Moose a beer and you never know what will happen.

Must be Moosehead Beer !!!!!!
This actually happened with some guys from Maine.

They dressed the truck up with a guy dummy spread-eagled on the roof of the truck.
The driver and passenger put on Moose Heads.
Down the Maine Toll interstate they went, causing about 16 accidents.
Then they went to jail.

I used to use the expression "drop-dead beautiful"- until a former Breck girl of my acquaintance dropped dead of cancer, leaving a husband with two small children to raise on his own.

Men have a harder time convincing themselves to think of a hospital stay as a spa vacation. They express their emotions differently. A woman might tell her husband " I can't wait to get home to you." My husband kept repeating different variations of "Get me out of here or shoot me."
So I went to Wal-Mart and bought a Nerf-N-Strike Blaster.  At $11, my plan was to pack in in my bag and ambush him the next time my love said "just shoot me." 

Only something happened that made a perfectly funny joke horribly inappropriate.

Last week, a dear neighbor knocked on the door. With his oldest daughter's wedding in less than two weeks, it would be natural to have a day-off to attend last minute details related to the celebration. His face was lined and eyes downcast- I reassured him that Gerry is well on the mend. I shared my planned joke. Our neighbor went absolutely white.

It turned out his ex-wife chose that very morning to shoot herself.

Suicide. I remember years ago, when I drove to work listening to one of Dr. Laura Schlesinger's radio diatribes, she was lecturing on the dynamic of anger in the taking of such irrevocable action. All these years late what she said struck an ever more real personal chord. The anger it takes to thumb your nose at the gift of life- especially coming into a season of joy- the woman who took her life was a fool.

Every ounce of sympathy and compassion I feel is not for the woman who chose to violently end her life, but for those who ever dared love her. I will know their healing has begun when I see them laugh.

Gerry is home, his body teaching it is actually faster to cruise than try to race back to normalcy.    

With this new found wisdom, my husband chose the landscape deer needlepoint  that took a billion years to complete, not to mention the bag of gold to properly frame, for Nerf target practice. Instead of stomping my feet like Rumpelstiltskin,  I laughed out laughed out loud.

 Laughter, being involuntary, is a beacon that I have faith that God shall continue to guide my husband's full recovery. We are overjoyed that with just a couple exceptions, every hour brings a sign of renewed fortitude. Long before the next hunting season, Gerry will be in prime physical shape,back  to stalking wild game with his brother and our sons. Though perhaps armed with a camera.

This Thanksgiving will be quite unconventional. In our home it will be quiet, with feasting curtailed. This year it will be impossible for any tradition to overpower the raising of learnest prayers of Thanksgiving to God for the good fortune and love which surrounds us.

Thank you to Judy Duvall for passing the photo and top story. The visual is so funny, factuality doesn't matter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Garden Blooming Blog Day - November 2011

In front of the garage. Where a sensible person plants an automobile, a pair of Peter Beale's 'Evelyn May' roses show off the color that launched my obsession to legally import a dozen blooming British Beauties. Easier said than done. One of the top ten accomplishments in family lore.

 I send their good cheer to you. And to our adventurer son Trevor, who is working in the cold of North Dakota.

 I just can't get enough of the many hued succulent that goes by the impossibly long name of Graptopetalum paraguayense ‘Pinky.’ With her easy to love attitude- you can order from Annie's Annuals
The beach bells of peach tinged trumpet flower - Brugmansia is her formal family name. During the day you know where she is from all the buzzing coming from inside her bells. At sunset- she exudes an elixir of  heady floral scent so powerful breathing the perfume might turn acquaintances into lovers 

 Begonia 'Richmondensis' (Richmond Begonia) - is a year round blooming trouper needing only an occasional shearing back. Tickle her taste buds with diluted sports drinks and she responds with a healthy year round response in our relatively mild climate.

I love the juxtaposition of a Germanic rose that divides the civilization of the upper garden from the wild beyond. Every year the firemen checking on brush clearance stop to admire the rare harmony that exists when love of garden and respect for nature marry.

Thank you to Carol May for keeping the gate open for this month's Garden Blooming Blog Day.  Such kindness is appreciated.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Healing begins with Hope and Truth

Saint Jude Chapel Stained Glass by Ann Pope of the Judson Studios
A small plaque just inside the Chapel is inscribed with the words of Ann Pope, the stained glass artist with the venerable Los Angeles craftsman Judson studios behind the symbolism of the chapel's window wall.  

"The effect I have tried to achieve is that of a curtain hung from the ceiling, being rent and torn by the power of the "light" and peeling away from the very framework which encapsulates it."

In describing the design scheme and colors " the grey curtain with a blue lining represents the world in which we live with all the varying shad of light and dark. the netting is symbolic of the complexities of our lives, and the flesh tone behind the netting is the gentle calmness achieved after over coming these complexities." 

There is a final layer of clear glass expressing "there is pure light we have been promised in heaven." The position of the tabernacle she points out plays a very important role. All movement is directed to this point, a starting point for both hope and truth."

It has been a great pleasure being served by medical professionals that enjoy their work. That say "God Bless you" as they go off shift.   What those lacking bedside manner is not related to their ability to tell the truth.  The best professionals know to tell the truth kindly with hope.

Truth in its own can be cold and callous. If it is all a doctor is interested in, he will never be more than a mechanic of people.

However, truth told with kind respect for the patient gives hope.  Doctors who practice this style of medicine are healers.

Panoramic Images by Judson Studios, specializing in stained, faceted and architectural glass since 1897.