Thursday, July 21, 2011

The "Bless Her Heart" Gardener

Around the first of the year I got riled by an article I read that disparaged the making of "New Year Resolutions". It characterized the making of resolutions as a masochistic exercise in failure guaranteed to produce nothing more than low(er) self esteem.In fact, it spurred me on to fulfilling more of my resolutions for THIS year than probably any year to date.
I had "primed the pump" for one justification of our counter cultural move FROM a wonderful condo back into a big house last fall. While our focus was on remodeling the interior of our new digs, I knew myself well enough to take action's last fall outside to hold myself accountable to resolutions this spring. In November, my friend, Donna helped me dig out a huge patch of lawn taking the first step to putting in my first vegetable gardens in twenty five years.
Good plan. When Spring rolled around with trips to California and weddings and new grandbabies arrivals, had it not been for that indicting patch of raw earth threatening to go to weeds, I'd have procrastinated and rationalized supporting the Farmer's Market instead.
I pored over Mel Bartholomew's "All New Square Foot Gardening" book, purchased recommended, recycled plastic raised bed kits at Costco, and we were off!
I am having so much fun!
I felt such accomplishment when the planting itself was though, 'There, that's done!' DUH!
We've enjoyed salads from our garden for a month and a half as we watch and wait for other things to begin producing....and here it comes!
If blossoms are an indicator, I may have to open my own booth at Holland Farmer's Market...or perhaps a give away table!
Mel Batholomew says he guarantees you will plant your gardens differently NEXT year. I am already looking forward to getting seed catalogs and planning my gardens while the snow swirls outside my windows.
"Bless her heart". I love the south; love the civility and charm....and that sweet, kindly phrase.
The other day I read a delightfully sarcastic article that revealed the translation of "Bless his/her heart" for northerners. The author asserted it's true definition as "idiot".
Bless my heart: I planted Ichebon Eggplant only to later find it described as a "massive producer". Anyone have some good eggplant recipes?
Bless my heart: I didn't even start liking tomatoes as anything other than catsup until about five years ago. The plants are 4' high and covered with blossoms.
Bless my heart: some beetles are even bigger basil lovers than I am.
Bless my heart: I look out my kitchen window and spy cucumbers that seem to materialize hour to hour.
Bless my heart: from four little Mesclun lettuce transplants I have bulging bags of salad greens, far more than two of us can eat.
Resolutions made in the dead of winter, FULFILLED:
freezer full of strawberries and bottles of freezer jam. freezer full of fresh, Michigan asparagus. freezer full of 25# of blueberries from the wonderful farm across the street from our new home.
Summer in Michigan may not last long, but it's fulfilling.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Much Good Stuff Can You Cram Into One Day?

There have been several days out here when we've been amazed at how many different activities have been crammed into short periods of time. Saturday was one of those. We got up very early to throw ourselves onto the freeways again. "Merging" onto the freeway system reminds me of the carefully orchestrated, rhythmic leap in your moment of opportunity to enter the open ropes of "Double Dutch" jump roping. There is NO opportunity provided for hesitation. "He who hesitates is lost".

Anyway, we were on the roads early to pick up Christian and Emily in Claremont and drive to the Azusa Pacific campus where the School put on a wonderful breakfast for graduates and families before heading to the stadium for Commencement ceremonies. Pomp and Circumstance played as graduating students filed into the palm tree surrounded space with the San Gabriel Mountains serving as background for the stage. is all surreal out here.

After graduation we wandered around the beautiful campus, oh-ing and ah-ing at the blooming exotics. Then we hopped into the car and headed south to San Juan Capistrano. We celebrated Christian's graduation with our second, great, authentic, Mexican meal in less than 24 hrs. Really, Margaritas in San Juan Capistrano...does it get better than that? We headed over to the Mission after lunch to discover that YES, it DOES look totally different in May than in January! The place is one big incredible garden. We all wandered around the spaces enjoying the history and the beauty and the heady smells of flowers. The Lantana that are sprigs in Michigan summer floral planters are hedges out here. There are huge, volently blooming Jackaranda trees here and there that look like giant purple bouquets. But along with the breathtaking beauty there is a reverence and peace to this place. We talked about how relaxing and peaceful it felt. An Oasis where the push push push of the freeways and schedules seemed to melt away.

We finally made our way outside and re entered the real world with coffees from the Starbucks across the street and headed back north to end the day in Claremont helping CJ and Emily with wedding planning details, then back onto the freeways to sleep....before getting back on the freeways to start another big day here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Just Lunch at the Local Mall

Whenever I travel out here I understand why people put up with ...well, what they put up with to live here; the freeways, the mind boggling traffic traveling at such a break neck pace. It is breathtaking for me to be in sunshine all the time. To someone from the Midwest STILL awaiting Spring at home, the vegetation here is simply unbelievable. May in California IS very different from January/February. If you see a's blooming. If you walk outside, you smell the blooming of the exotic, everywhere. I find myself being stopped by intoxicating smells to look around and identify it's source. I've never experienced this anywhere but here in Southern California. ( except for the grape myrtle in Nashville)

Yesterday my friend, Martine picked me up for lunch at Panera. Everything here seems an adventure, even lunch at the mall.

Unlike our malls, finding a parking space here is more of a challenge. The traffic in the parking lots is crazy and reminds me of the bumper to bumper gridlock of people leaving a concert or something similar. I am sure this makes me sound like some kind of "country bumpkin" out on the town or something but SERIOUSLY life is so different here! I think the biggest "game changer" is the weather. I love things here that could not exist, at least not without substantial compensations to the concept, back in Michigan. To have lovely, expansive outdoor "living rooms" in stone courtyards complete with comfortable upholstered cushions, large metal coffee tables anchored by huge, hearthed , free-standing stone fireplaces...just leaves me, well, coveting. I want to grab a cup of coffee and sit on an outside sofa in front of a fireplace outside. OH, but there is that one other thing that could be a deal breaker. There are no BUGS here.

If it weren't so potentially embarrassing I would be taking photos all over the place to document all sorts of UBER creative landscaping to emulate in my gardens back home. If only I could get some of these more exotic things to grow in my climate, like the heavenly low growing eucalyptus grouped with heliotrope. Well, and all these beautiful varieties of palm trees.

Having lunch with Martine was a wonderful way to begin my first full day here. I LOVE laughing with her. There is something about our getting together that always ends in hearty tears, giggling, and yesterday, at least once I know I involuntarily snorted.

Thanks, Martine for the gift yesterday was for me!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco De Mayo:"Home" Again in Santa Ana

Winter never challenges summer in this place. There are magnolia like blossoms the size of dinner plates blooming on a tree outside this window, and white doves circling the "mission style" hotel. I will re read the earthquake instructions ( because I am me) and then get on with vacation. We are actually calling it vacation!

Steve gave me my first Mother's Day gift yesterday. Delta upgraded him to First Class on the two longest legs of our flight west and he gave ME my first experiences of that pampering while he sat back in "steerage".

WHOA! It almost made me forget being the one person the pimply, 49 ish, geeky TSA agent singled out for special surveillance. "Female Surveillance Assistance needed" he yells, after snarkilly barking "Ma'am. Over here!" to me. He literally pointed to a spot on the floor at his feet as though directing a dog to "sit"! If I had verbalized what was going through my mind I'd be in a jail cell in Grand Rapids....for a long time. I had been thinking to myself how nice the GR TSA agents were compared to agents in other airports I have experienced. Then I ran into this jerk. It was impossible to look at him and listen to him and NOT feel he'd been a nerdy kid bullied his whole life and NOW he had a uniform and some power. DUH!

All was soon forgotten as I nestled into my first class seat with it's cheerful red blankie and little pillow and was introduced to my new friend, a 70ish woman who was more than willing to share wine, her wisdom ( she a psychologist practicing with her psychiatrist husband for 30 years in Vermont. That fed my psychology "junkiehood") and her indignation at what a pain travel had become due to the TSA. She knows what she is speaking of as she told me over the hours in the air of their travels all over the world. The conversation began with her very casual mention of politics in Mali experienced on their boat trip to TIMBUKTU! That was the beginning. As she began to warm to her subjects, not to mention her third glass ( and it was a GLASS) of Argentine Pinot Grigio, I heard about their canoe trips to visit her husband's brother, an Irish Catholic priest whose mission on the Amazon extended 1000 miles to the edge of Venezuela; of how the Bishop had a dinner they attended which featured PIRANHA cooked 28 different ways! She said it is a firm, white meat, pretty good taste and gestured with her hands the variety of sizes of piranhas. She said they'd swim with them and that unless there is blood in the water ala sharks, they don't bite. Good to know. As she talked freely of her family , of the two nannies she had had for her four children as she worked, I was pretty certain that flying first class was NOT an airline upgrade for this couple but rather the way they ALWAYS travel...when not in a canoe on the Amazon or on a boat to Timbuktu or on an Air France plane suddenly diverted to a small airstrip in North Africa where with no explanation the plane took on a group of white robed men wearing lots of jewels before taking off. ( They never could get information on what they'd seen from Air France but believe it was France helping air lift these leaders out of a military doubt to France where they could begin to live off siphoned monies deposited in Swiss Banks.)

It was a surprisingly smooth flight. The Cabernet MIGHT have had something to do with it but obviously, sharing hours of flight with this woman was a most excellent distraction for someone who hates to fly.( and these anecdotes are only the tip of the conversational iceberg which rambled from her husband's upbringing in Ireland leaving a pub five minutes before it was blown up by the IRA to her early visits to Salt Lake when you couldn't get a cup of coffee because Mormon's don't drink stimulants ,opinions on polygamy...and politics. Politics. Oddly, for some reason, this woman assumed that our "politics" were the same. WHOA! TWICE in one day I had to keep my big mouth shut! My delightful travel companion was a flaming liberal, a rabid Democrat and I would never have thought of sacrificing a second of our wonderful time by doing anything but nodding and nodding as I sipped and sipped my first class wine kindly refilled and refilled by the handsome, fliratious and well tanned male flight attendant. I do not think it was my imagination that in the first class cabin I noted the flirtatious and very attractive blonde female attendant served all the men and the guy with the dazzling dimples plied the females with drinks ( "Oh you' re not driving let me fill your glass again!") and chocolate, and hot towels before our "inflight snack". It was only a snack he said rather apologetically as he offered our menu choices. This snack was something I would be proud to serve for my next dinner party. It was PERFECTLY prepared.

My travel mate even provided free psychological insights into dealing with my lack of enthusiasm for flying, gave me methods to use and suggested goals to get a passport and travel more before we parted ways.

"Just HOW MUCH does it cost to upgrade to first class when one flies?" I asked Steve when he finally de-planed several minutes after me in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Italian Widow Travels...but not lightly.

Here I am at Gerald R. Ford International airport ready to begin our California adventure. Normally, I accompany Steve to So. Cal. on his annual meeting each January or February. I gobble up his frequent flyer miles and sit in the hotel in complete silence for a week while he is in meetings for Open Doors. Sometimes I revea my identity as one from the Midwest, land of long lingering winter, by sitting, SOLO at the pool, my pale whale belly legs exposed for all to see. Last year I was joined by a sole middle aged man who displayed an equally white but quickly pinking body as he actually swam in the pool. ( I could feel the Californians sneer!) But hey, it's the SUN!!!!
I have always been mystified by my Californian friends' comments, apologies really that what I am in awe of blooming in February is their dead winter. I have been told that this trip in May will open my eyes to real southern Californian vegetation. Like. ( ...that's as close as I get to facebook.)
Recent weight loss coupled with the switching of seasons has had me on the hunt for clothing. I've had problems lately with the grandbabies ( the one's who can walk) grabbing at my skirts and the skirts sliding down my hips. not cool. This hunt revealed again my seemingly irresistible , magnet pull toward any clothing of BLACK. I hit the jackpot early in my search finding newly tagged Clearance merchandise in a downtown shop and had piles of chic but newly cheap clothing stacked ready to be tried on in a dressing room. The helpful clerk, eyes half closed, quietly mentioned, "It's looking pretty BLACK in there..." Well, no surprise to me; the Swede disguising herself as the Italian widow....without a babushka.

I recall a special occasion as a little girl being taken to the "Tiny Tots To Teens" store downtown to pick a special dress for a birthday I think. My choice...( think '50's people) was soft turquoisy sheer fabric with black velvet polka dots and black velvet skirt. I loved it, instantly. I still recall how much my MOM hated it! My mother hates black clothing...especially on babies or children. I can still see that dress with it's little puffy sleeves and the black, patent leather Maryjane's and white anklets. PERFECT!

Fast forward to the '70's and learning the importance of proper presentation to Interior Design clients. Do Not distract or taint the true colors of the product you present to your clients with flashy dress. In other wards...wear black. I was in heaven. Did I tell you how much I like BLACK?
Unfortunately there is a price to pay...all those fabric books and sample lugging make an Interior Designer dressed in black a walking lint brush. truly.

So, now I can't seem to break the habit. Even though I purchased some colorful new pieces of clothing I have a humongous suitcase packed with black and white and a very little khaki. And five pairs of black shoes/sandals to cover every occasion: Lunch with a friend on Cinco De Mayo, our youngest son's Grad School Hooding ceremony and dinner following at Azusa Pacific University, adding to our collection of Presidential Library visits with the Reagan Library, dinner with bosses, and best of all, time spent visiting my favorite place, the Mission of San Juan Capistrano with Steve , Christian and Emily ( soon to be Mrs. Fredericks ).
What can I say?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stillwater B & B Now Open For Business

Actually this room and it's bath were the FIRST rooms tackled in "the White House" (...the ALL white, all the time, everywhere white white white house). I always tell Design clients as they move into new homes to remember that they don't HAVE to hang and display every single thing they had in their former digs. Now I've lived that experience myself. It is difficult. I have big boxes of "stuff" earmarked for a garage sale this summer, but there are still some old favorite things I felt the need to have around me.

This room, the real, honest to goodness GUEST ROOM provided the space in which to cluster all those dear things together. Like... an old table from my Grandparents ( great Grandparents?) painted white used as a night stand; a wonderful desk given me by a dear aunt also at least a generation older; favorite bedding, long of tooth but still loved for what the blue and white palette always does for my soul.
There's the flotsam and jetsam of accessories that have swirled through our many different households; Antique plates gifted us by friends and family, hand painted lamp shades and an all time favorite delphinium fabric which has made a circuit from our Winter Pine Way home to a friend's home and now back to me again . ( THAT'S a friend!) A sampler wisely advising "Bloom Where You Are Sown" reminds me of the days when I produced one elaborate sampler a year...years when my eyesight was far superior to it's present state and babies were in bed by 7:30 p.m.

I LOVE the room. It is comforting and sweet. It was the first stab at new colors in the new, WHITE house. The walls are Benjamin Moore Beacon Gray 2128-60...doesn't look gray to me. It's light and cheerful and a new favorite shade.

If you're in the Holland area we've a sweet place waiting for you!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

One New Thing.

"New Things" seems to be God's theme for us in the past year. I vaguely recall days and years when I was nursing and diapering babies... when days and months seemed to run together in much sameness and routine. I am no longer living in those times.

It was my intent to blog as each room in "the white house" we moved into at the end of last August was transformed. I never envisioned the whole house being changed simultaneously....but better to get it all over at once. What's alittle more chaos when you've been living with your belongings in a storage facility for two months as you progressively sell the roofs over your head?

So, for those who haven't seen it in person, here is "the big reveal."

In many ways, this "great room" was the most difficult because other areas in the house formed first and this big open space, the first encountered by visitors, really stymied me.

The room has so many windows that I found myself actually avoiding walking through it. It hurt my eyes when the sun was shining. The first inspiration was an already "tried and loved" favorite Benjamin Moore paint color on the two storey's of walls... "Sandy Hook Gray HC-108.

I like to pat myself on the back for spending months sifting through greys years back and finding this wonderful color years before it became a Pottery Barn favorite color this year.

Another interesting challenge was presented in that the buyers of our condo requested purchasing many of our furnishings. This meant less to put in storage for a still unknown home we didn't know would fit the old furnishings AND presented a truly "clean palette" when we finally landed wherever.

It was good until we realized we had nothing to sit on once we arrived here .
It's eclectic, and the acquisition of the elements in this room were without rhyme or reason. Interior Design ADHD to be sure! It is still a "work in progress", which my homes ALWAYS are, but with the addition of the grey washed thick wicker chairs it all "clicked".

It's eclectic alright, with the felt penny rug, my antique platter collection and Paula Dean's funky, over sized table. ( THAT was practical...on clearance and huge enough for our whole extended family with it's two giant leaves...LOVE it!)

I love the room at night with the lights on the garland ( which I MUST remove with Easter approaching ) and the light in my china cabinet. And the lamp on the antique chest lighting my sampler collection.

So, here is the Third Coast Colorista's first "reveal" for your viewing!