If everything had gone along as *planned*, I would have broken up our adventures at our friend's Northern California cabin into subjects such as The Food We Ate, The Wildlife We Saw, Spoosy's Magical Garden, etc. But I did not plan well, not at all. I did not post for almost two weeks and now instead, I'm just going to post one big collection of photos as colorful and scrambled as the thoughts that run through my mind this time of year. Here is to the end of summer and to the beginning of my favorite season!
We found this big guy hopping around Spoosy's squash blossoms. Nothing says wonderful childhood moment better than a little man's dirty hands wrapped around a giant toad.
Did someone say squash?! One day's harvest from Spoosy Moose's incredible vegetable garden. We made pesto gnocchi for lunch, and then stuffed the leftovers into blossoms which we fried for dinner that night. I also fried up zucchini and corn cakes with cheddar cheese. We ate fresh kale chips every day.
Spoosy contemplates her garden in the early morning while a young man enjoys reading one of his birthday gifts.
Like I said, Spoosy is just about as four-wheel drive as a grandmother can be. After she caught this salamander for the kids, she swam a half-mile up river where we met her (in the boat). There she taught the kids how to look for salmon underwater.
We are having an apple kind of day today. For breakfast we enjoyed rolled oats topped with the last of 2011's apple butter, and today I'm making a 2012 batch while preparing for friends to come over tonight to can apple sauce. It seems like the right time to pick up where we left off and post about Spoosy Moose's fruits and vegetables at her summer cabin.
It's been two weeks now since we returned home from our two week RV trip. The kids are back in school, twelve loads of laundry have brought us back to a state of *normal*, and I'm slowly chipping away at getting the house organized since our move in May.But I want to step back a few and wrap up the last four days of our summer vacation, spent at Spoosy's homestead way up north. It all just seems like a dream at this point.
Here is a shot I snapped from the cabin porch looking at the big kid stringing his line before going out to catch his mama a salmon in the river. (Little Miss daydreams on a swing, beneath a walnut tree.)
Mr. Noodle dons some Davy Crockett attire before heading out into the orchard.
Center stage in the bear-proof orchard of mixed summer fruit is a fallen apple tree that still puts out a hug production.
Spoosy told us to help ourselves to all the (organic) fruit we wanted and so we loaded up a box for home. Then we all chipped in and helped her clean the orchard of fallen fruit that could not be used.
I LOVED this feature of the lower garden. The large space was fenced, and around it a wide path was maintained by cutting back the endless blackberry bushes and creating a sort of *wall o' berries* that make harvesting easy and painless!
For as long as I have been hearing about Spoosy's cabin, I have been making pies that never quite live up to DH's memories of hers. This summer I finally got to enjoy the legend first hand - and it did not disappoint!
For as long as Daddy and I have been an item, I have been hearing stories about time spent at his best friend's family cabin. This week, I finally (FINALLY!) got to see it for myself. Driving for six hours to get there, I was beginning to think nothing could be worth this brutality, but as soon as we turned off the main road and began making our way down the five mile long driveway to its remote location, my tune changed and I turned to Daddy and said "I take it back. If this driveway is all I ever know about the cabin, the drive was worth it!"
That long stretch of driveway took us in and out of woods dense with Redwoods and Alders. Ferns came down the hill to the roadside and met with wild foxglove. Blackberry bushes dominated and clearly served as shrines to black bears, who left their big piles of "blessings" all along the gravel road. I was in heaven!
And then we arrived at the rustic two bedroom cabin on the river - one family's tradition for three generations and counting.
We quickly learned that the cabin accepted electricity only two years ago, but still doesn't have a landline. Even still, there is only one outlet that I could see, one working bulb in the kitchen and the rest of the time it's preferred that everyone operate by candlelight and in a electronics-free environment. If music is to be enjoyed, it must be played by the guests.
We were welcomed by said best friend's mother, a sort of second mom to Daddy and a self-proclaimed "extra grandma" to our kids. She has got to be the world's No.1 Four-Wheel-Drive Grandma - swimming upstream several times a day just because, playing with small kids until the cows come home, baking fruit pies all day long for her spawnings to enjoy. She's just amazing and we love her for all these reasons and more. In intimate circles, she is known affectionately as the Spoosy Moose.
Spoosy's cabin is an honest to goodness homestead of Little House on the Prairie proportions. There was an enormous garden (HUGE!), an orchard bursting with pears, walnuts, apples, peaches, figs and persimmons, not to mention a river full of trout, steelhead, and salmon.
The house is lovingly filled with decades of family memories and collections of objects that told stories of days gone by.
Our time at Spoosy's second home was all I had been promised it would be. In fact we stretched our planned three nights and two days to four nights and four days - it was that special! So much more to come on this magical place, just as soon as I get control over all this dirty laundry.
I live for mornings like these...
Our neighbor's blackberry forest is finding it's way into our yard. This morning I got myself out of bed a little earlier than normal and picked fresh berries for scones. Happy day, happy day! Now I just need to walk up to their door, introduce myself and ask them if I can have access to their forest. Mama's got her heart set on pie and jam!
It's been a while, I know.
What's been keeping me from blogging has actually not been the move or the end of school activities, but a couple work projects that have got me very excited...and maybe traveling a bit too.
The dust is beginning to settle though, and I'm looking forward to soaking in everything about this new house of ours this summer. Here are my favorite things about it:
1. The Front Doors. When we first went into contract on this home, we were actually on our road trip to Palm Springs. Over the moon and looking forward for what was in store, I found a lot of inspiration on that trip that I naturally projected onto my visions of remodeling. We needed to do a couple quick fixes before we moved, like replace some windows and add some ceiling lights to the kid's rooms. The interior had been given a fresh coat of paint but I couldn't help but paint the front doors. The best part is that I pained over the perfect shades of yellow and finally narrowed it down to two - Benjamin Moore's "Baby Chick" and "Yolk". Now if that wasn't just meant to be! (I ended up going with Yolk.)
2. It’s a Typical Ranch. Architecturally speaking, the California Ranch home has got to be my favorite – simple, modern, one story living!
3. It’s In The Flats. I haven’t lived in the flats for almost 15 years when I shared a five-bedroom house with four other girls in San Francisco’s Sunset district. I haven’t lived in the flats where it was actually safe to ride my bike anywhere since college. In our new life, we bike to school, to lunch, to the grocery store, and out on date night. It’s been a welcome change.
4. It Needs Work. There are few things I love more in this world than family, friends and a good project. While we purchased it move-in-ready, and can easily live here for years as-is, it screams “BLANK CANVAS!” to us. We intend to live it for a while, get a feel for what works and what doesn’t (the furnace, dishwasher and toilets come to mind) and then we'll go from there.
5. Room For A Garden. It was tough leaving the original Suburban Homestead with it’s ideal growing conditions, but I’ve been watching the sun and how it moves over the new property and am excited to make this place work too. I think I’ve finally spotted the best space for the veggie garden. Right now it’s just a rocky slope out back, covered in ivy with patches of poison oak, but this time next year, I plan to have it in full operation.
Blackberries from our neighbors yard creep into ours. :)
6. It Has a Mini Orchard. Two apple trees, an almond and a pear count, right?. I can’t wait to get canning this fall and planting more fruit trees. I will not be a complete woman until I have a fig, quince, pomegranate and persimmon tree here with us.
7. The Dark-Bottom Pool. I’ve not been much of a pool person since I turned about eleven, or so. But I have always been a fan of the dark-bottom pool. Who knew a swimming pool could bring so much to a family. Our kids are in it all day long!
8. It’s All White. The previous owners of the house lived here for almost forty years and had not done any work since 1983. There is a lot of Formica, vinyl tile and maybe even one or two original pastel-tile, 50’s bathrooms. But for the most part it’s white, and I can live with 80’s décor as long as it’s all white.
9. The Old-Growth Oaks. ‘nough said.
10. The Hallway. I know, right? The hallway?!? But yes, the dramatically long hallway, measuring close to sixty feet long, and ending with a picture window looking out onto the pool, is one of my favorite features of the house. I’ve already begun to fill the walls with family photos. More on this feature coming up!
11. The Gazebo. This old school gazebo was adorable just sitting empty, but after a friend suggested re-hanging the (not so lovely) chandelier from the entry in the gazebo, it's cute factor jumped up a few more notches. We've already had some great family dinners out here.
I have been meaning to write this post since I started this blog. The story about our house is a good one, but not one that anyone would have guessed would’ve ended this way.
I grew up in this house. My parents bought it in 1970 on a whim. My mother was just out and about, picking my sisters up from a birthday party when she first entered this house and caught sight of the view from the kitchen window. She was instantly in love. When the host told her they were about to put the house on the market, my mother rang my dad, and later that night both families were sitting around the dining room table, finalizing the details of the sale.
I have wonderful memories of growing-up here – roaming free in the backyard, once dense with oak trees and magnolias, watching all the teenage baby boomers playing kick-the-can in the street on warm summer nights, my dad making wine in the garage, roller skating on the (then) terrazzo deck with my father’s jazz music serenading me through outdoor speakers.
But what’s most interesting about this story is that my parents sold this house in 1983…and that my husband and I bought it back 20 years later.
As a ten-year-old, I was absolutely crushed leaving this house. My parent’s divorce paled in comparison to having to leave my beautiful childhood home on the hill. For the next two decades I had reoccurring dreams that we were moving back. Occasionally, I would drive-by, wondering who was lucky enough to be living in my house. Then one day in 2003, only a week after my most recent dream, my sister called, her voice trembling with emotion, “It’s back on the market!!”
Now you can imagine how the rest of that week played out.
Returning to view the house with my family was an absolute hoot. We were all so emotional driving up the hill – what would we find? But the minute we walked through the front door and saw that NOTHING had changed, we burst out laughing and a very loud, free-flowing conversation punctuated with ear piercing screeches and OMG’s followed. The dark tile flooring, the grass wallpaper in the entry, the stone fireplace, and even the cartoonish wallpaper in the hallway down to the basement that had a perverted old cowboy chasing a naked barmaid, among other ridiculously tasteless and cliché old timey western vignettes. (BTW, my father still insists to this day that the wallpaper was my mother’s choice… yeah, right.) The house just had not been touched… even down to the kitchen my mother had so lovingly designed – it was all still there.
At the time of purchase, we were child-free and moving from the city. We couldn’t believe we owned not just a house, but a house with off-street parking, our very own washer and dryer and a yard with our very own trees!!! The first few days here were surreal for me, but after that it just felt like our new place.
As if all of that wasn’t dreamy enough, remodeling was an absolute dream-come-true. We took very careful care to restore certain aspects of this California ranch home, to bring modern tastes where appropriate, and to accentuate the innately beautiful features this property has to offer. My greatest joy came in selecting all the finishes: ones that gave a nod to the house’s mid-century roots, while simultaneously pulling it into the modern day. The walnut details speak to it’s 1950 construction, the terrazzo in the master bath echoes the original terrazzo decking. Items like the Jack-n-Jill bathtub and the yellow vanity in the guest bath were kept and restored.
Here is the kitchen remodel in stages, all taken from the same spot (and with a couple chicken shots thrown in at the end):
My love of gardening stimulated all sorts of change as well. The yard had been neglected for years and was mostly covered in ivy when I returned. We cleared it out and planted 34 trees, many of them fruit bearing: olive and figs, persimmon, pomegranate, lemon, apple, peach, lime, orange, and pear.
Before (above) + after (below) - we lost the oak in a storm a few years back.
We always used to say “They are going to have to bury us in the house.” As if all the above wasn’t enough to keep us here, we have been blessed with the best neighbors, and now good friends. I’m still in a bit of shock over the whole change of events and heart – we, somewhat spontaneously, decided we’d love to take on another project close by. We didn’t look hard, but we did find something that also seemed perfect for us, just in different ways, and now we are looking forward to our next adventure together.
Tomorrow is moving day. I am not nearly as stressed about the move as I am the fact that we will no longer have an incredible vegetable garden rich with red-worm-infested, nutrient-rich soil that faces south towards the mountain with All. Day. Sun!! In these last few weeks of almost complete blog neglect, I keep asking myself: Is it even fair that I call this spot Suburban Homestead when I will soon be living in a subdivision that does not allow chickens, and on a property where I’m struggling to find a sunny spot worthy of a vegetable garden?
We shall see.
We take with us incredible memories of starting a family in this house; of late-night dinner parties with the doors and windows wide open, of the annual neighborhood Easter egg hunts in the front, the spontaneous picnics on the lawn, and the gathering of good friends and family in the kitchen and living areas. But something tells me that this house holds a lot of the same for the next family who lives here. I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting them, and they are everything I would have hoped for in a new owner to my childhood home.
Normally, when I'm woken-up in the middle of the night by the bright light of a full moon shining on my face, I give a little grumble, roll over and fall back asleep.
But with moving day quickly approaching, and knowing that this would be the last time this might ever happen to me, I got up and happily took it all in.
A leopard gecko had been on our little man's wish list for quite some time. He got a tank and all the fixings for one this past Christmas, and a trip to the pet store to go with it.
At first, Daddy couldn't find the desired lizard at any local pet stores. When he finally found one for sale at East Bay Vivarium, it ran a little more expensive than planned. (Forty-five dollars, to be exact.) When the sales clerk overheard the air escaping my son's deflated body in the background, he offered up a great solution - a young, leopard gecko missing the toes on one foot. They called him Peg Leg Joe and he was only $20.
The recently opened Sunnylands Retreat in Palm Springs was without a doubt, the highlight of my week.
I had been reading a lot about Walter and Leonore Annenberg's west coast retreat in the early months of this year. There has been no shortage of press surrounding this incredible icon of mid-century design, its expansive grounds and art collection, or its historical significance. As soon as we decided to visit Palm Springs for spring break, I thought of Sunnylands (well actually no, I thought about Trina Turk's flagship store and then I thought about Sunnylands) and so I began making plans to book a tour. At 9am on March 15th, I sat at my laptop and continually pressed the refresh button on my browser until the April block of tickets opened up. I grabbed a midday slot ("Crap! That's high sun!), threw it in my basket, and in doing so, felt about 2 inches taller.
We have been here in Palm Springs for a couple days now...and all is forgotten.
Tiki Hut, I forgive you.
I wanted to share this incredible find, spotted by our little bird lover, right outside our bedroom window. At first glance, you might just think it's a little rock garden, decorated with mod sculptures. But look again.
A mommy hummingbird and her two coconut jellybeans! We've been keeping a close eye on her and monitoring the jellybean situation whenever she flies away to refuel on nectar. No movement yet. It all reminds me of this major event in our backyard last year.
Reclaimed water and southern facing light -- it's what for breakfast, kids!
I could go on and on all morning long, drawing comparisons between a child's delight on Christmas morning, and mine, waking each day to see what's new in my starter containers. But I won't, because then I wouldn't have enough time in the day to check my babies growth very fifteen minutes. I'm totally obsessed!
The best part of a spring vacation, is returning home, with great anticipation, to a garden in transformation.
There are few things I love more than observing the incremental changes my garden reveals on a daily basis in the spring and summer months.
I planted four rows of gorgeous heirloom beets not long before we headed out to Mexico. We had so much fun last year with all the incredible beets we grew so easily. Unlike other albino varieties I've tried in the garden (squash, watermelon), white beets actually have the same great flavor of their purple and red siblings.
All the excitement of new sprouts caused me to temporarily lose my mind, and I then decided to start all my seeds, completely forgetting that it was still February. (Northern California has failed to deliver us a wet, cold or dark winter, and so we outdoor lovers are all a little *off* this season.)
I started tomatoes (which is OK), as well as chard, peas, broccoli, cauliflower. I'm not sure anything will happen with the flats of watermelon, squash, cantaloupe or pumpkin. However, I just spotted some black zucchini sprouts pushing up. :)
I love this time of year. Or should I say, since I discovered the Petaluma Seed Bank, I love, LOVE this time of year!!!
Situated in an old corner building, one I can only assume use to actually be *a bank* (duh), is an absolute treasure trove of heirloom seeds from around the world.
Around. The. World!
I’ve seen seeds there from Afghanistan, Northern Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.
Every year, when the Seed Bank's over-sized, glossy catalog leaps out of my mailbox, and into my little wheelbarrow, my neighbor's words ring in my ear – “That book is like porn for gardeners."
And the store is even better, because unlike the catalog, where there is not room for every plant description to be accompanied by a color photograph, in the store, that’s just not an issue.
Here is what I picked up yesterday when I was in Petaluma:
More beets! I grew all of these last spring with great ease and success. We devoured every last one of them in the form of juice and salad and I can't wait to do it all again!
I wanted to try this Banana Melon SO bad last year that I planted every seed, got all starts going, and then killed them once they were transplanted outside. I have to get some of this exotic looking fruit in my garden this year.
We had surprisingly good luck with watermelon last year even though we had a mild summer. Our garden faces south and no longer has to compete with any shade during the day since we lost all our 150-year-old Oaks last year. (Mixed emotion facial expression goes here.) It's a recipe for success. However, I only planted exotic varieties of watermelon last year - albino and orangelo - you know, just to be different. Neither had very good flavor until late in the season (October), so this year I decided to go with a sweeter, more tried and true variety - red.
OK - I'm SO excited about this package of 25 Tomato Reisetomate seeds! I have seen this variety in the catalog for two years now but it's always been sold out. I just think it's terribly cool looking. They had it in stock yesterday at the store and so I grabbed one. The man at the store told me they don't taste very good (after all, they are mostly skin) but that they make good decorative pieces (ta-da!!).
And last, but not least, I spotted these great veggie markers. I've tried several different kinds of metal markers in the garden but they always fade, and never hold up. I love how these are just so simple, and a compostable product at the end of their life too. I started to grab a bunch but they didn't have all that I required, and they added up quickly. When I realized they were just simple cuts of wood with names stenciled on in ballpoint pen(!), I vowed to make my own this year.
I should have lots of extra tomato and melon starts this year. So if you are nearby us, and something looks interesting, let me know. I'd be happy to give you some!
The coolest thing happened this morning when I woke-up early, tip-toed downstairs, and did what I always do when I'm the first one up - enjoyed a cup of coffee in my favorite cup...
...while looking out at the mountain.
(In case that was confusing, no, I haven't mentioned the *cool* part yet.)
The cool part of this story - it's actually amazing, if you ask me - is that as I sat in the silence of a pre-dawn kitchen, admiring the mountain, I thought about a poem that I've thought of often through-out my life. It's a poem that I read about 30 years ago, as a young girl, in the juvenile poetry section of some children's magazine. I remember reading all these poems written by kids like me, and then there was one poem -- one incredibly beautiful poem, signed by a nine year old girl that far surpassed all of them. I remember being in awe of this girl's ability. She was about my age and had the ability to write poetry like an adult.
I tore out the poem and kept if for years, rereading it often and thinking about the nine year old girl who could write poetry like a pro. The page floated around through my childhood, making it's way from a pin board, to a desk drawer and eventually into a keepsake box. (It might even still exist somewhere deep in our basement.)
Through the years, I have forgot almost all of the words to the once-memorized poem, all but the last line:
And I'm the one who woke the sun
And kissed the stars goodnight.
I thought about the poem again this morning, while taking my coffee in front of the mountain, kissed by the rising sun. As I listed to the first clucks coming from chicken coop, I thought - what if...what if I could find that poem on the internet?
And just like that it was there in front of me. A search of the last sentence produced the entire poem of a woman who was actually not a 9 year old in 1981, but an older woman. No wonder the poem struck me as so amazing - it was written by a professional poet! And if my memory is serving me correctly it was either misprinted as the work of a young child or it was a case of undetected plagiarism. Either way, I am so excited to have it back in my life and I'm fascinated by how much its words resonated with me at a time long before I knew I loved gardens or farms. I only wish the poet was still alive so I could share with her my story and let her know how much her poem meant to my childhood.
by Karla Kuskin
When I wake in the early mist
The sun has hardly shown
And everything is still asleep
And I’m awake alone.
The stars are faint and flickering.
The sun is new and shy.
And all the world sleeps quietly
Except the sun and I.
And then the noises start,
The whirrs and huffs and hums,
The birds peep out to find a worm.
The mice squeak out for crumbs,
The calf moos out to find the cow,
And taste the morning air
And everything is wide awake
And running everywhere.
The dew has dried,
The fields are warm,
The day is loud and bright,
And I’m the one who woke the sun
And kissed the stars goodnight.
This day last year: "Japanesque" at The Legion of Honor
One of Daddy's oldest and dearest friends is giving us the most incredible gift -- he's offered to raise a heritage breed turkey, of our choice, for our 2012 Thanksgiving table.
Um, let me think abo--- YETH PWEEZ!!!
We were directed to Murray McMurray Hatchery where, together with the kids, we selected our breed, by way of a highly competitive game of drawing breeds, scribbled on Post-it notes, out of a melamine bowl. We were all sitting on the kitchen floor.
And the winner was - Bourbon Red!
I'm excited for the experience, for having the opportunity to visit our friend's hobby farm, and to see our bird grow to full-size in the best of conditions.
Here are some photos from a recent visit to their farm, right before Halloween. Unfortunately, my lens was faulty this day and these pictures are not that great, but our friend's new home and farm is beautiful so I have to share anyway.
I don't quite know what the deal is on this one, but I harvested about 50 Sun Gold and Cherry tomatoes on New Years Eve.
Did this happen for anyone else in Northern California? I ripped out most of my tomato plants months ago and only had two still planted (for no other reason than shear laziness). I had been walking past those remaining two for ages, never really allowing the visual information of colorful fruit to fully register.
And then it just sort of hit me. So I tried one and it was delicious. As I went to pull them off the vine, I hardly had to put a bit of effort into the harvest. It was as if my approaching body heat gave them cause to jump ship themselves - they were literally dripping!
I baked a large pasta dish that night and just threw them on top before finishing it all off with bread crumbs and baking. Such a treat!
This day last year: "Olive Oil Muffins"
Happy 2012! How appropriate that my new calendar starts the year off with a chicken!!
My good friend Brian recently posted some spectacular photos on Facebook of him and his friend foraging for mushrooms in West Marin.
I was titillated by the imagery, and instantly jealous of their confidence and know-how.
When I spoke to Brian about the experience several days later, I was in the car with the kids and he was on speakerphone. We got the quick download on how to safely forage for mushrooms - the quick bit I took away is that all toxic mushrooms have white gills. This information stuck with the kids too, as they've mentioned it several times since.
So imagine my excitement today when I stumbled upon this mound of mushrooms while delivering leftover crab and half-eaten chocolate cake slices to the girls in the coop.
Woo-hoo, I thought. Let's make backyard mushroom risotto! Let's do a little research...
Now let me first say that I would NEVER eat a mushroom I just found. I know nothing about this stuff (except that when done wrong, you can die) and am too willy-nilly to even think of going there. I think it is as cool as all get out to know such stuff, but I don't. Still, I thought it would be fun to do a little online checking.
When I showed the 7 year old the underside of the mushrooms (read: white gills), he started to hyperventilate. I'm glad he was paying attention.
It turns out that that beautiful cluster of fungi out back is "the world's most dangerous mushroom."
From what I can tell, I'm thinking these are Death Cap mushrooms! They are very common here in the Bay area, often found this time of year at the base of oak and cork trees. Right now, they are growing right where an oak fell last year.
We will dig them up in the morning and dispose of them properly. But in the meantime, I've got to wonder why the heck am I so special that I get a bunch of these in my backyard? Geez...