Friday, January 30, 2015


The Citrusy smell of Meyer lemons fills the kitchen as I slice one after another of our crop of lemons. As with any fruit or citrus-bearing tree, our Meyer lemon trees ripen all at once. How do I use such abundance?

I think once again about having a little of something and too much of something, and how quickly I stop prizing abundance. I husband and savor a small quantity of something to make it last. Once I have a lot of something, it no longer seems precious enough to glean the last drop.

This is the week to do something with the lemons before their skins start to soften. I've already given two bags to our house cleaners. I've taken a couple of bags to the Urban Farmers, ( a local organization who will take excess produce, I've sliced them for water at Craft Day, squeezed them for a morning drink of water and lemon juice, and stuffed them in whole chickens. I used to make limoncello with the remainder each year.

We first tasted limoncello, a lemon-infused liqueur, while we were living in Tokyo and frequented an Italian restaurant around the corner from our apartment. As a parting gift at the end of our dinner, the staff would present us with a shot glass of this mellow liqueur.

Limoncello is easy to make, uses lots of lemons, and  is good as a gift. I stopped making it a couple of years ago when I turned out a batch with not much flavor and a lot of vodka. I waited too long after I picked the lemons and they had grown soft and dried out while sitting on the counter. I knew it was time to let go of making limoncello because what had once been fun was now a chore.

Here, though, is my recipe for limoncello, just be sure to use fresh lemons!

Peel 20 fresh, juicy lemons with a vegetable peeler. Use the peeler or a sharp knife to remove the white pith on the inside. Soak peels in 100-proof vodka for a week at room temperature. Test the peels. If they crack apart, they are ready. If they bend, let them marinate some more. When they are ready, add three cups of sugar and three cups of water to the mix. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Have ready coffee filters and clean glass jars. I used bottles with those wired stoppers. Strain the mixture through the filters into the bottles. Seal and chill for a month. Then sample!

This recipe is a great way to use a lot of lemons. After you peel them, the lemons can be squeezed and frozen for ice cubes. 

I've looked for other lemon recipes, but most of them use just a little juice or a little zest or they are desserts -- not enough to support the bags of lemons I have left. Maybe this year I will try limoncello one more time.

Do you have any lemon-based recipes that you can share?  Send them to me!

Friday, January 23, 2015


Mushrooms appear in the windows of every pharmacy in Paris in the Autumn. Each display is a showcase for mushroom hunters so that they know which mushroom to pick and which to avoid. I've never hunted mushrooms to eat, but I loved looking at the photos of the various kinds that the Parisians savored.

I view mushrooms as another affirmation of life. They come up when the leaves have fallen, when even in California there are few flowers in bloom, and they poke their heads up in anticipation of the glory of life. As a child, I learned not to touch mushrooms. I haven't learned to distinguish a poisonous one from one that can be eaten so I still adhere to that rule, but I like to scavenger with my camera for them anyway.

With all the rain we had in December and with the temperatures hovering in the 60s and 70s now, mushrooms sprouted in all kinds of places in our neighborhood. I see them as I walk the Iron Horse Trail. They hide among the dry leaves on the sides of the trail.

I delight in seeing the heads pop up, spotting our lawn with their white umbrellas, sometimes poking up through the dry fallen redwood leaves. As they start to release their spores, they open up and change shapes. I want to paint them.

Here is one stuck between the cracks in a log.

My favorite is the one that reappears year after year on the hillside behind our house. It starts out shaped like a bullet, then gradually the bottom edges fan out to an umbrella before it topples over and grows dark.


There are other, darker mushrooms that grow to six or so inches under the camellias. They are hard to see. You have to believe that they are not rocks. 

We occasionally have fairy rings on own lawn, which tells us that the soil needs nourishment.

For now, I just take photos and bring them back to my workroom and start painting their amusing shapes. As I work, I find that mushrooms are not easy to paint. They are like painting round stones -- hard to develop the form and the values that make they look three-dimensional. I keep at it though, I know they are good practice for me, and these sketches are a way to acknowledge their appearance every year. I am showing you my efforts, even though I cringe at some of the over-worked areas. My practice in letting go.

I've just finished two good books that I'd like to recommend if you, like me, journal by taking photos, making sketches, or by writing about what nature tells you about life.

True Nature by Barbara Bash

A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place by Hannah Hinchman.
You can read about her at 

Both are good reads, especially if you plan to take an art/nature retreat somewhere soon. I've already made plans for March in Pt. Reyes! is a great source for information about our local Northern California mushrooms.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Full of resolutions and lists, I began my day testing a new ink brush. I thought I needed to put ink inside. I pulled on it to open it up so that I could fill the well. I pulled and pulled and twisted until, finally, with a jerk, the brush handle came apart and sprayed ink all over my hands and face and over the watercolor paper that had four small pencil drawings on it ready for my first attempt at painting in the new year.

My hands were spotted with black dots, so was my face. I quickly walked to the laundry room sink to scrub the ink off my hands, with little success. At least, the ink came off my face -- cold versus hot water? My hands will be stained for a few days, but what do I do with the watercolor paper that I had prepared? I decided to rinse the paper off. The black spots flowed into streaks across the paper. Maybe they would provide interesting texture. You tell me!

I like to make small paintings of small objects such as leaves and seeds.

I laid down a light wash of naples yellow and hansa yellow across the entire page, and then let it dry enough to begin the detail painting. 

What better time to paint these small objects  than in winter when the seeds have cracked open to reveal their insides, the leaves are dry and show various colors from green to brown, or are so withered that they lay like lace on the pavement -- whispers of themselves.

Friday, January 9, 2015


I love January: a time of renewal, of promises, of new beginnings, and new resolve. Something I've put off for months gets done in January. I can rearrange a bookcase, cart a complete set of travel books upstairs, and return downstairs to fill the now-empty shelves with boxes of fabric and art supplies. My intent is a little nudge to myself to begin working on various projects that I have put aside. The travel books now in our bedroom open up a dream of traveling again.

I love January: in California, it is our month of California winter -- crisp days of blue-sky sunshine, which follows the hibernating season of December, especially this year with our torrential rain and gloomy days that made it hard to get out of the warmth of the pile of quilts on our bed.

I love January: what better way to start a year than with a parade--the Pasadena Rose Parade with its amazing collection of young musicians who still march in close formations while tubas sway and flag girls prance. Those marchers have changed little from my high school years in Arcadia when we sometimes worked to stick flower petal after flower petal on our town's float. Watching the parade on the first day of the year reminds me of my senior year in high school when seven other girls and I shivered in the early morning air in our short, gold Native American-styled dresses and flamboyant feather headdresses in front of our high school band waiting to march down Colorado Boulevard in the Rose Parade.

I love January: what better time to talk ourselves into skiing at Tahoe again as we did for twenty years almost every weekend during ski season. In January the snow could be deep and we could be skiing where it was so cold that we could feel it when we breathed. It is dry enough that the snow kicks up behind us, and ice crystals form in the air. I remember when we finished a day of skiing with a walk around the village, our cheeks and noses glowing red with the cold. We'd look up to see a million stars that startled us by their numbers. Then we would open the door of a cafe and the heat from the room would blast us warm.

I love January: the warm sun right after lunch excites the birds and confuses a few bees that venture out looking for Spring. I sit in a white rocker in a protected sunny spot in our backyard and breathe in the sun. When I hear the small bell above my head chime as the first breeze fluffs the leaves, I know it is time to go inside to stay warm. My body, though is still full of the sun.

I love January.

Thanks again to my husband Bill for his photographs.

Friday, January 2, 2015


A theme for the year: letting go!

Letting go of the past: for someone who thrives on memories, this one is hard. Letting go of old habits and ways of understanding and making room for forgiveness.

Letting go of stuff I no longer use or need, another hard one. I attach far too much significance to the objects around me. I have written about how filled my workroom has become with just small spaces left to work in. I keep eyeing our lovely, expansive dining room table, but resist that idea. I know if I started a project on the table that it would soon be just as full as my workroom -- well-used, but eventually stifling my creativity.

Letting go of sugar: for me, the hardest of all. The universe was built from a form of sugar. How can you resist when sugar is a part of you? When even your serotonin-manufacturing part of your brain lights up when you ingest sugar? After several years of saying no to desserts (mostly), I couldn't resist at a recent holiday dinner when a friend brought out all their Christmas desserts: pumpkin pies, pecan pies, whipped cream, ice cream, and cookies. It was the pumpkin pie that enticed me. Who could resist?

During this lull between the end of the year and the start of the next, I can consider what is important and what is not. I can make lists of things I'd like to accomplish this year. I can tell myself, "One thing at a time." I can remind myself, "I can do this." And then some shiny object, some distraction, will catch my attention and off I go in a whirlwind of unfinished things. My good intentions will slow down. But maybe this year, my hopeful list will not get lost completely in the busy-ness of another year and I will make some progress towards a more mellow, more thoughtful year. So, I am going to try to let go of the whirlwind.

In the meantime, I can watch our cats and learn from their examples.

They are cats we chose from an animal shelter eleven years ago. They are mother and daughter, who are very skittish, who didn't purr for the first nine years. I grew up with cats and I'd never had cats that didn't purr.

One day, while the baby was sitting on my lap, I felt what seemed like gears shifting inside her body. She did the same thing the next night and I worried that she might be sick. The next morning she jumped on our bed and bumped her head against us to wake us up. I was thrilled to hear her loud purr.

I got up and lay down on the floor to do my morning stretches. The cats came too, lying down beside me, stretched from front paws to back. The mother turned on her back and lay in the most relaxed pose that a cat can assume. When I went to feed them later, the mother rubbed against my legs and began to purr.

Two cats, who are protective of each other and insecure in their trust of anyone, have finally realized that they are safe and loved. They let go.

What are you letting go this year?