Ten Blogging Years


Hello Blog Friends– This August marks my tenth year of typing away on this blog.  Really it’s more of a scrapbook of recipes and thoughts I want to hang on to.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I would use this anniversary to close the site down.  Life is full. And there are so many things I want to give more time to–people we love and projects we never seem to get done!

But when I then I thought about now much I would miss it–especially keeping in touch with old and new blog friends (that means you– Lacey, Mollie, Kat, Marcia, Daisy, Suzanne, Lisa, Mary, Carol, Lilly, Cindy, Brigid, Vero, Ursula and Susie!!)

So I’m cutting back to once a week– less recipes, more of life and faith and family.  I think that will fit just fine.

And to mark the happy event of Ten Blogging Years, I thought I’d link to my favorite posts (just click on the blue letters to link through):

 

FAVORITE RECIPES — DISHES FO FAMILY & FRIENDS


Chocolate Cream Cake with Ganache Frosting


Creamy Lemon Parmesan Chicken


Books & Breakfast– A Morning with Friends


Beef Barley Soup


Swedish Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce


Bacon Ranch Potato Salad


Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricot Couscous


Overnight Orange Rolls

 

 

FAVORITE THOUGHTS ON LIFE AND FAITH:


True Home


Waiting


My Notebook


Rethinking Christmas


Enough


Aging Well

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FAVORITE BLOG MEMORIES WITH THE FAMILY:


Christmas With the Crew 2015


Wonderful Woodsy Wisconsin Wedding Weekend


Good Times in Big Bear


Grammy Camp 2017


Cambria with Kids


Sweet Times in San Francisco


On Being A Mom

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FAVORITE BOOK POSTS OVER THE YEARS:

     
     
Booklist Page (Notations of books I’ve read the last 3 years)


Five Favorite Children’s Books!


At Home in the World (& Other Travel Books)

  
Books For A Special Baby

 
  
30 Years of Books (Lit Group favorites)

      
Favorite Books (October 2009)

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FAVORITE TRAVELS FROM HERE TO THERE:


Family Trek Through the Sequoias!


Beautiful Kyoto


Vancouver Days


Wet Market in Lijang China


Lunch in Paris


San Francisco with the Grand-Girls (or Fun in SF with kids!)


Wisconsin Part #2– Off to the North Woods!!

 

Whew! That’s a whole lot of posts.  It wasn’t easy narrowing down to very favorites!!  And if you, by chance, are still reading this overwrought posting– thank you!!  It’s been a joy to send out posts for the last ten years to dear people like you.  I remain thankful.

Kings Canyon– family vacay, part 2


Hi friends– wanted to add a few more pictures (or maybe a lot more pictures!) of our family camp trip– to Sequoia and also Kings Canyon National Parks.  So much beauty (and so much fun)– Just tucking it all in here to look back on.

Micah led us on a gorgeous hike around Zumwalt Meadow– along the river, skirting the meadow, up and over granite hills.
     

     

     

     

Then we headed over to the Road’s End–where the pool’s deep enough for a swim– and a crazy jump off of a huge boulder into the water–John you’re courageous!!
      

One morning, we trekked down from our campsite to the General Grant Tree– past stands of redwoods and along a meadow’s edge to see the giant Sequoia!

   

      

And there were campground meals, noisy card games, naps, late night hot chocolate, walks for ice cream, a campfire Ranger Talk and just hanging around our little cluster of cabins at Grants Grove.

     

If you’re still reading– thanks!!  Just remembering all the sweet times with our kids and the beauty all around us (Thanks John for your amazing photo of the Milky Way above the trees).  So thankful.

Easter with the Family

Hello friends– Hope you have a blessed Easter.  Time to remember the depth of our faith.  And to gather together with people we hold dear.  It’s a beautiful holiday.

So after church on Sunday, family started to pour in the door– great grandparents here to see the grand-girls, my sis Luanne with her incredible hot dish of potatoes.  We all sat down to ham and all the mixings.

     

Of course, we had girls hunting for eggs in the back yard–with Gr. Honey and Gr. Lo watching on.
     

So thankful for these dear faces.  One of the greatest gifts God gives is the people he puts in our lives.  Glad for days we can spend together.

Second Christmas at Home


Hi there friends– Just one more Christmas post!!  After our sweet time with kids up in San Francisco, we trekked back home for celebrations with family here.  It was a bustling few days and a small house bursting at the seams–a festive time with people we love.  (If you aren’t into way-to-many Christmas photos, you might want to skip this post!!)

We sat down to Christmas Eve lunch, four generations around the table,  opened a few gifts and passed around baby Lois.

     

Christmas Day– Gifts exchanged, new toys tried out and my favorite– Spanish tapas supper around the coffee table after all the hub bub had died down.

     

     

The week filled up with park walks and picnics, playing around the house with 4 grand-girls and a pass through In-and-Out as we ferried John & Laurel to the airport.

      

     

     

     

So thankful for the time with our kids– and for the chance to remember our Savior’s come to earth.  It was a Merry Christmas.

Early Christmas in San Francisco


Hi all– We had a two part Christmas this year– starting out with 3 nights with kids up in San Francisco.  It was all lively grand-kids and beautiful meals, cookie decorating and a big explore in the arboretum.  Thanks thanks Jessica for pulling us all together!

We started our celebration with a ramble through the SF Arboretum.  Mae & Eero were our tour guides and Ani & Brian supplied Wooly Pig sandwiches for a picnic on the lawn.

     

     

There was a table full of cookie decorators and lots of cookie nibbling.

     

We had some beautiful meals around the table together.  From Jessica’s morning waffles to Chef Chris’ short ribs with glazed carrots and cashew-beet sauce.

     

And there was some mid morning gift opening by the Christmas tree by all the cousins.

     

But my favorite part of our days together was watching the cousins play together.
     

     

Here we are all together.  Thanks bunches AA & Jessica for everything!!   So one more Merry Christmas dear readers.  Hope you had a sweet time with people you hold close.

On Being A Mom


A cloudy day in the Spanish countryside, about 30 years ago, with little Laurel.

Hi all — I read once, that when a child is born, so is a mother…  It all begins in a haze of long nights, and a steep learning curve that includes diapers, feedings and the most delicious tender snuggles.

Then one day you realize, they’ve turned from toddlers to small kids, with long legs and minds of their own.  And for the next few years, the joy is in watching them grow and learn and stretch into the people they will become.

And finally, one day you shuttle them off to college.  But you can’t help but still be a mom, with care packages and talks about new horizons.  And when they come home to visit, it’s the best to have them at arm’s length again.

The truth is, you never stop being a mom.  My mother is 85 and I still depend on her for a listening ear and her long life perspective.  I still need her near.


With Micah and Aaron on the beach, the year we live in Costa Rica

So for Mothers’ Day, I’m thinking through my “TEN BESTS OF BEING A MOM.”  Here they are:

#1.  Can I start with reading with kids??  In the dim light of bedtime, on road trips as we roll along, snuggled on the couch–sharing a story, talking it through…

#2. Of course, I love cooking together– decorating Christmas cookies or mixing up brownies with a little kitchen dancing thrown in.

#3. Vacations!  Hiking in Sequoia, studying our way through British museums, intrepid touristing from San Francisco to New York– the most vivid memories are of times away together.

#4. Quiet bedtime talks and prayers and songs– sweet times that fill a mother’s heart.

#5. Sitting around the table, talking through the day, insisting kids eat their peas!  (would skip the eating peas part if I were starting over).

#6. Sitting in church together, singing, praying, worshipping.

#7. Walking & talking–  through the park in Seville, along the beach in So Cal, across town to Yogurtland, along the trail at Land’s End– everyday conversations.

#8. And then –there’s a special joy in watching your children become parents to children of their own, with aplomb and grace.  I marvel at what tender, smart, generous, inventive parents they’ve turned out to be!

#9.  Plus grand-kids!!  So much happiness and wonder filling up days spent with those little people.

#10. I’ll end with grown kids coming in the door for a stay–the noise, the hugs, the breakfasts at the kitchen table.   That’s happening here in a couple weeks for some bridal showers and I can’t wait to see their pretty faces!

So that’s it.  Being a Mom– I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


With Ani on her high school graduation trip to NYC.

Christmas Together 2016

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Hello there– Hoping you had a sweet Christmas time with people you love–hugs and talks and good meals together.  We started off with a quick trip up the coast for Christmas with kids and then came home for more Christmas with kids here.

San Francisco Christmas with old AA, Jessica, Mae & Eero.
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photos: By the Christmas trees, always reading, walk to Blue Bottle for coffee.

Then home for 10 days o Christmas with family.
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photos:  Christmas cooking decorating, art projects and Christmas books.

It was a chance for cousins & grand grandparents to meet new little Lois.
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photos: Maryann gets to know her new cousin, Four generation photo with Great Grandma Lo, Great Grandma Helen cuddles Lois, Little Lo sleeping on Grandma’s lap.

My favorite times were sitting down together around the table.
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photos: Great Grandparents, Helen, Stu & Lorraine after Christmas Eve lunch,  cooking in the kitchen with Jodi, my second-sis Jenon on Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, Christmas night supper–tapas by the fire.

And there was some gift opening on Christmas morning after Grandpa Larry read the Christmas story.
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And a last few photos to remember the days together.
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photos: Micah, Jodi & 3 girls off to have family portrait taken, Ani & Brian (with little Lois) on a post Christmas hike, Laurel-the ever ready baby holder, family together on Christmas Eve.

Sorry for the photo overload!!  It was a fine full couple weeks.
Hope your Christmas was a sweet one and that you are hopeful for all that the New Year holds ahead…

Anticipating Christmas!

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Hi friends– I don’t know about you, but I’m an big anticipator.  I get a whole lot of joy imagining all the “Christmas” coming up this month.  Here’s what’s on my mind and heart:

#1. Today, I’m picking up my sis to Christmas shop.  We’ve been Christmas shopping together since we were 8 years old, pooling our $6 to buy all the family gifts!  We talk and shop and eat our way across town! The best.

#2. Bringing home the Christmas tree that Larry’s strapped to the top of the car.  I love that bit of piney green in the house with all the well worn ornaments.

#3. Listening to Christmas music, cranking up the Messiah while I put cookies into the oven.

#4. Evenings celebrating with dear friends, hearing Christmas plans and hopes…

#5. Hugging all our kids as they come in the door to stay.  They come from far and wide–so we have people piled high sleeping in every room of our small house.

#6. Decorating cookies with the grand-girls, sprinkles flying in every direction.

#7. Christmas Eve lunch with our parents, kids and grandkids, sitting down to share a big meal with the people we love most.

#8. Our big crazy Christmas Eve supper at my bother Mark’s house. Fifty of us all catching up, giving hugs, taking pictures…

#9. Christmas night tapas (thanks to our years in Spain) by the fireplace with the kids, a quiet end to Christmas.

#10. Tranquil moments through these weeks ahead, to thank God for his son come to show us his great love, to sing, to pray, to rest in Him.  God is good.

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Thank you margaretbergart.com for the reindeer.

Bittersweet Thanksgiving

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Hello friends– I’m wondering about your Thanksgiving.  Was the turkey tender, the cranberries tart?  Did you eat too much pie and was there a baby or two to pass from lap to lap?

We had a sweet day with our kids in San Francisco and all our son-in-law’s extended family –with a new baby, some memorable pecan pie and an after dinner walk up the hill to see the sunset over the ocean.

But this week we also had an alarming health scare in the family.  Hospital stays, anxious nights and prayers for God’s love and mercy.  The difficult side of life.  I’m hopeful for a good recovery and thankful to be back home with my mom tonight.

Here’s a few of my favorite memories of the week up north (grand-kids, grandparents and that pie!) :
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Thankful Ani & Brian for the days with you and that baby Lois.

Early Thanksgiving

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Hello all– Of course I have my share of cranky wake ups, but like Emerson, I woke this morning full of thanksgiving.  This past week has been one of the sweetest– the safe arrival of little baby Lois, days caring for her with Ani & Brian.  And it’s been made all the more sweet sharing the joy with family and friends, old and new.  So any notes, happy phone calls, texts, encouraging words…  Joy passed all around.

So I thank God for this new little soul–so much ahead for her.  It makes me happy to imagine her years to come ( I told her about reading books together and going to the zoo).  And I am utterly thankful for Larry (my co-grandparent), for family who’ve called and texted and (kindly) demanded daily photos!  For friends with beautiful thoughts and words of love.  And the happiness of watching Ani & Brian step into parenthood so deftly.  My heart is full.  I am thankful.

Here’s Ani & Brian with little Lois at the Apple store (Thanks Bri for helping get my laptop fixed!)
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thanks anchor-imparo for the Emerson quote.

Farmers Market –One Morning in Madison

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Hello all– On our trip to Wisconsin last month we spent a sunny morning strolling through the beautiful bountiful Madison Farmers Market.  It makes a complete circle in the park surrounding the State Capitol Building, among trees and green lawn.  We have nothing like this in my little California suburb.  I’ll tell you those Wisconsin farmers produce gorgeous things to eat!

Here’s three of the enthusiastic shoppers
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Brilliant bouquets of flowers and shiny Chinese eggplant
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The Capitol building shining in the sunlight with a few shoppers resting on the lawn
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My favorite stop was the bakery booth–beautiful bread– one loaf even sporting a stenciled copy of the Capitol Building!
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Crowds of shoppers strolled past flowers and fruit…
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Peppers of all shapes and sizes, red onions glistening in the sun
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After all that browsing, we ambled down to sit and enjoy the view across Lake Monona.  A fine morning in Madison!
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Wisconsin Part #2- Off to the North Woods!

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Hey there– Here’s part #2 of our trip to Wisconsin.  Once the family all rolled into Madison, we touristed about a bit and then headed up to the North Woods–  lakes, trails and blue skies…  It was tons of fun!  (Warning: this post may contain excessive photos.  I’m trying to cut it down. I just can’t help myself!)

We started out our Madison tour at the grand Farmers Market nestled in the park around the State Capitol.  Veggies, flowers galore, and beautiful bread!  And people, lots of people!
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Photos above:  Four Farmers Market shoppers, zinnias and pretty squash

After a quick pizza lunch, we strolled back to the State Capitol building for docent tour, informative fun.
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Above photos:  Charlotte and the Forward (Wisconsin state motto!) Statue in front of the Capitol building, 2 girls on the mezzanine,  our docent in a legislative salon, looking up!

Then we shopped our way down State Street to the University of Wisconsin to sit on the lake terrace for brats, beer and their famous ice cream (made by the dairy science department!)  And after dinner, ambled down along the lake as the sun set.
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Above photos: Relaxing on the lake terrace at U of W, Micah and Jodi enjoying their ice cream, sailboats put up for the night,  sun setting on Lake Mendota.

Finally, we set forth North!  First stop was Wausau, Wisconsin to meet John’s family (he’s our Laurel’s finance). John’s mom Deb (5th from the left) cooked up a great backyard meal and the next day we explored (i.e. ate & shopped) our way through downtown Wausau.  Thanks for your warm & wonderful welcome Deb!!
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Above photos: Family portrait in Deb’s backyard, Jobay having great fun in the bookstore, Larry’s version of shopping (sitting in a coffee shop),  Shop street in Wausau. (thanks John for including a could shopping trips in the schedule.)

Next we were off to scale the peak of Rib Mountain, the tallest mountain in Wisconsin (but actually kind of hill-ish by California scale). The green, gorgeous deciduous forest was enchanting.  Simply beautiful.
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Above photos:  Trekking through the forest, rocking climbing girls, lichen encrusted stump.

Continuing “Up North,” we stopped at a farm to buy sweet corn for the week ahead in the cabin, and met up with some curious baby cows.
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Above photos:  meeting the calves, a friendly (cow) face

At last, we made our up to the cabin on Lake Minocqua, our home for the week.  And the next morning set out for a day on the lake, cruising, swimming, picnicking along the way.
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Above Photos:  Home Sweet Home for a few days, bringing in the boat, the grand-girls all suited up for our day on the water, local boathouse.

There was a morning visit to the Northwoods Historical Museum (featuring the world’s first snowmobile!)
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Above photos: Vintage old kitchen, local wildlife (Go Cal Bears!!),  snow mobile collection.

One day we passed a grand afternoon canoeing and splashing in Johnson Lake at John’s family cabin.  And let me say, canoeing is scarier than it looks!!
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Above photos:  Hanging out on the dock,  Brian in front of the cabin, Maryann the fisher-girl, canoe paddlers across the lake.

And here’s just a few more miscellaneous very favorite pics that I can’t possibly leave out!  (are you even still watching??   thanks for sticking with me!!)
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Above photos:  Hike around Star Lake (loved it!), Jobay enjoying sweet corn, 3 girls walking with John on our way to Lazy Jane’s Bakery Cafe for breakfast,  our “tour director” John pointing out the sights from Rib Mountain, Jodi & Jobay on Jobay’s #5 birthday in the cabin, boathouse and dock on Lake Minocqua.

So thankful for the days with the family in such a beautiful place– Thanks Laurel & John for inviting, planning, organizing, and herding us across the fine state of Wisconsin.  It was grand!

Family Trek at Star Lake

 

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Hi friends– at the end of a wild and wonderful week in Wisconsin with the family.  Laurel’s John was our travel guide– and one morning he trundled us all up to Star Lake for a 2.5 mile trek through the forest, across a bog and around the lake.  It was gloriously green and one of my favorite parts of the trip…

Brian primed the pump for pre-hike drinks.
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And Grandpa Larry is always good for a horse-back ride when the going gets long…
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Aunt Laurel supplied Maryann with an install camera to snap prints along the way– and those two are always up for a dramatic pose along the way!
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John and his hiking buddies by the Black Lagoon (an actual place, not just a book!)
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I always have to include a “bottoms on the trail” picture (since I’m the last in line!)
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Along the pathways we found all kinds of mushrooms and moss and interesting things growing.
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There were a couple rest stops along the path–Ani by Star Lake…
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…and a bit of wading involved.
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Soaking up the tranquil beauty all along the way.
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Micah. Jodi and the 3 grand-girls took a family photo at the end of the trail.
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Larry snaps a shot of the group at a rest point.
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Thanks Laurel and John for planning a fun day out in such a gorgeous spot.  Loved loved it!

Sweet Potato, Avocado Chicken Salad

IMG_5790Hello all– On the tail end of a fine longish weekend.  Kids started rolling in on Tuesday and were all here by Saturday for their cousin Bradley and Amanda’s wedding.  I’m pretty sure you know, there’s nothing a mom loves more than having those kids at arm’s length.

I’ll be remembering an all family shoe shopping trip, a fancy dinner out at the Tavern, hamburgers on the grill & a Michael Pollen documentary, good girl-talks, driving down to the beach for a frozen banana,  Laurel’s photo shoots and wedding dances with the grand-girls!

And on Saturday, we sat down to a colorful salad lunch– just enough to fill us up before we  headed down to the wedding– grilled chicken, avocado, sweet potato and sweet pomegranate seeds– with a tarragon dressing.  Add a chunk of sturdy bread– easy lunch!

SWEET POTATO, AVOCADO CHICKEN SALAD
4 cups green leaf lettuce
1 chicken breast, grilled and cut to pieces
1 sweet potato, roasted, peeled, cut into bits
1 avocado, cut in small chunks
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup feta, crumbled

Dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tab. tarragon vinegar
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp. honey

Layer the greens, sweet potato, avocado, chicken pomegranate and feta on a large platter.  In a container with a tight fitting lid, shake together the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and honey until it’s thoroughly blended.  Pour it on and eat!

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Pre-wedding family photo (Maryann!!) overlooking the marina in Dana Point.

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Down to Balboa Island for Balboa Bars & Frozen bananas– almost feels like summer’s here…  So thankful for time with our kids.

 

Eating Across San Francisco

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Hi there fellow eaters (that should be about everyone)–  We spent Easter week hanging out with our San Francisco kids.  That always involves some memorable meals.  And it began and ended with pizza.  And that’s just fine with me.  Here’s the spots we enjoyed:

 

Brian and Ani picked me up at the airport and we made a supper stop at Blue Line Pizza on our way up to home. Rich savory deep dish pizza in a smallish modern space (and leftovers for lunch the next day– I’m all for leftovers!)
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We wandered into Plow just as they were about to end their serving day at 2:00– with a menu chock full of the best kind of breakfast/brunch foods.  Housemade granola, pancakes, omelettes and their much noted biscuits.  Perfect.
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One day for lunch Aaron drove us down to Cotogna.  I dove into a board of rich salumeria.  And after lunch we walked down the block to an architectural bookstore that AA likes to frequent.  My favorite combination– food & books!
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On our way for a big morning out across the bridge, to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, stopped at the Murray Circle for breakfast.  Built in the barracks of old Fort Baker, you can sit on the porch with views of the Golden Gate and the city or, as we did this time, sit in the old style dining room with a molded ceiling and fire in the fireplace.  My breakfast– waffles with caramelized bananas and creme fraiche.  Great way to start the day…
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Our last night in SF, we went to a favorite, Defina Pizzeria, which happily sits right next door to Smitten Ice cream.  We had the usual 30 minute wait for table, so we strolled around the corner to Browser books and walked out with a few volumes.  Then dug into a margarita, a broccoli, and a speck pizza, while I read new books to little Mae.  And then we ducked into Smitten, where they freeze the ice cream mixture on the spot when you order, for the creamiest ice cream ever.
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Hugs and thanks to Aaron and Jessica, Ani & Brian– for all the good talk and good meals. xo

So Far Away…

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Two of our far-flung family (Laurel of Wisconsin and Little Mae of San Francisco)

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
–Frederick Buechner  (American writer and theologian)
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I think I love this so much because my family is scattered far and wide.  Kids from Wisconsin to San Francisco to Ojai.  And my beloved sis now settled in Kosovo (I had to look that one up on the map!).  I carry them all with me…

They’re coming!!

IMG_2689Last years Christmas morning picture by the tree…

Hi all– They’re coming!!  I couldn’t be more excited!  Pick up Laurel at the airport this afternoon and the rest will roll in tomorrow!  And I’m just about ready:

Cookies baked…  check!!
Tree up…  check!!
Gifts wrapped… check!! check!! check!!
Welcome sign hung on the front door…  check!
Fridge full…  check! check! double check!!
Christmas lights up…  check!
Stack of Christmas stories to read on the coffee table…  checkity check!
Advent wreath ready to light… check and check!!
Heart full and happily waiting for Christmas hugs… checkity check check!!!

Hoping your Christmas is full of people you love coming through your front door.
Merriest Christmas and God Bless us everyone!

519eKTDhntL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_P.S.  This old check list reminds me of a favorite Christmas children’s book–  Mooseltoe  by Margie Palatini.  The moose dad works through his Christmas checklist wanting to rustle up the perfect Christmas for his family.  Of course, there’s bumps in the road, but he pulls it off with resourcefulness and comes up with a happy ending.

Wedding by the Sea

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Hi friends– Last weekend we headed up to Pismo Beach for the warm and wonderful wedding of our nephew Adam and his Wendy.  The ceremony was lovely with the bouncing flock of small nieces and nephews serving as attendants  and our beloved Grandpa Stu offering some sage words and notes from scripture.  They’re married!!  And we were so glad to be there with them for the beautiful day.

12080059_10153023405361736_1551368118764430132_oWendy and Adam all with the whole Ruhe/Tellez Family

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Grandpa Stu & Grandma Honey wait for the ceremony to begin.  Micah, Jodi and the 3 grand-girls in their wedding best!

And the next day we spent the day with Ani & Brian seeing the sights around Pismo Beach.
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Ani & Brian along the shore, talking on the pier walk, love those pelicans, phone break over coffee.

So glad, thankful for the chance to celebrate Adam & Wendy along with the family.
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Simple Christmas

IMG_6375Hi there– A friend asked me to give a little seminar a couple weeks ago.  My topic– Simplifying Christmas.  So, first thing, I googled just that.  And you’d be astonished how many people have written on Simple Christmas!!  So I gathered up ideas from here and there and here’s a just a few I found to make Christmas a little simpler and most of all, more meaningful:

#1.  It starts with a budget.  I read that 2/3 of American families have no idea exactly how much they spend on Christmas.  Decide how much you want to spend on each area of Christmas (gifts, decorations, entertaining, meals, cards, donations travel…) and keep totals as you go.  Then stick to it (the hard part)!

#2. And budget your time as well.  Open your calendar early on and budget how you really want to spend those precious December days. I read about one family who finished shopping, baking decorating… by December 13th and then went on to spend  the “12 days of Christmas” enjoying a simpler quieter Christmas time together…

#3.  Take a pre-Christmas family survey.  Around the table, or by email, ask your family, “What 3 things make it a good Christmas for you? What could we skip and not miss? What should we change?”  Last Christmas I realized I did not actually have to bake 12 kinds of Christmas cookies, so I emailed my kids and asked which they’d like to see in the kitchen when they came home– and just baked up their favorites. Better!

#4. Can you be the brave one in the family to suggest drawing names or just buying gift for children?  Saves time, shopping anxiety and money!

#5.  Give events as gifts, not things in boxes– for example:  craft pamphlet for a January “Girl’s Day” out with your mom and sisters, or plan an individual date with a grandchild.  How about a January scrapbook date with kids to chronicle 2014?  Or tickets to the zoo, a museum, bowling, the movies…  Last year for Christmas we invited our kids to a February dinner at Bar Jules and a night at the SF symphony– great fun! (and no gift shopping or wrapping involved!)

#6. With our extended family–we pass a basket and  in lieu of gifts everyone can slip in some cash to send to World Vision to buy a donkey for a family in need in another country, to buy mosquito nets, a flock of ducks or vaccinations for children–or to send $35 it takes for a child in a third world country to go to school…

#7.  While you wrap up gifts for friends and family, take a minute to pray for that person as you tape up the package and tie the bow…

#8.  I love Elizabeth Elliot’s idea to save the gifts until Epiphany (King’s Day) –January 6th and keep the focus on the real meaning of the day on Christmas.

#9.  Keep wrapping supplies tucked in a shopping bag. Pull it out and wrap as you bring gifts home.  Don’t save them all for a Christmas Eve wrap-a-thon!

#10. To decorate the house– don’t shop!  Use what you have.  And if you just need  fresh Christmas things, invite friends to coffee along with their used Christmas items and have a decoration exchange!

#11. Cut greenery from your yard (it doesn’t have to be pine, any green is pretty)– and spread it around to decorate.  I planted a holly bush a few years back so I could trim it and bring those shiny leaves and red berries into the house in December.

#12.  Decorate your coffee table with a stack of colorful children’s Christmas books– Don’t buy them– hit the library!  ( This comes in handy for cozy times with kids in the house)

#13.  Limit the space you allow for Christmas storage (like my smallish upper hall cupboard)– so if you get something new– you have to throw something away to make it all fit.

#14.  Instead of the time and expense of Christmas cards to 100 people– send 5 handwritten notes to the ones you love the most.  Or just send a photo-laden Christmas email out.  Or opt for Thanksgiving cards,  a New Year’s letter or Valentines!!!– to stay in touch with people you care for.

#15.  Feeding people is one of my favorite parts of Christmas!! But sometimes the simplest meals are the best.  A friend went through a difficult divorce one Christmas time.  All she had on hand for Christmas Eve supper for her and the kids was cans of Clam Chowder.  But the next year, remembering that dear time together, they decided to do the same– and now it’s become their tradition.  My family lived in Spain for 12 years, so Christmas night after all the hub-bub is past, the girls and I set out simple tapas on the coffee table by the fire place.  It’s my favorite Christmas time meal.

#16. If you must throw a big Christmas party– make it pot luck!!  Let everyone chip in.  Or save the party time with friends for New Year’s Eve or a Super Bowl soup-fest when life isn’t so busy.

#17.  Allow your self to gain 2 pounds over the holidays so you don’t anguish over every bite you take.  January’s privations are around the corner!

#18.  Christmas carols– play them at home, in the car, at work… They are free and simple and set your heart to the joy of Christmas!

#19.  Set out the nativity scene together as the first part of your Christmas– I read of one family that wrapped all the nativity figures in Christmas paper and set them at the dinner table.  Then each person unwrapped their figure, explained who/what it was and placed it in the stable.

#20. Celebrate Advent with your family– each Sunday until Christmas– or, if you’re not altogether until the week of Christmas, read and sing and light the candles all in one day.  Here’s a link to an advent idea:  Christmas Advent

#21. Simple tradition– Have Grandfather or perhaps the oldest grandchild read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before you open your gifts.

#21.  As your gift to Jesus this Christmas, memorize a bit of scripture– Luke 2:8-14 (the Angels announcing to the shepherds) or Isaiah 9:6 & 7 (For unto us a child is born…) or sections of Psalm 86 (my favorite Psalm of devotion)

#23.  With your extended family have a Christmas Night Talent Show!– our line up in the past included– 5 red nosed family members whistling Rudolph!  Silly Christmas poems, the arrival of the world’s skinniest Santa, “What Child is This?” solo on the flute by a 9 year old, the 12 Days of Christmas rewritten to poke fun at family members, and the Nativity Tableau of little cousins all dressed in bathrobes and sheets (great for photos!).

#24. Just sit and watch your family.  That’s who you are doing this all for– Skip basting the turkey again, leave the dishes in the sink.  Just sit. And watch the kids explore a new Christmas toy, study the curve of their cheek, watch your older kids sit and talk over cups of coffee, your mom cut into the chocolate pie, your husband carry in a load of fire wood.  Be present with the people that you love.

#25.  Read through the book of Luke as your own personal Advent.  There are 24 chapters, one for each day leading up to Christmas.  Jesus the newborn babe, the child, the man, the Savior…

As you make your Christmas plans– ask yourself– Does this make Christmas more meaningful for my family?  Does it add joy, not stress to the holiday?  Does it honor the Lord we are celebrating?

Hoping you and your family have a warm and wonderful Christmas time together– simple and beautiful– with lots of hugs, chuckles and good food!

San Francisco Thanksgiving

LYCfGTOTWWB7-3oMm_qV9D62pCUlgSsIzE-v7eLkr6UHi friends– Just home from a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with all of our kids– the first time we’ve all been together like this since 2009!  You know that warms an old mother’s heart!!  Here’s the “great eight” of our rollicking sweet time together:

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IMG_3051     Kt0k5JOUeYnAA6pTthAiqSt4MKLPGUrwZaUqMwahauc     #1. Our Thanksgiving Dinner– Jessica set the prettiest table and piled our plates with all those Thanksgiving dishes that make it feel like a day to give thanks.

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ogiMK2J8RGR8LV36Wqb8QMrHASFttPXdMaQQeSDrRLo     BHgox5b68o9G0q3uqBywAHZgEJMprzAK6P63NGgypH8#2.  Thanksgiving morning most of the family hiked off to Land’s end in view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ocean beyond.

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IMG_3090     IMG_3088     #3.  Ani & Brian invited us all in for a post Thanksgiving Brunch– serving up Chinese “jook” laced with turkey—supplied by Brian’s mom, along with her amazing pecan pie!!

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#4.  Our most elegant meal was hosted by Aaron & Jessica at Spruce– all dressed up in our best, sitting by the fireplace, a beautifully served meal   –even the grand-girls were impressed!  And I loved the time at the end of the meal to share around the table why we were thankful.

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IMG_3095     IMG_3164#5.  And you know we loved, loved having those grand-girls at arms length!

IMG_3213     IMG_3220#6.  Saturday morning Jessica brought us all to her favorite florist for a wreath making class– clipping and wiring and arranging. Oh, and snacking on tea goodies and mimosas.   It couldn’t have been more fun!!

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IMG_3243     IMG_3246#7.  And I learned how to make the Best Pizza from Jessica and her pizza steel!  It was grand — from rounding up pizza supplies at Bi Rite to the chopping, sprinkling and pulling those piping hot pizzas from the oven.

aHqxUJxo_ceSM0AIZZBrSPNQTqdqPDaks_0Txpdd36E#8.  And of course, the very best, was all just being together.  So thankful for the time with those kids.