Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas at the White House

Magic is in the air at Christmas time, and the decorations have much to do with setting that mood.  A friend of mine and her husband were among the fortunate ones who were selected to travel to Washington D.C. this year and help decorate the White House for Christmas!  She said it was one of the most marvelous experiences of her life.  These photos are from HGTV's website -- there are many more there, if you want to take a look!
The secret of decorating effectively is in the details!  

As you know, I've been on a kick to clear out the clutter, having read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up."  Once I complete the rounds of getting rid of my excess stuff, I will be doing what is called "The Realtor Walk-Through." My goal is to go through my home room by room, repairing anything that needs repaired, touching up paint, and so forth.  Of course, the 4'x4' hole in my family room ceiling is a good place to start!  Hopefully that work will be done next week.  In the meantime, one of my medium sized trees in the side yard keeled over in the wind, roots and all, Christmas Day.  Not exactly the Christmas tree we were looking for! My gardener is coming today to finish removing that. 
I don't have any big redecorating or remodeling projects in mind, but do plan to freshen things up and create little vignettes to honor the collections, flowers, and objects that bring me joy.  Here is a nice beginner's article about creating vignettes from Home and Garden TV:  Tips for Making Beautiful Vignettes.

Are you inspired, too?  I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!  I certainly did.  My girls were home, we attended the church Candlelight Service, moved by the beauty of singing "Silent Night" as we held candles aloft.  Then it was home to cook favorite foods and open gifts.
Don't you love this large, beautiful Christmas box?  
My sister Chris sent it to me, and look what is inside:
Steel blue Egyptian Cotton sheets!  It's hard to capture the true color here, but they match the leaf color in my bedroom's vintage wallpaper perfectly.  Now I'm really eager to get started!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Birthday Flowers

I'm celebrating my birthday this week!  A group of coworkers took me out to lunch last Thursday at a darling historic restaurant, Milias, which was graced by Will Rogers and Clark Gable back in the day.  Here's a little video...

 It has a beautiful horseshoe bar with a western themed mural above it.
Lunch was superb, complete with a birthday dessert, and my friends gave me cards and flowers! 
Now my daughters are coming home for a few days for Christmas and the celebration continues!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Sky is Falling!

I woke up to quite a surprise Friday morning!  I noticed pieces of chalky chunks of plaster on the breakfast room floor and following it into the family room, like following a trail of bread crumbs, I discovered this... 
Part of my family room ceiling collapsed, probably due to all the heavy rain we've had in California over the last two weeks and roof flashing failure to divert the rain properly.  What a mess!  My first call, of course, was to the insurance company.  They told me to go ahead and contact a contractor to assess the situation, try to determine the cause, and to take measures as necessary to prevent further damage.  Trying to get someone out on a Friday before Christmas week is challenging!  I've used a terrific contractor, Eric, before but he couldn't make it out until Saturday.  Early Saturday morning the rain clouds moved in again and I was up at 4 a.m., placing a multitude of pots, pans, baking dishes and buckets on black trash bags I had laid out as the water dripped in.   

Eric arrived and checked out the roof and ceiling.  He removed the soggy insulation and now the ceiling hole looks like this...
He told me the ceiling for 3-4 feet surrounding the hole is also soft, and as you can see the corner walls have also been affected.  So we are looking at tearing out the soft board, drying it out for a couple days to avoid mold, putting in new insulation and sheet rock, seaming, texturizing, and finally painting.  This will take several days, not to mention the roof repair that will need done.  I've talked to the insurance adjuster and he will be out tomorrow.  I have a good roof -- it's a 40 year roof, installed 12 years ago -- but for some reason this small flashing section wreaked this kind of havoc! 

Thank goodness the sun is out today and it is supposed to be dry for the next several days.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Christmas Time in the City!

After the Wreaths Across America ceremony on Saturday, I met up with Ash and Lys and we went to the Hyatt Regency in downtown San Francico for lunch and to enjoy the beautiful decor.
Even elevators blink a bright red and green...
And when it begins to snow, it is magical!
 One of the most enchanting displays is the village which goes completely around this large sculpture in the middle of the lobby.
 The Golden Gate Bridge was front and center ~
  The windows provided lovely view of the Clock Tower and Bay Bridge...
 and the ice skating rink along the palm lined Embarcadero.
 From there we went to the movies and saw Interstellar ~ a well done and interesting movie.  It was a lovely day all around!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wreaths Across America

On the second Saturday of December each year, across our nation we honor our veterans who have died.  Wreaths Across America is a wonderful program that focuses on Remembering, Honoring, and Teaching, and one of their biggest projects is laying wreath on these fallen heroes' graves.   

Yesterday I was up before dawn to drive to San Bruno for the Wreaths Across America ceremony at Golden Gate National Cemetery.  It was the first time I've participated and it was incredibly moving and rewarding. Two friends met me there.

The Golden Gate National Cemetery is huge, with headstones 
as far as the eye can see in every direction.
The Stuart Highlanders Piper Band set the tone before the program began
 with beautiful bagpipe music.
 The Sons of the American Revolution were on hand to present 
the Colors for the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance.
The Patriot Riders Motorcycle Club rolled in before the ceremony began and took posts, holding American flags.  One read a very moving poem he wrote.

A military officer for each branch of the service, as well as POW/MIAs, presented a special wreath.  Especially moving was when a couple rose and presented a gold-ribboned wreath for Gold Star Parents -- those who have lost a child in a war.
At 9:00 a.m. we paused for a moment of silence.  Across the nation, even at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., all Wreaths Across America participants were pausing at the same time.

After the ceremony, we split into two groups.  One group placed wreaths in rows in a certain section.  This year we were placing wreaths on the graves of servicemen and women who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  My DAR chapter raised the funds to place 51 of those wreaths.
Others of us picked up special wreaths and drove and walked around the cemetery to find where these special wreaths should be placed.  I thought about my father, a Navy man, and although he is not buried at this cemetery, I was doing this in his honor as well.

December is a very busy time, a time for merriment, parties, and presents.  But for these families who have lost loved ones who served our country, it means the world to them to know someone honored their loved one.  Let us not forget.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hablas Espanol?

A few years ago one of my colleagues, a teacher from England, was thrilled when her husband secured a summer internship in Mexico.  To prepare for this adventure, she purchased Rosetta Stone's Spanish language course and both she and her husband and their two children went through a crash course in Spanish.  She came home convinced the program was the best way to learn a second language, which allowed them to navigate in another country without basic language barriers. 

Romantic that I am, French was my foreign language of choice in high school and college, and I stubbornly ignored warnings that I lived too far from France or Canada to actually use it very often.  I learned it well enough that my professor selected me for a full scholarship to study in France for a year (my big regret in life was not taking advantage of that opportunity, but that's another story).  So of course, working with bilingual children and families in the schools of California, I now realize that Spanish would have been incredibly useful.  Through the years and some self-study courses, I've picked up a decent vocabulary in Spanish, but every year its on my New Year's resolutions to become more proficient.  It would be such a help to make phone calls to parents without having to make sure there's a translator nearby if I get in over my head.  There have been several times that I start out by saying, "Hola. Yo Brenda, especialista del habla...." and then the other person excitedly reels off rapid sentences in Spanish and I have to admit I only know "un poco."

So last week when an email showed up in my box from Rosetta Stone, I sighed.  The program runs around $500 which is enough to stop you in your tracks, even when you remind yourself another year has come and gone without seeing that resolution through.  Curiosity getting the best of me, I went ahead and clicked on the link and lo and behold -- they have the most fabulous holiday sale going on!  I got in on the $189 price (I think it's $199 now, still a great deal), downloadable to two computers and up to five family members, for the entire 5 level program.  So Ash and Lys are taking it with me since they can download it to one of their computers, as well. I was so excited to take advantage of this offer that I told a co-worker about it.  She signed up yesterday, so we can also practice our Spanish with each other.  At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, if you've ever considered learning another language, you may want to check out their holiday special.  And now I can say...
Feliz Navidad para mi!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Magic of Decluttering

I came across a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and since I had all of Thanksgiving week off work, I decided it was a good time to try her techniques.  She is definitely more minimalist than I am, but her ruthlessness in getting rid of things that really aren't serving you any longer or bringing you joy is freeing.  She recommends you start with clothes, and one of the things she suggests that I had never done before was collect ALL your clothes from around your house and put them all in one place as you begin sorting. Typically I had approached clothes-culling by clearing out one drawer or closet at a time, but this time I gave myself an entire day and heaved all the clothes from the front coat closet to two different chests and the closet onto the bed, and looked at each piece with a critical eye.  Four bags to the Goodwill and one bag to the trash later, the clothes I truly wear and love are neatly folded or hung, receiving the proper care they deserve.  (And it only took a morning to do, not an entire day.)

After clothes, she recommends tackling books.  Again you are supposed to put all of your books in your entire house in one place.  That wasn't going to happen for me.  I live in a multi-level house with bookcases in every room.  So I first weeded out all the books in each bookcase to make the book collections more manageable.  Next I'm going to take a photo of each bookshelf so I can study what's left and decide if I need two books on the same topic when one will do nicely.  To my surprise, I had two copies of some books as it was -- one I purchased for myself and then another was gifted to me.  I had planned to pass on the extra copy but never did, so those extra copies have now found a new home.

After finishing with books, we tackle papers, then miscellaneous (gadgets, kitchen tools, etc., etc. -- this category sounds much too broad to me, and one that will need to be tackled room by room!), and lastly sentimental objects.  So this weekend, once I finish with photographing the bookcases and getting rid of the extra books, I hope to start in with papers.  However, I have a busy weekend coming up -- a special Christmas luncheon tomorrow, gifts to finish making, gifts to wrap and prepare for long distance mailing, and cards to address.  I love Christmas and all these busy little tasks that go with it!
Although it may seem like a crazy time for me to start the decluttering projects, in the midst of the holiday season, it is also a time when I have a extra time off work and I'm very home-focused so it makes sense to me. Let me know if you have tried Kondo's techniques.

Ash and Lys were home for a few days over Thanksgiving.  We put up the Christmas tree and decorated the tree and most of the house.  I still need to decorate my family room mantle this weekend and then it will be all set!  Merry Christmas!  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

As I sit, cozily wrapped in my fleece throw on the couch, a Christmas movie playing in the background and my two daughters each on their own laptops, I feel utterly content.  How very blessed we are in our family.  We are all healthy, gainfully employed, have enough food on the table and roofs over our heads. We have friends and relatives and each other. These are life's greatest blessings of all.  

I'll be back to blog-o-land soon with more regular posts again. In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful season!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

High Tea at Steinbeck House

A few weeks ago I was invited to join a couple of friends at the Steinbeck House for High Tea. It's one of my favorite places.  The gift shop, cleverly named The Best Cellar, is one of the best places to pick up hostess gifts or little birthday presents.  I arrived early so I could browse....
The parlor of the house has been transformed into a restaurant --  it's all lace and flowers and layers of romance!
One of our friends had volunteered at the house so she managed to have us seated at the front parlor window table. See the window in the front of the house, just to the right of the sign? That's where we sat! The curtains were open so we could look out on the front lawn and the street.
Soon a server brought us a three tiered plate holder, laden with delicious finger foods. We started with sweet scones, worked up to crustless sandwiches, and ended with lemon bars, tarts and individual pots of rich chocolate mousse.
All the while, the servers kept the hot tea coming, with sides of cream and light brown sugar. Each of us had our own unique teacup and china plate.

The Steinbeck House is the house where author John Steinbeck was born and grew up in Salinas. This is Steinbeck Country -- you can see the rolling green hills, the dirt roads and the agricultural communities reminiscent of his books East of Eden and The Red Pony.  Along the coast, I am reminded of his book Cannery Row. I love John Steinbeck's style and have many of his books.  One of the things I most appreciate about his works are the beautiful descriptions he provided, transporting the reader to the time and place of the story.
This year commemorates the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath -- one of his most famous books, a moving story of struggles and resilience.  If you get a chance, crack open one of his books and escape into a different world. 

Photos are from The Steinbeck House.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Portland Zoo, Donuts, and a Mansion!

With relatives on both my maternal and paternal sides of the family living there, I really should visit Portland more often!  I always have a wonderful time when I go.  My cousin Nancy and three of her four children (and their children) live in the area, and my cousin Priscilla drove in from Walla Walla for the week. Nancy and her husband do missionary work around the world and always have interesting stories to tell.  So when they invited us to their house for a lovely brunch one morning, we were eager to catch up.  Nancy and her husband had been picking blackberries the day before and she prepared a delicious blackberry cobbler, egg souffle, potatoes, and fruit salad.  While "the ladies" sat around the formal dining room table, indulging and visiting, we noticed Nancy's husband would walk by with various and sundry items, en route to the breakfast room.  Sometimes it was a towel, sometimes baking pans, sometimes sticks with leaves dangling!  We soon figured out what he was doing -- creating fossil prints with the kids!  That kept the children well engaged so we older cousins could really catch up with each other.

Another day we all went to the Oregon Zoo together.  Surprisingly, this also turned out to be one of the best ways we could visit with each other!  Everyone was well entertained and the kids were occupied looking at the animals while we adults visited in small clusters, sometimes with this person, sometimes with that one, so we had some nice one-on-one personal time with everyone. My cousin Becky joined us, too, so got to know the other side of my family better.  Who would have thought the zoo would provide such intimate opportunities?

As for the zoo, it was lovely, complete with a variety of bears, hippos, lions, monkeys, elephants, giraffes, birds, and more.  We had planned to visit the Japanese Garden afterwards, but were all walked out, so grabbed lunch in the food court, then parted ways -- until next time!
Beautiful eagles....
We were there for the polar bears' feeding time -- they were beautiful!
 Can you see all the parrots camouflaged in the foliage below?
One morning my daughters and I woke early, before anyone else, and made our way to the famous Voodoo Donuts shop.  As we got off the freeway and were following our GPS system, we suddenly got a whiff of the donuts coming in through the car windows.  "I smell donuts!" I exclaimed.  Yes, another block down and there stood the bright pink building with a line already forming to get in!
 Fair warning ~ cash only sign:
  The weird and eclectic decor of Voodoo Donuts:
I don't know what happened to the color here -- the box was actually bright pink, but I took this picture in the wet bar lighting at the hotel and it came out...yellow!
We selected donuts for everyone back at the hotel and Uncle Don's house, based on personality!  Lys tried the Bacon Maple Bar (which made me sick to look at, in all honesty, but she said was actually very tasty).  Some of us had the Portland Cream.  We got a Memphis Mafia for the 50's generation (all of Elvis Presley's fav ingredients -- peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate) .  There were Dirt Donuts for the kids (and the kid in all of us).  We got an Apple Fritter that was the size of a dinner plate for Uncle Don.  There were some donuts with names I can't print here!  For an entire list of the weird and crazy donuts, click here:  Voodoo Donuts.

One other field trip we took in Portland was to the beautiful Pittock Mansion.  It is worth the trip for the beautiful views of Portland as well as the delights in the mansion itself.  A picture is worth a thousand words....
 We were fascinated with the standing sewing kit:
 Such tiny waists back then:
 Can you see Mt. Hood in the distance below?  It looks like a cloud in the middle, but seemed much closer in person.  We also had views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams at various times.  It only rained the first two days -- otherwise we had beautiful, clear weather.

So ended our Portland vacation.  Wonder where we'll go next year?  Any suggestions?