A Keyhole or a Portkey?

“A Portkey is an object enchanted to instantly bring anyone touching it to a specific location.”      

Wikipedia

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I have a thing for old pieces and fragments of brass and bronze hardware.  Some are keyhole covers from old doors, others are perhaps decorative fragments that once adorned beautiful pieces of furniture.  Somewhere along the way they have been removed, probably when people have updated locks or replaced doors, and thus they began a journey to the land of “Things No One Knows What to do With.”  Some pieces were salvaged off broken furniture or likely removed because someone wanted to “update” the piece.  These pieces definitely don’t give off a contemporary vibe in furniture.

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All the lovely fragments I’ve found digging through dirty boxes fall under one of my favorite categories — “Things they don’t make like this anymore.”

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This bronze beauty becomes the center of attention when placed behind an old, beautifully gilded and ornate frame from Belgium.

To me they are Portkeys that can transport you to another time, another place.  Back to a time when an artisan spent hours casting a mold and carving intricacies into metal, never knowing who would one day witness the result of their labor.  I see an individual work of art forever cast in metals that glow.  Each piece carries its own character within, sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical.

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All of the pieces pictured in this post are from the brocante at Carpentras in Provence or from a flea market outside of Paris.

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I like to add them to walls to accent paintings, they add a little je ne sais quoi to what would normally just be a picture hanging on a wall.  They also could be added to a buffet table as a decorative piece or positioned on a garden wall.  The possibilities are endless.

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A self portrait painted by my daughter J. Morgan several years ago when she was in college.

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The faces are always so beautiful, I am always enraptured with the level of detail.

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The face of Bacchus with grape clusters on either side of his face.  The god of wine is known for the frenzy he induces.  

At times when I am longing to be on an adventure, traveling to and experiencing life in a place far from home, I walk past one of my Portkeys and remember exactly where it found me.  And then I get transported back to a different time and place, just long enough to tide me over until the next trip.  What is your Portkey?

Happy Birthday Julia

Yesterday we celebrated my good friend Nancy’s birthday so I’ve got birthdays on my mind.  As a follow up to last week’s post, today I want to highlight some favorite quotes from Julia Child who would have been 104 today, August 15th.  If she were still with us I’m sure she’d be having one hell of a party.

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“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken.”

Well, why not?  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, pun intended.

Probably my all time favorite quote is

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food…”  

Isn’t it awesome how much a little wine added to a dish can transform it into something special?  And I know when you add a little wine to me I’m certain that I transform into something special.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

To follow this one, I have to share part of her introduction from The Way to Cook, published in 1989.

“Fear of food, indulgences, and small helpings. Because of media hype and woefully inadequate information, too many people nowadays are deathly afraid of their food, and what does fear of food do to the digestive system?  I am sure that an unhappy or suspicious stomach, constricted and uneasy with worry, cannot digest properly.  And if digestion is poor, the whole body politic suffers.

An imaginary shelf labeled INDULGENCES is a good idea.  It contains the best butter, jumbo-size eggs, heavy cream, marbled steaks, sausages and pâtés, hollandaise and butter sauces, French buttercream fillings, gooey chocolate cakes, and all those lovely items that demand disciplined rationing. Thus, with these items high up and almost out of reach, we are ever conscious that they are not everyday foods.  They are for special occasions, and when that occasion comes we can enjoy every mouthful. 

Servings indicated in the recipes are for conventional amounts, but for all of us it’s sensible, indeed, to make a habit of smaller helpings.  I,  for one, would much rather swoon over a few thin slices of prime beefsteak, or one small serving of chocolate mousse, or a sliver of foie gras than indulge to the full on such nonentities as fat-free gelatin puddings.

The pleasures of the table — that lovely old-fashioned phrase — depict food as an art form, as a delightful part of civilized life.  In spite of food fads, fitness programs and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal.”

Well said, Julia.

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“A party without cake is really just a meeting.”

I think I’ll start taking cake to all my work meetings and turn them into a party.  They’re bound to be more fun that way.  I’m game, are you?

Happy Birthday Julia, and Bon Appétit!

Me and Julia

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I had the distinct privilege to meet Julia Child in 1990.  I was one of the millions who used to watch her cook on television and had tried many recipes from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet both her and Robert Mondavi of Mondavi Winery when they came to town as co-founders of the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food.  As Julia was then 77 years old I figured I may never have another chance to meet her.  But she went on to live 14 more years until her death at 91, 2 days shy of her 92nd birthday.  

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I will never forget the delightful conversation I had with her.  She was so approachable, so pleasant and so passionate in talking about food.  And yes, she was VERY tall.  

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She had just published her tome The Way to Cook, which she autographed for me that day.  Julia had fun in the kitchen, which I think is a key to cooking and not taking yourself too seriously.  

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Julia had a passion for food and she loved to eat, and when she discovered her passion for cooking while living in France, she also discovered what it meant to eat real food that was well prepared.  Of course, France is famous for its Michelin starred restaurants and sought out chefs.  But you can also enjoy wonderful, simple food in any bistro or cafe in the country.  I’m happy that in the U.S. we have had such a surge in “farm to table” and “whole food” restaurants and cooking.  That’s the way I grew up eating with a fresh vegetable garden planted every year.  Good food, fresh and simply prepared.

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One of my favorite recipes from The Way To Cook

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Julia preparing Crêpes Suzette

That day in 1990 Julia told me, “Americans are afraid to eat good food.  I believe you should eat what you want, but just do so in moderation.  If you want to eat butter, have a little butter, but make sure it’s real butter.”   Considering Julia lived to almost 92, I think she was on to something.  And when I came home from almost two weeks in France I had only gained half a pound.  With wine and cheese and dessert every day.  Still haven’t figured that one out.  But Julia would be proud.

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Bon Appétit!

My Salty Obsession

I’ve known lots of people who will say they are addicted to chocolate.  Or cake.  Or cookies.  Or Diet Coke. (Really?)  But I will fully admit that I am a saltaholic.  My confession is my salt obsession.  Food just isn’t the same without it.  Potato chips versus a candy bar?  Crunchy, salty potato chips will win out for me every time.  Thankfully I don’t have any problems with high blood pressure, and if that day ever comes just be prepared that I will be one unhappy camper.  I do drink on average about 14 full 8-ounce glasses of water every day, so I’m hoping that helps with the salt intake.  Keep flushing all that sodium out while flushing.  And in my book all those trips to the bathroom also count as exercise.

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Years ago I discovered so many more salts than I had routinely been using in daily cooking.  My “go to” salts had been kosher salt, grey sea salt from England and French fleur de sel (I love that the name means “flower of the sea”).  Then I stepped inside the Spice & Tea Exchange little shop on a trip to Asheville, NC and I stopped dead in my tracks.  Holy mother of salt, this was like walking into a candy store for me. My tastebuds had a heyday.  I’ve hosted plenty of wine tastings, but if you come to my house you may just have a salt tasting too.  Or we can just kill two birds with one stone and taste Chardonnay infused sea salt (yes, it’s a real thing).  If you don’t have one near you, here’s a link to The Spice & Tea Exchange website, of course they ship! http://www.spiceandtea.com

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Maldon flaked sea salt from Essex, England is a beautiful, bright white large-flake salt crystal.  It is perfect as a “finishing” salt, especially on desserts where you can see the large flakes.  You’ve probably seen it in the dessert case atop Salted Caramel Brownies or truffles.  There is something SO satisfying about biting into something sweet like a brownie, and encountering that unexpected crunch of the salt.  It’s the ultimate yin and yang party in your mouth.  Because salt adds that little something, a je ne sais quoi you might not know how to describe but you know that it was perfect.

Friends have been astounded (or maybe horrified) that I carry those little salt packets from carry out restaurants in my purse.  I don’t know why people act surprised by it. Nothing worse than getting stuck with food that isn’t seasoned enough.  Once at a breakfast meeting a colleague couldn’t believe it when I sprinkled salt on my oatmeal, along with the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.   I explained that it’s the difference between eating an oatmeal cookie with salt and one without salt. There’s a reason that cookie recipes, and cakes and pies and other desserts, include salt.  Trust me, try it sometime.

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I keep many of my salts, along with grinders for black and white peppercorns, on a marble lazy Susan next to the cooktop so all I have to do is reach over when I’m cooking.  For years they just sat on the countertop until I discovered the turntable in Cost Plus World Market.  You can find one here – http://www.worldmarket.com/product/white+marble+lazy++susan.do.  Now every day when I am cooking I give the turntable a happy little twirl to select which salt or pepper I want to use.   Sexy action in the kitchen with every spin.   

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This gorgeous copper topped grinder is my favorite.  I think it’s the sexiest kitchen tool I own.  I found it unexpectedly in Crate & Barrel a couple of years ago, and I love it filled with the pink Himalayan salt.  Here’s a link to the copper grinder, and they also have a matching pepper grinder. http://www.crateandbarrel.com/copper-salt-mill/s279862.   I first discovered the Himalayan salt in Cortona, Italy about eight years ago where it was on the table in a little ristorante.  It was such a special touch, and now you can find  it anywhere. (Hint:  In the US, stores like TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are great places to buy pink Himalyan salt, a much better value than in a fancy gourmet shop.)

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For large crystal or small nugget salts, it’s easiest to use a salt grinder.  But be sure that it’s made specifically for salt, as most of them have a ceramic grinding mechanism.  Salt will corrode the metal in a traditional pepper grinder, and that’s not a pretty sight. 

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IMG_1550I found this amazing, beautifully flaked salt at Hediard, a historical boutique in Paris at Place de la Madeleine, http://www.hediard.fr . It is from Cyprus, Chypre en francais. These stunning salt crystals are imbedded with the color of the sun, and every time I pick them up they sparkle. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but I also found it in this rosemary infused salt.  The color is not the same, but the smell is heavenly.  It’s terrific on grilled meats and vegetables, and it’s dynamite as a finishing salt on top of cream of potato soup drizzled with olive oil.

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If you’ve never tried smoked hickory and alder wood salts, you are in for a treat.  They are terrific on grilled meats and fish but also wake up most vegetables in an unexpected way. But I have to admit I’ve never tried chocolate sea salt, which you can also find at the Spice & Tea Exchange.  I’d rather enjoy a piece of good quality dark chocolate that has sea salt added in.  Yum.

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And one of the most prized salts comes from (yep, you guessed it) Provence.  The Camargue is a natural region located south of Arles, France, where the two arms of the Rhone River meet the Mediterranean Sea. Salt marshes in the southeast corner of the Camargue are famous for their salt production, producing up to 15,000 tons a day in the summer.  Fleur de Sel de Camargue is hand raked and harvested by hand by a master salt maker, un saunier, a process that has changed very little in more than a thousand years. So just when you might think “salt is salt,” just ask a Provencal master who gathers this salt and is so proud of it that he signs his work.  I think if I were un saunier I would put my name on my salt too.

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So now you know my obsession.  Which is yours, salty or sweet?

Memories of More than 80 Years

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My mom, Sara

I spent this past weekend tackling the achingly arduous task of cleaning out my parent’s house of the last 40 years.  Two years ago my mom and dad both died within months of each other and my sister and I have put off this chore, mostly because of being busy with work, families and life in general, but I’m sure partly because neither of us wanted to admit that they are gone and now it’s time to move on.

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My dad, Dock Jr., but who was always called “Junior”

Going through every closet and drawer and cabinet in the house (not to mention the basement that must have 500 pounds of nails and screws that my dad could never throw away) makes us have to admit that this part of our life is over and will never be the same again.   The task of cleaning out after someone has died brings back many memories from your own life thus far, and you find yourself laughing and crying and then wondering “Why on earth did I ever give them this thing as a gift?” as you cart out box after box of things that now no one knows what to do with.

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As I’ve written before my parents were not travelers. They had no desire to explore the United States, let alone the big wide world.  Still not sure where my wanderlust gene came from.  I think my dad saw enough during his Army days in the late 1940s and after he returned home, that was that. They never lived anywhere else except the small town in northeast Georgia where I was born.  Their entire family didn’t reach much beyond a couple hundred miles radius. Their home was their oasis, their touchstone, where they lived their lives and raised their two girls and grew old together and took care of each other. 

My mom was that proverbial person whose floor you could eat off. I’ve known for a few decades  that I got that trait from her because my house is pretty spotless too. I hope I’m not too compulsive about it, I just know it makes me feel better when things are clean and organized.  And my mother taught me to cook when I was a child, I’ll never forget standing next to her on a step stool so I could reach the countertop and help stir something in a bowl or roll out biscuit dough.  I thank God every day for that, because cooking for myself and others is something I love, never mind that it comes in handy because I also love to eat.  Some of her favorite handwritten recipes are now priceless treasures to me.  Despite our technological advances, I think everyone should leave a few handwritten recipes behind.

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My dad was Mr. Fix It, he could repair anything and had a talent for making something out of nothing.  He believed in hard work and that everyone had to pull their own weight.  My father was responsible for me getting my first job at age 15 when he came home one day and told me he saw a sign in the window of a photography studio in town, Help Wanted.  I knew there was no other option than to go and apply, so I did and I got the job, and I worked there my last three years of high school. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me because I learned so many valuable lessons that have served me well to this day.

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You realize when going through all the “things” left behind that what matters most are all the old photographs. You’re never prepared for the number of pictures you discover that span a life of over 80 years.  We finally had to stop ourselves from going through box after box of old photographs or we knew we’d never finish the task at hand.  I wonder what will happen with future generations, when everything is digital and when families are cleaning out and they won’t have old black and white or faded color photos to touch and reminisce over. The smell of yesterday and of old love and fond memories just won’t be the same when viewed on a computer or a phone.

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Me and my older sister with my maternal grandfather, one of the most gentle men I’ve ever known.
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There weren’t that many photos of me compared to my older sister so I’m happy to have found this one.  I remember my mom telling me that when I came along, the money ran out. 

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I have no idea who this man is in this photo with me and my sister, but I just love that he has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth with two little girls by his side.

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Sometimes I wish I could have known my parents when they were this age.  What did they think about, what did they laugh about, what made them cry?  What were their dreams and aspirations?  The one thing I do know is that I will be forever grateful to them and thankful.  Two lives well lived.  And memories that will be with me forever.

Sorrow, and something sweet

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As I work through my feelings this week from yet another tragedy, this time in Nice — shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, despair — I have to stop and center myself on something that is quite the opposite of all those negative feelings.  Tout le monde est en deuil, all the world is in mourning.

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I need to zero in on things of beauty, things that bring me comfort and joy, on people and pets and food and music and art and things I can connect to, to keep myself grounded, to find peace in ordinary things.

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Real things I can touch or smell, and things of beauty where I can witness sunlight streaming through, like the illumination of the veins in this alabaster vase.  To know the sun is shining again.

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As I wrote last week, at our core we are all connected.  So my wish for you is to find someone to connect with, or something in which you can find beauty or peace, and choose to restore the joy that is still present in everyday lives.  I am thankful that my friends and their families in France are all safe.  Now they, like us, have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to go on.  Let’s all help each other.

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One of the things that brings me comfort and joy is ICE CREAM.  Today is National Ice Cream Day in the U.S., and in case you didn’t know that, here is a link to some sweet deals.

https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/national-ice-cream-day-2016-free-ice-cream-carvel-cold-stone-more

Or of course you can just do like me, and enjoy a scoop from whatever happens to be in your freezer.  This time it’s chocolate chip, but I need to get cracking and experiment with a few of the new recipes I have.  Roasted Strawberry with Balsamic Vinegar ice cream anyone?  For me, ice cream makes everything better.

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Kindness Matters

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Painting inside the Louvre, Paris

I grew up in a very small town, even lived in the same house for the first 18 years of my life before I left and went off to college (the campus was an hour away — gasp!). Unlike some people who are content to never stray far from home, I often think that’s why I was bitten by the travel bug, and bitten hard. I’ve always liked to explore new places, see new sights, meet new people, try different foods, learn new words in a different language and drive on roads that are new to me, just to see what’s around the next curve. I’ve had a quote tacked on the wall above my desk for years that says “Travel is the only thing you spend money on that makes you richer.” I have to agree.

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Painting inside the Vatican Museum, Rome

One thing I have learned is that for the most part, people around the world are usually very nice to you. Especially when you remember that you are a guest in their country, just like being a guest in someone’s home, and you bring your best manners. I’ve always thought it rude of Americans to visit in other counties and expect everyone there to speak English. You certainly don’t have to become fluent in a language foreign to you, but you can surely learn how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you. And it usually comes in pretty handy to know how to say “How much does it cost?” and “Where is the toilet?”

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Painting inside the Louvre, Paris

I’m sure it must sound like fingernails on chalkboard to some who’ve heard me struggle with their language, but I have found that just trying goes a long way when you are sincere. I will never forget the kindness of a woman in a shop in Italy 15 years ago. I had been trying to make a call back to the states for a few days to talk with my children and make sure everyone was okay. The telephone calling card I was trying to use from a regular phone wouldn’t work (thank God for cell phones that work internationally now!) and I was starting to panic that I couldn’t get in touch. As I browsed in her shop looking at items to take home to the kids, she asked me about my children. In my broken Italian I managed to tell her that I had a girl and a boy and their ages, but that I had been unable to reach them by telephone and I was worried. After listening to me almost break down in tears, she calmly walked over to her counter and picked up her phone, and then asked me what the telephone number was. She dialed the number, I got to speak to my children and was reassured that everyone was okay and no one had burned the house down, and I simply didn’t know how to thank her enough. She told me that we mothers sometimes had to help each other out, “Si?” I bought a lovely Italian pottery vase she had painted with olive branches from her, and to this day every time I look at it I think of her and how kind she was to a stranger.

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So this week I am thinking about how big the world is, but sometimes how small it can be. I am thinking that at our very core, we are all connected. And that Kindness Matters. And kindness can be the one thing that can help soothe hurt and provide a little comfort just when someone needs it most. Too many destructive acts in recent weeks and months, at home and abroad, are hurting too many people. I heard someone comment this week following the sniper attacks on police in Dallas, “Why can’t we all just get along?” While that sounds simple enough, I think there is a simple solution.

Be kind to one another. Find ways to pay it forward every day.  Connect with a stranger.  A random act of kindness, no matter how small, will have big meaning to those on the receiving end. And who knows, it might just help heal the world.

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Sunset in Atlanta

Family, Fun & Fireworks

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View approaching San Diego — the landscape never ceases to amaze me with the differences between the striking but brown California landscape and the green rolling hills where I live in Atlanta.

Travel this week has taken me to San Diego, CA to visit my daughter and her boyfriend for the 4th of July holiday weekend. They moved to San Diego two years ago and I’ve been lucky to visit several times, each time exploring a new area of the city and to hike, eat and drink (and we’re really good at those last two). This trip included kayaking in Mission Bay on a gorgeous Saturday, followed by fish tacos and craft beer at Ballast Point brewery. It seems there’s a craft beer spot on every corner here like there’s a church on every corner in the South, and yes, craft beer is like a religion in San Diego. I’ve enjoyed the big world of wine from several countries for so long that I never really paid attention to all the hoopla around craft beer. But now that I’ve had the opportunity to taste so many different ones and discover the nuances that the makers are crafting, it’s really expanded my beer horizons. So I’ve now been to the Church of Craft Beer a few times in San Diego, and am the better for it.

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The succulents that grow all over San Diego always intrigue me, with their varied shapes, colors and sizes. I’ve taken some home with no luck in getting them to survive but I really want to keep trying. Any tips from anyone who successfully grows them in a more humid climate and one that also can have freezing temperatures in the winter?

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Dinner at 100 Wines Kitchen, what’s not to like about that name for a restaurant? A bistro and wine bar with a French-inspired menu and some of the best roasted cauliflower I’ve ever had.

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Really liked this clever way to make a light fixture out of an old glass bottle.  An idea for the many bottles like these I see in the antique markets!

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We took a picnic to watch the Big Bay Boom fireworks on display from several points across the San Diego harbour, the largest 4th of July fireworks show west of the Mississippi. A fantastic explosion of color and shapes, and such a nice way to close out this trip. Given that so many people in the world have suffered unspeakable horrors lately, I am very thankful for those who keep our country and other parts of the world safe. And thankful that we have the freedom to gather and watch stars explode in the air instead of bombs. Wishing peace for all people around the world!

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Morgan and Shaun are moving back to the southeast at the end of July, and I’m so happy they will be only a couple of hours away by car instead of a cross-country flight!  This sweet little print hangs in their kitchen and I seem to read it anew every time I’m there.  As I reflect on the 4th of July holiday that we just celebrated and this visit to family,  here’s to a future filled with lots of people to love and the enjoyment of each other’s cooking!

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A Life, Documented

I’m so happy for my friend Lisa, such a talented designer who lives in Lagnes, east of L’Isle sur la Sorgue and Avignon.  Her home is featured in the latest French Cottage issue of Victoria magazine.  We visited her beautiful home in the country during my trip to Provence and it was simply breathtaking.  Peaceful, beautiful, inspiring and energizing all at once.  She found a little slice of heaven and made it her own.  Exactly what I would want if I had a house in Provence.  I’ve posted several photos of her home inside and out already on this blog but wanted to share what has been captured by the magazine too.

IMG_1238 When I met Lisa, I was impressed by her clear talent as a designer, so evident by the way she had renovated her home in Lagnes.  But I was more impressed by how open, kind and generous she was.  I immediately thought, this is someone whom I would really like to know better.  She opened her home to us and welcomed us to share in her little slice of heaven.  All I can remember is thinking “ahhhhhhhh.”  It felt like home.

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I was captivated by the way Lisa displayed her assortment of china in this antique cabinet.  Loved the way she interspersed colorful art of some interesting characters behind the dishes.  Who would have thought of putting artwork inside a china cabinet, but what a great idea!  I love finding art in unexpected places.  Like in my half bath that all the guests use.  Sit down to perform the necessities and gaze at Michelangelo.  Why not?

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Lisa’s world travels are carefully documented in her furniture, her art and her collections but there is a sense of “her” that comes shining through.  Just as each of us have objects in our homes that tell a story,  she has curated a life of many chapters.

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Honestly, Lisa has more talent in her little finger than I have in all the fibers of my being.  I was very inspired by some of the things I saw in her gorgeous home, and came home to my house and replicated a few ideas.  But the thing I hope to replicate the most is her generosity of spirit and her kindness.  Because after all, those are some of the most beautiful things we’ll ever find as we travel this earth, right?

A Provençal Joke

In honor of summer having officially arrived, I want to share the best joke I heard while in Provence.  Actually, the only joke I heard.  *Smiles*

“What do you call a Frenchman wearing sandals?”

“Phillipe Flop”