Saturday, November 7, 2009


I can't believe we're well into November now, and other than the five hand-made items I've been working on for relatives, I've barely given a thought to Christmas gifts. How is it that summer seems to last forever around here, but fall always insists on getting away from me somehow - just zips right past me in the blink of an eye? As usual, I'm trying to figure out how to grab hold of it, stretch it out and make it last as long as possible. I'm just not ready for the full onslaught of the holidays quite yet! I bet these guys feel the same way.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast." - Gunther

The above quote is one which I painted on the only piece of pottery I ever made - a coffee mug. It is a sentiment I have always believed to be true. Apparently the French would agree.

In the first chapter of his book Joie de Vivre, Robert Arbor discusses how the French begin their day. His attitude is, since you are going to eat breakfast every day, you might as well make it nice - a time to savor. Any kind of pressure at breakfast starts the day off on the wrong foot, but a simple and pleasant breakfast "lifts you right into the day's activities with a gentle boost that's like a pat on the back as you go out the door."

A typical French breakfast is nothing more than yesterday's leftover baguette, split and toasted (called a tartine), and some good coffee - something everyone has time for, right? (On Sundays, one family member might get up early and walk to the bakery for fresh brioches or croissants.) However, it's the little things you do, and how you do them, that make breakfast key to beginning the day with a bit of joie de vivre - such as eating on the stone porch in summer, or using butter from the local dairyman, jam made from last month's strawberries, or honey purchased at the farmers' market from a local bee-keeper. It's not only about what you put in your mouth, but also about the fragrance of toasting bread and brewing coffee, as it wafts through the house and gently rouses a family from their slumber. It's about using cloth napkins, rather than paper, "soft from years of use and bleached from being hung outside after laundering." Mostly, it is about families beginning their day together - without TV or cell phones or any of those other distractions we Americans are so very fond of.

Following is a list of Arbor's top ten tartine ideas:
  • Butter and jam
  • Butter and honey
  • Butter and cocoa powder sprinkled with sugar and toasted
  • Nutella and sliced banana
  • Olive oil, mozzarella, and prosciutto
  • Ham and Swiss cheese
  • Olive tapenade and goat cheese
  • Mayonnaise and leftover roast chicken
  • Truffle butter and foie gras
  • Sour cream and caviar (lemon juice optional)
I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm thinking that maybe Lex and I should work our way through this list. Research, dontcha know.

Don't forget to leave a comment between now and Sunday night, if you'd like a chance to win this lovely book.

P.S. Many thanks to for the first image, for the second, and for the last.


John was super quiet when he got back from California, which can mean one of two things - either he's not feeling up to par, or he's stewing about something. When I'd try to pry it out of him, he'd say "I'm fine, just a little tired from the long drive."

Finally, after he got back to Houston, he sent me an email in which he fessed up. It seems that the combination of the kids both being financially shaky right now, his volunteering to go on half-pay temporarily in order to avoid laying anyone off at his company, and our investments taking another nosedive, just when we were hopeful that the economy was finally pulling out of its slump, has left him with no real sense of security for the future, and feeling very hesitant about the idea of retiring. I suspect a lot of people are feeling the same way.

As you can imagine, as soon as I read this, I was overwhelmed with all those old feelings of guilt - for not contributing my share to our financial security. It got me to thinkin' that I must be the world's worst wife, and that John will never be able to retire if I don't give up all this silly writing and volunteering and running up to Dallas constantly, and get a real job with real hours that pays real money!

No sooner had I come to this conclusion, than he blew me away by writing this: "I guess I'm feeling a little guilty about our relationship. Two years apart wasn't what we had planned, but I am so happy with the way you have settled in up there and blossomed. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. You've grown a lot during our marriage but nothing like the past 2 years. I'm really proud of you." Damn, here go the waterworks again. Every time I read that, I go through another box of Kleenex.

So, he's feeling guilty about cheating me? Criminy, what a bozo! I immediately responded, saying, "Jeez Louise! All I care about is you having time to do the things you want to do in life, and still be healthy enough to enjoy them! If you are happier working half-time, always having a little money coming in to fund your projects and for updating all those "obsolete" electronics, you can keep doing it for as long as you want. If you hate every single day that you have to go into the office, then quit. I am the world's most frugal woman, and can make do on whatever amount of money we have to get by on. I just want you to enjoy life. You deserve that, for all the years you've put us first, and been the best provider in the world."

Now, pardon me while I go see if I can scrounge up some toilet paper or a scrap of paper towel - anything to blow my nose on!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I'd all but forgotten the beauty of a misty morning here in the Hill Country - the way the sun creeps up and catches the low-lying mist that is tucked into all the crevices, and which follows the path of the creek as it snakes in and out of the hills. Of course, you gotta have some water in the creek, and temps well below 107, if you want to glimpse one of these mornings, so it's been a while!

The cantina garden is beginning to come together. They added stucco to the arch yesterday, and the cedar posts have been delivered and dropped into their pockets. Now they just need to be leveled up and mortared in. As with any project, expenses can get out of hand if you're not careful, and we had to do some corner-cutting - make the area a bit smaller than I originally planned - to keep ours under control. Unfortunately, the corners that got cut (literally!) were the areas that got the most sun and would have been best for serious vegetable gardening. However, there are still plenty of sunny pockets scattered about, where I can tuck in all of my favorite herbs, some asparagus or arugula, and a tomato cage and bean trellis or two. Once we get the trees properly pruned, there will probably be even more spots.

The good news is, this will leave me with plenty of space for shade loving ornamentals, and for any funky yard art the Muses and I might produce! If we later get serious about wanting to grow more food than this, we can always add some deer netting around one of the sunny corners, and set up those lovely raised beds John ordered for me a while back. In the meantime, I'm perfectly willing to do my share to support the local economy, by shopping from The Bountiful Sprout, and enjoying the various farmers' markets here abouts. After all, according to Robert Arbor, that's a critical step towards discovering joie de vivre! Don't forget to leave a comment, if you wish to be included in our Monday morning drawing for his wonderful book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Let's see. Where were we? Ah yes! We were discussing joie de vivre, and having a give-away! Shall we continue?

Robert Arbor was born and raised in France, but decided he needed to see the world. While in Hong Kong, he met and married a young American who was in the fashion business. He followed her back to New York, and since he needed something to do, he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute. Upon graduation, he worked in various French restaurants, then took a peach of a job at Chase Manhattan Bank's private corporate dining room, so that he could actually spend some time with his wife. Since he got off work at 2:00 PM, he had plenty of time to wander the streets of NY. Sadly, he could never find anywhere to sit and enjoy a coffee or soda, so he decided to create a place where one could read, reflect, or just casually meet with friends. It had to have the pace of a cafe' like those in little French villages or on a corner of a Paris street, be open all day, be inexpensive, and totally French. Thus, Le Gamin was born.

He wrote his book, Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style For Everyday Living, because in his business, he saw a constant flow of Americans looking for that thing that the French call joie de vivre. Americans are fascinated with how the French manage to live so well, and so contentedly, in their ordinary, day-to-day life. According to Robert, "It's not just about cooking, decorating, or entertaining - it's about enjoying all the small details of domestic life. It's about making time for family, growing some vegetables in your garden, chatting with the butcher, and cooking for your family and friends."

And so, we will travel with him, as he explains the rituals and traditions that comprise a typical French day; gives us a glimpse of family meals, market trips, and Le Potager; talks about eating locally and in season, and shares some of his wonderfully simple recipes. I hope you'll enjoy the journey. And of course, if you'd like to throw your name in the hat, for a chance to win this wonderful book, just leave a comment between now and Sunday night. Good luck!

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.


Well, my darling daughter is finally back in Texas. Woohoo! In fact, she's back in the house here with me for the time being, until she manages to land a job. So the question is, can we both adjust to being roomies again, after each having spent several years ruling our own roost, doing whatever we want, whenever we want? Time will tell!

One thing is for certain though - it sure is nice to have someone around who knows more about computers than I do. She saved me from putting my boot through that sorry son of a gun just yesterday. I can deal with the fact that things don't always work right when I'm not sure what I'm doing. No problem. But, when I have finally mastered a technique, and have been using it successfully for some time, then out of the blue, the computer decides to change the rules on me and do something totally different? Well, that really, really, really. Pisses. Me. Off.

Like when facebook suddenly decided, a few days ago, that it would no longer allow me to link from my status update to my blog stories, even though I'd been doing so just fine for weeks now. Lex happened to walk through the room just as I was trying to decide whether to torch the source of my agony, or toss it over the balcony to watch it go splat. When I told her why I was looking a bit apoplectic, she calmly replied "Oh, the same thing happened to me. I played around with it and figured out that it will work OK as long as you do it from your profile page instead of the feed page." OK. I never would have figured that out in a million years. I think I'll keep her.

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have fresh air wafting through the house. It's almost as if my batteries died during the hot months, and throwing the doors and windows open as soon as I get up each morning is allowing them to be recharged, and filling me with energy.

Isn't that more or less the concept behind Feng Shui? I know there's something there, about keeping all the pathways free of clutter, and letting fresh air in, so that your chi, or energy, doesn't get blocked. Who knows? Maybe there's some truth to that. All I know is, feeling these cool, natural breezes, and hearing the flow of water and animal chatter rather than AC motors, has me feeling like the Energizer Bunny!

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.