Back to Basics

back to basics

I have a love / hate relationship with my cell phone.  After the accident, I was focused on having it with me at all times – just in case!  Yet, the constant use of the phone is overwhelming.  And, I am not talking about what others are doing, but my own use.  I have less than the minimal amount of apps on my phone, but I have found that texting has gotten out of control.

Remember, the simple days when you could actually think about what you wanted to say and write a letter.  I learned never to write in anger or frustration (yet it is those emotions that texting seems to bring out) and to sleep on that sort of communication before mailing it.  It was often torn up the next day and the relationship was miraculously saved!  Today everything is about instant gratification which can be totally irreparable.  And, I haven’t even mentioned the auto correct feature which is another mind boggling experience which involves yet another text saying you didn’t mean that.  I find texting exhausting and tedious; even voice texting which results in an inordinate amount of time correcting the message.  There is no margin for error since no nuance of emotion is being exchanged; the simple raising of an eyebrow, giggle or shoulder shrug that gives the message a completely different tone is not there.

I know of relationships that have ended with a text – goodbye ‘Dear John’ letter. It seems to me that a lot of integrity was lost in that particular kind of text as well. I think the recipient could breathe a big sigh of relief (after the shock has worn off) that this person is no longer in their lives – unable to call?  Really?  I wonder if marriage proposals are done by text as well. 

I have read about ‘internet relationships’; I think this is called make believe at its worst; those days are best spent by children in their fantasy stage.  Digital interactions are not real; relationships that don’t progress to an eventual getting together are simply not normal and resisting the meet up is a sure sign of something amiss.

I recently received for my birthday the most beautiful hand crafted fountain pen from a life long friend and my intention is to put it to good use this year.  Please don’t be surprised if you receive a missive in the mail from me or better yet, a phone call! 

Elderberry Syrup


Cold and flu season is here and it is time for Elderberry Syrup.  I have always taken it in the fall and winter months and was so surprised when I learned how easy it is to make.  Since I have been waxing eloquent about it,  I thought it might be time to share the recipe.

The elderberry plant  (Sambucus Nigra) is one of the oldest medicinal plants in the world dating back to 400 BC when Hippocrates referred to it as his “Great Medicine Chest”.  Of late, clinical trials have shown that elderberry syrup can shorten the length of time for cold or flu symptoms.  Positive results from lab tests also show that black elderberry boosts the immune system and is a good source of antioxidants.

This is a very basic recipe and so simple to make.  If you want to add more spices or herbs do look at this recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs.  You will be able to customise your own recipe to your needs.  The possibilities seem endless and you can order directly from them.

1/2 C dried black elderberries
3 C water
1 cinnamon stick
a few whole cloves
2 t fresh ginger (or to taste; you can use powdered)

1 C raw honey

Put the berries, water and spices in a sauce pan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes (liquid will be reduced by about half).  Smash berries to release all juice and strain the mixture using a fine strainer (I use cheesecloth) into a glass bowl.  Smash berries once again in strainer.  Allow to cool and add the honey stirring until incorporated.  It is important that it cools or the honey will lose its antibacterial benefits.  Put in a mason jar or smaller amber bottles (I use 2 oz ones) in refrigerator.  Shelf life is about 3 months. 

If you don’t want to make the syrup there are a few reliable companies that sell it; just check with your local health food source.

Enjoy the process and stay healthy.  Let me know what you add to your recipe.

Disclaimer:  Everybody reacts differently to foods so it is important to consult your health practitioner for advise before using any food that you are not familiar with.  You must not eat raw or unripe elderberries  as they will make you ill.



It’s that time of year again – reflecting back and looking forward to new beginnings!  I am grateful for all the lessons I learned in 2017; the most important being living in the moment.  My world shifted while I was waiting for the ambulance last month.  I finally realised I was no longer invincible (I kept hoping!) and just how quickly everything can change.  I was lucky; it could have been much worse. 

No resolutions for me this year.  Just a one word mantra: BALANCE!  Achieving this balance is the key – you can’t be driven in any one direction by your heart or mind.  Obsession (be it work related or simply being fixated on a hobby) cannot take over.  So often you hear “the project will end in a few weeks”.  Those weeks often turn into months and years and everything spirals out of control.  One needs to feel grounded, calm and motivated daily to achieve the balance I strive for this year.

Draw a circle; divide it into sections and label each section with what is important in your achievement of balance.  Some examples might include: Health, Physical Activity, Relationships, Spirituality, Creativity, Career- you get the idea.  This helps me have a clear visual of areas that need attention.  You can become too self reflective and life’s experiences will pass you by or you can focus too heavily on the external side like work and not listen to your heart.  Too many opportunities for happiness can be lost unless that internal/external balance is achieved.  Don’t push the envelope too hard with career objectives without including those who mean something to you.  Enjoy the ride!

Be grateful!
Be mindful!

To new beginnings……..HAPPY NEW YEAR!



What I learned from the EMT

snoopy_with_her_foot_bandaged_by_bradsnoopy97-d9tjy3sOn December 9th, my friend Julia visited me in Sonoma and we had a lovely hike and lunch.  I got home, parked the car in the garage and got out deciding to arrange some boxes (I am finally! cleaning it out) and within seconds was on the ground.  It appears I tripped over a bag and landed on my knee cap.  My leg swelled to amazing proportions within seconds and when I touched my knee I knew it was broken.  I couldn’t move, the phone was in the car; thankfully the garage door was still open and a neighbor arrived within minutes and an ambulance was on its way.  Good thing I was wearing some older athletic pants as they were immediately cut off. 

I was totally coherent and in no pain which was bizarre in its own way when the ambulance arrived.  The EMT asked all the standard questions including what drugs I was taking.  For years I had a membership to RoadiD (which I highly recommend) since I never carried ID when I went running.  Recently I switched to the Health App (the one with the red heart) that is auto-installed on iPhones and set up my Medical ID.  Most of the information he needed was easily accessible.   He finds that the greater majority of folks do not complete this information and it is very, very helpful to First Responders (it actually can be life saving). This information can be accessed through the emergency feature on your phone even if it locked.   If your phone doesn’t have an App, go to the App Store and download the appropriate one for your phone, but it has to have the feature to access via the locked screen. Please take a few minutes to complete all the information and be sure to include your health provider and policy number.  I added my home address (add second homes too) and when traveling I add my hotel and the name/phone number of my traveling companion with the date.  If you have entered an athletic event add your bib number as this could be helpful.  Less isn’t more in this scenario.

Please do this!

Quiet Resolve

A strong women will automatically stop trying if she feels unwanted.  She won’t fix it or beg; she’ll just walk away.
~Chocolate Socrates

time Magazine

Since Time Magazine published their recent Person of the Year cover I have been thinking about Silence Breakers and what a strong woman means to me. I have admired many women in my life for their awesome strength and they have become role models.  Some I have known individually and they have personally influenced me and others I have admired from afar.  I find that most of these women are unassuming, confident, display humility, listen to their intuition, have strong beliefs, feel empathy and are extremely compassionate.  They are not loud, boisterous or in-your-face activists nor are they man haters.  They are authentic, possess immense integrity and are not afraid to show their feelings.  They are not to be reckoned with, however!  From my way of thinking these women share several traits.

Humility– Today’s world is full of arrogance; you see it everywhere and it seems to be most rampant in the sports world. It is not the same thing as strength. I’ve always stressed the need for humility in one’s life and cautioned kids at an early age to display it. I believe it is a ticket to success. A strong woman possesses confidence yet is humble and manifests minimal arrogance. She is grounded and knows what she wants. This often takes great courage as she is willing to walk away from a situation that is no longer in her best interest, to stand up for her beliefs as well as face the challenge of being independent. This by no means indicates that she is not involved actively in a healthy romantic relationship.

Keep Moving -I can’t seem to get away from this mantra.  Yes, she is always moving and is very active both mentally and physically.  She makes her own happiness and isn’t dependent on others for it; she possesses a great sense of balance as she juggles all the balls in the air. 

Intuition– She listens to her own voice yet does not act on impulse.  She has a strong belief that her feelings and concerns are valid and follows her own path.

Believe – A strong woman is kind and compassionate and has no need to use ego in a negative way.  She is vulnerable and not afraid of emotions or sharing them.  She is true to her own feelings.  She loves, respects and accepts herself.  She is a believer!!  In herself and in others.  She is the ‘real thing’ – authentic, genuine, generous, kind with unlimited integrity.  She isn’t afraid of voicing her opinions, but then is able to move on.  She isn’t one to wallow in negativity.  She will show you unlimited and unconditional love and support and is extremely loyal and faithful, but will readily walk away if rejected. She continues life’s beautiful journey with quiet resolve.

The Time Magazine article only touched on sexual harassment. But how many of you women reading this have been emotionally abused, harassed or bullied in your everyday life into doing something you really didn’t want to do or weren’t able to do at that time? “No means no” in all aspects of life; one doesn’t need to give a reason nor made to feel guilty for not responding in a positive way. I don’t want dessert, to join you for dinner tonight or have my picture taken today – all of these examples should just be accepted and not judged; tomorrow is a new day.  It is not a reflection of any personal dynamic just how you might feel at any given moment. It gives one pause when dealing with relationships, family, friends or colleagues as you should not have to do anything that is not comfortable for you. Take a minute to think about this and don’t inadvertently put anybody in this position and if you are placed in it think about how you plan on reacting.

I am in total awe and admiration of strong women and only hope that someday I can join their ranks. We all have different life stories and experiences; what are traits you find strong women share?




Beautiful Memories

I have the Christmas music up full volume as I write my Christmas cards with my  favourite fountain pen! The only thing absent is the snow and this is the only time I miss it!!  I love everything about December. The decorations are so very festive, the lights are twinkling and jingle bells are ringing. Oh yes, the Christmas trees! It is also my birthday month which means every day is a joyful celebration.

Sonoma Historic Plaza

Yet as I write these cards I am filled with nostalgia as I remember each person and what they meant to me at various stages in my life. A few years ago, I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time.  We picked up our conversation right where we had left it so many years ago and the reunion was filled with much laughter.  I thought about all those years of not seeing her and realized I didn’t have regrets. I’ve learned to appreciate the ebb and flow of friendships. As much as I would have liked to remain frozen in a certain phase of my journey, I am so grateful I didn’t.  I am thankful for every person I have met along the way and of their influence in my life.  I admit though that I am surrounded by an emotion of wistfulness thinking of days gone by and my youth!

However, it is important not to get caught up in excessive self reflection, have unrealistic holiday expectations and dwell in the past.  Staying focused and centered and living life to its fullest in the moment is the only way to create memories.  Remember my maxim “Keep Moving” and put it to use.  Sitting in front of a TV or computer for hours at a time probably isn’t the best way to create meaningful memories.  Get out there and engage with the world.  There is something to be said for the Kona beer tagline: “ One life right?  Don’t blow it.”

Keep moving and start creating those beautiful memories right now that you can look back on with fondness. For those of you living in snow territory build a snowman  or better yet live dangerously and make an angel in the snow and think of me!!


Union Square San Francisco

Thanksgiving: Thankful v Grateful

Thanksgiving Walk

I was curious about the origins of Thanksgiving Day and this is what I found. On Oct. 3, 1789, George Washington declared Nov. 26 to be a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer”. Seventy five years later, Abraham Lincoln set the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day and Congress (FDR) made it an official holiday in 1941.

Due to our recent fires, everybody in this area is a bit more focused on being thankful and/or grateful this Thanksgiving. Which is it? Do they mean the same thing? Grateful means that you appreciate what someone has done for you and you want to express your thanks. Thankful means that you are relieved/pleased that what you hoped for has actually happened. Simply put thankful is a feeling where grateful is showing an appreciation of kindness.

Grand dog, Lucy, and I took a walk this morning in our  normal habitat to find that much of it had been destroyed by fire. I knew there were some hot spots in the area, but was devastated to find out how much had burned and how many buildings were gone (even simple horse shelters). I only hope all the animals were saved.  I am definitely feeling thankful!

Burned Tree

In our busy days, I think the challenge is to make gratefulness an integral part of our lives all year long.  I know I need to stay focused and be reminded continually how fortunate I am to live the lifestyle I have in an area I so love and appreciate; it is so easy to get distracted.  I throw the gauntlet down to each of you to keep gratitude as a focal point in your life for the next year.  Tell people how grateful you are for them and be thankful for what you have.  Most importantly, be kind!  HAPPY THANKSGIVING, everyone!

Fires Everywhere!

The love in the air
Fire Station in Sonoma 11/14/17

How the world changed with a door bell ringing at 3AM on October 9, 2017.  I was told I was surrounded by fire and to get ready to evacuate.  How could I be surrounded by fire; it truly made no sense.  So I turned on the TV to find out that Santa Rosa hospitals were being evacuated.  But, that was MANY miles away.  Then the power went out and was to stay out for 8 days. 

I called and texted my son in SF and when he asked if I was okay, I said NO.  His phone had been exploding with the various news apps giving updates.  He was to be my conduit to the outside world for the next several hours.

I discovered that the villages of Kenwood and Glen Ellen were on fire and that the fire was 2-4 miles from my house.  The neighbors helped open my garage so that I could get the car out and I set about to pack some belongings.  What to take – I had no idea, but started with electronics, some clothing, my current bag of knitting and for some reason ALL my knitting needles (which were to be stolen from my car a few days later).  I learned that all roads were closed due to fires literally everywhere with the exception of the highway heading to Hwy 101 via Petaluma.  I decided to stay at home until I had more concrete information.

It was an extremely windy night and the conditions had been dry for some time.  This was the catalyst for so many fires starting and not being able to be contained.  At the time I thought that our neighborhood was safe and that the fire wouldn’t cross Hwy 12.  I later discovered it had crossed  Hwy 101 (6 lanes and a medium divide) and destroyed in an instant several neighborhoods on the west side of 101.  And, just a couple of miles north of my house the fire did indeed cross Hwy 12 and spread across to Arnold Dr. threatening even more areas.

Trinity Cavedale 10.10.17
Photo taken by Leo Merle is the Trinity/Cavedale area above my house on 10/10/17

I was surrounded on the NW, N and NE and  now being threatened by fires just a couple miles away on the E and SE (at this point the fires were ZERO % contained).  On Wednesday after securing the house and watering it down the best I could, I evacuated feeling I would be a hindrance if I stayed; I really had nothing to offer. The fires were so close and I was in an Advisory situation, I knew that nobody would really be able to say it was time to leave.

I returned home on Friday to check on everything and clean out the too full refrigerator and again water everything down.  Several homes had sprinklers set to their roofs on timers.  There was concern of more winds and worsening conditions.  Downtown Sonoma was being threatened and evacuated and they were bringing in the big planes, huge bull dozers, helicopters with water and an untold number of firefighters, national guard troops and law enforcement from the greater Bay Area and many states.  There were many unmarked vehicles patrolling as well.  This was to go on through the weekend when I think the containment reached 10%.  This was seven days later.  Seven days of being on alert and not knowing what was going on and fearing for the worst. Not able to do anything pro-active. It came down to wind direction in so many instances.  I studied the wind charts from the Sonoma County airport by the hour (in reality, they probably had nothing to do with my area) and kept updated with satellite fire maps (which are only updated with the satellite rotation).

10.16.17 Depot Park
Photo taken by Leo Merle 10/16/17 in Depot Park

The air quality was abysmal; several times I could barely see people standing next to me and  you could see smoke and flames in the not so distant landscape. Fire lines were less than a mile away. The SF Chronicle had an article that the air quality in SF was worse than in Beijing.  It was clear and sunny there – I can only imagine the after effects this is going to have on so many people.  Over a month later I still smell that campfire smell .

There were so many  local heroes including several neighbors who stayed with their generators to protect their homes and the neighborhood.  Not only was fire a concern, but looting and just general mistrust.  Every one was on alert and still are as so many scams have surfaced.  Several people asked, why isn’t everybody evacuating?  This article might help answer that. There simply was not enough official help.  It all happened too fast, spread too quickly and covered such a vast area.  Had these folks not stayed this entire valley could have burned and the fires spread even further.

I returned home again on Sunday and got power back on Monday.  I was one of the lucky ones.  28.3% of Sonoma Valley was burned along with 652 structures.  There still isn’t an estimate of houses that burned in the valley.  I did read over 10,000 persons were displaced in Santa Rosa (could that number be correct?). It will probably take years to sort all this out. Driving through these burned areas is very sobering. I have only addressed Sonoma County; next door in Napa County fires (Atlas and Partrick) were equally devastating. Possessions don’t matter; lives do – that is a no brainer, but it is so hard for me to put my head around what happened and to understand what those who lost everything are actually going through.  Although it is just possessions they are “your” history and memories and that is devastating. The animals – I cannot even go down that path……  I weep for so many.

Many people reached out to me and I am forever grateful.  I will actually get around to responding to you all.  I went on radio silence for while as every time I got a text alert I jumped.  Sleeping through the night is a challenge still.  Neighbors tell me they are still dreaming of fires. Disorientation is still rampant maybe in part due to the smoke inhalation and emotions are raw and on the surface. There will be emotional scars for a long time as all of our lives have changed forever suffering from loss and trauma.  Sadness, anxiety, anger and guilt are just some of the emotions being felt.  There is a collective PTSD in every plant and animal cell in our greater wine country.

The Love in the Air is Thicker than the Smoke.  These signs were seen early on then posted on the NASDQ billboard in Times Square. Posters showing gratitude sprouted up everywhere yet no words are really there to express the appreciation and gratitude that was felt toward the first responders who did so much. BE OUR GUEST was the mantra as the culinary industry teamed up to feed the evacuees and first responders.   Our communities have rallied to help one another.   There is a strong sense of neighborhood and generosity.  I want to think we are unique in some way, but we are not.  It is the American spirit. I saw it during the 9/11 crisis and recently in Houston and Florida with their hurricanes.  I just now understand it firsthand.

What I learned.  I was totally unprepared and had no plan.  Sure, I had the requisite flashlights, lanterns, water, a full gas tank (by luck) and some cash.  But, as I stared into a closet not knowing what to take I realised I just had too much stuff.  It is time to declutter (see another blog post in the works?).  I learned that vineyards apparently don’t burn, that Sonoma County has an awesome Sheriff who isn’t afraid of the Feds and tells the ICE to back off and that dozers are HUGE pieces of equipment. I also learned that it is time to update the home insurance policy to be in line with actual replacement costs in this area and to to find out why the reimbursement to me of $500 for  spoiled food coverage could possibly raise my insurance rates.   It’s time to propel into forward motion as I am constantly reminded that we live in earthquake territory.  #SonomaStrong

Times Square
Times Square, NYC 10/19/17


Art from the African American South

Revelations: Art from the African American South celebrates the debut of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco major acquisition from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta of 62 works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States.

Included in the current acquisition are paintings, sculptures, drawings, and quilts by 22 acclaimed artists, including Thornton Dial, Ralph Griffin, Bessie Harvey, Lonnie Holley, Joe Light, Ronald Lockett, Joe Minter, Jessie T. Pettway, Mary T. Smith, Mose Tolliver, Annie Mae Young, and Purvis Young. The history of the partnership between the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Souls Grown Deep Foundation dates back to 2006, when the Museums hosted the loan exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

Fine Arts Museums Director Max Hollein said in February, when 62 works by contemporary African American artists based in the South were acquired, that the de Young Museum was dedicated to “expanding the representation of artists who reflect the historical diversity of American culture.”

I accidentally and, thankfully, stumbled upon this exhibit and I highly recommend it.  The quilts were a surprise and an added bonus! It will be at the de Young Museum  through March 2018.  Click on my Instagram feed for some additional photos.

It’s All About Choice!

Some musings as yet another September is about to end….

Do you ever get caught up in battling your sense of emotional balance?  You simply cannot feel good all the time no matter what those ads tell you.  So, it is wise to pick your emotional battles. It might be time to give up the ‘need’ to control, manipulate or always be right.  Focus on what matters most to you and what you really care about.  Get rid of the fluff and superficial things that are invading your space and concentrate on your core values and what give you inner peace.  Like everything else in life, happiness is an evolving process.  It starts and ends with you.

It is sometimes a struggle when thinking about what I should do versus what my moral compass tells me to do.  It is seemingly easier to please somebody else than yourself.  However, that is a downward spiral and never has a good ending especially if your decisions are fear based.  Take caution in doing something that isn’t in your comfort zone just to look good (is that contract all that important in the bigger picture of your well being?).  Pleasing others at the expense of yourself isn’t a viable option. Stop being concerned about what others may think; this is a huge dark hole. 

Have you ever said to yourself or the actual person, “you’ve changed and our relationship is not the same”? Consider some thoughts:  have they actually changed or has the situation changed and perhaps they are just reacting to it.  Were some promises unfulfilled?  Are you trying to control or manipulate them or the situation? Do you have a fantasy that is simply unrealistic in the moment?  Step back and evaluate carefully, you might not want to destroy a friendship based on a thoughtless knee jerk reaction as the odds are high that there has been no change in the person. Remember to choose your emotional battles wisely.  You are in full control.

Don’t get caught in the wave of emotional imbalance, stay grounded; you are in charge of yourself! Put all fantasies aside and live in the moment.  Get rid of “if onlys” and “what might be”.  Set aside some time each day to meditate and practice mindful breathing.  OM!