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!

Colour. Polish. Nails.

For those of you that know me well, know that I love colour.  I dream in colour; colour makes me happy.  You also know I love nail polish and there are so many colourful options.​
I have dozens of bottles of nail polish and change my nail polish often.  I also change my color palette with the seasons (it is almost time to say goodbye to Summer). Spring brings pastels, light pinks and nudes while Summer is all about white, bold and neon.  Fall is more subdued with metallics, khaki, red oranges, browns, dark teals, blood red and fall greens while Winter brings out some darker tones: blacks, steel greys, navy, deep purple, garnet and icy blue.   My go to neutrals are always blue (never can get enough cobalt and sky blue) and red – always red!  Taupe is ever present if you should need a subdued look. You can choose a glossy or matte finish. Don’t forget there is always glitter, shimmer, holographic polish and layering just for fun!! The possibilities are virtually endless. But, be mindful of your audience especially in the professional world; neon and glitter are not for every occasion.
My all time favourite brand is Chanel. I just love their formula, colours and wearability.  Zoya is a close second these days, but there are so many brands available with many different price points. Don’t discount drug store brands.  You can have lots of fun with an inexpensive bottle of interesting holographs.  Some new brands to me and on my radar: Cirque Vice, Trust Fund Beauty and ILNP.
Good nail health starts with a good diet, vitamins and lots of hydration.  I generally soak my nails in warm olive oil a couple of times a month; have done it for years.  I use a cuticle oil at night; Essie has an Apricot Oil that is good and CND Solar Oil is another option.  I’ve been making my own with Essential Oils using a combination of: tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, grapefruit and peppermint in a base of Vitamin E oil.
You need to take care of your polishes as well.  Store them upright in a dark cool place.  Clean the bottles after every use with nail polish remover and if the enamel is thick, thin it with a few drops of polish thinner NOT polish remover.
Don’t use your nails as tools; wear gloves when doing the dishes. Always use a base coat; your nails will thank you.  Apply thin coats and let each coat dry for a few minutes before applying the next one.  Use a top coat and reapply every day.  If your polish should chip and you don’t have the time to change it, apply a topper; e.g. glitter to the nail and maybe another random nail or two.  It buys you at least a day and gives you yet another look.  I would think nail art or decals could be a viable option as well. Using white or nude as your initial layer pops neon colours!
It might sound like this takes a lot of time, but actually it doesn’t.  I tend to change polish or give myself a manicure when I am reading or answering email.  Seeing my colourful nails during the day makes me smile; sometimes all that is needed! It’s always the little things.
Colour is a girl’s best friend.  Don’t be afraid to make a statement and to be bold with it.  Nail polish is just one way; there are so many others. Have fun!

Rules of Civility

I feel as if I woke up one morning and all the rules had changed.  The world had suddenly become filled with egocentric individuals with no regard for anybody but themselves.  The political climate has emphasised this certainly (truly non partisan) and has given permission for improper behaviour.  In reality this didn’t happen suddenly, it has been a progression over the years as electronics have taken over our lives and we must have immediate gratification as we remain glued to our screens unaware of our surroundings.

One has tolerance for nothing and nobody but themselves.  Mind you, I think that putting yourself in the number one position is healthy and wise, but not at the expense or without empathy & respect of others.  I notice committed relationships crumbling because one party thinks it is okay to suddenly disappear for days at a time for  unknown reasons. What happened to partnerships and team work? So many people are money driven that simple pleasantries have all but disappeared. Driving has become a game of roulette; you never know what somebody is going to do on the road – certainly, no more leisurely Sunday drives.  Nobody wants to put the time and thought into something before they act. There seems to be no boundaries for inappropriate expression. Take responsibility for your actions – what a concept – and one of the past. Think before you speak (remember that?).  I encourage you not to be that intolerant person; remember what your values are and get your inner compass back in sync. Don’t fall prey to this phenomena.

Maybe this is an age related observation.  The older you get the more you realise that time really is important and people in your life do matter. What are you so busy doing that you can’t take time to let them know this? Live and be in the moment, take deep breaths, think of others, be true to yourself and keep your mind and spirit toxic free.  OM!

Joe’s Special

It has been awhile, once again,  since I have actually written a post.  I still have lots of ideas and will try to follow through with them in blog posts.  I don’t want to use the excuse of no time as we all know there is always time; it is just what we chose to do with it.  Some huge news is that I have become a grandmother since I last posted. I am beyond excited and am looking forward to spending some memorable moments with my granddaughter.  Yep, you guessed it, I can’t stop knitting.  Little garments are so addictive not to mention quick!  You all know how much I like instant gratification. This mini knitting has also rekindled my desire to make some sweaters for me.  Not, so instant gratification!!!

I am still devouring books – just loving reading right now.  My first long hike since the hip replacement (coming up on 5 months) is Sunday and I am so excited.  Looks like perfect weather, too.  Check in on Instagram for some photos.   The baking is still going strong and I am loving Tessa Huff / Style Sweet Ca at the moment.  Her book, LAYERED, has the most delicious cakes not to mention beautiful photography.  I am currently drooling over the various layered cookie recipes on her blog. I highly recommend it.

Some sadness and loss of friends. What is it ‘they’ say “it’s not if life throws you a curve ball, but when!”  It’s always a learning experience when something unexpected happens, but it is important to get perspective and practice acceptance.  Take things at face value and don’t let your ego get in the way.  Focus on what you can control which is often just yourself; not what you can’t. Ask the right questions  in order to understand why this change happened and keep an open mind. Meditate.  Mourn your loss, humour never hurts, be positive and remember my mantra KEEP MOVING. Life is an adventure.  It’s your adventure so don’t get derailed.  Breathe.

Dignity Health is running a sweet TV commercial with a human kindness theme.  It’s a great reminder.   Does being there for someone matter:  Yes.  You hold the power to heal.  Something to think about in today’s crazy world.  Make your space healthy not toxic. Think before you speak; be kind!



Now you ask, “what does all this have to do with the title of the blog, Joe’s Special?”  Absolutely nothing. I cooked this dish for dinner last night and thought it would be an easy recipe to share. It’s comfort food: a hearty scramble of eggs, ground beef, spinach, mushrooms and onions. It originated in San Francisco in the 1920’s and folklore has it that a customer ordered a spinach omelet very late one night and asked the chef if he had anything else to add to it. Hamburger was added and Joe’s Special was born.  Over the years, many variations have been created using chorizo, spicy Italian sausage or omitting the scrambled egg and putting a fried egg atop each serving. I must admit that I haven’t experimented much other than using the fresher ingredients that are now accessible to us.   I have been cooking this dish for years and particularly like it for breakfast with a side of vine ripe tomatoes and avocado.

I am going to share my recipe which I must warn you isn’t exactly a recipe – think of it as a guide.  You can make no mistakes; just have some fun with you very own adaptation (trust me, it changes each time I make it). This is a quick, easy and healthy meal; I make it a bit more complicated by using three pans.  One will suffice.

Butter or canola oil
Mushrooms, sliced (8 oz)
Onion, chopped (1)
Garlic, chopped (4)
Baby Spinach  (6-8 oz)
Ground Beef, very lean ( 1 lb)
Worchestershire Sauce (1t)
Black Pepper
Nutmeg (1/8 t)
Eggs (4-6)
Hot Sauce

Put the mushrooms (I use a mixture of crimini and white) in a large skillet with butter letting them brown over medium heat.  No need to stir often.  Once browned the add garlic and  onions cooking  until translucent  (about 5 minutes).

While this is happening in the first pan, cook the ground beef with the nutmeg (careful, a little goes a long way, IMO) & worchestershire in a second pan. While the beef is cooking  whisk the eggs in a bowl with a little bit of water and the hot sauce (I love the Texas Pete brand).

Once the mushroom mixture is ready add the spinach in batches until wilted. Add the cooked burger (make sure it is cooked all the way through) to this mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to your palette.

In yet another pan scramble the whisked eggs with butter  and then add them to the vegetable-burger mixture and gently combine.

Serve with a crusty sour dough bread and Enjoy!!!

Walk 4.1.17

Whatever your fitness goal is for the day – 10K steps or simply to walk the dog – now is the perfect time of year to achieve it!  Trees and flowers are in bloom; the colours are fantastic.  Find your green and don’t forget your camera!