Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 174: Richmond HO!

As this post is published I am on a Delta flight to Richmond, Virginia, the city of my birth.  This weekend is my 50th class high school reunion.  Photos to follow of old ladies and gents.  The monuments along Monument Avenue define Richmond for me.  It will be interesting to see how the city has changed in a half century. Richmond HO!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 173: The Sound of Music

In the mid 1980's each week I would visit the Sisters of the Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park.  These women are a community of cloistered Dominican nuns.  Prayer is their life.  My job was to help the more timid women to read more clearly and effectively.  The Sister on the left is the remarkable Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit.  Here she sits next to the new Prioress, Sister Mary Assumpta.  I visited them yesterday.  SM of the Holy Spirit is a remarkable 92 years old.  She is a concert singer, a prize winning photographer,  artist and a true character.  Ron and I went to pay a social call on these amazing ladies yesterday.  I post here one of her remarkable photographs.  Check out her angelic voice in this YouTube clip.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 172: The Stanford Improvisors Today

Standford Improvisors September 2010
In 1991 when I was teaching at Stanford I had the great good fortune to found a student group known as "The SImps" or the Stanford Improvisors.  At the time it came out of necessity when a group of young men and women who were raring to jump on stage, improvise, study improvising and teach others to improvise appeared on the scene.  Nearly twenty years later this group is thriving at Stanford under the wise coaching of Dan Klein (who was named teacher of the year by the ASSU students in 2009).  Dan is teaching a Global World Improv seminar in Ireland this week and I have happily agreed to show up and teach his improv classes at Stanford.  Pictured here is the current generation of the SImps.  I had the most wonderful time playing games with them and musing over what it means to "create a safe space" for people to learn how to improvise.  I am very proud of this talented and generous group.  Next May we will celebrate the 20th year with a reunion weekend.  Go Stanford Improvisors!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 171: Death Valley

My husband Ron just spent a few days in Death Valley with his son, Jason who is a professional photographer.  They had a great time trekking the dunes and taking shots of sand.  Lots of sand, beautiful sand.  This photo was taken by Ron and then "treated" as a weave. Don't you think it is lovely?  What is possible with photography today is truly astonishing.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day 170: Sunday at the Apple Store

Spending Sunday at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store.  It's funny how the world of technology is taking up so much of many of our lives these days.  I woke up to find my IPhone had no battery left.  It had been draining overnight for "no reason."  Having come to depend on this device for information, navigation, phone numbers, friends alerts and the many email that fills the day, my only option today was to drive over the hill to the Hillsdale Apple Store to solve the problem.  People here are very nice and as I write this a technician is restoring my phone and clearing up some software settings that is causing the problem.
So, as I celebrate "everyday things" let me make a special thanks to all of those young men and women who keep our techno-systems working.  All hail the technicians of the world.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 169: Charlie's Birthday

Being a career teacher means that over the years some students have become special friends.  Probably the best part of teaching is watching those young men and women grow into the next generation of parents and teachers.  I am fond of calling Adam Tobin "my favorite student of all time" . . . with apologies to any other student who imagines they hold that title.  Adam was a member of the founding Stanford Improvisers group in 1991.  I have enjoyed following his life, graduate work in Film at USC and his stint as a script writer in Hollywood, as well as his marriage to the brilliant and talented Amy Mushlin.  Adam is now an instructor in the Film Program at Stanford.  He teaches also for Continuing Studies at Stanford.  Today was his son, Charlie's second birthday party.  It was held at Burgess Park in Menlo Park and the world was full of children, good food and young families.  We were happy to be invited.  Here are a few photos of the happy event.  You may notice that Amy is carrying the next Tobin family member along with the skeptical Charlie.  She is expected to deliver in the next two weeks.  Happy sailing, Amy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 168: Memories

Last Tuesday night I began a ten week course with Stanford's Continuing Studies program on the topic of "Memory."  Each week a new guest lecturer will look at the fascinating subject from a different angle.  The opening lecture was by Professor Michael Shank, who is a classical archeologist and archeaographer.  HIs web site has some stunning photographs.

Memory has been on my mind lately since I am registered to attend my 50th year high school class reunion in Richmond, VA next weekend.  I graduated Thomas Jefferson High School in 1960.  The embarrassing thing is that I have almost no recall of events in high school.  I can't name five people that I knew during that time of my life.  So, in an effort to try and "jog my memory"  I went in search of my high school yearbook.  It was not to be found (although I did locate my college yearbook).  In the box of dusty memories I found a small box with a gift I had received in 1979.  This was a birthday party for me given by one of my Stanford undergraduates, Maureen Grady, now Maureen Grady Reed.  The party was a magical one.  The small student apartment was lit totally by candles.  The soulful music of Jane Oliver was playing "Some Enchanted Evening" and the center of the room was decorated with roses, rose petals and crystals everywhere.  I still have many of those crystals.  This photograph was taken at that party.  The wonderful evening comes flooding back filled with warm and joyous memory.  These memories are possible because Maureen had  created a memorable event for me.  I'd like for her to know that thirty one years later I can remember that night in detail.  Thank you, Maureen, for the wonder you bring to so many lives.  I am blessed by the friendships I've made along the way.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 167: Breakfast alone

One of the habits I developed while living alone for over 45 years was that of sitting down to a meal with myself.  It may seem silly, but I usually set the table with a placemat, napkin, etc and make a meal into an occasion.  During my single days I loved eating alone in restaurants too.  There is something rich about celebrating a meal by honoring it with a place setting.    Of course, I don't always do this.  Like most of the world, I grab a bagel and mug of coffee on the fly or eat a sandwich while sitting with my feet up reading a book.

But a lot of time it just seems right, honorable, to take the time to sit down to a meal.  This week my husband Ron is traveling and I'm "batcheloring" it.  I'm using the tea cosy I got in Dingle and some jam I just bought at the King's Mountain art and craft fair.  I'm also enjoying the lemon curd I just made.  The crockery is pottery by my favorite artist:  Sandy Kreyer.  Come join me for breakfast some time.  Doesn't take much time to make something special out of everyday life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 166: Our stove

In yesterday's post I gave credit to my stovetop.  This is where I stand to cook.  Not only did Ron install the range, he also did the gorgeous tile work behind the stove.   These tiles are Spanish, and each one is unique. They are hand painted tiles.  The racks standing at attention above pop down and serve as warming racks with the heat lamps keeping food at a nice temperature to serve.  As I celebrate "everyday things"  my kitchen stove is among my favorite things.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 165: "Who Helped Me Know What I Know?"

The Japanese practice known as Naikan (pronounced like the camera) is a way of getting a fresh perspective on things.  This lens invites us to notice how we are being supported by others.  It turns the image of the "self made person" on its ear and focuses on finding all the ways that others actions make our own lives possible.  Naikan ( or asking three questions, "What have I received, what have I given, and what trouble have I caused?") has a variety of applications.  In a class a few years ago I introduced this exercise which comes from Naikan. . 

  "Who Helped Me Know What I Know?"
Pick a talent that you have or a hobby that you are good at.  Then begin listing the names of all of those who helped you, taught you, or facilitated your understanding of that subject.  This may include people who you don't know personally, but whose work contributed to your knowledge. 

I chose cooking as my talent and hobby and started to think of those who have helped me to become the cook that I am.  Here goes:  My mother taught me to be a hostess and to set a table for others.  She also taught me how to cook pinto beans and make spaghetti sauce.  Josephine Landor, a dear friend, taught me how to wash vegetables when they come into the kitchen and put them in containers with a paper towel to absorb the moisture.  The lettuce was always crispy fresh to make a salad.  Jo taught me how to make a "back out dinner"  backing out leftovers in the fridge and turning them into an attractive meal.  She taught me how to dress a salad properly, not drenching it.  My Granny Ryan was the first woman in a kitchen that I remember.  She  always wore an apron to cook and filled the house with great smells.  Years later, Dalla Brown taught me how to make soup out of anything.  She also taught me about using up every single item (if it hadn't gone bad) in the fridge to honor the food we have been given.  I learned how to make scones from Dalla.  She would flatten out a large circle and cut wedges to form triangular scones.  And, then I am indebted to the writers of cookbooks, especially to Ed Brown, Molly Katzen and Irma Rombauer who wrote the JOY OF COOKING.  I am indebted to the countless cooks who took the time to write down a recipe and share it (on a 3X5 card, on their blogs, on the internet, in family cookbooks.)  I could not be a cook if it wasn't for the inventor and manufacturer of my Viking Range and cooktops.  Also, my cooking comes from having fresh ingredients which I am able to buy at our local Famers's Market in Half Moon Bay.  To all the farmers who get up before light to bring their produce and goods to the market, I am in your debt.  And, I am a cook thanks to the generous and appreciative palate of my husband, Ron.  Over the past twenty years he has eaten with relish everything I've ever put in front of him.  He compliments me and he always cleans up the kitchen.  His work supports my cooking.  And, while I'm thinking of it, Ron built the kitchen that I am working in, designed the cabinets, varnished the wood floor, and maintains the plumbing which brings water to the kitchen and takes away waste.  He also maintains the compost.

You may want to try this exercise.  Pick a talent and list those who helped you to become what you have become.

Monday, September 20, 2010

day 164: The Social Network

Last night the Stanford Film Society had a sneak preview of The Social Network.  This is the hot new movie which tells the story of the origins of Facebook.  The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing) and it is directed by David Fincher who did The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
This is a big film that will be talked about all year.  I was taken with it and want to think about it before writing my review.  I'm off this morning to a press conference at Stanford to hear Sorkin and Fincher interviewed by Adam Tobin who teaches film at Stanford.

More to follow . . .

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 163: The Easiest Recipe - Pot Roast

Sometimes the very simplest recipes are the best.   This  three ingredient recipe makes a  mouth watering dinner.  All I need to remember is to buy the roast.  I always have canned tomatoes and garlic on hand.  It's the slow simmering that makes this succulent.  Also suitable for a slow cooker. 
Laurie Colwin’s 
Exceptional Easy, easy Pot Roast

(15 min. prep  start to finish:  4 hrs. cooking)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

1 3-3 ½ lb. Boneless chuck roast
1 28oz can of tomatoes (whole or chopped)
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves (I peel them)

If not already, coarsely chop tomatoes.  Separate
Garlic Cloves.  (Laurie doesn’t peel them.  I do)

Sear meat in a little butter on each side in a 4-5 qt.
Heavy casserole dish with a lid. (dutch oven is ideal)

Pour tomatoes over meat, scatter garlic.  Stir a bit.
Season with salt and pepper.
Braise in oven, covered until tender (3-4 hours)

For a complete meal, during the last hour you can
   add three medium potatoes, peeled and quartered,
four carrots- peeled and halved.

(The sauce is heavenly with crusty bread)

Serves 6  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day 162: Glass

"I love glass.  I love that it is a liquid even though it seems to be a solid.  I love that it can slow light down from a cosmic 186,000 miles per hour to a near-street-legal 36.  I love that it can carry giga-bytes of information across 4,000 miles of Atlantic bottom in less than a second.  I love that it can be molded into the crude, but practical mug or blown into the thinnest of champagne flutes.  I love that it can be formulated to allow visible light to pass with little restriction even as it reflects nearly all infrared radiation.  I love that it can have the lowest density of any solid.   Most of all I love the beautiful way it vitreously becomes any color of our choosing by absorbing all the unwanted energies.

We humans can be like glass.  We're constantly bombarded by the widest possible spectrum of external influences, but our presence is knowable only by the stimuli we reflect, absorb or allow to pass right through.  We're seen by others only as shadows, observable only through the changes we affect on our environment."         by Will Whitted

Today I am in the debt of two friends: one who is close both in location as well as state of mind and the other who lives far away and who I have met only through the magic of the blogosphere.  The beautiful photograph is the work of Diane Walker, whose blog, "Contemplative Photography" is a favorite haunt. Do visit her site.  Her photography and poetry inspires.

The essay on glass by my friend was a response to an improv game we've been playing called "Portkey."  I learned this game from Matt Smith of Seattle.  The game begins when one player sends a random word to someone else.  That player then responds by seeing where the word "takes them."   He responds with a story or reflection that is triggered by the word.  At the end the one having told the story then pulls a word from within their story and sends it back to the first player (or another, if there are more than two in the game."  Wasn't this an amazing response to the word, glass?  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 161: Egg Hats

This is what the well dressed egg wears in El Granada.  I think we bought these Tyrollean hats for boiled eggs in a tiny shop in Germany during the trip to "Christmas Markets of Europe" some years back.  They keep the eggs warm while we assemble the rest of the breakfast.  I wonder who the little women was who knitted these totally unnecessary, but precious items?  Can you imagine her (it had to be a woman, didn't it?) selecting the little feathers to tuck into the band.  All hail useless, charming stuff.  Oh, that is Earl Grey tea I'm drinking and out of frame is the Meyer Lemon curd I use to decorate my home made toast.  Isn't life grand.  On a tea box I once saw the quote:  "Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea."  

Thursday, September 16, 2010


As I pay homage to the ordinary things in my life I must not overlook my favorite drink which is Earl Grey tea.  I can hardly ever get enough of it.  I'm drinking a cup now.  I enjoy sampling the different brands and sub-flavors. I drink it with milk and sweetener, like a regular black tea.  Many tea buffs would find this a form of bastardization.  Purists insist Earl Grey be drunk black.  

A particular favorite comes from the TEALUXE company in Boston.  One of their blends is called "Creme de la Earl Grey" (#211) and has a creamy, smokey flavor.  I order it by the pound in loose leaf form.  Would love to hear from any other Earl Grey aficionados.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 159: Favorite Recipes Granny's Coconut Pie

Granny’s Coconut Pie
350 degree oven

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup whole milk
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cup coconut
Fresh nutmeg

Beat eggs and sugar.  Add milk
Then melted butter, vanilla, coconut
And nutmeg.  Mix well. Bake in
Unbaked pieshell.  45 min or till brown.
(for 8inch  pieshell)

This is a simple recipe that takes almost no time to throw together.  Yet it is truly delicious, if you like coconut.  My Granny Ryan used to make it.  After she died I found a faded 3 X 5 card with this recipe on it.  I hope you will make it and let me know how it goes.  I keep frozen pieshells in the freezer so that I can throw one of these into the oven in a flash.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 158: To Be of Use - My beloved Ron

To be of use                                                                                          
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums                                      
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

"To be of use" by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
from CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc
First published in Lunch magazine..

Wonderful Ron is painting the ceiling of our covered deck.
We've chosen a sky blue.  So when we sit on our wicker 
furniture and look up we'll see the sky and the sky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 157: Trudy's Birthday

Today is the birthday of my best friend, Trudy Boyle.  She is a woman with so many admirable qualities that I hardly know where to begin when I introduce her.  She is a mother, grandmother, friend and helper to many people.  She recently retired from work as the program director for Wellspring, Calgary, a cancer resource center.  I met her nearly twenty years ago when we both became teachers of Constructive Living.  She was scheduled to be here in California to celebrate her birthday, but she canceled the trip when a family member needed support being at the side of a loved one who was in hospice for his last days.  Trudy is a person who shows up for others.  She is a beacon of light and comfort to all who know her.  While I wish we were blowing out her birthday candles together tonight, I think she knows that our love is with her and her family at this time.  
In this photo we are walking off into our golden years together.
Happy birthday.  The day you were born was a very good day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day 156: Painting from Ireland

At the end of our Ireland trip I posted a series of paintings that I did while studying with Judi Whitton.  I got a kind comment from Steve in the UK who is also a fan of Judi's.  It is a compliment, indeed, to hear that I seem to have interpreted Judi's advice well.  I have more of my work done in Ireland posted on a Flickr site for anyone who wants to see others paintings by Patricia done in Ireland, 2010.  I am indebted to Judi for her wisdom and gentle tutelage.   Great teachers are rare. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day 155: It can all change in an instant

On Thursday evening Ron and I were walking on the beach near our home and we looked up at the eastern sky.  Over the San Bruno mountains was a large cloud of smoke.  Hmmm . . . looks like a fire we said.   We sauntered home and I began preparing a lovely dinner of Halibut, fresh peas and brown rice.  Turning on the television to catch the evening news and weather we were dumbstruck by images of a residential neighborhood, not 15 miles from our own home, that was consumed in flames.  It was later revealed that a large gas line had ruptured creating an instant fire of gigantic proportions.  We watched in horror as a whole community burst into flame.

Safe at home we felt fragile and aware of how quickly ones life can change forever.  It only makes sense to treasure each moment and never take for granted the privilege of our lives.  Our prayers are with the families who lost their homes and who are suffering in this tragedy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day 154: My Pantry

When Ron built our house he created the most useful pantry, right off of our kitchen.  Inspired by the Zen Center's open shelving we opted to have a pantry just like this.  We keep flour and staples in glass jars and canisters and I can easily see when a staple needs replacing.  What is surprising is how clean the area stays.  It doesn't seem to get that dusty, even over time.  I collect glass jars to use to decant small quantities of stuff.  All hail the pantry.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 153: The Magic of Meyer Lemons

The first thing we planted when we moved into our new home in El Granada was a Meyer Lemon tree.  After struggling for the first three or four years it took root and has become a significant tree in our garden.  Each year now we harvest hundreds of lemons.  Cooking with these sweet lemons is a treat.  My favorite thing to make is Meyer Lemon Curd.  Here is today's pile of lemons with two small jars of the wickedly delicious curd.  Here is the recipe.  It's easy.

Lemon Curd
1/2 cup of unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons lightly packed finely grated lemon zest
Pinch salt
6 large egg yolks

Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat.  Remove the pan from heat and whisk in the sugar, lemon juice, zest and salt.  Whisk in the yolks until smooth. Return the pan to medium low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens.  5-6 minutes.  To check if the curd is thick enough, dip a wooden spoon into it and draw your dinger across the back of the spoon; your finger should leave a path.  Don't let the mixture boil.  (*Immediately force the curd through a fine sieve into a bowl, using a rubber spatula. ) Let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Or pour into clean small jelly jars.   Refrigerate and use soon or freeze to use later.    * I leave out the elimination of the zest step and keep the curd with the tender zest flakes.  Some folks like the curd smooth.  If so, do the step of sieving the mix.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 152: Ordinary things . . . Oatmeal

Over five months ago I started this blog as an homage to the ordinary things in our lives. I've been sidetracked quite a few times posting pictures from our travels and family gatherings as well as a substantial number of my art pieces.  It's pleasing to see the watercolors as they shine on the computer screen.

Today I return to a reflection on ordinary things.  I offer you the humble and delicious bowl of oatmeal.  This photo was taken in Ireland while we were self catering in Schull.  After the weeks of FULL IRISH BREAKFAST at the B & B's we'd been frequenting, (can you count the vein clogging fats in those meals?) all Ron wanted was a bowl of Irish oatmeal . . . or porridge as they call it.  When we'd ask the B & B owners if they had any we got the reply that "Porridge is only served in the winter."  Hmmmm.  I wonder.  Well, we bought a bag and made our own.  It's nice in a white bowl with a blue rim, don't you think?

A healthier way to start the day than this:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 151: The California Coast

Since getting back from Ireland I haven't had much time to paint, but I did show up last Wednesday at our Plein Air painting group.  That week we met on the bluffs looking out over the Pacific.  Here is the painting from that day.  We were in Pescadero.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Day 150: Small sketches of Ireland

I have always been fond of "small things."  I carry a sketchbook around with me at all times and if I can find a way to slow down, stop and look, I can often get a quick sketch of a view.   Then with a water brush I color in the scene.  While in Ireland this time I painted a small painting nearly every day. This, of a side street in Dingle, Ireland, is one of my favorites.
This is a street scene in Kenmare

And this is a quick sketch of the Rock Cottage 2 where we stayed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day 149: The Fourth Day of Painting in Schull

On our final day of plein air painting with Judi Whitton she took us to St. Mary's cemetery in Schull.  The ruin of an old church dates to the potato famine days of the 1850's.  A new church which is down the road was built and this one fell into decay.  The site of the cemetery is right next to the ocean.  Little boats sail and motor by.  The day we painted was a clear, cool picture perfect day.  These paintings a good examples of what I am trying to do with the Whitton techniques I've been learning.  The final image is a quick sketch I did in a small watercolor sketchbook.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 148: Day three of painting in Schull

On our third day of instruction we went to an interesting site which seemed like a mud flat at first.  There was an intriguing covered bridge which most of us painted. I also spent time painting an island in the other direction.  I saw so many colors in the landscape.  I'll post the image of my small sketch in the sketchbook.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Day 147: Second Day of Painting Bantry House

At Bantry House we had some exceptional views.  Two days ago I posted the image of the watercolor I did of the facade of the coach-house.  I also did this painting of a grove of myrtle trees.  The bark was a bright shade of gold: very distinctive.  

This is a quick sketch of our beloved instructor:  Judi Whitton.  Her work has been inspiring me for years.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 146: First Day Painting

On the first day of the Judi Whitton workshop we went out to a seaside location.  The view I chose looked across the water at an Irish landscape.  In the foreground is the wrecked hull of an old ship.  It looks a little like dinosaur bones or something in this painting.  The photo following shows the site from my vantage point.

For the rest of this week I plan to post artwork done while in Ireland.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day 145: The Painting I was doing

As I sat in the rain with my umbrella this was the scene I was painting.  It is the facade of a coach house that is part of the Bantry House group of buildings.  This estate is one of the treasures of that part of Ireland.