It’s Hearts and Flowers Time

How does the time go so quickly? The year has barely begun, yet it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Here, in the beautiful northern end of California’s Central Valley, the weather is cooperating. My son, in Oklahoma, is facing five inches of new snow, while our roses are starting to put on new growth.

Within the next two weeks, the almond orchards will be in full blossom. By early March, we’ll have blossoms everywhere. Still, this week we’ll focus on the flowers (and candy and other gifts) we share with our loved ones.

My sweet husband has made plans for a great day and evening together. He has also ordered gifts for our daughter, whose first valentine was her daddy, and for two daughters-in-law who’ve lost their dads. I’m blessed to have him.

As I write that, I wonder: How many people I know will be dreading the coming of February 14? How many will spend that evening hunkered down with a video game or a movie or a pint of Haagen Dazs?

I want to remember them too, the lonely people. I want to reach out to someone who feels they have no one, to remind them of their value. Near where I live is a shelter for homeless veterans. I’m thinking they could use some pretty valentine cookies.

Is there someone near you who could use a cookie, a flower, a smile, a hug? I hope you will think of them, too, as you enjoy the coming celebration with those you love.

November roses

November roses

One of the joys of living in the California Central Valley is the beautiful bounty that grows here. It’s among the great blessings I appreciate at this time of year when Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Traditionally, this celebration came at the end-of-harvest. Where is that more meaningful than in a place like this where almost anything grows and where harvests are rich and plentiful? Where agriculture is the base of the local economy?

I’m also blessed that, while many of my friends in other places are already under snow, I am still enjoying my rose garden, the one planted just outside my office window, the one I can enjoy as I sit here writing. We haven’t yet experienced a hard freeze and the roses love the cooler weather that has come with the autumn. They’re thriving.

I often have roses from mid-March through early December, and I try to take the time to enjoy them. “Stop and smell the roses” has become such a cliche catch-phrase, but it can be real, too. When unexpected events arise, as events will, my roses can be a place for peaceful reflection, a quiet removal from the chaos to allow me to find my center and refresh.

At this time of year, I’m grateful for so many things. Among my great blessings is the beauty of nature, starting with the rich beauty I can see and enjoy, right outside my office window. 

May you also enjoy a beautiful launch into the holiday season.

The Pacific Flyway

The Pacific Flyway

California grows rice, about two million metric tons of it each year, and 95% of that is grown in the Sacramento Valley. Those of us who live in the valley become accustomed to the rhythms of the rice season, planting to harvest.ea


We are also firmly in the Pacific Flyway. Between our location and the flooded rice paddies, we are visited by many kinds of water fowl each winnter. December is a great time for swans, gray geese, coots, and a few ducks. We found some of them enjoying our home country this past week.

 

 

 

These birds were feeding in fields near Richvale, California, with the Sutter Buttes in the background. Fun fact: the Buttes constitute the smallest mountain range in the world.

Our avian visitors are always welcome. They’ll soon be followed by Snow geese, Ross geese, and varied species of ducks. We’re happy to share our valley with them all.

Look for the first three books in the “Seasons of Destiny” series, available for pre-order now. All three are due to be released on January 6. The fourth book will follow later in January. In order, the four are: Paris in the Springtime, Sunny’s Summer, Amber in Autumn, and Winter Skye. Hope you enjoy! 

The Nativity

The Nativity

Christmas has passed and I am once again putting things away until next year. That activity means I get to stir up memories of each of the treasures collected over the years. That includes a growing collection of nativity scenes.


Our first acquisition was a small, rather traditional portrayal, complete with an angel who stood on a staired shelf in the stable. We book-end it with another traditional set that shows all the figures in silvery porcelain.

Since then, we’ve gathered a few others. I’ve been fascinated by the many ways different artists portrait the story. A few years ago, our church sponsored a Creche Festival. (That’s when I learned that a nativity scene is a creche.) People brought their prizes in over a four-day period. The creches were artfully displayed on white tablecloths amid poinsettias and lights. I was astonished by the range of styles and interpretations.

One of the interesting aspects is the way different cultures have appropriated the story to make it their own. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, I found a set portraying the holy family and their visitors as Aymara natives. In Tuba City, Arizona, just inside the edge of Hopi, we found a set that cast each of the well-known characters as members of  Four Corners nations. The rug trader, naturally, is Navajo. Other figures are Hopi or Santa Clara Pueblo and the scene is set inside a typical Hopi pueblo.

Other portrayals are traditional, but in such varied media and design that their differences are more notable than their similarities.

There’s the one that includes a light for the star. Another is made in crystal. One of our favorites was a gift from a friend who paints miniatures. My finger is included there for scale. In a craft class, a daughter-in-law created a minimalist portrayal of the Holy Family. We enjoy that, too. We displayed them all this season.

We may find others we like in years to come. We may be honored with gifts from other friends and family. Although it seems we’re running out of room, we will always find ways to portray them. They are part of what makes Christmas.

Look for the first three books in the “Seasons of Destiny” series, available for pre-order now. All three are due to be released on January 6. The fourth book will follow later in January. In order, the four are: Paris in the Springtime, Sunny’s Summer, Amber in Autumn, and Winter Skye. Hope you enjoy! 

The Perfect Gingerbread House

The Perfect Gingerbread House

Thanksgiving in our home is much like the holiday in many other American households. We have the turkey with all the trimmings and invite any of the family who live nearby. This year we had two sons with their combined families who joined us for the day.

Our youngest son, a talented though amateur chef, prepared a “flying pig,” his own creation. It began with a turducken (boned chicken inside boned duck inside boned turkey), but then added layers of ham and sausage. He packed different kinds of dressing between the layers of meat. My favorite was the wild rice with sausage, although the fruit stuffing came in a close second. The total  concoction weighed 37 pounds before it went into the oven.

Each of the families added one or more yummy side dishes and everyone brought pies. That gave us a delightful Thanksgiving feast. It also gave us six adults and eight children to enjoy the day. The two eldest grandkids, cousins born two days apart, turned 10 that same week; the baby was 15 months old.

We intended to keep the group through the afternoon, enjoying leftovers and pie into the evening hours. So the challenge: How to keep eight little people entertained through the afternoon, especially considering the weather getting chillier and the darkness coming sooner each evening. That definitely narrowed the chances for outside play. What to do?

We started by having the kiddos decorate the Christmas tree, which we set up the day before. They covered it thoroughly, all the while making sure to keep the breakable and edible ornaments out of the hands of the one- and three-year-olds. Decorating the tree kept everyone busy for the first hour after dinner, but we still had several hours to go. We decided to  build a gingerbread house.

I knew better than to start from scratch. I love gingbread and enjoy making it from a recipe, but with eight assistant cooks in the kitchen? Not a good idea. We planned ahead and bought a kit.

In no time at all, we realized the standard approach of carefully following the lines and decorating according to the design on the package was never going to work. We passed out the parts of the house, one per child, and gave them the freedom to decorate however they liked. We also quickly saw that the frosting that came with the kit wasn’t going to do the trick. There wasn’t enough and with only one frosting bag to go around, seven little people waited and fussed while one took her (or his) time with the frosting bag.

Our resident chef made some royal icing which he divided into several bags and we passed them around the table. When the candy that came with the kit ran low, I scrounged up some leftovers from Halloween. In the end, every child except the youngest got an opportunity to decorate something.

The resulting house is nothing like the kit’s designers intended. Each half of the roof looks quite different from the other. The front wall is nothing like the back wall, and the two side walls are even more different. The tree in the front “yard” is nicely decorated, thanks to one of our five-year-olds, but the gingerbread man who is supposed to reside here is gone. The three-year-old made him so enticing that he ate him on the spot.

Our gingerbread house has become a permanent centerpiece for our dining room table since Thanksgiving Day. It may not be what the designers planned, but we think it’s perfect.


Susan is the author of 20 novels. Her newest series explores the four seasons in nearby locales.  Paris in the Springtime and Sunny’s Summer are available now. Look for Amber in Autumn and Winter Skye, both coming early in 2020 in e-book and paperback. 

Visiting the Neighbors

Visiting the Neighbors

Here where we live in northern California, we boast the largest municipal park in the nation. Parts of it look like deep wilderness, until you hear a car horn from just a few dozen yards away. Other parts are truly wild, inhabited by bobcats, eagles, lynx, bears, and cougars. Some of our favorite and most frequently glimpsed wildlife are the deer. 

For reasons I can understand (I’d feel the same way if I were a deer), they like to hang out on the golf course in Upper Park. The grass is well-tended and hunting is unlawful. Thus, the deer have little to fear from humans and, although not at all tame, they are unafraid if we don’t approach too closely. 

One day last week, my hubby and I decided to take a short drive. We wanted to visit the neighbors. It didn’t take long to discover them. We found the yearling girls grazing peacefully together with the Boys’ Club slightly removed. A few minutes later, they wandered nearer and we got an even better view.

That’s when I chose to pay our friends a more personal visit. One of the young bucks lifted his head and twitched an ear, letting me know he was keeping an eye on me, but other than that, they behaved in a neighborly manner and we had a pleasant time.  This is just one of the things I love about the beautiful place where we live.

Susan loves to hear from readers. Write her at susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com, or visit www.susanaylworth.com or her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author. Watch for Amber in Autumn, Book 3 in the “Seasons of Destiny” series, coming near the end of September.