"People from a planet without flowers
would think we must be mad with joy the whole time
to have such things about us."
~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Shoot Out: Tastes and Smells

There is the overwhelming fragrance on a walk through the Amador flower farm in the Shenandoah Valley of the California Foothills....

And the wonderful, spicy smell of freshly sliced strawberries from the Great Central Valley....

But have you taken a deep breath while picking the tomatoes from your own garden?

 Have you smelled the subtle sweetness of a hand full of beans?
 
Or the fresh watery aroma of a freshly picked Zucchini ?

 Has the Basil captured your senses as you walk by on a hot summer day?
Nature has it's own way of getting your attention, but if you want lip smacking, in your face, goodness for your senses....
Put some fragrant flowers on your table, then go into the kitchen and make some Pesto with the freshly picked basil leaves. Cook some of the beans, cool them and put oil and vinegar dressing on them.  Now, slice some tomatoes and zucchini and add them to the beans.
Add some Pesto to some cooked pasta. Sweeten the strawberries and add a dollop of whipped cream for dessert.
How is that for the aromas and  flavors of Summer? Want to come for dinner?

Please go to this site for more photos on the subject of "taste and smells".

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vintage Thursday; Photo of a young man

The man on the far right is my maternal grandfather on a hiking trip with friends around the turn of the century. His name was Ludwig Markowsky Lytjen.  He was very handsome.( My oldest grandson looks like him. ) He appeared to love photography. His family was Danish/German and they were Christian Scientists. He was born in October 1883 and  he died in his early 30's. This is all I know of him.
The IOC letters on the man's sweater may stand for the International Ornithological Congress, if my research is at all valid.  It's the only organization that I could find in existence back at the turn of the century. If I'm wrong and the acronym is ICO then it could be the Illinois College of Optometry or the International Coffee Organization, which doesn't shed any light on anything. It's all a guess and really has nothing to do with what is happening in the photo except that the man might be carrying eye drops or he might have brought coffee for everyone. I just thought that I could find more information about where the photo was taken. Acronyms sometimes give you more insight. .
There is a building above them on the left and two people on the rocks in the upper middle of the photo. They are all wearing warm clothing so it's probably not summer....or maybe near the ocean.
I love this photo not only because it's one of the few I have of my grandfather, but because it's so indicative of the times. I think my grandfather was quite the "dandy" and seemed over dressed for the occasion. The group as a whole seems more casual. I love the hats.
I think that the blond man in the middle of the photo is taking the picture. It looks like he is holding a remote camera button. What do you think?

This is the same group of handsome young men on the same day, having lunch and relaxing. My grandfather is on the right in front. He still looks like my oldest grandson. Look at him! No wonder my grandma fell in love with him.
The young man on the left, in front, is still up to his clever deceptions. See his hand? He's taking the picture. That might be driftwood behind them. If so, my guess would still be the ocean.  It does seem awfully rocky. Maybe it's around the Cliff House in San Francisco.
It doesn't really matter where they are. I love these photos. I see a grandfather that I never knew who looks like my son and grandson. I see his hands..... that look familiar too. Something in that steady, staring countenance that reminds me of my people.  That he once lived and loved my grandmother and walked the earth before us, gives me connection and continuance. This is why I love photography. It is, in a way, "calling something by its real name."

Please take a look at Colorado Lady's Blog for other vintage stories.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Grandmother's House

This was the very first place in my life that I truly and forever fell in love with. This was my maternal grandmother's house. It was a small two bedroom house in the hills above Napa, California. Before there were Wine Trains, fancy bed and breakfasts, balloon rides over the valley and golf courses with gate keepers, there was a very small town were everybody knew your name and folks lived in the same place their whole lives. It was a beautiful town.
My grandmother's name was Johanna. She was raised  on a ranch, on the Silverado Trail, outside of  Napa. Johanna married a man in the last part of the 1910's who was from Berkeley. He was the love of her life. She moved there with him and settled into domestic life. In about 1923 he got sick and died. He was 30 years old and left  my grandmother with three children under the age of five.
She returned to Napa, and the Ranch, where her Italian parents and sisters could help her and she went to work as a cook at the Napa State Hospital in Imola. She was a widow and single parent in the early 1920's without any skills but she did know how to cook.
My mother remembered the ranch as her real home even though they frequently moved into town and rented a house, on Bailey Street near the fairgrounds, when Grandma got tired of living with her parents. She also worked as a dinner cook for a wealthy Italian family in town. My mother, being the oldest, would take care of her brother and sister until her mother got home.  Even though Grandma was tired and worked long hours she would always read them stories before they went to bed. Sometimes she would bring home leftovers or a special dessert for the children.
The year I was born my grandmother built a house with the help of her only son. It was 1944 and she finally got to have a home of her own. She lived there until 1965, surviving two awful fires that came down through the canyon, threatening her house and destroying the surrounding vegetation. Both times the firemen were able to save her home and she would return to her house on the hill. Then in 1965 she got very sick and had to come and live with us.  I think that this was the last blow. She lost her husband, then her youngest daughter,  and then, finally, had to leave the home that she loved. She had cancer. She died in the Spring.
The Prospector and I got married that Summer. Mom rented the house to other people, but in the Summer of 1972 we took our son "M" and moved into my grandma's house. Our son was four years old.
This was a dream of mine ... to live here with the huge rocks, the beautiful view and the memories. We cleaned and painted. We had to replace the floor in the bathroom because one of the renters had let their cat use a corner for a cat box and it rotted the floor out. We fixed everything. I made curtains and decorated "M"s room in blue cowboy things. The Prospector was going to get a job transfer up in the Napa area and we were going to live there forever.
We bought a brand new green truck (for me) and the Prospector commuted to Concord in our little Volkswagen Bug.
 I enrolled "M" in a preschool that was in an elementary school in town. It was the same school that my dad had gone to when he was a boy. There was such a connection to everything. I felt as if I had finally come home.
One night when the Prospector was doing shift work and getting home at 11:00 p.m. he fell asleep driving down Silverado Trail. He was almost home. He woke up just in time to side swipe an oncoming car. He didn't wake me because I was sleeping. I found out the next morning. He was fine, but the Bug was totaled.  The next weekend we went down and looked at homes in Antioch, Ca. The hour drive was too much for him that late at night and there were not going to be any transfers in the near future anywhere around the Napa area.  Two weeks later we bought a house. It was a new house but it was already built. Everything happen so fast. I didn't have time to think about anything but the pending move. We had only been in my Grandma's house for about 6 months.We ended up raising our boys in Antioch. We were there for 23 years.
I love this photo of "M" and I, with our dog Greta. I was pregnant.....
That Spring we had our second child "J". He was the sweetest baby. Greta liked him too. Two boys, five years apart.... just like we had planned. Just what we wanted.... good old birth control pills.
"M" was such a good "big" brother. He helped me with everything. He loved bringing diapers and holding the bottle. He was my little helper.
We had a neighborhood and friends that lived close by. We had a babysitter who lived two doors down, in our court, who could called her parents if she needed help. It was wonderful for the boys to have such a safe place to live. This was where we needed to be. We didn't have to worry about Rattlesnakes or Poison Oak and the likelihood of fire was very slim. It was a beautiful home and life was good.....but....
.... I will always miss the way the sun came in the kitchen windows at my grandmother's house. I painted the kitchen yellow and made blue gingham curtains for the windows. It was a pretty kitchen.
When grandma was living there the kitchen was always a mess. She was not a good housekeeper. When I went up there every summer, I would clean up the kitchen for her. She always wanted to go for a hike or work in the garden rather than clean anything. But I remember the kittens in a basket under the wood stove and the Sears catalogs that I would spend hours looking through.These far outweighed the dust and dirt.
 As a child, I loved the fragrance of the manzanita bushes on a hot day and walking down to the creek, taking my shoes off and splashing around in the water. I would find the biggest Banana Slugs and the smallest tadpoles. Grandma would tell me the real names of the wildflowers and bugs; the Latin names. Then we would climb back up to the house and  take a nap together. She would read me stories and we would talk about things.
A few years after we moved to Antioch there was an awful fire up in Napa. It burned some of the huge homes to the ground around and above the Silverado Country Club. The fire was fast and intense.This time my grandmother's house didn't survive. The Prospector and I drove up there right after the fire and there was nothing left. I found a melted piece of the metal heater cover. That was it.
Someone had bought the house the year before the fire and I guess they had insurance because they built another house right away. It was ugly.
 I have only been back once in 35 years. I will never go back again. The memories are inside of me now. I don't need to see the paved road, or the new house with no windows. The little brown house with the knotty pine walls and the stone fireplace is gone. My yellow kitchen is not there. The wood stove with the basket of kittens will never be again.  What I remember isn't there anymore, but the memories survived the fire...., and the ghosts. I know that my grandmother is walking around up there looking for wildflowers and calling them by their Latin names. I know she went back. It was the only place she was ever really happy.