Fall Community Educational Activities in Sonoma Nature, Art and Science

Sonoma Nature Club

SONOMA NATURE JOURNAL CLUB  –  Community Education

October 5, 2020

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

Nature   •   Art  •   Science

The largely leisure activity of nature journaling is especially satisfying this fall as we enjoy a clear day and step outside to our backyard garden or local park with our notebook, pencil and curiosity.  At the beginning of September, I created the Sonoma Nature Journal ClubOur purpose is to engage and inspire kids of all ages during or after school, as our nation continues online learning at home and experiences limited mobility.

Nature Journaling is fun and can be done in your backyard, on the side of a trail, at a park, or atop a mountain, most anytime. During these warm days and crisp evenings of fall, this is a wonderful way to enjoy the many positive influences of taking a closer look at our organic surroundings.  Sonoma Nature Journal Club gives each participant a paper covered notebook, a few wooden pencils, and a cotton pouch with simple zipper.  We then step outside, look, listen, ask questions, and record what we see, hear and feel.

For those who for some reason are not able to go outdoors, the beauty of your area can be found by gazing out a nearby window, or if that is not possible, looking online for pictures.  I do know of a few wonderful sites for this.  The opportunities are endless and filled with wonder.

My initial inspiration came from my friend and world-renowned professor Dr Joe McBride, Chair of the Forest Science Division of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at University of California, Berkeley.  His long history of education and advising nations around the globe has guided me to create this club.  The hope is to make a difference, especially for students, with a focus on knowledge, understanding and the experience of  “taking a deep dive into the appreciation of the natural world around us.”  It has been my experience that nature drawing creates a lasting connection to this world and a realization of the wonders of the wild and organic life that exists just steps from the front door of our homes.

The club has already met a few times.  Our initial focus has been on the life and science of the Valley Oak tree which is quite prevalent around the Sonoma Valley.  Here we see current club members becoming stewards of our natural environment while they play and journal at the Sonoma Garden Park, this is after a full day of school online.

Nature in Sonoma Valley

These girls commune in front of the historic “Grandmother Oak” tree which is thought to be hundreds of years old. The park map in hand helps to guide us as we explore the trees, flowers, vegetables, bees and chickens at this location. Studies have found that nature journaling is quite an effective and engaging way to teach observation, curiosity, and creative thinking.

Journaling in Sonoma Nature

Here are our journalists outdoors, after school, quietly drawing, writing and asking questions of the natural world.  Journals have been the tools of scientists, naturalists, thinkers, poets, writers, and engineers for centuries.

Sonoma Activities

Planting a Valley Oak acorn is a hands-on form of learning which is bound to real life experiences.  This acorn will be nurtured and placed in the ground, possibly next January after a few winter rains have soaked the soil.  This active engagement with trees and plants has been shown to improve memory and created a deeper mental imprint as we articulate and clarify ideas.

In addition, when students compared two oak trees of different ages in a journal book, they generated focused, biologically-relevant observations and  “I wonder why” questions about oak trees.

Talking with and learning from the Sonoma Community Garden park manager.  In some cases, a friendly dog is chatted with for a moment.  This rich learning experience in such a dynamic environment helps to form lasting memories and relationships.  Students also build transferable thinking skills which can be applied successfully to other academic disciplines.

So, what tools and supplies are needed?

These are the most important items that we take outside: a notebook with blank pages, a pencil case and a few good pencils.

Our favorite notebook has a blank front cover which allows the owner to draw or paint something meaningful to make it uniquely their own.  A traditional notebook can also be used, or a blank book with graph paper.  The notebook, a gift to members, is composition-size and the pencil pouch is cotton.

Here are three great nature books that I have collected over the years:

A fabulous resource for information on the oak woodlands is Kate Marianchild, who has written a highly regarded book titled “Secrets of The Oak Woodlands,” which can be viewed on her website.

Test Your Gull Ability

As we have seagulls near the Sonoma Coast or Pacific coastline, this guide can be quite helpful and is made available by Bay Nature Magazine and John Muir Laws.

It is always exciting to see the hawks which are ever-present in the skies and trees of Sonoma County. This is a simple guide to identifying the different species.  Created by John Muir Laws for his nature journaling group.  Both the seagull and hawk reference papers can be downloaded at his website.

A few optional materials which you can bring with you outside:  binoculars, colored pencils, paint brushes, a small watercolor set, thermos of hot coffee or tea, and always some fresh water.

Many times it is the most simple of observations which are very rewarding. These zinnia flowers are abundant in the gardens of Sonoma and Napa Valley this fall. Found just outside my door, flowers can be part of a daily or weekly nature journal observation.

If by chance, you would like to pick up a few zinnias to plant, the local nursery Sonoma Mission Gardens has a fabulous selection in pots, plus many other flowers currently in stock.  This nursery is also a perfect resource for landscaping material any time of the year.  Sonoma Mission Gardens has the added bonus of having quite a number of beautiful birds onsite which you can view quite closely.  We locals in Sonoma consider this business a community treasure.

Nature in action, the honeybee is a cornerstone of our environment, food sources, gardens, parks and pleasure.  With bee hives found at many locations,  we recommend the book The Beekeeper’s Bible, which includes helpful information about bees, honey, recipes & other home uses. This can be purchased online or in person at the wonderful, locally-owned Readers Books in Sonoma. Located just off the Sonoma Plaza, they are considered a gathering place for book lovers of all ages. Many days you will find the owner Andy Weinberger ( who is an author himself) behind the front desk and ever-ready to chat about the community and books.

The Sonoma Nature Journal Club is grateful for the continued support of the Sonoma Ecology Center, and the national network of Nature Journal Clubs which can be found online at John Muir Laws website.  As part of this network, we encourage members to safely join us regularly for an authentic outdoor nature journaling experience.  At the time of this post, I am safely leading small groups after school a few times each month. We follow all COVID guidelines. This may change at any time so please check in when convenient.

Or, due to safety precaution and personal preferences, join us online here or through our upcoming video sessions. Sharing, learning, and community happiness are a few outcomes of the Sonoma Nature Journal Club.

If you would like to join, please give me a call or send an email at bmcneill@cbsonoma.com. Further thoughts and club details can be found at the Journal Club tab here on this blog.  I look forward to seeing you on the trail or around town!

Resources for Air Quality and Fire Information

Air Quality and Fire Resources

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

Air Quality and Fire Resources

Sonoma and Napa Valley are especially beautiful in the fall.  This list includes local and national information links to access up-to-the-moment maps regarding air quality and fire resources.   It is my hope that these sites are helpful and are able to provide clarity with timely data when needed.  Feel free to contact me anytime; I am always here as a resource and trusted advisor.

Air Quality Resources

Fire Resources


Please let me know if this is helpful.  Wishing you many moments enjoying health and the Art of Leisure.

 

Lunch Along The River In Napa + Sonoma Valley Real Estate Stats

Lunch along the River in Napa
Oxbow Public Market

Along the river in Napa you will always find many welcoming options for lunch at the Oxbow Public Market, fully open and stocked with many culinary delights!  This is a favorite spot for locals and travelers alike. With extensive health and safety protocols in place, it is a wonderful place to visit for outside patio dining or curbside pickup.

 

A Few Favorites:

Hog Island Oyster Company

A wonderful starter is oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company, which has a beautiful location here in Napa. They also will ship directly to your door!

 

Five Dot Ranch

Do not miss the burgers at Five Dot Ranch, which has an extensive menu for take out and take home meats for your evening barbecue. This ranch has been family owned in California since 1959, and specializes in locally grown, 100% all-natural, non-GMO verified, pasture raised beef.

 

Hudson Greens and Goods

Hudson Greens and Goods sells kitchen supplies, home goods and a wonderful assortment of fruits and vegetables. Locally grown specialty tomatoes are just one of their delicious fresh pantry or salad offerings.

 

Napa Bookmine

When in need of a good book to read along the Napa River or to enjoy on a lazy weekend afternoon at home, visit the Napa Bookmine. They have an abundance of books for all ages. It also makes for a perfect place to visit while your food is being prepared.

 

Kara's CupcakesNot to miss a sweet ending with Kara’s Cupcakes for that celebratory moment, any time and any day.


Sonoma Valley Real Estate Stats

In case you would like a few statistics on recent real estate activity in the Valley, following is the data for Sonoma:

Sonoma Valley Real Estate Stats

Residential real estate volume for July 2020 as compared to the same time last year has seen an increase of 83% in sold listings.

Sonoma Valley Real Estate Statistics

With the County of Sonoma having an increase of 36% from the same time last year.

Our million dollar plus market has seen the greatest increase with 90% over 2019.  For a full, much more detailed report, give me a call and I would be happy to talk about this activity and future trends.

Wishing you much happiness and health as you visit Napa and Sonoma Valley!

Sonoma in the Summer

Beauty  •   Home  •  Community

The Art of Leisure really circles around these three ideas, all the time.  Now, as we continue to experience the ebb and flow of a national health challenge and the seemingly ever present smoke of nearby fires, this is as important as ever.  Once again, I share my wildfire resource blog post which can be found in the Community area of this blog, to help support those looking for some perspective on wildfires.

Here I also share with you a celebration of a few shops, restaurants and homes–land in our beautiful communities of Sonoma and Napa Valley.

Sonoma in the summer is truly relaxing and a retreat for people who live here and visit.  Let’s start with what is open and welcoming around the Sonoma Plaza today:

Coffee or tea at Taub Family Outpost first thing in the morning is a favorite spot. Personally I love the Chai Latte: extra hot please!  This is also a perfect place to pick up some wine for the afternoon or lunch.  Just so you know…when appropriate, the lounge upstairs will be available and I am sure become a very active stop for many in the community.

Taub Family Outpost
Peruse a fabulous selection of wines for take away or shipment.

 

Sonoma in Summer
The dining lounge upstairs which will open when appropriate.

 

Sonoma Bar
This bar area was beautifully designed byBecky Carter Studio and built by the skilled contractors at GMH Builders located here in Sonoma.

 

The exterior is clean and simple, quite conveniently located on the South-West corner of the Plaza.

Nearby SummerVine, which is so appropriately named, as it always feels like summer in this shop.  Owned and operated by two wonderful residents of our valley, this home goods store has an abundance of flowers year-round, and so many beautiful housewares and gift options.

Lovely exterior and ever changing window displays on the northwest corner of the Sonoma Plaza.

 

Basic items and imports from around the world.

 

Table settings are a specialty.

 

These are perfect for a picnic.

 

Summer in Sonoma
Home, personal and gift scents.

 

For an afternoon in the park with good food, sunshine, local ducks and your friends, the Girl and the Fig has a well loved “pop up” stand with fresh + local offerings for enjoyment by all.  As somewhat of a landmark restaurant, they are known for their creative and satisfying dishes:

Sonoma Plaza
Sonoma Plaza park in the center of town seen here with City Hall in the distance.

 

Sonoma Summer
A table in the park for lunch from Girl and The Fig’s outdoors offering.

 

Or visit the restaurant across from the Sonoma Plaza Park for patio seating or a Spot in front of the historic Sonoma Hotel.

 

Their back patio has comfortable benches and tables with an authentic feel.

 

The fig was part of the inspiration for local owner Sondra Bernstein.

Then, if you would like to go home…this nearby land offering is a perfect opportunity for someone to build the custom house of their dreams:

Lola Sonoma Land is located on the coveted east side of Sonoma with close proximity to the shops, restaurants and wineries, yet offering privacy plus expansive views!  This is an especially unique opportunity in our community.

Currently being used to graze sheep and grow vegetables, you can see more at Lola Sonoma Farms, which is right next door.  This is a true treasure of a locally owned and operated organic farm, featured this summer in the Sonoma Magazine as Becoming Farmers.  You can see all the details at their website Lola Sonoma.

View of the land and nearby hills and vineyards.

Bounty from the vegetable garden on this Lola Sonoma Land.  This beautiful table display was arranged by my friends at Kati Kelly Interior Design.

Summer in Sonoma and Napa is filled with an abundance of beauty which once again centers around home, artisanal foods, wine and a warm and welcoming community.  I hope that you will reach out to me and know that my business is always a resource and provider of:

  • Community involvement and engagement
  • Local business updates
  • Clarity and powerful real estate related market data
  • Representation, assisting clients with purchasing or selling of a property in Sonoma and Napa Valley

Please contact me anytime chat or if I can help you or someone who you know.

COVID-19, the Art of Leisure and 300 Victory Gardens

These last few months have brought us to truly appreciate the value of our homes and gardens as we shelter in place.  For the combined good of our communities, we have a new understanding of our health and our friends near and far.

It is in that spirit that I would like to share the project that I recently completed for the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC).  As my real estate business in Sonoma and the “Art of Leisure,” is constantly circling around the home and garden, this was so personally fulfilling to both imagine and complete with the SEC.  In many circles they say it takes a village.  That was certainly true of this garden project.  It was only with the help of leadership, staff and many dedicated volunteers that we were able to gift 300 “Victory Garden starter kits” to the greater Sonoma Valley community.  The following are a few highlights of how these hundreds of starter “Victory Gardens” were given in celebration of the SEC’s 30th Anniversary and in honor of Earth Day.

Victory Gardens

As we like to start a project with a vision of its end in mind, the picture above was seen in the local Sonoma Index Tribune newspaper the day before the gifting event of April 25, 2020.  It was appropriately titled, “Sow the seeds of ‘Victory’.”  You can see that I have full COVID-19 mask and gloves in place.

Sonoma City Hall

This is historic Sonoma City Hall the morning of April 25th, as we begin setting up tables to distribute the starter gardens.   Our scheduled start time was 10:00 a.m.

Sonoma Gardens

At around 9:00 a.m, the boxes are placed on tables and cars start to line up around the Sonoma Plaza, waiting for the gifting to begin.

Creating Victory Gardens

That then brings us to the beginning:  Our goal was to appropriately celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Sonoma Ecology Center on their birthday of Earth Day 2020.

We started by searching for available plants and seeds.  This was found to be quite difficult due to virus-related closures, so we changed to growing the plants ourselves.   Here we see Bee-Well Farms, the grower with whom we worked to plant vegetables, fruit, and flowers.  We needed 2,100 seedlings for the 300 starter kits.  With shelter in place orders have just been given, the available national seed supply was dwindling by the hour.  We were so fortunate to work with this wonderful grower who had the varieties of organic seeds that we desired and packaging supplies in stock.

Seeds for Victory Gardens

We were then able to locate and purchase 85,000 organic seeds online.  Delivery was slightly delayed due to the incredible demand.  Once received, we needed to count seeds to prepare 600 custom seed packages for the kits.

COVID-19

A few wonderful  volunteers and I measured seeds into the 600 packets. Each envelope contained either 100 carrot seeds, 150 spinach or 175 lettuce seeds.  The picture above was taken on my front lawn with full COVID-19 measures followed, except for a moment as we drew our chairs closer for the photo.

 

Victory Gardens Starter Pack

 

On March 30th, the project is announced by the Sonoma Ecology Center to the press and community through social media, print, and our individual networks.  In the community, grocery store lines were increasing and some food supplies were becoming scarce.  This only made our project the more relevant and needed.  Here you see what was in each Victory Garden box.  Eventually, the boxes went on to include a 4 inch potted tomato plant and a small bag of Biochar.

 

 

Very positive marketing material and messaging was created and distributed by the talented SEC staff.   A few parts of the messaging contained simple watercolors that I painted.

On Earth Day, the plants are delivered to the Sonoma Garden Park.  Here, we water these 2,100 young, sprouting fruits and vegetables and tend to the new shoots.

This is our first sample box, waiting to be copied 300+ times the following morning.

Putting together the boxes; so many fabulous, dedicated volunteers gathered in the old barn at Sonoma Garden Park.

Success…the boxes wait patiently for sunrise on Saturday, April 25th,  when we will collect them from the barn and ever so carefully deliver them to the Sonoma Plaza for distribution.

We are ready, and beginning to offer guidelines to the hundred of cars waiting for a safe, COVID-19 appropriate gifting of the garden boxes.

Soon, traffic control is in full force as we creatively direct traffic.  The quantity of cars was so much greater than we had expected.

A gift box is delivered to the trunk of the car while recipients stay safely inside.  In this picture, you can see two reporters from the local paper and a Wall Street Journal photographer recording the event.

Law enforcement arrives and traffic management is in full bloom.

Due to our advance planning, amazing volunteers, and the Sonoma Ecology Center organization, this was all quite orderly and successful.  Celebrating the “Nonprofit of the Year 2019’s Birthday,” began to unfold and the feeling of gratitude surrounded us.

After a brisk 45 minutes to an hour, we were running out of Victory Gardens.  It became necessary to turn away cars.  The enthusiasm was completely beyond our imagination as a board.

Planting Victory Gardens

This is one plant which found a home in the soil of a local resident.  As an organization, our goal was to gift all 300 on Saturday.  Our mission completed, we were thrilled.

 

The Sonoma Ecology Center is involved in many areas of the Sonoma Valley community.

Victory Gardens in Sonoma Valley

Wishing you a lovely garden, and to stay well during this time of shelter-in-place.

Spring in Sonoma and Napa Valley

During this moment of pause in our country, I bring you a window into Spring from the Sonoma and Napa Valley

A simple set of Adirondack chairs overlooking the Sonoma Valley at a home which I sold on Moon Mountain Drive.

Lovely house with light streaming in, ready to entertain friends and family in the future.  This property is for sale and includes a lake and walking path with expansive views.

Variegated lilacs are a welcome sign of Spring.  These are from my garden during this time of limited mobility.

Wishing you health and well being.

 

 

Winter in Wine Country

The beauty of winter in the Sonoma and Napa wine country can be found everywhere from the lovely homes in the countryside, to the farmers markets each week, and always in the shops.  Here are a few moments of life in the Sonoma and Napa Valley which reflect the leisure lifestyle very poignantly.  The first of the year farmers markets are bathed in clear, bright sunshine;

locally grown microgreens such as pea shoots, sunflower shoots or rainbow mix are cut to your request

oranges and a meyer lemons

magnolia cuttings from Oak Hill Farm, growing fresh produce and flowers year round for the market

estate olives from the purveyor KassyKate, who prepares an assortment of antipasto and tapenade

fresh eggs & whole grain breads which are milled nearby

a few pastries baked this morning,  Nutella filled donuts and brioche twists from the Baker and Cook

onions and vegetables, we find an abundance of onions, shallots and leeks this time of the year at Paul’s Produce

daffodils and cool weather flowers are in bloom

a few colorful robes from Napa Valley Vintage Home, located in Saint Helena on Main Street

dishes and linens from around the world

very special knife set and hand painted pillows

this shop has fabulous seasonal displays with items for the home, bath, children’s rooms, gifts, jewelry, books and much more.  Always a delight to visit and a locals favorite.  From here we visit a few homes in Sonoma and Napa Valley which are currently available for purchase.

a lovely home in the style of a Tuscan Villa with wine cave for entertaining friends

sage green shutters and olive trees on property

views of the Sonoma countryside in the western hills.  For more information visit http://www.glenellenretreat.net

European-style Napa Valley Estate with a grand entrance

a well appointed guest room

views of the Napa Valley

small lake with willow provides a dramatic entrance to this estate in Napa Valley, authentic weathered carriage doors.  For more information visit  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt3RMRfuWTY

late afternoon on a meandering inlet of Lake Hennessey,

nightfall over Lake Hennessey in Napa Valley.  This lake is settled in the deep valley east of Napa.  It is best appreciated by kayak, fishing quietly and enjoying the peace which is offered by this spot not known to most who visit the area.  Here we have a few fishermen coming in at dusk on a cool winter evening.

Wishing you many moments of joy as you experience the Art of Leisure in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.

Celebrations in Sonoma and Napa Valleys

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

Whether for a holiday, birthday or special occasion, the idea of taking time to pause and honor something or someone is central to the Art of Leisure. In Sonoma and Napa Valleys, we add to that the traditional celebrations which are inherent to the vineyards and natural world surrounding us. Here are a few favorite spots to help make such moments memorable with an especially lovely evening or a beautifully curated gift. Wishing you many joy-filled celebrations!

As Expressed by International Artist Hunt Slonem:
Serge Sorokko Gallery, Larry Block

Celebrations in Sonoma
Ruby
Celebrations in Napa
Yellow Picul
Sonoma Celebrations
Shangrila

Dining – Sonoma Valley:
Edge (Thursday evening), Sonoma
Single Thread Farms, Healdsburg

Gifts – Sonoma Valley:
Olive + Rose
J James Sonoma, Sonoma
Chateau Sonoma, Sonoma

Dining – Napa Valley:
RH Yountville Restaurant, Yountville
The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, St. Helena

Gifts – Napa Valley:
Carter and Co, Saint Helena
Finesse, The Store, Yountville
Acres Home & Garden, St. Helena

BRENDA MCNEILL • Art of Leisure • Lic # 01862410 • 707.339.9133 • www.brendamcneill.com

Hot Summer Days

As the temperatures rise in Sonoma & Napa Valley, I wanted to share with you a few pictures of this wonderfully relaxing time of the year.  To begin, the orderly march of vines in late afternoon light.

cresting the hill at Clos Du Val Vineyards, Napa Valley

mid-summer fruit on the vines

the Scribe Winery Hacienda, truly a beautifully restored structure where you can sit outside and enjoy the view with refreshments

a quiet field of Queen Anne’s Lace, swaying with the light breeze on a hot summer afternoon

inviting cool & scenic resting spot under a stately tree

late afternoon amidst the vines at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma

for the child in all of us, a moment of fun at a summer camp, Harry Potter’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Sonoma Garden Park

What would summer be without a neighborhood Farmers Market, this one is located on the East Side of Sonoma, very casual & authentic, all the produce & products are from either gardens behind the barn or from farmers who live and work nearby.

Here an orderly march of freshly picked blackberries, just waiting to be brought home and made into jam. With this seasonal abundance from the nearby berry bramble, jam making is a satisfying activity on a hot summer afternoon.

The Saturday market also sells jars of  jam & honey from nearby 5th Street Farm in Sonoma.

Afternoon light on a few summer flowers at the Community Garden Park, everything is refreshingly simple and real on this warm day in August.  I hope that you will be visiting Sonoma or Napa Valley on a hot summer day soon!

A New Home for Shelter Dogs and Cats

It is a gorgeous summer in Sonoma and Napa Valley, and as many are on vacation, I wanted to share with you that in my spare time, I paint portraits of dogs and cats who are temporarily living in animal shelters.  When the pet is adopted, a professional print of the oil painting is given to the person who provides these four-footed friends of ours a new home.  Also, gift cards are made of the paintings and the proceeds are donated back to the shelter for food, bedding & care of other rescue animals.  The following are a few of the paintings:

Buttercup, adopted 2019, she had an outgoing personality and was petite & highly active.  She would look directly in your eyes, just asking to be adopted.

Charley, adopted 2018, this dog was a beautiful Grand Pyrenees mix who was found under an abandoned house.

Bella is actually my own puppy, and she is helping shelter animals through the sales of gift cards.

Rigo, adopted 2018, was a small, friendly dog, with an especially expressive face.

This dog sat so proudly.  He had been adopted and I painted him as a fundraiser for Pets Lifeline.

Pinky Pie, adopted 2019, this puppy was sweet and gentle, with a lovely personality, and is the sister to Buttercup.

Oliver, adopted 2018, he was found on the street and rather unsure of his surroundings.

Mariah, adopted 2018, she was a very small kitty with lots of personality and unusual markings, very friendly and loved visitors at the Pets Lifeline kennel.

Happy, adopted 2019, he was this wonderful, slightly older dog, who was quite calm and grateful for warm companionship.

Jack, adopted 2019, this puppy was quite shy.  He had been abandoned, then found under a house with his two siblings.  After some very special care from Pets Lifeline, he gained weight and became more comfortable with people.

Emily, adopted 2017, she was a wonderful calico cat with large, kind eyes, although exceptionally shy.  She had been at the shelter for awhile and would hide under a blanket or go to the far edge of the cat room so that nobody could see or pet her.  Her adoption occurred soon after this painting was finished.

Jewel, adopted 2019, this kitty had a very gentle personality and sat with such a sense of place on her perch at Pets Lifeline in Sonoma.

These cards are now sold in five stores from Sonoma to Palo Alto.  They are:

Wishing you a happy summer!  Do check back soon….

Crisp Autumn Days and Entertaining in Sonoma & Napa Valley

The days are warm and evening cool which is the perfect recipe for a little more outdoor entertaining before the holidays.  We always begin with something fresh from the garden, to cook up in our hub spot of a kitchen, then retire to someplace comfortable to relax and enjoy the day or evening with friends.

This could be at a lovely, older home in the country,

or someplace a little more modern, with simple lines and a large view.

At either location, we may be outside by the pool,

possibly, after an afternoon swim,

or in the garden,

at a table for six,

or a few more.

But always someplace with a magnificent view of the Sonoma and Napa Valley.

These beautiful grounds of a home in the Napa Valley offer plenty of outdoor entertaining & dining space, plus a well designed place for the younger generation to play and explore.

Successful entertaining always starts in the kitchen,

which of course has plenty of storage space,

and an inviting dining room with a possible guest cottage nearby.

Autumn is the most inspiring time to share your home with  friends and family.  The leaves are falling, the sun is still shining brightly,

and the vines are just getting ready for a well deserved rest.  A visit to a nearby winery can be part of the day.  This is the Gunlach Bundschu estate in Sonoma.  The flowers are from the Sonoma Garden Park Farmer’s Market.

Wherever the location or home, entertaining in the Sonoma and Napa Valley is always a beautiful affair.

Kitchens in Wine Country

With the bounty of produce in the markets, late summer is a wonderful time to spend leisure hours in the kitchen.  The morning air is crisp in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.  What month of the year could be more perfect than September to put up a few jars of pickles or jam, just for the sheer pleasure of it?

Here are a few lovely kitchens

a most inviting kitchen and family room in the country

the perfect place to begin an afternoon of cooking for friends

gas stoves are preferred by most chefs in the wine country, a spot for laundry nearby

Shed, in Healdsburg offers a sophisticated, yet very authentic wine country style of provisions for the kitchen and home

quite an old stove lovingly used in a home with an inviting entrance

inside, a quiet kitchen window with a simple view of the garden and neighborhood

when it all gets to be a bit much, wander over to the French Laundry store, “FINESSE THE STORE,”  in Yountville, for freshly preserved staples

then a little down the road in Saint Helena, is Dean & DeLuca for only the best kitchen supplies and something sweet

In the midst of summer, a kitchen with very clean lines and a fresh feel is always welcome

this beautiful tile complemented the home perfectly

well made appliances on display and easily accessible

a very well traveled kitchen and home

with such artistic dishes for all the creations from the stove

outside a nook to wash a few vegetables from the garden before a late summer afternoon swim in the pool.  On my website www.brendamcneill.com, you will find a list of all the local Farmers Markets in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.  They are the ultimate source of fresh fruits and vegetables for all you leisurely pursuits in the kitchen.

 

The Lazy Days of Late Summer in Sonoma and Napa Valley

What could be more relaxing than a lovely pool and a place in the country to spend the last few lazy days of summer.  Following are a few pictures of inviting pools which encourage the leisure lifestyle,  and the surrounding countryside.

step outside to the pool

this pool is almost flush with the landscape with a wonderful edge designed for lounging.

a few summer flowers

a backyard pool in town, walking distance to restaurants and shops

a very private estate in the hills

refreshing and inviting

oudoor entertaining nearby

the view from the pool

late summer afternoon in the countryside

rustic old barn which doubles as an office

a true working barn

surrounded by vineyards and cows, this is the leisure life in Sonoma and Napa Valley.

 

 

Wildfire Recovery, Words of Wisdom: Step Three

Sonoma Valley Winter

With the embers now extinguished in the historic Northern California and Southern California fires of 2017, I hope that what I share here from my personal experiences with wildfire recovery can streamline or simplify the process for anyone affected by these fires.  As mentioned previously, a few years ago, the Cavedale Fire blew through the hills of Sonoma & Napa County, burned my home to the ground, and affected or burned six of my other structures and approximately 140 acres of my land.  This required efforts for rebuilding, renovation, erosion control and logging to bring back the property and natural environment.  Full recovery from that wildfire did happen.  This came about only after a few challenging years of constant attention to detail by myself, my family and a team of professionals.

Previously, I have written Steps One and Two of what I call the “Three Steps” to fire recovery.  Whether you are rebuilding a home from the foundation up, renovating a partially damaged property or repairing a structure or land, the stepping stones to recovery are very similar.  Based upon my experience, the most important components to recovery are grouped into these three steps.

Wildfire Recovery

STEP THREE

  • Gather your team together and create a plan:  It is important to have a strategy of which all the people and companies involved in your project are aware and can follow with you.  Last month, I mentioned the variety of categories and professionals who made up my team.  This blueprint or plan of your ideas can be as simple as having your current intentions for the home written on a piece of paper of which everyone receives a copy, or, it can be more detailed version created on the computer.  In my case, I did both.  I had a written document which I kept organized in a large binder.  On my computer, I had a detailed translation of that vision in an Excel spreadsheet.  All responsibilities and timelines were as clearly outlined as possible.  Being organized in the midst of the inevitable chaos that a fire brings is quite important.  This plan helps to inform and guide the overall path for almost everything that is done on your property.  Of course, it is key that all involved sign off on the plan and timeline.

The ability to proceed forward each day toward a goal, track your success, and keep individual accountability is the value of sticking with a plan.  The following are a few key points which, when I look back, were instrumental in my ability to ultimately craft a successful fire recovery.

  • Divide and conquer:  In order to most efficiently work the plan, the first thing that I did was to assign general responsibility.  Having a main contact point for each of the different priority areas allows the work to be divided up, and gives a feeling of control. For example, someone was in charge of the insurance contract and communication with the insurance company, and another person was working daily on contents which included recording lost items and researching current values.  At the end of the day, we would check in and celebrate our accomplishments or re-work the plan as needed.

Sonoma Home

Looking out the open doors of one of my houses in Sonoma….

Important Groups

  1. Insurance:  Read and re-read the insurance policy.  Talk with the adjustor regularly; if needed, connect with his supervisor and/or headquarters.  This is such an important component to being able to do what you aspire to do.  In many ways, it is the constant which allows you to move your ideas forward.
  2. Money Management:  The payments come from different areas in the insurance and recovery process.  Managing and keeping track of this with an outside professional or on a spreadsheet brings clarity to a sometimes confusing situation.
  3. Legal Advice:  In my case, I hired a very experienced corporate litigator, the best that I could find.  This was important to my success and my piece of mind.  I paid for the legal advice by the hour.  Today, in Northern California, many tort lawyers are trying to bring together groups of people for a larger, group case.  I was advised that paying by the hour would cost me much less money than if I paid the lawyer/firm a percentage of any claim.  This proved to be true.  The multiple layers of value that a truly capable attorney offers are invaluable.  Things which I did not understand, my lawyer understood completely.  His confidence and complete grasp of the process helped my confidence and ability to keep proceeding along.
  4. Contractors:  It was important for me to meet with my main contractors once a week, preferably over coffee.  We were able to stay in sync with what we were accomplishing and to make changes as needed. When an adjustment happened, everyone was updated and kept on track.  I also often used the telephone to communicate.  The importance of stepping away from the computer and hopping on the phone to speak directly with those who you are working with can not be underestimated.  When important issues were on the table, we scheduled a meeting immediately, usually on the property.
  5. Real Estate Support I would add this area today because many people have decided that it will take quite a bit of time to rebuild, so they are purchasing a new property.  This fresh home is a place to settle and to find happiness and calm while the older property is being renovated or sold.  As you may know, I am a real estate professional, and am very grateful for the opportunity to help individuals and families with what they most need at this time. My advice would be to find someone who has experience, and truly understands the fire recovery process.     

Believe

  • It is a belief of Wabi-Sabi that we are always in the process of expanding or contracting.  This is an important idea, because so much has been contracted by fire that the belief in the process of expanding now is essential.  The idea that what is ahead could possibly be as wonderful as what lies behind us is worth pondering.   All that I have outlined so far helped me to stay in the frame of mind of looking forward.  This can be challenging, as it is necessary to look backward for contents and structural reconfiguration reasons daily.

Wine Country Painting
An oil painting of a home that barely escaped the flames

A Few Ideas 

  1. Sanctuary and Inspiration:  Find a sacred place to which you can retreat and recharge.  Have a general idea of what your optimal recovery looks like.  Write it down; maybe keep a binder with clippings and pictures of the idea or image.  This is different than “The Plan,” which is much more formal.  I would carry around my personal inspiration board, adding and subtracting to create what was beautiful to me.  Not only does this lift your spirits, but it allows for a constant visual reminder of what you truly want and are working every day for.
  2. Add Education: Do a science project on your property.  In my case, I enlisted the help of a world renowned forester from the University of California, Berkeley, who helped me to identify a small area to document the natural recovery of the plants, animals and land.  We visited this spot often, and it was encouraging to see what would take place when I did absolutely nothing.  Additionally, my children learned many important lessons from being involved in this educational project.
  3. Focus: The organization tools and rituals which I have outlined in previous posts helped me to stay focused.
  4. Time:  The unspoken value of time is key.  As you may imagine, things can get a little messy and confusing as you go through the steps in your plan.  In my case, it was important for me to believe that my most important asset was my time.  If something was not working, I let it go, and replaced it as quickly as possible with what would work better.  Everything can be replaced except time.

Sonoma Valley Nature

Morning in Sonoma

Success is defined by each individual.  I found that after the wildfire recovery was all done, what I had created from the ashes, through diligent repairing, renovating and rebuilding, was indeed more lovely than what had made up my property before the fire.  Granted, it is a process, but ultimately, its a process worth pursuing.

After doing all of the above, I went back to running a successful business on my property.   Many people from around the world came to visit and enjoy the rest and rejuvenation that this property in the hills of Sonoma offered.  Ultimately, I did sell the real estate.  It was beautiful, and the land, trees, and animals on it were healthy, so in my mind, it was a success.

Daffodils

Rebirth

Again, I hope that something here can be of help to you.

Wildfire Recovery, Words of Wisdom: Step Two

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

It has been over a month since the wildfires have been extinguished in Sonoma and Napa Counties.  Thus, I wanted to share with you a few more words of wisdom that I learned from my own wildfire recovery process.  The following thoughts make up what I consider to be the second step, or phase, of pulling life back together and moving forward after a fire. My property in Sonoma sustained both full destruction and partial destruction to land and structures many years ago, so hopefully, something here can be of help to you.

STEP TWO:

Recall and Build Your Team

  • Recall, Record and Research:  Begin the process of remembering the contents or state of your home/property before the fire.  Home insurance companies usually have a template for this or you can create a spreadsheet.   I have provided an example below of one that I used.  In my case, I went about the process of visualizing the interior and exterior of my home that had burned down completely.  For the structures that had been damaged, and the land, I looked for drawings and markers which confirmed the original footprint.
  • After you have a general scheme of the areas affected, focus your visualization upon opening the drawers in your mind and recording what you see inside:  This takes a little time.  It is important to include closets, work rooms and jewelry boxes just as they had looked the last time you saw them.  The reason for this is to either replace or be reimbursed for what is lost/damaged.  Next, write down an estimated value of the item when you purchased it and what it would cost to replace now.  In my case, I had a lawsuit against the entity found responsible for the fire, so this information was critical.  It is quite important to start this as soon as possible, while your memory is most fresh.  Pictures and video are helpful, but many times your memory is most accurate.

Example of contents listing from a laundry room
 

Gather professionals who will comprise the Recovery Team:  The Following are a few of the general categories which I used to build a team.  Each group then contained the consultants and contractors who worked with me during the recovery process.

Land

  • erosion control and soil consultant
  • survey company
  • logging company

Trees and Landscaping

  • forester, tree or vine consultant
  • arborist
  • landscaping company, for drawings of original gardens/land plan
  • tree removal service
  • consultant analysis of grape acreage
  • soil analysis

This is a view from my property after the fire clean-up effort and a recent photo of the hills at dusk

Clean-Up

  • debris removal company
  • plumbing repair contractor
  • contaminated soil removal business
  • building contractor
  • well and pump repair business
  • painting contractor, exterior and interior
  • smoke damage cleaning contractor
  • pool contractor, for pool and pool cover
  • leak detection company
  • electrician
  • heating contractor
  • rug/furniture cleaning service
  • mail box provider
  • glass repair company
  • gate repair business
  • gardeners

Structures

  • structural engineer
  • contractor to rebuild
  • architect for replacement and repair
  • septic construction company
  • specialty contractor for unique structures
  • water tank consultant

Professionals

  • lawyer
  • insurance agent
  • real estate appraisers and consultants

Other (this could be press or television)

  • video to document
  • film from television station
  • photos

Lawsuit related

  • district attorney
  • mediation specialist
  • soil and tree analysis representative
  • forester (I had over 100 acres of land burn)
  • land appraiser
  • attorney

Signs of gratitude

Hopefully, your situation is not as complicated as what I sustained, and you do not need to enlist the help of all these professionals.  Looking back though, it is the pulling together of these wonderful people, and companies, which begins the most rewarding part of wildfire recovery.  I had team meetings, group lunches and many mornings of strong coffee with donuts.  With a spirit of acceptance and gratitude the process moves along.  In many ways, this can be considered an adventure; it certainly was for me.  Obviously, each phase has many elements; when moving from one to the next, a true sense of accomplishment and success is apparent.   This is the unexpected beauty of wildfire recovery.

As I have mentioned previously, please let me know here, or send me an email, if I can be of any help to you.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season.

Wildfire Recovery: Words of Wisdom

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

The smoke is still thick and many of my friends have lost their homes.  I lost my home in a Sonoma fire many years ago and would like to share what I learned from that experience.  These are simple “words of wisdom”  based upon the recovery process that I went through.  In my situation, the fire wall was approaching my property quickly, so I gave each of my children a black plastic garbage bag, told them to quickly gather their favorite things and that we needed to leave right away.  Then I loaded everything in the car, including two very anxious, large, black labrador dogs and raced down the narrow mountain road in the hills of Sonoma.  The fire was upon us: the heat and sound alone were incredible.

Since that time, I have developed a three step system for fire recovery.  The first step it to stabilize yourself and those around you. Do check back as I will be posting my other two steps over time.  This seems to be where we are today in Sonoma and Napa County.  Although it may sound simple, I hope that something here can be of help.

Step One:

STABILIZE  YOURSELF

  • Find a place to stay: This is obvious, but it can be a little challenging. I stayed with a friend first, then moved to a hotel, then to another friend’s house, then back to my property.  Although my home burned down completely, I had another structure into which I could move.
  • After you contact your insurance company, sign up with FEMA: I was at a meeting last night in Sonoma and they offered many resources to get you started with money and housing.  In my case, I did not have FEMA.
  • Organize what things you do have: In this time of confusion, bring as much clarity and order to the few items that you may have saved from your home.
  • When you have a little money from insurance, buy something special: I bought a couple of cashmere cardigans to be soft and luxurious against my skin during this sad and trying time.  They also were to keep me warm, and to remind me of beauty in the world during the coming days.
  • Set up a daily routine:  In the midst of chaos, it is important to have your own daily routine.  Although it may sound crazy, it is possible.  Mine included a simple breakfast with a pot of tea, working all day, exercise in the late afternoon, making dinner with the family, reading/journaling and sleep.
  • Keep a journal: I found it helpful to download my thoughts from the day onto paper, where I see it visually and make a little more sense of my time.
  • Get the kids settled: This was a big project in my case, but basically help them to connect with school or friends and build a routine for them. Lots of hugs and words or encouragement are essential.  As my kids had watched their home burn from a distance, I reassured them that we would buy new things to replace what was lost and that it would be fun.
  • Give everyone a basket of painting supplies: My art baskets included: wicker baskets with a handle, a high quality watercolor set, a few extra paint brushes, good paper, two glass jars for water, a good pencil and a good eraser.
  • Play soothing music: I played classical music to bring calm.
  • Have dinner and breakfast as a family: In my case, it was tempting to let everyone do what they wanted, as I had so much on my mind, but it was quite important to gather for breakfast and dinner to share the meal and thoughts each day.
  • Book of daily thoughts: I read a quick quote each morning for inspiration.  My fire situation occurred a number of years ago and at that time, I read a book called Grace Notes, by Alexandra Stoddard.  Today, I might also look at Offerings, by Danielle and Olivier Föllmi.

Based on experience, these are a few of the things that I would pull together first.  Please let me know if this is helpful, and check back, as I will be posting more over time.

Evening, while the fire is still blazing in the hills

First responders from San Joaquin County

A beautiful ‘dozer from Bushey’s Custom Farming in Canby, California, also a first responder

Late day meetings after 24 hours of work

 Take care, and remember that I am always here as a resource for you.

Anyone for a dip in the pool?

It is Labor Day weekend and the temperatures are getting a bit high (that would be over 100 degrees)!  Just could not let this time pass without showing you a few lovely Napa homes and their refreshing pools.  It all starts with water!  Cool, clear, fresh, clean, and directly from the earth.  Our dip in the pool could be only a  few steps from our living room or it may be at our weekend house in the country.

Sonoma home with a pool

Napa homes with a pool

Sonoma Pool

 Villa is in the hills above Sonoma


 Home surrounded by vineyards in Napa Valley with a pool that looks out over Sonoma

Some pools are larger and others- this one is the size of a small lake nestled in the hills above Sonoma

Wishing you a cool swim and a relaxing Labor Day!

 

 

 

 

room to breathe, summer at the farmer’s market

Ahhhh, eating outside under the shade of a tree, with everyone who matters around, is pure delight!  The beauty of a garden filled with flowers, an abundance of food on the table (with maybe a few puppies under it), and at the end, a feeling of satisfaction which comes only from a moment in life well lived.  This is true Sonoma and Napa Valley living any day of the year, but especially simple in the summer.

Of course, the beginning all this is a visit to the local farmers market on Tuesday evening or Friday morning.  There we find the warmth of friends and farmers with just brought in from the field seasonal offerings of organic fruits and vegetables.  Summer is the time of plenty – every market stall bursting with flowers, peaches, nectarines, tomatoes and green beans- it is tempting to grab a child’s vintage wagon and bring home crates of everything!

If it’s the Friday morning market, a very late breakfast of a brioche donut with rasberry filling or a homemade baguette sandwich is the perfect way to start!  So many colors, smells, tastes and atmosphere – it is a wonderful lifestyle and way to buy food.


Brioche jelly donuts and baguette sandwich with brie, Meyer lemon & frisee by Harvest Moon Cafe and the most reasonably priced eggs, squash and dragon beans from Bee-Well Farms , Sonoma .

Lovely tomatoes from Quarter Acre Farm, delicious carrots and peppers from Paul’s Produce, Sonoma.

A stecca baguette and loaf of locally grown and milled Einka bread by Mike the baker of The Bejkr.

With over 500 varietals of organic fruits and vegetables, Long Meadow Ranch brings to the St. Helena market these baskets of melons, onions and so much more.  Gorgeous fragrant flowers are grown by Jesus just minutes from the stall in Sonoma.

Upon arriving home, you know that you are truly set for the weekend, at least.  Such an abundance of rich, bright colors everywhere to inspire an endless array of delightfully fresh dishes and floral arrangements for interior and exterior seating areas.  It is then that the cooking begins!  This is food and alfresco dining at its best, especially in the summer.

Mustard and Magnolia in Garden and Field

This time of the year, yellow mustard blankets the fields of Sonoma and Napa Valleys and much of our agricultural soil.  The vines are resting.  Soon this plant will be gently tilled into the land to provide valuable nutrients to the awakened grapevine roots.  In the garden, the tulip magnolia is in full bloom.  Such a welcome sight, with its large purple and white flowers it has a beautifully subtle fragrance as you stroll or ride a bicycle quietly by.

Sonoma MustardMustard in Kenwood

The brilliant yellow wild mustard signals that spring is upon us.  The days are getting a touch warmer and we see the sun just a bit more.  This mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family of flowering plants. Broccoli, cabbages, horseradish, watercress and turnips are fellow members of this large and complex family.  Distinguishable by its sharp, distinct, somewhat sulphurus taste, it is most commonly grown here to bring nutrition to the soil.  A feast for the grape vines, it thrives just until bud break when it is then turned under to mulch and provide valuable phosphorus to the emerging vines.  When grown for it’s greens, as the weather becomes warmer, the hot flavor continues to develop.  That is why early spring, when it is still cool, is ideal for viewing and tasting this valuable flowering plant.

Napa Mustard

Legend has it that a Franciscan missionary first spread the mustard seed while landscaping church properties throughout California.  The seeds were simply carried in a large sack slung over his back, each sack had a small hole in it, as the missionary walked the seeds would fall to the soil and take root.  Today, much of that early mustard is still growing wild and is quite useful to hold steep hillside soil in place during heavy rains, such as we have had this year.  Of course, very smart vineyard managers also plant the seeds for soil nutrition reasons and for the simple beauty of the yellow, gold and orange blanket which it creates amongst the orderly march of the vines.

Sonoma Valley MustardNapa mustard after a storm

among the vines, small vineyard in Sonoma

red tail hawk with a watchful eye

speaking of Spring, the magnolia trees are just beginning to bloom

 Magnolia flowers in Sonoma

The magnolia is loved for its pretty foliage and glorious flower display; it is also heat resistant and tolerant of damp soil.  Although this slow growing tree can take some drought, they look their best only when amply supplied with water.  That was certainly the case this year in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.  With our record breaking amount of rain, the blooms of the trees shown here were especially abundant and lovely.

Watching the coming of spring is a miracle of reinvigoration.  It is always such a welcome and immutable act of joyful continuity.

Local Purveyors of Provisions for Wine Country Home Comforts

Sometimes it is the simplest thing that you are looking for to make your home or retreat elegant and comfortable.  In that case, I have curated a few favorite places to find everyday staples and accessories in the Sonoma or Napa Valley.  Especially when the weather is chilly, it is so pleasant to visit any of these purveyors of home and garden provisions and linger while the rain falls.  From soap to seed these locally owned businesses have been providing for the finest houses in these Valleys with just the right, many times, all natural, organic or hand made version of a necessity.  These shops are part of the area we call UpValley, which means that they are in cities which are in the northern part of the Sonoma or Napa Valley.   Whether in the downtown section of St. Helena, Yountville or Healdsburg, they all have a contemporary California, open feeling when you first arrive.  With a particular specialty and style which is unique, each offers the ability to invite a fresh, leisure spirit into any home.

When in Healdsburg it is always a delight to venture into the very hip shop of SHED. This lovely store has everything you may need for your “country house retreat”.  From local flowers to amazing food and home goods, it is the finest the area has to offer.  For a special gift or kitchen supplies, SHED is always prepared!

A potted white orchid and a few fresh towels feel very airy and refreshing in winter and can be found in a variety of shops.  Bringing nature indoors has a magical feeling which pairs beautifully with most homes in the winter.

Napa Valley Vintage Home is known for its beautiful and hand selected home accessories.  From hand blown glasses to French linens, it is always an inspiring place to visit.  They truly know the basics and little luxuries of a wine country style, comfortable, well kept home.

The Gardener in Healdsburg is known for its high quality garden supplies, unique clay pots, books and much more.  They use the most amazing colors for outdoor furniture and indoor pillows.  Located in an updated barn, it has a very “of the area” feel and always a pleasure to leisurely wander around the gardens.

 Did you know that Thomas Keller has opened up a retail store?  It is only a few steps away from the Bouchon Bakery and called, “FINESSE the store”.  He actually opened it a few years ago, but it seems to be a bit of a local secret.

 When I look at a few of the cookbooks which I have that Thomas Keller has signed for me over the years, it is clear, he has been “all about finesse” for quite some time.  Thus, the name of this new store, his most recent business venture in Yountville is quite fitting.  It is a very white, beautiful shop with food and cooking items which have been carefully curated with an artistic eye.  Many of the products are from fruits and vegetable grown in the French Laundry garden just a couple of blocks away.

This picture from my French Laundry cookbook was probably signed in the year 2001.

Who could resist this cute puppy who was outside a store in the Sonoma Valley on a recent shopping trip.

Ranch House Retreat in Wine Country

A Ranch House Retreat in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys is a very casual affair.  It is both a sanctuary to reconnect with nature and experience the pleasure of your own solitude and a place to entertain friends or strengthen business relationships.  Whether it is in the hills with hundreds of acres or in town with an enormous backyard, the Ranch House Retreat is always a welcome sight after time away.  This winter we have been blessed with an enormous amount of rain.  When the weather is cool and wet, it is a perfect time to visit a few local ranches.

early morning, the light is on in the barn and the truck is in the field…the cows are coming in for breakfast and rain is soaking the vineyards winding entrance to a Retreat with land for horseslate morning on the porch, at a Ranch House in the hillskitchen and sun porch on a cool winter day a panoramic view of the Valley with six chairs waiting for someone…a cottage walking distance to town fresh bouquet and old pitchers meandering country road to a home with vineyards traditional ranch style bedrooma very old, wine country homeChickens and bees are always welcome in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.  Similar to having your own private label of wine, honey is a treasured commodity and a generous gift to friends or family.

 this pool in the backyard with an old fashion tire swing offers a moment of leisure pleasure to kids of all ages!

Beginnings: A new day in the Sonoma and Napa Valley

Beginnings: the start of something yet untouched is filled with a fresh sense of hope and wonder.  This is true whether it is a new home, a new friend or a new day.  The first thing we love to do in the mornings is to put the kettle on, throw open the kitchen door and let in cool, fresh air.  Often you will hear a distant rooster crowing at the sunrise, tame geese asking for breakfast, or sheep (as I mentioned in my last post) gingerly leaving their night stall and wandering into the vineyards.  Although it is quite cold outside and the middle of winter, these country sounds are only more appreciated when you glance up and see a dramatically colored sunrise.  This seem to signal the first note of a very special day to come!

Winter sunrise

Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley

Sonoma early morning

We then brew an amazing cup of coffee or pot of loose leaf tea.  This has most likely been sourced from a local roasting company.  In Sonoma and Napa we love to support our small purveyors of specialty goods whether that is coffee, tea or wine.

locally sourced tea

Sonoma Lifestyle

Sonoma Valley

 

Napa lifestyle

Napa Valley

Next, we step outside, take a seat on the porch or in the garden, preferably a spot with a lovely view and enjoy the beauty of this fresh new day in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.

 

 

Food, Gardens and Agriculture in Sonoma and Napa

The fog has settled on the vineyards in Sonoma and the vines are now officially asleep for a few months.  Although they are resting peacefully, the gardens and new kitchen at The French Laundry in Yountville are quite lit up and full of activity and promise for future celebrations.  Food, gardens and agriculture are such an integral part of life in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.  It seems almost everyone has some sort of a flower or vegetable garden at their home.  Many times you will see a lovely persimmon tree standing regally in a front yard.  The owner of the house may even have a small stand selling the fruit to anyone who passes by.  At the Farmers Market on Friday morning a local baker has created a special persimmon cake.

 

Farmers Market, Sonoma

The French Laundry kitchen and vegetable garden

Personal garden and Vineyard

Additionally, sheep are now in the gardens and vineyards to share in the bounty of this season.  They love the tender grass and are quite helpful as a natural, organic way to manage the planted cover crop, fertilize the soil, and eliminate the use of herbicides in both personal gardens and agriculture.  It is so interesting that they help the vineyards in a variety of ways.  Their small hoofs have much less impact on the steep, wet, environmentally sensitive ground of many properties than tractor which find it difficult to navigate between the rows of vines in winter.  Sometimes called sheep “mowing”, they also decrease the erosion and soil compaction which adds to the health of both soil and vines.  All of this helps to create the flavorful fresh fruits and vegetables which these two valleys are so known for.

Lambs in the field

In summary, winter is a mixture of the resting of gardens & vines with the renewed activity of winter foods and footed friends enjoying the season.

Timeless home, Tuscany meets Sonoma

This beautiful villa in the hills to the west of the city of Sonoma is so lovely and well done that you wish it were possible to move in this afternoon.  The lifestyle here is a blend of the old world charm of Italy and the relaxed sunshine of Sonoma.  Such a perfect combination!