Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden Gifts ‚Äʬ†Our Fourth Year

Spring in Sonoma

Hummingbird gardenAs we celebrate our fourth year of gifting butterfly & hummingbird garden seeds to the community, I’d like to share my recent visit to the home and garden of my collaborator on this project, Karin Campion Mattoon, as well as my own home in Sonoma.

Karin & I dreamed up this idea in the middle of the pandemic when spirits were low, and business was slow.  We harnessed our resources and engaged the mentors and mentees at the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance to help with this meaningful project.  Our focus remains beauty, life, joy, and the importance of collaboration for the pollinators on our planet.

Today, we are grateful to the many local business’s who have joined us in sharing these gifts with their clients and friends.¬† We are part of a greater movement to support butterflies and hummingbirds.¬† I understand that the Monarch butterfly count has increased substantially across the nation.

Hummingbird gardens

Butterly and hummingbird garden
Planting new seeds in 2024, surrounded by the flowers from 2021 planting.

Bees in the garden

Art of Leisure Butterfly & Hummingbird Seed Gift Businesses ‚ÄĘ 2024

Sign of The Bear
Café Mac
Summer Vine
Prohibition Spirits Distillery
Sonoma Country Antiques
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
MacArthur Place Hotel
Refill Madness
Caddis Winery
Baker & Cook
Off Broadway Cleaners
Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market
Plain Jane’s
Oak Hill Farm
Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance

Edward Jones, Lindsey Stone
Sonoma Syrup Company
Scott Nichols Gallery
Readers Books
Eraldi’s Men’s Wear & Shoes
The Loop Sonoma
Potter Green & Company
Vintage House
Chateau Sonoma
Tiddle E. Winks
Artefact Design & Salvage
Wine Country Garden Center
Sonoma Mission Gardens
Valley Swim Club
Williams-Sonoma, Sonoma
The Sonoma School of Martial Arts

Seed samples

This year, for a limited time, locally owned Sonoma Mission Gardens is offering a sample of an organic product to help the seeds to start their growth, and Wine Country Garden Center is offering a sample of an organic product to support healthy flower growth. These complimentary samples will be available after April 16th; visit each nursery to pick up your sample and to inquire about additional tips for planting success.

Butterly garden
Porches are so valuable in a home where you may enjoy the day or evening surrounded by gardens endlessly changing activity and beauty.
Butterly and hummingbird garden planting
Entering the home, we see a dining table waiting to display vases filled with colorful cuttings from the garden.

Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden Seeds

Art of Leisure & Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

A lovely setting with abundant flowers at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, awaiting guests and the Spring Garden workshop.

In addition to the businesses participating in the seed giveaway, we are honored to collaborate with historic Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa as they celebrate Earth Day on April 19th with a Spring Garden workshop, creating sustainable hummingbird and butterfly gardens using our curated seed packets and garden pots. Gathered on the South Lawn at Fairmont Sonoma, you will learn more about these beautiful creatures and the importance of flowers as a food source for pollinators. Enjoy delicious tea featuring Sonoma Syrups and made made with nature’s freshest herbs while you assemble your own personal garden.  

Saturday, April 19th, 3: pm, $35 per person (one garden box per family of 4). You may view the program and purchase a ticket at their website here.

Butterly Pollinator

Relaxation and Rejuvenation in Sonoma & Napa Valley

Winter in Sonoma

As we begin the new year, it is a special time to pause, take a moment to enjoy a sunset, share something delicious with a friend, read a great novel, or maybe pop open a special bottle of sparkling wine for the simplest of reasons.  I share with you a few very special places in Sonoma and Napa Valley to accompany you on this journey to rejuvenation.

The quiet waters of Tomales Bay as seen from the boat landing at Nick’s Cove.¬† This bay is located along the coast just west of Sonoma and Napa Valley.

Bayside cottages are available to rent on the water.  The soothing sound of small, gentle waves under your deck can help to renew body and uplift spirits.

This painting by artist Kirsten Tradowsky who is represented by Maybaum Gallery in San Francisco reminds us to consider exploring new horizons.

Sigh in Sonoma is an especially bright and fun spot.  A wonderful place to stop by anytime to sip champagne or celebrate an occasion.

Both sparkling wine and champagne are served by the glass amongst inspiring quotes of notables from around the globe.

With Valentine’s Day coming soon, thought that you would like to know of this boutique baking business in Napa Valley.¬† Taart specializes in homemade desserts made with heart using recipes from family history.

This cake is a Fraise a la Rose, strawberry cake with aromas of rose, vanilla and cream.  Something sweet and beautiful which could also be the perfect hostess gift!

A plate of chocolate Saucisson au Chocolat, classic dessert served in many countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.  Each nationality adjusts the recipe adding a liqueur of preference.  The chocolate is mixed with toasted nuts and rolled in a cylindrical shape resembling a sausage.  It is served after a meal or along with a cheese board.

And to finish, a simple slice of cake in the afternoon is always welcome.  This Coconut Dream Birthday Cake has four layers and is inspired by a perfect snow day.  A small detail is that the sponge cake is lightly soaked in rum, then filled with coconut pudding and vanilla icing.

In my leisure time, it is always a pleasure to paint the animals of Sonoma and Napa Valley.  This is a dog named Moose who is at the Family Dog Rescue animal shelter in Sonoma.  He is a kind & beautiful dog looking for a new home.

Wishing you much health and happiness this year.

Holiday season

Home for the Holidays: Bringing Warmth, Color and Joy to Home

Fall in Sonoma

Late fall-early winter in wine country, we begin to rest and celebrate the year past, holidays of the season, and hope for the days to come.

Here are a few favorite shops filled with thoughtfully selected basics to bring warmth and joy into your home for the holidays this season.  These well curated offerings speak to the idea of a pause, how to incorporate nature, and bringing forth the warmth that is so welcoming as we embrace home this time of the year in Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

Home for the Holidays

At this time of year, we very much appreciate the cooler days and evenings; it is always a celebration when the vines are at rest.  There is a beautiful ease about the slope of the land, with the orderly march of the vines welcoming the winter rain ahead.  As we are a partially agrarian society, the combination of nature, authentic materials, and heirloom pieces are essential for a timeless feel in the home.

Vintage Home Napa Valley, Shoppe Amber Interiors and Chateau Sonoma are shown here, as they each uniquely excel at helping to create a welcoming home for the holidays.

Last weekend, an article in the Wall Street Journal relates how The Stagecraft of Holiday Dining Matters as Much as the Food”:

“Setting, atmosphere and the little familiar objects particular to each family are what make this time of year such a distinctive comfort and joy.”¬† ¬†Bee Wilson, December 16th, 2023.

A very timely read, it reminds us that it is the little things that make a big difference, whether while decorating or dining.

Holidays at Home
I just love the way this store brings the season forth from floor to ceiling.

At Shoppe Amber Interiors we see the most basic, high quality, elements for a home, to include books, furniture linens and art.

A simple, larger pattern, on a footstool can add just a touch of brightness to a room.

Holiday season at home
Linens and candles are an important part of the warmth of the season.

This relaxing bed ensemble speaks to the peaceful rest which is so desired.  The artful combination of textures, pattern, and neutral tones help to create an atmosphere of ease.

At Chateau Sonoma we see the lovely combination of organic materials, animals, plus antiques, to create this inviting table decoration.

Illuminating the darkness, music is such an important part of the holidays.

Recently, I visited the San Francisco Symphony to hear Handel’s Messiah, a holiday tradition around the world since its 1742 Dublin premiere.

Wishing you and your family a most joyous holiday season this year.  For an update on the national real estate market, please visit our Market Watch page.

Late Summer Gatherings: Linens and Dishes

Summer in Sonoma

It is late summer, and the days are sunny and warm.¬† As we approach the September holiday weekend, I’d like to share a few resources for your summer gatherings at home.¬† The following is a peek into the shop Sue Fisher King in San Francisco.¬† It’s an inspiring store with many unique home goods, quite a number handmade.¬† They also have a comprehensive website for last minute ordering.

Summer Gatherings
This collection of beautiful white dishes would be welcome on most any table in Wine Country or beyond.


Late Summer Gatherings
Lovely place settings with a light, summer feeling, using white dishes and a natural themed tablecloth.


Summer Parties
Colorful artisan glass tumblers can add a spark of fun to brighten your home, inside or out.


Celebrations at Home
These handmade placemats and dishes are really quite special, perfect for summer gatherings or celebrations.


For many years I have visited this store, and Sue Fisher King now supports my Shelter Pet Card project, so I am especially grateful.  Wishing you and all with whom you may gather on this coming holiday an abundance of health, happiness, and wonderful moments.

Art of Leisure Paintings

Happy, adopted 2019

Art of Leisure has always been circling around home and the leisure lifestyle in Sonoma and Napa Valley.  This naturally includes the physical structure of a home, the spirit of its occupants including pets, surrounding gardens, and the thriving wine country community.  Below, you will see my oil paintings of pets, very much a part of a healthy and happy home life.  Our four footed friends are an important element of our lives, as noted by artists and authors over the centuries.

For many years, I have endeavored to help the shelter pet community.  Many afternoons, I would visit the shelter, sit with an animal, paint a plein air painting of it and share a print with the person who eventually gave it a new home.  This practice developed into the creation of my Shelter Pet Cards, sold at such shops as:

Now I am bringing this service to those who would like to memorialize a moment in their and their pet’s life.¬† Hopefully, a delightful, happy occasion in which I can help bring your pet to life in a pet portrait painting.

Animal Paintings


Pet Paintings
Buttercup, adopted 2015


Pet Portraits
Charley, adopted 2019


Dog Paintings
Black Dog, adopted 2015


Cat Paintings
Emily, adopted 2017


Consignment Pet Portraits
Gibbs, adopted 2018


Animal Art
Jack, adopted 2019


Cat Art
Jewel, adopted 2019


Cat Paintings
Mariah, adopted 2019


Dog Portraiture
Maui, adopted 2019


Cat Portraiture
Miss Emmy, adopted 2017


Painting of your pet
Oliver, adopted 2015


Peaches, adopted 2019


Pinky Pie, adopted 2019


Rigo, adopted 2015


Sadie, adopted 2019
Hummingbird Garden

Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Gifts in Celebration of Earth Day

Spring in Sonoma

Hummingbird Garden

Bring Beauty to Your Home this Spring
with a Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden

As we welcome Spring this beautiful year of 2023, I’d like to share with you a community outreach butterfly & hummingbird seed distribution program created just in time for Spring planting and the celebration of Earth Day.

Spring Gardening

Gardens are an important part of a home here in the Sonoma Valley and beyond.  My friends and I invite you to enliven yours with a gift of seeds to create beauty and abundance around you. These high quality seeds have been specially curated to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Both butterflies and these tiny, lovely birds are treasured contributors to our larger ecosystem. Whether in a personal garden or expansive field, they bring inspiring charm and joy into our lives.

The seed gift packets will be gifted to the community during the week before Earth Day 2023 at the local businesses listed below, located throughout Sonoma County. It is our hope that recipients will plant these seeds in their pollinator gardens in the spirit of celebration for Spring and our Mother Earth. Each gift will contain a mix of seeds ready for planting that will bloom into glorious flowers. These seeds are appropriate for a wide number of garden zones across the United States.

Included with the seed packets will be an information sheet with complete list of the flower varieties and simple planting guidelines.

These seed packets have been created and donated to the community by my Sonoma Nature Journal Club, with the help of Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance mentors and mentees, as well as the support of specialty food company Sonoma Syrup Co. As local professionals who help clients with homes, gardens, families and food, we hope that you will call upon us if we can assist you in any way. Visit us on Instagram: @artofleisuresonomanapa, @sonomasyrupco, @sonomamentoring.

Gifts will be dropped off at Sonoma businesses on April 20th. The community can stop by one of the following participating locations to pick up a Butterfly & Hummingbird seed packet from the 20th through the 29th of April.

Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Seed 2023 ‚ÄĘ Participating Businesses

  1. Sign of The Bear
  2. Café Mac
  3. Summer Vine
  4. Prohibition Spirits Distillery
  5. Sonoma Country Antiques
  6. MacArthur Place Hotel
  7. Refill Madness
  8. Caddis Wines
  9. Baker & Cook
  10. Off Broadway Cleaners
  11. Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
  12. Woof
  13. Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market
  14. The Corner Store
  15. Plain Jane
  16. Sonoma Mission Gardens
  17. Nomad Botanicals
  18. Williams-Sonoma
  19. Sonoma School of Martial Arts
  20. Oak Hill Farm

  1. Musette Atelier
  2. Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance
  3. Edward Jones, Lindsey Stone
  4. Sonoma Syrup Co.
  5. Art of Leisure, Brenda McNeill, Coldwell Banker Brokers of The Valley
  6. Scott Nichols Gallery
  7. Readers Books
  8. Eraldi’s Mens Wear & Shoes
  9. The Loop
  10. Potter Green & Company
  11. Vintage House
  12. Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
  13. Chateau Sonoma
  14. Bartholomew Estate Winery
  15. Half-Pint
  16. Tiddle E. Winks
  17. Artefact Design & Salvage
  18. Wine Country Gardens
  19. Café La Haye

Art of Leisure & Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

A lovely setting with abundant flowers at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, awaiting guests and the Spring Garden workshop.

In addition to the businesses participating in the seed giveaway, we are honored to collaborate with historic Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa as they celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd with a Spring Garden workshop, creating sustainable hummingbird and butterfly gardens using our curated seed packets and recycled wine boxes.

Learn more about these elegant creatures and the importance of flowers as a food source for pollinators. Enjoy delicious hot tea made with fresh herbs while you assemble your own personal garden, and linger afterwards for live music and elevated street food from CaliForno, Fairmont Sonoma’s signature food truck. Tickets include all of the materials needed to craft your unique garden box. If you are unable to take a box home with you, a seed packet will be provided for you to plant your own garden at home. 

Saturday, April 22nd, 3:30pm ‚Äď 5:00pm, $35 per person. You may view the program and purchase a ticket at their website here.

Sonoma Mentoring Alliance
Mentor and mentee work together to create seed gifts for the community.

Pollinator Garden Seeds
Wherever you call home, it is my hope that you may find time to plant lots of flowers this Spring.

Butterfly Garden
And, whether you are renovating a home or relaxing with a hobby, that you may enjoy the Art of Leisure. Wishing you a beautiful Spring. If you would like more information on this project, please feel free to give me a call.

Rejuvenation Wellness

Rejuvenation & Wellness

Spring in Sonoma

Happy Spring! As we begin this season of growth, I’d like to share a few ideas for a leisure weekend of rejuvenation and restorative wellness.¬† In Sonoma and Napa Valleys, the abundance of rain this year has brought what we hope to be healthy vines as they emerge from their winters rest.¬† Thus, this is a perfect time to step out and enjoy something new and special before the full excitement of this season is upon us.

The idea of rejuvenation and wellness is inspiring because it evokes renewal, an abundance of energy, and a sense of optimism. To experience this feeling, here are a few places that offer various forms of personal tranquility and serenity.  From the visual to the experiential, these places and rituals allow the true feeling of rejuvenation to bubble to the surface naturally. From the simplest idea of a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a steaming washcloth in the morning, to visiting a spa-golf hospitality venue, or just maybe, up-close gazing at stars and planets at the most advanced observatory in the West . Whether inside or outdoors, a focus on rejuvenation and wellness is an element of the leisure lifestyle any day of the year. As always, I wish you many moments of ease and joy as you experience the Art of Leisure.

Beauty and Tranquility as expressed by International artist/photographers today:
Available at Scott Nichols Gallery, Sonoma Square. www.scottnicholsgallery.com

Nicolo Sertorio, 12T 365265 m E


Christopher Burkett. White Dogwood Canopy


Sonoma Valley:

Napa Valley:


Regarding real estate, we are in a time of many questions and uncertainty.¬† If you would like to know the facts, historical data, and trends that we are seeing for 2023, contact me for a Market Update that will help define today’s reality.¬† Here are a few highlights as we peer into the future:

  • In the luxury market, we are seeing a trend toward more conscious spending with a movement towards minimalist luxury. The trifecta of location, home condition, and amenities are the primary decision making priorities.
  • Move-in-ready homes are highly sought after today. In some cases, homes are sold fully furnished, including linens and cutlery.

Overall, the mindset in real estate is evolving, as properties are taking longer to sell and buyers are in a less competitive environment. Every market is unique.

Recently, I visited a site in Healdsburg with new construction containing many of the elements of an Art of Leisure Home.

The property is the Mill District, and although quite different from a home in the country with land or in town, it does offer many desirable amenities to clients.

The interiors have clean lines, minimalist decor, and include some furnishings, including appliances and window coverings.  This is a very move-in-ready property that is located close to the Healdsburg Plaza for entertainment and casual to gourmet dining.

I wanted to share this property with you as it is an example of the trend location, home condition, and amenities as we look towards the future.

It is my hope that you will enjoy a beautiful spring, and as always, please contact me anytime with questions or thoughts about the leisure lifestyle or the market which is adjusting quickly today.

Relaxation and Sleep for Holistic Wellbeing

Fall in Sonoma

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who has created an aromatherapy company in wine country and she brought to mind the importance of a restful nights sleep for one’s wellbeing.¬† As this is an important part of the lifestyle within an¬† Art of Leisure home, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

Home is our haven and our wellbeing is largely centered around the places at which we feel at home.  This could be our own house or a well appointed resort or guest cottage.  A large part of the welcoming and relaxing experience that we feel is the air or scent of a location. Carole Addison-Goyne from Nomad Botanicals has created a lovely business with this as their priority.  In my own office, I use a lavender diffuser from Nomad Botanicals to enliven the air with a restful scent that reminds me of a trip to a monastery in Provence where monks grew acres and acres of lavender.


At times in which you seek a moment of ease, it is nice to remember that our sense of smell allows us to reach back to a pleasant moment or memory in an instant.  This is an element of the wellness provided us by natural plants, which I find fascinating.

In Sonoma and Napa Valleys, with fall upon us, we are feeling the shorter days and longer nights.¬† Along with the grapevines and land devoted to agriculture, we are grateful for the slightly slower pace.¬† With all of my involvement in creating a home and environment that nurtures a sense of wellbeing, it was the luck of synchronicity that I noticed a recent discussion on the importance of sleep and relaxation on the TODAY Show, with Ariana Huffington and noted Harvard professor and sleep doctor Rebecca Robbins, author of “Secrets of Sleep“.

This seems to be a popular topic today, as Carole was asked to speak at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences’ Nighty Nightlife event under the stars.

WellbeignA lovely older tree is an endless source of healing and airborne scents.

This picture of a very old tree reminds me of Forest Bathing which is receiving quite a lot of attention recently.   Forest Bathing, or  Shinrin-Yoku, is a healing ritual originally from Japan. Spending time in nature, has been linked to both cognitive benefits, increase in mental health, and emotional wellbeing. This Japanese practice of taking in the forest with all the senses is truly a rewarding experience.  A very interesting book on this subject is Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li, who is the chairman of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and Associate Professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo.

Plants can be both hardy and delicate.  Accordingly, Nomad Botanicals shares three key areas of working with plants for health and wellbeing:

  • Begin with healthy, vibrant botanical plants: This brings forth authentic essential oils, imparting aromas along with vital life force with each drop.¬† A treat for the senses and protection from the elements.
  • Expert Formulations: This is very important as it is with study, apprenticeship and working in the industry that people such as Carole, who, with 25 years of experience, become knowledgable about plant chemistry, mixing scents with top, middle, and low notes.¬† The result is a creation of poignant aromas, textures and results for those who enjoy these products.
  • The gift of being able to transform routine moments into rituals which support wellbeing.¬† This begins with careful and considerate packaging, presentation, design and personal attention to clients.
This is the diffuser I use in my office.  It allows one to easily transport oneself, through scent, to the five different locations of the world identified by their unique scents.

A bee roaming my neighborhood on a summer afternoon.  Simply looking and smelling flowers or consuming honey can be healthy additions to our day.

As one of the more relaxing scents, lavender is abundant in Sonoma and Napa Valleys.  Grown for both medicinal reasons and for landscaping. essential oils from plants such as lavender are at the heart of the mind, body and soul-soothing world of aromatherapy.  It was interesting to be reminded that essential oils in plants are their organic method of communication with the environment around them.  This is both to attract creatures, such as pollinating bees and butterflies, and to deter predators. How plant oils affect our mood and brain is an organic experience that has much to do with our past experiences and the influence of scent.

Towels are most always part of a wellness ritual.  These are a few lovely thick white towels and a waffle robe which I saw recently at the Chateau Sonoma store on the Sonoma Plaza.

Another wonderful example of organic towels from the sustainable home decor shop JAK W in Sonoma, just off the Plaza.  This style would be perfect for an outdoor shower as can be easily hung from a hook and dry in the breeze.

Alchemy Works is a newer store to Yountville which offers a number of very lovely products.  Seen her on the shelf is their room spray which features notes of bergamot, vetiver, and sandalwood with hints of nutmeg and fresh geranium.

Cooking can offer its own form of aromatherapy as seen here at Alchemy Works in Yountville.

This bag and hat would be especially welcome on a leisure wander along a path in a forest or tree lined city street, shown at Alchemy Works.

Wishing you many moments of relaxation and beauty as you enjoy the Art of Leisure.  Feel free to contact me anytime.

Fall in Sonoma

Healthy Soil + An Organic Pumpkin Patch

Fall in Sonoma

In Sonoma and Napa Valley because we live in an agricultural area the health of our soil is very important to our wellbeing.  As the soil directly impacts the health of the foods we grow and our community, it is my thought that we all may like to know a little more about nutrient rich soil.  For that reason, and to teach kids in my Sonoma Nature Club, I did a little experiment to study the effects of various microbial and nutritional additions to the soil on five different small areas of land in wine country.  Healthy land and gardens are an important part of the leisure lifestyle in Sonoma and Napa Valley.  In 2021, I began the research project on how soil amendments adjust the crop output and water retention of plants.

This informational and educational project included the participation of the Sonoma Nature Club (described in this local article) and Sonoma Mentoring Alliance members.  It  has been inspiring for kids of all ages to better understand the cultivation of soil and the growing of crops, farm to table, the endeavor has since transitioned into a valuable source of knowledge for the community.  Hopefully, this will be helpful to you and your plants as they thrive through the growing season.

Wine Country

Here, Sonoma Ecology Center Garden Park manager Steve Carara and I enjoy some of the harvest from my 2021 organic pumpkin patch at Sonoma Garden Park.

Sonoma Garden Park
One corner of the crop in the field.

This is partial list of what was monitored by Sonoma Nature Club:

  • Growth + health of plant
  • Count of pumpkins and size of fruit, plus foiliage
  • Soil water content
  • Soil compaction
Pumpkins in Wine Country
The 2022 pumpkin patch. You can see the rocks that a Sonoma Nature Club member painted on the lower right corner.

A few larger pumpkins at Sonoma Garden Park which we will study and then carve for Halloween festivities this year.

A few members of the Sonoma Nature Journal Club carving their 2021 pumpkin crop.

Sonoma Garden Park
Friends in the garden include pollinator butterflies.  We always appreciate a lovely Swallowtail butterfly visit.

This study of soil is part of the immersive agricultural experience that I have offered to kids and adults at the Sonoma Garden Park for a number of years.  The focus is specifically on analysis and education about crops, soil and the land, which will be helpful to both the personal gardener and the crop grower.  It has been my belief that becoming more comfortable with the land and nature is of the utmost of importance for everyone.

Soil Science
Part of our soil science study involved the product Biochar which is available from the company Pacific Biochar.  The Chief Executive Officer, Josiah Hunt is shown above discussing how this soil enhancement product increases crop yield for vineyards.

Biochar is simply defined as a fine-grained biomass charcoal used or found in soil.  For as long as fire and plant life have co-existed, pyrogenic organic matter (biochar) has played a role in the development and fertility of topsoil.  One of the findings in our Art of Leisure soil science study is that biochar does increase water retention in and around the root mass of the plant, allowing for better root development and water availability for the plant.  It also helps to increase soil tilth and supports microbial communities.


It is quite interesting to know and see how Biochar is created.  First, the natural wood pieces are carefully burned or heated with a minimum or absence of oxygen.  When air is excluded, oxygen for combustion is stripped from the biomass, which is thus reduced to carbon bonds of charcoal.   Above is a container burning at Donum Estate Winery earlier this year.

Here we see the opening of the container and cooling of the product.  It will then be packaged and transported to a site for distribution.  I have used this product as part of the soil science study for Sonoma Nature Club and the community.  It is my belief that the foundation for soil health is in increased microbial activity in our soil.

Healthy soil that has some structure and can bring nutrition to the roots of a plant can be accomplished in a number of ways.  This engaging agricultural study is helping us to better understand the process.  Below is an example of a cover crop of mustard seen in the Napa Valley earlier this year.  Mustard is usually incorporated into the soil later in the season, all part of sustainable agriculture.

If you have an interest in this, please feel free to give me a call anytime.

Home and Nature

Sonoma Insiders Guide: Favorite Ice Cream Spots and Homes with Space

Summer in Sonoma

It is late summer in Sonoma & Napa Valleys and truly quite warm.  Here, I share a few favorite ice cream spots and two lovely homes with pools that are wonderful examples of how to use the available space on a property for living the leisure lifestyle.

Ice Cream Spots

One of the many joys of life is an ice cream cone.  No thought of nutritional content or how it may look on you tomorrow; just the pure, pleasurable experience of going to the ice cream parlor, choosing the flavor, picking the type of cone, and enjoying the cold delight for as long as it lasts.  Slowly enjoying a little homemade ice cream is one of the timeless and true friends from our youth.  These paintings by a local artist are so evocative of the feeling of this authentically delicious frozen treat.  I hope that you may be able to step out and visit one of these spots soon, or pick up a painting as an endless reminder of the experience.  I wish you many moments of happiness and sustenance as you experience the Art of Leisure.

As expressed by International artist Hadas Tal

THREE SCOOPS, by Artist Hadas Tal
Christina Maybaum Gallery, San Francisco

CHERRY CHUNK, by Artist Hadas Tal
Christina Maybaum Gallery, San Francisco

Sonoma County:

Napa Valley:


On these hot summer days, we are reminded of the importance of the use of space at a home or property.  The homes below offer some portion of their outdoor space for a swimming pool.  This allows for swimming as exercise, a place for gathering with friends and family, something beautiful to observe most any time of the year, a way to break up an expanse of land with a view, and many other pleasures.

Homes with Space
A sparkling pool in the western hills of Sonoma at 3350 Vigilante Road.

Sonoma Homes with Space
Built in 1990, this home has a lovely exterior color and openness to the outdoor balcony area.

Open Space Sonoma
The view looking east from the balcony just outside the above doors.

Glen Ellen Homes with Space
A bedroom with history.  The lovely wood ceiling reminds one of the trees and land just outside the window.  A very relaxing and natural feel to the space.

New Home Sonoma
Brand new construction on two acres of Sonoma land with a pool to take full advantage of the outdoor space, a pool house, and open floor plan for the main residence.  Located at 21706 Hyde Road, Sonoma

Open Living Room Sonoma
The main residence living area offering a very airy and open use of space

Sonoma Homes with Pools
A fresh feel to the refreshment area in the pool house.

Homes with Land in Sonoma
Spare furnishings and new construction give this property an ease that has been well curated.

Books of Summer and a Shifting Real Estate Market

Summer in Sonoma

Summer is the season of leisure and mixing up the routine, whether this involves a hammock on a warm afternoon in the backyard, or a day in the woods.  I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite books of summer as well as some additional recommendations by the Wall Street Journal.  The subjects range from golf to outdoors to foods, and one of my favorite subjects: bees and pollinators.  Many of these have been around for a while, with a few new reads included.  I hope that you have a relaxing summer filled with the Art of Leisure that we each experience in our unique ways.


Books of Summer
Outdoor Scenes Expressed by International Artist Foad Satterfield
Available at Christina Maybaum’s Maybaum Gallery.


Books of Summer

Brenda’s Summer Favorites for Kids of all Ages:

Food and the Grill:

The Great Outdoors:

Outdoor Trips & Golf:

In Sonoma Valley, we often wander into the family owned bookstore Readers Books to peruse their well stocked shelves of great titles.  They are located just off lovely Sonoma Plaza.  You can also often find these books at your local bookstore or library to pick up at a moments notice, in addition to online.

A Brief Real Estate Market Update

We are in a shifting housing market.  Following are three highlights from the last couple of weeks in which we have seen the market slowing down:

VALUE: Homes are not losing value at this time; experts are forecasting continued appreciation.  Are we in a housing market correction?  The technical answer is no, as a correction is considered a decline of 10% or greater in the price of a security, asset or financial market.  Median house prices are increasing, according to the National Association of Realtors.  The median price for existing-housing types in May was up 14.8% from May 2021 nationally, NAR reports.  We are in a market that is attempting to rebalance itself.

Estimate Home Price Performance
A graph from the Home Price Expectation Survey (HPES) that displays forecasted appreciation over the coming years.

RATES: We have seen a quick and dramatic rise in mortgage rates this year.  This has been successful in slowing purchase demand with a decrease in new purchase applications.  To bring perspective, the average mortgage rates over the past 5 decades ,from the 1970’s to 2010’s, has varied from 4.09 to 12.70%, per Freddie Mac.  The Federal Reserve wants to see the housing market reset to more balance, with supply and demand closer together and lower inflation.

Mortgage Rates
Mortgage rates over the past year. Provided by Freddie Mac.

SALES: Existing-home purchase applications have declined with the economic slowdown.  Current data shows that we are heading in the direction of pre-pandemic demand and sales.  This is coming off two years of demand and price increases that we had not previously seen.

Existing Home Sales

The market currently has a housing supply shortage, which will take new home construction and existing home inventory increases to correct.

It is very important at a time like this, when the market is adjusting at a quick pace, that you work with a professional that is familiar with all the data to support your real estate investment needs.¬† Feel free to call me anytime.¬† If you need a referral to someone in another area of the country, I have contacts in most cities.¬† Also, I send a monthly market update to many friends and clients across the world; it would be my pleasure to include you‚Äďjust let me know.

High end homes Sonoma

Art of Leisure: The Importance of Location

Summer in Sonoma

As it is just a few days into this lovely summer season, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on the importance of location when considering the Art of Leisure and buying or selling a home.  This is particularly important during this time when home has an increase in importance and use.  Creating the most nurturing and inspiring space for yourself is rather simple to do when you consider a few important items.  Location is always the place to start when you can, as it will influence most all of your other decisions.

To demonstrate, I’ll show you two wonderful homes at very different locations and with very different “feels.”

The first home is located in the city of Sonoma, and is a great example of being close to town, yet having a sense of space plus privacy.¬† The restaurants, farmers’ markets, shopping and wineries are within two blocks.¬† Kids’ and semi-pro baseball games are just across the street.¬† The city center of Sonoma Plaza, a community gathering place, is very close.¬† This is an example of what can be created in a relatively small amount of space.

The importance of location
The side yard entrance.  Just across from the baseball fields and moments to Sonoma Plaza.


Importance of location
This generous entrance greets you as you walk through the front door.


Location is important
This kitchen brings together high ceilings, great lights and appliances, with plenty of space to prepare something wonderful and chat with friends.  In this home, a number of the rooms open into each other to utilize the space to its maximum advantage.


Homes near Sonoma Plaza
Ample storage


Sonoma Plaza home for sale
A well-lighted bath with unique wall and floor treatments.


Sonoma Plaza real estate
This bedroom has been decorated with a touch of drama as in the many tall windows, the positioning of the furniture and a beautiful large print.


A home near Sonoma Plaza
An oversized print rests casually on the floor next to a soft chair in the bedroom.

This home is at 196 First Street East in Sonoma and available for purchase.¬† The square footage is at ¬Ī2,783, a reasonable size in the Sonoma city limits.¬† You can see more details here.¬† This is an example of a leisure lifestyle home that is close to town, yet offers a feeling of space and privacy.

In contrast to the very artistic home above, below we see a lovely country home with magnificent views and an abundance of space.

Homes for sale in the Sonoma Valley hills
This location is on the west side of Sonoma Valley, in the hills.   The view here is from the wraparound deck on the east side of the house.


Countryside homes in Sonoma
A beautiful living room with an abundance of open space just as you enter the custom front door.

This home at 2600 Morningside Mountain in Glen Ellen has over ¬Ī4,000 square foot of livable space.¬† In addition, the land is around ¬Ī9.5 acres.¬† ¬†A home site in the country offers views, space and distance from noise and proximity to town, offering the privacy and quiet that so many of us value.

Rural Sonoma house for sale
A spacious bedroom with fireplace and dramatic views of the Sonoma Valley from both inside and on the deck.


Home with gym in Sonoma
Truly one of the most amazing gyms ever.  This large building has gym equipment, a full office and an additional area with a few entertaining features.


Homes with a pool in Sonoma Valley
A county location is more likely to offer more outdoor leisure living options as well as more nature such as seen here with these old growth trees.

You can see more pictures and information on this home here.

The most important ideas are whatever has meaning to you.  With many of my clients, we discuss what homes they have most loved.  Sometimes it is the home they grew up in, or it could be even be the home they reside in now.  This is something to which one should allow deep consideration before purchasing or remodeling, as importance of location is key and not easy to change.  So, yes, jogging your memory and the memories of anyone who will live with you is both fun and time very well spent.  Most recently, many people have moved from more urban areas to the country.  In Sonoma and Napa Valleys, both in-town homes and those in the hills offer plenty of options to experience the leisure lifestyle as you most wish it to be.

Homes with a pool in Sonoma

Art of Leisure Home by Design ‚ÄĘ Nature

Art of Leisure

As someone who has been circling around homes and land for over 30 years here in wine country, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about the positive effects of good design and most importantly, some recurring principles & notable patterns that I have found in the successful homes that I encounter.  These common themes are a part of the idea of living well that is especially important today.

As we move through the second quarter of the year and in the coming months, I will expand upon my concept that an Art of Leisure home or property has the ability to support and transform your life.

The nucleus of my interest in this idea began with visits to my grandparents’ summer home on a lake in the north woods of Wisconsin.¬† This was leisure living with elegance and ease.¬† Years later, when I departed the high-tech industry in San Francisco and started a hospitality business in the hills above Sonoma Valley in the late 1980’s, my perspective was expanded.¬† After selling large scale computer systems to State of California government agencies, the idea of creating a “leisure lifestyle oasis” in wine country was welcoming.¬† The ensuing, successful business led me to help clients create a beautiful environment for themselves, family + friends.¬† It also developed into a service that assisted wineries with guest homes for their brand.

Fast forward to today:  As I guide clients in evaluating or marketing beautiful homes and properties, I have come to focus consistently on the aspects of a property that have the ability to not only shelter, but to lift the spirits + support those who call it home as well.  The following six principles are certainly not new, yet they are worthy of focus today when considering the Art of Leisure in a home:

  • Location
  • Light
  • Space
  • Nature
  • Materials
  • Decoration¬†

To begin, as I recently completed the Earth Day celebration here in Sonoma and Napa Valley, I share with you an expansion on the idea of the importance of nature.  Supporting, conserving, and including the natural world in our lives is a valued topic in the Sonoma and Napa Valley vineyards and home worlds.  One example was my gift of 400+ Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden Seed gifts to the community with the help of over 35 shops and other businesses in Sonoma.  The story was beautifully presented in an article written by Jason Walsh for the Sonoma Index Tribune newspaper.

So, to continue this important conversation about the natural world, it was well said by this noted architect many years ago ~

‘Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.¬† It will never fail you.’
Frank Lloyd Wright

In the case of a home, the idea is to create an outdoor environment that will enhance and increase the joy of the indoor space as well as the continual feeling of well being.  Today, indoor and outdoor organic environments mesh more than ever.  It begins with the view, and continues with healthy plants, beautiful flowers outside and in, nutritious vegetables for the table, space to relax and experience nature, and simple access to a place where you may wander.  Some version of this is something to look for when purchasing a new home, or to create over some version of this in most any home.

Nature – a few questions to consider when choosing a home and deciding if the property has the connection to nature which you want:

  1. What is the view from the interior and exterior or does it have deep window ledges for plants?
  2. What do you hear at this property?  Is it bees buzzing, leaves rustling or birds?
  3. What is the tree canopy?
  4. What are the natural elements inside the built space?
  5. Is it located within walking or biking distance to destinations you will frequently visit?

These homes contain examples of the appreciation of nature here in Sonoma and Napa Valley.

Homes with a pool in Sonoma

This lovely home is near the town of Sonoma and brings nature inside with the view of vineyards, hills, and an expansion of refreshing blue sky,    You may see this online at 969 Country Club Lane, Sonoma.

Master Bedroom

A bedroom with added decorative color, texture and pattern to bring the organic environment into the space.

Sonoma Leisure

These bright-colored flower and vegetable planters have been known to have a positive effect on the mind and body with their uplifting color and nutrition.

This is an example of bringing a small amount of nature inside.  The few clippings next to the sink plus the painting add a visual reminder of nature to the feel of this kitchen area at the Shoppe Amber Interiors.

Here we see how a few simple pots of herbs added to a bookcase can bring the natural world into most any room.

Homes with Stables in Sonoma Valley

Including nature in the design of your home or property many times involves creating space for your personal passions.  Here we see horse paddocks that offer the owner the ability to have animals and pets nurtured nearby.  You may view this online at 973-977 Country Club Lane, Sonoma.

Land in Sonoma

A grove of older oak trees on the side yard of this property which is next to vineyards.

The Art of Leisure

At this property, the owner has fully opened the barn-style rolling door inviting the oak trees into the room.

Art of Leisure

A well appointed sitting area with an inviting spot to relax near the window of this home on Country Club Lane in Sonoma.

An additional comment on nature is well said by author Leonard Koren in his book on Wabi – Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.

In the context of wabi-sabi “nature” means several things.¬† It refers to the dimension of physical reality untouched by humans: things in their pure, original state.¬† In this sense, nature means things of the earth like plants, animals, mountains, rivers, and the forces – sometimes benign, sometimes violent – of wind rain, fire and so on.¬† But nature in the context of wabi-sabi also encompasses the human mind and all of its artificial or “un-natural” thoughts and creations.

The Art of Leisure home looks to take all of these elements into consideration and bring to the person a hopefully completely satisfying experience.

Because this is important, my certification by the National Association of Realtors as a green home consultant has brought me further insight into how I may help clients and friends.   I would be happy to talk with you anytime about your thoughts and any questions which you may have about nature, green materials and a healthy home.


Spring Garden Gift

Butterfly & Hummingbird Spring Garden Gift

Garden gift

It is April 2022 and we are celebrating Spring and Earth Day 2022.  This year, the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, Sonoma Syrup Co. and I are coming together to help the community and the environment during this beautiful time of the year.  We have gathered and created 350+ spring garden gifts composed of thoughtfully curated pollination-encouraging plant seeds packets so that the recipients of this free gift may plant their own gardens to attract Butterflies & Hummingbirds in the warm + sunny days ahead.

Spring Butterflies
Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Seeds; Bring Beauty to your Home this Spring with a Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden

Let’s Celebrate Spring, Earth Day 2022 and Help our Pollinator Friends!

Sonoma, CA (April 2022) – Gardens are an important part of a home here in Sonoma Valley. Brenda McNeill and friends will help you join in with a gift of seeds to create beauty and abundance around you. These high quality seeds have been specially curated to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Both the butterflies and these very lovely small birds are treasured contributors to our larger ecosystem. Whether in a personal garden or expansive field, they bring inspiring beauty and joy into our lives.

The seed gift packets will be gifted (free) to local residents the week before Earth Day 2022. It is our hope that the community will plant these seeds in their pollinator gardens in a spirit of celebration for Spring and our Mother Earth. Each garden gift will contain a mix of seeds ready for planting which will bloom into beautiful flowers. In addition to the seed packets, a complete list of the flowers will be enclosed, an overall information sheet, and simple planting guidelines.

Pollination plants

Brenda McNeill, Karin Campion and both the Sonoma Nature Club members and Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance mentors + mentees have carefully created these packages for community gifting to be picked up at local businesses. It is our hope that in addition to helping the birds and butterflies, this Spring gift will also support our local Sonoma business community.

Garden gift
We are grateful to the many helping hands that contributed to this garden gift.



Spring in Sonoma
A group of mentors and mentees in April 2022.



Gift for the Garden

Created and donated to the community by Brenda McNeill, luxury real estate and leisure lifestyle specialist + founder of Sonoma Nature Journal Club, with the help of the Sonoma Mentoring Alliance mentors and mentees and the support of specialty food company Sonoma Syrup Co. As local professionals who help clients with homes, gardens, families and food, we hope that you will call upon us if we can assist you in any way. Or, visit us on Instagram: @artofleisuresonomanapa, @sonomasyrupco, @sonomavalleymentoring.

We will provide the gifts to Sonoma businesses by April 15th. The community can stop by one of the local business participants to pick up Butterfly & Hummingbird seed packets from the 15th through the 25th of April. A few are listed below.

Participating businesses include;

Shops: *Summer Vine  *Half Pint  *Prohibition Spirits Distillery  *Sonoma Country Antiques  *Chateau Sonoma   *Refill Madness  *Sign of The Bear  *Wine Country Garden Center  *Tiddle Winks  *Woof  *The Corner Store  *Readers Books  *Nomad Botanicals  *Williams-Sonoma, Sonoma *Scott Nichols Gallery *Potter Green & Co.

Services: *Café Mac  *Edward Jones, L.Stone  *Off Broadway Cleaners  *Vinny’s Shoe Repair  *Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance  *Art of Leisure, B McNeill  *Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau

Dining: *Basque Boulangerie Café’   *Taub Family Outpost  *Café La Haye  *Caddis Wines  *Baker & Cook  *Oak Hill Farm  *Sonoma Syrup Co. *Cline Cellars

Education: *Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau  *Musette Atelier  *Sonoma School of Martial Arts

Lodging: *Bancroft Inn of Sonoma  *MacArthur Place

We are so grateful for all our pollinator helpers, from those who teach, plant + grow the garden, to the butterflies, bees, and birds that we treasure.

Butterfly garden
A Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance mentor and mentee in front of their garden, planted from the Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Seeds gifted to the community in 2021.



A few flowers from one of the 400+ seed packages that we shared last year with the community.

Please enjoy a short video of the Wine Country Pollinator Garden above that was planted with our flower seeds: Vimeo¬† ‚Äʬ† Youtube


Hummingbird Garden
A lovely caterpillar that will hopefully become a Swallowtail butterfly.



Sonoma Bee Hive
A bee box at Sonoma Garden Park with many pollinator friends who will enjoy these gardens.



hummingbird nest
A nest with a few very young hummingbirds.  The picture was taken from a distance; here you see a close up.




Spring Gatherings and History in Wine Country

It is almost Spring in the Wine Country, so in the spirit of something beautiful and fresh, I visited the flagship location of an iconic store and two homes that have many inspiring spaces.  Sonoma was the site of the first Williams-Sonoma; here is a colorful holiday presentation that they have created this Spring.

Spring Wine Country

This store is lovely both inside and outside.  Located near the end of the El Camino Real, the main boulevard leading to Sonoma Plaza, it remains a hallmark of the city.

Spring in Sonoma Valley

An evening view into the window.

Spring Wine Country

In 1956, Chuck Williams purchased a hardware store at this spot and created a small area in the back for his now-renowned chef-quality cookware offerings.

Easter in the Wine Country

Today, the store is displays an especially beautiful table for the Easter holidays.

Spring in the Wine Country

Easter Wine Country

Wine Country Easter Basket

As someone who has filled many Easter baskets with these sweets, I do know that they are adored by kids of all ages.

Wine Country Spring

In contrast to the sweets, here is a more formal place setting from Summer Vine on Sonoma Plaza.

Sonoma Real Estate

This very personal table setting from Chateau Sonoma speaks of the sea.  Composed of linen napkins, stones, shells, glass and lovely plates on a worn wooden table, this would make an enchanting place setting for gatherings this Spring.

A block away is Sonoma Plaza, with its many shops and a lively duck pond.  Nearby are two properties that embody the leisure life in Sonoma.

Both homes are located on the much coveted east side of Sonoma, and both have the very desirable proximity to Sonoma Plaza. One nestles on land near a winter creek with vineyards nearby.  The other is surrounded by grape vines near to the historic Buena Vista Winery.  Each property offers thoughtful and inviting spaces for enjoying the best of the wine country leisure lifestyle, with easy access to all that Sonoma Valley offers.

Wine Country Homes for Sale

Just inside from the screen porch entrance is a large, open kitchen with very unique appliances in an amazing red color.  The detail on the cupboards and countertops is impressive.  Exceptional hardwood floors and the decor brings this house a comfortable yet elegant feel.

Wine Country Estate

In keeping with the design of the home, this bedroom has time honored linens.

Many parts of this property are reminiscent of another age, yet retain fine quality today, as seen in the guest house kitchen. 

Between the main house and the guest house, this relaxing pool has expansive views of mature trees and vineyards.  Having just enjoyed a spring rain, this property was brought to the market and presented by Holly Bennett at Sothebys International Real Estate in Sonoma.  Full details can be found here.

This welcoming screened porch overlooks the vineyard and basks in an abundance of afternoon light on a property that can trace its roots back to the beginning of the California wine industry.

Whether or not you choose to make your current home as beautiful and comfortable as these, it is my hope that you will have a beautiful Spring in the Wine Country and enjoy the holiday season.  Feel free to contact me anytime if you would like to discuss more ideas or to see properties in this area.

Beautiful Outdoor Art and Paths For Inspiration + Real Estate Data

As we embrace the New Year, this is a wonderful time to pause, eat warming and delicious foods, enjoy the outdoors, and take a closer look at the home that surrounds us.  Both the housing and home improvement markets remained strong in Sonoma and Napa Valley through 2021.  Thus, so that you may remain well informed, please find below the most recent expert real estate data + stats as we look together into the future.

But first, to remind us all of how much fun it is to be outside, here are a few paintings by the artist Alireza Varzandeh that evoke the pleasure of a stroll.


In the Sonoma and Napa Valley we do walk a lot around town, in the parks, neighborhoods, and sidewalks near the shops.

It is the movement and imperfection which these paintings portray that seems so welcome at this time.  Alireza portrays subjects in physical and emotional motion.  With blurred faces, their identities are mysterious, yet each figure’s posture and form suggests a unique personality and history.  Scenes of youth, summer, and vacation come alive on his canvases.

This art can be viewed at Caldwell Snyder Gallery in San Francisco and Saint Helena.  Senior Art Consultant Colleen Mulligan ( 714.906.2819 ) knows this artist very well.  Alireza has a quite inspiring story and history.

Real estate data highlights:

  • Inventory: Recent data shows that in December, California had 27.8% less inventory than in December 2020. Future housing inventory levels will be the key market indicator for sales in 2022.
  • Past¬†price growth¬†has been at its highest level in 45+ years.
  • Homeowner equity continues to surge, an important data point from the recent past. Equity remains a key element for those transitioning out of forbearance.¬† Core Logic reports a 31.1% year-over-year percentage increase in equity for U.S. homeowners with mortgages.
  • Seven industry experts forecast on average a 5.2% home price increase this year, a deceleration of price increase rates from last year.¬† Maiclaire Bolton-Smith, Core Logic Senior Leader of Research, predicts that home sales will continue to rise and actually reach a 16 year high in 2022.
  • Buyers¬†continue to enter the market and remain very active.¬† Data reports show that strong activity in property showings (which precedes offers and sales) have been unseasonably high over the recent holidays.

It is widely recognized that the low interest rates combined with a higher personal appreciation of ‚Äúhome‚ÄĚ were significant contributors to the current housing supply.

It is my hope that wherever you may be, you find a few moments to enjoy a bit of fresh air and participate in the pleasurable ‚ÄúArt of Leisure.‚Ä̬† ¬†For your convenience in finding a special place to wander, following is a list of favorite areas in wine country with inspiring scenery.


Having moved from the Bay Area to Sonoma Valley almost 30 years ago, I have curated a few favorite ‚Äúeveryday paths‚ÄĚ around the Sonoma Valley.¬† Due to my exploring both the hills and in town, these local outdoor areas range from challenging, to super easy, with opportunities for kids & dogs to run.¬† I hope that you find something here to capture the beautiful Sonoma Leisure Lifestyle experience.¬† Please let me know.

A Few Lovely Outdoor Areas

Above City of Sonoma

Anticipating Spring flowers along the path

A place to relax alongside the trailhead at Bartholomew Estate

Sonoma Bike Path, Vallejo’s Home & Field of Dreams:

  • Explore this trilogy of natural wetlands with plant and aquatic life, historic Vallejo’s Home with a turtle pond, and the open space of Field of Dreams, all located walking distance from the Sonoma Plaza.¬† Wonderful spots for kids of all ages.

Bartholomew Estate Vineyards and Winery:

  • A 3 mile hike within Bartholomew Park, taking in the duck pond, mature trees, views, and flowers. Dogs welcome.

Jack London State Park:

  • Scale the summit with an 8-mile hike over moderate, varied terrain and view historic remains of property.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park:

  • Hike to the top of Bald Mountain on a 6-mile stretch.¬† The 1.500 foot elevation change will reward you with a 360-degree view to San Francisco on a clear day.¬† More moderate hikes starts at visitor‚Äôs center.¬† Not for dogs.

Sonoma Valley Regional Park:

  • Rolling green hills with picnic areas, a dog park, & hiking, biking and horse trails.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery:

  • Lovely hiking area behind the winery.¬† Dog friendly .

Montini Open Space Preserve:

  • Hike among oak woodlands, grasslands, and rock outcroppings.¬† Not for dogs.

Wish you much happiness and success in the unfolding year.  Feel free to contact me anytime or let me know if I can help you or a friend.

Water in Sonoma Valley, Carriger Creek, Home and Gardens

As we continue this winter season in which we celebrate the recent rains, I’d like to share with you two properties and some beautiful fountains that all bring to mind the joy of water available to the homes and gardens of wine country.¬† The first is a lovely residential + commercial location on the southern side of Sonoma Valley with an abundance of artisanal water.¬† The water flows up from the earth (at a rate of 14¬Ī gallons per minute), and is readily available to the home, small orchard, hobby vineyard, and business.

Sonoma Valley

View from above looking west at this Sonoma Valley property, 75 Fremont Drive, Sonoma.

A lovely interior with older wood floors that have such a warm tone to their coloring.

A very inviting entrance to one of the residential areas.

Sonoma Valley Vineyard

A few organic grapevines enjoying the sunshine before harvest.  Feel free to watch this video for more information.

The second property is on the west side of Sonoma Valley, just moments from the center of town, Sonoma Plaza.¬† This estate is graced with the abundant beauty of Carriger Creek flowing freely along the land.¬† With its location at the foot of the mountain, it offers sweeping views of Sonoma Valley, vineyards and beyond from most area points on this 33¬Ī acres of land.

Sonoma Valley

Expansive view from a potential building site on this land.

Nearby trail to wander at your leisure with full privacy.  You can see a part of the wildflower preserve in the distance.

Sonoma Valley Home

I just love this “personal park” area next to historic Carriger Creek where one can gather with family or friends.¬† This spot has been enjoyed by young Nature Camp participants over the years.

Journaling at Carriger CreekA moment overlooking the creek in the early afternoon with my journal.

Please enjoy this brief video highlighting the beauty of Carriger Creek and the pleasure of journaling, something that I share with the community, including children, through my Sonoma Nature Journal Club.

Carriger CreekThe beauty of the simple waterway of Carriger Creek.

Here in Sonoma and Napa Valleys, we so deeply appreciate when the water that springs forth from the land via stream, creek, lake or other waterway.  Carriger Creek is an enchanting natural waterway in the Sonoma Creek watershed that meanders through the land on the west side of Sonoma Valley before flowing into Sonoma Creek and out to the ocean.

A simple traditional tea house amidst the trees, with an enormous view of this property.

The Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve, a nature preserve in Sonoma County, is nearby with 163¬Ī acres along the foothills of Sonoma Mountain.¬† The Preserve has a gently sloping grassland and over 250 species of common and rare wildflowers.¬† This sweeping expanse of protected land can be seen from the property and potentially hiked often.

Father José Altimira had much to say about the vital, historic water sources in this area.

‚ÄúSonoma is a fountain of fountains,‚ÄĚ wrote¬†Father¬†Altimira in July of 1823, as he explored the North Bay, looking for the best place to build a mission.

The wonderful Sonoma Mission Gardens nursery has unique fountains to choose from so that you may relax amidst the sound and positive energy of flowing water.  To honor our precious natural water sources, here are a few lovely fountains that can be purchased for your garden and home.

Sonoma Valley Gardens

Ripples of water

Fountains in Sonoma Valley

Bubbling forth

Sonoma Garden Home

Drawn into a trough

Sonoma Mission Gardens

Tiered terra cotta

Garden Fountain

The majesty of an arcing stance

A side entrance door to this favored nursery of locals reminds us of all of the character and art of garden rooms.¬† Here Sonoma Mission Gardens offers many vessels: fountains for your own flowing water in Sonoma or Napa Valley.¬† It is all about land + gardens + homes, adding so much to our “Art of Leisure” lifestyle with family and friends.

Contact me anytime for further details.

Farms and Ranches in Sonoma & Napa Valley

Farms and Ranches in Sonoma & Napa Valley

It’s late summer in Sonoma & Napa Valleys; the days are warm with spectacular evening sunsets.¬† It is a wonderful time to be in the wine country!¬† Here I share a few special farms and ranches to visit at your leisure.

The slower pace of an outdoor activity, like visiting a farm stand, can be very inviting on the weekends.  Crisp, fresh country air, rustic barns filled with flowers and local produce, and the notion of discovering something unique and tasty to bring home are all tenets of the leisure lifestyle.

Farms & Ranches to Visit  

In Sonoma and Napa Valley, a favorite place to visit on the weekend is a local farm or ranch to see something new and get inspired by whatever is fresh and seasonal.¬† You get a true feel for wine country when you stop in at these rustic farms, and receive a warm welcome as you wander around. Whether you’re up for a quick pitstop, or would rather immerse yourself in a few days of the experience, these are a few of my favorite spots. It’s always worth a drive to discover an abundance of seasonal fruits, vegetables, jams, linens, flowers, and baked goods. The California ranch community has been a part of my lifestyle all of my life: feel free to contact me anytime to chat about life amidst the gardens, land, animals‚ÄĒwild or domestic‚ÄĒand meandering creeks. Wishing you many moments of ease and happiness as you experience the Art of Leisure.

Oakhill Farm and Flatbed Farm

The lovely entrance of Oak Hill Farm; the Red Barn has been hosting these markets for years.

Sonoma Farm Stand

A colorful bouquet of fresh flowers just picked from the nearby garden.  Oak Hill Farm offers a large selection of flowers, vegetables, jams, and much more for the home.

Napa Valley Ranches

Red onions and lemon cucumbers harvested from the land.

Farms in Sonoma

A few tomatoes; these may be heirloom varieties.

Napa Valley Farm Stand

The Entrance to Flatbed Farm just off Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley.

Sonoma Garden

A few of the gardens at Flatbed Farm.

Sonoma Valley Farm Stand

Dried grasses.

Napa Farm Stand

Very special offerings from the kitchen.

Farm Stands in Sonoma and Napa

Colored candles for the home.

Sonoma Ranch

Flatbed Farm has an expansive collection of both dried and fresh flowers.  They also serve coffee most Saturday mornings with freshly baked offerings from a Sausalito baker.

Rows of fresh blackberries bushes growing in the summer sun, just waiting for someone to pick them.

Sonoma Berry Farm

These will be perfect for a homemade cobbler.  Sonoma Garden Park market and grounds offer fresh produce, take a stroll and visit the chickens or view the active bee hives on the property.

Sunflowers in Sonoma

Sunflowers growing on the east side of Sonoma at Sonoma Garden Park, at which the Sonoma Nature Journal Club maintains a small plot.

Wishing you much joy and happiness as you visit these farms and ranches.

A Space of One’s Own

Here I share a few homes in Sonoma and Napa Valley with lovely personal spaces.¬† It is always very satisfying to have a place which fits you perfectly and is at least slightly private.¬† These are properties, or areas of properties, where someone has created a very unique area for themselves.¬† Whether you are enjoying your home, garden, work or land for a few hours or a portion of the day, a special place to call one’s own is so appreciated anytime.

personal spaces

I just love this spot where an architect or landscape  designer might easily create new plans for clients or tend to their own Wine Country home and garden.

personal space

With clean, white cupboards just behind the desk, as well as a functional sink and counter space, this is a fabulous personal area.  Right outside the door is an abundant garden.

wine country garden

A few white peonies from the garden potting beds….

wine country homes

This lovely potting shed is the perfect size for garden tools or a gathering spot amongst the plants.  Here we see climbing roses and peony beds, with raised boxes of vegetables, herbs and more flowers in this nicely fenced area.

A large fountain holds court in a quiet corner; one can only imagine the peaceful sound of trickling water.

A very eco-conscious lawn, large enough for friends or family to enjoy or play a favorite game running the length.  Soccer is a popular in wine country.

Rose bushes and other very special plantings around the lawn providing both an abundance of open space as well as the finished feeling which comes from carefully selected flowers and trees.

A lovely pool space for relaxing, with another unique water fountain close by.  This home is located at 60 Loma Vista Drive, on the western side of Sonoma Valley, and is currently available to view or purchase.

This simple, private space has a lovely window nearby and an inviting mix of old and new.

Up in the western hills of Sonoma Valley, we find this warm toned personal space, perfectly suited for reading, relaxing and conversation, and made even more special by its many artistic touches.

In the same house, you will find this beautifully appointed bedroom with quite a few high quality architectural elements.  The light streams in from the north via a few well designed windows which provide an air of ease and calm.  Once again, we see a comfortable spot for quiet contemplation next to the fire.

A beautifully designed art studio, so perfect for a place of one’s own, with north-facing French doors to capture a plethora of premium light, optimum for seeing and painting.¬† A true artist or professional’s¬† dream room.¬† This property is available to view or purchase at 4550 Grove Street in Sonoma.

The winery building at Bartholomew Park Winery is another example of someone’s vision and desire for their own personal spaces.¬† Although part of the 375 acre historical park today, it has its origin as being the original residence for Count Agoston Haraszthy.¬† With an abundance of history here, as well as the vineyards, gardens, and a small lake, this was also the site of Sonoma’s first hospital.¬† You can view the complete history at Bartholomew Park.¬† At this time, Bartholomew Park is owned and operated by the Frank H. Bartholomew Foundation.

This balcony serves as a place for someone to step away and enjoy the view of vineyards and land.

Antonia’s Garden today is a much loved picnic area for the public.

Recently updated, this area of Bartholomew Park Winery features a private spot for members of the wine club, a well-considered place to peruse the vineyards and listen to the nearby creek as it meanders slowly through the land.

Peonies from the 60 Loma Vista Drive garden.¬† These flowers have long been a favorite for personal celebrations and to adorn one’s private space.¬† They can be grown with ease in Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

Wishing you many relaxing moments in your personal spaces wherever you may find or create them.  As always, feel free to contact me about any of the properties featured here or visit the winery.

Happy Summer to all.

Farmers’ Markets and Strawberry Shortcake

As we begin to plan gatherings outside this spring and summer, our thoughts roam to where we will find the tastiest and freshest produce.¬† Farmers’ Markets and local farm stands are very prolific places to begin.¬† These superb places for fresh fruits and vegetables are generally open on a regular basis and quite well stocked.

Sonoma Farmers' Market

My purchases were abundant on this visit.¬† Beside me in the picture above is Hilda Swartz, who has served as manager of the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers’ Market for many years.

What’s In Season

For the months of March, April and May in Napa and Sonoma Counties, you will most likely find these seasonal fruits and vegetables at local markets and farm stands.

    • Artichokes
    • Asparagus
    • Beets
    • Blueberries
    • Bok choy
    • Broccoli
    • Cabbage
    • Cauliflower
    • Carrots
    • Celery
    • Chard
    • Cherries (some early varieties)
    • Chives
    • Fava Beans
    • Fennel
  • Green Garlic
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Kiwi
  • Leeks
  • Lemons
  • Lettuces
  • Mushrooms
  • Early Onions
  • Radicchio
  • Radish
  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Local Strawberries

Fresh strawberries from locally renown Watmaugh Strawberries farm stand.  The berries pictured above were probably thriving in the field at this favored spot just a few hours before being purchased.  They are picked throughout most days; field-to-basket fresh but somewhat delicate, so they really last only a few days.  Very sweet and ripe the day you pick them up!

Blackberry patch

Not far from Watmaugh Strawberries, this crop of young blackberries will be ripe after the peak heat of summer.

Strawberry shortcake has long been a family favorite.  As I used to own a hospitality venue, many mornings you would find me in the kitchen, testing scone recipes for guests to bake at their leisure in their private cottages.  Today, I will mix strawberries + blueberries with a freshly made scone and lots of organic whipping cream for this traditional seasonal dessert.  It brings not only so much pleasure, but also many memories of very festive gatherings in our beautiful wine country.

Ina Garten

A favorite source for scone recipes is Ina Garten’s the barefoot contessa cookbook. Truly a loved and well-used book for many years.

Sonoma Valley & Napa Valley Farmers’ Markets 

Farmers' Markets

Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers’ Market
Year-round, Fridays, 9am-12:30pm ‚ÄĘ Arnold Field at W. First St., Sonoma, 707.538.7023,

Sonoma Garden Park Farmers’ Market
May-Oct, Saturdays, 9:00am-12:00pm ‚ÄĘ 19996 Seventh St. East, Sonoma.

Sonoma’s Tuesday Night Farmers’ Market:
May- September, Tuesdays, 5:30pm to dusk or longer ‚ÄĘ Sonoma Plaza

Petaluma East Side Farmers Market:
Year-round, Tuesday 10-1:30 ‚ÄĘ Lucchesi Park, 320 N McDowell Blvd.

Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market
Wednesday and Saturday 8:30am-1:00pm ‚ÄĘ Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa.
Link to multiple markets in this area.

Healdsburg Farmers’ Market:
May‚ÄďNovember, Saturdays 8:30am-12pm ‚ÄĘ North and Vine, one block west of the Plaza, Healdsburg.

St. Helena Farmers’ Market:
May 1 ‚Äď October 31, Fridays, 7:30am-12:00pm ‚ÄĘ Crane Park, Crane Street, just south of town behind the St Helena High School.¬† 707.486.2662.

Napa Farmers’ Market:
Year-round, 8:00am ‚Äď 12:00pm ‚ÄĘ Temp site between CIA at Copia & Oxbow Public Market, Napa.

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch Farmers Market:
738 Main Street, St Helena

Calistoga Certified Farmers’ Market:
Year round, Saturdays, 9am-1pm ‚ÄĘ Sharpsteen Plaza, 1234 Washington St., Calistoga.

Wishing you much happiness and many delicious gatherings with friends as you enjoy the bounty wherever you live.

Clarity with Glass in the Home

On a recent visit to Sonoma Country Antiques, I was struck by the beauty of these glass themed displays for the home.  They were clear & bright, offering not only illumination but also a fresh feeling of clarity to the room.

During this time of extended days and increased light in our lives, these paintings and glass pieces in the home seem especially welcome and noteworthy.

Glass in the Home

A display as seen in the showroom of this wonderful resource for vintage and new home goods.  This store regularly receives shipping containers from across the Atlantic to keep wine country homes decorated in a most unique and authentic style.  They are conveniently located just as you enter Sonoma Valley on Arnold Drive, which is also the gateway to Napa Valley.

glass home

Note the pale blue glass lamp in this picture of the skylight illuminated atrium.

Glass home decor

Original old bottles from the English countryside can easily be repurposed as flower vases or used for most any number of other ways in a home.

These three beautiful glass bottle works were painted by artist Gregory Haynes and can be seen in his show here and up close (until sold out!) at Maybaum Gallery in San Francisco.

Glass in the home

These original oil paintings are so well done that they almost appear to be photographs.  They truly evoke the image of these old bottles.  It is about clarity as well as the memory of a time when these glass vessels were more commonly seen or used.  For many of us, the imagery harkens back to our younger days.

Paintings of glass

The balanced color and implied texture of these pieces of fine art would make a fresh addition to quite a number of rooms in a home.

Both of these wonderful businesses are open online and in person; I hope that you may find a moment to visit them.  Give me a call with any thoughts or comments on this observation of glass & light!  Wishing you a lovely day filled with much beauty in your home + life.

The Beauty Of Books And A Home Library

Books, my constant companions.  Here I share with you the beauty of books as known to me and seen in this well designed library found in a Sonoma Valley home.

During this time of digital prevalence, with an increased amount of our day spent on the computer, I would like to highlight the spirit of the written word as presented on paper and displayed in a home library.  Most of us have a collection of books somewhere to which we refer when the moment calls.  Whether it is a timeworn and tested cookbook with notes on the pages, or a collection of Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Rembrandt books that may reside on my own shelves, books have always been a large part of my life.  It seems that I continually receive a stream of books purchased from Sonoma bookstore Readers Books, or elsewhere.  This gives me something to look forward to, but also presents somewhat of a challenge in finding space for my new volumes once they arrive.

On occasion, I discover an excellent resource library that is both well designed and lends itself to the leisure lifestyle.  The following is such a place, a jewel in a lovely home in the hills of Sonoma that is currently available for purchase.

As you enter this home, you are greeted by this slightly whimsical orchid casually placed on a gorgeous pedestal.  It is a quiet reminder of the beauty that can be found in life.  In this case, the beauty of Sonoma Valley lies just beyond the patio.

Home Library

Here is an inviting corner of a home library with a comfortable chair and well placed lighting.  Notice the unique blue color of the shelves.  As with many things, the details make all the difference and are very much in evidence in this collection of printed thoughts.

Homes with libraries

As someone who both paints and collects books on art, art history, design, photography, gardening, and cooking, I very much appreciate the quality of this home library and the artful presentation of these two paintings in the midst of these written pages.

Sonoma Home Library

A quote by Homer, Iliad, VI, 146, which greets you as you both enter and depart the home at 4550 Grove Street, Sonoma.  The Iliad is thought to have been written by Homer in the 8th century BC, and is among the oldest works of Western literature.  This display is a thoughtful reminder.

As someone who sees many homes and works with many people, I always enjoy hearing from you and showing you homes with lovely libraries anytime.  This home library is especially noteworthy with its remarkable presentation and many fine details.

As I mentioned, the most important part of a library is that the books are meaningful to the person who has acquired them.  A library is just as valuable if it is well built and more formal, as seen here, or simply a stack of books in a warmly lit location.  What is most important is that the books are enjoyed, shared, and sought after time and again.

Feel free to contact me anytime.  I would be happy to discuss this property further with you if you would like more information.

Celebrating Earth Day With Butterfly & Hummingbird Gardens

Earth Day

Spring is here and Earth Day is fast approaching.  Sonoma Syrup Co. & Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance have joined with me to bring over 330 Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Seed Gifts to anyone who is visiting Sonoma Valley from April 15th through the 25th.  These gifts, as seen above, will be available at the shops and wineries listed on the last post at no cost, only with the thought of helping our winged friends.

This lovely swing on a spacious wine country property’s front porch is the perfect spot to pop on a straw hat, pick up your binoculars, and enjoy the afternoon light while getting a closer look at the hummingbirds and butterflies who come to visit flowers in your garden.

We hope you’ll take a moment to read two fabulous articles recently published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that speak to the importance of butterfly & hummingbird gardens.

Jon Dunn has written a book about all things hummingbird: The Glitter in the Green.  Find the review and story here.

The butterfly and pollinator garden at Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, was designed to encourage a trip around property to view the sanctuaries created for our pollinating friends.  Read the wonderful overview here.

Earth Day

A simple, meaningful afternoon project with mentors and mentees.

It is a joy to see such happy faces and to understand that this effort is truly making a contribution to the community and our greater ecosystem.

We were inspired by our surroundings as we created with enthusiasm this gift to benefit butterflies and hummingbirds in the Sonoma Valley and beyond.

Earth Day Gifts

Tina Baldry, the program director at the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, spearheaded this project with Karin Campion Mattoon and myself.

We look forward to hearing from you with pictures and thoughts on how your garden grows.  Enjoy a beautiful Earth Day!

Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden Seed Gift

Bring Beauty to your Home this Spring with a Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden
Let’s Celebrate Spring, Earth Day 2021 and Help our Pollinator Friends!

I want to share with you a community outreach butterfly & hummingbird flower garden seed distribution program created just in time for Spring planting.

Hummingbird Flower Garden
Painting by Brenda McNeill

Butterly Garden

Gardens are an important element of homes here in Sonoma Valley.  In a spirit of celebration for Spring and mother earth, Brenda McNeill and friends will help you to enhance your own with a gift of seeds to create beauty and abundance.  These high quality seeds have been specially curated to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, treasured contributors to our larger ecosystem.  Whether in a personal garden or expansive field, they bring inspiring beauty and joy to our lives.  The garden above is my own, wisteria in full bloom, and is often visited by local pollinators.

The butterfly and hummingbird flower garden seed gift packets will be available to residents during the week before Earth Day 2021.  Each packet contains a mix of seeds ready for planting and chosen to promote beautiful flowers.  In addition to the seed packets, a complete list of flowers will be enclosed, as well as an overall information sheet and simple planting guidelines.

Brenda McNeill, Karin Campion, Sonoma Nature Club members and Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance mentors + mentees have lovingly created these seed packages for community gifting to be retrieved at local businesses. Our intention, in addition to helping the birds and butterflies, is that this Spring gift will serve to support our local Sonoma business community.

Explaining the idea to the wonderful members of Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, partners in this gifting program.

I love this picture of a mentor and mentee taking a closer look at a hummingbird nest I had found alongside the road recently.  Nature + Science + Curiosity are a bedrock of what I hope to encourage.

We all had a wonderful afternoon of filling seed packages and chatting about butterflies, birds and bees.  Here we are at Sonoma Garden Park.

These seed gift packages have been created and donated to the community by Brenda McNeill, local real estate and leisure lifestyle specialist + founder of Sonoma Nature Journal Club, with the help of the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance and the support of specialty food company Sonoma Syrup.

As local professionals who help clients with homes, gardens, families and food, we hope that you will call upon us if we can assist you in any way.  Or, visit us on Instagram: @artofleisuresonomanapa, @sonomasyrupco, @sonomavalleymentoring.

We will deliver the gifts to Sonoma businesses by April 15th.  The community can visit one of these local business participants to pick up a Butterfly & Hummingbird seed packet from the 15th through the 25th of April.  A few participating businesses are listed below.  This list will be updated regularly until the 15th.

In and around Sonoma, the Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Gifts can be found at:

  • Baker & Cook
  • Bartholomew Estate Vineyards And Winery*
  • Basque Boulangerie Caf√©
  • Caddis Wines
  • caf√©Mac
  • Candlestick Shop
  • Chateau Sonoma
  • G‚Äôs
  • Half Pint
  • Off Broadway Cleaners
  • Prohibition Spirits Distillery
  • Refill Madness
  • Scott Nichols Gallery
  • Sign of The Bear
  • Sonoma Country Antiques
  • Sonoma Mission Gardens
  • Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
  • Summer Vine
  • Sweet Scoops
  • Taub Family Outpost
  • The Corner Store
  • Tiddle E. Winks
  • Vinny’s A-1 Shoe Repair
  • Williams-Sonoma, Sonoma Store
  • Wine Country Garden Center
  • Woof!

Gifts will be available at Bartholomew Park beginning on Earth Day, the 22nd.

Brenda McNeill, Luxury real estate + leisure lifestyle specialist
Art of Leisure, Coldwell Banker Brokers of The Valley
Karin Campion Mattoon, Home design and specialty food company Sonoma Syrup Co.
Susie Gallo & Tina Baldry, Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, Family support

The Butterfly & Hummingbird Seed Mix contains seeds that will grow some version of the following flowers from Spring into Fall.¬† Flowers reach about 3 1/2′ and create a meadow effect.

  • Eschscholzia californica – California Poppy (A)
  • Gaillardia aristata – Blanket Flower (P)
  • Gaillardia pulchella – Indian Blanket (A)
  • beris umbellate – Candytuft(A)
  • Liatris spicata – Blazing Star (P)
  • Lobularia maritima – Sweet Alyssum (A)
  • Lupinus perennis – Perennial Lupine (P)
  • Monarda citriodora – Lemon Mint (A)
  • Ratibida columnifera – Prairie Coneflower (P)
  • Rudbeckia hirta – Black-eyed Susan (P)
  • Salvia coccinea – Scarlet Sage (A)
  • Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly Milkweed (P)
  • Callistephus chinensis – China Aster (A)
  • Centaurea cyanus – Bachelor’s Button (A)
  • Cheiranthus allionii – Siberian Wallflower (P)
  • Clarkia amoena – Godetia (A)
  • Coreopsis lanceolata – Lanceleaf Coreopsis (P)
  • Coreopsis tinctoria – Plains Coreopsis (P)
  • Delphinium consolida – Larkspur, Rocket (A)
  • Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower*

An example of wild California poppies ,which grow naturally and in abundance along Valley roads and open fields.

hummingbird flowers

Early Spring blooming lupine can be found in and around Sonoma Valley.  Both lupine and poppies are favorite pollinator plants for bees and butterflies and are included in the seed mix.

hummingbird flower garden

Sonoma has a beautiful pollinator garden at Sonoma Garden Park which is carefully tended by a few dedicated volunteers.

butterly flower garden

Nearby at the Garden Park is this very active bee hive.  Bees are one of our most essential pollinators.  California has close to 6,000 flowering plants, and bees perform a key role in the dissemination of pollen, allowing these plants to provide much of the produce that we consume.

These white pear tree blossoms are aglow in the late afternoon light.  I recommend the Picture This app which was well reviewed by a renowned gardener recently.  Capture a photo of a plant or tree with the app for immediate identification.

Simple Planting Guidelines:

DAYS TO GERMINATION: 10-28 days at 65-75¬įF (18-24¬įC)
SOWING: Direct seed (recommended).¬† Prepare a weed-free area or pot.¬† Broadcast mixture lightly and evenly over the planting area. Gently tamp seeds into the soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.¬† Plant no deeper than 1/8″.¬† Keep the area moist to aid germination.
PLANTING SEASON: Plant in spring, early summer, or late fall. For fall sowing, wait until the soil temperature is too cool to allow seed germination (below 40¬ļF/4.4¬ļC).
PLANT HEIGHT: 10-48″ Plant heights vary depending on species.
SOIL REQUIREMENTS: Average, well-drained soil.

hummingbird flower garden

A favorite food of the monarch butterfly is milkweed, included in our Garden Seed packs.

I wish you a lovely Spring and hope that you will stop by one of these Sonoma Valley shops or the Visitors Bureau to pick up your Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden Seed Gift, beginning April 15th.

Those of us who are sponsoring this community gift would love to hear how your garden grows.  We are so excited to support our pollinator friends and look forward to making a contribution to the Sonoma community and our friends who own businesses in this area.

Feel free to message me at bmcneill@cbsonoma.com with thoughts and comments.

Paintings by Brenda McNeill, top painting was inspired by Caitlin McGauley

A House in the Hills Above Sonoma

In the hills above Sonoma, many beautiful homes are nestled amid the trees.  With the weather warming, it is an especially wonderful time to be here in the Valley.  I wanted to share with you two hillside homes with expansive views, each quite unique.  One is on the western side of the valley, in the gated community of George Ranch, and the other in the eastern hills above the city of Sonoma.  With space becoming a much higher priority over the past year, each homes offers that in its own special way.

Hills above Sonoma

Located in the western hills, this is an example of the view from the George Ranch at which the home at 3900 White Alder is located at 1,056 ft elevation.  The scenic panorama from this property offers a feeling of freedom.

What I really love about this home is not only the structure itself and the views, but the sense of quality of craftsmanship which went into building the home.  With over 4,000 square foot of living space, it is nicely designed and all on one level.  Just outside the kitchen is a cutting garden and vegetable beds.  Ancient olive trees are only a few steps from the front door.

The front of 3900 White Alder has a wonderful sense of place. with an entrance graced by very large, old, oak trees.

George Ranch Home

This small meadow is part of the land just off the deck, offering many opportunities for a walk or special moments outside.

The dining room & hall have particularly exquisite details.

Here we see the steam and shower rooms, a valued addition to this home.

Although this small olive grove does not regularly bear fruit, it is the twisted character and evergreen silver-grey leaves of these ancient trees that are valued.

Speaking of land, a view just north of the home reveals neighbors nearby but not too close.  Privacy is an important element to this home.

Here we see the Sonoma Valley as experienced from the George Ranch property of 3900 White Alder.  The home can be seen amid the trees.

In case you are not familiar with the George Ranch, this is a small lake which is a favorite spot of residents.

A simple path around the lake that is perfect for an afternoon stroll.

The common tennis court is a quite popular.

On the eastern side of Sonoma Valley is a new and quite contemporary home with dramatic views.

Sonoma Hillside

The drive to this home is through a lovely area of vineyards.

High ceilings throughout the home offer that desired feeling of space and openness so valued today.

An inviting, light and bright kitchen.

Hills above Sonoma Valley

A closer look at the vista from a nearby window in which to delight whilst cooking or entertaining friends.

The living room also has a refreshing openness and lovely hardwood floors  A portion of the wall has almost floor to ceiling windows, and doors that open onto the pool and deck.

With views from most ever room, even this guest bath has a lovely door to the Sonoma Valley beyond.

A well appointed bedroom with great light.

Just outside the bedroom is an inviting place to read or relax.

This home has an infinity edge pool just a few steps from this deck.  See additional pictures and full details for 17317 Gehricke Road on the property website.

These two unique homes in the hills above Sonoma Valley are currently available for sale.  Both offer their own distinctive ways of delivering a glorious sense of space.  Please feel free to contact me for further information or if you would like to visit them in person.

A Taste of Italy in Sonoma & Treasured Picnic Spots

Recently, I visited a beautiful home in Sonoma at which the host shared a wonderful, freshly baked holiday bread from local Italian deli Ovello,” offering a taste of Italy in Sonoma. I think you’ll appreciate knowing about this amazing shop with its many fresh Italian offerings.

Also, a place to sit at a simple table or a spot of soft grass for a picnic.  Here are a few places that are lovely most any time of the year.

Salumeria Ovello makes this wonderful, seasonal bread fresh every few days during this time of the year. Traditionally served in springtime, the bread is called Colomba di Pasqua, or Dove of Easter.  Lovingly wrapped to be offered as a gift, it is presented in the shape of a bird in flight, the symbol of peace.

Small bags of biscotti and meringue puffs‚ÄďBrutti e Buoni‚Äďcheerfully greet you as you enter the shop.¬† These are traditional Italian everyday cookies that are often enjoyed for dessert or as a wonderful accompaniment to afternoon coffee.

Italy in Sonoma

As seen from Napa Street in Sonoma, just a short walk from the Historic Plaza (and my office at 34 West Spain Street).

An assorted selection of specialty cheeses and meats for a picnic or lunch nearby on Sonoma Plaza.  As locals, we often pick up these treats for a picnic or a quick dinner in the garden at our home.

Lunch salads and handmade pasta with fresh bolognese sauce.  The perfect simple dinner or afternoon culinary offering.

Truly Italian fresh pasta made every few days

The cold case contains so many interesting offerings for a picnic.  I stop by and pick up something to fondly remind me of a past trip to Europe or elsewhere abroad.

A taste of Italy in Sonoma

I hope that you may find a moment to visit Ovello and bring something wonderful to meadow, home, lake shore or picnic table, where you can experience the Art of Leisure, Sonoma style.

A few picnic spots or roadside treasures to consider:

On our many country roads, you can stop by a large field and enjoy the view.

A simple side road with a lovely view.  Wishing you a wonderful time and a taste of Italy in Sonoma.  Contact me for a few more picnic ideas.

Oak Trees Among Us and Oak Gall Ink Painting

Winter in Sonoma and Napa Valleys is a beautiful balance between rest and activity.  We who live here are grateful for our homes and our gardens.  Nature is such a large part of life in these Valleys.  We know that the vines are resting all around us.  This visual and economic reality provides inspiration and sets the cadence of our days.  Also, gifting us with an ever-present reminder of the seasons in our lives.

As someone who circles around many lovely properties, large and small every day, I’d like to highlight the oak trees which are abundant in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.¬† These beautiful trees surround and add much to the homes, land and views.¬† In addition, I share with you how to re-use the oak galls which fall from these trees.¬† Following is a short video on how to gather and make your own ink from the galls which can be found in abundance under or around the branches.

First let me share a few noteworthy examples of the oak woodlands around estates, appreciated in landscaping and on the land.

Sonoma and Napa Valley oak trees across all seasons:

An inviting spot for a moments summer respite under the reach of these branches which so exquisitely provide shade on the land.

View of Sonoma Valley with oak trees on the valley floor and hills.

Handsome barn with a few mature trees.

Oak Trees

Fall in Napa Valley with oaks in the distance.

A lovely estate with a  graceful oak welcoming all as they arrive.

A simple place with an abundance of vistas and fresh air.  The perfect location to take in the winter sunshine with a friend.

This property is perfectly complete with a guest house and inviting sport court overlooking the Valley, offering both privacy and a breathtaking view.

A cozy cottage is nestled in the hillside with the trees protecting the patio behind, then framing the views to San Francisco and beyond.

The history of oak trees and their oak galls tells us that Renaissance artists collected the galls and created a rich ink for writing and painting.   Oak gall ink is derived from an organic growth on oak trees caused by a parasite wasp which lays its eggs on the bark.  Similar to what was used in the past, oak galls can be found today around the base of most oak trees.

Oak Gall Ink

This original drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been crafted using iron-gall ink, which is a slight variation of the recipe I share in the video below.

Also, the Leonardo da Vinci book A Closer Look, describes how Leonardo used iron-gall ink for his drawings, a pigment made from oak galls and iron salts that becomes transparent under infrared reflectography (IRR).¬† ¬†It is thought that the paintings and drawings of Durer, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh, as well as many score sheets of Bach’s heavenly music, were created with this ink.¬† ¬†

This medium is quite simple to make and is a way to reuse, recycle, and get closer to one of the most natural plus authentic parts of these very old trees.

I have used oak gall ink for years.  Here is a simple dog painting which was done rather quickly, you can see the depth that this organic material brings to the subject.  

Oak Gall Ink Painting

Quite fine pieces of the gall can be seen in the slightly grainy detail of this drawing.

This video shows you how you can make my recipe for oak gall ink at home in just a few steps.

Feel free to call me with any questions or comments on this recipe or your paintings.


For additional information,¬† a book from my library which shows many examples and details about Leonardo da Vinci’s work.

Enjoying the oak trees and making ink is both an activity and and an exercise in nourishing rest.  It is my hope that you may spend a few moments among these majestic trees and find the Art of Leisure wherever you are.

The story of a Barred owl and life on the land in Sonoma Valley

Land Sonoma Valley

It is in winter that we can most easily see the beautiful birds in our lives.  With the leaves having fallen, birds perch in the branches above us, happily talking or singing with their fellow feathered friends.  In the spirit of honoring their presence, I share with you the story of a Barred owl who was injured in Sonoma County, then patiently rehabilitated by an experienced falconer on land in Sonoma Valley which I recently had listed for sale and have since sold.  Paco the owl was initially found at a construction site, then brought to Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County (BRC).  At the time he was given to the BRC, his injuries were substantial.  The full inspiring story of his recovery follows.

Here Paco sits contently, briefly gazing behind at what may be nearby before spreading his wings.

This Barred Owl, cared for by the BRC, is carefully tended by falconer Chris Melancon. The video below tells the story of Paco’s rehabilitation.

Sonoma Valley Land

A striking bird’s-eye view of the 8¬Ī acres of Sonoma land that became the perfect location for an owl to recover from it’s injuries and gain strength.¬† Within the foreground is the area in which Paco would exercise quite early, before dawn most mornings.¬† This property is on the scenic east side of Sonoma Valley, with an expansive viewshed that can be seen in the distance.

Sonoma Land

Just because we love the land in Sonoma and Napa Valley so much, here is an on-the-ground view of a potential building site.

Land in Sonoma

A full array of crops were grown on this land, in addition to being a space for Paco to practice flying once again.

Sharing a moment of sunshine with a few friends.

It is my hope that you have enjoyed this story and will contact the Bird Rescue Center nearest you whenever you find birds, including owls or hawks, in need of care.  Please feel free to reach out to this amazing organization in Sonoma County for more details or to inquire as to how you can support the honorable work they do.

Wishing you a lovely day.  Feel free to contact me anytime with comments or ideas.

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¬† ¬†‚Äʬ† ¬†Art¬† ‚Äʬ† ¬†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 Club.  Our 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¬† ‚Äʬ† ¬†Home¬† ‚Äʬ† 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‚Äďland 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.

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.


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
Celebrations in Napa
Yellow Picul
Sonoma Celebrations

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

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

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

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

BRENDA MCNEILL ‚ÄĘ Art of Leisure ‚ÄĘ Lic # 01862410 ‚ÄĘ 707.339.9133 ‚ÄĘ 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


  • 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.     


  • 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.



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.


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.


  • 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


  • 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


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


  • 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:


  • 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 F√∂llmi.

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!