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Fall Community Educational Activities in Sonoma Nature, Art and Science

Sonoma Nature Club

SONOMA NATURE JOURNAL CLUB  –  Community Education

October 5, 2020

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

Nature   •   Art  •   Science

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

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

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

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

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

Nature in Sonoma Valley

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

Journaling in Sonoma Nature

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

Sonoma Activities

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

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

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

So, what tools and supplies are needed?

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

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

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

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

Test Your Gull Ability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for Air Quality and Fire Information

Air Quality and Fire Resources

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

Air Quality and Fire Resources

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

Air Quality Resources

Fire Resources


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

 

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

Lunch along the River in Napa
Oxbow Public Market

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

 

A Few Favorites:

Hog Island Oyster Company

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

 

Five Dot Ranch

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

 

Hudson Greens and Goods

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

 

Napa Bookmine

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

 

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


Sonoma Valley Real Estate Stats

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

Sonoma Valley Real Estate Stats

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

Sonoma Valley Real Estate Statistics

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

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

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

Spring in Sonoma and Napa Valley

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

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

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

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

Wishing you health and well being.

 

 

Winter in Wine Country

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

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

oranges and a meyer lemons

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

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

fresh eggs & whole grain breads which are milled nearby

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

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

daffodils and cool weather flowers are in bloom

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

dishes and linens from around the world

very special knife set and hand painted pillows

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

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

sage green shutters and olive trees on property

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

European-style Napa Valley Estate with a grand entrance

a well appointed guest room

views of the Napa Valley

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

late afternoon on a meandering inlet of Lake Hennessey,

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

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

Celebrations in Sonoma and Napa Valleys

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Summer Days

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

cresting the hill at Clos Du Val Vineyards, Napa Valley

mid-summer fruit on the vines

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

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

inviting cool & scenic resting spot under a stately tree

late afternoon amidst the vines at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma

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

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

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

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

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

A New Home for Shelter Dogs and Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crisp Autumn Days and Entertaining in Sonoma & Napa Valley

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

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

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

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

possibly, after an afternoon swim,

or in the garden,

at a table for six,

or a few more.

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

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

Successful entertaining always starts in the kitchen,

which of course has plenty of storage space,

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn in Sonoma Valley

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

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

Step One:

STABILIZE  YOURSELF

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

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

Evening, while the fire is still blazing in the hills

First responders from San Joaquin County

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

Late day meetings after 24 hours of work

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

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.

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.