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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.

• THE LIST •
Sonoma Valley & Napa Valley Farmers’ Markets 

Farmers' Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa Farmers’ Market:
Year-round, 8:00am – 12:00pm • 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 • 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.

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–Brutti e Buoni–cheerfully 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.

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.