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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.

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.


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
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.

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:


  • 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.

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.