Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year

It's New Years Eve and the evening finds me hopeful.

So far my lineup for the year includes my best friend having complicated surgery, my son's overseas deployment and two daughters planning weddings for Fall!  That's not including all the stuff that I do not know about yet!  My prediction?  That 2013 will be eventful beyond many years I have lived so far.

The end of 2012 brought me reunions with 2 special friends from days gone by.  The years fall away when a reunion of this type takes place. Yes, I am hopeful that the loves and the happy surprises will outweigh the losses, challenges and disappointments.

Tonight, our plans with friends were sadly canceled due to illness - then the sun was setting up and I grabbed the camera and took a short drive up Clements Road in Lodi, California.  This, the last sunset of 2012!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Springerle For Christmas

Most families have at least one special Christmas tradition, many that evolve through the years.  My own family had several, but the one that stands out most, and continues to this day, is the baking and mailing of the German Springerle Cookies.
This is a 2 day process and not conducive to today's working families and busy lifestyles.  Yet each year, magically, someone manages to pull this off to make the familiar happen for the whole family.  This year, the next generation stepped up!

Notes form Laura:
Some of the best recipes begin with the fewest ingredients. One of my favorites is a family tradition passed down many generations...German Springerle Cookies taught to me by my Gammy and Gampy. Last year my Auntie Susie entrusted this years' family batch to me. :)
They take about 10-12 hours to make and you have to order two ingredients online. I have already called Gammy & Gampy three times to make sure I am getting it right. Gampy told me that of anyone he has taught, I seemed to just 'get it' right away. That is saying a LOT, because I reserve baking for the grocery store! It must be in my genes.

Also, you will need a Springerle rollerThis is a Springerle roller. Basically you roll the dough between 1/4 inch guides...then you roll over it to get the 3D pictures onto the cookies. 

Once the long drying process is over...only one more hour till baking starts. Then I start all over tomorrow! Hartshorn (ammonia carbonate) is the leavening agent used in these cookies to keep the shape of the designs from the Springerle roller. It gives off a very strong odor during baking when it is released from the cookies. Combined with the strong anise oil, Springerle cookies have a very characteristic flavor.

"These traditional German cookies are in the Leonhardt DNA." ~ Lynn (Leonhardt) Laura's Mom

This video show's Ray Leonhardt and his daughter, Lynn making Springerle in 2008.

Springerle (Enhanced) from CherLea Productions on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Company Sweet Potatoes

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, a most talked about side-dish in salons and bridge club luncheons is what to do with the Sweet Potatoes. To bake or mash, marshmallows or not? light or yams?  

This is my own recipe for "Company Sweet Potatoes", we have it often and throughout the year!

Peel and slice 2 Sweet Potatoes (we like the light ones) and one Onion
Alternate in a buttered Pyrex pie plate or 10 x 14 pan (double the  recipe and place in rows or layers)

Mix 1/4 cup heavy cream & 1/4 cup Pure Maple Syrup (pour over all)

Top with French Fried Onions & fresh ground Black Pepper
375 degrees BAKE ~ 45 minutes

Set the table extra pretty this year. 
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 8, 2012


November, the essence of Autumn insists a change beckoning us inside the same way that Springs calls us to come outdoors.  The Harvest is in and the bounty stored.  This month often shows a variety of conditions like no other.  The clear starry nights, crimson sunsets, ominous cloud-scapes and grey foggy mornings can happen with only days that seem like moments in between. This is the time of year that a tree loaded with leaves of every color will show barest branches by month's end.
Laura's Sunflowers

Until the last grapes are cut from the vine and the last  nuts are swept off the orchard floor is the Harvest Season allowed to wind down. And then, the quiet... the waiting... as the Season will shift toward a peaceful calm. Contentment to be inside, behind closed doors replaces hours of scurrying about form place to place.  The wind whips through the air and the rain beats against the window.  Was it just last week that you stood alone in the orchard and could actually hear the falling leaves softly hitting the ground?

Donna's Peppers
Antoinette Celle Vineyards

This shift happens each year in November when it's time to gather in, slow down and get out fuzzy socks and warm blankets.  Books and knitting needles will sitting by the favorite chair and cookbooks are strewn about as the planning for Holiday baking has begun.  Soup is simmering on the stove in a huge pot permeating the air with smells of steamy vegetables somehow reconciling the fact of short days and dark evenings.

Year's end is so close that reality insists attention to the details that come soon enough... oh so soon enough... but for now - it is November. Beautiful, Glorious November.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Vineyard

I was invited back into the vineyard ... it's the closest one to my house. The sun came up, I had a million things to do... but the day called me to go. The light was just right at 7AM and the cup of coffee brought just the right amount of motivation to the idea. So, I grabbed my camera and was off to capture the sacred limited time to find the "colors" on the Dolcettos!

Antoinette Celle Vineyard has a longtime history and an even more charming story about the rare grape that flourishes on this small farm.
"This type of Dolcetto has unusual characteristics that are not common in the types of Dolcetto typically planted in California. The state as a whole, only has 100 acres of Dolcetto planted, period. My Dolcetto produce a more complex wine and the grapes are able to hang on the vines much longer than other grapes." writes Antoinette Celle.

 I kid you not, once you are standing in the rows of grapevines, you understand that it is a truly magical place! If you read my last post about veraison and this sacred stage of the grapes as they are ripening, you might know what I mean even if you have never had the opportunity to stand in the middle of a vineyard on an August day. The morning air feels cool and fresh and stages the perfect setting to discover half hidden tight bunches of grapes. The sight of the "jewels" amongst the deeply veined leaves are like finding treasures with your eyes. The bunches of grapes are suspended in mid-air with room to grow, yet nestled within the rows and the branches of the vines that shelter them.

Antoinette explains more about the Dolcetto grapes and her vineyard,
"I grow a rare type of an Italian winegrape varietal: Dolcetto di Dogliani, which is believed to be the grandfather of the twelve types of Dolcetto. In February 2011, Dr. Andy Walker at UCDavis, propagated cuttings from my vines, and planted them in the old vineyard at UCDavis. The Foundation Plant Services are keeping a close eye on them, to study. My husband Jim Roberts and I farm organically. We are on the California Registered Organic list of small-scale farmers. We sell brown eggs from cage-free hens and fruits, organic walnuts and pecans, flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I also "put up" small batches of preserves under my label: "Twice the fruit/half the sugar" and also pickles, green olives, salsas, and herbs in jars -- just like Penzeys."

As I leave the vineyard I am thinking that I might try to learn a little more about this special grape variety and the process of growing this type of fruit. I promise myself to regularly visit this perfect backdrop to the Seasons having my camera ready to capture it's beauty.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Veraison is a word I learned of recently.  It is when the grapes turn color from green to purple, as explained to me by a local winegrower.  I had seen what she spoke of, a bunch of grapes hanging on the vine glistening in July sunlight and showing greens and purples and the many hues in-between.  This short occurrence happens in its own season and at its own time.  A perfect process that rewards the sampler of the fruit once completed.

Grape growers know the process cannot be rushed. They understand that nature takes over and a magical change will determine the quality of the fruit once the grapes turn purple.  As the farmer waits to harvest, he knows Veraison determines what will be the reaping of the benefits of their labor.  While harvesting the grapes, winegrowers hope for the finest results, the making of fine wine.

My friend and I have been having long conversations about how life presents itself in the day to day.  The routines, the joys and the challenges.  We have been doing this for decades now... finding that so many chapters we each go through parallel - despite 1000 miles between us.  Neither of us is a stranger to the grief journey, yet we both find that each episode tests the durability of our hearts in new ways...  Understanding the natural phases and steps that are typical does not ease the quest for a way out, wanting to "get through it all" and be done with it.  Hanging out with the uncertainties of what will be, feeling the pain of loss, and trying to let go of something or someone we held so dear creates new and different challenges each time around.

We want our grapes to turn purple! It was one of those Aha! moments as the metaphor crystallized in my mind.  My husband remarked when I was editing a photo that I had taken of the grapes in their sacred state of Veraison.  He thought I was changing the colors on the individual grapes with my photo edit program and he quickly commented that I should change all of the grapes back to purple "like they should be".

I connected "Veraison" with the idea that to be hanging out with all the turning colors is something to be trusted... as with the grapes. The many lessons along the way will bring the quality of the purple grapes to its fullest glory.  It is a time of Veraison, a temporary process, not be hurried or overlooked.

This new word to me, "Veraison" shows a great example of many of the theories I have tested over time.  I will apply this phenomenon to so many more ideas along the way.

....While I wait for the grapes to turn purple. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Simple Solution

I have a great recipe to share!  Now, before you get your taste buds all worked up for something delicious, this recipe will not deliver what you are hoping.  But get ready to save some money!

I have your attention?  Good.  I found this on Pinterest and just had to try it!  This is super easy.

The recipe is for an all purpose household cleaner and you might be very impressed with the results.  Save your spray bottles once you run out of your other purchased cleaning products, you are going to need them.

  • Peel an orange (or two), you are going to use the peels only.  You might like to use another citrus fruit, but have the quantity equal that of one good size Orange.
  • Fill a 1-Quart Mason jar with white vinegar leaving enough room for the Citrus peels.
  • Place the peel in the jar with the vinegar.
  • Store for two weeks.
  • Discard the peel after the two weeks and dilute the mixture with water, equal parts. (1:1)
  • Place mixture in a spray bottle for counters and bathroom surfaces or bottle to use in buckets for floors, walls, etc.
I am not sure how this method works so well or what takes place during the two weeks that the peels sit in the vinegar.  I am kind of hoping that a knowledgeable scientist might drop into my blog someday and explain what takes place during this process.

In a previous post, I showed you how I make our laundry detergent.  I have saved a ton of money and repurpose my white vinegar bottles to store my batches of Laundry soap.

Recently, I discovered that plain old white vinegar could be used instead of "Round Up" to keep weeds at bay on our walkways and rock path.  It also keeps ants away!

Baking Soda sits right on my counter top in a "cheese" shaker, ready for scrubbing pots and my kitchen sink.

It seems that our previous love affair with having fancy brands and convenient household cleaners (one for each different cleaning purpose) got us all trapped into an expensive and chemical lifestyle as we became bogged down with the huge variety of solutions and cleaners.  Finding a place to store all the different cleaning products or just finding the right cleaner at the time you need it has not been very convenient!

I saved the lemon peels form the lemonade we made for the 4th of July!  Guess what I'm making.....

Monday, February 13, 2012


It's Valentines Day tomorrow... a day to celebrate Love.

The shopping for gifts and cards of days gone by has changed for me.  Don't get me wrong, the celebration of this day is no less important... But, the money spent on treats that sabatoge the New Year's health intention and  the decorations & cards that get thrown away just seem like an oxymoran to the celebration of "Love".

... and hearts, might we celebrate our hearts in the literal sense?  Keeping healthy hearts = self-love, right?

So, I decided to have a little fun creating my Valentines in my everyday routines and forget the shopping, money and cards this year.  Here is what happened over the weekend with this very thought in mind... (ok, so I did not totally adhere to a rigid health kick and found a few sweet and sugary "treats" around the house!)

It started with the cookie cutter I used to make some rolled oatmeal cookies for the Grandkids:

Then proceeded to the breakfast arena, Toast, then French Toast and some cinnamon Toast the way my Mom used to make, where you broil the buttery, sugary topping on the toast!

More and more hearts started appearing throughout the day!
I went for a walk with hearts on my mind on a cloudy, stormy day mixed with sunshine.  This heart jumped out at me and I almost missed it with my camera! It moved and changed so fast!

Walnut Orchard - Central Valley, CA

On to lunch and suppertimes, the hearts continued with little creative tasks inspired by Love....
Potato Salad
Meatloaf - Done!
ready for the oven

Inspiration continued as I started texting my Girlfriend my little Heart displays -

My Valentines are my wishes for us all to find hearts everywhere we look... and to keep our Hearts full of LOVE

Happy Valentines Day!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fresh Fruit Presentation!

Fresh Fruit
Credit Bridget Beashbum for putting this photograph up on a FaceBook Post!  Still looking for the origianl photographer/creator for  proper credits.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

California Icycles

Waiting for the rain….. the dry spell surprised us all this winter. It’s not that we want to complain about 65 degree temps in December and January where one can go out for a walk at will, any time of day, sometimes with no jacket. Or that the clear starry nights were not noticed while out and about throughout the Holidays. We were carefree as we had little concern for roads conditions or remembering umbrellas as we dashed out the door.

Those of us that live in Rural Farmtown America know better than most the weird twist and costly risk of this type of weather pattern. Established orchards that lack rain and water slowly dry out to the point that a hard freeze can be fatal. Twenty degree mornings will have their effect on the trees and the cost of no water will eventually hit us all in the pocketbook.

An occasional wintery site will result from farmers scrambling to save their trees as the irrigation is turning on to keep the soil moist only to result in freezing water for those magic few hours of the early morning. It creates a visual excitement amongst the townspeople as they scurry about to work and to school. An area that sees no snow form year to year suddenly is graced with icycles glistening in the sunlight.
A little winter magic…. As we are waiting for the rain…..

Wallnut Orchard in Central Valley, CA

Sunday, January 15, 2012

24 years....

"I prayed for my babies, I prayed for myself, I prayed for my family."

Now that my Triplets have reached the 24 year milestone, I have finally gotten around to dusting off the old 1990 issue of the Triplet Connection Newsletter to post online.

Here is my story.....           

I prayed with such intensity! There I was, once again in my doctor's office, trying to make some sense of the waves on the sonogram screen. Why was I threatening a miscarriage after all we had been through? “Please” I prayed, “Let me have this baby!”

We heard the doctor say, “There are three embryos!” Triplets? I looked at my husband in disbelief. My first words were “I want them all! What are their chances?”

Could this really be happening to us? The Doctor and nurse were really excited. The sonogram showed cardiac activity from each of the three engross. While my doctor explained some of the risks of mufti-fetal gestation and pre-term labor, we both knew that we were committed to do anything we could to ensure the lives of these three.

As victims of secondary infertility and its emotional trauma, “Why us?” was a question we regularly asked ourselves. After successfully conceiving one child we were amazed to learn that we might never be able to have more children. I was torn between decisions I never thought I'd have to make. How far are we willing to go to have a baby?

After two years of charts, tests and treatments, we decided to use a fertility drug (Pergonal) to achieve conception. This was probably our last hope to have another baby. Were we wrong to want more children when so many childless couples would be happy to have just one?

We wondered if we were “playing God' as we carefully weighed the risks of using Pergonal (Increased risk of multiple conception, increased possibility of miscarriage, etc.) I was sure our son was not meant to be an only child. We asked ourselves, and we ask God, “Why us?

We considered adoption. To have the opportunity to love and provide for another child would be the answer to our prayers. As we explored our options the subject of adoption opened up a whole new set of questions and disagreements for my husband and me. Could we take the risk of adopting and loving the child only to have the birth mother reclaim parental rights/ Could we deal with an “open adoption” and possible involvement with the birth parents? What kind of problems would we encounter if we adopted as older child? We felt a little guilty when we thought about adopting a baby when so many childless couples were waiting so long to adopt. We also felt out chances of being chosen as adopting parents would not be good because we already had a “natural” child.

Another year of waiting, hoping and praying went by. This was to be my last month of drug therapy. The expense of treatment, and the physical and emotional stress involved, was taking a toll on our family. To complicate things further, we had to deal with a nation-wide Pergonal shortage, never knowing for sure if enough of the drug would be available to finish the month of treatment we had started.

Finally, we achieved pregnancy! I was going to have a baby! We were thrilled, but terrified at the mere thought that the pregnancy might not be a successful one. My doctor was confident that this was a single fetus pregnancy, as I was carefully monitored before and after conception, and every precaution was taken to avoid mufti-fetal pregnancy.

When complications began at seven weeks gestation, I was terrified! Once again the question, “Why us?” was my constant tormentor. Was a miscarriage going to be the end result of all we had been through? Did I have the stamina to continue fertility therapy now that we knew conception was possible? I desperately wanted another child!

And Now the reality of triplets! There was a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. How much risk was involved? Would they survive? Could my family and I manage three babies? While I was experiencing fear for what was to come, there was also an overwhelming feeling of joy and honor that I was chosen to be the mother of triplets. I knew at that moment that my family had something very special – that we were being given this rare opportunity.

The next day I began to research triplet pregnancies. I wanted to know everything I could about my condition and what was to come. It seemed that little was known about multiple gestation and how to insure a healthy outcome. I found very limited information available through our library. In one book about twins there was an address for the “Center for Multiple Gestation.” I wrote to them and received information about the “Triplet Connection,” a national non-profit support and informational service for parents of higher multiples. This organization provided us with answers to our questions, and help with every phase of our situation. We carefully monitored and took life saving precautions, determined to have the bests possible outcome.

At twenty weeks gestation (only half way through a term pregnancy) I began to show signs of pre-term labor. I was recommended bed rest and an oral medication (Terbutaline) to reduce contraction activity. It was much too soon for our babies to be born. Every day became a milestone towards the possibility of healthy babies.

I read all I could about premature babies. Prior to bed rest we had taken tours of two hospital neon-natal intensive care wards. I talked with many doctors and nurses on the phone, as we tried to prepare ourselves for all the possibilities we might face. I contacted other parents of triplets and found our conversations to be inspirational. Everyone I spoke to agreed about one thing – we would need a tremendous amount of help.

The search began for a support network in our community. This was most challenging because we weren't sure of exactally what kind of help we would need. By making our situation known to neighbors and friends, we were fortunate to receive an overwhelming amount of support and including: prepared meals for my family, child-care for my four-year-old son, rides to my doctor, and later, volunteers who helped me feed my babies while my husband was at work.

At twenty-three weeks gestation I had my third sonogram to monitor fetal development. My doctor found baby “C” to be considerably smaller than babies, “A” and “B.” This was a major concern , because it is common to have a weaker baby in the case of super twins, and often the smaller fetus must fight harder for nourishment as the stronger, larger fetuses use most of the supply provided. It was very soon to detect such a difference in size. Baby “C” would also be at risk during the birth process due to her position as the last of the three to be born. People we didn't even know were praying for our babies, and especially for baby “C.”

As the thirty-fourth week approached, we couldn't help but feel fairly confident that the babies would be in reasonably good condition. Baby “C” had caught up in her growth, and the sonograms showed good fetal development. The in-home monitor that I used daily showed continually decreasing contraction activity. I was in extreme discomfort, and it was apparent that my body would not be able to handle much more of the babies rapid growth.

Acting on the theory that my uterus had become so distended that it had lost its ability to contract, we agreed that I would have to be scheduled for a cesarean section delivery. The big question was when? Waiting too long could be even more disastrous for my babies and myself.

We scheduled surgery for January 15, 1988. My due date was February19. The babies would be at 35 weeks gestational age. We knew we would not be taking the home for some time because they would need special care in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU). My doctor, husband, and I hoped that this would have the least possible risks considering all factors.

That night we prayed that we were making the best possible decision. I prayed for my babies, I prayed for myself, I prayed for my family. If our outcome was not good, would I always blame my self for using Pergonal to conceive? I wanted my babies to be healthy, I wanted to keep them together, and I wanted to take them home.

The big day finally arrived. The operating room was packed with people. Each baby had to have its own pediatrician/neo-natoligist, resperatory therapist and nurse. Counting the surgical staff, the anesthesiologist, my husband, the babies and me, there were twenty one people present. I elected to have an epidural, so I was awake for the event.

It was 6:30 a.m. On a r ainy morning and I remember asking the doctors if they had made time to have theircoffee. My husband was at my side all the way, We were ready!

Desiree Leanne was born at 6:50 a.m., weighing 4 pounds 8 ounces. She was whisked away immediately and though the anesthesiologist turned my head, all I saw was a blur. Joseph J, arrived at 6:51 weighing 5five pounds. I got to reach our and touch his foot as he was taken to his isolette. The placenta was tearing away prematurely, and baby “C” had to come out fast. The doctor reached in and pulled her out by her feet. Cassandra Michelle was born 6:53 a.m. and weighed 4 pouinds , 5 ounces, a very pink, healthy baby.

Desiree and Joseph had to go on ventilators for a couple of days, but when I left the recovery room the nurse wheeled me right into the NICU and put Cassandra in my arms. She was one hour old, and she was beautiful! I longed to hold my other babies.

The excitement in the hospital that day was incredible. The staff was wonderful. Most of the nurses and doctors who were in the OR came to visit me later. By the time my doctor came back, my room was filled with flowers and balloons. He was happy that the babies were doing so well, and told me I couldn't have carried them much longer because the right side of my uterus was stretched so thin that it could have ruptured at any moment at any moment. What a relief to know that the timing was just right.

It was three days before we got to hold Desiree or Joseph, but we touched them and talked to them whenever we came into the room. When we finally held them it was indescribable to have such an intense bond with each of our three babies. We knew that this experience was a very unique gift from God.

The two weeks we spent with our babies in the NICU ward gave us a whole new perspective of life. The babies we saw fighting for their lives, the families we met, and the commitment of the NICU staff was such an inspiration. We laughed and we cried and and felt a very closeness to people we hardly knew and probably would never see again. We knew that this time in our lives would always be more than just a memory.

Cassandra came home 10 days after her birth. She weighed four pounds and wore doll cloches. Somehow, with the help of my mother, we managed to care for her and make the 80 mile round trip to the hospital to feed and hold Desiree and Joseph every day. Having had very little sleep, and still recovering from surgery, I found this to be more exhausting than having them all home to care for. Fortunately Desiree and Joseph were discharged together four days later.

My dream had come true. They were healthy, we were all together, and we were

Watching our babies grow has been an incredible privilege. At first I feared for their well being as individuals. But now it is apparent to me that they are indeed separate individuals with a special relationship to one another. When I watch them play I am convinced that being a super-twin is a rare and wonderful gift. I am constantly reminded of what could have been, and just how blessed we are.

As their first birthday approached, I found myself reflecting on the past five years, and how I had come full circle. There was a part of my infertile self that would never be forgotten. I now had a special understanding of the infertility crisis and how devastating it can feel. This experience has given me more endurance and patience than I ever had before.

Being a mother of four healthy children is not something I take for granted. It gives me great joy to have my family tackle the enormous responsibility of life with triplets. We are tired at the end of each day, but feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose that is hard to describe.

I am currently a member of the Board of Directors for “The Triplet Connection,” and am deeply committed towards helping to improve the quality of life for multiples and their families.

I hope each of my children will love each other as exceptional individuals, and that our family will always appreciate how extraordinary it is to be blessed with three children at one time.