Monday, November 10, 2014

Books, Tattoos, Kayaks, and Pomegranates. Just Another Benicia Weekend

This weekend was warm and sunny, beautiful weather for the spring... only, it's NOVEMBER. I can tolerate sunny days during their appropriate seasons, but as soon as those school busses start to roll, I expect the air to chill. I wait for it, checking weather reports in an almost compulsive manner (almost). Unfortunately, I have not yet managed to bend the weather to my will.

Weekends in Benicia have the flavor of a Norman Rockwell painting. People walk around outside their houses, concerts are held at the city park, sidewalk sales abound, and power tools are heard in chorus. And, on a sunny springvember day in Benicia, fishing rods, paddle boards, and kayaks abound.

My Saturday began (after the usual semiconscious hobble from bed) in the green room, with a compulsory mug(s) of freshly Keurig-brewed coffee.
Situated at the front of the house, the green room is furnished with two opposing emerald green sofas and a double window view of our front potager, and the neighborhood. I love to sit in that space with the windows open, listening to the sounds of life outside. Neighborhood kids yelling out instructions for their recently imagined game, the collection of court neighbors to our left chatting and laughing full-heartedly about some inside joke that they've shared over the 20 plus years that they've shared this street, and the sweet family across the street herding their littles into the car for some fabulous Saturday adventure.

After an adequate caffeine infusion I dressed our wild son and tossed him outdoors. He grabbed his scooter and raced off to seamlessly fuse with the on-going zombie apocalypse of eight to ten-year-olds. At four years old, Elliott (our boy) is the short one in the group, which is sometimes a disadvantage, but he tends to hold his own.

With Elliott sufficiently occupied, I grabbed my gloves and hand-trowel and continued with the seemingly futile effort of pulling blades of rogue grass and stubborn patches of clover. I've heard that clover can actually be good for the soil, so I lean on that excuse when I feel the clover winning. I also clipped a few flowers to keep as trophies in the kitchen. This was an exciting weekend for me on the flower front. Months ago I planted seeds of zinnias and cosmos all around the outside of my front fence; and then I waited... and waited... with great naive anticipation of a lush floral display... and waited. Well, this weekend, the ONE cosmo plant, of the many hundreds that I planted, finally produced a single, perfect flower.

Along with the flowers I clipped the lettuce plants that were going to seed down to their bases. I read that if they have about two inches of stalk they will produce again, so, we'll see!
And, I filled a basket with pomegranates from our heavily fruited tree for the UPS man, because he asked for some, and just how cool is that? Our UPS guy knows us and is chummy enough to ask for pomegranates! If that isn't straight out of Mayberry, I don't know what.

By early afternoon the kids had all retreated to their respective homes and Elliott sulked back into ours.

Earlier, a neighbor had stopped by to tell us about the exciting book sale being held out of the Benicia Library basement. Done!

The basement was full, beckoning us with the elegant and soul-comforting scent of yellowing pages and loose bindings.

It was a sea of slightly dated books, journals, and magazines.

Just look at this beautiful little treasure that Klee spotted. The title is, "Happiness is A Warm Puppy".

All for just $5.00 a bag! 

We filled two!


Sunday followed Saturday's pattern for the first half of the day. By the afternoon we again needed to escape the preschooler-induced madness of home. Kinsey (my girl) was at the library again, this time to focus on some schoolwork. We opted for a stroll down 1st Street, Benicia's main drag.

First Street is a romantic downtown assortment of independently owned shops, restaurants,
community gardens, and businesses, many of which are house in historical buildings.
And thanks to her short, 13 month stint as state capitol, Benicia's 1st Street even has a Capitol building!

We like to meander through the various antique shops. One of our favorites is Mimi & Co., found in the Tannery building, at the end of 1st Street, down by the pier.

Four-year-olds tend to transform into the proverbial bull when perusing shops full of china and other delicate and valuable what-nots. This outing was a fine example of that. In an attempt to grab Elliott by the horns (so to speak), I gathered him up and cozied into a fabulous vintage love seat (that I covet) in the Mimi & Co. shop.

While we relaxed, shop owner, Lindsay Mitchell, chatted with us about her shop, her cats, and motherhood. She's friendly and creative, with an obvious eye for vintage treasures.

I inquired about the colorful and bohemian collage of tattoos on her arms. She proudly explained that each one is designed after a vintage piece of jewelry, and that each has been artfully applied by tattoo artist, Landon Mao, of Creations and Illustrations, also located in the Tannery building.

On such a postcard worthy day, a 1st Street stroll wouldn't have been complete without a walk down the pier.

The fishermen were congregated along the boulders lining the pier, meditating on the unusually glassy water, hoping to fill their buckets with a few of the salmon making their run.

The beach on First Street is tiny, mostly comprised of wetlands,

but there were just enough pebbles and sea glass for Elliott to add a few more "shinies" to his collection.

And then he was sit-on-the-ground-carry-me tired. We were too.

Spirits lifted from the friendliness of locals and the lightly salted air; ready to retreat back to our little Potager Cottage.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Who Needs Weeds When You've Got Grass

Today I did a lot of this...

For months I've been coddling this elfin thyme ground cover in an attempt to grow a drought-tolerant, lawn alternative. Growing grass in the midst of a drought and mandated water rationing is such a challenge that many Californians (myself included) have opted to abandon the dream of the all-American front lawn.

Here's the thing...
For decades men have slaved tirelessly to produce elegantly manicured lawns. Hardware stores have devoted entire rows of flesh-melting, DNA-perverting chemicals to the pursuit. However, when grass is no longer the desired goal, it tends to grow relentlessly.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Choosing the Cottage Life

Last April our family moved to a small cottage in Benicia, California. Cottage. Sounds quaint, romantic even. The term "cottage" conjures visions of rustic wood floors, white canvas furnishings, sun-graced reading nooks, and fresh cut lavender. Something like this serene space from farmhouse5540

Found at

It's... not exactly like that here.

This morning (and most mornings) our little fairytale looks more like this...

In case you didn't notice, I used an Instagram filter on this photo in order to add a magical glow to the bag of trash at the entrance, air-freshener/paper towels/cards/what-not on the island, and miscellaneous madness on the dining table (and most-likely a second cat on the counter to my right). Granted, we have only lived here for 7 months; clearly not enough time to established a solid sense of  order. And, we are renting, which inhibits many of my masterful ideas for proper flow and function. However, I'd be less than honest if I suggested that the above scene would be clutter-free, regardless.

The reason simply being that we LIVE here. We brew our morning (noon and evening) coffee, feed our pets, wrangle our 4-year old prodigy, create/package/internet for our home-based shop (Entropy the shop), chop, boil, bake, taste, clean, chat, discuss, storm off, play, and kiss in this space.

This small cottage space.

Don't be misled, we are not living in a small house because we have to (although, finances kinda did encourage the decision). We chose the cottage life. Or, more accurately, I should say, I chose the cottage life and my family kindly obliged me, with only the most gentle of derogatory comments regarding any and all cottage-related discomforts (e.g., lack of storage, lack of dishwasher, lack of central heat/air).

We chose this little 1940's home because she has been graced by years of stories evidenced by mismatched paint, tilting floors, and sticking doors. She is unique - earned through genuine endurance.

Upon first sight she was surrounded by dirt and weeds and tattered fencing, guarded by two large trees, and perched on the corner of quiet T-shaped court - I fell in love. Well, at least as much as one can fall in love with a rental. "Imagine what we can do with all that dirt!" I exclaimed to Klee (who shares my dream in theory, only slightly resenting its reality). We've nurtured gardens before, but this little cottage offered us the opportunity to grow a REAL garden... a Potager!

Potager: A French term for a garden set just outside a cottage, designed to grow both ornamental and edible plants; also called a kitchen garden.

Hence, our cottage name, Potager Cottage.

Since moving in, Klee and I swiftly (over a period of two of the hottest recorded months ever in history) and skillfully (we remained married) replaced the front fence.

After which we repurposed the old white picket fence scraps into a raised planter bed in which to grow our very own potager. And while some of our farming attempts flourished...

Other endeavors have been more of a learning experience...

Damn cabbage moths!

FREE green striped midcentury modern sofa
(and felines)
At Potager Cottage we own NO white furnishings; in part because that would just be INSANE with four kids and four furlings, but also because we tend to collect our furniture by chance, while treasure hunting for our shop at estate sales (and occasionally via the side of the road).
TV room lounge chair (with feline)

Our motto is, "The closer to Free, the prettier it be!"

Not really, I just made that up, but we have actually scored quite a few free pieces - and that works out just fine.

Mail sorter-turned dish cubby
With space at a minimum and a noticeable absence of a garage, storage closets, cupboards, and drawers, the keeping of stuff has required cleverness. Hooks adorn many of our walls, along with bookshelves, cubbies, and trunks. Stuff hangs, stacks, slides under, and frequently lingers in the purgatory that is any flat surface.

I hope to fine-tune this process, but I suspect this is a common pattern among any space that houses a collection of humans.

At any given time,

  • there are cars/blocks/legos/leaves strewn from our 4-year-old's room to any other room he chooses to consume
  • there's a stack of my work papers bundled with rubber bands and paper clips, sitting on the coffee table in the 'green room', so called because of the two green sofas dominating the space
  • there are paper shreds/catnip mice/small rollie things, once the center of a feline's universe, but now discarded, on any and all floors; 
  • there's a large jar of vinegar and another of kombucha, and possibly a crock of kvass brewing in a cubby, awaiting my chef-husband, Klee's approval 
  • there's a bucket of pulled weeds, along with several sets of worn gloves, a trowel, and some gardening sheers below the front door stoop 
  • and there are two or more bikes parked in the driveway, just far enough from the bushes to prevent unwanted spider dwellers, patiently resting on kickstands until the next time my daughter (and if I'm lucky, myself) can take them out for a tour of our new hometown, Benicia.

I like it here.

** Shameless Plug**
Did I mention that we have shop? It's really just a byproduct of our life. Please peruse Entropy the shop here:
**End Shameless Plug**