A Camellia for Helen


Helen: daughter, sister, wife, mother of 1, grandmother of 2, great-grandmother of 7…

We lost my cherished grandmother, ‘Babcia’ as we called her in Polish, the Friday before Easter. She was 94 years-old. Our hearts have been so very heavy with sorrow, it has been difficult to articulate the slew of emotions that come with grieving and loss, and the idea that someone you loved so fiercely could be removed from this earthly life you forged together. Each day begins with a prayer, thinking of her anew, wondering if she’s watching the world’s events unfold from behind the pearly gates, and most sincerely, hoping that she is at peace. She died on Good Friday, the day after the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I found comfort thinking that perhaps the pair of them were waiting in line together, just before Easter, sharing stories of their triumphs and their tribulations on this great earth.

Indeed, you don’t make it to your mid-90’s without your fair share of feistiness and spunk, and she had heaps of both. Beyond the bluster of a stylish, street savvy granny living autonomously in Manhattan was a strong, grounded woman with a head for practical knowledge and for common sense. At times, she was quite the character and her eccentricities and her humour always felt like a bit of whimsy and magic mixed together; she left a lasting and favourable impression with most everyone she met (except for the occasional cyclist pedalling recklessly down a New York City sidewalk —they were always met with a sharp reprimand!) “How we love your grandmother!” people would always say to us with a smile, and I would respond: “Yes, I’m sure you do! As do we!”

Babcia was exactly the sort of red lipstick-wearing grandmother we girls were meant to have. She stuffed our pockets with Hershey kisses and folded-up money, acted as an ally against our parents when we had been rather naughty kids, and kept us awake at night with the humdrum of her snoring (which cleverly insured that we’d be awake bright and early to cook pancakes with her on week-end mornings). Grandparents have a penchant for getting away with things that others cannot, and it deservedly comes with the territory.

She still sang me lullabies, even though I was living with her in my early twenties, and she would lend me her vintage dresses and sandals for work in the summers (which worked out nicely since physically we both tended to be on the shorter, bustier side with small feet). Babcia was a stubborn gal, but surprisingly open-minded philosophically. We had many a conversation about modern methods of birth control, homosexuality, the Catholic Church, American politics, reconciling with friends after a falling out, and finding a suitable husband.

I will miss: her dancing the Peabody (a kind of foxtrot she always demonstrated to the tunes of Glenn Miller, of course); the Chopin piano music (performed by Liberace) playing on her hi-fi as you entered her apartment; strolls down the avenue linked arm-in-arm; the taste and smell of her baked beans, ham and apple sauce; and the way she pulled and grasped at the hair on her wee (pin)head whenever she got frustrated or was at a loss for words. Her cursive penmanship is still some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve seen (yes, a lost art, really), and I will cherish all the notes, intricate hand-knit items and treasures she bestowed upon me over the years, along with all the envelopes of comic strips and word searches she cut out of the newspaper and lovingly sent to me twice a month “for a chuckle” at university.

We were lucky to have been living in NYC when Alina and Finnlagh were younger, so now they too have many fond memories of her, eating pizza together on Sundays, going for strolls and playing at the park. We made a point of having baby Reed baptized there last year as well (even though we were still living in Texas), and we are so grateful that she was able to meet him and hold him in her arms. Four generations.

My husband, Grant, loved her as his own grandmother, and spent quite a bit of time getting to know her over the past decade. When we are missing her (which is in fact every new day that comes along now), he tells me to look at our children and at myself; he reminds me that her spirit lives on in all of us. From the uncanny way Alina loves to wear hats (especially to bed at night), to Finnlagh’s strong (and somewhat remarkable) faith in God, to the way Reed’s nose points at the tip…she is surely present.

To our beloved Babcia: we bid you farewell, for now. We will hold on to our remembrances of you and your stories, those unique moments we created together as a family over these many years. Time spent with loved ones, however scarce that can be sometimes, is a precious, immutable gift that is committed to memory —forever.






A portrait of my children once a week, every week in 2014…



//Reed: What a suspicious look! Truly the guardian of his own castle.

//Finnlagh: Snuggling up to the little one in my tummy — and receiving a swift baby kick to the cheek.

//Alina: Stay away from this girl when she’s donning a swimsuit and armed with a hose. California living suits her so well…



Joining in with Jodi of Practising Simplicity


taste + see : Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara is celebrating 5 years as a member of the Edible Communities magazine circuit. The quarterly publication incorporates gorgeous photography, and the cover of their anniversary issue is particularly well done, with an arrangement of bright spring greens against a stark backdrop. Highlighting a selection of local agriculture, cuisine and wine as well as seasonal recipes, the Edible magazines are available for free at fine grocery stores and farmers markets around the country. For a complete list of cities, click here.


Located on the south-central coast, Santa Barbara wine country became the darling of America with the popularity of the movie Sideways, the 2004 Oscar-winning film that follows two 40-something men (and their romance-seeking shenanigans) on a road trip through the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. These days, Santa Barbara is not only heralded for its climate-friendly Pinot Noir, but also has a wonderful selection of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A fantastic list of wineries and tasting routes, along with beautiful images can be found on the Santa Barbara County Wines website. Santa Barbara has also ventured into microbreweries and brewing companies, and has enjoyed increasing acclaim of local brands Firestone, Telegraph and Hollister.


The long-awaited Santa Barbara Public Market has finally opened its doors. Located in the brand new (and oh-so-lovely) Alma del Pueblo building, the market focuses on local purveyors of seafood, meat, coffee and juice, along with bakery and pastry shops, ice cream, and of course — lots of wine. They’ve gone for a typical Santa Barbara exterior and a hyper-industrial look and feel inside, and it really works. The market is also intended for mixed-use and features an open commissary kitchen and a glassed-in private dining space, to be employed for cooking classes, wine dinners, and whatever special dining experiences the culinary artists of the city can dream up.




A portrait of my children once a week, every week in 2014…



//Reed: if ever there were an industrious boy always on the move, it’s this little tike (and his adorable flyaway hair)

//Finnlagh: having a lie down with his new friend Tweet, courtesy of the Easter Bunny

//Alina: she left no stone unturned, as it were, in our annual Easter egg hunt


Remembering Márquez

I am foregoing Friday Favourites today so that I may address the passing of a beloved writer, nobel laureate and tremendous inspiration: Gabriel García Márquez. When I speak of literary influences, I think of those men and women, a small handful of poets, playwrights and novelists who set my mind ablaze as a young girl —those who instilled a profound adoration of literature in me and a personal desire to grow as a writer, reader and receptor of knowledge and creativity. The extraordinary Márquez was one such individual.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Photo courtesy of Star Tribune

I first read 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez’s seminal magical realist work, many years ago. It was my first introduction to the genre, and to Latin American writing in general, which has since expanded to include literary favourites such as Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Angel Asturias, Mario Vargas Llosa, Pablo Neruda and Isabel Allende, among numerous others. Márquez’s ability to tell a multi-generational story was riveting; figurative language leapt off the page as it spun tales of unravelling fatalism, despair, thwarted romance and even comedy. I was compelled by the surrealism of it all, immersed in the lives of these entwined, flawed characters and their pursuit of mistaken ideals. The overarching passion, superstition and response to dictatorship and revolution were something that I had not really encountered before in such an overt manner, and I was hooked.

Since those early days when I discovered Gabo’s masterpiece, I have read all of his other works, often re-reading them in either English or French over the years; my comprehension of Spanish is quite limited, and I have long regretted the fact that I have had to read these works in translation. That being said, I have never felt bereft of the powerful emotions that course through his work, and feel as though his luminous voice speaks assertively and with great conviction — that we as readers are informed by his original intentions and rise to understand them.

Today, like many other international leaders and thinkers around the world, President Obama offered his condolences, saying that with the death of Márquez, “the world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers.” Jonathan Kandell of The New York Times called Márquez “a conjurer of literary magic.” But perhaps the most on-point was written in The Guardian by Peter Carey (himself a two-time winner of the Booker Prize): “Like Joyce and Eliot, Márquez gave a light to follow into the unknown. He made us braver, he returned us to the path of story and he showed us, thank you Sir, that a large and generous heart is no impediment to genius.”

Farewell, kind Sir. A voice that privileges the redemption of love while exposing the corruption of power will never be extinguished. Thank-you for a lifetime of enchantment.



Hello, Third Trimester *


How far along: Officially, 28 weeks + 1 day

Gender: Boy

Birth order: #4

Total weight gain: -2 lbs. I weigh less than when I got pregnant, but that’s a result of a low-carb diet and chasing 3 kids, so my doctor is not particularly concerned at this point. I gained 38 lbs with Alina, 11 lbs with Finnlagh, and all told, probably around 3-5 lbs with Reed.

Maternity fashion: Mostly dresses and cardigans or long tunics over leggings, sandals and a cross-body purse.

Maternity beauty: One must always wear makeup and have groomed eyebrows. The only exception would be when you can barely drag your head out of a toilet due to morning sickness, and most of us have been there numerous times. Otherwise, revel in the pregnancy glow and work to look your best!

Stretch marks: You sure don’t end up pregnant with #4 without the battle scars to prove it! I use a lot of moisturizer, but mostly to minimize the dry skin we have living in SoCal. I gave up long ago trying to stave off stretch marks — it’s futile. Grant has bought me many an expensive cream and almond oil, but frankly, I prefer good old-fashioned Palmer’s cocoa butter.

Sleep: Hasn’t been abundant or continuous since we started our family roughly 8 years ago. Reed is 21 months but is also still breastfeeding through the night, so several wake-ups for the pair of us, plus Grant has been fretful and grinding his teeth again. I’ve also started having those vivid pregnancy dreams again that wake me up panicking and in a cold sweat. The big kids do let me doze off on the odd occasion Reed has an afternoon nap, and I am also known to request piping hot cups of tea late in the evening, only to be incapable of staying awake long enough to even sip them.

New this time around: Heartburn. Bad, bad heartburn. The old wives would say that means this baby will be born with a lot of hair…based on the other kids, doubt that will be the case, but you never know!

Movement: Baby definitely has his lapses of deep sleep, but when he’s up, all of us enjoy watching my belly and seeing all the jabs, punches and kicks move like undulating waves across my tummy. What body part is that?! Is that a knee? A bum? An alien trying to cross into another dimension? It’s loads of fun to experience.

Belly button: Out

Wedding rings: On

Preparing for baby: Currently in mega nesting mode, going through everything we already own with a fine tooth comb. We’ve made a little online registry and will be having a Baby – Q (this will be the first time we’ve ever had a baby shower, so that will be great fun).

Should have done sooner: Swimming. I think this is the first pregnancy I’ve actually consented to going into a pool, and I’m sorry I missed out during the previous ones! The water makes me feel buoyant and light, and I bob around in circle on a pool noodle with Reed clinging to me. Grant works on swimming with the big kids and we just have a wonderful time of it. Sadly, getting out of the pool immediately makes me feel like a complete and total lead balloon, but I’m learning to shake that feeling.

Best advice: I haven’t gotten any this time around! With your first pregnancy you hear every story everyone has to share –the good, the bad and the ugly — and it seems every person you encounter has an opinion on parenting, when your belly should start to show, how your belly is carrying (high/low), etc. The good news is that the unsolicited advice starts to slow down a great deal with each subsequent pregnancy.

Cravings I can eat: white fish, avocado
Cravings I must ignore: cheesecake, cannoli

Birth plan: My OB was planning a c/s for me, but shed some new light today on the possibility of switching hospitals and working with midwives on another VBAC. In the midst of doing lots of research…

How the baby’s growing:


In less than 12 weeks we’ll meet our brand new son (and I’ll be re-united with my feet!)