Food/Photography Friday Kickoff: Autumn Farmers Market Finds

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Welcome to Food/Photography Friday.  I enjoyed doing my first weekly series, Window Gazing Wednesday, so much, I decided to start another devoted to two of my favorite things – food and photography. The focus will vary as the series proceeds.

Today’s kickoff includes both, combining fall farmers market treasures with photos I created from those beautiful, delicious finds.

“Peach Umbrellas”

The photo in the banner above, which I’ve titled, Peach Umbrellas, is the fun shot in the group. It originated with a pack of those paper umbrellas for tropical drinks I purchased but never used for a summer photo shoot. When I found these early fall peaches at our local farmers market, they suddenly sprang to mind.

The peaches seemed to be holding onto summer just as we do, still appearing in the stalls, rosy with the sun and more flavorful than ever, giving us one more lovely taste of the season before we each had to say goodbye. For me, portraying them in beach umbrellas expressed this imagined, anthropomorphic connection.

Crunchy Golden Dates?

Discovering new foods you never see at the grocery store and learning about them from the sellers is part of the joy of the farmers market. The golden yellow fruits on the stem below are a case in point.

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What are they? Semi-ripe Barhi, or Barhee, dates, a seasonal delicacy available briefly in summer to early fall. I’d never encountered them until this year, exploring a California farmers market in September.

Like me, you may have enjoyed these popular dates in their soft, copper-brown, fully ripe state, the way most of us are used to seeing them. In their earlier, yellow phase they have a crunchy, apple-like texture and a delicately sweet flavor with a slight acidity.

I enjoyed their subtle sweetness and crunch as a snack and in salads. They’re also used in crumbles and cobblers – and make a pleasing addition to an autumn still life.

Still Life with Kyoho Grapes

These beautiful, black-purple grapes begged to be turned into a still life. The peaches and red plum were ideal accompaniments at hand. To complete the picture, I envisioned contrasting textural elements – the rugged painted board and the red ceramic bowl with a rough interior like the surface of the moon.

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My partner and I discovered these grapes last fall at our favorite apple sellers’ booth and now look out for them. They’re a Japanese variety bred in the 1930s, also grown here in California, where they’re only available for a few months, late summer to early fall. The name “Kyoho” translates to “giant mountain grape.”

In Japan, they’re served for dessert – with the thick, somewhat bitter skin removed – or juiced and mixed into cocktails. The peel slips off easily. They resemble Concord grapes, but to me, they have a different, more intense sweetness with a sharp edge. I think the juice would be great in a rogue Bellini.

What treasures are you finding at your local farmers market?

Post and photos copyright M. Vincent 2019

The White House Easter Egg Roll: 141 Years of Tradition

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Greetings, and Happy Easter weekend. However you spend the holiday, I hope you’ll have as much fun as I did creating the whimsical photos in this post: “Rabbits ride the teacups” (above) and the minimalist egg series you’ll find below.

Rabbits, the Easter Bunny and colorful decorated eggs are an Easter tradition worldwide, with many variations. Here in the United States, there is even an annual Easter egg roll on the White House Lawn, hosted by the president and first lady.

The event, traditionally held on Easter Monday, marks its 141-year anniversary this year and has a fascinating history. Here is a brief look at how it began and its evolution through changing times:

Informal Underpinnings

According to the White House Historical Association, Washington, D.C. residents celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol beginning in the 1870s. As part of the festivities, children rolled dyed hard-cooked eggs down the terraced lawn.

By 1876, landscape concerns led Congress to pass legislation restricting public use of the Capitol grounds, which effectively proscribed future egg rolling there. However, in 1878, a group of children seeking a new venue for their egg rolling games marched to the White House, hoping they’d be allowed to use the hilly South Lawn. President Rutherford B. Hayes let them through the gates, and thus began the official event.  

An Increasingly Popular Public Event

The egg rollers’ move from Capitol grounds to White House lawn was a very popular change, and the event began to attract more and more people. A series of newspaper articles cited by The White House Historical Association indicates the large turnouts: By 1911, attendance is estimated at 10,000 to 30,000 in different years, “depending on the weather”; in 1927, 30,000 children were rolling eggs; a 1940 article reports that record attendance to date was 53,180 in 1937.

Racketeering Rascals Busted

As the event attracted larger crowds, a rule was set to limit the number of people entering the South Lawn: a “grown person” would be admitted only when accompanied by a child, and vice versa. In response, lone children and adults started teaming up to gain admission. Some enterprising young rascals (imagine Spanky, Alfalfa and the gang) even charged a fee to get a succession of adults past the security guards. According to a 1939 newspaper report, the practice became so scandalous that Secret Service men were stationed at the White House gates to “break up the kids’ rackets.”

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What Is Egg Rolling Anyway?

From its inception, egg rolling has been the event’s primary activity: Children rolled colored hard-boiled eggs across the grass to see whose could travel farthest before cracking. In the early years, other egg games –– such as catch and toss and egg croquet –– were also played.

In 1974, Richard and Pat Nixon introduced egg roll races, which have become one of the day’s favorite activities. The Easter egg hunt is also a staple of the event.

Each First Family Adds Its Own Spin

Through the years, each First Family has put its own spin on the event. That’s part of the tradition. Some notable examples in addition to the egg races:

In 1969, one of first lady Pat Nixon’s staffers dressed up in a fleecy white rabbit costume, and the White House Easter Bunny was born. Since then, the bunny is always a member of the administrative staff.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy were the first to use wooden eggs for the Easter egg hunt. Wooden eggs later became the official White House Egg Roll keepsake. The Reagan eggs were signed by famous people. Now this keepsake is inscribed with the signatures of the president and first lady. Designed to reflect the current year’s theme, it’s given to each child under the age of 12.

Have you attended the White House Easter Egg Roll as a D.C. resident or visitor? What is your personal Easter tradition? Please leave a comment.


Information for this post was derived from the White House Historical Association website:

For more about the White House Easter Egg Roll, including interesting photos of the event through the years, the site is an excellent resource.

Copyright M. Vincent 2019. All photographs copyright M. Vincent 2019.

The Traveling Lighthouse Library

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It’s National Library Week in the United States, and I’m pleased to join the celebration by sharing a part of our library history I recently discovered on a visit to the Heceta Head Lighthouse near Florence, Oregon.

That’s the lighthouse pictured above, viewed from a highway lookout point. While easily accessible by car today, you can imagine its remoteness from the time it began operation in 1894 to the time modern transportation and technology made it no longer a solitary outpost inhabited by hardworking lighthouse keepers and their families.

Many U.S. lighthouses were similarly isolated, with difficult access to the outside world and few options for leisure and entertainment. For lighthouse keepers and their spouses life was constant work — a serious, often monotonous regime of maintenance, watching for something to happen, and meticulously recording events.

Heceta Head light and its surroundings are striking. Some say it’s the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S., and I was lucky to capture it on a bright sunny day in a week of rain. Here is a closeup among the trees:

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When I’d taken full advantage of the photo opportunities and needed a break from the brisk sea wind, I took shelter in a small building with various lighthouse history exhibits. A set of books in a hinged wooden case labeled “Replica Lighthouse Library Box” caught my attention, and I learned about a special library system I’d never come across before.

Circulating Libraries Created for Lighthouse Keepers

Small portable libraries like the one below in the Heceta exhibit were distributed to lighthouses across the U.S. in the 19th century. Used to improve morale at solitary stations, they became an important part of life for keepers and their families. 

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As Natalie Zarrelli speculates in an article for Atlas Obscura (cited with link below), one of these sturdy wooden boxes filled with books was “possibly the most awaited item” when a boat arrived with a shipment of supplies. Her article tells us the boxes were made of thick, heavy wood and, as you can see in the exhibit, did double duty as carrying cases and bookshelves.  

Each library box could hold 50–60 books. The contents varied with a box’s origin. At least some of the books were bought or donated by private groups.

The Heceta exhibit indicates the steady growth of these mini libraries: In 1876, 50 were created. By 1885, more than 400 were in circulation, with 40–60 volumes each. By 1893, over 700 boxes were in transit along U.S. coastlines, delivering much-appreciated reading material to lighthouse families.

Per the exhibit, the libraries moved from station to station via lighthouse inspectors who exchanged the boxes during quarterly inspections. According to Zarrelli, these district inspectors coordinated among themselves which library went to whom. As they swapped one library for another, the libraries traveled the entire circuit of U.S. lighthouses. 

How Did These Lighthouse Libraries Arise?

Clearly, lighthouses and their keepers were crucial to safe navigation, and keeping them both in good condition was important. Accordingly, in the mid 19th century, the United States Lighthouse Board (USLB), the federal agency  responsible for lighthouse construction and maintenance, began improvements to stations around the country.

Along with changes like new, more powerful Fresnel lenses and fresh paint, came amusements to help lighthouse keepers handle the monotony and isolation of the job. Most significant were the traveling libraries which appeared around 1876.  

By then, portable libraries for naval and merchant ships had existed for decades. A religious organization –– the American Seamen’s Friend Society –– provided many library cases for Navy vessels, and they worked with the USLB to bring books to lighthouse keepers as well.

The End of the Journey

The lighthouse libraries were widely used until the radio, telephone and improved transportation made them less important. Most were phased out by the 1920s as the stations became automated.

What special or unusual libraries have you discovered? Please share one of your favorites.

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References and Resources

Zarrelli, Natalie (2016, February 18). “The Most Precious Cargo for Lighthouses Across America Was a Traveling Library.” Retrieved on April 11, 2019 from:

Zarrelli’s article provided much useful background for this post.

Heceta Lighthouse and Bed & Breakfast:

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright  M. Vincent 2019.


Gentle Writers, Restart Your Engines

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Happy Friday, and welcome to March.

Whew! February is a perversely short month. It flew by like a gale force wind, leaving my best laid writing plans a flutter of unfinished pages. 

I found myself pulled in so many directions –– balancing diverse new-year goals, must-do life priorities and the need for personal creative time.

And then, there were the winter doldrums. Already things seemed like the Red Queen’s race in Alice in Wonderland:  “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

When the doldrums struck, I didn’t feel like running at all –– just pulling the covers up over my head in the face of another cold, dreary, uninspiring winter day.

Even so, I got a lot done. While my blogging calendar faltered, my photography advanced. That visual focus provided sustaining energy, color and cheer. At the same time, I kept generating writing ideas and starting drafts.

Driven human that I am, I had to remind myself of those positives and stop fretting about what I wanted to accomplish and didn’t before the month ran out.

I’m guessing that many intense writers and bloggers out there had a similar February experience. I can even imagine the parodies beginning “February is the shortest month …”, among other literary laments.

And so, as we all start a new month, I encourage you to lighten up too. Congratulate yourself on all that you achieved despite February’s writerly frustrations, restart your engine and keep this image and mantra in mind:

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“Stop worrying and listen to your muse.”


Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent.

Celebrating Lunar New Year on the Run in Los Angeles



Happy Year of the Pig! With Lunar New Year celebrations underway worldwide, I want to highlight the festivities coming up in the heart of LA’s historic Chinatown the weekend of February 16–17.

The Firecracker 5K/10K Run

The centerpiece of the festivities is the popular Firecracker 5K/10K Run, which marks its 41st anniversary this year. The Firecracker organization indicates that it’s the largest, longest-running Lunar New Year charity race in the United States. 

Established in 1978, the Firecracker festival has expanded to include a kiddie run, bike rides and its newest event, the Paw’r Dog walk — all reflecting its goal to promote community health and fitness. Event proceeds benefit local elementary schools and a variety of nonprofit organizations that serve local neighborhoods.

A Fun and Challenging 10K

The Firecracker 10K has many fans and draws a varied field with several impressive competitors. For some local runners, it’s an annual tradition. The Lunar New Year setting, scenic course and promise of fabulous views attracted me to this race. Running it made me a fan too.

The opening ceremonies in Chinatown’s central plaza, with lion dancers and the traditional lighting of 100,000 firecrackers — to chase away evil spirits and bring good luck — give runners an exciting send-off. 

There’s a steep climb early on, but running the hills to the spectacular city view at the summit is a rewarding challenge. An exhilarating descent and a winding road through LA’s peaceful Elysian Park lead back to the finish. The congenial atmosphere among the participants is another plus.

To learn more about running this race, click here for the prior post detailing my experience.

Runners can generally count on clever Firecracker T-shirt and medal designs to commemorate meeting the challenge. Here are this year’s flying pig run/walk and bike ride T-shirts:  




You can see some imaginative designs from earlier years in my prior post and the Paw’r section below.

Run/Walk and Biking Events Schedule

This year, the 5K, 10K and Kiddie races, and 5K/10K walks, all take place on Sunday, February 17. The 20- and 40-mile bike rides and Paw’r Dog walk (below) take place on Saturday, February 16.  Event day registration is available. You’ll find schedule, course and registration details for all events here:

2019 Paw’er Dog Walk

The pig rules for 2019, but dogs will still have their day with the return of the Paw’r, which debuted at last year’s Year of the Dog festivities.

Firecracker Dog Shirt-2018 (640x640)

It’s a 2K stroll with many historic and cultural landmarks along the route. Canine participants receive a doggie goodie bag and T-shirt. Event proceeds are donated to local animal rescue organizations.

For more information, guidelines and registration:  Be sure to scroll down to the course description for the sights you’ll see.

The Firecracker Festival

In addition to the running, walking and biking events, the two-day festival features live entertainment, arts and crafts, food and vendors. See the entertainment schedule here: variety of multicultural music and dance performances are part of this year’s lineup.

 A Community Celebration

The Firecracker festival celebrates the diversity and talent of Los Angeles and brings its multicultural community together in a well-attended event with something for everyone to enjoy. If you’re visiting the city that weekend, join the festivities for an LA experience beyond the guidebooks and tourist attractions.

Do you have a community race you enjoy running? Why do you like it and return to it?


Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Firecracker Run photos (dragon dance, Year of the Pig T-shirts, Year of the Dog graphic) copyright L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run Committee 2019.

Runners’ feet photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission.

All other photos, copyright M. Vincent 2019.


The Still Life Reimagined

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Recently, in my Window Gazing Wednesday photo series, I wrote about finding inspiration for a still life painting in the window of a French seaside museum. Writing that post reminded me of a witty spin on the genre that I want to share with you.

I’ve always been drawn to the still life, across a range of periods and styles, and have enjoyed painting some myself, both reproductions and originals. One example is my reproduction of Paul Cezanne’s 1880-1881, “Fruits, Napkin and Jug of Milk,” above.

With their rich colors, unusual angles and imaginatively sculpted objects, Cezanne’s modernist still lifes convey a striking liveliness to me. Through their particular elements, traditional works in the genre can project a similar sense –– but no matter how infused with life it may be, the still life is, by definition, still.

Nature Morte

The French phrase for still life, nature morte (dead nature), perfectly embodies the “still” quality that is the hallmark of the genre.

This arrangement of inanimate objects, usually set out on a table, may include organic items (like fruit, flowers and often, dead game birds or animals), as well as household objects such as dishware, glassware and linens. They never move for the painter or us.

But what if those “dead” objects got restless, channeled their inner life force and began an energetic revival?

Still Life Reviving

Then, we enter the fantastical world of Surrealist painter, Remedios Varo:

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In her 1963 painting, Still Life Reviving, the fruit has taken flight –– fat apples, a peach, plums, strawberries –– all wildly spinning above the table in concentric circles like planets.  As they zoom around a single candle in their rings of stardust, a pomegranate crashes with another fruit and bursts, dropping red arils to the floor.

The plates have joined the animated spin, rising and whirling below the fruit, while the tablecloth rotates in sculptural folds, its bottom edges fluttering in a mysterious burst of wind.

With the reds, golds and oranges of the fruit, the light emanating from the action around the table, Varo adds a warm glow that enhances the painting’s energy.

If you look closely, you’ll find some small details that also add to its life: diaphanous blue dragonflies hover over the fruit, and delicate green plants have sprung up to the right and left of the table, where seeds have fallen. 

This is the still life masterfully reimagined by an exceptional thinker and painter. It was her last completed work before her premature death at 54.

About the Artist

Born in Spain in December 1908, Remedios Varo Uranga was one of three children raised in a well-educated family. Her father, a hydraulic engineer, was a major influence in Varo’s early education, teaching her technical drawing and encouraging her to read widely –– from scientific texts to adventure stories, mystical literature and Eastern philosophy.

Her father’s job required extensive travel, and the family traversed Spain and North Africa before settling in Madrid in 1917. There Varo attended Catholic school and later studied art at the San Fernando Academy, taking scientific drawing courses along with the strict academic curriculum. She graduated in 1930 with a degree to teach drawing.

In the 1930s, Varo married a fellow student and moved to Barcelona. While working as a commercial artist, she began to experiment with surrealist ideas and art techniques. She also met French surrealist poet, Benjamin Peret (whom she later married), and fled Civil War Spain for Paris.

Through Peret, Varo made contact with the Parisian surrealist movement’s inner circle. Under the influence of Andre Breton, Magritte, Max Ernst and others, she continued to experiment with Surrealism and participated in the 1937 International Surrealist Exhibition in Tokyo.

In 1941, Varo and Peret fled to Mexico to escape Nazi-occupied France. In Mexico City they met numerous Mexican and émigré artists and writers, including surrealists Leonora Carrington and Kati Horna who became Varo’s close friends.

In the 1940s, Varo worked as a technical illustrator and commercial artist, didn’t seriously pursue her art and produced little. She created the bulk of her work in the last 10 years of her life, beginning in 1953.

By that time, Varo had broken with Peret several years earlier and was romantically involved with Walter Gruen, a businessman who recognized her artistic brilliance. His support enabled her to devote herself entirely to her art, and her work blossomed until her death from a heart attack in October 1963.

Varo is known for her mysterious paintings of strange humans in dreamlike settings, engaged in magic arts or some form of chemistry. Architectural features also recur,  showing the expert drafting skills she developed, beginning with her father’s lessons.

Varo’s singular vision reflects her intellectual background, strong interest in science, as well as magic, and fascination from an early age with fantasy and dreams. She is credited with playing an integral role in establishing the Mexican Surrealist movement.

A Revelation

I first discovered Remedios Varo at a 2012 Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition entitled In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. The show included works dating from 1931–1968 by major artists such as Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois, with Varo grouped among these icons. 

Despite my art studies, I knew little about the women in the Surrealism movement, so In Wonderland was a revelation from that standpoint. Then, there was Varo: In a show with so many remarkable painters, I found her work particularly intriguing.

I left eager to know more about this woman who created such extraordinary imagery. I hope this post will lead others to discover her too. 

Have you seen Varo’s still life before? What is your favorite still life? Comments about the genre and the artist are welcomed.

Recommended Resource

Remedios Varo: The Mexican Years provides an excellent synopsis of the artist’s life and work, with numerous well-executed reproductions of her paintings and a useful chronology with photos. The text, by Surrealism scholar Masayo Nonaka, includes thoughtful commentary on individual paintings in the catalogue.  

The book contains the Varo paintings from the In Wonderland exhibition above, and after the show I was determined to track it down. It can be difficult to find — with variable online pricing, up to thousands of dollars — but it’s well worth the effort.

I ultimately found mine for a reasonable price at Powell’s City of Books:

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Cezanne painting reproduction and photo copyright M. Vincent 2010, 2019, respectively.

Still Life Reviving image extracted from the book Remedios Varo: The Mexican Years, copyright 2012 RM, and not to be reproduced in any way without permission of the publisher. Used here with kind permission from RM.

Santiago Oaks Revisited: The Resurgence of Nature

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On New Year’s Day, my partner and I set out for a hike at one of our local Southern California parks. Nature lovers that we are, it’s our traditional way to start a new year, setting an uplifting tone for the days to come.  

It was a bright, beautiful morning, with a clarity and energy that beckoned, despite the blast of surprisingly icy air that hit me when I first opened the door. (Yes, it can get rather cold here.)

Our destination: Santiago Oaks Regional Park in the city of Orange, about a 40-minute drive from our coastal community.  We like its varied network of trails and the peaceful, removed feeling it maintains, although it borders a residential neighborhood not far from busy urban areas. 

We had last visited during California’s 2017 wildflower season “super bloom,” which I wrote about here.  On that early April day, Santiago’s verdant trails looked like this with a profusion of wildflowers everywhere, including scores of these bright yellow blossoms and the elegant mariposa lily: 

Several months later, in October 2017, a fire swept through four Orange County parks, damaging more than 7,000 acres. Santiago Oaks was one of them. In footage on the TV news, the lush landscape we’d hiked looked like a charred wasteland.

Happily, Santiago was able to reopen in December 2017, although several trails were closed for fire recovery. We were eager to see what it looked like now, more than a year after the reopening. How was the rehabilitation going? And what was the park like in winter?

An Impressive Renewal Underway

We enjoy Santiago’s hilly terrain, lush natural scenery and views, and our New Year’s Day visit was cheering. As we hiked familiar trails and explored some new ones, we saw many roped-off areas like this one where fire recovery continues:  

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In all of them, there was significant new green growth, side by side with the lingering signs of the fire’s destruction: trees crowned with blackened leaves, charred bushes and branches, the scorched remains of cactus plants.

We saw nothing resembling the burnt wasteland of months ago. Nature had made an impressive comeback, and everywhere we looked its work was ongoing. This abundant landscape is an example:   

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Even trees that bear the marks of fire have healthy green leaves or autumn color, and around them the ground is thick with green.

With their vibrant greenery, some parts of the park seemed virtually untouched by the fire.  Only the telltale signs of charred branches, or leaves blackened and crumpled from the intense heat testify to its passing. 

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About the Natural Recovery Process

Fire is a natural and essential component of Southern California ecosystems. Historically, natural and human-caused fires have helped to select types of vegetation that depend on periodic fires for their existence. Plants in these ecosystems have developed adaptions that allow them to survive and reestablish themselves after a fire.

As Santiago Oaks park information explains, periodic fires can provide the opportunity for native seeds and new plant growth to receive sun, water and nutrients.   

Though burned landscapes may appear lifeless, the information points out, natural recovery is already underway. By the time of our visit the strength of that recovery process was evident.

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Charred cactus pads and healthy new growth were juxtaposed along the trails, and those yellow blossoms, so prolific during the super bloom, were springing up in considerable masses amid the fire-blackened branches of other plants.

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The Park in Winter

Previously, we’d visited Santiago in the intense heat of summer or the temperate spring.  Hiking the park in winter we experienced that California phenomenon of living in multiple seasons at once.  Winter and Spring were dancing together in that quality of light that can be so challenging to describe.

California light always has a clarity like nowhere else, but in winter it seems to be more intense, with a hard edge, a glassy, diamond-like brilliance. The park looked wonderful in that light, with the sun making the trees sparkle, turning the leaves of fresh new plants translucent, enhancing the green of the hills, the blue of the sky.

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When we set out, the cold was piercing. As we walked the trails in the warmth of the sun, it felt pleasingly fresh and enlivening. I wanted to shed some of those layers I was wearing. I stuffed my useless gloves in my pockets – no more frozen fingers fumbling with the camera.

This was not the barren, dormant landscape that generally characterizes winter. The natural world was full of life. California sunflowers were beginning to appear as if it were early spring, and that red-tipped shrub that began this post stood out as a colorful symbol of renewal.

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For us, in this season of rain and rejuvenation, the signs of nature’s welcome resurgence were everywhere, the happy dance of Winter and Spring quickened by the ongoing effects of the fire.

Have you observed natural renewal after a fire or been part of the recovery effort? What is your favorite local or regional park? Please leave a comment.

Trip Planning

See the Santiago Oaks Regional Park website for more information.

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent.

A New Year, a New Starting Line

Last New Year’s Day I launched My Eclectic Café with a post about toeing that starting line, wondering how things would go. I was excited about starting a new year with this new venture, but feeling a bit of trepidation as well.

Would I keep up my posts on a regular basis? Edit myself so vigorously I’d never get off the ground? One thing I wasn’t concerned about was topics. I’d been wanting to write about a variety of things for some time and finally found and seized the moment.  

In the end I didn’t write as much as I planned, but I was pleased to keep the virtual café open except for a few months’ hiatus. I didn’t write as much about certain topics (food, books, nature) as I thought I would, but true to my goal, the menu was an eclectic mix.  

I had fun combining my love of photography and travel in my Window Gazing Wednesday series, which kicked off with this startling night encounter in California’s Sierra Nevada region:M. Vincent 3694-LR_Night bear-680

Sharing the beauty, history and culture of my multifaceted state was another goal for the blog that I enjoyed pursuing in 2018. More California travels to come this year.

Best of all, this blog has been an inspiring experience, and I’m happy to stand at the starting line of another year. A lot of the inspiration has come from you, my readers, and I thank everyone who visited, contributed comments and followed My Eclectic Café at the outset.

I’ve found it stimulating to discover the writing, photography, art and creativity of other members of the international blogging community. To share travels, experiences, enthusiasms and insights across countries and cultures, connect with and learn from each other is a powerful and valuable thing. I look forward to a continuing exchange.

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For 2019, I’ll be focusing on those topics I intended to do more of in 2018 –– including the natural environment, one of my favorite places to be.

In honor of the world’s wilderness areas, I’ll close with a quote from John Muir, American naturalist, philosopher and early advocate of wilderness preservation in the United States: 

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” 

Happy New Year and happy trails.


Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Bear photo copyright M. Vincent 2018. Trail photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission.

Window Gazing Wednesday: Angel in the Details

Last week’s WGW featured a slice of Japan at LA’s famous Farmers Market. This week, we’re heading north to farm country, California’s Central Valley. My partner and I took that route last year on a road trip to visit friends in Oregon.

It’s a long drive through miles of gently rolling hills in an abundantly spare landscape.

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On the way, we stopped for lunch in Patterson, one of the small towns off Interstate 5.  Afterwards, we walked around the old downtown center, where I found the subject of today’s WGW photo in a thrift shop window:

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In the profuse jumble of items, a tall, brightly painted statue of the Virgin Mary stood out. At 3–4 feet high, she towered over the dishware, ceramic art and other thrift shop sundries around her. In her colorful robes with their decorative roses and swirls, she reminded me of the stylized carved and painted wooden saints of New Mexican/Spanish Colonial art.

Often, a child angel accompanies Mary in such art and appears beneath her. At the base of this statue, I found the small angel that became the focus of my photo –– one of those charming details that leap out from a larger work.  

I liked his serene expression, floating among the roses, looking as if he’s effortlessly buoying up his much larger companion. 

Fanciful religious figures generally have an engaging human quality, despite their divine nature. Angels (including the putti of Italian art) perhaps embody that quality most, showing a range of human emotions: playful, mischievous, grief-stricken …  I see some understated playfulness in this one as he carries out his mission.

What window gazing discoveries have you made on a road trip? 

Last WGW of the Series

This post concludes the Window Gazing Wednesday photo series. I’ve enjoyed revisiting the photos and their background stories. I hope readers have enjoyed the vignettes. WGW may pop up again from time to time as captivating windows turn up on my travels and rambles. For now, thanks to everyone who visited, liked and commented on the WGW posts. Happy window gazing!

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Central Valley and angel photos copyright M. Vincent 2018

Window Gazing Wednesday: Tea Time

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Last Wednesday, we strolled by the sea in a small French Riviera village. Today we’re in mega city Los Angeles at the Farmers Market, a historic LA landmark that opened in 1934.

Popular with locals and tourists alike, this lively spot at 3rd and Fairfax is a hub for shopping, dining and socializing. With more than 100 food stalls and restaurants, gourmet grocers, specialty shops and other attractions — including the fresh produce that launched its start — it’s a fun place to take out-of-town guests, stop for a bite and browse.

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An Invitation to Exploration

One afternoon my partner and I stopped in for lunch at Loteria, a popular Mexican food stand we like. On our way out through the market labyrinth, I spotted today’s WGW photo in a tea shop window:

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These sturdy metal teapots with their decorative designs and brilliant colors had an aesthetic appeal about them. They caught my eye and made me curious.

I’d seen similar teapots before, but in black or brown tones, not these vivid colors, and wanted to learn more about them. There was no time to inquire in the shop that day, but the find spurred some later investigation.

Teapot, Tea Kettle or Both?

I didn’t set out to or become an expert, but the teapots in that window display opened a fascinating world of tea brewing culture and history. Here is a summary of what I learned:

Cast iron kettles called “tetsubins” have been made in Japan since the 16th century and were developed for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. The traditional tetsubin is handcrafted and the interior is bare, uncoated iron. It is used only as a kettle for boiling water, not as a teapot for brewing the tea.  

Adding an element of confusion, a cast iron teapot with enamel coating inside, made only for brewing tea, is also referred to as a tetsubin. Its correct name is “tetsu kyusu.” In the 20th century many of these teapots began to appear for the overseas/online market, made by factories in Japan or China. They look much like the traditional tetsubin, but cost much less.

Why would you need both tea kettle and teapot? Boiling water in a tetsu kyusu will cause the enamel to crack, but most important, it’s about the transformative quality of the water: Using water boiled in a traditional unglazed tetsubin gives the tea an enhanced flavor and intensity. (You also get an infusion of iron from the kettle, which some find a health benefit.)

What about the varied colors? The traditional tetsubin is black with a pebbly surface. As these tea kettles evolved to teapots used at the table for serving, Japanese artisans began to embellish them and incorporate color.

What do you use for making tea? Do these functional works of art appeal to you?

For more details about tetsubins, see: and

For a useful summary of the several Japanese teapots, see:

Explore the Farmers Market and its history here:

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Farmers Market courtyard photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission. Other photos copyright M. Vincent 2018.