A Flood of Memories

Author: Kirsten K., Books, History, Literature, Nostalgia

When I was a child, I had a series of recurring dreams about being caught in floods and tsunamis that were so vivid and frequent, I can still remember them in detail. My waterlogged nights were the reason that, while visiting my Auntie Jo as a young girl, I plucked a book off her shelf about the St. Francis Dam disaster, kindling a fascination with the story that continues to this day, because today marks the 88th anniversary of the collapse: the deadliest American civil engineering disaster of the 20th century.

A Flood of Memories 1

The St. Francis Dam in February 1927, a year before it failed. At the time, the St. Francis Reservoir was the largest lake in Southern California.

Shortly before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, 50 miles north of Los Angeles, suddenly and catastrophically collapsed, sending the 12.4 billion gallons of water in the St. Francis Reservoir racing down San Francisquito Canyon and across the Santa Clara River Valley to the sea. In its path were families asleep in their beds, colonies of migrants who worked on local ranches and farms, camps of powerhouse and railroad workers, and untold numbers of animals, all swept away by a wall of water that reached 140 feet at its peak. When it was over, more than 400 people (and possibly as many as 600) were dead, the second largest loss of life in California state history.

A Flood of Memories 2This past January, a new and exceptional account of the disaster hit bookshelves. Floodpath is the result of more than 20 years of meticulous research by author and documentary filmmaker Jon Wilkman. It chronicles the rise of Los Angeles, the life and career of William Mulholland, personal stories about the night of the flood, and details of the aftermath and investigation in such a way that the book reads like a novel. Since the author may have been the last person to interview some of the remaining eyewitnesses and survivors before they died, this is likely to stand as the definitive account.

The chapters in Floodpath describing the night of the collapse are gripping, detailing events of the disaster from the first ominous rumble at 11:57 pm to the last rush of water and debris that entered the Pacific Ocean five and a half hours later. The floodwaters had scoured a path through the canyon and down the valley for 54 miles, destroying property and lives and changing the landscape of Southern California in more ways than one. Equally compelling and tragic is the story of William Mulholland, the self-taught engineer and architect of the St. Francis Dam who had been lauded as a hero for bringing water to drought-parched Los Angeles, but who ended his life a broken man living in seclusion after the failure of the dam.

A Flood of Memories 3

All that remained after the collapse was this center section of the dam, nicknamed the Tombstone.

Because I’d known about the St. Francis Dam collapse since I was young, I didn’t realize until reading Floodpath that the disaster has been virtually forgotten by all but civil engineers, L.A. history buffs, and dam enthusiasts. Jon Wilkman lays out some possible reasons for this “historical amnesia” in his book, including a campaign by civic leaders to whitewash what had been an embarrassing misstep in the aggressive growth of Los Angeles, but it was still a shock when driving through San Francisquito Canyon this week to encounter not one sign leading to the site or marking its location. The only indication that the area had witnessed the greatest man-made disaster in 20th century America—second only to the San Francisco earthquake and fire in terms of Californian lives lost—was a single plaque behind a chain link fence at Power Plant No. 2 that I stumbled upon when I stopped to take a picture (the former powerhouse at that location having been completely washed away in the flood).

St. Francis Dam 1

The site of the St. Francis Dam today looking east. The five steps protruding from the dirt once led up the front of the Tombstone.

The classic film Chinatown popularized the California Water Wars, but even though the St. Francis Dam failure is alluded to in the movie (as the Van der Lip Dam disaster), the collapse has slipped from public consciousness almost as quickly and completely as the waters of the St. Francis Reservoir slipped past the remains of the dam. With our aging infrastructure and shortsightedness in preventing another such disaster, this cautionary tale could not be more relevant. Hopefully, Floodpath will revive interest in this important chapter in the history of Los Angeles and unleash a flood of memories for those who can’t afford to forget.

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Floodpath

 

Floodpath can be purchased online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bloomsbury, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

Jon Wilkman is currently working on a documentary about the St. Francis Dam. Read more about this project on his website.

 

 

Update 3/13/16:

Yesterday, while my pre-scheduled post about Floodpath was going live, I returned to San Francisquito Canyon for a tour of the St. Francis Dam site through the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. This annual tour on the anniversary of the disaster was led by Dr. Alan Pollack and Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel with an assist from Evan Decker. It began in the Saugus Train Station at Heritage Junction Historic Park with a one-hour lecture and video presentation about William Mulholland and the California Water Wars, the construction and collapse of the St. Francis Dam, and the resulting flood with its deadly consequences.

On the way to the site, we passed the former location of Hollywood cowboy Harry Carey’s Indian Trading Post, a popular tourist attraction that had been swept away by the floodwaters, as well as a private cemetery on a hillside in the canyon where seven members of the Ruiz family, all victims of the flood, are buried. We also walked farther down the floodpath from the dam site than I’d gone on my previous visit, seeing large blocks of concrete from the collapsed dam that had been borne downstream by the water (new picture gallery below). The most powerful moment for me came while standing by Power Plant No. 2, where Dr. Pollack pointed up the hillside to indicate that the floodwaters had reached 3/4 of the way up the canyon walls. Referring to the powerhouse workers and their families, who lived in a small community across from the plant, he lamented, “They never had a chance.”

The SCV Historical Society is actively pursuing legislation to designate the dam site as a National Memorial and Monument and grant it federal protection. Despite the fact that the City of Los Angeles and the L.A. Department of Water and Power seem to prefer that the St. Francis Dam disaster remain a distant and fading memory, this event in our history is of significance not only for Southern California, but for the country at large. Lessons learned from the collapse of the St. Francis Dam helped to improve the building of dams nationwide, and the tragedy should be acknowledged for its role in strengthening our infrastructure and contributing to the growth of this country.

For more information, visit the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

 

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German on the Mount

Author: Kirsten K., Holidays, Nostalgia

German on the Mount 1While Christmas has been celebrated for close to two thousand years, many of our modern Yuletide customs originated in Germany and Austria less than two centuries ago. From Advent calendars and Kris Kringle to evergreen trees and Silent Night, several Christmas traditions we hold dear in America actually have Germanic roots (although, the pickle ornament appears to be a myth).

I am German on my father’s side and all of my Christmas memories are infused with the sounds, smells, and flavors of Germany. German on the Mount 2To this day, I place my order for lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) and stollen (fruit cake) with German Deli in October and pick up a seasonal stash of marzipan (sweet almond paste) from World Market each November in preparation for the holidays. On cold December evenings, I enjoy mugs of hot glühwein (mulled wine), and I always listen to my favorite Christmas album, Fröhliche Weihnachten mit den Westfälischen Nachtigallen (Merry Christmas with the Westphalian Nightingales), while decorating the tree.

German on the Mount 3Since I was a child, I’ve had the task of arranging the celestial orchestra of hand-painted wooden Christmas angels that come from the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Germany. My family’s collection began with a gift of three angels—one each for my sisters and me—from our German nanny. Every Christmas after she returned to Germany, she’d send us three small figurines from Wendt & Kühn in the mountain village of Grünhainichen to augment our display. In those early years, Erzgebirge angels could only be found in East Germany, so each diminutive gift was a rare treasure. Not realizing their value when I was young, I would often play with the cherubic figures, resulting in some chipped paint, a broken arm, and a missing wing among the heavenly host.

German on the Mount 4Artisans from the Erzgebirge region also make wooden holiday pyramids, smokers, nutcrackers, and ornaments that are sold at many an outdoor Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) in Germany from late November through December, but I have a particular fondness for the childlike cherubim. Today, Erzgebirge angels are available online and come in a wide variety of colors and styles, from bakers with gilded wings to long-skirted forms in natural finishes, but the tiny musicians from Grünhainichen with their polka-dotted green wings will always hold a special place in my heart.

Whether or not you have German ancestry, consider giving a nod to the culture that redefined Christmas by starting your own collection of angels or other handcrafted wooden curios from the Erzgebirge. It may become a new holiday tradition that gives flight to a child’s imagination and one day inspires divine memories of Christmases past.

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Wendt & Kühn Grünhainichen Angels

 

Grünhainichen angels can be purchased in the U.S. from Foster’s Imports and The Wooden Wagon. To browse a large selection of handcrafted items from the Ore Mountains of Germany, including a range of painted angel figurines, visit the Erzgebirge Palace.

The Salty Road to Deliciousness

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Sweets

Salty Road 1I think, when all of us were kids, we thought that saltwater taffy was made with actual water from the sea. The very thought of taking a bite of THE OCEAN made the treat much more interesting and delicious than it would have been otherwise. I was always pretty sure I tasted the brine somewhere in that little fluffy pillow, but I also believed in magic and fairies and the goodness of people, so it wasn’t that big of a stretch for me.

Salty Road 2Later, when I found out the “salt water” in saltwater taffy was marketing, I was disappointed—much like poor Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he finds out his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring is a crummy commercial (be sure to drink your Ovaltine!). But even at that young age I did appreciate the genius behind the idea. So, when I discovered that Salty Road Salt Water Taffy has actual salt in it, I had to try it.

Salty Road Salt Water Taffy is made in Brooklyn with all natural ingredients and a lot of love. Not only does their taffy have salt in it, they use a coarse salt that gives the taffy a really addictive crunch, making eating only one piece almost impossible. Salty Road 3Combine the salty goodness with unique flavors such as Bergamot, Chili Chocolate, Sour Cherry, Peppermint and Salted Mango Lassi, and you have got yourself one perfect bite of pure deliciousness.

With holiday flavors just released, like Snow Mint, Pumpkin Pie, and Eggnog, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A chewy, salty, awesome Christmas.

I still believe in magic and fairies and (mostly) the goodness of people, but now I am definitely sure I taste the sea in my taffy…or at least the salty tang of Brooklyn.

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Salty Road Salt Water Taffy

Cut the Gourd

Author: Kirsten K., Holidays, Inspiration, Nostalgia
Cut the Gourd 1

These faux pumpkins can easily be mistaken for the real thing.

I love Halloween. When I was little, I’d start planning—and sometimes making—my costume in the summer. My crowning achievement occurred in 8th grade. I’d seen and read Gone With The Wind months before and decided I wanted to dress up as Scarlett O’Hara. I made a petticoat out of an old bed sheet and attached a hula hoop and two macramé hoops underneath to give it the proper bell shape. I couldn’t fit down the narrow walkways at a few of the houses, so Kirsti (dressed as a Playboy bunny) had to trick-or-treat on my behalf.

Cut the Gourd 2

“Isabel” looks innocent enough by day on a tiny Tiger Cub Fun-Kin…

Carving the jack-o’-lantern was part of the fun, but it was almost an afterthought. My father did the actual carving while my sisters and I sorted through pumpkin guts to extract the seeds for roasting. I remember the large knife and how difficult (and dangerous!) it was to cut the classic face of three triangles for the eyes and nose plus a grinning mouth full of jagged teeth. Then, just as I began to outgrow trick-or-treating, Pumpkin Masters came on the scene and changed everything.

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…but the night reveals that inside she’s a bad (pumpkin) seed.

My sister Heidi was the first person I knew to carve a pumpkin using a Pumpkin Masters pattern and tools. Blown away by the precision and level of detail, I thought she was an artistic genius until she explained the simple process. After that, my obsession switched from costumes to pumpkins. I’m no artist, but I can follow a pattern like nobody’s business, and this method seemed foolproof for someone with a steady hand and a little patience.

Cut the Gourd 4

This real pumpkin was only five inches tall, so I dubbed it Mini Mo.

Each year I’d search out new patterns to carve and marvel at the effects that could be achieved with just a few judicious cuts. I also became fixated on carving smaller and smaller pumpkins (the hollowing out of large pumpkins being my least favorite part of the process) and using increasingly complex patterns. When I’d see my hard work begin to shrivel up within 24-48 hours, I would always become a little wistful, but I took pictures of each carved pumpkin as a memento. I briefly considered soaking my pumpkins in bleach to make them last longer, but it seemed wrong to defile an organic substance that way. Better to let nature take its course and be Zen about the whole thing. That is, until I became a victim of “Skullduggery.”

Cut the Gourd 5

I went out on a limb for this “Skullduggery” design, which led me to branch out into faux pumpkins.

Last year I attempted my most ambitious carving. Years before, I’d discovered the witty and macabre designs known as Killhouettes when my sister gave me one as a gift. I thought they’d make perfect pumpkin-carving patterns, except for the fact that most of them seemed too complicated, but I finally decided to take a stab at the one titled Skullduggery. In the picture, two men in bowler hats face off with knives drawn behind a picket fence with a lamppost in the center, creating a skull in the negative space between, while tiny tree branches stand in for cracks in the forehead. I painstakingly cut the pattern and was pleased with the result…until I took it out of the fridge mere hours later to find that the delicate branches had shriveled up before the first trick-or-treaters had even arrived!

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This skull at Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns was created entirely with Fun-Kins.

I’d heard of Fun-Kins, which are faux, carvable pumpkins molded from living versions, but I considered myself a purist and only wanted to use the real thing. Not anymore! I was ready to trade in my environmental principles for the unspoiled glory of polyurethane foam. When Kirsti and I recently went to Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns at Descanso Gardens, I asked an employee if the large and elaborate displays were made from faux pumpkins, and she confirmed that, while many of the pumpkins throughout the exhibit were real, the showstopping arrangements were composed of carved Fun-Kins. I went home that night and placed my order.*

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Here comes the “Bridezilla”…

The pumpkins are lightweight and hollow with walls about half-an-inch thick. No scooping required. There was a bit of a learning curve as I got used to this new medium. It is easier to go around tight corners and carve tiny details with a real pumpkin, since the flesh has more give, but a Fun-Kin is more forgiving when it comes to precarious elements that hold on by a thread. I’ve had a few mishaps over the years with real pumpkins where a fragile piece broke off and needed to be staked with a toothpick, but Fun-Kins are sturdy. Based on the examples at Descanso, they lend themselves particularly well to etched designs, but I haven’t yet mastered the art using a linoleum cutter or similar tool to scrape an image into the surface of a pumpkin.

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…all dressed in a white Brookester from Fun-Kins.

This year, I’m already enjoying my pumpkins instead of frantically carving them the afternoon of Halloween or doing so the night before and hoping the designs hold up in the fridge until the trick-or-treating commences. I’ve put them in my front window, each with one of Fun-Kins’ own battery-operated tealights to illuminate the design. I’m still going to carve a real pumpkin to put on the front porch with an actual candle inside. After all, you have to leave something for the juvenile delinquents to smash. But the pressure is off. I can use a simpler design and not worry if it rots or gets destroyed. There’s no reason to limit myself when I have so many choices, because attempting something like “A Rose for Lady Ravencourt” on a real pumpkin? I’d have to be out of my gourd.

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Pumpkin Masters
Fun-Kins

 

The “Isabel,” “Skullduggery,” and “Bridezilla” pumpkins are based on designs created by John Fair for Killhouettes. Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns can be seen in New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles through November 1st.

*My Fun-Kins arrived within two days of placing my order, so there’s still time to get yours before Halloween if you order in the next few days.

 

Fare and Square

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes, Savories, Sweets

Fare and Square 1When I was growing up, Sunday mornings meant church with the family followed by a breakfast of my father’s famous waffles. Sometimes he would make pancakes, but I preferred waffles, fresh and hot from the iron, spread thickly with peanut butter (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), and dripping with maple syrup. As my father got older and my sisters moved away, this tradition faded, but I never lost my love for waffles. I would make them regularly myself were it not for one obstacle: cleaning the waffle iron. Despite the directive to simply “wipe with a damp cloth,” I am a clean freak and nothing will suffice but using a soft scrub brush and some mild dish soap to get every little nook and cranny,* all the while trying not to let water leak into any of the electrical parts. Way too much trouble.

Fare and Square 2Being a night owl, I only go out to breakfast under duress, but I like to order a Belgian waffle when I do. There’s something about the structure and precision of those crisp, sturdy squares, which make perfect receptacles for puddles of melting butter and hot syrup (and ease the pain of getting up at the crack of dawn). A few years ago, I ordered cheddar waffles for the first time and had a conversion experience. Salty, sweet, and savory, they were definitely “scrub-worthy,” but I never exerted myself to make them at home.

A short time ago, Kirsti made some delicious cheddar waffles, which ignited my determination to finally get out the old waffle iron. Before I did, I noticed a jar of cornmeal that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. I don’t like when foods linger in the pantry or fridge, and I try to use up staples while they’re still fresh, so I searched for recipe ideas using cornmeal. Lo and behold, many of the results that popped up were for cornmeal waffles. Now I had a decision to make (and I hate making decisions!): cheddar or cornmeal? I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to make waffles twice in a brief period of time. Then it hit me—cheddar cornmeal waffles!

Fare and Square 3I am clearly not the first person to have had this idea based on the number of recipes I found online, but all of them had a string of ingredients and little extras added in like toasted nuts, corn kernels, bacon, and/or jalapeños. I like to keep things simple, so I found this straightforward recipe for Savory Cheddar Waffles and merely substituted one cup of cornmeal for a cup of the flour.

I whipped up a batch and they came out of the waffle iron extra crispy with the pungent, earthy aroma of cheddar hanging in the air. Even soaking in maple syrup, they maintained their crunch from the cornmeal. I put the extras in the freezer, then popped one in the toaster the next morning. It came out hot and crisp, as if made fresh that very day. This recipe is a winner! As I set to the task of cleaning the waffle iron, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I didn’t waffle on the answer: “Definitely.”

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SCRUB-WORTHY CHEDDAR CORNMEAL WAFFLES (adapted from Chowhound)

Fare and Square 4Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal†
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (about 5 oz.) shredded Irish cheddar cheese, such as Dubliner‡

Directions:
Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until there are no lumps. In a second bowl, whisk eggs lightly until just broken up. Add the milk. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the melted butter and stir to combine. Add the cheese and mix thoroughly. Pour the cheese mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Heat your waffle iron to medium according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once heated, fill it with batter, close the lid, and cook until the steam starts to diminish (my waffle iron has a light that tells me when the waffles are ready, but you can open the top and peek for doneness after a few minutes). Transfer waffles to a plate or wire rack.§ Repeat with the remaining batter. Makes about 6 Belgian waffles or 10-12 regular waffles.

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*My waffle iron has a nonstick coating, but I still need to use oil to prevent the waffles from sticking. I’ve read that you should season nonstick cookware, but I simply can’t bring myself to put it away when I can still see beads of oil between the squares. No.

†I used one full cup of cornmeal, because that’s what I had in my pantry, but the flavor was fairly strong in the waffles. If you want to reduce the amount of cornmeal in the recipe, simply increase the flour accordingly so that the total flour-cornmeal mixture equals 2 cups (e.g. 1 ½ cups flour plus ½ cup cornmeal). I would not use more than one cup of cornmeal in this recipe.

‡I went for broke and grated the full 7 oz. block of Dubliner cheese into the batter. Life is short!

§If you want to keep the waffles warm after they come out of the iron, preheat your oven to 250°F and place the waffles on a wire rack that’s been set on a baking sheet in the center of the oven.

The Last Time I Saw Ferriss

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia, Synchronicity

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, one of the things that Kirsti and I find the most swoon-worthy is synchronicity—when the stars align to create a situation so perfect and unexpected that you could not possibly have planned it yourself. You know what else is swoon-worthy? Laziness. Whenever possible, I believe in following the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle—reduce stress, reuse ideas, recycle posts. Two years ago today I experienced one of the best, if not THE best, moments of synchronicity in my life, which I wrote about at the time on my personal Facebook page. In celebration of anniversaries and laziness, I am lifting the veil of my privacy settings and sharing the story here. Enjoy!

Ferriss 1When I decided last year that I wanted to shed some weight before my trip to Paris, I started out by following Tim Ferriss’s Slow-Carb Diet. I’d read about it in his book The 4-Hour Body, and what he said about diet and weight loss made perfect sense to me. In fact, everything Tim Ferriss says makes perfect sense to me. I read his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, years ago and found it to be surprisingly funny and eye-opening. He is the quintessential outside-the-box thinker who simply does not look at the world the way most people do. He’s always searching for a new angle. As someone who usually lives inside the box and always plays by the rules, I aspire to be more like him. He is one of my heroes.

I’ve thought about him off and on during the year-and-a-half since I started the diet, particularly when I was trying to brush up on my French for the Paris trip. Tim has an avid interest in language acquisition and has created his own method for becoming functionally fluent in any language in just a few months. I also visit his blog from time to time, because it’s packed with information on a wide range of topics, always with some fresh insight or cutting-edge discovery. However, I haven’t thought of him much in the past year until recently. Knowing that I’m a fan of Tim Ferriss, my friend Prashanta, who likes to listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, recently sent me links to a couple of podcasts Tim did with Joe, which I listened to shortly before I left for my latest trip to Boston. Given that each show is two+ hours long, listening to them brought Tim vividly back into my consciousness.

Ferriss 2I thought about him again while I was packing for the trip. He travels frequently and has lived for extended periods of time abroad. I don’t know if or where he has a permanent residence and have no idea of his movements, since I don’t follow him on Facebook or read his blog regularly. He’s written about how he packs and prepares for a trip and how he gets to the airport. Everything this guy does is about being quick and efficient and doing the minimum amount of work for the maximum result. Looking at my large suitcase and assortment of clothes, I thought, “I need to be more lean and mean like Tim.” He only travels with a carry-on and gets in and out quickly.

I also thought of him right in the middle of my trip, when I was having a personal issue that I considered trying to explore through lucid dreaming. Since I hadn’t read anything new on the topic for a while and I’ve had difficulty in the past with inducing lucid dreams, I did a Google search for “how to have a lucid dream.” I shouldn’t have been surprised that one of the first results to pop up was a link to a post on Tim Ferriss’s blog about the subject. He mentioned Stephen LaBerge from The Lucidity Institute at Stanford (I’ve participated in their at-home experiments for more than 20 years) and gave some induction tips. Nothing new, but I thought it was interesting that he was knowledgeable about lucid dreams. Is there anything that gets by this guy?

Ferriss 3During the trip I saw that a friend of mine had commented on a Facebook post about a book called E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality. I was intrigued by the title and immediately purchased the ebook. I scanned the experiments and they seemed simple enough, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try them. I was also hooked by the introduction, which gave remarkable examples of synchronicities in the author’s own life, as well as some of the scientific evidence behind the idea that we are creating our lives through our thoughts, expectations, and beliefs. I decided to try the first experiment.

Simply stated, the experiment involves giving the Field of Infinite Possibilities 48 hours to show you proof of its existence. That’s it. You simply make a statement that you want a clear sign—that cannot be written off—that there is a “loving, abundant, totally hip force in the universe” that connects everything and is responsive to your thoughts. I read this on a Thursday and decided to start the experiment that afternoon. I made my statement that I wanted clear, unmistakable, unambiguous proof of the existence of this energy field. The 48 hours would expire on late Saturday afternoon, which is when I was leaving to come home from the trip.

Ferriss 4I went about my business and noted after 24 hours that nothing had happened, but there was still time. Early on Saturday afternoon I remembered the experiment. I’d unexpectedly turned a corner in Boston the day before and come across Max Brenner’s restaurant, and I wondered if that might have been my sign. I’d made a pilgrimage to his restaurant in New York [because chocolate] and didn’t realize there was one in Boston, so it was a surprise to see it, but then I decided it couldn’t be the sign. I’d asked for something unmistakable, so I wouldn’t have to wonder whether or not it was my sign.

After that, I was too busy driving to the airport, going through security, and getting on the plane to think about the experiment again. The 48 hours expired sometime during the flight, but I was focused on the experience of flying and on the audiobook I was listening to, so I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was sitting in an aisle seat and had been listening to my iPod with my eyes closed, but I opened them to see someone coming down the aisle toward the restroom at the back of the plane. I felt a spark of recognition, but then the person looked up and I locked eyes with him for a second. It was Tim Ferriss.

Ferriss 5Tim FREAKING Ferriss was on my plane! My little, single-aisle 757 flying from Boston to Los Angeles at 4:30 pm on a random Saturday afternoon in October. I was utterly dumbstruck. I actually put my head in my hands, because I could not process what I’d just seen. He went back to his seat toward the front of the plane and I didn’t see him for the rest of the flight, but I was in a daze. I’d gotten my sign in the form of Tim Freaking Ferriss. It HAD to be.* I thought about walking up there and telling him my story, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I am not the type of person to approach celebrities or public figures to talk with them, and I have a fear of meeting my heroes and finding out that they are rude or disappointing. But this story was too good! What to do? I decided that I would send him an email, even though I’d read in The 4-Hour Workweek that he checks emails as infrequently as once a week and most of them are vetted ahead of time by his staff. Still, it was either that or do nothing. I knew that I wouldn’t see him at baggage claim, because he only brings a carry-on when he travels.

When the flight landed and passengers started filing out, I looked for him in the aisle, but never saw him. By the time I got to baggage claim, there were people crowding around the carousel, so I went and stood near a tall, 30-something guy to wait for my bag. A minute later, Tim Freaking Ferriss walks over and starts talking to the guy. Turns out it’s the friend he was traveling with. O.K., Field of Infinite Possibilities, you’ve got my attention. My heart was racing. How could I possibly approach him? I was trying to work up the courage when he walked right past me, so I called out his name. He turned and said, “Yes? And who are you?” We shook hands and I told him my name. I said that, as he might have surmised, I had read and enjoyed his books. I told him that I didn’t want to disturb him while he was waiting for his luggage, but that I’d like to tell him a story I thought he’d find interesting.

Ferriss 6I related my tale and he was very attentive. He was gratified that Prashanta had sent me the links to the Joe Rogan podcasts. He said he hadn’t explored lucid dreaming for a while and really needed to get back into it. When I told him about all the ways he’d been on my mind recently and then about seeing him walk down the aisle of the plane, he replied, “You’re thinking, ‘Man, I can’t get away from this guy!'” From anyone else, that would have been mildly amusing, but it was Tim Freaking Ferriss, so I thought it was HI-larious.

The reason he was standing at baggage claim with his friend is that they were waiting for several boxes of equipment. Evidently, he was in town to film something (probably for his new TV show [The Tim Ferriss Experiment], which I just found out will be debuting in early December). I said, “This is just so odd. When I think of everything that had to coalesce for you to be on my plane… I mean, I don’t know about you, but I booked this flight months ago.” He said that it was very strange, because he never flies from Boston to L.A. In fact, before I’d called out his name, I overheard him say something to his friend like, “I think we took the wrong flight.” He seemed to be implying that they’d booked an earlier or later flight than they’d intended. In any case, weird!

Ferriss 7I said to him, “Well, I know you didn’t play any conscious part in it, but thank you for being my sign.” Then I asked him if he would indulge me by allowing me to take his picture—a sort of “proof of life” for the folks back home. He graciously posed for me, making a double thumbs-up. The picture is a little blurry, but the message is crystal clear: I got my sign and it was unmistakable and unambiguous. I met my hero and he wasn’t an idiot or an asshole. Now it’s time to explore those infinite possibilities…

In the two years since my close encounter with Tim Ferriss, I have had several more experiences of synchronicity, including three that were nearly as remarkable. I’ve also explored a number of possibilities, some of which culminated in the creation of this blog. I hope my story will inspire you to think big and expect the unexpected. The Field of Infinite Possibilities is just waiting for you to make your move.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Tim Ferriss

 

The books in the 4-Hour series can be purchased from Amazon. All 13 episodes of The Tim Ferriss Experiment are available on iTunes. Be sure to check out Tim’s entertaining and informative podcast, The Tim Ferriss ShowE-Squared can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

*To those people thinking, “Coincidence!” I offer up one of my favorite quotes from Kirsti: “I hate skeptics, because you never get to experience the joy of seeing their eyes light up over something you’ve said.” Also, consider the number of flights that take off and land each day in the U.S. alone and try to calculate the odds that we’d both be on that particular plane.

A Legend, in Her Own Time

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

Tasha Tudor 1Today would have been the 100th birthday of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. During her long and fruitful career, she illustrated close to one hundred books and produced thousands of original paintings, many of which have been turned into cards and prints. Her work is highly sought after by collectors, but—despite having received numerous awards for her books and critical praise for her art—Tasha’s personal life began to eclipse her artistic life when she became equally, if not more, famous for her 19th-century lifestyle.

Tasha Tudor 2Unlike many children who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, I was not raised on Tasha Tudor’s books. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I was first introduced to her through the pages of Victoria magazine, which has done a number of features on Tasha’s life and work over the years. I became captivated by this artist and author who, with her talent and resources, could have enjoyed every modern convenience, but chose to live her life as a woman of the 1800s.

Tasha Tudor 3Beginning with The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a series of books about her lifestyle was released in the early 1990s with elegant photographs by Richard W. Brown showing Tasha going about the daily business of milking her goats, cooking on a woodstove, spinning wool into thread, and quilting in front of the fire. Blurring the line between life and art, she found beauty in the simplest tasks and once said, “I’ve never worked a day in my life!” Convinced that she’d lived before in the 1830s, Tasha said that everything from that period came easily to her. She seemed to excel at any craft she attempted, whether basket making, woodworking, knitting, or weaving, but her favorite pastime was gardening.

Tasha Tudor 4Tasha lived in rural Vermont in a house that was built by her son. Although constructed in the 1970s, her home was modeled on a 230-year-old house and erected using hand tools, so it looked—like Tasha herself—as if it belonged to another century. The magnificent garden she cultivated on her vast property was her pride and joy. It was celebrated in the book Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and featured on an episode of the ABC news program Primetime Live in 1997. She called it “Paradise on earth!”

Tasha Tudor 5Although she was in her early 90s when she passed away in 2008, Tasha never lost her childlike spirit and sense of wonder. She had a lifelong love of marionettes and dolls, and the contents of her immense dollhouse were put on display at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in 1996. Christmas was her favorite holiday, for which she began preparing months in advance. She wrote and illustrated several Christmas books and created annual holiday-themed images to be made into Christmas cards and Advent calendars.

Tasha Tudor 6

Tasha also had an affinity for animals, but was especially fond of birds and Welsh Corgis. She produced a popular series of books about the fictional town of Corgiville and christened her home Corgi Cottage in honor of her beloved dogs. Animals appear frequently in Tasha’s art, which she drew from life. With inspiration all around her, images of Tasha’s home, garden, children, pets, and household items can be found in the works of art she created by a window in a small corner of her kitchen.

Tasha Tudor 7Tasha’s conversation was peppered with quotes from books she’d read or people of note. Her favorite came from a letter written by Fra Giovanni in 1513 and included the lines: “No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy!” It is from this quote that the titles Take Joy! The Magical World of Tasha Tudor and Take Peace! A Corgi Cottage Christmas were appropriated for a pair of short documentaries about Tasha’s life.

Tasha Tudor 8While she enjoyed quoting others, Tasha was highly quotable herself. She once said, “I think I’ve done a good job of life,” which is more than evident to anyone who has read her books, seen her paintings, or had a glimpse into the idyllic world she created in the New England countryside. A believer in reincarnation and the fluidity of time, she declared, “When I die, I’m going right back to 1830.” For all we know, she’s there right now (or, rather, then), tending her garden and gathering wood for the stove.Tasha Tudor 9

Later today, I plan to enjoy afternoon tea—a daily ritual for Tasha—with a slice of cake from her “receipt” book to celebrate a woman for whom life itself was a work of art and whose indomitable spirit didn’t let a little thing like the 20th century interfere with her desire to live in the 1800s.

Happy 100th Birthday to Tasha Tudor: a legend, in her own time.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Tasha Tudor

 

Books by and about Tasha Tudor can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For original art, prints, rare books, and other Tasha Tudor collectibles, visit Cellar Door Books. Explore the Tasha Tudor Museum to learn more about her life and art.

Raspberry Lemonade. Like, Totally.

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes
Raspberry Lemonade 1

Raspberry Lemonade

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. The summers in the valley were so hot. Like, totally. But for a kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were also magic. Our house was the one where all the neighborhood kids gathered. Sometimes it was for a game of TV tag, other times it was to trade baseball cards or run through the sprinklers. We could stay out until the streetlights came on—a wild pack riding skateboards—or go to the liquor store to buy as many Watermelon Stix as we could with the change from the bottom of our Moms’ purses. The days were long and time was abundant and the break from school felt like forever.

When I think back on that time, it’s the delicious smells of summer I remember most—fresh cut grass, the strong piney scent of the juniper bushes we built our forts in, and the lemons, big as softballs, in my next door neighbor’s yard.

Our neighbors had three lemon trees in their backyard, with a swing set right in back of them. I spent a lot of time there with Claire, who was the same age as me. We would swing for hours and sing oldies, but goodies, that we learned from playing our parents’ records. I learned what the “F” word meant, sitting on one of the swings, and we laughed uncomfortably at the Wacky Pack cards given to us by boys. The smell of the lemon blossoms would fill our noses with the fragrance of sun and citrus and we would try to touch the leaves of the trees with our feet while singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,” the swing set squeaking in time, “You would cry too, if it happened to you.”

Raspberry Lemonade 2Every couple of days, we’d pick a bunch of lemons and make lemonade to sell at our sidewalk stand. We never really sold much lemonade, but I loved the ritual of making it—picking the lemons, washing them, cutting them, juicing them, adding water, the whooshing sound of the sugar being poured into the pitcher, the few drops of red food coloring to make it pink, stirring it and, of course, drinking it. When you’re a kid, you take everything for granted, but it was never lost on me that the taste of that lemonade on a valley-hot summer day was perfection.

I recently moved back to the San Fernando Valley. Feeling wistful for those days, I went on a lemonade-making binge. Lavender lemonade, watermelon lemonade, cucumber lemonade…they were all great, but my favorite was raspberry lemonade. Simple, naturally pink. And if a splash of gin found its way into my glass, awesome!

I still love the smell of fresh lemons from a backyard tree and I still suck in my breath with delight when the sugar whooshes into the pitcher—and it still tastes exactly like it did when I was a kid. I wish I had a swing set in my back yard. I do have that Lesley Gore record, though. I think I might put it on, maybe even say the “F” word, and think more about those magical hot summer days. Like, totally.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Raspberry Lemonade

¾ cup fresh or thawed frozen raspberries
9 cups of water
2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 12 lemons)
2 cups superfine sugar

Purée the raspberries in a blender and strain through a fine sieve into a pitcher. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together until the sugar dissolves, enjoying the whooshing sound the sugar makes as it’s poured into the pitcher. Serve over ice. Taste summer.

Violet Liqueur – The Bitter Truth Is Sweet

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes, Spirits, Travel
Violet Liqueur 1

Swooning over the ice cream in Provence.

When Kirsten and I were in the South of France several years ago, we both had the same defining food moment. We were in Les Baux and ordered violet ice cream from a perfect shop on a perfect cobblestone street. We had tasted rose ice cream before, and on the previous day in Aix-en-Provence we had tried lavender ice cream for the first time. But the moment the first glorious spoonful of violet ice cream hit our lips, we truly and completely swooned. It was like the episode of The Brady Bunch when Bobby defends Millicent at school (awesomely played by Melissa Sue Anderson). She kisses him in thanks and fireworks go off in his head and he is happily dazed by the experience. France is, of course, one of the best places on earth…the food, the wine, the country…but my greatest memory of that trip was the singular, purple-hued cup of violet ice cream. Both Kirsten and I agreed that it was the greatest thing we had ever tasted. Loving food the way we do, that is saying something. Our violet obsession had begun.

When we got back to the States, we spent years trying to find a violet extract that would allow us to relive that violet-infused moment, but, despite spending a lot of time on the Internet and a lot of money on violet flavorings, we haven’t been able to replicate that firework-inducing moment of bliss, particularly when it comes to cocktails.Violet Liqueur 2

I always love using floral flavors in cocktails. When St. Germain, the celebrated elderflower liqueur came out, I was over the moon with delight. When Shakers released rose-flavored vodka, I was making vodka tonics several times a week (it is sadly not available anymore). I have purchased about four different violet liqueurs, but none really had that true violet scent and flavor (although some of the bottles are super dreamy). And then I stumbled on The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur. The moment I read about it, I felt panic that I might not be able to find it, but Hi-Time Wine Cellars shipped it to me within three days of my order.

The first thing I noticed about it was the deeply purple color. My other violet liqueurs are varying shades of purple, but none has the color the website describes as “reminiscent of a full moon reflected on a river in the twilight.” That is some damn poetry! I opened the bottle and the scent brought me right back to that cobblestone street in Les Baux. I needed to mix this with some stuff and pour it into a fancy coup, stat!

Violet Liqueur 3My friend Melissa was coming over that weekend and I decided to make the classic Aviation cocktail. The first thing I noticed was the incredible color—it was like a goth dream. The second thing I noticed was that it smelled just like violets! Some floral flavorings can be so sickeningly sweet and overpowering, but this was just right. And then the taste…all I can say is—fireworks. Melissa doesn’t drink very often, but I think she enjoyed her fancy cocktail. I ended up having two drinks (it would have been a crime to let that boozy goodness go to waste) and floated in a delicious violet haze for the rest of the afternoon.

I guess we’ll never know if Bobby Brady would have seen fireworks if he tried The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur. I’m sure Alice or maybe cousin Oliver would have saved him from the degenerate horror of underage drinking. But I bet that Greg would have dug it, surreptitiously sipping from Mrs. Brady’s martini glass in his fringed vest up in his groovy attic room, maybe even with a few of those cigarettes he was so fond of. Queue the laugh track while I pour myself another…Violet Liqueur 4

AVIATION COCKTAIL (courtesy of The Bitter Truth)

2 oz dry gin
¾ oz The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur
⅓ oz maraschino liqueur
¾ oz fresh lemon or lime juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Makes 1 drink.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur

 

The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur can be purchased from Hi-Time Wine Cellars. Maraschino liqueur and dry gin are available at BevMo and most liquor stores.

 

All Hail Queen Victoria!

Author: Kirsten K., Literature, Magazines, Nostalgia

Victoria 1Tomorrow we say goodbye to spring and usher in the lazy months of summer. Every year, as we straddle these two seasons, I think of the Spring/Summer 1987 issue of Victoria magazine, the one that started it all.

I first encountered Victoria in the fall of 1987 when my mother passed on an issue that a friend had given her. I immediately swooned over the elegant fonts, feminine design, and dreamy photographs by Japanese photographer Toshi Otsuki. When I discovered that this was the second issue of the magazine, I quickly ordered a copy of the premier issue. I had no idea then that this was the beginning of an enduring romance.

Victoria 2The magazine’s mission statement could be summed up in a single line within the pages of that first issue: “A Return to Loveliness”. The editors stated that, “We have looked to the graceful, gracious days of the Victorian era as inspiration for Victoria—for that was the elegant time that brought loveliness to everyday American life.” As a modern-day American girl whose heart was in 19th-century England, I was hooked.

The magazine went from being published twice the first year, to seasonally, to bi-monthly, and finally to monthly in the fall of 1989. The first four issues said Good Housekeeping’s Victoria on the cover, but by the fifth issue it was simply called Victoria. On the cover of the May 1998 issue, the word “Bliss” appeared above the name and has continued to be used in the magazine and on special issues to this day.

Victoria 3Over the years, I have struggled to describe Victoria and how it makes me feel when I read it, but this one word—bliss—sums it up. It’s difficult to categorize the magazine: a mix of fashion and beauty, home and garden, cooking and entertaining, travel, literature, enterprising women, and so much more. There is such a wealth and variety of features in each slim issue that I can savor it over days or even weeks, instead of mere hours.

There have been three Editors-in-Chief of Victoria, each with her own personal style. Under the direction of founding editor Nancy Lindemeyer, Victoria was shamelessly feminine and romantic. When Peggy Kennedy took over with the November 2000 issue, the magazine took on a cleaner, more streamlined look and started featuring longer, in-depth articles on weightier topics. During her tenure, there was an unfortunate redesign of the logo and layout that didn’t seem too popular with readers (myself included), but the content was excellent.

Victoria 4By this time, Victoria had seen me through my difficult college years and was a beloved and constant friend, so I was horrified to discover in 2003 that the publisher, Hearst Corporation, had suddenly and inexplicably shuttered the magazine. After years of badgering Kirsti to subscribe, I’d finally decided to give her a gift subscription when I was told that the June 2003 issue would be Victoria’s last. Without any advance warning for the editors, there would be no farewell issue, no thank you to the loyal readers, no look back at 16 years of loveliness and bliss.

I was devastated. Victoria had been my port in the storm of modern life. Whatever ugliness I witnessed on the news or in the streets could be wiped away by a few minutes spent within the genteel beauty of its pages. I felt as though someone close to me had died.Victoria 5

In the ensuing years, I would regularly flip through my collection of back issues, but I lamented the fact that there would never be another new issue of Victoria. However, unbeknownst to me, there was someone else who felt as I did, and she was in a position to do something about it.

Victoria 6In the summer of 2007, I received a postcard in the mail with the words I never expected to read: Victoria was coming back! Phyllis Hoffman, CEO of Hoffman Media (which publishes Southern Lady magazine, among other titles), had been a huge fan of Victoria and took on the task of bringing it back to life, becoming the third and current Editor-in-Chief. In a true return to loveliness, Victoria resumed publication with the November/December 2007 issue. All was once again right in my world.

Victoria 7The magazine took a little while to regain its footing and become the Victoria I’d known and loved, but after almost eight years, it remains a familiar oasis of loveliness and bliss. The reincarnated Victoria has continued the traditions of a yearly Writer-in-Residence and Artist-in-Residence, as well as annual British- and French-themed issues and one devoted to women entrepreneurs. It is published bi-monthly, but there are special issues seasonally, such as Gardens of Bliss and Holiday Bliss—plenty to provide me with a regular dose of beauty and peace amid the chaos of a rapidly-changing world.

I swoon in my appreciation of Phyllis and all of the editors and contributors who have worked together over the years to deliver the gift of Victoria to its readers (they are Staff Worthy Of Our Notice). I hope you’ll discover the wonders of this magazine for yourself and join me in saying, “All hail Queen Victoria!”

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Victoria Magazine

 

Victoria is available on newsstands and in digital format for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Android devices. The first 208 issues of the magazine (from 1987-2012) can be found on the Victoria Complete Collection DVD, which features two searchable DVD-ROMs that are compatible with both Windows and Mac.