Today, I thought I’d talk about the Heart of the Home . . . which means many things to many people, including me . . . but this is where it all started in my life . . .MUSICA

happy homemom's stove

In the kitchen.  We never took photos of my mom’s stove when we were growing up, we had too many other much more interesting subjects . . . but this is one of the rare ones where the stove insisted on being Dadin the picture, a photo-bomb so to speak.  These are two of my little brothers, Brad on the left and Chuck on the right and the little person in front is my sister Paula.  She’s about one, which means I’m about eleven at the time of this photo.  I grew up with that stove, learning to cook by helping my mom in our tiny kitchen.  This is where my mom and my grandma made Thanksgiving dinner for our big family and where Blogdaddy tasted and approved everything, especially the gravy and the stuffing. He was our own, built-in, Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. (That’s him showing us that if you hold a piece of bread in your mouth when you cut onions, you won’t cry, which didn’t totally solve the problem for me, but it did help; then I learned to hold my breath completely and that helped a little more until of course I had to breathe and then everything went haywire.)


she is beautiful

My stove at home, on the other hand, gets photographed every five minutes. Since I learned to cook on one just like it, this stove says HME to me, my kitchen wouldn’t have felt complete without it.


Just like my mom’s, mine is a 1956 O’Keefe and Merritt . . . two ovens, two broilers, four burners and a griddle.  Back in 1989, when we moved to this house, we found a refurbished one with all the original parts ~ she’s still going after almost sixty years in service.

kitchen linoleum

carrot cupcakes

Just like my mom’s, my stove is prone to photo bombing too.  Here she is, getting in on the action, peeking around the carrot cupcakes . . .


Knowing the power of her lasting beauty, she stands back and confirms the cheesecake, so proud of her accomplishment, as well she should be.


Cheese Blintzes

She slides in next to the cheese blintzes we made for a winter breakfast party, trying hard not to take too much credit . . . but finding it difficult.


I mean, hey, after all, I agree . . . when you got it, flaunt it.

with love from the heart of the home

She’s the Queen of Butter Cookies and she knows it!



She’s back there, warming the kitchen with her magical self, filling it with fragrance of turkey meatloaf making our cup runneth over with gratitude . . .

behind the brownies

Spicing the kitchen with chocolate; we come in from the cold to the smell of “after-school” when she and I make brownies together…



And even poking herself between the spiced pecan-making for the holidays.  My old stove is the Heart of our Home too . . . she’s been a very good girl.

love the dishtowel display unit

Because of the way she makes the house smell, she righteously takes center stage in our kitchen . . . the Heart of the Home, where the action is.

heart of the home

our kitchen

But as you can see here, she is not overbearing, doesn’t take up too much space, never says “me, me, me” ~ like all stoves, she’s a giver,  quietly motherly and elegantly low-key, passionately nurturing. When our electricity goes out on the island (taking our heating with it), there she is, waiting to be put in service.  We close the kitchen doors and cook something by candlelight, heat up the kitchen, make it smell good, and it’s as cozy as can be as the storm rages outside.  That’s our stove. 

my stove As you have probably noticed in all these photos, she’s also a fantastic display unit for dishtowels, worth her weight in gold in so many more ways than one . . .


Because I love dishtowels . . . they’re decorative; they’re a fun and easy project to make, and they perk things up for the holidays or anytime.  She wears them well.

Cozy fall day

Another reason I love my stove so much is for that shelf up top, not a big thing, but a fun little item to have.


It’s not only cute and adds charm, but it’s handy for potholders at the ready . . .

stove top

And gives me one more way to celebrate the seasons as they change . . .

dressing up for the holidays


It takes just moments to go from flowery summer to owly fall; I add a couple of snowy trees, and it’s winter . . .

stove top dressing

And then, it’s Christmas.  I hang my banners there, and see the little snowman in front of the cardboard house on the left . . . we have those houses in our web store . . . they come like a card, you can take them apart and lay them flat.  I’m house-crazy year-round, but especially at Christmas.

Just painted the kitchen

The stove-shelf can actually lay flat if you want to have the ultra clean look, which for me is almost never; I do like clean, but not “ultra.”  Except for when we paint the kitchen, then it’s nice to see it like this.  I love the stove-on-stove look ~

All kinds of old stovesSo much so, I hunted around and found this little stove in an antique store and it’s now pretty much a permanent part of the stove shelf; good for all seasons.

the watcher

Hello Kitty.  While I decorate my shelf this little guy watches my every move from the top of the fridge . . . Girl sleeps through it all on the back of the couch in the “wood room”  

First thing in the morning

The stove is the first thing I go to in the morning, when the world is hushed, her pilot light burning softly . . .


first thing in the morning

. . . on windy days and chilly fall mornings, she warms up the tea kettle . . . my footsteps are the only noise, I take my cup through the house to my studio and start the day . . .

early morning shadows

. . .The sun comes up and casts long shadows, lighting the stove with rays cutting through the trees out back . . .


Yes, all this is good.  But cute is never really enough, is it?  The bottom line is, is she practical? That is the question.  Cute + Practical = Please come live in my house.  Despite practical shelf and dishtowel display, can she cook?  Oh yeah, she can cook.

Amazing pumpkin cheesecake

What better time of year to celebrate the little-white-stove-that-could than Thanksgiving?  She’s the gift that keeps on giving, like this most delicious Pumpkin Cheesecake.  If you’ve never made this, try it this year, you will be so happy you did!  It’s really easy.  I promise!  It’s in the Autumn Book, but click on the name ↑, it’s there too.



Joe at Thanksgiving

And so’s he, by the way, the gift that keeps on giving.  This is Joe pouring off the juices from the turkey so I can make the gravy, the famous (at least in our family) gravy my grandma made . . . Here’s a little tip for . . .

making gravy


Joe and I are away from the Island, in Arizona now, visiting with my darling Blogdaddy (the Daddio that leaves so many interesting comments in our “comment section”) and his wonderful wife Jeanie.  We’re making this gravy (I don’t have the recipe here to put up ~ traveling as we are makes it difficult, I’ll ask Kellee if she can put it on Facebook for you.  If you have the Autumn Book, the recipe for the gravy and lots of other things is in there) for Dad and Jeanie tomorrow night, with all the fixings, and then next week, we’re going back to California to do the same thing with my mom.  We are the bread dryingest people you know right now . . . getting ready to make my Grandma’s Stuffing everywhere we go, like this . . .

setting out the bread to dry

My grandma’s turkey stuffing is easy, it’s made the old-fashioned way with air-dried bread . . . takes about three days for it to dry properly.  When I’m at home, I use my ironing board to lay out the bread in the pantry, so I can close the door, no kitties allowed . . .  I think we may have it laid out all over our luggage in the back of the car on this trip!  Where there’s a will, there’s a way . . .

Grandma's Stuffing

Because we can’t have Thanksgiving without this . . . it doesn’t matter where we are.

making stuffing

Here I am rubbing the sage to drop it into the bread, now mixed with melted butter, sauteed onions, and celery . . . it’s just one of the things we are thankful for, it Heart of the Homesays Mom, it says Grandma, it even says Great Grandma.  Traditions are so important, they make the world a saner place.  Old ones are especially wonderful, so if you don’t have them, remember you can start now and do something the same way every year, and someday, your traditions will be as old and revered as our Grandma’s Turkey Stuffing.  You’ll be able to carry them with you no matter where you go, and make home in any environment.  As you can see, the littlest things can have the greatest meaning.  Connecting your traditions with the five senses, such as warmth and fragrance, makes them even better.  Throw in some MUSICA and a bit of heart and you have foreverness.

What comes from the heart

making cranberry sauce

We’ll make our favorite cranberry sauce too . . . if you have my calendar, you’ll find this recipe hanging on your wall right now! cranberry-sauce

Don’t forget to make extra so you can make delicious Christmas Jam with it ~ that recipe is on your wall too!

making Holiday Jam, cranberry orange marmalade

You put this on buttered toast or biscuits and your taste buds go to the moon, and you get to go along for the ride.

for the memories

So yes, that old stove is the practical of the practical, she’s been bringing people together for a very long time. Still going strong, born about the same time Norman Rockwell painted this lovely picture . . . look at the eye of the man in the lower corner.  I think that’s Norman Rockwell . . . Is he happy, or what?


Touch hands Girlfriends . . .

Touch hands  “Ah friends, dear friends, as years go by, and heads grow gray, how fast the guests do go.  Touch hands, touch hands with those that stay; strong hands to weak, old hands to young, around the Christmas board, touch hands.”  James Patrick Erdman

Bird and heart ... With love from Susan Branch



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Hello from Sunny California! As some of you know, I posted lots of photos of our cross-country train trip on Twitter . . . but I know not everyone is on Twitter, so I thought I’d do a little recap here for those of you who missed it.  I’m posting from our hotel room in Seal Beach, California, starting with MUSICA and a question:

adventure and tea

Let’s do both at the same time! You will need sustenance for this post! I’m not kidding. I would suggest you make a pot! I’ve been working on this post off and on, between visits with my family, early in the morning, getting the photos together, this is my third day . . . and here we go!


So this was me (and Joe), in our train “room with the view” crossing the country the pretty way, from Boston to Los Angeles, “Twittering from the Twain,” a very human, feet on the ground type of travel. And with all the connectivity we have today, it’s very easy to “work” on a train. Not a lot of sketching and painting, because of the train rocking, but almost anything else; knitting, writing in diary, reading, having tea, anything on the computer; all is possible on the train.


We start at dawn on Martha’s Vineyard with a boat ride.  This is what it looks like when the first morning boat comes in, lots of worker bees coming to the island, trucks and cars unloading and loading. I discovered, watching this, that the new-man purse is a cooler.  Almost every guy getting off the boat carried one ~ I figured out it was more than just lunch when I saw someone open his and pull out a hat!  See that cart in the background, upper right ~ when you come and go from the island, you put your luggage on the cart, they drive it on and you can pick up your stuff on the other side. Very sane.  In thirty years, we’ve never had anything go missing.

Joe, loading up the cart

Joe is just finishing putting our luggage on the cart.


off we go

And off we go, 45 min to the mainland.


Arriving in blue-sky Boston at about 10:30 am.


South Station and here’s our stuff, on the cart, ready to board.

South Station. Boston

South Station . . .Boston, USA.


Our other three black bags on the cart behind Joe will be put in the luggage car; we won’t see them until LA.  We of the “bring it all mentality” (if that counts as a mentality) will have these bags in our room.  Joe is in cat-bird seat of joy of travel.  See Club Acela in the background?  That’s where we go to wait for our train.


Anyone who has a room on the train, gets to hang out in the Club Acela (most big cities have them) and drink free cokes and coffee and have free pastries while waiting for the train to arrive.


And here it is.  All Aboard!  Are you ready?  The red cap comes and gets us and our bags, we follow him to the train and he deposits us and our stuff in our room with a view.

zee pillow

This is the viewing perch.  We have brought the necessities of life for train travel.  I’ve been taking the train to California and back since the 1980′s when I realized just how much I did not enjoy the whole flying experience, since, despite appearances these days, I am not cattle, and so I decided to try something else.  And fell in love with the quiet gentleness of it.

slow down


We get settled, hang up our jackets, get out our books, and soon, in the gentlest possible way, the train moves a tiny bit, and then, rocking gently, we lumber out of the station on the first leg of our trip. There are hooks in the room, perfect for hanging these very accommodating French market bags filled with the little extras from home that make life sweet, carrots, oranges, celery and peanut butter, gingersnaps, and somewhere in there, a large chocolate bar. You can see what you want through the holes before you go for it.


I used to only bring an extension cord.  But we had to get over that as we’ve been “gifted” with more and more electric equipment: must have: battery chargers for iphone and camera, cord for computer, then there is the most important of all, the tea pot.


Because what is morning without your own cup of tea in your room with a view?  Minus the normal styrofoam cups. Why? Because we can. Oh, so civilized.


And so here we go . . . with appropriate MUSICA . . . to see how America is looking these days . . . past lakes and rivers . . . it’s



She is looking wonderful, as we ride along roadsides . . .


Passing traffic as we leave the city . . . Where our train, speeding in one direction, and this truck going in the other, gives quite an interesting distortion for the camera.


And then it gets truly beautiful as we head toward Chicago . . . a one-and-a-half-day overnight trip from Boston.



The gentle rocking movement of the train encourages three things, sleeping, eating, and watching out the window.  It is exactly the same sort of “watching” we do when we watch flames in the fireplace, or the Atlantic ocean when we cross on a ship.  Mesmerizing.



It’s fall, in case you didn’t notice!

the world is a garden



East of Chicago, trains are different than the ones on the west side of the country.  The west-side ones are double-deckers, with rooms upstairs and down. The trains on the east are like these, only one level but with high windows.  Doubling the viewing pleasure.

leaf border


What can I say? This part of the country is all rivers and streams, lakes and trees and woods.

back of the train

Our dear conductor did very nice thing and opened back of train so I could take a photo, so I could see it the way Lincoln saw it, or Roosevelt, from their little porches on the backs of trains.  Train travel is our heritage. The history of it is long and interesting.

leaf border


the views from the lounge were spectacular . . .


And so it goes, rocking and swaying down the tracks . . .


And this is the perfect place to do it!


On a very colorful day . . .

what a wonderful world


We are going fast and the late afternoon sun is turning everything gold. Thank you God.

storm brewing

Weather was coming into Chicago, and as we got closer we felt it and saw it . . . I just love this photo.  The train moves so quickly that often you just don’t get the photos you want.  This one was a little miracle.


in the woods

Hill and dale . . .westward we went . . .


It began to rain . . . I loved the way this tree was dropping its leaves. Lots more nature for the viewing down here at people level than at 30,000 feet.  Leaves blow past our window in constant tatters, piles of them flying by too fast for our cameras to catch.


We stop all along the way, night and day, to pick up and let off passengers.


Many streets and neighborhoods look like this.  You often see pumpkins on people’s porches ~



and once, at four AM Halloween morning, we were stopped in a train station somewhere, I looked out the window and saw a witch getting on the train!  Hat and all! No, I did not go looking for her, I stayed tucked in my bed. Next day, Chicago . . .

good witches


And here we are, arriving in Chicago.


Back to Club Acela . . . we were late coming in; so what is usually a six-hour lay-over between trains, was only one. That was good news and bad news.  Bad news: no Michigan Ave for shopping and lunch.  Good news: it was freezing and storming out there, not fit for man nor beast, and we didn’t have long to wait for the next train, the one that would take us the rest of the way, to Los Angeles. 



In the station, amazingly accommodating Red Caps pick you up at the train in these little carts, see the wagon on the back?  That’s our luggage; we sit on the front. They deposit you in the Club Acela, then come back and get you when it’s time to go.  Heaven forbid we should walk the length of a train! Actually we did give our cart up on our way in, to someone who had walking issues, but on the way back, we had it all to ourselves.


And here we are again, in our room with a view, heading west ~ we each have our own window, there is one behind me too.


And just in case you would like to see the dining car, this is it.  It’s where we sit for each meal (if we want to come, they will even deliver it to your room if you ask nicely); meals come with your ticket, but tips are appreciated by the servers.  We are usually seated with perfect strangers from every walk of life, from 747 pilots, to Amish couples, to people traveling through America from other countries, kids going back to college, doctors coming home from conferences and us. Some are very friendly, rarely someone isn’t, but politeness is the name of the game in this room.


Here’s the breakfast menu . . .

get-attachment.aspx  I think they might be lying when they say this is the low-cal choice!  Of course, being the health nut that I am, this is what I had, every day.

too much of a good thing

get-attachment.aspxOn the left, those are two Albuquerque doctors we actually met later that night at dinner; they just happen to be in this picture; and that’s Joe behind them with his camera.  This is the Observation car, speaking of rooms with views.

The thing to do, if you want to travel by train, is get an Amtrak credit card (Chase, Mastercard) … you get points, and travel for free. Oh yes, you do!


Can you imagine? Free! While rocking in your little bed on the train.


there's the moon

And the moon too, and the stars, all from your bed.  There are many in congress who would like to do away with the train system (not the freight part, just the people part).  Over the years I have seen a huge difference as they cut back on everything. Many of our routes have already been discontinued; a few years ago they came this far →.← from taking away the Boston to Albany birdroute, which meant I would have had to drive five hours to get the train in New York to get to Chicago! We were saved by the bell, but it’s a very bare bones route these days, no dining car for one thing; and often not the kind of repairs you would hope to see in the sleeping cars. But many other routes have not fared even this well; they are already starting to put trains in museums.  Some folks have to drive hundreds of miles to get on a train. Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a terrible thing in my opinion . . . and in the opinion of this guy . . . 

the situation

Just a regular person, not an Amtrak employee (fighting for his middle class job), but just someone who cares, who took the time to write this smart letter, make copies and leave them lying around in the lounge car.  I could not agree more.  Even if you will never take the train yourself, I would hope our children could see our world from these windows if they want to. It’s birdvoting day, an appropriate time to think about the stuff that makes America great; personally I vote a straight “I love the train” ticket.  Train lovers love America, they love the middle class. Trains use much less energy than any other form of travel, they could even be updated using our wonderful American we-can-do-it kind of know-how; it costs nothing to drag along a few extra train cars . . . maybe a massage car, or a meditation car, a car for MUSICA, a children’s play room, a library, a tour guide or lecturer, or any old thing; I wish Disney would buy it!  But not to be too picky, if we could at least just keep what we have I would be happy.  The cross-country trains provide much needed down time in this crazy world of ours, that’s something to protect.

FYI, with lve from the Heart of the Home and me.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.


wide open spaces

And now, for your arm-chair training enjoyment, the wide open spaces of the wild and wonderful Mid-West . . .


Skies began to clear, the storm was behind us . . . And here is just a part of the Heartland of our beautiful country.  Falling in Love with the English Countryside?  Now we fall in Love with the American Countryside.



Where generations of families came from all over the world to make a place for themselves; here they farmed the land. I know some would have us believe there is a disconnect between the coasts and the Midwest, but I don’t think so.  So many of us have roots here, my mom was born in Iowa, I think the Iowa in me is my best part!


Here they laid mile after mile of track; we see houses that are so far from each other, we’re pretty sure they must celebrate Halloween at The Grange!  It is not neighborhood door-to-door trick-or-treat around here! But when we have come ‘cross country on the train at Christmas time, we’ve seen every house lined in colored lights. It was touching to see them, those houses, some seemingly in the middle of nowhere, twinkling celebration in the dark, the whole country, lit up cities and towns, pulled together in gratitude.

a picture

another sunset

Another sunset, getting redder all the time, as we go toward Colorado . . . whistle blowing across the land . . .


And stop here in Albuquerque. Sometimes we get off here, get a car at the airport and drive one hour to Santa Fe, then up and over the mountains to see our family in Durango . . .


  It’s always a one-hour layover, they wash the windows and we get to walk and drink in the fresh air . . . and look at the Native American jewelry they sell in the station. 


The dirt in New Mexico is red! The sky is blue, the trees are green and the adobe is either white or brick colored.  It’s very primary out here.

wild and wooly west

And now for the land of sagebrush and rock . . . it’s cowboy country right outside your window . . .


There’s a poem called Out Where the West Begins written in 1917 that sings a song of this part of the country . . .



“Out where a fresher breeze is blowing . . .”


“Where there’s laughter in every streamlet flowing . . .”

IMG_8204  ”That’s where the west begins . . .”

last night

One more of these . . .



And the next morning we come over the mountains to arrive in Los Angeles, our destination, and travel spot for the next three weeks.

oh my

hearts and flowers

Yes, to go away we had to leave these faces for three weeks . . . and it was hard, but our friends, Will and Debby, are staying at our house on the island and sending photos and we know they are in good hands . . . And in exchange . . .

Paden and Mason

We get this . . . for the last two days we’ve been with these faces; my nephews, along with my mom and my sister Shelly ~ and my sister’s twins, Paden, on the left and Mason, on the right.  They are eleven and this is the first time in my life I’ve totally been able to tell them apart. Whew!  Maybe they can now forgive me for all the times I’ve had to say, “Which one are you?”


the boys

Paden on the left, Mason on the right.  Poor things, they don’t know how to have fun. I feel so bad for them.


They helped us move into our hotel . . .


After they finished with the cart . . .


which took a while . . .

the boys helping us

But we finally got it together . . . it’s so nice to have some (extra) men around the house. 


Yes, I know, I’m almost done being delightful. :-) I just want you to know, it might take me a while to get your comments moderated (which I have to do in order to prevent spam from loading up our comment section), but I’ll get there ~ never fear.  We’re off to my mom’s as soon as I get done here. Until then, one small favor? If you could close your eyes for a moment and say a little prayer for Blog Daddy, he doesn’t feel well.  We’re going see him in Arizona on our way home in a couple of weeks, but until then, could you please surround him with your blessings, Girlfriends?  Thank you! You are the best! XOXO to you and a special Muah! to Blog Daddy.

If you don’t have our November Calendar, here’s what you almost missed!  Happy November Girlfriends! XOXO Make it a wonderful one for you and the ones you love.


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