YOU and ME and LOUISA, makes THREE

Hi Girlfriends!  Yes!  I had a wonderful birthday, thank you so much for all your well-wishes!  I’m still having it!  Friday is a Girl-Party Lunch on opening-day-for-the-season of a restaurant at the golf course and all the guys are coming too. The birthday that will not end! MUSICA  I heard this on my birthday in the car on the way to lunch and I haven’t been able to stop singing it since, thought I’d spread the wealth.

Birthday

balloonsSpring has sprung, bo-yo-ying around here!  It’s so wonderful to have an April birthday! Look at my flowers! Gorgeous! This is why I love birthdays.  My mom called, my dad, my brothers and sisters, my friends.  That’s my favorite thing, those calls. ♥  My cup runneth over.

Parrot tulips

These parrot tulips are from my friend Marjorie. We do have daffodils just about to pop in the garden, but it’s still very very early spring.  Lovely sun and around 60* today, but no flowers except on my kitchen table.

Gerbera daisy

Even a gerbera daisy for my little vase ~ still can’t believe Joe found this little blue bottle in the hole he dug out back for our dogwood tree. People ask me where I got it, I say it came with the house. I don’t know which I like better, the dogwood, or this little bottle!  (OK, the tree, but only by a hair.)

birthday party

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We went for a walk on my birthday and it was gorgeous out there.  This probably doesn’t look that great to you, winter worn sunand still no leaves, but it was heaven ~ cool breeze but nice warmish sun. When you’ve been indoors for a long time, there aren’t words for how fresh it all seems. Smell of ocean, thawing ground, blue sky, and the birds have lost their little pea-picking minds! Chasing each other through the trees ~ singing so loud, we have to stop the whole way out and look to see what they are up to.

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My walk is my best “thinking place.”  I try to remember to carry pencil and paper with me so if an idea pops into my head, I can write it down and not forget. When I get home I run to the studio to see how it fits into my writing.

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to the water

 This day we ended up laying flat on the cold sand (in coat and jacket, very cozy, it’s not summer yet!), letting the sun bore into us for about ten glorious minutes, listening to the sound of the waves, the wind and the peeps of the birds, watching the sky ~ of course I had a thought I wanted to write down ~ I dug around and found a pen, but neither of us had any paper! (Or phones either!)

notesThat’s when a white seashell comes in very handy!

Progress on the book (because you’ve been so patient about the blogging part  which I love you for, very, very much!) has been good! This is the longest story I’ve ever written ~ in order to get all the photos in, it has to be two books. I get so excited I can’t stop ~ when I’m in writing mode, I try to stay focused and not do anything else but write.  But both books are done and at the copy editor as of April 12th!  He’ll have them for a month, in the meantime, I’ll be doing the watercolors for them.  I’m trying so hard to get them to you by Christmas, but I still have a ton of artwork to do.  My birthday has jumped between me and my paintbrush this week, but soon I’ll be free to burrow down and focus again.

Tickle-me pink  Once I got going, these books pretty much fell out of me.  They’re not exactly memoirs because I changed a few things to susan branch diariesprotect the innocent (mostly me of course :-), but they are  fact-based ~ on the diaries I’ve kept since I was in my twenties ~ I would say it’s an 87% true story, at least “semi” autobiographical and a novel rather than a memoir, two novels! I think you will love them. Remember Diana, my best friend in A Fine Romance?  Remember how funny she was?  Well, she and I laugh all the way through the new books. It’s so hard for me not to tell you the whole story.  But I want it to be a surprise so tell me to shut up.

birthday party

susan branch 2016 wall calendar

Thank you. I needed that. :-) And this was waiting for me on my Birthday too. The color preview of the new 2016 wall-calendar ~ also, the mini, the purse calendar, the magnet and the desk blotter calendars came too. Everything bright and shiny and new.  We should have them by the end of July if not sooner.  And even more good news, Kellee called to tell me . . .

reasons to go on living

that REASONS TO GO ON LIVING prints have come in and are in the web store.  I think she announced it on Facebook, but I promised I’d tell you when we got them.  

And, you may be asking, what did I want for my birthday? You can  see it was already a Red Letter Day ~ but my special birthday present was . . .

IMG_0683This.  I wanted to go to Louisa May Alcott’s house and take you with me.  So that’s exactly what we did yesterday.  Joe and I packed the car for a day trip along the backroads to Concord, MA ~ a town famous for lots of reasons, probably number one, because it’s where the first conflict of the Revolutionary War took place. And, it’s also famous for Orchard House (c. 1690), the house where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.

birthday party

Stay

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Speaking of memoirs that turn into novels; we learned so much on our visit . . . for one thing, Little Women is 87% true too ~ Louisa changed names, places, and times to make it more of a “story,” but it was truly based on her life, friends and family. It was so much fun learning about her real sisters and seeing how much they had in common with the characters, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth.

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And here at the front door, you can see the perfect reflection of spring . . . tiny leaves about to burst.

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In the orchard, one or two of these brave flower souls.

spring fever

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Louisa’s dad made this “desk” for her ~ this is where she wrote Little Women.  It was considered quite something in 1865 for a woman to have a desk of her own. I am so glad she did!

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”   Louisa May Alcott

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The table where Jane worked

But look at this desk, it’s even smaller, this is where Jane Austen wrote during the most prolific time of her life in early 1800’s.  At this tiny desk.  I don’t know how these girls did it. I always ask, “How did they do it, were there piles of paper all around them on the floor?”  But no one knows.

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susan branch studio

 This is where I write . . . I live in the Paperless Society, my trash is full and my floors are always covered with little bits and piles of book everywhere that we all have to step around. With all this space I have no excuses for not getting it done! One thing Louisa and I have in common, until I get it done, I will find no peace either.

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working in the living room

My work in the paperless world leaks out of the studio to the back of the sofa and right now, the table in the living room is covered with photo albums!  Jack is king of the room, everything he surveys is his. I don’t know how he gets up there!

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This was my favorite thing at Orchard House, that owl over the fireplace in Louisa’s bedroom (where the desk is too). Her sister May (the artist, Amy, in Little Women) painted it.  When she was young, the Alcott’s encouraged May to draw anywhere in the house she wanted to, many walls are adorned with her art. She also painted the flowers next to Louisa’s desk.

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Louisa collected owls. Isn’t this just the most wonderful thing?!

May Alcott at Orchard House

Besides line drawings, there are also some amazingly beautiful framed pieces belonging to May. She was quite highly regarded.  BTW, Those are needlepointed foot warmers on each side of the fireplace; the tops come off and you fill them with coals!

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Almost everything in the house actually belonged to the family.  You are seeing the real thing when you go to Orchard House.

alcott dishes

A cupboard in the kitchen.

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They made the house so homey.  It opened to the public in 1911 ~ keeping all of the history and originality has been a work of love for over a hundred years, for generations.

alcott quilt

This quilt was on Marmee’s Bed, she made it.  And they did call their mother Marmee.

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Louisa’s sewing box, with needles and thread. 

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And Beth’s piano.  Not really.  But when I came in this room, tears came in my eyes.   The piano belongs to Louisa’s real sister, Elizabeth.  Like Beth, Elizabeth died very young at only age 16.

piano at orchard house

That’s Elizabeth in the picture. It’s all seems to come alive.

from the Concord Museum

I think I will stop there.  Next time I want to show you some of the houses in Concord because they are GORGEOUS.  This scene is actually a model made in 1930 . . . we saw it in the Concord Museum, so there’s lots more.

Birthday game

This is the birthday game my girlfriends and I play ~ we call it the “Ring Thing.”  We drop our rings over the candles, light them and then everyone gets to make a wish.  Let’s do that girls, let’s all make a wish.  Think of a wonderful wish, I’ll count to ten.  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  OK, now very slowly, close your eyes and make your dearest birthday wish . . . and send all of your lovely thoughts right to heaven along with mine. XOXO 

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DAFFODIL SUNDAY & EASTER

Daffodil Sunday and Easter are both on Sunday this year.  How perfect that they’re together! MUSICA

spring

snowdrops

Our snowdrops are finally up!  I know most of you are way past the snowdrop stage, but our spring is coming very slowly this year.

I thought, since it’s almost Easter, and it really is spring, I would give you my recipe for the easiest Bunny Cake in the world, in case you need something fast, but festive, kid-centric, and of course, delicious!

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bunnycake

pink-flowers

Bunny cake

A couple of our Girlfriends sent photos of their finished Bunny Cakes, I thought you’d like to see ~ So creative! Dried apricots for teeth!

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Bunny Cake

Love the carrot!  Mini-marshmallow teeth!  You can tell they had fun decorating! If you make one, try to post it to my Facebook Page; we’ll love to see it!

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bunny cake

The great thing is the Bunny Cake doesn’t require any special equipment, just two 8″ cake pans and some jelly beans!

lambcake mold

But if you would still like to have a Lamb Cake, we have some lamb molds left in our web store.  It’s such a special cake for a Spring Tea, Mother’s Day or a Baby Shower. (Lots of lovely tried-and-true Tea Party recipes in the “Spring Tea” link ~ choose the one you like on the teapot and click on it.)

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spring

 

I told you Spring is coming very slowly here, this was our first day of spring on Martha’s Vineyard.Welcome to my world.

Daffodowndilly

Yes, but when?

snowdrops

And here they are, bless their hearts, demonstrating the thwarting of reality!

Reality

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snowdrops They have risen above!  I have to tell you, that cold dirt smelled like heaven! Aren’t they wonderful!  Like clockwork!

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in front of the fireWe have to rise above reality too, because it is definitely not time to put away the coats and jackets.

Jack in the kitchenDespite the lovely morning light and the adorable kitty, we still need to keep the house cozy, and keep ourselves warm . . .

Joe in the warm laundry

Clean clothes, warm from the dryer, is a most delicious way to keep warm! 

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And then there’s this way ~ with a mixing bowl and a 375º oven  . . . for some

home cooking

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I thought I’d show you my recipe for Rhubarb Crisp.  This is not a fancy dessert, but it’s perfect for a family dinner, wonderfully seasonal, old-fashioned and delicious. And so easy!

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I’ll put the recipe at the end so you can print it out.  First you make the Topping ~ with oats,  brown sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and softened butter.

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Crumble it together with your fingers until it looks like this, then set it aside.  Wasn’t that fast?  See what I mean?

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Then you make the Rhubarb Filling   I measured my rhubarb stalks to give you an idea of how much to buy, each stalk was 18″ ~ the recipe calls for 5½c. chopped rhubarb ~ and we used three stalks.

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I chopped them into ¾” pieces . . .

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measured them . . .

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And put them in a mixing bowl, along with flour, sugar, cinnamon and the zest of one orange.  Mixed well . . .

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and stirred in a quarter cup of fresh squeezed orange juice.

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Beautiful!  The rhubarb exuded juices and made a wonderful orangey-cinnamon sauce.

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Spread the rhubarb filling into a buttered 8″ square baking dish . . . sprinkle over the topping . . .

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And pop it in the oven for thirty minutes until golden brown and bubbly.

Tufted Titmouse

While the Rhubarb Crisp was baking I looked out at the feeders and found we had a visitor I hardly ever see ~ a Tufted Titmouse!  Such a cutie, with those pale peach feathers under his beak and wing and those big round eyes, not to mention the hair-do!  He’s very shy and very quick, zipped in for a seed and right out, fast as a hummingbird. I was lucky to get this picture.

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Girl Kitty

Since I had the camera, I thought, Hello Girl Kitty! She’s shy too, but not so fast.

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The timer went off, I pulled the bubbling hot crisp from the oven. It made the kitchen smell wonderful and kept it warm for our “spring” day that’s so much like winter it’s really hard to tell the difference. But then, I didn’t really care anymore!

cooking is an art

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You can serve it hot with vanilla ice cream, or cold with whipped cream.  I made it for a dinner party ~ for our friend Peggy’s birthday.

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peggy's birthday

But we also had a gluten-free guest in our midst, so we tried something new and it worked.  We made a mini ice-box cake, the kind you make with whipped cream and the thin chocolate wafer cookies?

flowers (If you’ve never made one, the Ice Box Cake was what my mom always took to Baby Showers in the 1950’s and it’s DELICIOUS.  Just spread whipped cream between Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer Cookies, stack together and cover with more cream and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.)  In this case, we tried it with chocolate-chocolate-chip gluten-free cookies, and it really turned out good!

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bunny boy somebunny

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So there you go my Girlfriends. Some bunny does love you!  Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Happy Easter and Happy Daffodil Sunday!

Sammy and SashaI thought I’d let our Studio kitties say goodbye from California . . . on the left is Sammy, and on the right is Sasha. . . Kellee and Sheri dressed them up for St. Patrick’s Day! Aren’t they adorable?  Even better in person!

hatI also wanted to thank you for all the lovely comments for my friend Margot Datz, her darling elf, her precious gnome and the naked leprechaun ~ and her wonderful art!  There are so many talented hardworking people out there who we don’t get to hear enough about so XOXOXO to all of them too!  I especially wanted to thank you for taking the time to “like” Margot’s Facebook Page.  She has thanked me every single day, and so I have to thank YOU.  You have made the day of someone very wonderful. And mine too.  But what else is new? XOXO Love You!

flowers OLD FASHIONED RHUBARB CRISP

8 servings                375º

IMG_0582TOPPING

  • ½ c. flour
  • ½ c. oats (regular oatmeal)
  • ¾ c. brown sugar (packed)
  • ¾ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • ⅓ c. butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375º.  Mix Topping ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Use fingers to make it crumbly.  Set aside and make the . . .

IMG_0617FILLING

  • 5 ½ c. rhubarb, cut into ¾” cubes (3-5 stalks)
  • ¼ c. flour 
  • 1 c. sugar
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • zest of one orange
  • ¼ c. fresh squeezed OJ

In a large bowl, mix rhubarb with the dry ingredients.  Add zest and OJ and stir well; pour into a buttered 8 x 8″ baking dish.  Sprinkle topping over rhubarb evenly.  Bake 30 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.  Serve hot with vanilla ice cream, or cold with whipped cream.


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