We writers are expected to wear two hats, that of an introvert who retreats to her writing cave and excels in words, phrases, and commas; and that of an extrovert, a flamboyant artist who tells tales and binds an audience under her spell. And sometimes, we’re expected to wear both hats at the same time.

This summer and fall, I couldn’t wear both hats and meet my publication deadline for the final book in the trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Something had to go, and that something turned out to be this blog. My sincere apologies to my followers.

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My lowly gardening and pool hat and my expressive roaring twenties hat. I failed to wear both at the same time.

Last Monday, The Long Way Back went on the press in Anaheim, and since then, I’ve donned my extrovert hat. I’ll be launching the book after it’s printed.

Meanwhile, here are photos from the press check:

 

 

 

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My book designer, Alfred Williams of Multimedia Arts, and the owners and staff of LightSource Printing have been wonderful! I can’t wait to unveil the gripping conclusion to my nautical trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Coming soon to Amazon and www.LoisJoyHofmann.com.

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Layering a buffet table works well for many reasons. This technique makes the best use of limited space—ideal for a condo, apartment or yacht. It establishes an inviting “come-to” zone where guests can freely help themselves again and again. Besides, we all know that three-dimensional buffets are always a better way to display yummy foods, condiments and desserts!

For many years, I considered using this approach for our annual Parade of Lights holiday party; this year I finally took the plunge. First I researched the subject by surfing YouTube, where I found professional chefs and party-planners dispensing advice. Then I scaled it all down to suit my needs.

Here’s what I learned:

Take a good look at the table or surface you will use. Does the location allow for walking around or past it without guests bumping into each other? Can you move it to a better location? I decided that I didn’t have sufficient room in my condo for walking around the dining table, so I decided to push it near the wall, leaving a milling-around-and-line-up area for guests.

Buffet table with tablecloth and tree skirt over risers.

Determine a party theme and color scheme and for your venue. Because my party is held in mid-December, an obvious choice was a Christmas theme. I chose shades of red and green, with a little white for contrast. I love flower arranging! Using fresh flowers and greens purchased at Wholesale Flowers, I made six bouquets, all using the same basic scheme.

Search for items to use for layering; you probably have them in your home. I selected a riser from my linen closet and used stacks of books for the rest. This was a good solution for me—I always have to find somewhere to stash books during a party! Then I selected a large green tablecloth and used a burgundy-red tree skirt for contrast. 

Table set-up.

Place one table covering flat on your table, then add stacking materials.  Cover with the top cloth (or tree skirt in my case), bunching it up like the professionals do. I scattered a few evergreen branches to peek out of the “valleys” between the risers, added three matching small arrangements—short so they won’t obscure the view of the food—then placed a tall bouquet back by the wall. Voila! I was all set.

To eliminate last-minute chaos, place a note on each dish that describes what will go into it.  I placed another stack of serving dishes in the kitchen, for use by those bringing appetizers. I placed a three-tiered stand on the counter, to fill later and replenish the buffet after the parade of boats had gone past our balcony.

Buffet table set against wall.Lois with guest at buffet table.

The layering plan worked out well. I would use it again! Layering made good use of limited space and I thought it made the table more appealing. Of course, I did need some “muscle men” afterwards to put the table back in place!

Have you used buffet layering techniques? How did they work for you?

Recently, conversations during my AquaFit class at the Y have been about water. Not the water in the outdoor pool, but the lack of water due to California’s 4th year of drought. We dream up new solutions: “Let’s pipe in water from the Columbia River. Use up some of that extra rain that falls on Washington and Oregon.”

“The new desalination plant in North County is coming on-line this fall. That’ll eventually give San Diego County about 10% or so of the water we’ll need. We should build more plants.”

“But running it takes a lot of power, and that comes from fossil fuels.”

“Northern California wastes the water that could be sent south to farmers. They’re protecting the delta smelt by letting it run back into the ocean and draining reservoir lakes to protect a few steelhead trout.”

“Los Angeles wastes water too. 65% of the city is covered in asphalt and concrete, so storm water can’t seep into the ground water. Yet their flood-control system shunts enough water into the ocean to supply water to half a million people. So where do they take water? From the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado river we all use.”

We don’t spend much time in Southern California gossiping about the weather (because it’s always pretty much the same). Here we ruminate about water. As Joan Didion wrote in her classic essay collection The White Album, “Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is.” San Diego recycles part of its city water supply in a program called “toilet to tap.” Now they changed the name of the program to “pure water” for obvious reasons, but I do not think reverently about the water coming out of our taps.

I’ve just completed a gardening project as head of our HOA (home owners association) landscaping committee. Our focus has been on xeriscaping and installing a dry creek as a “water feature” in front of the condo building. Because water rationing will only increase as the drought drags on, the creek will of course, contain no water.  What a contrast to the creek I installed last summer at our lake home in Wisconsin! That creek will funnel water off the yard because we have too much.

Dry creek using blue stones to contrast with the multicolor landscaping stones

Many California residents didn’t know what the term “xeriscaping” meant until Governor Brown used the word in his water-rationing speech last week, announcing that California municipalities will henceforth use 25% less water. Xeri means dry, as in Xerox®, i.e., dry copy. Xeriscaping is a landscape method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that uses drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation, such as the underground drip method. (Midwest and German friends, you don’t need to know this.) Our HOA committee boned up on xeri and now we’re proud to be ahead of the game. Our drought-tolerant trees, plants, and flowers now stand proud among multi-colored rocks, boulders and pebbles; and our dry creek, filled with smooth, blue river stones, winds around palms from the building foundation to the street, where it won’t leave one drop of precious water.

Palm trees used in xeriscaping

Last fall, I returned from lush Wisconsin with its 50 shades of green to parched, brown yards in San Diego. I told my friends about how I had to slope and drain that lot so that it flowed into a “rain garden” and then into White Ash Lake. Their reaction to my blog How to Drain a Wet Lot,” was “duh.” When I return to Wisconsin in May, I know I’ll find the same reaction when I describe our xeriscaping project to my neighbors there. The rainfall in Polk County in one month, June of 2014, was 9.5 inches; San Diego’s rainfall for that one year was 5 inches, 50% of normal.

For more on California’s water wars, go to http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/18/drought-look-ahead/

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/17/sacramento-drought-california-environment-water/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-beat-the-drought-l-a-looks-to-nature-for-help-1429199299

http://www.wsj.com/articles/californias-water-woes-are-priceless-1429051903

I’m reminded that spring is here when I hear the birds chirping outside my bedroom. A pair of house wrens have a made a nest in my trumpet vine, protected under the eaves. They have only two babies to feed this year. Another couple perch on the balcony railing, chatting away—probably deciding where to build their own nest—until the new parents screech and chase them off. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

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Spring is often the birth of new beginnings for Gunter and me as well. During the eight years of our circumnavigation, spring often brought the sailing season. It was during the spring of 2002 that we embarked on our longest voyage, from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands—twenty-one days at sea. “This will be a voyage of risk, of that I am sure, but I suspect it will also be one of renewal and reward,” I wrote.  I knew that we would never regret taking off to sea in our 43-foot catamaran, because I believed that we would eventually achieve our mission to sail around the world. And we did. It took us eight long, but rewarding, years.

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“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams,” said John Barrymore. Continuing to fulfill our dreams after retiring is what keeps us young.

Accomplishing much, whether it’s sailing around the world or something else, takes planning… and courage…and dreams. So I don’t fault the Kaufmans for wanting to achieve their dreams. But great gain also involves great risk. How much risk is too much is a question only they can answer. They had to suffer the setback of being rescued and sinking their sail boat, their home for eight years. That’s enough already. I wish them well.

It has to be done. It’s all part of the process. An author agonizes over writing every line of the book manuscript. Then he or she fusses about the editing, the formatting, the layout, the cover. When all that creative work is finally completed, the author—an introvert during this time, working in PJs—is forced to change roles and to promote his or product, first to get it published, and then to get it sold.

I’d gone through the process once, but that didn’t make it easier the second time around. Because now, with two books on the market and a third book still “in creative,” I’m expected to take on both roles, sometimes within the same day: donning my “presentation clothes” and my smiley face to promote the first two of the series, and then changing to my PJs and trying to get into my creative mode. Schizophrenic? You bet!

This spring, I presented at the Pt. Loma Optimists Club, MOAA (Military Officers Association) check exact name, Southwestern Yacht Club, Pacific Beach Library, and Upstart Crow in San Diego; and at Changing Hands bookstore in Phoenix. I exhibited at Strictly Sail Oakland (the largest sailboat convention on the West Coast), at the SCWC booth at the L.A. Festival of Books, and participated in the downtown library’s Local Author Exhibit. I gave on-line interviews and two podcasts: The Sailing Podcast by David Anderson, an Australian, and The Gathering Road on Women’s Radio, by Elaine Masters.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my last presentation on the Spring Author Tour, at West Marine on May 10th, was over.  I can’t say I enjoyed all the organizing, setting up the displays, and hauling those heavy books (over 2 pounds each) to various venues! Always, before I speak, I worry about forgetting what I want to say. So I update my cards, tailoring them for each event. But when I begin to speak, I relate to my audience and my stage fright dissipates. I just go with the flow. I wrote this nautical series because I wanted to share. I realize that when I speak, I’m still sharing, but in another way.

Gunter also frets over whether the computer and projector will work. But at the end, he loves interacting with audiences! The Q&A afterwards is our favorite part. Why? Perhaps it’s because we haven’t lost the love for that surge of adrenalin that occurs when one is living on the edge. We never know what question will lead to yet another revelation about adventure travel.

Audience questions challenge us and perk up our lives. And many of those we meet become our readers and our friends.

Here are a few photos from my Spring Author Tour. To see more, please visit my author Facebook page.

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How I love spring!

Even in San Diego, we do have the seasons. The signs of spring are subtle here, but they are evident: the days last longer; college students on spring break flood the streets with energy; and a pair of house finches flits back and forth, building a nest in my trumpet vine. My favorite sign of spring is flowers—they are blooming everywhere!

Gunter and I attended Orchids by the Sea, an annual rite of spring at the Scottish Rite Temple last Sunday. I was in heaven!  Orchids are my favorite flower.

First, I walked through the huge show hall, checking out all the displays. Elegant Phalaenopsis, moth orchids, cascaded like waterfalls from tall stems. Cymbidiums, commonly used for spring corsages and easy to grow as a patio plant in Southern California, were available in many of the booths. Miltonia, pansy orchids, were new to me. Vandas take up a lot of space and require full sun; that wouldn’t work for me. But I can grow Oncidiums. They require less humidity than other orchids. I love their tall, delicate stems and blossoms. By far the most stunning and sensual orchids are Paphiopedilum, lady’s slippers; they originate in the jungles of Indonesia.

Second, I attended a class on how to keep and fertilize orchids when they’re blooming and when they’re not. The lecturer repeated advice I often tell my friends: “Don’t worry about killing orchids. Buy them and just enjoy the bloom, which will last for six weeks.  You could pay for—and throw out—cut flowers three times and easily equal the cost of one multi-stemmed orchid. So try to keep the plant until it blooms again, but if it doesn’t, you haven’t lost a thing. Above all, don’t feel guilty!”

Third, I purchased an assortment of orchids for half price. Such a deal! I invite you to view my orchid show albums and my home display in the albums below:

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Part I of the “Northern Bliss/Heritage Home” blog series

August 2012, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin

“What will happen to all your beautiful flowers when we leave here in three weeks?” Gunter asks as he watches me just a’diggin’ in the dirt.

I’ve been gardening for over two hours this morning. Enhancing the flower gardens here at our lake home is more than just a chore.  I am returning to my roots. I was born in Polk County, Wisconsin—in Cushing, less than 30 miles from here.

I set my tools down and move my kneeling pad over to the next clump of weeds to be pulled. “Leave? I’m just settling in, marking my territory.”

Digging in the dirt has become a compulsion since we moved many of our belongings from San Diego in mid-July.

“This reminds me of carrying pails and pails of water for my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens,” Gunter answers.  He points to the foxgloves. “The flowers in Bavaria were very similar to these. Only the flowers had different names.”

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Huge hydrangea

Tiger lilies grow well in Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to explain this drive to dig in the dirt, to go back to one’s roots. The compulsion comes from deep within and the process provides deep satisfaction. And when I’m all tired out, my chores completed for the morning, Gunter says I always return with a smile on my face. So it must be good for me.

Even though I’ve been a sailor throughout much of my life, and made my home on the sea for eight years, as a farmer’s daughter, the need to return to the land is a primal instinct. This is not unusual. Captain Cook, who sailed farther than any man had sailed before, retired on a farm in England near where he grew up, that is, until he was called back to sea again for his final voyage.

This land also provides for me a sense of completion. My family lost its dairy farm to foreclosure after the dreaded Bang’s Disease swept through the herd and the milk could not be sold. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I never had an opportunity to say good-bye to that land. It all happened so fast. Perhaps that created a longing in me that I’ve buried as deep as the foxgloves I have planted here.

If so, that longing didn’t surface until I attended my 50th class reunion in St. Croix Falls in September, 2010. I rarely attended reunions, and may not have come to this one had not my granddaughter scheduled her wedding the week prior. During the event, a classmate of mine asked me, “Are you here to look at a summer home?” Her question startled me. “Lake homes here are selling for half of what they were before the 2008 crash.”

That comment set the process in motion.

For the next two days, Gunter and I drove through the countryside admiring the fall foliage.  “I love all the deep blue lakes, the lush rolling hills, and the wonderful colors. It reminds me of my own roots in Bavaria,” Gunter exclaimed.

“That’s probably why so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin,” I replied.  “They must have thought the same thing.”

“Lots of FOR SALE signs around here,” he noted. “Interested?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Yes! The home should be here in Polk County.”

Now why did I say that? I’ve never even thought of buying a home here. Not sure I want this. Too many memories—not all of them pleasant.

But the die was cast. Actually, the die had been cast two years earlier, when we completed our world circumnavigation. The planned trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss,” would cover the eight years of our sailing adventures. But even then, I thought about writing a book about what happened in the years before we left to go sailing.

During presentations promoting the first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, many readers asked about our lives before sailing. That would make an interesting story: how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who wanted to escape her past and succeed at business and a boy from Munich who loved math and science meet each other—after many wrong turns in life—and become soul mates?

What would I need to do to write such a book?

I would need to pick up the dialect I’d forgotten. I would need to stay where I grew up for a while to re-acquaint myself with the farming culture again, to regain that sense of place.

OK, I can do that!

Beware of setting a goal. It just may have a way of happening before you know it! I had only a goal. I had no strategy in mind, not even a plan. My writing goal, however, seemed to fit with our shared goal of providing ways to keep our families in touch with each other. Since both of our parents died, Gunter and I have taken seriously the responsibilities of being the matriarch and patriarch of our respective families. We sponsor family reunions where all the children, grandchildren and cousins can get together. Could having one central property for those reunions—sort of a Heritage Home—work for us?

The following year, 2011, we organized a family reunion by renting a cabin on the shores of Balsam Lake, the largest lake in Polk County, to market test the idea.

If we build it, will they come?

It worked!  During the main event, a barbeque on the cabin’s big deck, I counted 28 attendees; they were all related. So the search for an appropriate lake home began.

If it all proceeds smoothly, it’s meant to be.

By the time we left the cabin, Gunter and I had made an offer on a home on nearby White Ash Lake.  After returning to San Diego, and negotiating back and forth, we soon found ourselves the proud owners of a family home.

But the task of remodeling it to make room for our four children and their spouses, five grandchildren (two with spouses), and two great grandchildren was just beginning. We would knock out three walls to make a massive Great Room. I planned the kitchen and dining area to seat 17, the patios to seat 16 and all the bedrooms—including a bunk room we would build—to sleep 16, with space for additional air mattresses. Not all would always come at the same time, but there are always a few extras in any gathering! I am the eldest of ten (nine living), visits by siblings needed to considered as well.

As my readers know by now, Gunter and I love to travel! We had already committed to two international trips—to India and South America—when we purchased the home. In between trips, Mike, my son-in-law, and I managed the remodeling (he did most of the work himself). It was an amazing process and a tight schedule, but a mere two hours before the first visitors arrived in July, the carpet had been laid in the bunk room and the bunk beds installed! (For those readers asking why the India and South America travel blogs remain unfinished, this is my excuse. They will be completed sometime this winter!)

When all the hub-bub becomes too much, I retreat to my garden to dig in the dirt. The birds chirp merrily as they perch on their feeders and splash in their birdbath. The breeze whispers through the pines, birch and oak—so different from the palms in Southern California. And across our dead end street near the woods, a doe stands and stares, daring me to chase her from my hostas.

Life is good here.

She dares me to chase her away from my hostas

 

Yellow Goldfinch at the bird feeder