Thursday, December 30, 2021


 and as I had no errands to run, it was a good time to relax and take a virtual road trip down memory lane.  In 2007 we were gone for two weeks (pre-retirement years).  We flew to Seattle from Washington-Dulles Airport, and rode a ferry up to British Columbia.  We planned to drive down as far south as Monterey and Carmel in California. We were looking forward to it as we used to live there in the early 80's.  This post is from part of the southern part of our trip.

We are at Joshua Tree National Park in California.

I have always been drawn to the desert, ever since our first road trip across country.  Gregg was changing duty stations in 1977, from east to west coast.  We had only been married a couple of years at that time, and it was just the two of us.  When we reached the Southwest I was mesmerized.  It was polar opposites to where we live, where it is very lush and green.  But the desert has its own incredible beauty that I found fascinating. 

The red dot on the map below shows Joshua Tree's approximate location in California.

When we went into the visitor center, we saw a large mural showing what we might find in the desert, from fauna to wildlife.
It was very dry as you might imagine, and for east-coasters we were pretty much prepared, except for two things. We had plenty of bottles of water in an ice-chest and sunscreen and a hat with a brim, but a good lip balm/moisturizer would have been beneficial. I forgot about that. I couldn't believe how fast my lips became dry and cracked. Gregg didn't have as much trouble but I was always feeling parched. After this particular day we headed for the first drug store we came across and added lip balm to our supplies.

If you read this sign it will give you a clue as to the second thing I should have been prepared for.  This is the part of our trip I didn't think ahead.

I didn't think about my feet!  I should not have worn flip flops and I had been living in flip-flops since I left Virginia.  I should have worn the type of shoes someone might wear on a construction site, the kind with steel caps in the toes. Maybe a sturdy pair of walking boots or at least a pair of sneakers. That would have been much better. Most definitely I should not have worn flip flops!
Along the marked-out path you find many, many, many fallen needles, and they all seemed to stick into my exposed toes, and those toes were telling me they had run into a porcupine. Whenever we went to the desert after this trip, I made sure my feet were well protected. The city girl from Virginia and country girl originally from the UK, learned a good lesson that day. I dabbed my sore toes with antiseptic cream from the small first-aid kit I had packed before starting out on our journey.  Extraordinary how simple life lessons are learned on these trips.
Gregg wearing good, sturdy sneakers. Such a smart man!
There were French tourists, wearing sandals I noticed, and the children were complaining to their father that he should have told them to wear boots up to their knees. No, I don't speak French but by listening to their 'ouches' and other exclamations along the trail, their imagined conversation spoke to me in volumes.
Cactus with trillions of toe-piercing needles.
But I'm smiling because all joking aside I am having a great time seeing the kind of things I don't get to see in Virginia.  I see lizards in the summer back home, but they are different to this little one, and was a bit bigger.
It is the first wildlife I see in the desert today and it posed very nicely for me.
This was the only bloom I remember seeing here, but probably I didn't know where to look.  (We have since been back to the desert in the spring when everywhere is ablaze with desert flowers.  It is amazingly gorgeous!)
We are looking at Teddy-bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii), and we are at the Cholla Cactus Garden.
There are several that stick out over the path. I can understand why pets are not allowed, not that you would want to bring them out in this heat. 
The Cholla needs to be protected but so do, of course, the dogs.
Another photo of our handsome lizard.
This is a Joshua Tree and I remember it being huge, towering high above our heads.  It can survive for more than 150 years and is only found in a very narrow swath of the Mojave Desert, where elevation and rainfall are optimal.  The Joshua tree is, unsurprisingly, losing its habitat due to climate change.
Those cacti with the long, narrow branches are Ocotillo.  A friendly tourist told me a little bit about them.  He said that if it rained I would be in for a treat. As it turned out, the following day we had a drop of rain. 
We had to return on the same road for a short time, and we went back to that very spot where we had seen the Ocotillo.  It was crowned with the most beautiful red flowers.  Unfortunately, I can't find those but you can see these following photos. They have the most delicate leaves among the thorns.  
The Ocotillo grows to a height of up to 20 feet.  In wet months you will see their delicate green leaves.  (You may remember these photos from when I shared them before.)   There is more information here.
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
~Frank Lloyd Wright~
At this link you will see all kinds of cactus identified with very pleasing illustrations.  
Above is another photo of the Cholla Cactus.  This is the fuzziest-looking cacti which also goes by the name "Teddy Bear".  As mentioned above they are very spiny and if you get too close, those spines will try and hitch a ride on your arm.
The above photo shows a less cropped version of that shown earlier.
I hope you have enjoyed me resharing this trip to The Joshua Tree National Park.  It certainly was a memorable visit back in 2007.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021


I have found such joy in simple things; 

A plain, clean room, a nut-brown loaf of bread...A cup of milk, a kettle as it sings, 

The shelter of a roof above my head,  

And in a leaf-laced square along the floor, 

Where yellow sunlight glimmers through a door.I have found such joy in things that fill 

My quiet days: a curtain's blowing grace, 

A potted plant upon my window sill, 

A rose, fresh cut and placed within a vase; 

A table cleared, a lamp beside a chair, 

And books I long have loved beside me there.

Oh, I have found such joys I wish I might 

Tell every woman who goes seeking far 

For some elusive, feverish delight, 

That very close to home the great joys are: 

The elemental things - old as the race,

Yet never, through the ages, commonplace.

I Have Found Such Joy

Monday, December 27, 2021


For Christmas morning brunch I made a French Toast Casserole with Orange Zest.  It was a big hit with everyone, and I wanted to share it right away before it got lost in the shuffle.  It comes from a blog called "StyleBlueprint For A Life of Style", not a food blog perse and if you take a look you will see what I mean.  The original recipe by Liza can be found on this page.  Thank you Liza!

French Toast Casserole with Orange Zest

1 large loaf of French bread from Panera, sliced and diced (or about 10 cups of one-inch cubed French bread) - Denise's note: I used a large loaf of Challah bread from our local supermarket

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

8 large eggs

1 cup 2 percent milk

1 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Zest of 1 orange

Juice of same orange

2 tablespoons powdered sugar



 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

1 cup chopped bourbon pecans, optional (our host says you can get these from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  I also looked online and there are many recipes to choose from.  I didn't use pecans this time but think I would keep mine plain, maybe  toast them instead.) 

Maple syrup for serving


Coat a 9 x13-inch glass baking dish with butter.

Arrange the bread cubes in the baking dish.

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl.

Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. 

Add the milk, half-and-half, vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest, orange juice and powdered sugar. 

Mix until smooth.

Pour this mixture over the top of the bread cubes and cover with plastic wrap. Chill overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the dish from the refrigerator, remove plastic wrap, and let stand for 20 minutes. Bake 45 to 50 minutes (test by sticking a knife in the center).

This is what it looks like when it first comes out of the oven.  

Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar and chopped bourbon pecans just before serving, if using.

Liza suggests adding the orange flavored icing recipe which I shared below.  (I did not use this time but it sounds delicious.  It was also delicious without.)  Her recipe came from Homemade Orange Sweet Rolls found at this link.


1 cup confectioners' sugar (or more for a thicker glaze)

3 tablespoons orange juice

Fresh orange zest from 1 orange

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix together all of the glaze ingredients and drizzle over before serving. Add more orange juice to thin out, if needed.

I am glad I found this recipe.  It was enjoyed by all of us.  

As I already had a container of whole milk to use in baking over the weekend and wanted to use it up, I decided to replace the 2 percent in the recipe for 1 cup whole milk.  

I forgot to put the fresh fruit on the list, and it was too late to go to the store.  Instead, I found the recipe below for using frozen berries.  At least the intention was there, but I ended up not making it and just used the sliced oranges to go with the casserole.  It was more than enough.  I will enjoy trying the following recipe next time.

We used good old plain Maple Syrup to pour over the casserole.

And for the next time:

Fruit Compote with Frozen Berries

Makes 1 cup 

Serves 4

Calories per serving: 96 calories

Recipe found here.

½ cup frozen blueberries

¼ cup frozen strawberries

¼ cup frozen raspberries

¼ cup raw sugar (you can use 1/4 cup honey instead)

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon butter, unslated


1 tablespoon unbleached flour

Combine blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, sugar, water, and butter in a small saucepan. 

Bring to a boil and cook until berries break down, about 5 minutes. 

Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to thicken until consistency is similar to a chutney or thick jam, adding flour to thicken even more if preferred. 

Serve warm or chilled.


You can use any mix of frozen or fresh berries that you like (blueberries, wild berry mix, strawberries, raspberries, dried cranberries, as long as they equal 1 cup).

Thanks for looking.  I hope your weekend was a great one, and I wish you a great week ahead.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


 This is the last of the Winter Walk of Lights from our favorite botanical garden.  

Here we see more views of the blue trees.  I don't normally go for colors other than the usual Christmas ones that I have known my whole life, the reds and the greens, the golds and the silvers.  However, there was something about these blue trees that I truly loved.  The one below shows the gazebo all lit up to the right of center.  It reminds me of a child's spinning top toy, because of its reflection in the lake.
Another follows of a close up I tried of the lake and those reflections.  I used my phone for all photos at the garden.  Sometimes when I try to 'get closer' by using the zoom, they blur considerably, some worse than others.  This one is a little out of focus but I thought it was charming, and it's a memory of how I took to those swans.  Another bird I am enamored with because I get to see them so rarely.
The Heron's beak is pointing in the direction of the gazebo.    
The frog was nearby and you can see the video below of it 'jumping'.
So, next we went onto where the insects hang out!
 I think the spider would be a great decoration for October 31st, but it was doing a great job here too!  
Even the cicadas made it into the mix.
Nature is represented in every way.
The Gnomes were taking care of everyone also.  
You can see more of them at this post, when I was here in November.  
The garden staff had been hard at work putting these lights up.
We stayed away from the skunks and admired them from afar.
Every part of the walk delighted the eyes.
"I 'toadly' love these lights!"  
Yes, that's a bit of a groaner.
But he 'toadly' does love these lights!
You practically needed sunglasses.  No, not really!
Photos don't really give these displays the justice they deserve.  
'Toadly' love it!  Okay I'll stop now.
The flowers and mushrooms glowed beautifully!
Coming to the end of my post, there are only four photos left to share.  
Such a happy atmosphere!  Everyone was glad to be out and about, little kids and big kids. 
There was even a place where you could get a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.  If you wanted a tasty treat there were S'mores, candy, snacks and more.  We didn't stop for those as we were tired and headed back for the car. 
Even the moon was joining in.  It couldn't have been a more perfect evening, and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously. 

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas!  I wish you the happiest time with your Loved Ones.

To blogging friends who are of other Faiths with your own special celebrations, here in the U.S. and around the world, I wish you the same.  

And may we all experience peace, joy and love in good health and kindness in 2022.

(I will be taking a blogging break but will be back next week sometime.)