Streets of Saint-Tropez

In 2000, I studied in Cannes, France, during my junior year of college. I had the best time, and made some of my closest friends during this semester. I traveled a lot around Western Europe and also got to know most of the towns along the French Riviera when I was there, though had never passed through Saint-Tropez.

This summer, it was the penultimate stop on our cruise, and we spent a very quick several hours around the port, old town, citadel, and Place des Lices market. I didn’t take many photos — here are a few:


Images taken with an iPhone 7. Follow me on Instagram @cherilucasrowlands.

Exploring Italy

It’s week three of my sabbatical. I’m loving this time off.

I continue to sift through photographs from my time in Europe, which seems so long ago. Currently where I live, mornings are chilly, yellow leaves have covered our yard, and the air still smells of smoke from the fires just east (my home is safe). And so it feels like we visited Rome, Florence, Positano, and Sorrento ages ago . . .

Looking out to sea in Positano, a cliffside village on southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast. While congested and crowded and probably not a place I’d spend a longer vacation, it certainly is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever passed through.
A colorful staircase in central Positano. No one was taking photos of these steps, which I thought was odd—they’re so fun!
Another view overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea in Positano on the Amalfi Coast.
Looking down on the shore in Sorrento in southwestern Italy, on the Sorrentine Peninsula.
Details of a wall in an alley in Sorrento.
The magnificent Florence Cathedral—a building I’ve seen in person several times, but the sight never gets old.
Ponte Vecchio in Florence, a bridge spanning the Arno River.
Art on a street corner in Florence.
The Duomo atop the Florence Cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
A pole along the river near Ponte Vecchio. I took this exact photo 20 years ago in 1997—and again in 2000.
The Roman Colosseum.
Street art in Rome.
One of the many lovely narrow streets in Trastevere, Rome.
Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) in Rome.
A colorful wall on Via Della Paglia, Trastevere.
A door in Trastevere, Rome (to add to my ever-growing photo collection of doors…)

Images above taken with an iPhone 7. My last post shared photos from Taormina separately. Follow me on Instagram @cherilucasrowlands.

From Summer to Fall

Salvia, lemon verbena, thyme, Mexican sunflower, marigold, sage, catmint . . .

This summer, I planted my first vegetable garden.

I have ten raised beds of vegetables and herbs on my little half-acre homestead, all green, lush, and thriving. Out of all the vegetables we planted, only one failed to grow properly: the fennel. Luckily we only had two bulbs; I might have cried if we’d planted an entire bed, only to have all of them fail. Their stems stood tall and their fronds grew out of control — incredibly bushy — but their bulbs never enlarged, never grew into the things that I recognize from the grocery store.

But I realized that’s okay. This season was the first time I’d planted any vegetable in my entire life, and for nearly all of them to flourish? That’s amazing. I thank the continuously sunny weather here in West Sonoma County, the water, the soil. Oh, and the magic fungi, Mykos mycorrhizae, which I believe is the secret to our bounty.

People see the garden and assume I have a green thumb. They think I’m a gardener, a farmer. I’ve kept a few succulents, a basil plant, and a pot of mint in my life. That’s it. So I’m not really sure where this green thumb came from, or perhaps I had it all along, and I just never had the opportunity — nor the land — to exercise it.

It’s a neat feeling: to be successful at something new. Routine, perhaps apathy, can take over me for long periods of time, and I suppose that’s the case for many people. And I very much welcome the hobbies I’ve taken on the past few years that do not require a laptop — gardening, cooking, taiko drumming, exercising. It has led to a shift away from blogging and writing, which in some ways is unfortunate, but it has opened up new opportunities to learn and find satisfaction. Because while my job requires me to be online, there’s a hard line there — if I’m not working, I don’t want to be in front of a computer at all.

Mexican sunflowers (tithonia). Butterflies love these!

This Monday, October 2, marks the beginning of my sabbatical — a three-month period of paid time off from work at Automattic. It’s an incredibly generous perk we receive at our five-year anniversary — a milestone I can’t believe I’ve reached. Before this job, I was a freelance writer and editor since I’d graduated from college, mixing editorial contracts with part-time work as an magazine editorial assistant, or teaching assistant, or marketing proofreader. I always wanted options, I dabbled in lots of things, I liked the variety in my schedule, and I didn’t want to commit. I also needed to be able to take off and travel for long periods of time. That was my priority. So it’s weird to say I’ve been with the same company for five years.

I have a list of things I plan to do, or would like to do, during these three months. This period of time is truly a dream for my former self, who would have already booked a string of flights. Interestingly, most of the items on my sabbatical to do list do not include hopping on a plane. I’ll head to New York soon on a short trip to see friends and also hope to explore more of California, but I’m even more excited to have uninterrupted time in my garden.

I’ve certainly changed.

We threw our first harvest party at our home last weekend, which was a success, and some of the vegetables — the zucchinis, squash, broccolini, French baby bush beans, mesclun and little gem lettuce — are on their way out. Here are some photos of what our August and September looked like. I was happy not to buy produce at the grocery store at all, and even happier to deliver baskets of goodies to neighbors and family members.

The dwarf kale that keeps on giving, delicious Nickel Filet French baby bush beans, a Mexican sunflower, and lots of Italian flat leaf parsley.
Echinacea, which only recently started to take off, and salvia, which I’ve only used in small bouquets so far. Tips on what to do with it?
Tall, wiry zinnias and our tiny house in the background, overlooking the garden.
Confession: while I love the way pattypan squash looks, I’m not really a fan of growing or cooking with it. We’ll likely not plant this again.
So. Much. Chard. This was taken a few days ago—all of our chard is still going strong.
Red Russian kale leaves, heads of Napa cabbage that Nick has used for sauerkraut and kimchee, my beloved leeks, and a view of our garden shed.
Taken in mid-September, when suddenly everything was lush. There are Mexican sunflowers, Napa cabbage, and Vietnamese coriander in the foreground, peppers off to the right, and tomatoes in the rear.
Our four tomato plants aren’t ready yet—like the peppers, they’re the last plants left to be harvested. The tomatoes may be getting too much water; we’re told if we stress them a bit, they’ll ripen.
A photo from late August when the zucchini bed on the right was going crazy. Our shed was just built and I hadn’t stained the siding yet.
Beets, baby bush beans, Persian cucumbers, and pineapple sage.
King of the North bell peppers, huge zucchinis with beets on our front porch, teardrop-shaped Biquinho peppers (soon to be red), and green onions (scallions).
Our finished garden shed. I’d painted the door and windows a milky, chalky yellow, which was a mistake—you can’t see it! I’ll repaint it a shade of sage green, I think.
I really enjoyed this little gem lettuce for my salads. It has since bolted and the leaves are now too bitter on their own, but good to add to a burger.
An early September harvest that we brought to a family gathering in Napa.
The view of the garden from our front porch. It’s been hot the past few weeks, but it also finally feels like fall.

I recently went to the nursery to scout the next rotation. Looking forward to planting more!


Follow me on Instagram @cherilucasrowlands.

An Afternoon in Taormina, Sicily

I had promised to share photos from each place I visited on my trip to Europe earlier this summer. It’s taken me a while to get to the next set of photos, as the past few months have been busy, hot, and full of vegetables! (Photos on that soon, I hope.)

In the meantime, here are snapshots from a day in early June in Taormina, the cute hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily.

The Piazza IX Aprile, the main square of Taormina with cafes and churches.
The former church of Sant-Agostino on Piazza IX Aprile. I love the tiles on the plaza.
A side alley off Corso Umberto, the main pedestrian avenue.
A street that runs between Corso Umberto and Teatro Antico di Taormina (the ancient theater).
The view through a doorway in the Teatro Antico di Taormina.
A fountain just outside the Teatro Antico di Taormina.
A panoramic view from the Teatro Antico di Taormina.
Facades along Via Teatro Greco.
The first (and only) cannolis we tried in Italy, at cannoleria I dolci di Nonna Rosa, just steps outside the Porta Messina gate.

Planting Roots

Exactly one year ago, I moved out of my tiny house on wheels and into a bigger (but still small) house. I call it the little chalet, since it looks like a mini version of a ski chalet or winter cabin. I wrote a bit about it last July, but otherwise, I’ve been generally quiet — or I suppose not as explicit — about what’s going on in my day-to-day life.

I used to write pretty openly here, years ago. But things have changed. For a good while, I blamed it on writer’s block. But I’ve thought about this a lot over the past year, and because I work at WordPress.com as an editor and community moderator — a representative of the company among our bloggers and readers — I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable blogging about me, about my life. And when I do, I have to run a filter over it. Curation, after all these years, is still key.

In some ways, then, it feels weird for me to share photos below of my home — my most private space where I live out my life when I’m not at my laptop, typing here. But I’m open to posting new things and seeing how this blog evolves next, and am curious if I can rediscover the joy of blogging, which I felt when I started this site ten years ago. When I could simply post about anything. When my blog was me — all of me, even the parts that were unpolished, that I couldn’t compartmentalize. Now looking at the tidy categories in my menu (under “Blog”), I realize how silly it is that these labels I’ve created over the years have killed my passion and spontaneity. I’ve become a dusty, old cabinet of drawers.

This past year, I’ve practiced yoga a whole lot more, I joined a taiko drumming group, and I started gardening. I’ve quickly grown to love these three things, and I noticed that all three help me to be more present in the moment, to just be. I would love to experience this again in the context of blogging or even writing privately: when thought passes from mind to paper, and there is nothing in between.

Instead, when it comes to this blog, I feel like a clogged pipe.

In the meantime, here are photos of my home and garden, where I love to be as much as possible, and where — for the first time in my life — I’ve truly planted roots. Right now, my favorite thing to do is tending the vegetable beds very early in the morning, before I go to the gym, and before I start to work. It makes me happy and has introduced a whole new layer of wonder and curiosity for the land I’m fortunate to live on, so I thought to share a bit of that joy here. Maybe that’s what this blog needs.

The little chalet and vegetable garden. The structure on the left is our well and irrigation shed.
The vegetable garden, in between the little chalet and the tiny house.
One of the dwarf Japanese maple trees in the front of the little chalet.
A “before” shot from last fall, when our contractor began to excavate. He pulled a lot of interesting objects out of the ground, and knocked down a bunch of trees around this oak, which I now hope will thrive.
An “after” shot, not quite from the same angle, but you get the idea. The large, leveled area to the left of the tiny house became the location for the raised beds. This corner bed is primarily for strawberries.
A natural, non-manicured landscape with primarily native and drought-tolerant plants.
The first winter spent in this house was full of extraordinarily heavy rain — the most powerful storm systems California has seen in years. Despite having a lot of flooding and drainage issues, we were able to observe where and how water was flowing on our lot before we started construction. Our landscaper created a French drain system and a meandering dry creekbed, which will direct water toward the corner of the lot, where it’ll join a river that forms during storms.
An in-progress shot (some spots still need mulch) with a peek at my little redwood grove in the background. The bare patch on the left is for a shed, which will be installed soon.
This particular bed has bush beans, marigolds, and zinnias. Crossing my fingers that everything grows!
One of the seedlings in the pepper bed: King of the North.
A Meyer lemon tree near the tiny house.
The area behind the tiny house is mulched and bare — there’s certainly more space to build. I’m still not sure what to do with the tiny house — a space for guests? a long-term rental? an Airbnb? But for now, he’s got a pad and driveway all to himself.
The tiny house and a grapefruit tree (on the right). The purple plants — catmint — surround the entire vegetable garden.
Doors to my bedroom, which lead onto the main deck. Great for yoga and post-gym stretching, especially in the morning.

All photos taken with an iPhone 7. I post regularly on Instagram: @cherilucasrowlands

Wandering in Chania, Crete

The day after Santorini, we arrived in Crete.

I never thought I’d visit Crete in my lifetime, and wasn’t sure what to expect, but Chania turned out to be my favorite port we visited. I certainly felt and saw the mix of influences here in Crete’s second largest city, from its old Venetian and Turkish buildings, and doors and shutters and narrow alleyways that reminded me of both Florence and Valletta. We visited on a day where most shops and restaurants were closed because of a strike, while people were also in mourning over the passing of a former Greek prime minister.

As we wandered, I kept thinking about my AP art history studies in high school — our unit on the Minoans in particular. It was so long ago, but that class remains the most challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable academic experience of my life, and I was delighted that this trip to Europe as a whole reminded me of that year. It’s obvious to say, but I love when parts of my life come full circle while traveling: when I realize how much time has passed, how much I’ve grown and changed, but also how much I’ve forgotten.

It’s strange but nice to visit a place I’ve never been that conjures memories and thoughts that could only resurface right then and there — as if a new city unlocks something within you, and that inner experience is now part of your relationship to it.

And that’s enough half-formed musings for now . . .

Along the waterfront in Chania, near the Maritime Museum.
View of Chania’s waterfront, with the Venetian lighthouse in the distance.
Wandering one of the shaded, quiet alleyways in the beautiful Topanas district.
An old facade and door with crackling paint in the Topanas district.
A notice on May 31, 2017, on the door of one of the shops in town. Nearly all businesses and restaurants were closed due to a strike.
Because of the strike, most restaurants were closed, like this one next to Trimartiri cathedral.
It was relatively quiet on the streets of the Topanas district, which made the neighborhood even lovelier to stroll.
We found an open restaurant in an old, roofless building called Mesostrato, which was set in a cute, shaded courtyard.
Another shot of the waterfront, taken near the Nautical Museum.
Just one of many beautiful doors spotted in town.

Most of these photos were taken with my iPhone 7 (two waterfront photos were taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC‑LX100). A few were originally posted on Instagram — follow me there @cherilucasrowlands.

On Home and Tea

Illustration by Candace Rose Rardon

Perhaps the house I felt ready for
wasn’t a physical place,
but an emotional one.

 

Perhaps my search for home
wasn’t over just yet.

“Home Is a Cup of Tea”

Just a quick note to say I’m thrilled to see sketch artist Candace Rose Rardon’s illustrated essay, “Home Is a Cup of Tea,” up on Longreads this morning. At Automattic, I don’t just work at WordPress.com — I also edit stories at Longreads and work with awesome writers. It’s been especially fun to collaborate with people I respect and admire, like Vela founder Sarah Menkedick, who I interviewed a few years ago; and fellow writers from my MFA program, like Richard Gilbert, whose essays (“Why I Hate My Dog” and “Boom Boom Song”) I worked on over the past year.

I’ve never met Candace in person, though my husband Nick did when they crossed paths at the Book Passage travel conference last year. But I’ve followed her fantastic work for a number of years, early on mainly through the lens of travel writing, and in more recent years through her sketches and growing Moment Catchers community, which I follow on Instagram. As some of you know, I find most writing on travel and place incredibly banal, but I’ve always enjoyed Candace’s blend of illustration and writing.

I’m happy to have had the opportunity to work with Candace and edit an illustrated piece for the first time, which was fun. And because of its focus on finding home, I also found myself a bit more emotionally tied to the story, as it reminded me a lot of my own musings on home and love five years ago, before Nick came to the US.

Here’s the essay, which is a lovely, breezy read, especially for those of you on a long holiday weekend!

A Day in Santorini

We arrived in Santorini the morning after sailing from Athens.

Santorini had never been on my travel bucket list. Not that I didn’t want to go there — I’ll go anywhere, really — but with so many places in the world to visit, Greece in general had never been high on my list. Another cruise itinerary we’d considered started in Venice, sailed to Croatia and Malta, and toured more of Italy before ending in Rome. But ultimately, beginning in Athens and making our way west was a better sightseeing option for my parents.

We walked around Oia, the Cyclades village built on the slope of a caldera, with bright-white cave houses carved into the hillside. While stunning, Oia felt quite unreal. It was almost too picturesque, too postcard-ready — a set for Asian brides to take photographs (I saw a few photoshoots that afternoon). It didn’t feel lived-in, as perhaps Santorini’s capital (Fira) did, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as how can a pretty cliffside village with the best sunsets in the world be a bad thing?

That said, Santorini is lovely — I’d never been to a place quite like it.

White cave houses along a slope.
An iconic church with bright blue cupola.
Table with a view.
One of the main walkways in the village.
This cat loved the attention.
Panoramic view from the lookout point.
A narrow walkway.
Looking down to the shore.
View toward the sea.
Lava rock-filtered beer, with special Santorini honey.

View of the cliffs of Santorini from our boutique-sized cruise ship, the Azamara Journey.

 
Photos taken with an iPhone 7 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100. A few iPhone pics originally posted on Instagram — follow me @cherilucasrowlands.

The Cursor

The cursor is many things:
a megaphone,
a friend who listens,
that space deep inside you.

It meets the blank page:
where you ignite,
and change,
and feel your power.

A tool to share your joy:
your highs displayed for all to see,
your lows swept off the screen.

Through it your selves appear:
the enlightened,
the wistful,
the proud,
the vain.

Such a slender thing
through which we are born
over and over again.


Originally published on cheri.blog.

Goals

I’m remembering the time when my husband and I first talked about living in a tiny house at the end of 2013. It was a baby step that would move us toward achieving longer-term, would-they-ever-happen goals — like living on a plot of land in the country, for instance. At the time, we were living in an industrial-style condo near downtown San Francisco, newly married and both working for companies headquartered right there in the city. Sounds comfy and convenient for two young professionals: why would there be a reason to leave?Continue reading “Goals”