Looking back, and looking ahead to the New Year!

New Year's CardThe days leading up to New Year’s are some of my favorite of the whole year. Almost everyone is still in vacation mode, but the stress some associate with getting ready for Christmas is over, so everyone seems happy and cheerful and not in a rush. They smile at you in the market, and let pedestrians have the right of way on the roads, and you see lots of people in new clothes – and anyone in a new outfit automatically walks a little taller! New clothes are fun!

But the main reason I love the couple of days before the new year is because we all start to reflect on the past year, and I think that’s a really healthy thing to do. I think it’s important to examine what you accomplished in the last year – and take some time to celebrate it! I also think it’s important to think about where you want to go next, and make sure your life is headed in the direction you want. It’s so easy to get caught up in day to day stuff, and to neglect your big goals. And the flip side of that is to not notice how far you’ve come on a big goal – sometimes we don’t notice all the progress we make along the way. So stopping at the end of the year, and really looking back, and noticing everything is fun! And healthy!

I’m not a real big proponent of resolutions. Mine are always sort of vague – I want to do better in these three areas, healthy living, business, and love. That feels good – and do-able – to me.

New Year's CardBut specific resolutions like “I’ll never drink another Diet Coke again” are way too rigid for me. I may be hoping I can do that, but the fact is I love Diet Coke, so I probably will have one at some point during the year!

This year I sent out New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards – it seemed fun and different, and I love New Year’s, so why not? The image I used is one I shot in early December and it features the railing on Elder House – which is a very distinctive part of the architecture, so it seemed appropriate for my first year here. It was shot with my favorite fun lens – a Lensbaby 3G– very cool!

Gingerbread Boy Day

When I was growing up my favorite Christmas tradition – other than getting a ton of gifts! – was Gingerbread Boy Day! But it started long before I was born…

My grandmother, Sophia Spelts, in the early 1950’s when her children were small, was heartbroken when she learned that the children in an orphanage in San Diego often didn’t receive anything at all for Christmas. She was an excellent cook and baker – in fact she worked in a bakery as a young woman – so I guess it was only made sense to her to try and fill that gap by baking! She would make dozens of Gingerbread Boys, decorate them with frosting and candy, back each one individually with a sheet of cardboard, wrap it up, and tie it with a big beautiful bow. And for some of those children, it was the only gift they got that year.

When her own children grew up and got married, she brought the new spouses into her tradition. On a Sunday before Christmas everyone would come to her house and decorate cookies for her to deliver to the children.

I was the first grandchild, and I remember vividly my first time at the table with a big butter knife and bowl of pink frosting and getting to decorate a cookie – although I think by then the orphanage had closed, and so that part of the story had ended – but Gingerbread Boy Day lived on as a family tradition. And the number of cousins participating grew and grew. I remember my Grandma had a real thing about monsters. If the decorating didn’t pass her standards, it was labeled a monster. Most of the boys made monsters! But the monsters tasted better – they had gumdrops for eyes, and big chocolate chips all over and maybe even coconut and red hots – all on one cookie. So yeah, not always very pretty, but definitely tasty!

Because I was the oldest and artistic, Grandma would always make one special cookie for me to decorate – usually it was a big tree, large enough for a small family to share – and I’d spend half the day making sure that special cookie was a masterpiece. I was also the first to put a paper skirt on a Gingerbread Boy, making it a Gingerbread Girl. I took a stiff napkin, pleated it, and used some frosting to glue it on – and it was cute!

After my Grandma passed on, we kept up the tradition, and through the years the frosting colors have strayed from her preferred pastels to darker more garish hues – she’d shake her head if she could see how bright the yellow is now! But I think she’d be thrilled to know that 23 years after her death, new family members are joining in, and that a tradition she started nearly sixty years ago is still going strong!

Gingerbread Boys

Getting started is always a little overwhelming. So many colors, so many choices…

Gingerbread Boys

Here’s a helpful hint in cookie selection! Make sure you grab the cookies with no visible flour on the surface. Flour is ugly! The only solution if you get stuck with a cookie with flour on it, is to cover the whole cookie with frosting. Thicker cookies usually taste better. And look for a cookie with a nice shape – one that’s waving one arm, or has a jaunty angle to his head is always good!

Gingerbread Boys

Josh showing off his work!

Gingerbread Boys

I think Nathan loaded this one with so much good stuff, it’s face is about to slide off…

Gingerbread Boys
Gingerbread Boys

Nathan watches my Mom stack finished cookies.

Gingerbread Boys

Hint number two! All Gingerbread Boys need a Gingerbread Girl… She has a little flour on her leg – obviously I wasn’t quick enough at grabbing the good cookies!

Gingerbread Boys

Josh is the artist in his generation. Whatever he does, it’s always beautiful.

Gingerbread Boys

You can see it in his hands as he works…

Gingerbread Boys

And here’s the finished product! I think this was the cookie of the day!

Gingerbread Boys

How much gas do you get for $5.00?

gas pump

Question: How much gas do you get for $5.00?
Answer: Not much. At least it nudged the needle slightly above the Big E.

This was just an experiment – I filled the tank soon after! But I was curious…

A sign of hope or defiance?

Burned Tree Branch with Christmas Decoration

Driving into town on Reche Road you pass some of the worst fire damage – in fact the Valley Oaks Mobile Home Park where over one-hundred homes were lost is visible from the road as you drive by. And there’s other damage – the canyon by Wilt Road was particularly hard hit. It’s a miracle if you look closely, because you can see where the firefighters held back the flames.

At the intersection of Reche and Wilt something interesting is happening. Someone is placing Christmas decorations on the burned branches. It started with just a couple shiny balls. Then it grew, and now it’s starting to spread down the hill. Who knows if it’s one person, or an organized group, or just a bunch of individuals inspired by what they see, and contributing in their own way.

It could have been garish. or ugly, or just in bad taste – but somehow it’s not. It’s beautiful, and it fills me with a combination of hope and defiance every time I drive past. Hope for the future, because the fire did not destroy the truly important things in life – and defiance, because even though the landscape is charred, we’re clearly not letting the fire destroy our hope.

It’s just a few shiny decorations – but it’s very cool! Kudos to whoever is responsible!

Movie Night!

My big fancy LCD TV was delivered a couple of months ago, and I got the mounting apparatus hung on the wall, but when it came time to actually lift the TV up onto the mount, there was just no way I could go that by myself. So my brother Michael came over with my two nephews and got it up on the wall for me. And I promised my nephews that we’d do a movie night really soon!

Well it took two months, but we finally did it tonight! My mom took them to Blockbuster to rent the movie of their choice – they picked Elf with Will Ferrell. And I decided that since it’s the only time I’ll be entertaining this holiday season, I’d break out the pretty glasses and the fancy food!


Here is the table, moments before they arrived. The glasses were filled with pink 7Up and rimmed with flavored pink sugar – and those are mini chocolate eclairs from Bavaria in the center of the table.


Two of the guests!

Stuffed Greek Pinwheel

Stuffed Greek Pinwheel with fresh spinach salad. The butcher at Major Market does all the preparation, and all I have to do is pop them in the oven for an hour. And they taste soooo good!

Kettle Corn dribbled with Dark Chocolate

More food… Kettle Corn dribbled with dark chocolate.

Popcorn and a Movie

And finally, the movie…

It was a fun night!

Elder House, Fallbrook, California

Elder House, Fallbrook, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI’m planning to shoot some images of the exterior of my studio once I get my new signs, but I thought I could at least show Elder House today! You can see the stairs leading up to my front door, and the large deck, and the wonderful skylights that flood my main room with soft beautiful light. And in the image below you can see my little balcony, and the edge of the deck.

Elder House has an interesting history. According to an article that appeared in the Village News in 1998, it was built as the result of a competition between three local men in 1883. They each were to build a house for under $3000, and the one who built the best house would win. One of these three houses, described as a “beautiful, ornate home,” was built on Juniper Street, and later moved to West Elder. It didn’t win the contest, but it is the only one of the three still standing.

Elder HouseI’m not sure when this photo was taken, but it’s a fairly early shot – probably from before the house was moved to Elder Street. The staircase on the side of the building is long gone, and the house has been extended on both sides, at some point during the last 100 years. But the bay window downstairs and the tiny balcony upstairs look almost exactly the same today as they did when the home was new.

There are stories that one of Fallbrook’s first newspapers was located here. In the 1980’s it was a popular restaurant, then in the early 1990’s a construction company was located here, and in the late 1990’s it was first Fallbrook Country Day School and then The New School in the early 2000’s. And now it’s the home of Fallbrook’s Village News downstairs- and I’m very lucky to have the upstairs!

Elder House | Fallbrook, California

If you’d like to read more about The Building Contest in 1883, go to:

Edited on 6/23/2011 to add…

Grandma's House Restaurant

Even though I no longer have my studio in Elder House, I’m still interested in it! And I found this old postcard featuring Elder House, circa 1970! Evidently it housed Grandma’s House Restaurant at the time – and it looked a little different 40 years ago. The spindles on the railing on the second story deck and balcony are much narrower – and more authentic for the time period. The wider style in place today is charming, but I like the 1970’s version! And it’s hard to tell for sure, but the window on the top story, on the far right, may be the original narrow Victoria-era window. At some point it was replaced by a wider window – which lets in more light – but isn’t quite as authentic to the period of the house. And the staircase on the far right, is clearly different – it seems to be oriented east/west, instead of the current south/north.

But perhaps the biggest change is that there was no porch area in 1970. There’s a tiny little landing, leading to the front door, with a tiny railing – a very simple entrance for such a big house. Today there’s a covered porch that’s still small by most standards, but definitely a lot grander than what was there in 1970!

Other than that? Not much different! Even the color isn’t too different. It looks blue in the photo – and it was gray when I first came to Fallbrook – and now it’s a nice warm tan – but still all in the same vein – a nice medium tone, set off by the bright white railing and black trim. It’s a good look!

First Christian Church in Fallbrook

Stained Glass Church Window

Fallbrook First Christian Church

Fallbrook has some authentic Victorian architecture – the town was founded in 1885. My studio is in a home constructed about that time and there are other houses around town from the same era. And there are even more buildings with Victorian flourishes that were added later – it was the thing to do in Fallbrook during the 100-year anniversery, in the 1980’s!

But the First Christian Church is the real deal. Originally built as a Methodist church, it was constructed in 1887, and is considered Gothic-revival in style.

In 2004 I shot it for Fallbrook.org, and I shot it again yesterday – the bright blue skies and white clouds were the perfect compliment, I felt, to it’s pretty little steeple and fish scale siding and restrained use of stained glass. And I suspect I’ll shoot it again in the future.

The world could use a few more little white churches with soaring steeples.

For my 2004 Fallbrook.org photos, go here: http://www.fallbrook.org/about/about_architecture

Edited on 5/30/2011 to add the following…

I heard from the granddaughter of the Methodist preacher who originally built the church, and she shared the some more information about the church and her grandfather. His name was George Washington White, and he also helped found the town of Fallbrook, before being named the president of the University of Southern California, from 1895-1899. If you’ve ever seen USC it has the most beautiful vintage brick buildings – it’s the quintessential college campus – and in fact hundreds of TV shows have filmed on campus. So it doesn’t surprize me one bit to learn that the president of the university, during the same time period that many of those buildings were constructed, is the same man who helped give Fallbrook it’s most beautiful little church. Makes perfect sense!

The Road to De Luz

I woke up this morning to a friend pounding on my front door. Why? Because it was such a beautiful day and the clouds were so gorgeous she didn’t want me to miss any of it.

As she said, “You have to go out and shoot!” She was right!

Blue Sky in De Luz

The awesome sky!


And a cool mud puddle! It’s rained the last two days, so a little mud is to be expected.


Backlit Weeds in De Luz

Awesome, awesome light!


Oak Trees in Deluz

The road to De Luz takes you through some of the prettiest oak groves. When I think of Fallbrook, this is what I picture! And there are other trees as well. It’s just the most beautiful road to drive!

Trees in Deluz

Map to the Studio

I’ve added a map to my new studio, on my website – it’s a pdf file and it’s very pretty! So if you’ve ever wondered where I’m located? Or if you need to know how to get here, it’s a simple as clicking on this link!

Map to the Studio