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Ode to Navy

Living Room View



Think of a house as a living creature–I know I do—and it turns out that houses have auras too. I always saw this home’s aura as navy blue.

Perhaps it’s because at the time of renovation we were living on a boat where, against the teak, every stroke of navy was successful. It only follows that I would do much the same with the house.

The hardwood floors we put in are a rustic gray/brown, reminiscent of the weathered docks at Friday Harbor Marina. The window (pictured) is our artwork, just as we used to sit and view sea and sky from the boat’s upper helm. I knew that in doing this house, nothing should detract from the view by day. And that on velvety dark nights, we would just need a little warmth–what color, textiles and lighting can do–until sunup.

Navy is the only blue, to my mind, that is warm at night and in winter.

Even in August, it would be a stretch to read Mediterranean blues, turquoise, aqua, and seafoam into The Pacific Northwest. French blue would leave us chilled for half the year. Regardless of the season, our beach experiences are about wearing something sensible on our feet and building bonfires. The sand is not a hot blinding white, but soft and muddy. Our beachscape is described by sea grasses, driftwood logs gone adrift and come ashore, oyster shells, and rocks.

Like a good espresso or black coffee, navy blue works year round. And with it, some reds, taupe, and beige. Think: Pendleton  blankets. This is where nautical meets North Coast Indians.

In our remodeled home the living, dining and kitchen are one great space, one wall of which–the fireplace wall–is rock. On the cathedral ceiling, whitewashed tongue & groove pine boards. Ethnic rugs scattered on rustic hardwood floors. A deep, dark brown leather sofa and oatmeal linen upholstered chairs. Those are the “bones.”

The rest was easy: pillows and throws, table linen, pottery and porcelain, predominately in navy blue. The color I put my confidence in, because early on, the house and the land and sea whispered navy to me.


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Oh, Canada!

Grand Waltz at Homfray Lodge


As I write, we have gone to sea. All our cares stay on land when we go. It works every time. The sea is its own reality. This summer has been characterized by inordinate heat, drought, and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Living on a boat surrounded by water has a calming effect.

We are retracing much of last year’s voyage to Desolation Sound with my sister and brother-in- law.

At 6am sharp, we shoved off from Roche Harbor, Washington. Cleared customs on South Pender Island, never knowing what fruit they are going to confiscate, this time it was eggs. Twenty eggs. We could stay and hard boil them and take them with us, but we wanted to make it in time for passing through Dodd Narrows during slack tide. No time to boil eggs.

In Nanaimo the first night, a busted water hose was discovered and repaired. But when we reached Lund, the last stop before Desolation Sound, something really went wrong. This has happened before on other extended boating trips, so we knew what it was: a migraine. I had O.D.’ed on light in BC Canada yet again.

It was a day I have nearly lost recollection of, but lying in the darkened bunk I had nothing but empathy for my father who at 92 has undergone more medical procedures than humanly possible. I felt inside his body. And the hauntingly beautiful sound of the bagpiper who plays an ode to every sunset at Lund, bringing the sun down with her pipes. That mournful sound became a part of me. But when I heard my brother-in-law’s voice on deck, outside my bunk–clearly it was another South African– “You’ve come,” I cried. “You found us!”

In my delirium I lost a whole day. And wound up that night in the ER for dehydration. Luckily we were near Powell River where there is a hospital, before we had slipped into Desolation Sound where there would be none.

That night, a young physician and nurse were on duty. Both were refugees from the exorbitant cost of living in Vancouver and had come to Powell River to live. Arriving just two months ago, the nurse has already purchased a home she adores, just steps from the beach, “a house for $250,000 that would have cost 4 million in Vancouever.” The physician, a waterfront lot upon which he will build. She’s got her kayak coming and is looking to add a small sailboat to her fleet, “just to explore around.” The physician loves to fish. They will do fine.

With each sweet drip of saline solution in my arm, I was coming alive and began recommending books to the nurse. Books with a sense of place to her new homeland: A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki and The Curve of Time, by Muriel Wylie Blanchet. She wrote them both down and promised to read them. And I promised to wear darker sunglasses. Stay under the Tilley’s hat my sister gave me, and not substitute it for a straw hat no matter how warm. Stay beneath the bimini on the boat, and drink water water water from dawn to dusk.

Map of Desolation

Now onward and upward to Desolation Sound

Canadians know this well, we move through people’s lives and can act pleasant and say thanks where thanks is due. It was the physician, the nurse and taxi cab driver that night for me. But when we can recommend books that we think will mean as much to them, we have really given them something. Reading by the fire in the darkness of her house in the woods at night, she will look up and thank me. I just know it. Readers are a tribe; we recognize each other.

The physician? Naw, he’s a fisherman


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Window Licking


TartThe French have a name for it, that is, for window shopping in pastry shops: Léche-vitrines, translation: “window licking.” Well, if I left my imprint on store front windows in Paris, they certainly made their imprint on me. For, ever since we returned home I have never stopped thinking about tarts.

We are boating now in British Columbia, heading out The Strait of Georgia toward Homfray Lodge in Desolation Sound. Before we left The San Juan Islands I ordered a tart pan from Williams Sonoma, and any day now our contractor will be receiving the package for me.

Sometimes we need to walk away and let go, particularly my husband who has been on the site of our remodel every day of the week, every week, since mid May. We’re in good hands here with him at the helm, and our brother-in-law, Tug Yourgrau, who has mastered navigation. The house is in capable hands with our contractor, and whatever gets accomplished will appear to me, when we get back, like magic.

I’ll be starting from scratch with my tarts. I saw them as paintings in Paris, and only knew how they tasted through others. But if baking is anything like other arts, it is probably hard to taste your own tarts anyway.

I intend to make tarts for breakfasts. Tarts for entertaining. Tarts for the neighbors who have put up with all the construction and allowed us use of their parking spaces for the many trucks involved. Tarts for any new friends I make on island. And if all goes well, a tart table at the weekly Farmers Market in Friday Harbor amongst other bakers, produce growers, purveyors of fresh pasta, lavender, sea salt, oysters, grass fed beef and lamb, as well as goat cheese makers.

I’m thinking that baking is for me because I’m a recipe follower. I never learned to cook at home. Growing up, I was the runner for whatever ingredients my mother was missing in whatever she was making. Seems I’d just hop off my Schwinn with one thing in the wicker basket, and she’d send me back to town for another.

Then when I went away to school, the feminist who ran the school assured us, “If you can read, you can cook.” So as the years went by, I bought a lot of cookbooks and made some beautiful meals by following recipes.

Somewhere along the line my husband took creative control of the kitchen, and I was almost back to the girl on the bicycle. I knew to stand out of the way. But if there’s one thing he doesn’t touch it’s the dessert.

So I am going to master tarts.

I’m thinking baking works with writing. One can’t wander far when it’s in the oven. And this is berry country. It all adds up.


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At Last

muse-goddess-thalia Neighbors of ours for a number of years in Seattle recently moved to another home, another neighborhood across the lake. When they first moved in they were a newly married couple. Now they’re a family of four, and their search was predicated around proximity to a choice preschool and high ranking public school system. As I watched the moving van roll off with the contents of their home, I felt an abiding sadness.

I wanted to be in their shoes, for I knew what to do then too.

Our first baby hadn’t taken her first step yet in San Diego, when I whisked my family off to take residence in the nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” Poway School District. With children grown and gone now, it’s more difficult to know what to do.

Nevertheless, we’re trying. The house remodel on San Juan Island, I realize, is nothing less than a life remodel.

Perhaps because of the extensive area they cover, flooring and wall color took an inordinate amount of time. Good thing we called out hardwood floors throughout and one color for the walls. Initially my husband longed for a blond wood, while I was drawn to dark. What we wound up with is a wide boarded medley of grayed browns, reminiscent of weathered piers and docks. Both of us are at home on that.

Following floors, when the 9 1/2′ cut yew log went up as a mantle, the wall behind it cried out for rock. Until then we had been drawing up some sort of fireplace surround. It was our contractor, Shawn Kleine, who heard the cry. The entire wall should be faced with rock. It was, and it was good.

But I was in danger of being browned out.

If there is one thing I know about interiors, it is that a room should have a foot in both masculine and feminine worlds. By that I mean wood, rock, and steel, should be augmented by something light, soft and airy. So as wood planks went up on the cathedral ceiling, I whitewashed the boards. The cross beams were then painted out white. Benjamin Moore’s pure clean “Chantilly Lace White.”

I was getting happier, but it was still not enough for this rugged room.

Then the skylights opened up and the quartz island top arrived, basically a white with a bit of gray/brown/black. A gender-neutral gray quartz went down like a runway on countertops. And above it, Carrera marble subway tiles, reaching to the ceiling. Like a crescendo.

This is where my heart stops.

It’s like watching Rome being built. No better, classical Greece. Light seems to pour through these tiles as if they were made of liquid or glass. I have never been as inspired to cook as I am now, standing before this marble. I could dance.

Maybe everything is going to be alright.


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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme










I am sitting in a coffee shop at San Francisco International Airport enjoying an expresso and the calligraphic quotations that wrap around the room high on the walls like crown molding:

One day if I do go to heaven… I’ll look around and say, “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.” Herb Caen. Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible. Walter Cronkite. San Francisco has only one drawback. Tis hard to leave. Rudyard Kipling

Caen, Cronkite and Kipling. I’m in good company.

Aside from the fact that San Francisco is fast becoming my second city, I feel remarkably at home in this establishment of dark cherry tables, counters and woodwork atop a vintage black & white mosaic tile floor. Twenty years ago while working as an interior designer, I did a kitchen in this scheme for a client in San Diego. It was a grand house and my client was in over his head.

In the end, that traditional kitchen was what grounded the house.

It was the age of McMansions. Architects ran away with themselves upon the drawing board, and builders followed. Custom homes popped up in developments like track housing for the sheer newness of every home, the immaturity of landscape, and in many instances, the lack of land. Gluttonous sweeping driveways, elaborate portico entries, patios, pools, pool houses, sports courts, as well as the enormous house itself, consumed the lot. As a designer I inherited a few of these projects, and the challenge was to turn them into homes.

I’m glad those days are over. Apparently, we do learn.

But whether we learn fast enough, remains to be seen. Who would have thought, twenty years ago–when architects were drawing with a liberal hand and builders were building whatever was drawn—who would have thought we would go from a consumer throw-away society such as ours, to one where everyone learned to recycle?

A handful of idealists, that’s who.

Any gardener worth her salt has done her share of dumpster diving in the course of planting and cleaning up. Invariably, a plastic pot or tag gets tossed into the yard waste bin by mistake. Down, down, into the bin we go, making every effort to fetch it.

It always struck me as hypocritical that the growers, the nursery industry, were plastic dependent. So in planting my herb garden this spring I was delighted to see so many plants packaged in biodegradable pots. All we have to do now is go after the tags.

It’s easy to find fault, but let’s not overlook all that we are doing right too. People are walking where they once drove. Hopping on buses for longer stints in the city. Moving into the city or into town in order that we might reduce our environmental footprint.

In the city of Seattle, our collected yard waste fuels the city buses. Single-use plastic bags are illegal, and we carry our own totes to stores. San Francisco has now passed a law against single-use plastic water bottles as well.

With each passing year our recycle and yard waste (and food scraps) bins are larger, and the trash containers diminish. A generation ago, who would have thought that one day we would all pick up after our dogs? In biodegradable bags, no less.

Now we just have to go after those plastic plant tags.


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Practical Jokes


I should have known better. I had no sooner thrown out “write about a practical joke you played” as a prompt in my writing workshop last week, when all the faces around the table looked puzzled.

Practical jokes seem to have gone out of favor, which makes me wonder whether we might be too serious? Down right dour, in fact.

I found a couple, but it wasn’t easy. Had to go back nearly fifty years to fetch them. Slippery things, I had to grab them by the tail.

Mine were played with the same accomplice, my younger sister, Beth. In the first instance we enjoyed switching places on the telephone. Based on more than one adult exclaiming that our voices sounded remarkably alike, and that they couldn’t tell who they were talking to unless we identified ourselves. Based on this, we had some fun.

Beth would get on the phone with her friend, Jill, for example, and I’d hear her every word. You have to remember this was back in the days when phones were tied to the wall and the person on the phone couldn’t wander more than a few feet. Everyone heard everything.

Then with just a nod from Beth, I’d take the phone from her midstream in her conversation, and keep it going—while she peddled as fast as she could a mile or so down the road to Jill’s house.

“Hold on, someone’s at the door,” Jill would say, as she put the receiver down for a moment.

I had heard the doorbell ring, and soon the shrieks. It happened every time as she opened the door to find my sister standing at her door, panting.

It took us awhile to outgrow this prank and move on. We were good at it, and it worked every time.

The next level happened a few years later. I was at an all-girls’ school by then, early high school, in which our entire social life with boys came down to occasional “mixers.” Dances with all-boys schools a good distance away. Either the boys were bussed, or we were bussed, and maybe there would be some follow up in calls or letters. Otherwise it was pretty impossible to see anyone again, which I’m sure was the whole point.

At one mixer I met a boy named David, and we managed to stay in touch. Months later, on a vacation when he we were both at home, he called and asked me out on a date. David must have been sixteen and had wheels.

How his call got past my sister, I don’t know. But her wheels were spinning when she dropped into my room as I was getting dressed.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” Beth mused, “if we switched, and I came down the stairs instead? Do you think he’d notice?”

I looked at her—she was only about thirteen, still in pedal pushers with skinned knees. But a budding actress, you have to remember, sees clothes as costumes. Opportunities.

I went along with it only because I thought it would all be over fast.

Next we had to convince my grandmother to play along, as she was sitting while our folks were out of town. But Nana too thought he’d get to the end of the driveway with Beth, and bring her back.

When David arrived I was dressed and waiting upstairs, listening over the stairwell. The surprising thing was how well it was all going, including dear Nana calling Beth by my name. There was the usual flurry of goodbyes, the front door shut, and silence.

They didn’t come back and they didn’t come back.

Nana and I waited up on the sofa together until what seemed like 2 am, but wasn’t. Again and again, I assured her that this young man I hardly knew was “a nice boy.” Which he was.

Postscript: Thank you, David Nathan, wherever you are out there.


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Love Beyond Death

by Teri Clifford

Every now and then a piece comes out of our writing workshop that is the best thing I’ve read all week. Teri runs the workshops with me, and our prompt this week was “write about love.”

Both professionally and personally, I have been a part of numerous conversations on the meaning of love lately. They left me reflecting on an experience over ten years ago that I had with my mom as she lay dying at my house. My mother and father had eloped when they were in their late teens. It was wartime and I imagine a sense of love and urgency was in the air, as well as a lack of sufficient funds for a formal wedding. My parents were married for nearly 40 years when my dad died at 56 years old. Fifty-six is young by current standards.

My mom went on to live until she was 82 years old, at least we think that she was somewhere in that age range. She didn’t believe she should tell her age or that one should ask a woman. True to form, every important paper we looked after her death had a different birth year. This was before hospital births or electronic records.

Mom never remarried and she gave various reasons for this over the years. Reasons like she never loved anyone else after my father. Or that men of her age were too controlling, and she never wanted to be under anyone’s thumb. As far as I can remember, she rarely if ever dated after my dad died.

Decades later, she lay dying in a hospital bed at my house and over time she slipped into sleeping more and more, and finally she didn’t have any waking states at all anymore.

One day I was sitting with her and telling her that everything was all right and that we would always love her and would always miss her, but if she was ready, it would be OK to let go. I’m not sure where I’d heard this type of thing but I was very sincere about it. Perhaps since both my dad and my older sister had died at home, I had a bit more thought and practice on the process than some. I decided to keep talking.

Growing more prolific and specific in the space of the deep quiet of a deathbed, I suggested that many family members would be waiting for her, in fact. I began to list the members of our family who had passed on, such as her mom whom she loved very much, and her dad although I did remember that he died when she was young. The father of 9 children, he called all the girls “Sis,” suggesting he hadn’t bothered to remember their names.

Without slowing down I reminded her of her beloved sisters, Aunt Mary and Aunt Reece who would be waiting as well, as Uncle Bud and Uncle George. At this point I must have been in a welcome party hallucination inviting the dead from the worlds beyond. Finally saving the best for last, I recalled for her that her dear daughter Gina would be waiting, as would her only husband. Dad would be waiting to welcome her, too, after 30 years of absence.

At this suggestion, my mother opened her eyes, sat up and grabbed my arm with surprising strength and declared, “I don’t want him to be there!”

Startled out of party planning reverie and more than a little shocked I said, “OK, he doesn’t have to be there.” I glanced anxiously around the empty room hoping someone else had witnessed this.

After this declaration, my mother lay back down closed her eyes again and returned to her coma like state. I slowly recovered and offered a compromise of optimism for her peace of mind and soul (as I believed at the time).

“Well Mom”, I said, “Dad’s been dead a long time and I think its possible he may have changed and been growing over the years. You might enjoy meeting him again.”

With no apparent response from mom, I was finally quiet.

Now more that ten years later I still wonder about my parents love. I don’t believe my mom ever stopped loving him. But I’m pretty sure she had not forgiven him for dying young and leaving her either.


Teri Clifford is a masters level trained hypnotherapist and change coach with a private practice on Queen Anne. She loves to help her clients free themselves of limiting beliefs, habits and lifestyles. Teri believes that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood and live your life fully.


contact: or (866) 282 5676


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Daylight Savings: What I Did with the Hour Lost

Friday Harbor

Daylight savings happened and I have to wonder, whatever did I do with the hour lost? Where’d it go? I know where I was at the time. Driving on I 5 in relentless rain. The monotony of gray. A day as dark as night. Four lanes of cars spraying like a battalion of power boats. Hypnotic windshield wipers. Well what I did with that hour while driving was nothing less than to re-imagine my life.

We were meeting a friend for lunch that day in Blaine, Washington, where he keeps a cabin. Blaine is in Whatcom County and the northernmost town in the state of Washington. Our friend lives in an apartment in Vancouver B.C. and comes to the cabin every chance he gets. He has been doing this for years. There he has guest rooms for his children and grandchildren, a vegetable garden, and a 36’ sailboat in the marina.

Never mind that his cabin is a doublewide, it looked like the good life to me.

In the darkness of winter it is difficult for us to believe we will ever come out of it. It is almost like Whoville. You would hardly know we are here. Though our candles glow like Northern lights, we lose sight of it too and start to wonder.

For our friend in Vancouver, the biggest draw to Blaine is the sun. Between the cities of Vancouver and Seattle there exists an intricate pattern of microclimates, some of which are blessed with a hundred more days of sunshine per year. I know of pilots who have identified Ocean Shores, Washington from the air, and vowed to retire there. For us it would be in The San Juan Islands. We spend a lot of time on I 5.

In that hour lost I flipped the whole equation mentally, and re-imagined our life from the islands. It struck me as clear: turn everything around and live there. Live, love, write, and worship my new god, Ra.


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Blind Love

Passerbys are starting to look like people I know lately. Either we have all passed each other before, or life is running out of templates.

Everyone is aging except those I know and love. Billy Crystal, Kelly McGuiness, I hardly recognize you. Give me a minute when you step on stage, as I have to time-travel to catch up with today. When David Letterman lost all that weight for his late night talk show, he didn’t anticipate that he would look like the little old man who just lumbered across the sound stage to kiss the hand of Lauren Hill. A man I used to fantasize about dating, every night.

But visiting my parents in the third residence we have set up in their retirement, my mother bounces about her new apartment like the leading lady in an episode out of “Barefoot in the Park.” And if daddy only knew how young he looks, when not stressed and when feeling well.

Again, everyone ages but those we love. I continually give my husband this pass. If you were to ask me in a crowded room which one is Paul, I might  describe a tall man with dark hair—and you’d never find him.

My friends and I are on the verge of thinking we should either continue to climb all the stairs we possibly can every day, or consider eliminating them and look into one-floor living. Not for now, of course, but the future. The future being that cloaked stalker waiting right around the corner.

We need to have each other’s backs, as we are all lined up like dominoes. And love is the only pass I know.

I can’t remember whether Paul and I had married yet when I first brought him East to meet my grandparents. Being the gentleman he was, Grandpa rose to the occasion and took to Paul right away, giving him a tour of his home and sharing secrets I had never known. Like where the family safe was kept. I mean, who even knew there was one?

The two men then moved on from that location to the front parlor, and standing before my grandparents’ wedding picture—which the family had enlarged and mounted to poster size on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary—Grandpa gazed at it and noted fondly, “Mary hasn’t changed a bit.”

While Mary, my grandmother, so small and frail, sat confined to her chair in another room, unable to walk or to talk having suffered yet another stroke.

Love is blind and you’ve got to love it.


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The House Whisperer


I am writing this post in Mexico, sitting on a patio with the sun in the sky and a laptop upon my lap, looking at the notes I brought down with me and wondering, just what was the fuss, anyway?

In Norteamerica I call myself a “house whisperer.” Houses tell me what they want, whether I own them or not. I believe it’s in my DNA. I once had a great uncle who couldn’t enjoy himself at a restaurant if a painting or framed print across the room was at a tilt. That’s me too. Both Uncle Fran and I would have to get up and cross the room to straighten it, before lifting a fork to our Caesar salads. Other people, they tell me, are not like this.

For years now an exterior shutter has been missing on a house across the street from where I live. In the time in which a family has rented the house, they’ve seen their careers flourish, their small sons grow, and a rambunctious black Lab settle into a mellow dog. Had I been renting the house, the first thing I would have insisted is that the owner replace the missing shutter. I’m not sure I would have thought that all the rest could happen without it.

How did I get this way? Every house I knew in Connecticut was lived in. It was in visiting my grandparents in Naples, Florida that I first turned into a voyeur of houses. A continual crop of model homes came up, and we went down there, every winter. I had never experienced anything like it, the sheer pleasure of walking through empty spaces…. and completing it in one’s mind. Afterwards I worked on all the floorplan handouts, made improvements in space planning, drew in the furniture, and thought in terms of color schemes. I was hooked.

It was one quick slippery slope from the child who rearranged her parents’ furniture in the night, to the one who drew floorplans on a pad of graph paper in the backseat of the car, to a design firm in San Diego. But that’s just where I was when I first heard of Las Brisas, in Ixtapa, Mexico. Where I am now.

Las Brisas was a Camino Real or Westin Hotel at the time. The principal of the firm was the only one of us who could afford to stay there, and he gloated about it upon return. In my memory I almost think he was the one who designed it. In any case, he impressed upon us that ancient Mayan temples were the inspiration for this hotel. Each floor, as it ascends, is shorter, and the hotel climbs to an open air lobby at the top. To walk the stone floors of open air corridors is meditating. It is remarkably minimalist and contemporary looking, a composition in stone, color, and water rushing in aqueducts.

Now that I am finally here I indeed feel like I’m in a monastery. There is a cloistered air about it, despite its openness. And though the hotel may be filled, there is never any sense of a crowd. As guests we experience wingspans of space, privacy, and remoteness. The beach is private. A hammock hangs on each room’s terrace. Time stands still. Each day is like the day before.

Tropical magic is at work for me here. Everything that was interior is turned inside out, toward the outdoors. Working with the materials at hand, roofs are thatched, flooring is continuous with terrace, and furniture is built-in, eliminating the clutter of legs. I realize I am saying this at a resort, but our wants are really quite simple.

The same thing happens in the San Juan Islands, where so many software developers who made their fortunes in Seattle build second homes of logs in the woods at waters edge to live the simple life. There is a Marie Antoinette in us all apparently. It can cost a lot or we can find it where we are by scaling back. I don’t have any problem seeing that. But then the principle of that same firm in San Diego made sure that all his designers realized a Portuguese fisherman’s cottage built with straw in the plaster walls has more integrity, and is more beautiful, than anything we might hope to do in the finest residences in La Jolla.

Not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for that.


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