Category Archives: how to charm me

Reader, I married him

Just as I was beginning to plan our wedding a few weeks ago, this post came out from Clothilde about her simple Paris wedding.  What she said about planning her event in two months was similar to the timeline that we set for ourselves, and I felt empowered by her thoughts about keeping things simple and “100% you.” Our version of this was a bit different, because of being in SoCal, so here are the choices that we made:

-we’ve worn “wedding” rings for 5+ years (since he first proposed as we watched the sun set one evening at Griffith Park), so that was one thing we didn’t have to worry about for the marriage.  My ring is a vintage eternity band, from the ’20s.  Stijn’s ring is a simple silver band.

-for a few weeks I struggled with what to wear. I’d thought a cocktail dress would be more befitting our stage of life than a traditional white dress, but after looking and looking, I couldn’t settle on anything that felt right. I wore myself out dress shopping (note: I tire of shopping pretty easily).  One afternoon I was thinking about my favorite short story, Isak Dinesen’s “The Blank Page,” and it occurred to me that a simple white dress was what I wanted as I was about to begin the next chapter of my life (something that hinted at so many as-yet-untold stories):

It is in front of this piece of pure white linen that the old princesses of Portugal — worldly wise, dutiful, long-suffering queens, wives and mothers — and their noble old playmates, bridesmaids and maids-of-honour have most often stood still… 

The dress I settled on was a silk a-line floor length gown from J.Crew.  It was light and easy-to-wear for those two very long days of wedding happenings.

-we held our wedding celebrations at our 1921 bungalow-style home in Old Town Orange.  While hard in some ways (parking? food prep? one guest bathroom?), our home is so much a part of who we are, that nothing else would have felt right. We were fortunate to have perfect 75-degree weather and the wisteria and bougainvillea brought tons of color to the pergola in our backyard. Also, we used All-American Party Rental to augment our supply of party goods, and they were wonderful to work with.



-we scheduled a civil ceremony at the historic Santa Ana courthouse.  It’s a gorgeous space and we both love history and this reinforces our local ties.  Plus, it was a no-hassle way to do the business of marrying.  I was surprised by how beautiful it felt to take Stijn’s hands and recite vows as I looked into his eyes.  Our family sat on rows of pews around us.
flowers and bracelets

-for our reception we served drinks (sparkling water, juice, champagne, beer, wine) and cake.  The cakes were from Blackmarket Bakery: Total Eclipse, Citrus Tang and Straight Up Vanilla.  Were I to do it over again I would double the order of the Citrus and cancel the Vanilla (which was tasty but not ohmigawd tasty like the other two).  Several guests mentioned that the Total Eclipse chocolate cake was one of the most decadent that they had ever tried, and others complimented the fact that the cakes were rich but not too sweet.

-for the wedding dinner chefStijn and chefCharlie cooked a traditional Belgian dish, vol-au-vent.vol-au-ventThey also served a variety of cold salad starters and a cheese course accompanied by loaves of Stijn’s own handmade rustic sourdough bread.  While I don’t necessarily recommend cooking your own wedding dinner(!), anyone who knows Stijn can understand why this was what he wanted to do. That Charlie was there to lend a hand (and also his partner and honorary bridesmaid Bonny) is why we were able to pull this off…

dinner time

-both our engagement and wedding photos were taken by longtime friends, who understood me and my style.  D’Arcy‘s colorful shots captured our home well (and were perfect for our event invitation) and Brenda’s classical eye matched the look of the old-timey courthouse venue.


-for my something borrowed, I wore vintage gold bracelets (handed down from grandmothers and great-aunts) on loan from some women that I’ve known for many years.  I loved wearing something so old and precious for the occasion.

-because we have just about everything we could possibly need or want, we asked guests to consider two nontraditional options in lieu of gifts.  The first was to bring books for our Little Free Library, the second was to consider a donation to RIF (Reading is Fundamental) or to First Book (see Although I don’t yet have a definitive tally, my rough estimate is that about $500 was donated to these organizations as the result of our wedding.  Of course we also received many sweet cards and gifts (especially plants, wine, kitchen goods and gift cards), and we have enjoyed each one of them.

-we married on a Friday (the exact 6 year anniversary of our first date) and that night we escaped to The Ranch in Laguna Beach, where we had dinner and sat in front of the fire sipping wine and hardly believing that we were actually married.  It was a perfect relaxed but not-too-far-away setting for that first night together as a couple.

fire and wine

-most importantly, our wedding included so many beloved friends and family members and this is what made it truly memorable.  I marveled at how far many had traveled and how enthusiastic they were about supporting our union.  These past 6 years, since meeting Stijn, have held so many highs and lows, and it’s those people who’ve been ‘there’ for us (both in-person and virtually) who have made this all come together.

the crowd

As for what it feels like to be married to Stijn…I’ll undoubtedly write more about that in the future.  It is not a small thing to combine families and traditions that span the breadth of the globe. Yet for now it has hardly sunk in and I am eager to see what’s next for the two of us as we chart the rest of our lives together.

for the big ones

I’ve had a few zucchini piled up on the counter that I haven’t been sure what to do with.  They aren’t the young tender ones that taste great in zucchini carpaccio (which, btw, I make sans goat cheese and it is still super-yum) and I’m not in the mood for baking zucchini bread or zucchini cake.

So, this recipe from the gals at 3191 was just what I needed.  I adapted it by using soymilk instead of coconut milk and I put a dollop of rich plain yogurt in the center and swirled it around into the soup.  Also, I wanted to note that I made this with some BIG zucchini (you know, those ones that are lurking under the leaves that you don’t find until they are as big as your arm).  I feared that the big zukes would turn out woody or flavorless, but that was not the case at all.  And I didn’t even clean out the seeds–I just blended it all together in my Vitamix until it was creamy:

Curried Zucchini Soup with Coconut Milk
adapted from Great Food Fast

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 pounds zucchini (I used 3 medium-sized), sliced thick
1 baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups stock (the original recipe just calls for water)
2/3 cup coconut soy milk

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and curry powder and continue to cook, stirring constantly until fragrant (another minute).

2. Add the zucchini, potato and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender (15-20 minutes).

3. Add coconut milk. Puree with immersion blender or in batches in blender until very smooth and velvety. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Seasoning depends on stock and potency and freshness of curry powder (my soup needed very little seasoning).


any way you say it…

Reading Boone’s post about the pronunciation of his name made me think about how people say my name….

I was raised as Jana with a hard J.  When I got to high school my friends played a joke on our chem teacher and told him that I was a foreign exchange student from Czechoslovakia and that my name was pronounced “Yawna” (apparently I did not then know enough English to speak for myself).  That nickname stuck and I was Yawna or “Yawna Banana” to my high school friends.  I loved that name and how playful and foreign it sounded to my ears.

When I went to college I became Jana, hard J, again.  Though I was rarely Jana to my ex (only in the most serious of conversations), I was not Yawna again until a few years ago, when my social circle expanded to include many European friends and colleagues.

I love being Yawna.  Again.

a little bit of bluegrass (for a warm fall evening)…

At the last minute our plans for yesterday evening changed, and we found ourselves wondering what to do after I got off work at 5.

So we ambled down to The Bruery for a rainbow of seasonal beverages:

And while remarking on what perfect weather it was for being outdoors, we debated various possibilities of things to do.  Live music seemed a good option, so we started searching for something nearby.  And then we found a publicity blurb for an event that hardly made sense: it was for bluegrass music by the Salty Suites in Black Star Canyon just 20 minutes away from Orange.  Ready for adventure, we set the GPS and started out…

After some confusion on back roads with no addresses (or sign markers), we started hearing some music and headed towards the sound.  And found a group of people circled around some musicians, the area lit only by a few candle-lanterns.  (Even though there was a bright moon, it took about 30 minutes for me to realize that everyone in the crowd was wearing a costume except us).

We found a spot to sit on the edge of some pavement and enjoyed the music for the next few hours.  It was lovely music in front of a large redrock formation that provided excellent acoustics even without mics.  Though every piece was outstanding, my favorite song of the evening was this one below (although Goodbye Ojai was gorgeous and Blood, Whiskey or Wine was a lot of fun)…

how to charm me…

For years I had a print of a couple kissing in a train station hanging my bedroom.  It’s not the exact one above, but was very much like it.  I got the print while I was an undergraduate in college, and was probably dreaming a bit too much about passionate kissing and not enough about my studies…

Over the years I’ve had a few good kisses.  Some that’ve even held a candle to the one in the photograph that hung on my wall for so many years.

But of late, that’s definitely escalated.  There was that one in Times Square, and the one at Griffith Observatory, and the one at Sacre Coeur at sunset.  Not to mention Montreal, Portland, Cape Cod, Avignon, San Francisco, Brussels, Florence….and one very memorable smooch while I was sitting on the beach in Santa Monica.

And then there’s that one coming up at an airport in just a few hours, where I intend to throw down my travel bags and kick up my heel just like the girl in the photo above…

Previous “How to Charm Me” posts

sunshine, on my shoulders


Two weeks ago we flew to Denver for the weekend, staying in a small writer’s cabin on the top of a hill near Estes Park. Driving there in the dark that first night we saw fields full of deer staring at us as we meandered around curving unpaved roadways. All night long we could hear the yapping of coyotes in the hills around the house.

As is typical for me, I don’t sleep in well in the mornings. I’m up with the sun and looking forward to those first quiet moments over a cup of hot coffee.  The sun cast beautiful shadows across the landscape as it rose, and we had a large deck with a view to enjoy it all.

IMG_3052My feelings about this part of the world are complicated, so much so that I feel like I’m in the middle of a vortex of memories each time I visit.  It was in Denver that I was diagnosed with bone cancer and had my leg amputated.  It was in Denver where my father wanted our family to settle (instead, we only lived there for three years).  And it was in Denver four years ago that my leg infection landed me once again in the emergency room.

That trip four years ago kept surfacing in my mind as we drove around the environs of Denver.  In particular, I remembered an afternoon in my hotel room after I’d been several days alone there and was in terrible pain from my infection.  It was a dodgy Residence Inn–cheap enough for a traveling graduate student and smelling of curry and dirty socks.  The only sunlight that entered the room was a bright beam from a high window in the bathroom.  I remember sitting in that patch of light and singing “Sunshine on my Shoulders” to myself as a distraction from my circumstances.  I felt very alone that week, but I also realized how strong I was becoming and dealing with things that were beyond my control.  I had offers from friends and family to come and rescue me from Denver, but instead I dealt with the medical issues myself knowing that it was something I needed to do alone.  And as a result I returned from that experience knowing that I was far stronger than I’d been before, which was an important lesson for where my life was headed.

So just a few weeks ago as I sat in the deck in that high dry Colorado air and enjoyed the sunshine on my shoulders once again, I felt that all the pain and trauma of that place was long gone. What remained were the lessons learned.  And the in-the-moment joy of warm breezes on bare skin, making me feel alive and strong and even a little teary-eyed at just how beautiful life can be.


I think I’m gonna get kinda mushy in this post.  But it’s so pretty outside today, I think I’ve lost my head a bit…

The longer days and the recent daylight-saving time switch mean that I’m getting home at night while it’s still light outside.  Such a huge difference that makes in how weary I am when I walk in that front door.

And today, I not only got home early, but I had enough time to water my plants (poor plants don’t get much attention in the wintertime).  There’s a lot of magic happening in my backyard right now, including

peach buds
orange blossoms
rosebuds (so many!)
heliotrope clusters
herbs that are “waking up” after getting all leggy and tired in the winter

But the most exciting discovery today was this, which took me my surprise because I’ve been checking that particular pot everyday and thought that maybe (maybe) nothing would grow:

And then I looked a bit closer and found this:

And even this (can you see how small it is when the grains of soil around it look like boulders?!:

Those three wee plants are the first growths of the tulips that came from the bulbs that came to me in a suitcase all the way from Amsterdam last year. The bulbs “wintered” in my refrigerator drawer for several weeks, then we planted them, and…then, today, sprouts!

My longtime readers know just how happy it makes me to have growing things all around me.  And of course in springtime those feelings are magnified, even more.  Now I can’t wait to see those teeny stems and leaves turn into something tall and sleek and colorful.  🙂

how to charm me…

Build a wee cabin in the Concord woods near Walden Pond and then write a book about your experience living in said cabin.


Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves,
dispel the clouds which hang over our brows,
and take up a little life into our pores.
Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor,
but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.

from the chapter “Economy” in Walden

If a woman does not keep pace with her companions,
perhaps it is because she hears a different drummer.

from the “Conclusion” to Walden

(Back in high school I developed such a mad crush on Henry.  And the years haven’t dimmed my ardor much at all…)


How to charm me:  Hear yesterday’s dramatic story of GameBoy and the dropped bottle of mayo (glass & goo everywhere) and then a few hours later, ever-so-casually let me know that there’s a new jar of mayo (plastic, not glass) in my fridge now…