Overlooking Banning, California

Two crows, Banning California

Coming home from Idyllwild, on the road to Banning, I pulled over to let a couple of cars pass. Posing nearby on an outcropping of rock were a pair of crows. I only had my iPhone with me, and frankly even if I’d had another camera, unless it was sitting on the seat ready to go, I was probably better off with the iPhone. Most wild creatures aren’t in the habit of staying in place until you get your camera out! I shot through my windshield, and they were kind enough to hang on long enough for me to get a few frames.

As they both flew off I was suddenly reminded of an old friend. Tim Jeffries Szukala hated crows! He would wince when he would hear them calling to each other, and he was convinced they were bad luck. It was almost comical watching him shake his fist at them. Tim was a big part of my life for a few years–he was in the very first band that I ever shot, Cesjacuzi–but I hadn’t talked to him in years, and only recently heard that he passed on earlier this year. And watching those two crows fly off made me suddenly miss him. A lot. I wish I’d seen him more over the years. I wish we’d kept in better touch. I wish he was still around, and I could call him, and ask him to come over and change a lightbulb. I wish I could hear him play one last drum solo…

When Cesjacuzzi was winding down, we could all sense it, but no one knew that the last gig would actually be the very last gig forever – and I missed it. I had gone to almost every show for years, but that one show I missed, and it was the last.

I don’t like regrets, but I have a few. I regret missing the last gig my first favorite band ever played, and I regret not keeping in better touch with a friend that I really and truly loved. Tim was a great guy! And a great drummer! And as I watched those two crows fly away, I remembered just a little bit better why I loved him the way that I did.

My Mom

Sharon Rose // cherylspelts.comMy mother is leaving at the end of this week to go spend some time in Portland, Oregon. I’m not sure when she’ll be back, and yesterday was my last chance to spend some time with her before she leaves, so we shot a couple portraits in her nearly empty living room. And of course we had to get a shot with Samantha!

Then we headed out to Highland Springs Resort to have dinner at the Grand Oak Steakhouse. But before dinner, we had to explore just a little bit… And of course that meant we ended up in the lavender fields shooting more images!

And the Grand Oak Restaurant? It’s my new favorite place! All the food is locally grown, in season, and organic – so every single thing they served us tasted amazing. We had mango margaritas that must have been made with the most perfectly ripe mango ever – they were fabulous! Then I had a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad with freshly made mozzarella. Heirloom tomatoes just taste like a tomato should taste… And paired with watermelon? So good! And then we both had their steakhouse burger – which was probably the best tasting burger I’ve ever had. They cut and grind locally-raised fresh beef there, on the premises, so how could it not be good?

I’ll miss my Mom! But I’m glad we got to have one last afternoon and evening together, in such a beautiful spot, enjoying the Old-California atmosphere, with fabulous food and a fabulous drink, and some good conversation!

Sharon Rose

Sharon RoseSharon Rose

Sharon Rose

Sharon Rose

Cheryl Spelts

And me on the original dirt driveway into the resort, under a canopy of hundred-years-old olive trees.

Lavender Festival at Highland Springs Resort

The Tenth Annual Lavender Festival was held the last two weekends at Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, and I’d never been before, but I love lavender, so I decided to drop by on Sunday. I had no idea no idea what to expect, and it was much grander than I could have imagined!

Set on a 2400 acre ranch of mostly pristine California land, the property contains a working organic farm and the Grand Oak Restaurant and Bar. And the “grand oak” referenced in the restaurant’s name? It’s on the property as well, and is at least 1100 years old. A massive old oak, it’s trunk is burned on one side, evidence of a fire or two in the past. But it’s still strong and healthy, despite the damage. Just like the state of California!

Lavender Festival / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I loved this butterfly so much, I cropped the image on the left below, to get the larger version above. But if I was ever to print it, I would print the full frame below really big, so the butterfly would really stand out!

Lavender Lavender at Highland Springs Resort

Tourists at the Lavender Festival / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Festival-goers posing for photos in the middle of the lavender fields.

Highland Springs Resort / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lavender FestivalOlive Trees

Olive Tree LeavesLavender Festival

Grand Oak / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Highland Springs Resortoak tree branches

burned oak treeThousand-year-old oak tree

Cherry Valley / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Sage brush and beeSheep at Highland Springs Resort

Lavender Farm / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lavender Festival / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I concentrated mostly on the ranch itself – it’s so beautiful! But they also had booths with all the products they make from the lavender, lots of food, live music, and a lovely place to sit under a canopy of trees and just soak up the atmosphere!

And when I got home? I got a call that I had won a $25 gift certificate to their Grand Oak Restaurant and Bar!


Last fall, when I first brought two of the little wild kittens inside that had been living in my side yard, I intended to find homes for them. I had Roxie, and one cat was enough for me at that point! And these little kittens were adorable, and only a few months old, so I figured once they were tamed it would be easy to find them homes. But it took me longer than I expected to tame them, and so I had two wild babies hiding in my house! 

Taming Wild Kittens / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSasha with one of his brothers, at about six weeks old.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSasha and Maisie on the left, with two of their siblings, at about seven weeks old.

Sasha / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSasha at about eight weeks old.

Sasha / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSasha at about three months old.

Finally the little yellow one discovered that it was nice to be touched, and even better to be held. And I started to fall in love…

And then this little yellow kitten – who was about four months old at the time – suddenly grew a little bulge. He was a boy! I love male cats, but a male cat might change the dynamic of the whole house, and how would Roxie adapt to not being the top cat, once he matured? But I couldn’t give him up. So I just had to hope that he would stay as sweet as he was at four-months-old…

Sasha is now a year-old, and a big beautiful male cat. He’s gentle and easy to get along with. Thankfully!

Sasha / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Sasha / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Sasha and Vanessa / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSasha with Vanessa, who is almost four months old.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSasha with Calista and Raphael

Sasha lived his first few months outside, with no owner, no love, no food dish of his own, and no mother after she disappeared when he was two months old. All he wanted was to get inside! He used to cry under my bedroom window, and try to climb the screen, convinced he could get in, if he just tried hard enough. And now that he’s in? He has zero desire to ever go outside again. He’s a happy house cat!

Samantha’s last day with her siblings…

Kittens doing yoga / Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSammie came to visit for a week, while my Mom was on vacation, and after a little bit of growling and hissing, worked her way back into the family fold. But Mom came home on Tuesday, so these images are the last with Sammie and her cat family. She won’t be back for a long while – and by then the other kittens will have new homes.

They’re three-and-a-half-months old now. Growing up fast!

So what did Sammie do on her last day? Well she started with some yoga with her calico sister, Calista.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Then grabbed the favorite sleeping spot before Raphael could get to it.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Oh well, Raphael will just sleep beside it. He’s adaptable like that! Isn’t Sammie’s sleeping position, with one foot out of the bowl, hysterical?

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Can you believe those whiskers? So beautiful!

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Raphael has whiskers too!

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Vanessa wishes it were here turn in the bowl…

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

That’s okay, Vanessa will just knock all the magazines stacked on a chair, onto the floor, and sleep there.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Roxie in bed.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Sammie is still queen of the bowl…

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Vanessa gets ready to pounce.

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts
Ah! Calista gets a chance in the bowl!

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

But it’s not as fun if no one else wants it. Where is everybody?

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

And the very last time all four will nurse. Maisie’s babies are growing up!

Kittens / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Goodbye Samantha! We’ll miss you!

The places kittens sleep…


Maisie, in December, when she was just seven months old. Her favorite spot in the whole house was on this table, in a decorative bowl.

Vanessa and Rafael

And now her babies love the same spot. It’s a different bowl, but the same location, and yes they really do squish in two or three at a time to sleep! Here Vanessa and Rafael are trying to share the bowl, but at times three of them crowd in all at once.


Samantha is here while my Mom is on vacation – so she’s getting her turn in the bowl!


It cracks me up that the kittens like to sleep in the cat carrier! Up until the moment when the zipper closes–and they’re locked in–then they don’t like it so much!

But Vanessa? Isn’t that the most precious face ever? She’s such a tough little thing. I love her!

In search of the seriously beautiful…