Jul 31, 2010

Giveaway Saturday

Last year, our congregation held our first school supply drive.  To be perfectly honest, it was a spur of the moment decision to undertake this effort, and we wound up surpassing our own goal by 50%, giving away supplies to 150 Rutherford county children in just under an hour.

This year's drive had lots more volunteers (including the same core team from last year), and we set our sights on helping 150 children.  The donated supplies kept coming in, and last night we prepared for 225 children, once again exceeding our goal by 50%.

Then the question was, would the families come?  I awoke this morning to thunder rolling - great for the lawn and my water bill; not so great for public events like the giveaway.  By 9:30, several families were queuing up outside our doors, and we opened 15 minutes early.  After the first wave of families, things slowed down, and I admit I was more than a little worried:  what if we didn't have a good turnout?  What would happen next year - would people be willing to give supplies and commit their time if we fell flat this year?  (I am a world-class champion worrier:  why limit yourself to worrying about tomorrow when you can worry about something that won't happen for another 365 days???)

As usual, my worries were unfounded.  And shame on me for doubting.

A few volunteers made signs and stood near the highway; it worked.  In just a few minutes, more families began to trickle in. As we closed in on the 2-hour mark, the trickle became a steady stream, and the last few minutes were a flurry of activity.  As we closed our doors to take down tables and haul out the trash, we were left with 4 remaining supply bags.  No sooner had we put them in storage when a volunteer came back in and asked if we had any supplies left - a family had just come in, hoping they weren't too late.  We handed over those remaining bags, grinning from ear to ear.  I guess the only question remaining is, how many do we think we can help next year?  And how many more than that will our generous members make it possible to help?

It's humbling to see so many of our members come out to help, and to see parents with tears in their eyes tell us how they were thinking their children would go back to school empty-handed next week, and how much this helped their family.  It is truly more blessed to give than receive.

Several waves of showers rolled through the area; our crepe myrtle became a weeping variety.  Maybe I just haven't paid good attention in the past, but I've never seen it do this.  Ah well, I'm sure the flowers will "shake it off" and right themselves soon enough. 

P.S.   A note to you-know-who:  Thinking of you, and hoping Alaska is gorgeous this week!
Temp in Seattle:  68.  Inside Passage forecast: rainy & cool.

Jul 30, 2010

Clean Desk Mission: Day 7

As promised, an update.  One week in, and the formerly wrecked desk is still clean.  (Yes, this is what I consider clean.   I never said "clear," just clean.)

Admittedly, I had a close-call on Day 5, when I was busy printing and editing and reprinting various items for our 2nd annual school supply giveaway (tomorrow at 10 - woohoo!)

Very late Wednesday night, I was ready to call it a day, but my desk still had notebooks and papers strewn everywhere. (It  looked like the "good old messy desk days.")  And I was tired and drained and tempted to leave it that way, but I knew I didn't want to start out the next morning with it in shambles.  So I took a few minutes to shred the discarded paper and tucked the remaining papers into their proper places. 

Transforming the desk also transformed my mood:  I caught my second wind and felt relaxed and calm, instead of stressed and exhausted.  So I pulled out a daily devotional book to catch up on some overdue reading.  I first had to figure out which day of the year I was on.  Since my calendar blotter was visible, I determined it was day 209 with just a quick glance.  That's a first.  Usually it requires moving a stack of something out of the way to find the calendar.

Then I pulled out my new prayer journal and updated it with a prayer request, and then I spent some time pouring out my heart to God...also a little overdue.

In case you're worrying, no, I'm not setting the stage for some variation of the "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" mantra.  But having a clean desk did let me spend some quiet time in prayer and meditation.  Just saying.

In other related news, I cleaned out the pond pump filters a few nights ago.  My efforts were rewarded with crystal-clear water and an opportunity to meet our newest resident, Mr. Froggy.

Alas, this picture isn't of him.  It's his stunt double or stand-in, or whatever they call them.  Seriously, I didn't have my camera handy when Froggy was doing his underwater acrobatics routine at feeding time.  (I have had the camera "at the ready" since I first saw our new amphibian friend, but no frog spottings since.  I don't know if he's camera-shy or what; time will tell.)  I snapped this picture a few years ago to prove that indeed frogs do hang out on lily pads just like in the storybook illustrations.  We almost always have some frogs around the house and pond - here's hoping they catch their weight in flies and mosquitoes each day!

Jul 28, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Two Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have two favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes.  They both yield consistently good results, so I offer them both for you to test for yourself.  The first recipe is from a longtime family friend who shares my penchant for all things sweet - she was the source of my turtle cake recipe we enjoyed as a birthday cake a few weeks ago.  (She also makes a mean brisket and does wonderful things with everything that comes out of her huge garden.)  The photo below is a tin full of the slice and bake cookies, baked up hot and fresh for a group of middle school youth group workers.

The second recipe is from The Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking, a cookbook I bought from a fundraiser many years ago.  It gets used more frequently because it makes a smaller batch (and it stays on my counter next to my KitchenAid mixer, along with a few other oft-used cookbooks. )

Denise's Slice & Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups butter or margarine, softened
1 1/3 cups white sugar
1 2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups (16 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy.  Gradually stir in dry ingredients into creamed mixture.  Add chips and nuts last (I usually take the mixer off the stand and fold them in by hand.)

Divide dough into 4 equal parts.  Shape into rolls 2 inches in diameter; wrap tightly in waxed paper and refrigerate. Can be frozen for 6 months. (I double-wrap in foil if I'm freezing them for any length of time.)  When ready to bake, slice 3/4 inches thick and bake at 350 F for 10 minutes. Makes 7-8 dozen cookies.

Pillsbury's Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts or shelled sunflower seeds (I confess I've never used sunflower seeds in cookies)

Preheat oven to 375 F.  In large bowl, combine brown sugar, white sugar, butter and shortening; beat until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and egg; blend well.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt; mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.  Drop dough by teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute then remove to cooling rack.  The book says it makes 4 dozen cookies (I usually get just under 3 dozen, but that could be due to generous portions and sneaking nibbles of dough.)

As you can see, the recipes aren't merely scaled differently, but have different ratios of fat-sugar-flour.  But they do have one thing in common:  they both bake up chewy, crispy edged cookies that make you contentedly close your eyes and smile as you eat one.  Or two.

Jul 26, 2010

Has anybody seen the remote?

It's official - I've lost interest in watching television.  Since early this year, I have gradually watched less and less TV.  It wasn't a January resolution, not even a conscious choice.  No intervention, no twelve-step program to break the addiction, no white-knuckled nights of grappling for self-control with the remote control.  I just drifted away.  Lost interest.  When the remote to the TV in the bonus room (which is also my office) went missing and we had to dig around to find it, I knew that my lifelong electronic companion had finally lost its hold on me.

My mother has always eschewed television as lowbrow entertainment.  (A TV teetotaler?)  She rationed TV watching for her children, limiting us both in terms of time and content.  With 3 or 4 black-and-white channels to choose from, it was pretty easy to be choosy and judicious.

But despite her best efforts, I was determined to be a TV junkie.  I binged on Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, Addams Family and anything else I could finagle my way into watching.  Even HeeHaw, Petticoat Junction and Lawrence Welk...hey, it was TV.  I watched Saturday morning cartoons, Sesame Street, Electric Company and Mr. Rogers with my little brother.

When we moved to Colorado, cable was required just to pick up "local" news along the front range, and so HBO entered our lives.  Back in its early years, HBO re-ran a LOT of stuff.  I watched the same movies over and over again, just because I could.  (I think I memorized Dr. Zhivago and Caddy Shack in the same summer.)  I developed a fondness for daytime TV in the form of General Hospital, and skipped class to watch Luke and Laura tie the knot.  Yes, I was one of those people.  (My mother was horrified.)

During our college years, we both watched All My Children, rooting for Greg and Jenny.  Later, I switched allegiances and became a Days fan, despite their trashy, outrageous storylines.   I suspect I could tune in and quickly pick up on any of these shows, right where I left them decades ago.

As an adult, I have been a loyal follower of many shows over the years:  Cosby Show, Thirtysomething, Wonder Years, Seinfeld, ER and Law & Order - the original and all its many spinoffs.  In more recent years, I've taken to watching The Mentalist, House and Burn Notice - and I still do some weeks.  Watching a few episodes of Biggest Loser was part of my motivation to start running last year.  But unless the TV is on in the den, I'm not likely to sit down and watch anything these days.  If I turn it on in the bedroom, I'm lucky to catch a few minutes of a re-run before nodding off.

Apparently, I'm not alone; there are 2,499,999 others just like me.  I had to laugh at this quote from a chief researcher for CBS.
"We let them get out of the habit of watching television a little bit, and it's going to take some time to get these people back in front of their television sets."   
Here's a newsflash for Mr. Poltrack:  it's going to take more than time to get me back in front of my television set.  It's going to require putting forth something worth watching.  And even then, it's dodgy.  The remote has gone missing again, and nobody is looking for it.

Jul 23, 2010

My wrecked desk - time to say goodbye

Sigh.  I have whimpered and whined about my desk before.  If you have read my blog this year, you've probably seen it.  You're probably tired of it. Even I am tired of listening to my own whining and whimpering.  And yet I would rather blog about it than organize it.  (An organized desk is NOT the sign of an empty mind or a wasted life, despite what the cutesy co-dependent sayings reassuringly tell me.)  There's very little danger of me becoming OCD about this.

A messed up desk just means I waste a lot of time looking for stuff that is literally right under my nose. 

In my defense, I wear a lot of hats, juggle a lot of plates, choose your metaphor.  I work from home, so there's all the professional stuff that comes with the job.  I volunteer in many areas of our children's education and youth ministry, and there's a lot of paperwork that comes with that territory.  And I run a household, so there are bills to pay, statements to file, stuff to mail, etc. 

If that's not enough, our school supply giveaway is in just over a week and that means all the last minute finishing details will need to be hammered out ASAP.  I have envelopes with donations tucked in here and there.  Eeek!  The Secret Sisters cookbook is coming up (it will be our 4th annual) - it's time to get the form ready and create a file for the returned recipes so I don't lose any of them.  I bought a new prayer journal yesterday and started on it...it needs to stay front and center or it will go by the wayside.  Out of sight is out of mind. And then there are recipes...oh, so many recipes I want to try.  Having a printer makes it easy to print them out...and there they lay until I can get them to the kitchen for a test drive.
The fact is, I can rationalize and justify this all I want but I need to get a better system and process for dealing with the paperwork that swamps the desk, spills over onto the credenza, the chair behind me, the floor...basically any flat surface within arm's reach. My life is stuffed full of really good stuff. It's time to make a place for everything, and return everything to its place when I'm changing gears.

So today I am literally taking everything off and out of the desk and everywhere else it's stacked, and I'm shredding and filing and organizing.  Just as soon as I post this. 

After I am done sorting wheat from chaff (assuming I don't bleed to death from papercuts or suffocate unnoticed under the deluge that is making its way into the middle of the room), I am going to figure out a way to keep it tidy on a daily basis.  (Flylady got me to shine my sink every night - surely this can't be any harder.)

And you, dear reader, are being drafted as my accountability partner.  Each week, I will post an update on my progress, and maybe even offer helpful tips that I've gleaned from this experiment in self-control.  Please share yours, too - it's obvious I could use some constructive suggestions here.  Maybe I'll even post some pictures, since it should be photo-worthy every week, right?  (I'm not posting "before" pictures - it's just too scary.) 

Okay enough blogging, time to start.  If you don't hear from me by Monday, somebody call a family member to check on me, please?

Jul 22, 2010

Ten Things I Love About the South

This morning, I was working away on the daylily bed (again), and one of my neighbors was tearing around on his lawnmower.  It seems his goal is to scalp his yard as fast as he can, so he can mow it as few times a season as possible, as quickly as possible.

His antics made me think of Steel Magnolias, with its quirky cast of color characters.  Were they really so quirky?  My hairdresser is blonde and has a home salon, even though her name isn't Truvy.  I regularly visit with friends and make new friends while getting my roots touched up.  Our neighborhood is a celebration of eccentricities, and I'm among them: I'm the gardening lady whose backyard has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a backyard habitat, I compost regularly, I pull my recycling to the curb each week, and I've been known to venture into the cow pasture behind us for buckets of manure.  In fact, among my friends and neighbors, I could probably find real-life versions of every cast member in Steel Magnolias, Cool Hand Luke and Fried Green Tomatoes - three of my favorite movies.  (Thankfully, few of my personal acquaintances resemble extras from Deliverance.)

Living east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon has its charms.  As a transplant who has been grafted in over the past 27 years, I can name you scores of things I love about the South.  Here are ten of them, off the top of my head:
  1. Food is the answer to every single one of life's trials and triumphs:  funerals, sickness, new babies, moving in or out, you name it - everyone has macaroni and cheese, squash casserole and a pudding, cake or cobbler ready to bring over.
  2. We can run a red light and with a straight face defend ourselves by insisting it was a slow yellow.  (We say it "yella" but you know what I mean.)  Tickets for running red lights are pretty much unheard of in these parts.
  3. It is assumed you are from around here unless you happen to speak first and your accent betrays you.  Upon being introduced, you may hear the question, "Now who are your people?"  If you don't have people from these parts, you'll both prod around until you find some mutual acquaintances.  If the search is fruitless, you will be asked/told "You ain't from around here, are ya?" It's a rhetorical question. Just smile apologetically.
  4. They replace the Christmas clearance items with garden seeds at the store.  We don't do winter.
  5. Meat 'n threes.  The meat will be barbeque, ham, or chicken.  The three sides will vary, depending on the eatery and the time of year.  But there are no bad choices among the sides, so go ahead and pick three.  Sweet tea will go well with this dinner.  Save room for homemade pie.
  6. Crepe myrtles bloom all summer and fall.  Sorry y'all can't grow them up north or out west but do come visit us in the summer and enjoy the view.
  7. We take tradition and history extremely seriously.  Drive down the main thoroughfare of any southern burg or city and you'll find the oldest homes will be beautifully maintained, even if there are shanties and shacks a block over. 
  8. Snow never loses its novelty.  It spellbinds and captivates us.  Literally it captivates us: we can't drive in it, and we barely know what a snowplow or salt truck is.
  9. We believe fireworks are not just for the 4th of July.  They're also for Christmas, New Year's, and really anytime you feel like setting some off.  That's why we sell them year-round, alongside beer and gasoline and cigarettes at every convenience store.
  10. SEC football.  Yes, football is played in other parts of the country, but the combination of fierce loyalty and the rich history and traditions of southern football combine to makes the SEC like no other.  Basketball runs a close second although there are some decent yankee teams.
But most of all I love the South because it accepted and nurtured me.  It took a while for my roots to sink into that hard red clay, but I'm a happy transplant. Whenever I finally shuffle off this mortal coil, just please dig up some of that red clay to bury my remains.

Jul 21, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Not-Your-Usual-Baked Beans

The origins of this recipe are a little murky.  I call these "Kim's Baked Beans" because a dear friend (and wonderful cook!) gave me this recipe when we were both new brides and we both did a lot of cooking for a crowd of mutual friends.  But when I made them for my parents on a visit, my mom pointed out that they were pretty similar to a (yummy) bell pepper stuffing mix she had used for years.  Over the years, I've modified the recipe to accommodate the number of knees under the table, and the changing palates of children and teens; my additions are listed below.  But no matter how you make them, they will go fast!

Baked Beans

Kim's Ingredients
2 or 3 cans pork and beans (any brand, even cheap store brand works fine)
1 pound hamburger
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup ketchup (or 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce)
1 can beef consomme (I usually use broth)
1 teaspoon Worstershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
strips of bacon (optional)

Terry's additions:
increase chili powder to 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (or to taste)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 can mushrooms, sliced

Brown hamburger and onion; drain.  Mix all ingredients (except bacon) together.  Place in large casserole dish or crockpot.  Place bacon strips on top.  Cover and bake for 2 hours (or place in crockpot for 3-4 hours on low).

Note:  This recipe makes 6-8 healthy servings and it can be adjusted up or down to feed your crowd.

If using this recipe as a pepper stuffing, use two cans of beans to stuff 3 or 4 peppers.  Simply mix all ingredients (except bacon) together, and ladle, scoop and stuff the parboiled peppers held in a glass baking dish.  Bake uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  It's a wonderful comfort food any time of year, especially with a side of creamy mashed potatoes.

Jul 20, 2010


Surprise lilies are not so surprising around here, but it's always fun to see them pop up in the middle of summer.  The pink ones are botanically known as Lycoris squamigera and are hardy to zone 5.  We also call them naked (or in these parts, nekkid) ladies because they have no foliage to go with their blooms - the strappy leaves springs up earlier in the season, then dies back before the bloom stalks appear.

Their red-blooming cousins, Lycoris radiata, should put in their annual appear soon - they're barely hardy in this area, but I think I saw their foliage this spring, so I'm hopeful they'll be along shortly.

I've had these bulbs in place for several years, but it's only been in the last few summers that they've bloomed.  I paid penance for transplanting them at the wrong time (they can sulk for a long time if you move them too much or at the wrong time.)

The bulbs are planted beneath a [expletives deleted] silver maple, amid a swath of hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, which is a mouthful!)  Unfortunately, the hardy plumbago usually waits until after the ladies have come and gone before it puts on its full flush of electric-blue blooms.  So much for my attempts to orchestrate mother nature.

The fish are growing - I think they've at least doubled their size since we brought them home.  Of course, they should be growing, as much food as they devour each day!  I could be wrong, but I think one of the shubunkins is preggers.  Guess we'll know soon enough.  There's also a tiny frog that lives somewhere close to the pond.  I hope he finds himself a good place to hang out for the season - we could use his help controlling the mosquito population.  The toad hut went unrented this season...maybe next year we'll have tenants.

Jul 19, 2010

Out of commission

For the past several years, I have taken off a week in July to go on a domestic mission campaign with our youth group.  It's an exhilarating and exhausting week, filled with miles of walking to knock on doors and invite families to bring or send their children to VBS.  Most campaigns also involve daily activities such as free car washes, hair cuts, health screenings, and handing out food to families in need.  The adults in the group usually help prepare meals for our youth workers and then participate in the VBS skits and teach classes for the kids that attend.  As chaperones, we also administer first aid, impromptu counseling, do late-night laundry, and offer exhortations to "clean up your room and make your bed!" to the peeps put in our care.  Each of those years I've gone, one or two of my own chiildren have been among the hard-working youth group.  If you've never been on a mission trip, I highly recommend it - it's a fantastic way to put faith into action and carry out the Great Commission

It's also a bit of a social experiment.  We operate on about 6 hours of shut-eye each night, with every day and night crammed full of physical and mental activity.  After a few days, it's interesting to observe how the usual posturing and social hierarchy that defines and delineates us drops away and everyone begins to draw strength from one another.  It works a certain kind of magic:  eyerolling and snarky comments become less frequent, replaced by hugs and friendly back pats; quick offers to help one another become the norm.  I guess utter exhaustion is what it takes to break down our natural barriers and become truly "close-knit" brothers and sisters.

This year I already knew I wasn't going because of prior commitments here at home.  But the youngest was eagerly looking forward to the campaign (and I had several moms lined up to keep a motherly eye out for her.)  But today we confirmed she has contracted mono/Epstein-Barr Virus and that has sidelined us both.  So instead of being there to help, we'll spend a quiet week, with her regaining her strength, and both of us sending good thoughts and prayers for our group in Owensboro.  We hope their efforts are successful and bring some new families into contact with the local congregation there, but to tell the truth, it's not much fun being a bench warmer!

Jul 17, 2010

Around here, we celebrate birthdays - with or without you!

Today is oldest son's birthday and it was also his first week in a new job.  Hooray for both of these milestones!  It's definitely time to celebrate!

He had other plans for this evening, but that didn't stop us from enjoying a celebratory meal of  Chicken Bryan (just like Carrabba's, but a word to the wise if you try the recipe:  ease up on the sun-dried tomatoes and amount of goat cheese, and layer the basil on the chicken instead of sauteing it.)  I served it with a side of parmesan-garlic noodles, a fresh garden salad, garlic toast, and a honeybun cake.  Even sweeter: we were able to dine on the deck tonight, since it's now finished and sealed for the season.  See whatcha missed, birthday boy?

He turns 25 today.  Or put another way, he's a quarter of a century old (insert evil chuckling here.)  When I was just a few years older than he is now, he made me feel ancient by comparing my age to his freshly minted Kindergarten teacher, Miss Beeson.  (He loved Miss Beeson and everything about Miss Beeson was simply amazing.)  When she celebrated her 24th birthday that year, he rushed home to tell me all about her party (they had cupcakes), and he asked me my age and then looked up at me with his huge brown eyes and said - with complete sincerity - "Wow, mama.  You are REALLY old!"  I've fought the urge to park myself in a rocker ever since.

The isolated thunderstorms were isolated to other parts of the midstate; no rain here today.  Just sultry.  Again.  While my better half and the pooch toiled away on the landscape, I escaped to the air-conditioned indoors and made sure all the classrooms are ready for the start of the third lesson (the flood), which begins tomorrow morning.  Our Summer Bible Vacation (aka all-summer VBS) is now at the halfway point - just 6 more weeks and we'll be wrapping it up.  Wow - it has really flown by quickly! When I got home this afternoon, I ventured out long enough to stain the bench, so it's ready to be parked next to the hot tub and hold our towels once again.

If the weather holds out, tomorrow afternoon will involve another pass through the daylily bed, pulling out the depleted stalks, fertilizing, weeding and mulching as I go.  I made a crockpot of brisket this afternoon, so tomorrow's lunch or dinner is "in the bag," so to speak.

Happy birthday to my "Baby Shea"  (You'll never be too old for me to still call you that, you know!)

Jul 16, 2010

Applied Mathematics

Quick!  If a deck has 12 sections and each section contains approximately 12 balusters, and each baluster has 4 sides, what does that equal?

Put away the calculator - if you mentally tallied somewhere around 600, you're close enough. But what it really equals is 6 man (err, woman) hours, 1 now-spent brush, 1 gallon of stain/sealer, 1 big blister where the brush rested in my hand, 3 sweat-bee stings, and countless redwood colored sealer splotches on my feet, which I will wear to show my solidarity for our "oh-no-it's-mono" daughter who is out of commission for a few weeks.  (Word to the wise for health care professionals: even if a teen tests positive for strep, please do a mono test before you give them Amoxicillin.  Amoxicillin and mono don't play nicely together, and the rash is heartbreakingly awful for the patient.)

But back to the deck.  Here are a few before-and-after photos of the deck after I power-washed it and gave it a good scrubbing last weekend.  And of course, nature decided to immediately give us plenty of rain for several days, so that meant waiting out the storms to do anything further. I'm glad we hadn't planned to have anyone over for dinner this week!
As awful as it looks, I'm embarrassed to admit it still looked better than before the power washing.  Oh well...it's what happens when you let three years sneak past you without an annual deck scrubbing and re-touching.  (Snicker..yeah, we'll see if THAT actually happens or not!  Good intentions make great paving stones, and all that.)
Here it is after it's had two coats of deck sealer applied and the balusters and rails all re-coated.  It should be good to go at least until fall or next spring, when it will be time to give it a good cleaning (having a shady deck on the north side of your house in the humid south has a big downside, namely mildew.)  I was so excited to have the project done that I went ahead and re-laid the rug and hauled up the table and chairs - let's hope the thunder rumbling tonight is all bark and no bite.

The grill and the big deck planters will have to wait for some help - from somebody with more upper-body strength and who doesn't have a hernia threatening to pop back out like a Butterball turkey timer.

Now to get the hot tub heating element replaced, the cover scrubbed, the fireplace re-painted and moved back into place and the bench stained and sealed and the deck should carry us through fall and into winter in good shape.  (Looks like I know what we'll be doing this weekend!)

In the interest of equal air time for our animal menagerie, here's a picture of Brice's cat.  Her name is Luci.  Short for Lucifer.  Apparently we're in the hot cat days of summer.  She blends in nicely with the chair, one of her favorite hangouts.

P.S. a shout-out to my mother-in-law, who is celebrating her birthday today - I won't say how old she is.  She's the kind of mother-in-law I hope I can be some day, and every day I'm thankful for the awesome job she did raising my husband.  Hugs and love to Memaw Katie!!!

Jul 14, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Chicken Teriyaki

Back in Oklahoma, a neighbor fixed something she called "teriyaki chicken" and invited us over for dinner.  I was instantly hooked on the flavor.  Sure, you can buy a bottle of pre-made teriyaki, but making your own is easy, and you can control the ingredients (and sodium content!) and the ratio of sweet to tangy. It is one of my children's most-requested foods; they call it "Terry's chicken."

According to some sources, "yaki" (Japanese) refers to the method of cooking  - grilling or broiling - while "teri" refers to the glaze.  However, it is not an authentic Japanese dish, but most likely developed as Japanese immigrants settled in Hawaii.  My recipe is an adaptation of Joy of Cooking's marinade.

Chicken Teriyaki

1 cup soy (lite or regular)
1/2 cup oil
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 teaspoons diced garlic (or 3 cloves, minced)
1 teaspoon dried ginger or 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
1/2 teaspoon dried onion powder or 1/4 cup fresh onion, diced small
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
6-8 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Rinse and pat dry breasts and place in large zip-lock bag or glass pan deep enough to hold them and the marinade.

Whisk the marinade ingredients together.  You can heat on the stove or in the microwave to melt the brown sugar, but I rarely take that added step.  Pour marinade over breasts and turn to coat.  Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes, or several hours or overnight.  The longer it marinates, the more intense the flavor, but even just 30 minutes of marinating on the kitchen counter while the grill heats up will still yield good results if you're pressed for time.

Remove from marinade and grill over medium-high heat.  For large, thick chicken breasts, I grill for approximately 15 minutes, turning after 5 minutes, again at the 10 minute mark, then at least once or twice more, just until juices run clear.  (I'm not a fan of overcooked chicken, so I tend to pull mine off the grill sooner than later.)  The cooked breasts can be sliced and served over a garden salad for a light dinner or lunch.

Note:  You can also use this marinade on chicken thighs, a whole cut-up chicken, or steaks (it's a great way to tenderize and season some less-than-perfect cuts of meat.)  I don't recommend freezing the uncooked meat in the marinade - I tried it once and the results were too salty.

Jul 13, 2010

Happy birthday to my boy

Dear Son,

In 1988, you made your grand entrance into this world.  Even before you were born, you were determined to do things on your own timetable.  You were intractable and impossibly late - a defining characteristic we share.  One of many, I think.  At two weeks past your due date, you gave no signs that you planned to arrive anytime soon, so I begged the doctor to give you your own birthday, instead of risking that you would show up on your older brother's birthday, which is four days past your own.  I am convinced you stood on your hands, scrunched up your chubby face and stubbornly refused to leave the cramped quarters you occupied until there was no other choice.

You were our second baby and second boy, but you were and are uniquely you.  I refused an epidural and you topped the scales at 9 pounds 2 ounces - nearly as big as your brother was and two pounds bigger than your sister who came along later.  When you were born, you were blue and still, and we were paralyzed with fear.  Those first few moments of silence in the delivery room, waiting for you to take a breath, you had the undivided attention of us all.  I've never heard a more wonderful sound than when you finally let loose with a healthy squall.

We have no pictures of your arrival, but it was not second-child-syndrome at work.  In the pre-digital era of the late 80s, we didn't realize the 35 mm camera had no film.  When he discovered what he had done, your daddy tearfully offered to take us all back to the hospital and re-enact your arrival and homecoming.  It would have been like reality TV before there was such a thing.

You were my sleeper.  Once we settled into a routine, you'd nearly always snooze until a civilized hour of the morning, and after your brother's early-morning antics, I was happy for your laid-back approach to mornings.  From the beginning, you and your brother had a push-me-pull-you relationship.  Best friends one minute, all-out guerrilla-style assault warfare the next.  You insisted on rooming together and jumbling up your Lego blocks to create a nighttime obstacle course to your bunk beds.  He outgrew them, you continued to love them, asking for more elaborate sets each birthday and Christmas.

As you sailed through your boyhood, you did everything "big brother" did, but you took things more seriously.  Soccer, skateboarding, snow skiing, you name it.  If he could do it, you could too - only better, longer, faster, harder and more competitively.

For seven years, you enjoyed "baby-of-the-family" status.  You then became possibly the world's most reluctant middle child, a title we still tease you with fifteen years later.  Push-me-pull-you defined your relationship with your baby sister, too.  But I have watched you with her in unguarded moments, and I've seen the gentleness and protectiveness that you tried to hide between a gruff countenance, especially during your teenage years. You are a loyal and protective sibling to your brother and sister, even as you look for ways to needle them.

I love you fiercely, more fiercely than any argument we had from time to time as you grew from boy to man-child.  You are my mirror, you know.  I look at you and I see the parts of me that dared my family to love me as I grew from child to adult, too.   And now you are a grown man.  People will continue to comment on how much you look like your Uncle Nate and your Papaw, but you are--without a doubt--your own man.
And as you stand firmly on the shores of adulthood, your life's path lies ahead of you - you're almost through with college, and I  know God has great things in store for you.  I pray as you move forward, you will listen for His voice and seek His will, and become the faith-filled man He and I see in you.   I wish you many happy returns of this day.

Your mama

P.S. Stay out of the Turtle Cake until after dinner.

Jul 12, 2010

Birthday Week: A Hat Trick

In our family, this week is all about the birthdays.  Younger son was born on July 13, older one on July 17.  In between is Memaw's birthday on the 16th.

That means a week of favorite (fattening) foods, topped off with lots of cake and ice cream.  Guess I should have gotten in a long run this morning...I'm going to need to run every chance I get to burn off all the extra calories these special meals tend to have.

On Saturday, I power washed and scrubbed the deck and got it ready for a fresh coat of stain and water seal.  July is usually a nice dry month, so it seemed a prudent time to plan this project, which requires a few days without rain.  I psyched myself for the early morning start required for this project (I have learned the hard way that I need to get the deck surface finished before the sun gets too high overhead, or the stain will dry too fast and turn out splotchy.)  My forearms and wrists are ready to hand brush the hundreds of balusters and in between each deck board.  Yes, indeed - I am ready, willing and able to tackle this project.

But as nature would have it, we listened to a nice soaking thunderstorm pour down last night, and this week's forecast has rain and more rain on the horizon.  So the deck is washed and ready and I'm ready to get 'er done.  But the table, chairs, fireplace, grill and planters will all have to sit (set?) on the ground a little longer than expected.  Ah well...I and the stain and sealer, roller and brushes are all standing at the ready.  And I'm not going to grumble about the delay; I still remember the drought from a few years' back, and my promise then was to never ever complain about the timing of any rain we get.  All rain is good rain.

While I'm waiting, I can always take the spray paint to the metal items that have chipped and flaked over the past couple years.  And I don't have to worry about watering the plants for a few days (a good thing after paying last month's water bill!)

But we won't be enjoying any birthday dinners al fresco this week...arranging the table and chairs on the lawn would mean everyone's ankles would be covered in chigger bites - that's worse than a birthday paddling!

Jul 10, 2010

Standing the test of time

A cautionary note to all young brides:  as you brandish those scanner wands around the department stores, choose wisely because your choices may be with you for a very long time.

Yesterday, I slipped into Smyrna's Target after my annual checkup (which is more like every-three-years, but that's not the point here...)  because I needed a new basic food grater.  Not because my old one wore out, but because I had yard-sale'd mine a year or two ago, and have regretted it ever since.  Case in point:  you can't grate zucchini with a mini food processor or a Zyliss rotary cheese grater.

After I picked up a new ergonomically designed grater, I glanced around at the plethora of other kitchen tools and gadgets and spotted a set of four Pyrex mixing bowls with lids, all for $20.  I snagged it  because my old set (a wedding gift) is looking worse for wear: one bowl was broken years ago, another has a big chip out of its side, making it a little hazardous to use, and they didn't come with snap-on lids.  After nearly 28 years of steady kitchen use, I figure it's time for a new set.  (Just like baseball has three strikes-and-out, if I can can come up with three rationales for buying a new something-or-other, the old one is o-u-t.)

As I washed and put the new bowls away, I started thinking about all the things I still have and use from among our many wedding shower gifts from almost 28 years ago:
  • Coffee mugs - check. This prized set of four err, three folk-art patterned mugs from Taylor & Ng are still among my treasured possessions.  And even though the original San Francisco store closed in 1985, they still offer reproductions online!  Who knew?  Two of my trio are used for drinking; one (the "early bird") proudly holds bacon grease and drippings.  (Sidenote:  Don't drink from a mug used for drippings.  It develops a special flavor that can only be described as vile.)

  •  Recipe books.  Betty Crocker and I have formed a permanent kinship, even though Joy of Cooking soon appealed to my evolving culinary skills.  But Betty is still my faithful kitchen companion, especially for tried-and-true baking recipes.  Except the page for pancakes and dumplings  which are permanently stuck together.
  • China and flatware - check and check.   Good flatware will outlast us all.  But to be honest, if I had it to do over again, I would have chosen a more formal and neutral china pattern. (That's another lesson to brides - don't fall for trendy cute stuff.  It will eventually date itself, but you'll be hard-pressed to replace it because of its sentimental value--and hefty replacement cost.)
  • Serving pieces - check.  I received more crystal and silver than I have ever really needed, but they are pretty to use for holiday dinners and other special meals.
  • Stemware - check.  But like the china, it doesn't get much use, nor do the "good" drinking tumblers and juice glasses.
  • Monogrammed linens - check (with some qualifications).  The hand towels are now among my "rags" (bad color choice more than anything else.)  A monogrammed blanket is in the back of the linen closet as an extra.  The sheets and bath towels eventually  became too worn out to use.  Reasonably priced high thread-count sheets wouldn't come along until much later. 
  • Plain Corelle plates - check. I've boxed up the dinner-size plates for kids moving out and needing some starter stuff, but those lunch-size plates have true staying power and have had daily use by toddlers, teens and adults for all our married life.
  • Measuring cups and spoons.  I have bought more over the years, but I still have the same scoops and spoons I received as a new bride. I wonder when recipes will convert to metric?  That will be the day I need to replace all my measuring devices.

What didn't stand the test of time?

Classic 1980s earth-toned pottery plates and bowls eventually went by the wayside, replaced by my beloved FiestaWare style plates, which got upgraded to square FiestaWare earlier this year.  A set of canisters (classic country blue pattern that screamed 80s) eventually found themseles boxed and headed for the attic.  Maybe they will come back as vintage chic.  Or not.

Pots, pans and toaster all eventually wore out with use.  I'm on my fourth or fifth generation of everyday glasses, although my first set was lovingly rescued and recycled:  my mother-in-law has my old brown tumblers, after I snubbed them in favor of newer glasses several years ago.  They may be ugly, but they are apparently sturdier than most of what I've bought in the years since.

Except for a few really good woven kitchen towels, the linens have been on a steady replacement cycle.

My first Oster "Kitchen Center" was replaced around Year 10, by a second one that looked just like the first one.  And that one was eventually replaced by a KitchenAid professional mixer.  Yes, I love my mixers and use them regularly, so I accept the fact they are bound to give out in time.

I can't tell you who gave me each of the items I still have and use. But when I look around my kitchen, I feel the love and good wishes that came from so many women who made sure I would have everything I needed to establish a happy domicile with my new husband (who thankfully has not needed to be replaced!)
Three pieces of advice to brides everywhere:
  1. Make sure you really, REALLY love that china pattern because it will be with you until your children or grandchildren finally offer it at an auction or yard sale.  Ditto for good flatware. 
  2. Indulge your whimsical side on the stuff you will use every day, because eventually you will wear it out and replace it (but even then it might take a while!)
  3. Most of all, treasure everything you receive (even the ugly stuff), because your friends and loved ones are showering you with gifts to bless your home and your new life together. 
May our marriages and our kitchen items all weather the storms of life and stand the test of time.

Jul 9, 2010

Three reasons to love Vidalia season

Texas has their 1015s, Washington offers Walla-Wallas, Hawaii boasts their Maui Sweets. But our neighbors to the south give us our beloved regional favorite sweet onion:  the Vidalia.  Thank you Georgia!  One website gives credit to Piggly Wiggly for helping push Vidalias into commercial fame.  Our family already digs the pig; now we have one more reason to like this chain with a funny name. 

And here are my three most recent reasons to love Vidalias while they're in season:

1) Last night's dinner.  This warm German potato salad got a hefty handful of diced Vidalias, and it was delicious.  That recipe is definitely a keeper - perfect with grilled brats or polish sausage.  I used yellow fingerling potatoes which stayed nice and firm, and needed only a quick slice into halves or quarters to make them bite-sized chunks.  The rest of the Vidalia got quartered and skewered along with some patty pan and yellow squash and grilled.

2) Savory Zucchini Bread.  As predicted, today brought rain.  I saw it as a great excuse to take a second stab at making some savory zucchini bread.  I compared the traditional sweet recipes with the savory recipes side-by-side and came up with my own compromise.  One of the changes I made was to saute half of a diced Vidalia in butter before adding to the batter.  It definitely brought out the sweet onion flavor.  Fresh out of the oven, this version is definitely closer to  what I was envisioning.  After it's been refrigerated for a day, we'll decide if the recipe is one to keep or tweak some more.

3) Caramelized onions.  Since I was messing up the kitchen anyway, I sliced up a bag of Vidalias and roasted them.  If you've never done this, it's easy - just time-consuming.  (I'd be hard-pressed to do it with less than 5 pounds of onions.)

Step 1.  Started with 5 pounds of raw sliced onions, and a little EVOO.

Step 2. After about 20 minutes, they start to reduce and caramelize.

Step 3.  After about 40 minutes, the onions are definitely starting to brown.

Step 4.  After an hour, the onions are caramelized and ready to go in the fridge or freezer.

They are absolutely delicious. They will go perfectly in soup (French onion or pureed and creamy), piled on a pizza with roasted sweet peppers, or tossed in just about anything.

Exquisite timing on finishing them up - the dishwasher and dryer are running and the clouds are clearing.  That means I have a few minutes to head outdoors and see if some weeds need pulling before I give the house a little TLC as the weekend approaches.

Jul 8, 2010

While watering...

I had a deep thought today: 'If some of my roses were puny because they were waterlogged, how come they're not growing like gangbusters when they're dry as a bone?'  Sigh...

I also ruminated on why perennials should be planted in the spring or fall, but not summer.  At least I did get my cheap plants planted, but now they are pitiful, needy little things...always looking parched and whimpering for a drink of water.  Unlike their established counterparts who might flag a little in the heat of midday, but perk right up once evening comes.

So, my second gardening resolution for 2011:  just like mulching, I should only buy and plant perennials in months beginning with Ma and Ap.  Or Se and Oc.  But never in months beginning in Ju or Au.  (Except for the box of daylilies that arrived today from Gemini Garden.  Hmmm.  Guess those might go in after tomorrow's rain, when I can dig and lift the clumps that I want to remove and pass along.)

Our water bill was atrocious this month (but honestly not as bad as I feared it might be.  Then again, it was June and we were still getting rain - there's no telling what July and August might bring.) The weather forecast says there's a 60% to 80% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow, so I'll water today just to be sure.  (If I don't, it won't. Murphy's Law and all that.)

The pond plants got treated to some fertilizer today - a little overdue, but better late than never, right?  I was a little smarter this year...I only bought a small container of fertilizer tablets.  In the past, I've bought bigger bottles because they're cheaper, ounce for ounce. But I finally got it through my frugal head that their shelf life is limited, and buying a two-year's supply is not a money saver if I have to buy replacements the next year anyway.  I have just enough tablets to treat the waterlily to a second round of fertilizer late next month, and that should be all these plants need to get them through until fall.  So far, two of the new goldfish have decided to do the eternal backstroke, but the shubunkins and remaining goldfish seem content and happy to hang out in their new home, and are starting to associate my appearance with food.

Speaking of which, tonight's dinner is definitely going to avoid using the stove as much as possible...grill, here we come!  The only good thing about traipsing outside periodically to move the sprinkler is that a 78 degree house feels really cool when you've been out in upper 90 degree temperatures  (Yes, it's a heat alert day.)  Hope everyone stays cool as a cucumber.  Hey look - are those storm clouds on the horizon?

P.S. The watering ritual worked - it's thundering and sprinkling.
P.P.S. Yes, I'm playing with my blog's background and header.  Let me know what you think!

Jul 7, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Scrumptious Blueberry Muffins

It's blueberry picking time here in the midsouth.  I'm still debating on whether to pick-my-own this year or just buy some locally grown berries at the farmers' market and freeze them to use this winter.  But either way, this recipe is a sure-fire hit for enjoying fresh or frozen blueberries year-round.

Scrumptious Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (or one 12-ounce bag frozen - do not thaw!)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk

Heat oven to 375.  Grease muffin pans or line with silicon or paper liners.

In medium-size bowl, whip butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat and cream.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla, baking powder and salt.  Remove from mixer and use a rubber bowl scraper or spatula to fold in half the flour, then half the milk, then the remaining flour and milk, just until mixed together.  Add berries last, stirring only enough to mix them through.  Batter will be very thick.  Spoon into muffin pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until top springs back when touched.

Makes 12 large muffins or 24 mini-muffins.

Note: The muffins can also be frozen before baking (use paper liners and place muffin pans in freezer until frozen.  Remove frozen muffins from the pans and store in an airtight container or ziploc bag.  When baking frozen muffins, add an extra 5 minutes or to the baking time.  The frozen muffins have been a great treat on Sundays - I can pop a pan-ful in the oven while everyone is getting up and around, and have hot, fresh, "from-scratch" muffins on the table with no prep time or mess to clean up afterwards.

Jul 5, 2010

A holiday (?) weekend

Light on holiday, heavy on work, the weekend consisted mainly of mulching, weeding, more mulching, planting, watering, even MORE mulching and lots (and lots) of perspiration, a few sweat bee stings, and a bit of sunburn.

The weekend inspired my first gardening resolution for 2011:  I resolve to put down mulch only in months beginning with Ma and Ap.  As in March, April and May.  There should be no mulching done in months beginning with "Ju" (you know, like June or July.)  Or months that rhyme with AUGUST.

Hoo boy was it ever hot out there.  Six scoops (roughly 3-4 cubic yards) of shredded mulch, plus a half-dozen bags (maybe more...I lost count) of soil conditioner (aka pine bark fines) were applied to the perennial border and vegetable garden paths.  It will probably not look this good again the rest of the season, so I'll relish it now.  This is the shot from the southern approach to the garden, showing off a new perennial salvia blooming its head off, and my 'Herbstonne' rudbeckia getting tall and ready to bloom.

The second shot is from the opposite end, where the 'Jacob Cline' monarda is in full swing, full of fat bumblebees stumbling from one bloom to another. The spiky echinops in front is a fun steely blue flower...well, it's fun until you have to weed around it, and then its thistle-esque leaves make me wish I had considered another plant. But it's fairly deer-proof, so it does have that going for it.  Knock on wood: thus far my nutty neighbor has only sprayed his Roundup vitriol about one foot inside the fence (it is his fence, and is about a foot inside his property line, so he apparently feels entitled to zap anything I plant in that 12 inches.  After finding my beautiful perennials turned extra-crispy, I have learned to simply leave the DMZ area void of planting.)

In case you're wondering, indeed that is an outhouse in the picture. Well, okay - not a working outhouse, but a potting shed meant to look like an outhouse.  Snicker.  For years I fantasized about making said neighbor a little nutsy by placing a real-deal outhouse in my garden.  The fantasy evolved to the point where each year I get an outhouse calendar for Christmas, which is proudly displayed on our refrigerator.  It's amazing how many outhouses are still photo-worthy year after year.  A couple years ago, my husband (I love that man) called me from our local  Tractor Supply Company to inform me they were selling potting shed kits that were a full-scale replica of an outhouse.  Tin roof, half-moon on the door, everything except the one, two or three holes.  We wasted no time - we bought it that day, assembled it and plunked it front and center where the neighbor and his guests could admire our new potting shed.

I know it's not my best character trait but to be perfectly honest, I adore my potting shed for its form and function...and its exquistely redneck design. And knowing it makes this neighbor just a tiny bit nutsy - errr, nutsier - is icing on the cake.

So here's the garden in its fully manicured splendor. Peppers, tomatoes, melons, okra, cukes and zukes are all nestled in their beds.  I am capturing this for posterity because it will probably not look this good again the rest of the season.   (July is hot, but August is hotter.) The grape arbor in the background is loaded down with muscadines...still green but soon will turn purple and be ready to pick and process into grape jam.  Nothing beats muscadine grapes for pucker power...they're nature's own "Shock Tarts."  And wonder of wonders..next to the potting shed, I discovered my fig tree is still alive and kicking..hidden under a 5-gallon bucket I apparently upended to protect it last winter.  Poor thing...I fertilized and watered it and hope it continues to grow.

Lest it appears we merely toiled the weekend away, we did enjoy the holiday.  We watched the 'boro's fireworks last night; today we and the boys went to Memaw's to swim and eat some good home cooking..   (Youngest is away at Bible camp this week.)  It was fun watching my "boys" and our nephews romp and roughhouse as only boys (of any age) can.

Jul 3, 2010

Red, White and Blue...and Brown and Green?

The day started early...and seemed even earlier because my head didn't hit the pillow until after midnight.  I chauffered DH around early this morning (he was multi-tasking, so I picked him up from the tire store and dropped him off at the barber shop.)

While he got a trim, I came home and removed a dead mole from Big Dog's jaws, rewarded her with puppy treats, washed my hands and made up a batch of blueberry and strawberry scones using this recipe.  Hence the red, white and blue.

The scones were pretty AND delicious - as anything with 3/4 of a pound of butter and a cup of heavy cream should be - and we now have a huge bag of them tucked away in the freezer to savor one-at-a-time.

After picking him up from the barber shop, we hit the grocery store and then Lowe's (it wouldn't be a holiday weekend if we didn't patronize at least one of the big box stores); then back to pick up his car and set into a day full of chores: he hooked up up a new heron spitter for the pond and worked on the lawn, while I cleaned the outdoor rug, then turned the power washer on the garage siding and windows and the sidewalk that runs between the garage and deck. 

Most people go to the pool or lake when they want a bit of water fun.  Me?  I get hold of a power washer and act like the Terminator. By the time I was finished, I looked like a moss-and-dirt covered creature.  Since I was grubby, it was off to the garden for some weeding and planting.  A brief rain storm finally forced me indoors long enough to shower, take youngest child to get a few things for Bible camp, then back home to face a truckload of mulch, delivered by my thoughtful husband.  (Hence the brown.)  I got the mulch down just as the sun was sinking and there was only enough daylight left to tie up the tomato plants, which turned my hands a beautiful shade of....green.

Tomorrow promises to be a continuation of the same:  after the youth group heads off for camp, it's time to put down more mulch, then more watering and weeding.  Maybe Monday will be an actual holiday, when we can kick back and relax.  (I did pick up the fixins to make homemade ice cream, so there is always that!)  I hope everyone has a safe and happy Independence Day weekend!

Jul 2, 2010

You can't always get what you want...

The 'Stones were in my head this morning for some reason.  I guess the unusually cool morning temperatures brought crisp fall weather to mind.  And the other day, I was sweltering away watering plants and daydreaming about sunny October afternoons in Knoxville, watching the Vols play football.  Something about that time of year, when the sun warms your face, but there's a hint of coolness that whispers of the season to come...it's fleeting but special.  If I close my eyes, I can almost feel it.

In winter, I dream of spring days when we can open the windows.  When spring days bounce from cold to warm and back, I yearn for the unrelenting heat of summer.  And in summer, I wish for cool, crisp fall days.

And...that's as far as my wish list goes.  I never hope, long, dream or wish for winter.  Okay, maybe I occasionally cross my fingers and wish for one "good" snow fall to blanket everything. But that's all.  In my dream world, Christmas is sunny and 60 degrees; January and February fly past in the blink of an eye.  Once the tree is down and the ornaments are up in storage, I'm thumbing through seed and plant catalogs and counting down the days until spring.  (I may be considered a "winter" person because of my hair and skin tone, but that's the ONLY part of me that embraces winter.)

Today is another round in the age-old contest of woman vs. weeds.  I can win the occasional battle, but the weeds will win the war. Nature bats last.  I know these are immutable truths, but I gird up and go forth nonetheless.

This week's menu got flipped and flopped around due to the everlasting swim meet on Tuesday.  (We eeked out a win, though - go Comets!!!!)

We're finally having the manicotti tonight.  Last night was pecan-crusted salmon with fried green tomatoes, fresh melon and ranch noodles.  The salmon recipe definitely has potential.  I followed someone's advice and reduced the honey, so the butter-dijon-honey ratio was about 1:1:1.  And I reduced the breadcrumbs to 1/4 cup.  Now if I can just remember to not overcook the salmon next time...) 

I'm also going to try making my friend Jennifer's scrumptious honeybun cake recipe this weekend.  If mine tastes half as good as hers, I'll be running nonstop next week to burn off the calories from my gluttony.   If we're up and around early tomorrow morning, I'm hoping to hit the new 'boro farmers market on the square, and then maybe venture down to the Readyville Mill to pick up some grits.

Jul 1, 2010

One fish, two fish...

I see YOU, fish! 

(I love Dr. Seuss and I firmly believe no one can ever outgrow "One Fish, Two Fish.")

I got the urge this week to restock the pond with heron snacks.  Err, I mean fish.  Cheap fish this time.  (I'm not paying for your $15 entrees anymore, Mr. Heron.)  Five fish: two shubunkins, three goldfish, $5 total.  They're small, but they're agile and fast.  Maybe they won't attract the attention of the heron like the big fat ones did last year.  This is not the best shot of one of them (did I say they were fast?)  They are starting to come up when I feed them already, so that's good.  (Never could get the last batch to do that...I think they hid better from me than from the heron.)

The pond is battling string algae again this year (like most years), so every few days, I get to clean it out - again.  Oh well, at least it's not the big pond of our past, so the cleanout is much easier.  (Originally we had this small pond in another location, and a larger pond occupied the space where this one now resides.  I'm downsizing as I get older.)

Old Time Pottery is having a sale on their red clay pots...I may have to swing by there and see if I can find some new pots to replace the   pots in the pond, which did not fare so well with last winter's snow-and-more-snow routine.   I perused the daylily bed today and just had to snap a photo of my favorite cherry red daylily; it's a no-name variety, and is among those bringing up the rear of the annual daylily parade, which was pretty impressive this year.  Lost a few, but those that survived are doing much better with the sprinkler system delivering regular moisture.  (The spring fertilizing and weeding didn't hurt anything either.)  Gemini Garden is having a buy 2, get 1 free sale on their daylilies, so I've ordered some replacements for the no-shows and to replace a few no-names that I've still got too many of.

As I headed to the vegetable garden for some overdue weeding duties, I heard the squawk of some blackbirds.  Harsh and critical words like raucous and cacophony immediately sprang to mind.  And then I wondered why we characterize the chatter of the the bluebirds, whippoorwills, even the morning doves' calls as lovely and melodic, but we scorn the banter of the crows, bluejays and blackbirds? They're all just trying to talk.  Are we guilty of doing the same thing to people around us?  We love to hear the voice of a friend, while a question or greeting from  others are sometimes met with thinly veiled derision or merely dutiful replies, or even tuned out and ignored if we think we can get away with it.

I wonder how our voices sound to God?  Are some of us His songbirds and others His blackbirds?  I sure hope not...