Jun 30, 2011

Inheriting a garden

Moving into an existing house means inheriting more than a floorplan, paint and carpet colors.

What happens when the last resident was a gardener and you inherit their plants and planting schemes?

If you're not a gardener, you probably don't give the green stuff much thought - it either gets ignored until it turns into brown stuff, or it gets mulched or mowed down.

If you are a gardener, it is a mystery to be solved.  It can be as frustrating as teasing apart a knot, taxing your patience and persistence.  As each new plant sprouts up, you peer closely; is it a weed to be yanked or a plant to be nurtured?  What color will it bloom?  Is it situated properly for its sun/shade and moisture requirements?  Does it need to be fertilized or pruned or just left alone? Common wisdom says to let the garden have four seasons to unfold before you make radical changes.  That gives everything time to make an appearance, and gives you time to decide if you like the landscaping, or if you want to overhaul or tweak it.

When we first toured this house, it was December (our anniversary, to be precise).  Not a good time of year to know what might by lying in dormancy in the garden.

The roses had been severely pruned in the fall, but I knew from the real estate photos they were red Knockout roses, and the pruned canes and grafts appeared to be healthy and vigorous.   True rosarians will snub these as too commonplace, lacking scent and their stubby stems too short for bouquets.  But as a landscape shrub in the south, they are tough to beat - they bloom repeatedly, are not prone to blackspot and they appear relatively immune to attacks from the Japanese beetles.  (I picked off a few the other day, but nothing like the beetle orgies I have encountered on my Old Garden Roses in the past.)

Throughout the spring, peonies, bearded irises and Shasta daisies have popped up and bloomed, and even snapdragons and morning glories have put in an appearance. Some hibiscus are ready to pop open, and I'm on pins and needles to see what color they'll bloom.

In the back yard, a few hostas and daylilies struggle in some tough-to-grow spots.  I've moved the hostas to a shadier bed (out of the path of the lawnmower and weed whacker); the daylilies will get moved to a sunnier location along with some clumps of my faves I moved from our old house yesterday.

I know I should wait until at least fall to plant anything.

I know full well this is the worst time of year to plant, let alone transplant perennials - even with copious quantities of water, they will struggle with the incessant heatwave we call July and August around here.

And yet....

It's hard (okay, impossible) for me to not scratch this gardening itch.

A few days ago, a ginormous Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' and variegated meadowsweet came home with me and they now flank the 'Chocolate' eupatorium on one corner of the pond.   Here's hoping the soil will remain moist even if the pond dries up.  Some additional marsh and swamp plants are on their way - my one and only mail order plant purchase so far in 2011.  (There's always spring bulb orders...and fall perennial sales.)

The blank spot left by the dearly-departed clematis was so forlorn, right there as you rounded the corner of the walkway.

I just had to fill it with something.

Something like a tuteur...with a patina-ed spigot on top to keep it from seeming too high-falutin'.  And a pretty new clematis (non-thuggish) to clamber up the structure.

I'm pretty sure my fig and some other shrubs, the variegated vinca, native pachysandra and a few heucheras are going to find their way from old house to new house over the next week or so.  And then I'll just have to keep them tended until temperatures cool and the fall rains come.  At least the toad house won't require any nurturing.  I may have to sort out squabbles among would-be tenants though.

Inheriting a garden is a bit like the parable of the talents.   There's a balance to be struck somewhere between honoring the gift given to you and your desire to put your own imprint on everything.  And of course, in this application, it IS prudent to bury everything - it's the only way to get an increase.

Happy gardening,

Jun 29, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Old School Cheese Ball

I guess this could be classified as a "vintage" recipe. It was a holiday party staple in my childhood years - every Christmas and New Year's party had at least one cheese ball set out, and this one is generally better than store-bought varieties. It is getting difficult to find chipped beef these days but this is a trusty recipe that always delivers on flavor, so it's worth the hunt to find the beef.  Notice the recipe does not call for any salt; the Worcestershire sauce and beef will add more than enough sodium for anyone's palate. 

Where's the beef?  For those of you who aren't familiar with chipped beef and all its potential uses, such as chipped-beef-on-toast...a package of this is what you're looking for in the packaged lunchmeat section of your grocery store.

You may also find jars of dried chipped beef along with other canned meats and tuna - but if you can find the refrigerated package, I'd recommend it over a jar of dried beef.

Beef and Cheese Ball

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
3 green onions, diced fine (be sure to include some of the green tops for flavor and color)
1 package chipped beef, sliced into slivers
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Chopped pecans or sharp shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients together; blend well.  Form into a ball and roll in crushed nuts or cheese.  Refrigerate until firm and serve with crackers.  Makes one cheese ball.

Alternatively, the mixture can be placed between pecan halves for serving as bite-size hors d'oeuvres.

Happy appetizer-ing!

Jun 28, 2011

Cooking for a crowd: Lessons learned

Last Friday, we invited a rather large group of friends to a come-and-go open house. (I think I'm officially caught up on the "have-people-over-once-or-twice-a-month" resolution.)

It's hard for me to guess-timate food for a crowd bigger than a dozen. But then again, the pros struggle, too - I've never ordered catering that didn't way over-estimate how much food we would need for the number of guests I told them I needed to serve.

I fear running short, but I really hate wasting food, too. (I know the starving children in China can't eat what I don't, but it still bothers me to throw away food, so I try very hard to pinpoint how much to fix for anything, whether I'm cooking for two or 200.) Friday night was somewhere around 75 guests.

So what do YOU cook for a huge crowd? Since it was an all-evening event, I chose foods that would hold up as well as possible if they had to sit out for a few hours:

Pulled pork (heated up in batches), served with sauce and buns
An array of chips, pickles and fresh veggies
Cold melon and berries
A trio of bar cookies - million dollar bars, lemon bars and cheesecake square
Lemonade, tea and bottled water


just for the kids, of course...


What is a summer bash without some flaming-sticky-gooey-chocolatey goodness?

The menu is easy.  The quantities are where it gets dicey, at least with me as I try to shoot for Goldilocks.  ("not too little, not too much, but just right.")
  • I asked the butcher for 20-25 pounds of Boston butt; he gave me three big 'uns that totaled a little over 27 pounds.  It was about 5 pounds too much.  Like I said...20-25 pounds.
  • Twelve packages of buns were about 7 packages too many.  (Lots of low-carb folks, maybe?)
  • Four jars of pickles was one jar too many
  • Four bags of chips and two tubs of dip could have been cut in half.
  • Four bottles of sauce were just about right.
  • One watermelon, 3 cartons of strawberries and 2 cartons of blueberries - I shoulda cut up a second watermelon and bought more berries.  They went fast.
  • Two packages of baby carrots, two cartons of grape tomatoes and two heads of celery - more or less on the money.
  • Three huge trays of bar cookies were about two times too many.  (But we've somehow forced ourselves to take care of the extras :-)
  • A few too many Hershey's bars.  (tragic, eh?)
What did I learn? For the next big gathering (in a few weeks), I'll probably ramp up on fruit and veggies and lighten up on carbs.

'Cept the S'mores.  Because a few too many mallows and milk chocolate squares are never a waste.

Happy entertaining!

Jun 27, 2011

Where ARE we?

Our mailing address is now Rockvale, Tennessee.  That meant we had to give up our decade-old phone number (which was firmly ensconced on the Do-Not-Call Registry) and start over.   I'm amazed how many people live in Rutherford County and don't know where Rockvale is.

But I guess maybe whoever decided we were in Rockvale doesn't know where it is either.   What most of us would consider Rockvale "proper" is located 6 or 7 miles from us and it's mostly farmland between here and there. 

In actuality, we are closer to the outskirts of Murfreesboro or Blackman than we are to Rockvale.

Almaville is almost as close as Rockvale and when I click on the little location link in Blogger and give it my street info, it tells me I'm in Almaville.  Huh?

Well, wherever we are according to the postal service and the cartographers, my heart says we're home.  And that's the best navigation sign of all.

Happy homing-in!

Jun 25, 2011

Loose Ends, Week 5.

In between hosting Bunco on Monday night and opening our house for a house-warming last night, I managed to tie up a few loose ends this week.

The warm-up act was Monday night's bunco party. Around 20 women and children (yes, we start 'em young) gathered for baked potatoes, salad, laughter and yes...putting out money and rolling dice. Don't call the vice squad - the proceeds will buy a bicycle for a preacher in India to be able to get from town to town faster and easier.)

It was fun, but I just want to let those who toured my home know that my vacuum does NOT hang out in the middle of my bathroom all the time. Thank you for politely overlooking it, but really - you're my friends. One of you could have said SOMETHING! I had to laugh when I walked in there later that night and there it sat.  It was one of those things.  I started to vacuum and then I saw some laundry that needed to be started, and when I got to the laundry room I realized I had a basket of assorted odds-and-ends that needed to be put away... And before long, I forgot all about vacuuming.

After Monday the countdown clock began ticking toward Friday.  Last night at 6:30, a steady stream of friends began showing up, and the last family pulled away a little after 10.  Swimmer girl and middle son took advantage of the still-flaming bonfire to make a few more S'mores while I tidied up and Mr. Official helped Little Dog and Big Dog do their business for the night.  (We have a weekend guest in the form of 35 pounds of energy and fur, also known as Sadie-the-grandpuppy.)

Where was I?  Oh yes,loose ends.

Although much of the week was spent on other things, I did tie up a few loose ends.

For starters, I moved a gob of plants from old house to new house last weekend - all my Louisiana irises, variegated Irises, Japanese purple irises, and several hostas.  To even things out, I shovel-pruned two clematis in the new house's beds. I like clematis as much as anybody, but you gotta know your varieties, and "sweet autumn" clematis is NOT a dainty little vine to plant in your formal garden beds. It's a thug. A sweet smelling thug, but a thug. They were smothering the roses on either side of them, so in the final analysis, it was the clematis that had to go.  Their departure left room for one of my birdbaths.

The deck rails and spindles are now  all stained.  They could use a second coat, but even if they don't get it for a few months, they are sealed and ready to withstand the summer sun beating down on them. So we went from this:

to this:
 and this:

I also hung curtains in the two upstairs bedrooms. Fortunately, hanging them did NOT involve a rodent-sighting.

And I hung some pictures in our master bathroom and painted over my drywall repair job. The entire bathroom needs a painting - but at least it doesn't have white spots here and there until I can completely tie up that loose end.  So that one is only half-tied.

I made a list of all known loose ends and wound up with two dozen projects, big and small.  All I can say is it's going to be a very busy summer.

Happy tying!

Jun 22, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Easy Coleslaw

I am a fan of quick-to-make foods.  Fresh, creamy sweet/tangy coleslaw is a great accompaniment to smoked, barbequed or grilled meats or fried fish (a once-every-few-years treat.)

My mother-in-law's family makes a peppery slaw dressing, but I prefer a bit of sweet in mine.  I've been asked for this recipe a few times, and I'm always a little embarrassed to give it out because it's so easy.  Then again, simple, fresh and good-tasting food is a gift that should be shared.

Creamy Coleslaw
1/2 head cabbage, sliced or shredded (or a bag of shredded slaw mix)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sugar (approximately)
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare cabbage by shredding or slicing; set aside.  In large bowl, mix together mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar.  Adjust to your own taste but I like my dressing to be slightly sweet with enough vinegar to cut through the thickness of the mayonnaise.   I usually do a taste-test with a strip of cabbage to make sure the flavors meld together well.  When the dressing is fully mixed, add shredded cabbage or slaw mix; toss to coat. Add a little more mayonnaise and other ingredients if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper; serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours.  (I personally don't like it refrigerated for any longer than that, as the cabbage gets bitey.) Makes 4-6 servings.

Happy cooking!

Jun 21, 2011

Getting my gardening groove back.

Summer is officially here and so is the urge to garden.  Actually, the urge started last weekend, along with rain in the form of intermittent downpours.

A dedicated gardener gardens in the rain.  A delusional gardener is surprised when she gets dirty or wet while doing so.  But it takes a heaping helping of insanity (and a wellspring of optimism) to create a new bed where Bermudagrass recently grew, and hope for anything other than a really nice stand of Bermudagrass to grow.

I did all three last weekend - which probably qualifies me for a 72-hour stint in the mental ward (and if they'd let me sleep in, I might sign up for a long weekend.)  But planting in the rain is great for plants, even if it's a soggy proposition for the planter.  Saturday's 20% chance of rain turned into an all-afternoon rain-a-thon; when the rain let up every so often,  I scampered outside to plant and transplant things. And was repeatedly surprised to find myself soaked and my shoes and shovel covered in mud and muck. Duh.

With Middle Son's help, I divided my water lilies into half, and planted each in a nice big tub, and sunk them in the middle of the pond.   (When I say help, I mean he watched from the bank, and asked me if I had seen the snapping turtles - yes, plural - or water snake.  He's helpful like that.)  Now I will watch and wait for them to grow and bloom and beautify our pond.  Several pots of purple irises now grace one steep corner of the pond; dozens of Louisiana irises were installed (with bona fide help from that same son) around another long stretch of pond bank. That will make Mr. Official happy since he won't have to mow the steep patches.  My gratification is delayed until next spring when they bloom.

While moving things from there to here, I tucked in Heuchera and several hosta divisions in a new shady bed that middle son and the Mantis tiller created for me, then edged them with caladium bulbs sent to me by Bill at CaladiumBulbs4Less (thank you Bill!  Pics coming as soon as these pretty plants are up and flourishing!)  The area had some straggling Bermudagrass before it was tamed by the Mantis, so we'll see - I could be dog-cussing this decision the rest of the summer.  But it is just a temporary bed; it needs to be deeper and swoopier (if that's a word) before I will call it a real border.

Two hydrangeas (a new dwarf oakleaf and a deciduous hydrangea) are  now installed along the new fence row; the remainder of the perennials I acquired back in April are planted under an oak tree near the driveway - again, they're in a holding pattern.  The bed has potential but needs some serious rearranging in the fall.

After a few years' abstinence from any serious or heartfelt gardening, it feels really good to throw myself into digging into the soil and tucking plants into new homes here at our new homestead.  Need more proof my gardening mojo is back?  Look what we brought over last week:

Little Dog isn't so little anymore...
I might just have to bring the fig and lilac that flanked it at the old place. (One was historically accurate: lilacs were planted for odor control back when an outhouse was really an outhouse.  The fig just seemed like a good choice - you never know when you might need a fig leaf for something or other.)

Happy planting,

Jun 20, 2011

A game of cat and mouse

(For my friends who hate to see rodent tails or hear tales of rodents, stop reading now. You know who you are. I know who you are, and how you react to the mere mention of mice. I'll skip to the last page just for you: the mouse is no longer among us. The end.  All is well.  Sleep tight.)

Last week, I was hanging curtain rods in our bedroom. (This was during a day packed with work, working out, volunteering at our church, work, pruning oakleaf hydrangeas, work, driving the swim taxi, more work-while-waiting; a late dinner and finally more work before I collapsed. It was one of THOSE days.) So I'm up-and-down the ladder with the level, a pencil, tape measure, drill, drywall anchors, brackets and screwdriver. Trying to make short work of hanging four curtain rods and still have them straight and even and all that before I move on to the next task of the day.

On one of my countless trips up the ladder, I happened to glance over toward the door going to our bathroom and I saw the cat (Luci - which is short for Luci-fur), lolling on the floor, playing with something.

This cat is quite capable of amusing herself with a twist-tie for hours on end, so I didn't give it much thought. Then I looked closer at the object of her....well, we'll call it "affection." My first thought was "mouse."  My second thought was, "No, that's not a mouse. You and your monovision contacts are totally misconstruing a harmless piece of cardboard." Then it moved. Without her help. And she jumped back. And I stood still.

I called Swimmer Girl to come do reconnaissance from ground level. Her initial reaction was to discount my fears.  "That's not a mouse," said she, reassuringly.  But then it moved again. Unaided by the cat, again.

And she - to her credit - calmly confirmed that it WAS a mouse.   No shrieking or screeching. No vertical leaps onto tall furniture.  The mouse started moving, but slowly - it was injured. Apparently our cat likes to PLAY with her food. She was certainly not keen on killing it; in fact she jumped back every time it moved.

The 12-pound cat is afraid of a 3-ounce mouse. Sigh.

Long story short, we easily captured the walking wounded, and....uhhh, we disposed of it. As soon as it was taken captive, the cat decided she DID want her toy back after all, and was rather miffed at us for taking it away from her. Too little, too late, Luci. You had your chance.

We've found no evidence of mice in the house (except this lone ranger), so I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that it slipped in when we left the door to the garage open for a few minutes earlier that day. Because it's pretty obvious our cat did not inspire the phrase "cat and mouse game."

Happy Monday,

Jun 19, 2011

TGFF: Thank God for Fathers

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh Father, show me the way
To lead them

Won't You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love
Chasing things that I could give up

I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me 'cause I can't do this alone

Today is the day of the year we stop to honor fathers.  Sadly, our society has become so fractured and we've strayed so far from God's plan for fathers. We just don't give them much honor the rest of the year.  Contrary to the way they are portrayed in the media, dads are not dense, bumbling idiots that must be parented by their wife and ridiculed by their children.  They shoulder a huge responsibility for protecting and guiding their family through the storms of life.  God placed them in the role of leader of their families - it's a rather thankless and lonely challenge, especially when they must also fight the tidal wave of popular sentiment that dismisses and disparages the role of fatherhood.

Thank God for the good and God-fearing men who take their role seriously and understand they must lead their family by example, and they must make the final decision on some of life's toughest choices.  The buck stops with dad, who knows he must someday answer for every choice and decision he made for his family.

I'm thankful for my father and his leadership growing up. And I'm thankful for the way my husband leads our family, and for the example given to him by his father.  I pray that our sons will become strong, godly husbands and fathers in due time.  I remind Swimmer Girl to look at the example of her own father when she is ready to choose a man to lead her family.

Happy Father's Day!

Jun 18, 2011

Loose ends: Closing the gap

This fourth week marks four notable endings to some loose ends.

First is an extremely satisfying (if messy) chore now on the "ta-DONE" list.  The new deck was power washed, stained and sealed (had a rain-out on the railings, but another few hours next week and they'll be finished.)   The old deck was cleared off and the few scuff marks created since last July's staining job will be touched up today.  The new house's deck has plenty of time to cure before the parties begin.

Second is a VERY old loose end.  I'm sure it doesn't qualify as the world's oldest loose end, but it might qualify as my oldest one.  We've all heard stories of people getting a letter decades late, right?  Well, this one is close to that, but it was not the fault of the USPS.  As we were moving Christmas stuff, I came across a box that looked vaguely familiar.  I opened it and sure enough, it was a gift to a longtime friend.  It was supposed to be sent to her several (7? 8? not sure!) years ago.  Mea culpa to the max.  It's now on its way with a note of humble apology.

This week also marks a third ginormous "tied up with a big honkin' ribbon" loose end closure to the remaining stuff out of the old house.

You've heard of "Five S" organization method, right?  Five Japanese words, all start with "S" that describe how work should be done - sorting, straightening, sweeping, standardizing, self-discipline, safe, security, satisfaction.  (Hey, that's more than 5.  Oh well...)


This is a little more cut-and-dried:  Just three S's:  sort, straighten, and sell.  What doesn't sell is going to charity or the trashcan. Hmmm.  Guess that's a fourth "S".  And we could throw in a fifth "S," for satisfaction when it's all said and done. No matter how many "S's" you want to count, I count it as success because we will manage to seriously shed some old baggage. On a Saturday. Six S's anyone?

A fourth loose end was a little bittersweet.  I went through my blogroll and cleaned out some blogs that have gone by the wayside since I added them.  One asked me to drop them (that's a first.)  See, I told you I was a blog killer...

Happy Saturday!

Jun 17, 2011

Starting a sanctuary

Okay, I know it is très cliché to call your bedroom a sanctuary. (Thank you Oprah for putting that buzz phrase in our minds and psyches.)

But all hype and hyperbole aside, I fundamentally agree with the premise. When Sons Number One and Two came along, I was adamant: no babies in the bedroom. If they needed us in the night, we (well *I*) went to them. I went so far as to make a pallet on their floor occasionally during bouts of illness or a bad lightning storm.

Then came Baby #3. We were older. We were busy keeping up with two jobs, three kids and all sorts of projects and volunteer efforts. Those are our excuses, and I'm sticking to them.

She was a thrasher, so not only did she wind up in our bed, she often wound up the ONLY one in our bed. One night, Mr. Official and I found ourselves trying to catch at least a few winks on a sofa while the baby rested in our queen-size bed.  We are not large people, but a typical sofa is just not conducive for two full-size adults to get a decent night's rest.  After that fitful night we had an epiphany.

Baby in her bed?


Guess again.

A king-size bed!

Pure genius.

It was the best decision we ever made. Well, one of the best decisions we ever made. Convincing our daughter that big girl kindergarteners do not sleep with mama and daddy ranks up there as another GREAT decision.

In the years that followed, our bedroom became a place to rest, but there wasn't a lot of thought (or time or money) given to making it into that idyllic "sanctuary."

Now that swimmer girl is only a couple years from graduating and leaving the nest, I am finally working on creating a more peaceful retreat within our bedroom. The first thing before we moved in was to change the wall color in the master bedroom, from this to this:

It was a decent start.

Then we rushed to move in furniture and everything else had to wait a few weeks. (We've been a little busy.)  This has been our bedroom scene since mid-May:

It's been functional, but now it's time to start adding the soft touches that make it a truly restful and peaceful place to relax at the end of the day, or get geared up to face a new day.

I should preface these shots with a disclaimer: I struggle with confidence when selecting art work. Self-doubt creeps in when I look at a painting or photo: Is it too gaudy? Too pedestrian? Too overdone? Too matchy-matchy?  All those doubts and fears swirl together into a congealed mass of paralysis, and when that happens, I put off buying or hanging anything.

The pictures in the collage frame are of Mr. Official and me: our engagement photo, one taken on a 25th anniversary trip to NYC, and a shot taken last spring in Charleston.

I liked the sepia-toned print when my eyes first fell on it.  It is evocative of the walled gardens in Charleston that I absolutely positively adore peering at, even through keyholes and fence holes.  (When Mr. Official saw it, he said he initially thought it was a shot we had taken.  We're like peas and carrots, the two of us.) 

And yes, there are some things missing from the room (you know me and loose ends):

The center supports for the curtain rods.  I've seen them since we moved - I just need to remember where.

Artwork. I've got three more photos that I'm having matted and framed to hang on one of the walls you don't see in this photo.  And I'm leaving a blank spot on the wall just for a painting I'll be creating in a few weeks at Faithful Strokes. I just hope it turns out worthy of hanging on a wall. (Stomach churns at the pressure, but they promise you will like your result and I had decent success the last two times I painted something there.)

The final missing piece is the biggest one of all: a low dresser that I stripped last fall and I *am* going to finish this summer, then refinish our tall dresser to match. I'll post a followup when they're done and installed in here.  But in the meantime, we're definitely closer to having a grownup place to retreat to whenever we choose to.

Happy decorating!

Jun 16, 2011

He sends sun and the rain

The sermon on the mount is found in Matthew 5. Toward the end, Jesus said, "For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust..."

A few years ago, we suffered a very late freeze (three nights of freezing temperatures after trees and shrubs had fully leafed out), and then a severe drought that summer. Before that happened, I often grumbled if the weather didn't suit my plans. After losing so many established trees and shrubs to the double-punch that nature dealt that year, I decided I would accept whatever weather we receive, and most especially, never complain about getting rain at an inconvenient time.

Last May, we endured what "experts" called a 500-year flood, when it rained for three days and nights. This year, we received nearly as much rain, at about the same time of year. The Cumberland River didn't flood this time, but so much for the experts being able to offer reliable opinions.

This week, we finally got a much-needed break from weeks of mid-90 days and no rain. The rain comes at an inconvenient time - I need to be mulching and weeding the old house in order to get it ready to sell. But I won't complain. I am planning a garage sale for Saturday. If it gets rained out, so be it. The sun feels good, and so does the rain. I think I'll just focus on doing what I can to being counted among the "good" and "just" in that teaching, and let the one who made this world worry about the weather.

Happy weathering the storm!

Jun 15, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Frozen Citrus Pie

Looking through my virtual "recipe box" I realized I'm a little shy on cake and pie recipes.  And...lemon and lime (and even grapefruit) are among my favorite flavors to meld into sweet treats especially in the summer, so this one is right up my alley.  It's a tangy and cold ending to dinner.  It's equally yummy with lemonade or limemade mix.  Even better, it's incredibly easy to throw together - no one has to know how little time or effort it took.

Frozen Citrus Pie

1 graham cracker crust (make your own or store-bought; deep dish is best)
1 can frozen limemade or lemonade concentrate
1 small tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 quart vanilla ice cream

Mix together the concentrate and ice cream. Fold in the whipped topping and mound in graham cracker crust. Cover and freeze until frozen firm. Before serving, let stand a few minutes to slightly soften (it will make cutting easier.) Makes 8 servings.  Eat slow to avoid brain freeze :-)

Happy eating!

Jun 14, 2011

Me versus the pressure washer

It occurred to me yesterday (when our pressure washer nearly knocked me off my feet for the umpteenth time) that 2500 PSI is probably a lot more force than my 5 foot 2-inch frame is really equipped to handle. I have learned to brace myself if I'm on a ladder when I'm power washing - the first time I tried it I nearly launched myself into the hot tub, much to oldest son's consternation. (Well, at first he was concerned. Then he was merely amused.  My kids are pretty accustomed to my klutzy antics.)

But even though the force can and does push me off-balance with regularity, I refuse to turn over the power washing to anyone else. Power-hungry or simply empowered? Either way I get a lot of satisfaction from successfully wielding the wand and knocking the grime off windows, walls, gutters and concrete. I go easier on decking (after I figured out what that kind of pressure can do if you aren't careful.)

Something tells me I'd flunk...
And yes, I am aware I run all kinds of risks by power washing in flipflops, but I keep my toes out of the way.  (Don't ask me how I learned that lesson...I just know, okay?)   I also prefer sunglasses to safety goggles, shorts and tank tops over full length pants and waterproof gloves.  Ear plugs, pshaw.  What fun would it be to power wash if you had to wear all of that?

This year I've had double the power washing fun - old house and new house both needed some serious power washing. New house's deck and guttering along the back are cleaned (and the deck is stained and sealed.) Old house's windows, siding, gutters and north-side sidewalks are cleaned.

I think that just leaves a little deck work at the old house, and then I might have to put up the power washer, at least until I'm ready to tackle that big wraparound porch on the new place. Trim, rails and concrete to be cleaned - woohoo! Sounds like a fun job for a hot July or August day.

Happy powering!

Jun 13, 2011

'Tis the season

No, not THAT season. Not yet. (But I did find myself with the "We Need a Little Christmas" tune stuck in my head as I was moving Christmas decorations from old house to new house.)

No, this marks the beginning of a new season of....
Hospitality (hos-pi-tal-i-tee)
1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.
2.the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Arguably, hospitality is always in season, but I put dinner parties and other social events on the backburner as we house hunted and moved our belongings.  After a long dry spell, it's time to start opening our doors to friends and neighbors and family once again.

Over the next few weeks, I've lined up Bunco night for the girls, and come-and-go housewarming parties for two big groups of friends and family. Later in the summer, I'm having our Secret Sisters group over for a brunch.  Before summer slips away, I may be able to squeeze in a few other shindigs here as well. 

Mr. Official's man-cave is starting to look like a prime spot for race- and game-day gatherings this fall and next winter.

We're down to host a devo in November - which will be here before we know it.  Hopefully by then we'll have broken in this place properly with lots of gatherings, both big and small, because hospitality shouldn't be limited to one particular time of year.

Happy host- and hostess-ing!

Jun 11, 2011

Loose Ends - No End in Sight

The more I look around, the more loose ends I find.  I think this is going to be a very busy summer.

Saturday afternoon, we tied up some ends, but in the process created a new loose end.  We took down my greenhouse and hauled the pieces to the new house, where they are now stowed in the shed - thus creating a merely relocated loose end.  I'm going to need a few replacement pieces in order to reconstruct it, but I have set a deadline for us:  UT has a bye week September 23.  That sounds like the perfect date to rebuild the greenhouse, just in time for fall and winter. So I just need to get those parts ordered BEFORE that date.  And I need to figure out WHICH parts to order before THAT.  We'll see.

Monday I tied up some tangled ends:  I pulled four charger cords from my car, and tossed all by the one for TomTom - the rest were leftovers from cell phones that have been replaced - not all were mine, though.

Tuesday, I finally cleaned off my kitchen/office desk and restored it to its pre-move status.  (Now that the initial tsunami-size wave of SBV stuff has ebbed away I don't need to use the upstairs office.)  Bad timing - I also made cookies that day. It is beyond my ability to sit within arm's reach of fresh-baked cookies and not eat one.  Or two. Or more.

I also finally updated our TomTom - it was only a couple years out of date.  Maybe the next trip to Florida will not involve "Tom" wigging out and thinking we're driving on the beach for a 30-mile stretch of new(er) highway.  As much as I enjoy irking "Tom," the novelty of that prank has worn off. 

Since I was on a roll, I cleaned up the three bar stools that had been stored for the past decade-plus, and tucked them along the eating bar on our kitchen island - it was like they were made to fit there. 

Thursday morning saw middle child and I traipsing off to the old house bright and early, and hauling back the recyclable pots and flats out of the now-dismantled greenhouse.  I saved a few to keep, and the rest are now on their way to wherever recyclable plastics go.  At least it's not to a landfill.

Friday I mailed out 70-some invites to a get-together we're planning for later this month.  Yes, that ties up a loose end - the invitations have been sitting here since we moved in.  It was high time to get them in the mail so people can hopefully make it to the party!

Several more loose ends are now on my radar screen.  Some of them involve the drill, a pencil and a level.  Others involve heavy-duty gloves and a big brush. Stay tuned...

Happy tying,

Jun 10, 2011

Amazing Amazon

For a long time I've said if you can't buy it at WalMart, you just don't need it. I've been known to purchase paint and pastrami, makeup and motor oil, and who-knows-what-else together on a single trip to Sam Walton's sprawling emporium.  A friend once joked about getting strange looks when he bought squirrel corn and shotgun pellets at WalMart.  (He should have gotten strange looks because he was buying them together for a reason...but that's another story.)

In the past few years, Amazon has become like a virtual WalMart.  Appropriately named after the giant river, this once-small online book retailer has become my go-to source for just about anything I need or want and can't buy locally, and they rush it right to my doorstep.
There's a reason they call it Amazon...

It's not just for cars anymore...
In the last year or so I've bought cookware and Wenol metal polish to clean my Fiestaware, bedding, drapes, toys and games for Bible classes, a new camera lens...even our new printer/copier and now toner cartridges for it.  It seems anytime I'm looking for an item, all paths lead to Amazon as the place with the best variety and price. And they still sell books, to boot.

I think just about the only things I can't buy from Amazon are perishable groceries and my violet china.  And my beloved vintage Fiesta dishes.  Pretty amazing how the world of shopping has changed and continues to evolve.

Happy ordering,

Jun 9, 2011

New season, new house, new blog banner

5-years?  Not for me.
Maybe it's because I'm a dilettante. Or maybe I just ignore the sage advice of blog experts who advise bloggers to find their image and make it their brand.

Hmmph.  Branding may be good for cattle, but I sometimes change things up a bit.  And therefore so does my blog.

Seriously, I like changing up my blog's look every now and then okay, frequently.   I do try to keep the same fonts for the title and subtitle, so you know you're at THIS Domestic Dilettante's blog and not this one or that one.

If I kept a hand-written diary (and I was always good at starting, and lousy at persevering at them as a kid), I would NOT do well with one of these 5-year diaries. Cracking open this same cover for 1,825 days? No way, no how.  But I salute those who do.

Last year (I think it was last summer), I started playing around with customizing my blog banners. Thanks to  Banner of Blessings for some super cute (and free!) banners I personalized.  In addition to using a few of theirs, I've also used a few of my own photos - the bird house in the winter, and the newest header, which is our own new front porch with its hanging baskets of mini-petunias.


Unless I missed one or two, in the past year, I've gone through five banner headings, and am now on Number 6: 
A new change of scenery every 2-3 months?  That sounds about right.  I doubt I will recycle any of these, unless I just can't find another seasonal image I like somewhere down the road.
It's much less frequent than I change clothes but more frequent than I change my wardrobe or hair color. And WAYYYY more frequent than I change paint colors or furniture.  (Which is good, because it's a whole lot easier - and cheaper - to change blog banners than wall colors.)

Happy blogging,

Jun 8, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joe sandwiches are one of those foods you either love or loathe.  It is a sure bet my sides will hurt from laughing when I watch SNL's "Lunch Lady Land" skit with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley, which - in a twisted way - celebrated this humble and much-maligned school lunch staple of the 60s and 70s.  Remember?

"Sloppy joe.
Slop, sloppy joe.
Sloppy joe.
Slop, sloppy joe.
Come on.
Sloppy joe.
Slop, sloppy joe...."

Of course, if you haven't seen the skit, that won't make sense.  If you're not a fan of Adam Sandler's brand of low-brow humor, you won't laugh when you do see it.   But I have to consider it one of Chris Farley's most memorable characters (but not as good as the motivational speaker who lived in a van, down by the river.)

I digress.

Where were we?  Ahhh yes.  The sandwich.

I am not a fan of the MSG-laden canned concoction found on store shelves (although I confess I've bought the stuff in a pinch.)

This version - which I adapted from Once-a-Month-Cooking with a few changes - is fast, easy and delish - as long as I have chili sauce on hand, I can count on it as a go-to meal when we're scrambling for something to throw together.  (OAMC gives make-ahead freezing instructions, but do we need to make it ahead of time?)

Sloppy Joes (aka Joes to Go)

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (or more, to taste)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Hamburger buns

Brown ground beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic.  Drain.  Add additional ingredients and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Spoon on buns to serve.  (Toasted buns are best.)  Makes 5-6 sandwiches.

Sloppy Joes. Is it plural or possessive: Joe's or Joes?  Either way, they're a fast, inexpensive and fun meal for families on the go and a trip down memory lane for those of us who grew up eating the cafeteria version.

Happy cooking!

Jun 6, 2011

Keeping a home

"A woman's place is in the home."

Growing up in the '60s and '70s, even in a conservative, traditional family, I was surrounded by enough feminism to reject that statement (and the verse in Titus 2 that is its basis) as sexist and demeaning. And let's face it - those words were usually uttered to "put women in their place" by men who didn't truly understand their role or the role of women.

So I grew up, got married, and a few years later we had baby #1. And then I went back to school. A few years later, we had baby #2 and I had two B.S. degrees (finance and accounting) and a handful of plum job offers to choose from. I eagerly joined the workforce and charged into 70-hour workweeks and jetting off to exotic locales like...Kansas. And Iowa. And western Texas. And eastern Kentucky. (Apologies to those living in rural areas: your states are lovely in a pastoral sort of way, but visiting pipelines and coal mines isn't exactly glamorous.) But I found my niche in the HR field, and I enjoyed the challenges of my job, at least most days.

At long last, baby #3 came along, along with yet another rung on the career ladder. The juggling act became more precarious as I tried to have it all, be it all, do it all. A nanny helped a lot: she cleaned and laundered and chauffeured my munchkins around during the day, and I took the reins at night, trying to make sure we had wholesome meals and family time squeezed in between ball games, church and school functions.

Finally, eleven years ago, I stood at a crossroads: career? Or home? I took the road that is less-traveled these days: to stay at home.

It was counter-intuitive: oldest son was entering high school, middle son was in middle school and the baby was off to kindergarten. At a time when most women would be plunging back into the workforce, I quietly exited it.

For over a decade, my days have been filled with chauffeuring kids to and from school, ball, church and friends. I have been blessed by a chance to work from home, in a field I have no formal training in but an abiding love and passion for (gardening), and have been able to weave work and family together to form my days (and nights) for many years.

Even still, for many years I didn't consider myself a "keeper of the home" and our house showed it. Yes, I cleaned and organized and (haphazardly) decorated it, but my heart wasn't in it. I didn't see this as "my place" in life.

Finally, this move has opened my eyes. We have a lovely new house to call home. And for the first time in my life, I find myself embracing the idea of being a keeper of my home. Throwing myself into managing my home and everything that goes on inside it, and enjoying the simple pleasures of folding freshly laundered clothes or mopping the floor.

Yes, it is possible to get pleasure from blessing your family with a well-tended home. I don't know why it took me this long to figure that out.

And lest my working friends think this is a condemnation of your choice to pursue a career outside your home, it definitely is not. I think it's possible to tend your home and have a career.  Been there, done that, got the frequent flyer miles to prove it. I admire and love each of you for proving it is possible every day.

My only wish and prayer for all of us is that when we find ourselves at the crossroads, and we are faced with that choice, that we can choose the one we really want to pursue at that stage of our lives. And that our choices bring peace and contentment to us, and blessings to our families.

Happy Monday,

Jun 4, 2011

Tying Up More Loose Ends: Week 2

After my success at hanging a blind (it's the little things that mean a lot, isn't it?) I decided I would shoot for tying up at least a couple if not several loose ends every week - ideally one a day, but some of these "ends" are going to take longer than a day and some weeks have other stuff crowding the schedule. (I'm pretty sure there are enough undone and almost-done things around here to keep me busy every day all summer long.)

During the past week, I managed to finish the following tasks:

.  I scraped the ceiling in the old house's laundry room. It was only ten years overdue. Okay, we'll cut me some slack and call it four years overdue since that's when I scraped the bonus room and it was the next-to-last room to be scraped, and promised I'd move onto the laundry room next.

It took me under two hours, start to finish. Honestly, in the last four years, I couldn't spare two hours to scrape the blasted ceiling and a couple more hours to paint it??? I have made myself a promise that I will focus on the success and I won't beat myself up over these loose ends, but that was definitely a hall-of-shame project. It's done, and the new owners - whoever they might be - can enjoy the house popcorn-free.

Bonus:  Also on Saturday I rearranged an alcove in the new garage so I can use my wire shelves from the old house and store my canning supplies and other stuff that's coming out of the attic.  As I swept and tidied, guess what I found behind the water heater? The missing wand to the wood blind we just hung. So now to replace the replacement with the original, and take the other wand back to the old house.  Confused yet? Me, too.

Monday.  I can't take full credit for this one, but I did help. A little.  My brave menfolk - all three of them - took turns climbing into the fiery furnace (aka attic) and handing down boxes and tubs.  No one could stay up there long - it was simply too hot.  Sidenote:  Two attics are NOT double the fun.  The Christmas and other seasonal stuff is now tucked away in the new walk-in attic (God bless the genius architect who first designed a house with an attic you can WALK into instead of climb into.)  The canning jars are now on their new shelves in the garage, along with the ice cream freezer and even our turkey fryer/low country boiling pot.  (Forgot we even had it!)

Unfortunately, the rest of the stuff is now one ginormous loose end.  The old house's garage looks like a scene from "The Hoarders" with six piles o' stuff:  one for each member of our family, plus one designated for a garage sale.  The next step in the process is for the individual piles to begin shrinking as everyone culls through their stuff and moves things to the garage sale pile, or to the trash.  But when theory meets reality, they are often complete strangers, unknown to each other.  Sigh. I'm sure the piles will eventually go away.

Tuesday.  I patched all the nail holes and did a final clean sweep of the old house before the painters arrived.  I can finally say the house is really and truly ready to be painted.

The rest of the week was spent on getting several work-related tasks and volunteer loose ends pushed to the finish line, in between playing swim taxi to and from practice.  I'm hoping next week I'll have a little more time to tie up a few more loose ends, because I do believe I am on a roll.

Happy end-tying!