Friday, September 30, 2011

Early Fall

We are having a few sunny and warm Fall days here and I have been busy catching up on the last of the outside painting chores. I have had to scale back my ambitions this year, as our summer was very cool and wet. I did want to continue staining the outside of the house, particularly the front, as it is becoming faded and a little bit weathered. But that will have to wait until next year. Doesn't it seem there is never enough time?

But I did finish the deck, the railings, the back of the house, the front steps, and today I will stain the two gates. I wish I had enough time to finish the arbors over the gates, but the weather is not holding out for me.

I have also been harvesting the last of the herbs. Here I have Mint for tea, Golden Oregano, and some Sage. Today I will harvest my Tansy for making moth sachets. I will post directions and the recipe for the moth sachets when it dries. It is so fragrant and it is very easy to grow. I started mine from seed heads I gathered growing wild.

I have been picking blackberries, too. We have two kinds growing wild here. The Himalayan and the Evergreen. I prefer the Evergreen. They are larger and firmer and in my opinion, have a better taste. So I have 'cultivated' the Evergreen, encouraging them to grow along a wired trellis and also around my very large Holly tree. They have beautiful pink flowers in the spring. But they have vicious thorns, even on the toothed leaves. But it is worth a few scratches. I made Hubby Blackberry Cobbler this week. He told me that 'I spoiled him' when I dished it up. The recipe is posted under 'Baking'. I have more recipes to share when I have picked a few more berries.

The skies have been so clear. I have to take advantage of every minute! It was so warm yesterday that I worked outside with only a thin short sleeved top.

I have been gradually converting the plantings on my deck for the cool months. Here I have potted up various small ground covers and Heathers. In the spring I will transplant them into the garden. Gone are the Petunias and Lobelias, although my Marigolds are still going strong. I have just one pot of Lobelia still blooming here on the bottom.

This little plaque sits among the pots on the baker's rack. It was my Mother's. She also kept it among the pots on her deck. The little verdigris frogs were also hers. They are candle holders. I found the tiny glass 'conservatory' at the thrift shop for just a few dollars.

This is my Succulent garden. I overwinter them under the low eave so they stay dry in our wet winters. These Succulents are so easy to grow and you can make new ones simply by pulling off a section with roots on it and re-potting it. These make great little gifts. The Strawberries are still producing and I have one pot on the bottom shelf with Strawberries hanging down. There is a pot of Catnip on the very top shelf, safely out of reach. I  recently harvested some of the long stems and put them in a cardboard tray. The cats would take turns lying inside the tray, a blissful expression on their little faces.

This little wire turtle was also my Mother's. She loved to decorate her deck with all sorts of little things. I prefer a less cluttered look, but this little guy seems to fit in with the wire rack display. I also have a similar one of hers, a little wire snail, on another shelf.

My large planters have Barberry, Irish Moss, and Variegated Ivy, for a year round display. I tuck Pansies here and there in the Spring and Fall. I change these large planters whenever the shrubs get too big. I will probably do that in the Spring. They last about two - three years in the pots before they need transplanting. I put recycled packing peanuts in the bottom of the pots to keep them light and provide drainage. Be careful when you do this though, as some packing peanuts are soluble now for environmental reasons and they will dissolve. Test them with water first.

I have a tip for moving large planters on a deck. Use a carpet sample. Tilt the pot and slide the sample underneath, pile side down, then pivot the pot to place it completely on the carpet, leaving a large section of carpet free to grab and pull. (Pull with one hand and hold the edge of the pot with the other to keep from tipping.) Even the heaviest pots are easy to move this way. This also works great with furniture on bare floors. If moving furniture over carpeting, simply turn the carpet sample so that it is pile side up.

The rain is coming back tomorrow and will stay for a few days. Today I will pick my apples and will bake an apple pie over the weekend. I promise to share the recipe.

Fall is definitely here. Last night, Hubby and I stood on the deck and looked up into the starry night, hoping for a mild winter. Off in the distance we heard two bull elk bugling back and forth. The swallows have left us, a sure sign of the approaching cold. Every evening we would watch them fly across the little river valley performing their airy ballet. I have started feeding the birds again. Time to unpack the sweaters. I hope you are enjoying the beautiful Fall days.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When We Met

This Month Hubby and I celebrate another anniversary. We have been married a loooong time. Over 35 years. Almost 40. We have known each other since our early teens.

It was the summer of 68. Two weeks before school started. I was just shy of 14. Hubby was 15. Two skinny kids, all arms and legs and braces.

I attended his 'pool party', invited by another boy. My first boy/girl party.

This was your typical 'Wonder Years' time. Dads went to work all day. Moms stayed home and played house. But the winds of change were all around us. Only we didn't know it yet. We were safely cocooned in our little worlds. For the time being.

So, my parents drove me to the pool party. They wanted to make sure it was properly chaperoned. As the wood paneled station wagon pulled up to the front curb, a young man opened the door for me. I looked up and right into two of the clearest baby blues I had ever laid eyes on. And in that one look, some little voice inside told me that this was one of those 'memorable moments'. This was a moment that would completely chart my destiny.

As I was lent a helping hand to exit my parents car, this cute boy with the clear blue eyes introduced himself to my parents and I. And when my Mother demanded to speak to 'the adult on the premises' I was mortified, but Blue Eyes didn't hesitate. This was his home and he went to get his Mother. After being reassured that all was proper, I was set free. To follow my destiny. Unaware.

My new found friend, brought me out back to the party in progress. The boy that invited me was there, and about 15 other boys. I was the only girl! This was an interesting development. At that time of my life, I was still very much the Tom Boy. And I was an excellent swimmer. So when I was shown the dressing room to change into my swimsuit, that is exactly what I did. My first two piece. Pink Polka Dots with Ruffles. I was feeling very sure of myself until I realized what I would be walking out to.

There was nobody in the pool. And so, I quickly walked over to the diving board, hopped a few times to get the feel of it, and made a perfect dive into the water. Where I stayed. Afraid to get out.

But then, all the boys scrambled to join me and pretty soon there was quite a bit of rough housing that I didn't want any part of. So I made my exit and I changed back into my clothes. When I came out of the dressing room, the boy that was my 'date' was waiting for me. Demanding a kiss. He pinned me against the wall. I was trying to escape. That's when Baby Blue Eyes rescued me. He pulled that boy away from me and gave him a lecture on how to treat a girl. I was smitten.

Here was this cute boy, that I had just met, rescuing me! Little did I know that I would be rescued many times by this same guy. Not only was he cute, he was polite and well mannered. He took me by the arm and sat me down poolside and fetched me some punch. And made me laugh. And laugh. His friends were sweet and funny, too. (I found out that the boy that invited me was not really his friend, just an acquaintance)

By the end of the party, even though I was very young, I knew I felt some kind of strong connection to this funny, sweet, polite boy.

And what a journey it has been. Stay tuned to the next chapter.....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie

We had our first Autumn storm this week. 
Wild blustery wind. Plenty of rain. Dropping temperatures.
A dusting of snow. 
 Hubby still has a huge pile of firewood that needs to be stacked. 
Leaves need raking. Fall bulbs still need to be planted.

 All this cold weather and activity leaves you hungry
 for something to stick to your ribs.

 This recipe will satisfy that with its golden, tender crust,
steaming hot chicken and vegetables in a thick, creamy sauce. 
You can serve this as a complete meal and it's also 
a great make ahead recipe for serving a crowd.
 Everyone loves its old fashioned goodness. 
This is an easy version that can be whipped up in no time 
with just a little bit of pre-cooking involved that can be done ahead of time.

Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 8

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. 
4 frozen, boneless, chicken breasts
or 6-8 frozen, boneless chicken tenders. 

6-8 medium sized russet potatoes. 

1 small package frozen peas and carrots
or your favorite mixed, frozen cut vegetables. 

2 large cans (22.6 oz) Cream of Chicken
or Cream of Mushroom condensed soup, undiluted. 
3 cups Bisquick Baking Mix

1 cup sour cream
(This step can be done up to a day ahead)

*Place frozen chicken breasts or tenders in large pot
with enough water to cover. 
Bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover. 
Let 'poach' for 1 hour, then shred or cut into small pieces.

*Meanwhile, wash and cut potatoes in half
and cook in boiling water just until easily pierced with a fork. 
Don't overcook. 

Let cool, peel and cut into bite sized pieces. 

 Place cut up cooked chicken, potatoes, and frozen veggies
in large (8"x 13") baking pan. Pour undiluted Cream of Chicken
or Cream of Mushroom Condensed soup over all and gently mix together. 

Season with salt and pepper, if desired. 

Prepare Crust

In large mixing bowl, combine Bisquick and sour cream
until soft dough forms. 

On floured (or Bisquick) covered surface, knead dough a few times
until no longer sticky. Form into flattened disk
and with floured rolling pin, roll out dough into rectangle 
slightly larger than baking pan. 

Roll onto rolling pin, then transfer to top of chicken mixture. 

Pinch edges. 

Cut slits to release steam. 

Cover edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent 
excess browning. 

Bake @ 400 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes, 
or until filling is bubbly and hot. 
(Remove foil the last 10 minutes)


Thursday, September 22, 2011

A birthday celebration and a housewarming

My Daughter, 'J' recently hosted a birthday celebration for the three September birthdays in the family. My sons 'G' and 'D' and my son-in-law, 'E'. She just moved in with her Honey, 'JJ'. He owns a lovely home and his love of my sweet daughter prompted him to open this beautiful home to her, to share together.

Now, 'JJ' is as manly as you can get. He hunts, he fishes, he drives a jeep and a mustang. He has a very manly job supervising a group of macho men.

And then he meets my daughter, 'J'. You can't get any girlier. Petite, high heel loving, marketing position in an all woman office. She loves everything white, dripping with crystals, pink flowered and soft.

Girlie-Girl meets Manly-Man.

How do they blend the two in one home?

It was a little tough at first. But now they have compromised. Manly-Man gets his own bonus room, 'The man cave', where his black leather furniture has been moved, and his deer heads, and his videos of hunting. He also gets the whole garage (once it is cleared of all the Girlie-Girl boxes), the backyard and the shared family room. (For which new furniture was bought in a neutral tone)

Girlie-Girl gets the rest. In came the flower paintings, the soft white and pale green colors, the crystal lamps, the pink flowers (relegated to one bathroom upstairs).

I have to give Manly-Man credit. He is being very accommodating. He loves his Girlie-Girl. And that's a good thing. Because.......

This is what life with Girlie-Girl is like. Soft and Beautiful.

Full of Love and Light

And Angels, of course. What Manly-Man wouldn't want a few Angels around to remind him to be good?

So when sweet daughter, 'J' asked her Father if he could possibly tighten up and paint this old bench she had for her new porch, how could he say no?

And here he is painting up an old plant stand we had in the shed to go along with it. In the rain. Under an umbrella.

To add to the front porch. Now what Manly-Man doesn't want a beautiful white bench and bucket of hydrangea's beside his front door?

But he loved it. Because he loves her. And it gave the front porch that romantic old fashioned look, as if to say, A Happy Couple lives here.

And so, the first party was thrown in the Happy Couple's blended home. A birthday party. The theme was 'Football'. Because, after all, it was a party for the guy's. A perfect blend.

And isn't that what it's all about? Harmony, Compromise, Sharing, Love.

Girlie-Girl meets Manly-Man.

A perfect Match.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seeing the Light

I love the quality of the light this time of year. The sun sits lower on the horizon, creating long rays of light, especially in the morning and evening. This allows me to see things not noticeable in the bright sunshine of the summer sun. The light captures raindrops and casts longer shadows.

Sometimes the raindrops will act as prisms and turn beautiful colors. This happens only on Spring and Fall mornings, when the rays of light are low enough to shine through the little drops. I have seen bright green, red, and blue. They are as bright as little electric lights, blinking in the sun.

This is also the time of year when gossamer spider webs are illuminated in the morning dew. Imagine the work that went into such a creation! It was visible for only a short time before the sun rose and the dew evaporated.

Raindrops glisten like liquid sunshine.

Shadows reveal things not apparent in ordinary light.

I read a book by Carlos Castaneda where his mentor, the Yaqui Indian, Don Juan, was trying to get him to 'see'. He told him to only look at shadows for one entire day. To ignore what he normally 'sees' and focus only on the shadows.

Life is neither black nor white, but many shades of gray. I try to apply that rule. Too many times you can stay rigid in your thinking. But if you open your mind to the possibility that maybe there are other ways of looking at things, at 'seeing', you create a way to view the world with much more ease.

Problems are easier to solve. You become much more accepting of other people's views. There are many ways of looking at things.

Great works of art are created in just such a way. Opening your mind to not only what is obvious, but also to the hidden meanings of the shadows. And in doing so, you really get to 'See the Light.' Because if not for the shadows, there would be no contrast, no illumination, no focus.

We live in a world of many contrasts. You can choose to look at the world in only one way. Or you can open your mind to the many possibilities.

This time of year reminds me of the many ways of 'Seeing the Light.'

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Easy Macaroni and Cheese


On these cool, Autumn nights, sometimes you need something that will stick to your ribs! Macaroni and Cheese is an all time favorite for that! The good news is that this version is healthy and light. It is very easy to prepare and is excellent for making ahead on busy days and then popping in the oven when you need it. Or you can skip the oven part and eat it instantly. Either way, it is satisfying and delicious.

 Easy Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 4


1/2 box (13.25 oz) Whole Grain Rotini, cooked

1 lg head Fresh Broccoli, cut into small florets, or equivalent amount frozen broccoli florets (about 1- 1/2 cups) steamed or cooked with pasta
(Alternately, use thinly sliced carrots) 
(if baking macaroni in oven, slightly under cook pasta and broccoli)

8 0z Shredded low fat Swiss Cheese, Cheddar, or Cheese of your choice (shredded Mexican blend is delicious)

1 can (10 3/4 oz ) Cream of Celery Soup - 98%  Fat Free version

1/4 cup low fat milk

Two large Tomatoes, sliced

3/4 cup Italian or other seasoned bread crumbs

1-2 tbsp melted butter (optional)

Herbs of choice, such as  1/2 tsp basil, thyme or even a pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Cook pasta and broccoli, together or separate.
In a small saucepan, on medium heat, add soup, cheese and milk together and heat until cheese melts, stirring often. Add herbs if desired, when cheese is melted.

Combine pasta and broccoli and pour melted cheese over all, stirring gently to combine.

At this point you can serve the macaroni and cheese as is, or you can put it in a small casserole dish and arrange sliced tomatoes on top, and sprinkle with bread crumbs (combined with the 2 tbsp melted butter, or left plain)
 Cover and refrigerate to heat later, or bake in a 350 degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes until tomatoes are cooked and macaroni is hot and bubbly.

Serve with a nice green salad and a side of apple sauce.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The last of the Roses

The last blooms are on the rose bushes now. Summer is coming to an end and soon I will have to say goodbye to my beautiful roses. This beauty is the rose I planted in commemoration of my Mother. She loved yellow roses. I always bought her a bouquet for her anniversary at the end of September. It is only one day before my own anniversary.

It is not truly a yellow rose, more like apricot, but I couldn't find a yellow that was scented. I refuse to plant a rose that has no scent. This rose has a delicate soft scent.

I have been thinking of my Mother a lot lately. She loved the fall. I miss her. She lived right down the street from me in a little house that she and my father built by hand. I haven't been able to go down there since right after she died. It is at the very end of the road. The time went by so fast.

We used to stay up all night talking together when I would walk down there to visit. She was interested in everything going on in the world. We would have discussions about politics, philosophy, books, history, life.

She would call me up at least once a week and say, 'Hey, K (my nickname), let's go to the tulip festival', or whatever was going on around here. We would pile in my old station wagon and go shopping, antiquing, to craft fairs, to art galleries. In the summer when the kids were home, we would all go to the lake and have picnics. Hubby and my Dad would come to the lake after work and we would cook burgers or hot dogs.

Sometimes she could be so silly and we would laugh until we cried.

I miss that.

The rose was planted in honor of all that she meant to me.

This girly rose is planted along side the steps from my deck. I can't describe to you the heavenly scent she has. Every time I go by her, I have to put my whole face up to her and take deep breaths. She is so sweet. Something has taken a little nibble from her petal, but otherwise she is a very healthy rose that blooms all summer.

This pale ruffly beauty is a surprise this year. I thought she was gone for good. I planted her years ago in a neglected garden over run by morning glory. I hadn't watered her all summer. And then she bloomed, showing off her gorgeous pink ruffles. It has inspired me to reclaim that neglected garden and I will be working on that this fall.

This one is my Rugosa Rose. She is completely care free and I admit I neglect her. But I purposely planted her in an area that I wouldn't need to water much. I have a well, and in the summer, it can get pretty low if we haven't had a lot of rain. I have to be selective in what I water. But she doesn't mind, and has actually spread into a hedge. She is very tall and extremely thorny. The deer used to eat her, though and I would never get blooms.

But now I have him. We haven't had deer since. He can run faster than the deer and he has turned from a timid house dog (when we first found him) to White Fang, dog of the North! Lol! I do truly appreciate him! And so do my roses!

I have one last rose to show you. She is growing among my herbs right below my deck. It gets full sunshine all day, and she has bloomed her little heart out all summer long with big sprays of highly scented fuchsia flowers. Any little breeze brings her scent wafting up to us as we sit on the deck. We have very much enjoyed her.

But now the light is not so bright and the nights are getting very cool.
The first leaves are turning and starting to fall.
But like my Mother and her Mother before her, we love the Fall. It is the time of year when you can slow down. The apples are ripe and that means apple pie, apple crisp, apple cobbler. There are fresh squashes, blackberries, pears. Halloween is just around the corner with all of the wonderful decorations and costumes. And who can forget about the wonderful fall leaves! So, even though I have to say goodbye to my beautiful roses, there are lovely days ahead. My little apple tree is full of almost ripe apples. I have a wonderful apple pie recipe to share with you as soon as I pick them. Mmmm! I can smell it baking now! Can you?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jet Trails

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the New York City Twin Towers terrorist attacks. That morning is etched clearly in my mind. It was one of those events that marks time. Most everyone remembers what they were doing at the precise moment they became aware of what was happening.

I was sleeping when Hubby woke me up with a quick kiss and told me to look at the television. He was in a hurry, late for an appointment and said he had to leave. I was left watching the screen, confused. At first I thought it was a terrible fire.

And as I prepared myself a cup of coffee and tuned in to what was going on, I heard a reporter speak. A jet had flown into one of the twin towers. I was alone and sat watching, mesmerized. Then, on live television, I watched a second jetliner fly into the second twin tower.

That's when the phone calls started. One by one, every member of my family. Distraught, frightened, horrified.

As I tried to make sense of it all, I watched as first one, then the other tower fell. On live television, reporters were caught in the black cloud.

The eerie sounds of the firefighter's locator beacons were all you could hear.

In that slice of time, that moment in History, the world changed in ways we could have never imagined. As in other suspended moments in time; Pearl Harbor, Assassinations, Natural Disasters; life was irrevocably changed.

The word Terrorist was ingrained in all of us.

Has Terrorism ever accomplished anything?

What have we learned?

That there are great and honorable heroes. There are acts of unbelievable courage and love.

And the victims, in their final messages to their loved ones did not speak of revenge or hate. They  spoke only of love. They were selfless in their concern for those they were leaving behind.

This is what we remember about this moment in time. This is why we honor those that died.

This moment that changed everyone who witnessed it. People speak of how it changed their lives. They speak of how it taught them to cherish their families and loved ones. How short and uncertain this life is and how kindness really does matter. They want to make sure that those who sacrificed their lives did not die in vain.  All of the victims of the attacks. All of the young soldiers sent to war.

We have transcended these unspeakable acts, into a commemoration of virtues. Bravery, courage, sacrifice, appreciation.

And yes, we have all lost a little more of our innocence. A little more of our security. A little more of our freedoms. And that is sad.

But what we have gained is far more valuable.

From that day forward, I have never let an opportunity go by without telling my loved ones how much they matter.

When we say goodbye to one another, we always say, 'I love you'.

Because life is short. And love is the most important thing. These are valuable lessons. Learned at a very high cost.
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