Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Deep Black Earth

Fall is a wonderful time for the gardener.  I am in love with the richness of the season and the potential I can feel for next year.  While most of the garden around here is settling down into dormancy, there are still some things to do.  

I'm very happy with my little trees, all of which I planted (or transplanted) when they were tiny.  A walk around the yard shows the hawthorne, crabapple, river birch and redbud all much taller than me.  One of my two hollies, below, (both "found" as seedlings)  turned out to be female so now I'm enjoying her bright red berries!  The male is about chest high, nice and bushy, while the one pictured below is about 2 1/2 feet tall.  I planted them both when they had about 4-5 leaves and were a few inches tall. 
Here's something I started finding in and around my gardens which was new to me (below).   This one is in a little sapling which decided to grow next to my compost area.  It's an egg case of a praying mantis.  While it looks kind of foamy, it's very hard and dry to the touch. I love seeing them, since I love having praying mantises around.  
Not too long ago, a friend of mine who lives in "Pennsylvania Dutch country" mentioned some lore about these egg cases:  the height of the cases above the ground shows how much snow we are going to get this winter!  I'm hoping this is just an old "wives' tale" because this egg case was at my eye level!!!!

On beautiful Fall weekends, I love to get outside and get something accomplished.  The last weekend I was at home, the weather was phenomenal--mostly sunny with temperatures in the high 60's and no wind. Almost all of my trees' leaves were down, so I decided to start some deep black composted soil for next year's garden.  As I raked, I was a little bit torn--I think that the leaves are really needed around the side yard because the soil is so sandy that the grass can't grow in some parts.  

But grass isn't my thing, so I raked.  Between the big cherry out front and the two maple trees on the side, I easily gathered several huge piles.  Using an old trick from my former father-in-law, I raked the piles onto an old double sheet and used it to transport the leaves to the compost area--I think it was 6 trips!  

So I pulled the semi-composted grass cuttings and vegetable parings out of my compost "bin," piled the leaves in, and intermittently tossed the old stuff on top.  In the end (and I pulled out the tape measure because my estimates are unreliable) my pile of leaves mixed with the started compost is 5 ft. tall, 7 ft. wide and 6 ft. deep--officially big enough it to create its own heat, from what I've read!  
By the time Spring returns, (with a couple of turnings probably) I should have some beautiful, deep black earth to mix into my mediocre soil for my herbs, flowers and vegetables to enjoy.  Can't wait!

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

I'll admit it. The movie ads introduced me to this novel.  In case you haven't seen them, "The Help" tells the story of Black women who worked for white families in early 1960's Mississippi.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks for the Sales?

Thanksgiving. I am thankful for so many things. My son, my husband, my home, my family, my health.  We had a great visit with my sister and her family and a fantastic dinner with them.  Of course there's never enough time, and too soon we rushed homeward to have lunch with our special girl from Guatemala.  She's growing soooo fast!  There again, our visit was far too short.

This year, I felt Thanksgiving was marred by the nonstop barrage of television ads for "Black Friday" sales beginning earlier and earlier. Stores used to open at 6 a.m., then it was 5. This week I heard commercials for retailers opening at 3 a.m., then midnight, then 10 p.m. THURSDAY and remaining open all night (that was the outlets). One opened at 8 p.m. Thursday with its "Black Friday" sales, and then KMart repeated ad nauseam that its stores opened at 6 a.m. THURSDAY (open all day) to begin its sales. It really irked me that this year, of all years, when we are in the midst of a recession and so many people have so much less to spend, that the retailers are pushing so hard.

It's also irked me that suddenly one of the big unwritten rules was broken. Thanksgiving used to be about family and taking time out from the everyday grind (including shopping, I always thought) to be thankful for our blessings, and the stores used to respect that. This year, I felt that they intruded on what used to be quasi-sacred time.

Or, perhaps I'm misplacing the blame here, and should look to the people who actually go out to sales on Thanksgiving morning or evening. If no one came to the stores that violated the unwritten rule, they would never do it again; it wouldn't be economically worth it. Conversely, it's safe to assume that opening on Thanksgiving was calculated to be "worth it" to the retailers, and from the TV news I saw showing masses of people, it seemed to be so. Time will tell, and if there is a dearth of complaints or criticism about opening on this holiday, that will be calculated into the equation I'm sure. (So if it bothers you like it does me, be sure to let those retailers know.)

So I'm not leaving the Thanksgiving holiday with a really great feeling this year. I feel pestered by advertisements, rushed from place to place and tired. Not enough of the good stuff, too much of the other. I'm pretty sure that on Sunday we are going to try to make up for that by roasting a small turkey, making a few sides and having a little, quiet Thanksgiving here with my tiny family. I need the peace and space to reflect and truly give thanks.

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ultra Concentrated Joy

Just cleaned my kitchen.  It's something I often do first thing on a Saturday morning, right after an invigorating Jazzercise workout, which always gets me up and moving and feeling great.  Here, Jazzercise is at 8 a.m. on Saturdays, so (barring a necessary trip to the store, which frequently happens) I'm home by 9:10 and raring to go.  This morning after scrubbing the counters, I placed the soap containers artistically angled at the corner of the sink and for the first time actually noticed what one said: "Ultra Concentrated Joy."

What wouldn't we give to feel ultra concentrated joy at any given moment? When it hit me, I laughed a bit. What if it were as easy as pouring a yellow liquid out of a bottle to feel ultra concentrated joy? I like that idea.

We can't just pour it out of a bottle, but it seems to me that there are two ways of finding joy. Either we go through life, doing our "thing"...working, driving, cooking, sleeping, exercise, and everything else...and sometimes have a few moments of joy come over us, or we take action. I prefer the latter. It's simple. While I was scrubbing the countertops, I thought about the strength in my hands and how my experience made me efficient and the job satisfying.  Joy. Looking to the sky, I saw five ducks (they looked like canvasbacks but I'm not positive) fly by, toward the marshes to the east...very nice. Since I love coffee, I made a delicious cup and sat down to enjoy it...the warmth and smooth aroma filled me with joy.

There are things some people hate which I look forward to for that bit of joy. When I do laundry, I always pull it out of the dryer while it's warm and fold each piece one by one, breathing in the fresh scent and enjoying the soft fabrics. Joy.  Last week, raking leaves, the sun was warm on my face and as I breathed the fresh fall air in deeply, it filled me with joy.  I didn't want to come inside.

You get the picture. Of course like everyone else, I get caught up in the day, annoyed by problems (or "challenges" as some might say) so I still have a long way to go before I could say my life is filled with "ultra concentrated joy," but I'm taking an active part in recognizing the joy that's all around me--and I'm happier!

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Exhilarating Fall

Well, here I am again.  I decided I wanted to write but needed a new space (prior readers will know why).  The new title has so many meanings--which will probably become clearer as time goes on.  For now, though, I'm just glad about my decision to start fresh and free.

Have you ever had that feeling where you're just bursting full of thoughts and images you want to write about--so full you can barely contain yourself?  If so, you know how I feel right now.

For several weeks, I've been going around, enjoying brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red leaves (despite our insanely early snow and sleet storm on October 29, which poured over an inch of the white stuff on our pretty leaves.  Luckily it melted by the following day).  

On my way to work every morning, I was warmed and buoyed by the beauty everywhere around me. One tree--an unusually tall maple or perhaps a gum--was for weeks the most brilliant yellow, like flames dancing high aloft in the morning sun. But two mornings ago, the new season dug her heels in and jarred us into realizing that Winter isn't far off.  Overnight, the leaves went from treetops to roadway and the air turned harsh and cold.  Suddenly, the morning sun glared in through bare treetops to the beech and shrub understory along our road and the formerly pale gold beech leaves transformed into a dull tan.  My tree of flames had dripped all of its gold to the ground.

Although I know it happens every year, it's always a surprise to me. Maybe it's denial, or we're just too busy enjoying the cooler weather and new colors to notice that their time is fleeting. I did make the most of it though, while it lasted. Hubby and I took a couple of good long hikes in the wooded hills, I gathered pine needles and mulched the new herb garden (tell you about that another time), fixed up the back of the property after the lawn guys messed up the leaves, pulled out the compost (which is doing beautifully), added massive amounts of leaves and turned them in, and planted nearly 100 bulbs.

As time flies on toward Winter, perhaps we'll have one more temperate day to enjoy the passing of yet another Fall.  I hope so--and if we do, I'll be out there enjoying it!       

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Garden Flowers, Early June

I've been just so busy--as always--sounds like a broken record I guess.  Haven't had time to do much of anything but work.  BUT today was sort of a sick day.  I didn't feel great so I took the time to rest pretty much all day.  This evening I walked in the gardens (unweeded as they are) and took a few photos.  To be candid, I took them because a far away friend posted some flowers from her garden and I really enjoyed looking at them, so I returned the favor!

This first is my Peace Rose.
It's planted symbolically near our door, to bring peace to the house.

 This is a salvia of some description; it's a perennial and several years old, so I no longer recall which one!
 Next is Feverfew, one of the medicinal herbs which is known to be useful for migraines in modern times and was formerly used for all sorts of ailments.
 This is catmint, mentha nepeta.  It forms a spreading mound and the leaves are used in teas and pultices.
 Here are some of my tiger lillies--they are just starting to bloom here.  Where I grew up they bloom a bit later, and are naturalized.  These were given to me by a friend and are hard won around here.
Here is one of my very favorites: Asclepias tuberosum, a.k.a. Butterfly Weed, Pleurisy Root, orange milkweed and other names.  I wanted this herb for years when I lived in my first house.  It is native to North America, and when I moved a little bit south of where I grew up I actually located 2 or 3 places where it grew wild.  I tried to grow it from seed which I collected on the roadside from one bunch, I bought a plant locally, and finally, when road workers were cutting in a new shoulder along the road where one native plant had been growing for years, I stopped and dug up the plant before it was graded into oblivion and brought it home to my seaside garden.  None of those ever survived in the harsh salt-infused microclimate where I lived. 
At my new house it's a completely different story! I planted this large plant/group of plants from seed one year and it has actually self-seeded throughout my garden.  I love this plant because it's a true native herb and there is lots of evidence that the native peoples used it for pleurisy, fever, cough and diarrhea as well as non-medicinal uses.  Even better, modern analysis has proven that it has "medicinal" properties: it contains cardiac glycosides!  I enjoy pondering how natives a thousand years ago identified and learned to use these herbs.
Just writing about my herbs is getting me enthused to get out in the garden again. Thanks for the opportunity! 

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Recent Observations

Again, it's been a while.  That would be because I haven't had a chance to slow down enough to write!  This creates the risk of a flood from the thoughts to the page of a rambling, potentially random bunch of observations and updates.  I'll do my best to avoid such a brain dump here--but there's so much!

The April 6th news of Glenn Beck's TV show ending restored my faith--and when I did a quick search just now to confirm the date it gave me a laugh.  On the first page of results, there were articles from the Jewish Funds for Justice, MoveOn.org, and a Latino blogger all rejoicing that Fox finally pulled that plug. That's a lot of diversity!  (I also read yet another "fact check" article demonstrating another outright falsehood Beck pronounced as truth on his show, here.) 

For us, April is a double birthday month; having celebrated my own, we celebrated my son's 17th last week as well.  I guess I'm old enough to have a 17 year old child, although I don't feel like it.  Where do the years go?

Easter is this Sunday; a few years ago I realized that Easter is my very favorite--bar none--holiday of the year.  I love absolutely everything about it!  It's pure joy to me, from the theme to the hymns to the traditional ending of our church service by singing the Halleluja chorus from Messiah.  It's a joyous service for an uplifting and hopeful time of year!

Finally, I've well exceeded my own expectations for my exercise plan.  I can't believe that for February, March and thus far in April I've run and walked 22, 22, and 27 miles.  But more importantly, through patience (not my strong suit), I have slowly built up to longer distances and now am seeing my pace starting to increase!  The other day, I was back on the Marine Corps Marathon website again and actually thinking I could do it this time!  (A bit of history: in 2007 I started training for the MCM and registered for it; I was beginning to increase my distances and feeling really good--then, I ended up in the hospital because of asthma for the first time ever.  In the end, I was in for 4 days in April, May and again in JUNE that year, missed weeks of work and couldn't even be outside much at all until September.  I basically missed all of the activities of the summer.  We tried to golf once in late September and I had so little energy I only played something like holes 1, 2, 4, 8, and 18. It was just wonderful to be outdoors though.  Needless to say, I didn't make the marathon, which is held the last week of October.)    

So, the feeling that I might be healthy enough again is amazing! (I should say or do something now to avoid a jinx or hex, shouldn't I? All I can think of is "knock wood.")  Done.  Next on the agenda: do some research on how many miles you should get out of a pair of running shoes.  It's not something I've ever had to consider, but I'll admit that I'm proud to say that I'm above 100 miles on these shoes, so I'm curious!

Hope you didn't get whiplash from the quick changing of subjects, and I'm hoping to get some more time to post soon to avoid future overload.  Off to bed now~

 Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Some Progress to Report

I'm still here--not dead or anything--just too busy to write for the last month. (It's pure coincidence that my last entry was exactly a month ago.)  So, here's an update on my progress:  for February, walked 21.44 miles, did 6 hours of Jazzercise.  To date in March:  walked 22.29 miles, did 5 hours of Jazzercise and one hour of hot yoga...and logged it all on ActiveTrainer.com.  In addition, I've logged all of my food daily since February 17 on FitDay.com and lost 6.5 lbs!  (since 2/10)  What's more, I'm pretty much on target toward my goal!

I was feeling great, except for the past 3 days when I've been having a sinus problem...which is why I'm here, now, writing.  I took a sick day due to the headaches and dizziness; just now about to start an antibiotic (thank heavens for modern medicine).  With that exception, though, I am really feeling hugely different--stronger, more energetic, more positive--all-around healthier. 

As I focus on this (admittedly important) goal, it IS a bit harder to push on the several other goals I have in mind...but they're NEXT!  With the new, healthier me, they should be even more attainable. (Recognize the little pep talk to myself there?  I think it works--do you?)

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

PS:  The poor Christmas tree is down...I'm not saying when it finally happened, but my dear husband undecorated it and my son carried it out, bless them!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Have had some busy times recently, and a shift of priorities.  I have set my mind on getting back into a healthy mode of life and lose the extra weight I've carried for almost 3 years, and this time I'm not letting anything distract me or get in my way.  It seems almost silly to have to say this.  Who in their right mind would let distractions get in the way of a healthy life?  (At least that seems to be the sensible perspective, when you step back and regain a little.) (Oh, and it's also a big reason I haven't posted much recently.)

But it almost seems more normal around here to ignore healthy ways than to put them first on the list.  I certainly see it in the people closest to me.  When there's work to be done, the first thing to skip is going to the gym, taking a walk or an exercise class.  Of course the next thing to go is the healthy diet--worked late? too tired to cook? Just eat out and enjoy the fat-laden, ultra large portions (complete with bread and all the fixin's) we find in most U.S. restaurants today.  Before you know it, you're so far down that path it's hard to see where you took the wrong turn.

Well, I have a confession to make--but it comes with an affirmation.  More than once during the past month, things have gone undone because my health is more important than that.  For example, at one house (the one where I spend less time), my Christmas tree is still up.  (The horror!)  I have spent 2 weekends there during which I should have taken it down, but after the really mandatory housework, cooking and grocery shopping, I went to exercise classes, took walks, and even did 45 minutes of yoga on the floor right in front of it.  I prepared healthy meals instead of prepackaged stuff, while that poor tree continued to wither.

I don't care.  I am really just sick of feeling crappy and letting my good health slip away while the mundane, repetitious busywork of life is allowed to take over.  It won't be holding me back any more.  I'm moving forward--leaving unvacuumed carpets and pine needles in my wake if necessary--but I'm going to take this weight off, regain my health, and get back to being alive!

 Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tradition Revived--Cappelletti in Brodo

One quest for my adulthood has been to find a recipe for, and make, my grandmother's cappelleti.  I remember going to her house as a child around Christmas time, hearing her tell about how she, Aunt Anne and Aunt Mae had spent time together and made the Cappelletti....mmmm, always music to my ears!  Now, I wish I had been able to spend time with them, cooking--how much I would have learned!  I also recall asking friends and other relatives, searching old cookbooks, and even obtaining a recipe from a German lady's old cookbook in the late 80's--but it just wasn't "it."

Finally, through the "magic" of the internet (and learning Italian), I began to follow various Italian blogs (many cooking-related) and my quest has come to an end.  Pippi, who lives and cooks a bit north of Pisa near the sea, has a wonderful blog full of delicious recipes!  I immediately looked through her archives for Cappelletti, and when I read her recipe, it seemed right.  I made it, and it was perfect!!  Just like my grandma's!  Pippi's recipe is here, but I thought I'd translate it:   
Ingredients for the filling:
7 oz ground pork
7 oz ground beef
5 oz prosciutto crudo, (raw ham)
1 slice/round of mortadella (sausage bologna)
2-3 eggs
an onion
parmigiano reggiano cheese, a good bit
butter or oil
salt, pepper to taste
nutmeg--few dashes
Procedure: (as Pippi wrote it)
First, brown the finely chopped onion in a large pan with the butter or oil, after which you put in the ground meat and brown it well. Add the prosciutto and mortadella, also both minced.   Season it all. [salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste]  Once cooked, put breadcrumbs in to dry out the mixture and add the parmigiano. When it is cooled down, add the eggs and fix the salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Roll out the pasta (strictly made by hand but with less egg) put a mound of filling a little bit from the edge, fold the pasta over the mound, with a round cookie cutter, cut out the cappelletti one by one.

So, I browned the meat, drained it carefully and seasoned it-- Then, once it was cooled down, it all goes into a food processor and the eggs and cheese are added.  To me, a "good bit" was 2 plates full of very finely grated cheese (just to the right, above).  This is then combined well with the blade and it will resemble pate.I forgot to mention: I made the pasta dough before starting the filling so it was resting while I was making the filling.  So next, I rolled out the dough (#6 on the Kitchen Aid seemed right).After achieving several pieces of the right thickness and even ends, I covered them with waxed paper to keep the moisture in while I worked on the others. (I never seem to have those clean tea towels other people use, but waxed paper worked well.)  So, then you cut the dough into squares with a pizza cutter and put a teaspoon-ish sized mound of filling on each. I didn't get any pictures of the folding, but it's not difficult; fold in half and match up the points, seal, and then bring the two corners at the long side together and seal. (Pippi used a cookie cutter, but I wanted to do my grandmother's shape.) After they're all made, you boil them for just a very few minutes--it doesn't take long at all.  I froze the rest in a ziplock freezer bag and they were delicious when I brought them to my siblings after Christmas.My grandmother served her Cappelletti in chicken broth with raisins, so of course I did too!  This was beyond delicious to me, it was tradition revived!  My husband and son ate every morsel, too.  Thank you Pippi!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spandau: The Secret Diaries

by Albert Speer

The secret diaries of Hitler's architect--later his Minister of Armaments--which were written during the 20 years Albert Speer spent in Spandau prison.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Day Revisited

What a beautiful snow we had here! It really messed up the roads, but almost everything was closed so we didn't have to go to work.  So, I took a nice walk outside (another mile plus for the big race) and took a few photos to share.  The first two were in the development (where private plows cleaned things up)...

This is how the "real" roads looked (above); it was no fun to actually drive on them when I had to make the trip South late today.

And what do cats do on a day like today?  If you've fed the birds right outside the door, they hang out and "hunt" for birds together...like a pride! 

Always fun to watch--they cluck and chirp, their tails twitch and sometimes, they all crouch down and their ears go back--ready to pounce!  Who needs any other form of entertainment! 

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Be a Light to the World

What a beautiful Sunday morning we had here!  Sunshine, snow melting, a cold crisp breeze....  And we had an interesting Sunday School class and a great reminder from the church service that we are to be the Light of the world. 

John Wesley (English theologian, 1703-1791) preached about many things, including the proper use of money.  We had a challenging discussion on his ideas, which are easy to sum up because his published sermon practically does it for me. He believed that earning money was a blessing and that you should make as much as you can without hurting yourself, your neighbors or society; save as much as you can, and give as much as you can.  Also, he believed that it is our duty to be good stewards of all things, money included.

In church after that, we were focused on being "the light of the world."  Light brings warmth, happiness, and growth; it shines on others and shows them goodness.  In church (and afterward, as I think about the message), I always think about what I, personally, could do to use or apply the themes of the message.

In short, it occurred to me that I could use this space for more uplifting things.  And there are other things I can do, every day, to show the Light to the world. 

Not sure about you, but pictures of cute cats make me feel happy.  Here are Tiger and Clee, who were snuggling and bathing each other before I interrupted.
And here are Fuzzy and Clee (he's on the bottom) sacked out on the sofa on Christmas Day.  No one can sleep--or cuddle--like kittens! 
I hope to have brought some happiness to your day--

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas Images

We've been having a fun and busy time around here...how about you?  Here are some Christmas images I captured to share... First, new kitten Fuzzy lounges by the gifts in the morning. (New since August, it's a relative term.) 
Some of my favorite ornaments: the little wooden nurse Nana gave me way back when I first became a nurse; the new baby boy ornament now 16 years old; the bunny is most special because it was one of a set from my son...our very good friend was shopping with us and she bought them for him to give me--totally without me knowing. What a great surprise!
 A Hallmark Reindeer, a mitten and a new white star (I love stars on the tree).
The glass Santa was one of the first ornaments I purchased for our first Christmas tree way back when, along with the basket of grapes; also here are the owl and another bunny from the set.
Here is our tree topper...a bow I made a couple of years ago, along with two special angels near the top. Most precious to me, though, are the blown cobalt glass ornaments (deep blue balls) which were from my grandmother's house. I found them in her box of ornaments when we were cleaning out her home. They were in a little tin, packed in tissue by themselves.  I don't know how old they are but I love them.
The candy cane is a salt dough project that I did with my son about 10 years ago.
Here are more that I love: the cardinals are from my son; the guitar is his (he loves to play his guitar); the Santa is another of the first ornaments...the amazing glass drop to Santa's left is the second special surprise my son gave me the year we shopped with our friend.
Here's the partridge and chipmunk from the special set; the seashell wreath was made by Nana, and the snowflake was another project my son and I did when he was little.
A Christmas tree is really a history of our lives, isn't it?

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.