Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bargains Galore

It's time to head down to our friendly neighborhood car dealer and get a great deal on a car. The ads make it look so easy, but we all know we'd rather walk over hot coals than spend a couple of hours in a hot cubicle waiting for the salesman to "go talk to his sales manager." There's got to be an easier way. But we haven't found it yet. So it's off to test drive and try to out fox the system.
It only took five and a half hours to close the deal on an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, mid priced car. What a coup! The salesman and "general sales manager" made it seem like we we're killing them and getting an unbelievable deal, but it doesn't feel like that. It feels like cars are vastly overpriced. Thankfully, we've got three years 'til we have to do this again.

Contained Chaos

Want a riot of color in that drab corner of the veranda? Put together a container of bright annuals and change the view. Dark colored containers show off hot summer colors best. Just mix up foliage textures: a broad leaf, narrow leaf, fern leaf and colors: complementary like red and green, purple and yellow, and blue and orange. A variety of heights is essential: Something tall, medium , and trailing. If that sounds impossibly complicated, just remember the rule of three: three textures, three colors (green counts), three heights. For a sunny spot use a large bronze container with Persian Shield, yellow lantana, yellow marigolds, and chartreuse sweet potato vine. Cover the exposed soil with pea gravel. A shade container could be a large antique green box with Macho fern, needle point ivy, white impatiens, and pink angel wing begonia. The exposed soil could be covered with moss. Using evergreens guarantees good looks even after the annuals are gone. Everything can be purchased in one stop at Home Depot or Lowes and can be put together in less than an hour. Make that boring corner beautiful and improve your outlook with some fabulous new containers.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Together Again

Number One Son Wes and Jack are reunited in Utah after many months apart. They share a passion for rock climbing so Little Cottonwood Creek is heaven on earth for them. This canyon is in the Wasatch Mountains southeast of Salt Lake City. There are bouldering opportunities every where you look so all they have to do is pull the car over and climb. Just thinking about how much they're enjoying their time together does my heart good.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Eggs Over Easy

Eggs cooked the way you like them. So many menus make this boast but how many restaurants can actually make eggs exactly the way you do at home. Famed Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Lewis Grizzard would go to great lengths to describe the way he liked his eggs, but no one could cook them the way his mother did. It all comes down to secret techniques that people don't share. One way to make eggs over easy is to melt the butter in the pan then just as it starts to sizzle, the eggs are cracked and dropped in. Let them cook on medium high until the white is done. Then flip them over and spell the name of your high school boyfriend(or girlfriend). Presto! Perfect eggs! There are as many ways to make hard-boiled eggs as there are home economics teachers from the seventies: leave the heat on, turn it off, covered, uncovered, or add vinegar to the water. My grandmother told me to put the egg in the smallest pan in the cabinet then fill the water until there's a dry circle on the egg the size of a quarter. When the water starts boiling, turn down the heat to low and time it for twelve minutes. Perfect every time. What about omelets. Should they be folded over or left open? How many ingredients should be added? Some say two or three, some empty the vegetable bin in there plus four cheeses. Even the omelet stations that make customized breakfasts don't always get it right. The vegetables must be sauteed not added raw. Raw red bell peppers in the morning are not good for anybody.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Feed the birds...

...tuppence a bag. Mary Poppins famously taught her charges a simple lesson with that little ditty. Jane and Michael spent most of their days indoors so had failed to learn about the world around them; where food came from, the sky over their heads, and animals in their midst. Sound familiar? Do you know the name of that red bird in the yard or what it's call sounds like? Can you name your state bird? Birds can tell us so much about the state of our world. They are creatures of habit, migrating at the same time every year and waking up at the same time every morning to sing their song. A Red tail Hawk comes to my back yard and sits in a pine tree everyday at 2:00. Every evening a Mockingbird sits in the top of an oak tree next to a hedge and sings for an hour. Cardinals nest in that hedge and visit the bird feeder at 5:00 like clockwork. Migrating yellow finches chatter and hop around in the oaks as they pay their yearly spring visit. In February hummingbirds expect a sip from pineapple sage in the perennial border. A pair of quail used to walk through our yard everyday. We haven't seen them or their offspring for years. They are sadly missed. It's a mystery why they stopped visiting. It's true that quail are disappearing in the wild and no one knows why. But the call of "bob white" still echoes through my memory.
The National Audubon Society publishes excellent regional guides to birds and other wildlife. Many people prefer the Peterson field guide to birds. Either one is easy to use and will help you learn about the birds in your midst.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Leaves of a Book

Yesterday I pulled a long forgotten book down off the shelf and a folded paper fell out of it. I picked it up and opened a memory. There was a flower that had been pressed between the pages years before from a trip somewhere. It's a habit I started as a young wife to remember trips with a free souvenir. The first one was a Queen Ann's Lace picked from a roadside in Michigan. Next was a California Poppy from somewhere near Yosemite. There have been Red Maple leaves from Toronto and Rhododendron from Seattle. Even Cherry blossoms from a cold spring trip to Washington D.C. When my parents were moving from their long time city home to their farm, I walked around the garden picking leaves from my favorite plants. The funny thing is, there were always plans to frame or scrapbook these leaves and flowers but most of them never made it out of the books they were pressed into. So now they are little treasures that turn up whenever I pull an old book off the shelf.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Turning Bananas Into Banana Bread

Down here where the air is moist and trees wear moss like a necklace, summers are a lazy time. The hammock is the place to be with a tall glass of lemonade tea. All living creatures seek the cool shade of the Live Oaks and gentle breezes off lakes and bays. Standing in the kitchen, baking in front of a hot oven, is the last place anyone would want to be. But when there are six over-ripe bananas in the fruit bowl, something has to be done.
The favorite cookbook is carefully taken down off the shelf. It's yellowing pages are tearing away from the brittle plastic spiral binding. It holds the secrets to rich brownies, buttery pound cake, and nutty banana bread. The most used pages are easy to find as they're marked with drips and splashes from ancient baking sessions. Just opening the book brings back memories of family birthday dinners and cooking lessons for children standing on stools with Peter Rabbit aprons tied on.
Banana Bread
1 stick of butter
3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 bananas, mashed
2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in bananas. Sift flour, reserving 3 tablespoons, with soda. Fold flour in by hand in 3 equal additions. Add vanilla. Dredge pecans in reserved flour and fold into batter. Pour into well-greased and floured standard loaf pan. Bake at 325 degrees for approx. 1 hour and 15 mins or 325 for 50 minutes on convection bake. Cool for ten minutes then run a knife between the pan and loaf and turn out onto a cutting board. Watch it disappear!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hitting the wall

Modern technology is a wonder. It staggers the mind to think about how it's changed our lives in the past twenty years. Remember when it was so important to have a Walkman? Where are they now. VCR's, Cd changers, and boom boxes are filling our dumps and antique stores right now. Recent movies are easy to date by the size of the cell phones the actors are using. The audience will actually start laughing during a serious scene if the leading man is holding a phone the size of a horses leg. Now cell phones can do everything a computer does and it fits in the palm of your hand. Did they even have that in Star Wars? I don't think so.

Keeping up with using all these gadgets is the real trick. As long as you can download music to your Ipod, silence your cell phone in a movie theatre, and send email to all your friends and family you're okay. But at what age are we simply not going to get it anymore? When are we just not going to know which button to push? Maybe there won't be any buttons and you only have to think an action to make it happen. I'll probably be too distracted to make it work. Instead of silencing my phone, it will return that call I forgot to make earlier. The Ipod will play the FSU fight song repeatedly because I can't get it out of my head after a football weekend. The computer will send emails to everyone I know telling them the things I should have said to that rude clerk as I continue to think of rejoinders too late. That's when technology ceases to be a convenience and gets chucked in the garbage along with yesterday's news.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You Can Come Home Again

For several weeks now our house has been almost empty. With one son working in Utah, the other in California, one daughter away at school, one house sitting on the other side of town that leaves just hubby, dog, and me. There are some perks to having an empty house. It's possible to walk in the laundry room for the first time ever. Shoes left by the door only belong to me. The dishwasher only runs once a day even with pots and pans. The second refrigerator in the garage is beginning to look redundant as the grocery bill plummets. This is no time to do anything rash like getting rid of stuff, though. In just a few short weeks everyone is going to come flooding back in. Just in time for their Daddy's birthday, all but one will be coming home. The chores will pile up again but they'll be done cheerfully. It's just more fun having everyone around the table and under one roof.

15 Million Light Years Away

Here's an amazing photograph of a spiral galaxy called the Southern Pinwheel. It can be seen with binoculars in the constellation Hydra. Just another reason to take a few minutes to look up in the sky while you're walking the dog tonight. If you're not sure what you're looking at, pick up Navigating The Night Sky by Guilherme de Almeida. The author explains how to find the brightest stars and constellations and use them to navigate around the night sky. This would be a fun book to take along to the beach where you can see far more stars than in suburban areas. If you are going anywhere with fewer lights on at night take advantage to look up at the heavens. You may see a shooting star. Make a wish!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Virtual Homes

A fun site to explore is Victorian Station for pictures of 19th century houses and interiors. There are house plans, pictures of interiors, and answers to restoration questions. Even if you aren't restoring or building this site is a good read.

Another site to look at and dream is Dream Home Source. It's loaded with house plans of every description. It can be searched by size, number of bedrooms, etc. Take a look and dream up a home for yourself.

Another interesting site is Yankee Barn Homes. This company has dozens of plans for homes built in a barn style. You can see pictures of houses and interiors. You can even contact them about visiting their houses if you'd like them to build one for you.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Goodie Day

Our tradition of Goodie Day started years ago in an attempt to give homeschooled twins something to look forward to every week. A trip to the gas station with the promise of one goodie evolved into every Friday being Goodie Day. That generally meant a popsicle while out running errands. Eventually, friends started being included in the big day. Then treats had to be delivered to parents of friends when the kids were dropped off. The idea of Goodie Day even spread to other cities by friends and relatives. It's probably included in some homeschool curriculum now. For us, Goodie Day slowly came to an end. With drivers licences, cars, and coffee dates, time with Mom at the 7-11 lost it's luster. Now Fridays mean Jack and Coke, seafood spread and herbed crackers, and a soak in the jacuzzi. It's a far cry from a minivan full of laughing children munching on goodies.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Never Look a Gift Horse....

Gift giving is the easiest thing in the world. The grocery store now has a display by the check out with gift cards to dozens of popular stores. Simply pick one up, place it in the provided envelope, and pay for it with your groceries. The stamps can be bought there too and the customer service desk will pop it in the mail for you. It's no longer necessary to listen to what a person is interested in or pick up on the mention of something they wish for. Pay no attention to the catalogs left open on the bathroom counter with pictures circled. No need to go to the mall and shop for just the right item. No one has to be bothered with finding gorgeous gift wrap and trim that will please the recipient. A masterpiece illustrated card with appropriate quote for the occasion doesn't have to take any one's time anymore. Robert Louis Stevenson said,"I am in the habit of looking not so much to the nature of a gift as to the spirit in which it is offered." It doesn't take much imagination to know what he would have thought of a Starbucks gift card.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pottery Barn catalog

In keeping with my constant quest for redecoration, our downstairs half bath got a face lift this year. We brought in the trim carpenters to install bead board and mouldings. Painters covered it all in cream semigloss. New taupe towels with ivory monograms were hung on gleaming towel bars. Woodsy Audubon bird prints were mounted and hung. To carry out the bird theme an antique salt cellar shaped like a bird and it's nest was placed next to the sink for ladies to put their rings in while washing their hands. French soaps wrapped in green paper and twine were stacked in an old glass refrigerator box.

All that was left to do was stand back and admire the result. A completely original take on decorating a half bath- until the fall Pottery Barn catalog came out. Their new ideas for fall? Bead board, Audubon bird prints, and monogrammed towels in all the same shades of cream, taupe, and meadow green that we had chosen. They could have saved themselves lots of trouble by just coming to our house to take their pictures. I think that's exactly what I'll tell anyone who suggests we get all our decorating ideas from Pottery Barn.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

In Season

There was a time when corn could only be bought in the summer, apples in the fall, and tangerines were found in the toes of Christmas stockings. Florida in February was the time to hit your knees and pick strawberries from the built up mounds of earth. Fill gallon milk jugs with the tops cut off to over flowing with the juicy scarlet berries then take them home to cut up over homemade pound cake. June meant peaches and blueberries at roadside stands or pick your own in the early summer sun. July was anxiously waited on because the blackberries would be plump and ready to pick growing wild at the edges of fields. These were mixed with sugar and butter and baked in flaky pies and cobblers. No king has ever dined on finer fare than pole beans, butter peas, sweet corn, and tomatoes fresh from the garden. Add warm biscuits and crispy fried chicken to that plate and you have a meal that will stay in the memory long after the season is gone.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A new twist on art

Check-out this very original artist's blog. It's clever, it's witty! He even shows you how to make your own wire characters. Have fun!

Christmas list update

This little item should be the first thing on your Christmas list. It brings a whole new angle to the sport of thumb wrestling.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Bear Went Over The Mountain

Right this minute son Jack is climbing El Capitan at Yosemite National Park. He says it will take about six days. He also promises to take lots of pictures. As Dr Seuss says, " Oh, the things you will see!"

80's Night

Wanna feel old? How about when your daughter(who was born in '88) calls to say she's going to 80's Night at a club. What should she wear? Was it really far enough back that we're ready for nostalgia? As in ,"The good ol' days of puffy paint and neon tee shirts." Remember the leggings, over sized shirts embellished with paint and beads, and slouchy socks? Fashion history. Don't get me started on big hair-embarrassing! Big everything, actually. There were earrings the size of hubcaps. Even shoulders like linebackers with the pads that were sewn into shoulder seams. There's a good chance eighties fashion will not be getting a Vogue retrospective at the Met anytime soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Slamming on the brakes

Grocery shopping for two after years of shopping for six takes some getting used to. The buggy has been on autopilot for so long; now there are whole aisles that don't have to be visited. All the shopping can be done by going around the perimeter of the store. The buggy keeps wanting to go get peanut butter and cereal, but that's not on the menu anymore. Neither are the soy and vegan foods that Number One Son loves. Frozen pizzas and Popsicles are fare of the past. The buggy is going to have to get used to a lighter load and faster speeds. No more slamming on the brakes for Cheerios.

Good News

Having a hard time finding something to cheer about these days? Between bad news on Iraq, the economy, health care, and education things seem pretty grim. But if you'll turn off the t.v. and not read the papers for a while, it's amazing how your world improves. Find a soldier who's been to Iraq and he'll tell you a story of success. The unemployment rates are extremely low. Our healthcare is better than ever at saving people's lives and delivering healthy babies. Education choices have improved and huge numbers of students are completing college. It takes a little effort to see the positive side of our world but it's there if you'll take the time to look.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Color Blind

It's a big mistake to read decorating magazines on a regular basis because the color schemes change from season to season and you'd go broke trying to keep up with the trends. It's always whites and beiges with crystal accessories for January. Then spring brings fresh greens and Easter Egg colors. There's occasionally a month where everything is pink. From baby powder pale to saturated magenta, room after room is shown in nothing but pink. Summer brings the colors of the flag. Bunting on railings, pillows on sofas, and table linens are all the good ol' red, white, and blue. If you followed the direction of the pink issue you're in trouble now. Flags and bunting clash terribly with carnation walls. Of course fall brings coffee brown, pumpkin orange, and corn stalk gold. This color scheme cannot possibly be pulled off if you went whole hog in the spring and covered all your furniture in blue, yellow, and green. Finally the Christmas issues come out with the most fabulous trees and garlands festooned with ornaments and ribbons in jewel tones. The ruby reds, amethyst purples, and emerald greens sparkle in the magazines. A tree in every room is their recommendation. Garlands dripping with blown glass ornaments are draped over mirrors and huge oil paintings This is when you cancel your subscriptions because you just finished painting all the walls pumpkin.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Going, going, gone!

Tonight at 8:00 begins the best part of the MLB All-Star break: the Home Run Derby. The Derby and game are being held at AT&T Park in San Francisco this year so McCovey Cove will be packed with kayaks trying to pick up the long balls that splash down there. Eight big leaguers will go for the Home Run King title tonight. Ryan Howard of Philly is defending his title against Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Matt Holliday of the National League. The American League will be represented by Justin Morneau, Alex Rios, Vladimir Guerrero, and Magglio Ordonez. The atmosphere of the Derby is simply fun. To see the normally serious ball-players laughing and joking with each other and sitting on the grass with their children makes you feel like all is right with the world.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Vacation Spot

There's a place on the border between Georgia and South Carolina that's got everything a family needs for a memorable vacation. The Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers flow together to form the Savannah. Between 1955 and 1963 the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam on the Savannah River to form Lake Hartwell. The lake backs up into the valleys between the foothills of the Appalachians with hundreds of coves and lagoons. While many folks call Lake Hartwell home all year, there are places to rent for a vacation any time. It's a little spot of peace and quiet where you can instantly relax on your screened porch. If you're more interested in an active vacation, sailing and skiing are popular pastimes as well as fishing and puttering along on a pontoon boat. With 962 miles of shoreline there's plenty of lake to explore. Public parks, marinas, and restaurants are all easily accessible by boat or road. Interstate 85 crosses the lake's northern end and the towns of Hartwell, Georgia and Anderson, South Carolina and other smaller towns are close to the lake. Try the Skelton House Bed and Breakfast in Hartwell for a warm and friendly welcome. Siblings Restaurant, also in Hartwell, has consistently delicious meals and excellent service. In Anderson the Capri Restaurant is a local favorite. You can find national stores, movie theatres, and creative speciality shops in these towns. If your family fancies historical landmarks, you are in luck. Abbeville, S.C. was where John C. Calhoun launched his career. Andrew Pickens of Revolutionary War fame owned the land that the courthouse is built on. Bishop Henry Mcneal Turner, the founder of the African Methodist Church was from Abbeville as well as Thomas D. Howie, a World War II hero. The Lake Hartwell area can keep you busy for weeks or let you relax until you're human again.