Monday, March 30, 2015

Beginning an End

     I love this picture that Tess' piano teacher took of her at her lesson today. She's preparing for her senior recital that will take place in June by running through her pieces for timing. Thus far, she'll play Brahms, Scarlatti, Mozart, and Scott, and she is working hard at memorizing all four. I think she'll add one or two more fun selections to round out her program. Earlier that same day in June, she'll have her final recital as a piano student of Mrs. O'Brien. I'm sure to shed a tear because Mrs. O'Brien honors her seniors with a slide show of their time with her. I've cried at all the other seniors' slideshows in previous years so, I can't imagine getting through my own child's without becoming a teary mess. Tess has had fun studying with Mrs. O'Brien. She looked forward to every weekly lesson and even hated those summer months without.
    My job has been to drive Tess to her lessons all these years, just as I did for her sisters before her, to their piano, guitar, and horseback riding lessons. She's been old enough to drive herself for over a year now, but I still insist on doing the honor. I guess I hate to see the end of this era. Mrs. O'Brien recently asked her why I still drove her. Tess told her that it was our bonding time. I smiled to think that Tess thought of it that way. It's true! Every week for six years we've made this hour long drive together. I take her a snack, we catch up on our day, she dozes, I drive. I usually wait outside with a book or run errands during her forty-five minute lessons. Rarely have I gone inside to observe. I reasoned that it was her time to study with her teacher and having me watch would be a distraction. I've heard her play for hundreds of hours at home, enough to know that I had no advice nor ability to offer anything other than praise.
     So, more big news for today- Tess landed her first "real" job! On our way to piano, we stopped for her to interview at the coffee shop and she was hired. She's very excited about training as a barista.  
     Along the lines of an end of an era, we will celebrate our final high school graduation this spring. As we wind up Tess' high school school career, we'll help my sister move in with my mom. Mom can't live alone anymore and we must accept the frailties of our mother.  Life is full of bittersweet "letting goes". Or perhaps they are beginnings?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Away to Skylark Farm

I'm in the back row, third from the right
    This weekend, twenty five of us treated ("retreated", that is) ourselves to a getaway at Skylark Farm near Steeles Tavern, Virginia. This beautiful cluster of buildings is perched atop a mountain with a 360° view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It turned out to be a bitterly cold weekend with snow squalls (!), but that didn't mar the views nor keep some of us from exploring the beautiful outdoors.
     A committee of six women planned the event and every detail. The rest of us simply needed to show up. They prepared excellent meals, provided beautiful music, hosted hysterical games, left time for painting on old pieces of barn wood, and shared thoughtful studies on Psalm 23 and Matthew 11. Although I have known many of these women for over eleven years and some only a few months, this coming away together fosters a special camaraderie among us all.
     I can't say enough about the beauty of this property. It sits directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway  with breathtaking views. I imagine it would be a fun gathering place for a family reunion with it's walking trails, pond with canoe, tennis court and picnic shelter. The buildings are surrounded by stone walls and split rail fences with all the charm of an old garden. Four of us braved the blustery, cold wind and walked to the pond and explored a bit of the property. During the sections where we descended into hollows, the wind was blocked and I could pull off my hood to feel the sun's weak rays. The farm also sells Christmas trees in the winter and those plots sit on the hillside looking every bit like quilt squares. On the return up, Sara and I parted from the road and climbed the grassy hillside thinking it might prove to be shortcut or at least offer a different and spectacular view. If it was a shortcut, we will never know, but it certainly did give us a good workout.
     I'll end with a new song we learned while away. It's Psalm 62 set to a pretty melody. The sound of our twenty-five voices was very sweet, indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Recover the Lost Art of Dying Well

     It was on a sad note that I read in my messages this morning about Kara Tippett's death. I've been following Kara's blog this past year, sometimes not able to read it through for all the sadness it made me feel. I have learned so much from her, as painful as it was. I've included two links here that say it much more eloquently than I am able.

How To Recover the Lost Art of Dying Well


In the meantime, I've been reading C.S. Lewis's The Weight of Glory. An absolutely outstanding book that reinforces my admiration for the author and what he has to say about Christianity. My admiration, by the way, has nothing to do with The Chronicles of Narnia. I didn't care for those nor the Screwtape Letters. While those books may be epic and clever, I am more a fan of his non fiction.

Between reading the links above and C.S. Lewis, my head is swimming with thoughts and ponderings. It was difficult to concentrate at work this morning without going into daydream mode. When I got home, I went outside and began cleaning up the perennial beds. Now there is a good place to ponder and pray. : ) I am so thankful to have that time outside today.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Asian Ladybeetles and the Legacy They Leave Behind

     Fickle March! Its weather tantrums are in full swing. After giving us wet snow on Thursday, it gave us a pretty First Day of Spring today. We reserved this weekend to paint our living room and if that hadn't been on the schedule, I would rather have been outside.
     Steve and I hammered out the painting job like real pros. Earlier this week I bought two gallons of Benjamin Moore Linen White in an eggshell finish. It has just a hint of yellow in it to give the room a warm glow. To the casual observer, it looks white unless you hold it next to a true white; then you can see it's linen. Yesterday, in preparation, we pushed all the furniture to the middle of the room, took down everything from the walls, spackled and sanded any imperfections, vacuumed baseboards and areas that haven't seen the light of day for many years, and ran into our one and only problem: Asian Ladybeetle poop.
     For those of you familiar with these pests, you know they like warm places and overwinter in the walls of houses, particularly light-colored homes. They make mass migrations into homes on warm October days, finding any crack that will give them entrance. Then, they march across the room where the walls and ceiling meet. They find cozy places to bunch up (in corners, inside shades, etc.) to overwinter. Our control tactic is to vacuum them up before they bunch and hide. This seems to be the most effective way to rid them. The vacuum bag must be emptied regularly because they have a distinctive odor which, to me, smells like dirt. In one particularly bad year, Steve actually took the shop vac outside and vacuumed the outside of our house. It seemed silly at the time, but it definitely cut back on the infestation that year and reduced their numbers the following year.
     One problem we didn't foresee was the trail of droppings these ladybeetles leave along the top of the wall. At a glance, it isn't noticeable. But, if you get up on a ladder and look, there are little black dots all along the places they've walked. We thought a fresh coat of paint would take care of it. That was until we realized IT BLEEDS THROUGH! Not only does the poop not cover over, it runs and streaks black into the paint. Once I noticed this I stopped painting and washed the area first. That did nothing to help. I then tried Windex. That was no good either. Their poop is glued on, hard as cement. Then we tried sanding it off, which helped a little. The best remedy is to cover it with a stain blocker, such as Kilz. The paint guy at the hardware store recommended an oil based stain blocker, which can then be painted over with latex, but we didn't want to deal with the odor and clean up of that product. Steve's solution was to painstakingly sand and scrape the worst areas before we continued with painting. We also used some water-based Kilz, which was better than nothing.
     Once that problem was dealt with, the sun shone, a warm breeze came in the window, music played on Pandora and we got the job done; two coats trimmed and painted all in one day. My hand and arm ache a little, but the room is fresh and pretty for another few years. We're thinking ahead for when October arrives with the next wave of ladybeetles. How to prevent them from walking on our newly painted walls seems an impossible task. We're thinking perhaps sticky tape, near the front door where they get in, might stop them before they get too far. Or Steve could station himself outside the front door with the vacuum for a few days. That would definitely do the trick.
Tess took this cool photo a few years ago. Notice the tiny mite on the ladybeetle's head? (Look  about 11:00 from the center of the photograph)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Review of Tizzone

     B. invited me to join some friends to try out a new place in Daleville called, Tizzone. They specialize in wood fired pizza and boast an extensive wine bar. The design of the interior is trendy with sleek use of stone and polished wood. The wine bottles are showcased in glass front storage and lighted from behind, looking very pretty as you walk by. They have both a bar and ample seating at tables and open booths. Although the setting is what I call trendy, most of the patrons on this Wednesday night were my age or older with the exception of a birthday party of young women. It was comfortable with a nice ambiance and perfect lighting.
     The five of us decided to order a group of things so we could all taste a variety of items. We orders the Charcuterie Platter and the Cheese Platter for starters. Everything was excellent including the bread, olives and fig spread. Our next course was three wood fired pizzas, smallish in size and cut into six pieces each. The Athena with pesto, artichoke hearts, and spinach was my favorite. We also had the Athena and Margherita. One of the owners came to our table to welcome us and offered free dessert since one of his waitresses is the daughter of a lady in our group. So as not to appear ungrateful (ha,ha) we ordered Chocolate Gelato and Tiramisu. Both were excellent and nicely portioned.
     I'm happy that Daleville is growing into a little destination for us country folk. The commercialization of the former apple orchard and farmland was difficult to witness when they broke ground a few years ago. I preferred things to stay as they were and for the countryside to be left alone. But I see the vision of the townspeople and developers. On the plus side, the development is taking place within a small area and is (at this point) not being allowed to spread past a certain boundary. I am happy to shop and dine locally and will shop the Farmer's Market located there in the summer. All-in-all, it's working out well for our community, in my opinion. And those wood fired pizzas and that glass of Moscato were pretty good!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

This Week's Pennies

     The days are filled with shiny pennies. Each little token of simple pleasure adding up to an overflowing cup. Over the weekend we cooked an amazing corned beef dinner. This is a meal that Steve prompted us to cook, which I otherwise might neglect. It was fun because it was a joint effort, we shared ideas for methods and we shared pots. (His brewing pot, my canning pot.) The pièce de résistance are the sticks of pepperoni added to the simmering stock along with the corned beef. This was my mom's Italian twist on corned beef and cabbage and the pepperoni is hands-down my favorite part. 
     Spring is seeping up from the ground and blowing in on the breeze. Walks are a little bit muddy and the fields have come alive with flocks of robins and red-winged blackbirds. Their flights are frenzied in the spring, just when they settle down, they rise back up again. I walked past the lilacs and those buds are beginning to open with tiny green leaves. I've also heard the sound of birds chirping over the front door intercom at school. Our building is secure, like most are these days, and guests must ring a bell and announce themselves before they are admitted. The first sound to come over the speaker when the doorbell rings is the sound of birds chirping under the portico. It makes me smile every time I hear it. It was a similar sound Steve and I heard when we walked into the hardware store last Saturday. We heard the clear sound of chirping in the store, but it wasn't songbirds we heard, rather it was baby chicks! Now that's a cute sound. They were being kept in a large water trough with straw, a feeder, and a warming light. They were already grown past the super-cute stage and were at that lanky, in-between stage, but their chirps were adorable. I looked at Steve and said I wanted chickens. Only it came out in the same way a young wife might longingly say to her husband, "Oh, I want a baby."
     For rainy days, I added a bunch of books to my library list and we'll see how they go. I already know that I'll like The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. I also picked up, Lissette's List by Susan Vreeland and Someone by Alice McDermott. I've also started French lessons in order to better understand our friend who calls me, Madame D. The beginner lessons have served as a refresher for all those years of high school French that I forgot and now remember! It's so much easier to read and write the language than to speak it. We'll see how far my good intentions take me.
     So, spring is doing that "rushing" thing and I wish to do so many things! I'll start this weekend by painting the living room. Audrey will not like my boring choice of color, or lack thereof. I'll be happier in my neutrally freshened walls and I'll add something lime green or purple to the room to please her and prove that I can be a little bit daring. After all, it's spring and something exciting needs to happen!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring Will Arrive on Schedule...As Usual.

     I didn't expect today to be anything other than routine, but it turned out to be especially nice. (Hmm, I didn't think 'especially' would get past spell correct, but I guess it's a real word.) Not only did we have springtime temperatures; we had sunshine too! The combination of the two gave everyone a bounce to their step. I also heard the Redwing Blackbirds this week. Their call always brings memories of my father standing at our front door, saying, "Shh, listen." We'd stand quietly, straining our ears until we heard, "Cock-a-ree!". "There it is!", we'd say, satisfied to have heard that wonderful call, knowing they were harbingers of spring. How happy that sound made him and how happy it made me this week.
     I was also able to get out into the garden and prune the blackberry canes. I was all set to dig up the buggers and have away with them because of their thorns and nuisance with the birds. But as I got going, I just couldn't bear to do it. I gave them an extreme pruning instead  and let them win again for another year. If nothing else, they will feed the mockingbirds.
     Speaking of sounds triggering memories, Tess and I watched an excellent documentary called, "Alive Inside". It documents one man's mission to bring music, via ipods, to the elderly in nursing homes and the astounding effect it has on their speech and memory, particularly for those with Alzheimer's and dementia. I've posted a trailer below.
     The rest of my week was all about food, so I'll write about that separately.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lexington, Kentucky: Part Two

     When I think of Kentucky, I think of horses. When Steve thinks of Kentucky, he thinks of bourbon. Lucky for him, the Louisville/Lexington area boasts a "Bourbon Trail" (and a brewery trail) with several well known distilleries open for tours and tastings. Before drove home, we wanted to see downtown Lexington, so we chose to visit the Town Branch Distillery since it was one of two distilleries located in the heart of downtown. The name, Town Branch, comes from the creek that runs under the city of Lexington. The water from the creek was the source of the original distillery whenever that first Kentuckian, whoever he was, began distilling over two hundred years ago. Along with the history of the distillery and the attractive buildings, I appreciated how the use of copper pipes, wooden barrels, and stone walls elevated  function to an art. I am not a bourbon drinker, so much of the tasting was beyond me, however, the amber colored bourbon in those sparkling glass bottles made me wish I liked it. Since I would be driving, I reserved my tasting for one product in particular- the coffee bourbon. It was a delight! Those few little sips turned me into a bourbon drinker after all.

Our guide mixed equal parts of syrupy, coffee bourbon with hot water. Then he carefully poured heavy cream on top. It was a blissful little drink, warm and creamy and not too sweet.
Downtown Lexington, KY was a mix of old meets new. There was a beautiful opera house up the block from here, a convention center, and many eateries.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Louisville, KY

     We were only away for two days but, when we arrived back home last night it felt like we'd been gone for weeks. The drive across West Virginia and Kentucky was strikingly beautiful with the snow cover. Kentucky had a record  breaking seventeen inches of snow the day before we arrived and it still clung to trees and branches. We followed the sunset on Friday evening with the sun looking larger and more fiery than usual. Eventually it slipped below the tree line, casting a pale purple and orange glow over the white fields. We snapped so many landscape pictures from the car and played with the Waterlogue app that there was never a dull moment during the entire drive.
     The next morning we drove to the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville for the NAHBS. It was great to lay eyes on Chad and give him a hug after not seeing him since last April. His bicycle was on display and we talked and visited with him and his business partner, Bryce before walking around the rest of the convention.

     For bicycle lovers, this was paradise. I was overwhelmed with the content and variety at the show. It was crowded with enthusiasts talking shop and making business connections.
Wood Bicycles
Bicycles with a purpose
Detail on The Samurai, a bicycle that costs over $12,000.
You could have your feet molded for special cycling shoes.
Or, you could have your body and bike computer analyzed for efficiency.

For us, this was the highlight of the show; Chad won Best New Builder of the Year. We are so proud of him! We know how hard he worked and sacrificed to make this happen and of his passion for frame building and cycling. To see the detail on his bike, go to Love Baum Bicycles. A photographer took beautiful photos of their bikes which they've posted there. 

Waterlogue On the Road

     We're traveling this weekend, seeing some beautiful sights in Kentucky. Claire phoned while we were driving and told us about an iphone app called Waterlogue. It transforms photographs into water color-like pictures. Steve easily installed the app on the spot for ~$2.99 and began snapping photos in the car. Above is an example of a Waterlogue technique. Tess is asleep in the back seat on her tye-dye pillow. I love this effect and I think we will have a lot of fun with this app.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Audrey's Day- My Two Favorite Photos

Audrey, around age three, is going down the hill backwards. She has no control of the sled, but she's holding onto that rope for dear life anyway. 

I happened to look out the window that day, several years ago, and this is what I saw. I grabbed the camera and caught one of my all-time favorite photos of Audrey. 

Happy Birthday, Audrey!!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Day to Day...

     We drove Mari home to Raleigh last weekend. We stayed to babysit all three grandchildren while Claire and Daniel had a well deserved night out. It was a brief trip, but it gave us time to see the children in their home environment, which is always fun. Steve and I meandered home over back roads. We both enjoy browsing the antique shops and it makes me happy when Steve suggests we stop. The best part of antiquing is the hunt. Oftentimes we find nothing at all, but I still get an adrenaline rush when I walk into a shop and smell all that old stuff. On this trip, I found three more Shiny Brite Christmas ornaments for our collection and two picture frames that I believe are cherry. Steve pondered over a trumpet which was in excellent condition, but decided against buying it.
     It's been a busy week at school due to all the snow days we've had. It feels like we're spinning our wheels trying to get caught up. We also have the annual student talent show coming up with rehearsals held after school over the next week and a half. The children love to have this opportunity to show their stuff, but some of the mothers sure do get annoying. That's all I'm going to say about that.
     Audrey's birthday is this weekend! She'll be away, so we arranged a visit at her and Jared's home on Tuesday night. I told her I would bring everything for dinner and a celebration. We had stuffed manicotti, salad, bread, and cupcakes with ice cream (and candles, of course). Believe it or not, this is the first "real" visit we've had at their home since they were married over a year ago! While warming dinner in their kitchen, I was able to see what kinds of utensils and kitcheny things they still need.
     On Wednesday night we had dinner out with friends at Sal's Italian restaurant. The guys ordered a nice bottle of wine, we each ordered something good to eat, and it was a pleasant evening. Sal's food isn't like my mom's Italian cooking, but the atmosphere and music are spot on. Their meals are equally as good as "home", just prepared a little differently. In my experience, spaghetti sauce is different with every cook who makes it. Even when I mimic my mom's recipe to a T, it still doesn't taste like hers. So, I don't expect Sal's to taste like mom's, that would be impossible.
     Today we have another school cancellation due to the weather. The weather has messed up Audrey's flights and other plans we all had for the day. So goes the story of this winter. As I said to a co-worker, "All I want to see falling from the sky are daisies and daffodils!"
     The weekend looks to be improved, weather-wise and I am very excited that we will see Chad! Some of his biggest dreams have come true this year with the opening of his bicycle business with his business partner, Bryce. Chad also built a bicycle to be entered into competition for the tenth annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in Louisville Kentucky. He put this photo up this morning and the caption is cute:
Sleep tight...You've got a big weekend!
 I can imagine Chad's excitement and I really look forward to congratulating him in person. For any bicycle enthusiasts, visit their shop's website at Love Baum Bicycles and be rooting for Chad and Bryce this weekend!