Thursday, April 30, 2015

Take a Walk With Me!

Walking up the hill behind the house, I turn back to look out over all the bright green colors of spring!
Sun and shadow plays on the mountains beyond the vineyard. The rain is holding off for just a while.

Zooming in with the camera reveals green leaves sprouting on the grape vines.

Across the dirt road, in the empty barnyard, there is a big old tree. The bracket fungi around its base looks like lace. I like the bit of rusty, old, wire fencing there at the bottom.

Further along the road, in the field behind the Christmas tree farm, is this handsome guy! There is a turkey hen nearby. This is only the second time that I've ever seen a Tom turkey all feathered out like this. The first time being just a week or so back. I zoomed in as close as I could and cropped the photo just enough before it started blurring.

Back in the yard, what walk would be complete without the obligatory 'butterfly on a lilac' shot.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is Pinterest Fun or What?! I thought to myself, why take up an entire raised bed with herbs when I could have them at the back doorstep, right at my fingertips? I already had terracotta pots of various shapes and sizes piled out back and I had the herbs waiting to be planted. When I saw this idea, I was all in! The only caveat being that the herbs will need to be pinched back regularly. This shouldn't be a problem since they'll be in constant use in the kitchen, right? Below is my version which I planted today. I think Martha's pots were bigger. But then again, everything Martha does is bigger.

To put these wonderful herbs to use, here is a delicious Tomato Basil Soup recipe that I made for dinner tonight. It uses fresh basil and oregano and it's super easy to make. We had toasted Italian bread with melted cheese as a side. If you've pinched back more herbs than you can use right away, they'll keep in a jar or vase of cool water for several days. I like to place them on the windowsill.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Springtime Gardening

We planted the new Magnolia last night. (Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty') It's a bitty thing right now, maybe 4 feet high, compared to the thirty to fifty feet it will be at maturity. I asked the man at the nursery how fast it would grow and he said they grow "like a kid" in the beginning. We planted it out front where it will have plenty of room to become grand. When Steve opened the ground, we saw that the soil was actually soil and not clay. Steve said this area was out of the range of where our builder scraped the earth when they built our house so, it's the original cow pasture with nicer soil. Grow little tree!
     I'm still digging up those #%/! perennial step beds apart and pulling out weeds and turning soil. All the while I worked I kept thinking, I need to hire a young somebody to do this. I fought with the mint that was running amok and yanked every newly sprouted curse of crown vetch I could find. It will be a happy day when I can finally ask Steve to bring home some soil and compost. A friend came over and adopted many of the dug up perennials. She filled the back of her SUV with daisies, purple coneflower, yarrow, and black-eyes Susans. Her little girl took interest in all the different plants and eagerly held out her hand for the earthworm I held up. She liked the Hens 'n Chicks growing in a pot near the back door so we pulled a little 'chick' from the bunch and put it in a little pot of her own to take home. My dad gave me the predecessors of those hens and chicks over twenty years ago. He would be happy that they're still being shared. To finish up the evening, I got out the lettuce seeds and planted a row. It's a little late for sowing lettuce, but I think we'll get a nice crop before the weather gets too warm. I'll be able plant another crop of lettuce and other cool season crops in late summer, for a fall harvest... if I'm on the ball. I checked on the asparagus and it's still coming right along. They are an odd-looking sort of plant, like something I would imagine from the early days of the earth. I like how they rise from the soil with their heads curled and then straighten up to the sky, like fern fronds.
     I'll finish with a picture of the little dogwood that grows in the back. The white dogwoods are at their blooming height right now and they are a bright beacon even on rainy days. Such was the day when I photographed this.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering, which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.

The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gathering and Piling and Everything in Between

I had to bring the stash indoors one night when the temperatures went way down.
 In dreaming of a verdant garden, I've begun collecting plants for this year's growing season. I have a little stash accumulating against the foundation where it will be sheltered on a frosty night. Basil, tomatoes, geraniums, lavender, and rosemary happily huddle together until planting day, which won't be for another two or three weeks. I've also stowed seed packets in a kitchen crock. Spring is arriving slowly this year, which suits me just fine. I love these sixty degree days which are stretched out indefinitely.
     I began some serious garden work yesterday when (finally!) all the stars aligned to provide a dry day along with a few hours of free time. I retrieved the garden cart and loaded it with the blackberry prunings from two weeks ago. When I went to the woods to dump it for compost, lo and behold there were the two rhubarb plants I threw away last summer, merrily thriving away. If I had wanted those rhubarb plants to thrive in the garden, they would have defied me and died. Because I put them out to die, they lived. A lesson in gardening; entropy reigns supreme.
     For the rest of the afternoon, I knelt or sat on the ground and weeded various beds. Exposed to the sun and wind and in the company of birds and worms, it was satisfying work. The asparagus is up and we roasted our first harvest of the year for Steve's birthday dinner tonight. His cake of choice is a Boston Cream Pie. It's like an eclair in cake form and wonderfully delicious!

Usually I bake one layer of cake and slice it in half for the filling. This time I tried out two layers of cake.  I thought it was a little too much cake so I'll go back to the one layer next time.
     I was surprised to arrive at work today and find my desk covered with flowers, gift bags and cards. I was confused as to what the occasion could be until someone said it was "Administrative Assistants Day" ("Secretary's Day") Ha! That's me! I was blown away by the attention from the amazing staff at our school. Among the gifts were the tulips and daffodils in the photo above, homemade bread and homegrown honey from one of the teachers, and a breakfast of fresh fruit and muffins from the PTA. There were also gift cards and a pretty pink hanging flower basket. All this just for doing my job. Amazing.
     After work, B. and I took Steve's truck and went to Greenbrier Nursery to buy each of us a Magnolia tree.  I had never seen a Magnolia tree until we moved to the south. I never thought much of them, but over time I have come to admire them. They can grow into huge, stately trees and we have plenty of room for that so, I am excited to plant this baby and watch it grow. 
     There is so much more going on with Tess' graduation next month, her senior recital, a wedding to attend, and more ironing than will fit in the basket. Other than cooking a couple of meals to share, this weekend is free and clear for me to catch up on all the little "piles" around the house. Piles of paperwork, piles of laundry and ironing, and piles of compost to turn. Here's to a fresh start come Monday!

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Our morning prayer should be that in the Imitation: Da hodie perfecte incipere- grant me to make an unflawed beginning today, for I have done nothing yet.

 C.S. Lewis  "A Slip of the Tongue"

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Weekend at Home

     Just when I think, "Enough!" I can't bear the beauty of all this flowering, bee-buzzing, and heady aroma that is overwhelming my senses... the lilacs bloom!
     Another rainy week finally cleared out on Friday. Our first order of the weekend was to go down to the barn and see Audrey's new family member. His name is Seth and he is a seven year old Thoroughbred. I guess his sweet demeanor and friendly personality caused him to not win any of the six races he was entered into. His lineage includes Man-O-War and some other highly regarded racehorses, but Seth doesn't have the "heart" as they call it, to race. So up for sale he went, to be found by Audrey. Lucky her and lucky him.

This is the view from the window of his stall at his new digs.

Audrey and Seth
     We anticipated with great eagerness the beautiful day that was in store for Saturday. We had to be out in the morning, but we spent the afternoon at home with me cooking a little and Steve installing the window screens back in. We opened almost every window to this perfect day. During his chore, Steve walked in holding out a small bouquet of lilacs to me. I thought, how sweet to bring me flowers! Steve confessed that they were touching the house, so he was actually killing two birds with one stone by getting them off the house, thereby bringing me flowers.
     Claire and her family are all here for the weekend and we had baby-cuddle time and the joy of hugging the grandchildren after only seeing them last weekend. This is where the notorious "Footprints on the Hutch" act occurred. Suffice it to say a two year old climbed up onto the mountainous hutch in search of candy, which there was none. He was righteously outraged. This is also the weekend that Mari and I gazed at the pink sunrise and she related to me the story of the pink sky she saw with Aunt Chelsea at the ocean, and the candy they saw being made. This memory is from an event that took place last August in Maine and Mari was three years old. It left an indelible mark on her, that pink sky, Aunt Chelsea, and taffy being made in the window at Goldenrod Kisses.
     Friends joined us this evening for a simple meal of Pasta Fagioli, grilled Italian sausage, L.'s rosemary bread, a salad, and a couple of bottles of nice wine. Dessert and night caps followed on the porch. It was the perfect way to usher in the spring and summer season with our laughter (and friendly disagreements) echoing out into the night. If this, the bonds of family and friends and good simple meals, is how I might spend my days, then I want for nothing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Virginia is Stunningly Beautiful Just Now

    Here we have the old Sweet Cherry trees in their annual flowering. Who knows how many springs they have seen? All the trees are blooming simultaneously in their showy efforts to be pollinated. Pick me! Pick me!, they beckon the bees. The grass soaks up the sun and reflects the warmth back up from the ground. I can feel the sun rising from it when I walk through the field. The breeze and the trees in my head, but the grass hypnotizes from below and traps the unwary traveler to stop; just lie down here and rest awhile.

     At the back of this photo is a Redbud tree. They grow like weeds along the roads and highways just like the Dogwoods. The Forsythia are there too, along with the flowering Crabapple. And in the grass we see the poor, hated Dandelions. What little child hasn't picked fistfuls of Dandelions for their mother, who exclaims over their beauty and sets them in a cupful of water to be admired, insects and all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Weekend in the South

     Look how green everything is in North Carolina! The weather was picture-perfect for a visit to Claire and Daniel's. The plan was for Steve to help Daniel build a shed and Claire and I would work on the garden. On Saturday morning Steve and Daniel got started on the shed and Claire and I went to get mulch. Everyplace was bustling with busy people, including the landfill where we went to buy composted mulch. The guy at the landfill dumped way too much mulch on top of our truck. It was piled so high and so heavy that I thought the rear tires were going to burst. I was a bundle of nerves for the drive back to Claire's and I drove with my flashers on at 40 mph for the entire eleven miles. I was upset that the bulldozer guy would dump so much onto our truck like that. Of course we had to stop for bagels on the way home, having our priorities straight and all. Those bagels were worth every minute of stress I experienced while parked illegally in a truck I thought would hit the ground at any moment. After we got home and ate our bagels, we spread the entire load which took about six hours. Claire did the bulk of it.

     All day long, the children played in and out and around us. I "helped" by holding the baby a lot.  That evening Steve and I babysat while Claire and Daniel had a date night. I gave the children baths, bundled them in pajamas and read books at bedtime. They were asleep within minutes. It was a full, exhausting day in the very best possible way.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Odds and Ends of a Wonderful Week

     I have SO enjoyed this week off! It rained a little every day, but I stole some time to work outside in between rain spells. Our daffodils finally emerged and the entire fence line is dotted with cheery, yellow blooms. I can't bear to cut them, but I did pluck one to bring inside to set on the windowsill. When I opened the window behind it, the breeze carried its scent across the sink to me while I washed dishes.
     Steve had to work every day this week so we met in the evenings and enjoyed a dinner, some shopping, and a movie. (But not all on the same night.) One evening we shopped for my belated birthday gift. It was still early when we got home so Steve started the lawnmower for the first time this season and I went merrily on my way, mowing the yard. As I drove off, he wished me a Happy Birthday, referring to the gift we bought. Maybe it was the heady scent of freshly cut grass, or maybe it was the successive string of days off, but I called back to him, "Every day is a birthday gift!"
     I came away from Goodwill with this sweet demitasse cup today. I spotted it's diminutive form on the shelf and excitedly picked it up. It's made of silky bone china with a perfect lip on it. What I like most is its balance and the weight of it in hand. The cup nestles into the saucer and it makes me happy just to hold it. When I saw the little honey bee on the bottom, I was smitten. I paid $0.40 and I feel like I won a prize. I may be drinking espresso more often now. Or! I can try it with the coffee bourbon we bought in Kentucky, heated and served in my little cup with heavy cream on top. As we are wont to do in our household, we excitedly share our good finds with each other in a celebratory way. I couldn't wait to show Steve and Tess my little cup and they shared in my happiness. In researching the brand, I found three more cups and saucers on ebay. Needless to say, we will soon have a set for all to share. I'll happily say goodbye to the clunky espresso cups we currently use. They belong to Fred Flintstone.

     Suddenly, the world is green and blooming everywhere! With each turn of the corner- a view, a scent, even a memory of a prior spring pops up. It will never grow old because it ends and is reborn again next year, to our constant delight. I tore open a piece of Easter candy this week, I think it was a Russell Stover coconut cream egg, and before I ate it I closed my eyes and inhaled it's good, chocolaty smell. It smells like Easter, I thought. Have you ever noticed how each holiday's candy smells unique? If I smelled this very same candy egg at Christmastime, it would still smell like Easter candy. And Halloween candy smells like...Halloween. I like the smell of Easter candy the best of all.
     I can't forget the image of the Tom turkey I saw in a field this week. He was all puffed up in full regalia, looking every bit like a Thanksgiving salt shaker. I have only ever seen pictures (or salt shakers) of a turkey all feathered out like that and what an impressive sight he made! I hope I wasn't the only girl taking notice of him. Surely there must have been a female nearby for him to go to all that effort.
     I've been reading some, just a little each day. Right now I'm reading, "All the Light We Cannot See" I'm only a few chapters in, but I like it a lot so far. It took a very long time for it to become available at the library; it was on my request list for months. I'll take it along with me on my visit to Claire's. I'll have a more time to read in the wee hours of morning while everyone else is sleeping. : )

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

More Painting and a Moral Dilemma

     It's been a wonderful week so far, with the weather being the deciding factor on how I spent my time. It's been too wet to work outside, so I painted instead. My first project was the linen closet in the master bath. No one will ever see it, but it gives me great pleasure to have emptied the closet, removed all the shelves, painted the interior and then neatly put everything back. Every time I open the closet to grab a towel it's, "Laaa! Clean and fresh!" I also found plenty of things in there to give away which prompted me to gather all my Goodwill donations and drop several bags off at the end of the day.
     The next day I gave a fresh coat of paint to all the interior doors. I've done a lot of painting over the years and without a doubt I can say it's worth spending the extra money on good paint and good quality paint brushes and rollers. I have three good paint brushes of various sizes that I keep hidden in my closet so no one will find them in the basement and mess them up. They've lasted thirteen years so far. For paint, my first choice is Benjamin Moore. It goes on like a dream and gives noticeably better results. For painting trim such as doors and cabinetry, I add Floetrol. It reduces brush marks and helps the paint glide on even better.
     For certain, painting gives a person plenty of thinking time. This is one of the things I like about painting (and weeding); it's quiet and thoughtful work. Unfortunately, what's been going through my mind is an incident I had on the road last Saturday. I was on a long stretch of empty highway leading up to our road; a section that I drive every day. I was in the right lane and needed to change to the left lane in order to make my turn, which was still another mile up the road. I checked my mirrors, did a quick shoulder glance, signaled, and changed lanes. Suddenly, I heard a horn sounding and when I looked in my rear view mirror, there was a car right behind me. This car had been in my blind spot and I had just cut them off! I was mortified and embarrassed. As I prepared to move further left into the left turn lane to make the turn onto my road, the other vehicle pulled up alongside my right and I I thought at least I would have the opportunity to signal my apology. I expected the person to be angry and annoyed, but I never expected it to be to the degree that I witnessed. That middle-aged man was furious. I have never seen anyone that angry towards me. He was red-faced and screaming at the top of his lungs, gesturing his middle finger at me as hard as he possibly could. But, what struck me most was the degree of explosive anger and the look of hatred in his eyes. In his agitation, his car swerved toward me slightly. His poor wife in the passenger seat was frantic; she was trying to grab his arm and calm him. All I could do was meekly mouth the words, "I'm sorry!". I turned off onto my road and continued home. Along the way, I kept checking my rear view mirror to make sure he didn't follow me because I thought it a real possibility. That man's anger and bad vibe clung to me all day.
     So here are my thoughts: I'm sure I gave that man a fright when I cut him off. I've been cut off so I know how it feels. But I've never reacted so violently towards a fellow driver. If we hadn't been in cars, or if we had stopped and stepped out of our cars, what would he have done? I don't know this man, but we live in a small town so what if I ever find myself sitting next to him in a restaurant or in church? What do we do when we make a mistake and can't take it back? How should we react to others who do the same?
     I'm thankful I didn't cause a terrible accident. Steve is constantly reminding me not to hover in people's blind spots when I'm driving, especially with the big semi trucks. It's good advice I will heed. I've also been extra careful of every lane change I've made since.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Beginning of Life Everlasting...and Spring Break

     Today's Easter service was a stark contrast to Thursday's Tennebrae service. Thursday's service concluded in silence and darkness and today we experienced sunlight and joy! Fear and doubt were replaced with shouts of, "He is risen!". Two thousand years ago to now; the message of our Savior and King has remained as clear and pure as when it first began.
     Our celebration at home was abbreviated slightly by the absence of our two daughters who live away. But, Audrey and Jared joined us and the house smelled good with baked ham and all the sides of Steve's family's traditional Easter brunch. We talked about Steve' grandmother, Eleanor as we set the table with her china and remembered her week-long preparations all those many years ago. I chose bright yellow tulips for our centerpiece because I couldn't deny their cheeriness when I saw them in the store. (I had gone in to buy pink and came out with yellow).
     Audrey's big news is the addition of a new horse to their family. He's a seven year old thoroughbred gelding, already trained as a hunter/jumper. After suffering a broken arm and taking chances on unruly horses in the past, Audrey is old enough now to know she wants a safer, well trained horse. She'll board him just down the road from us, so I suspect I'll see her (and him) on a weekly basis. Speaking of Audrey, Steve snapped this photo of us today just as Audrey arrived. Claire had just phoned and Audrey was exclaiming about our matching outfits, right down to our shoe color. It was purely coincidence!
     Spring break is this week and I feel like a kid with an entire, empty week to spend all on my own. I have many ideas of things I would like to do, most of which involve gardening and spring cleaning. Yes, to me that will be enjoyable only because I'm in the mood for it. The beauty of it is that if I'm not in the mood, I won't do it. : )

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bits of Spring All Around

     Just as spring gently overtakes winter, creeping in bit by bit, so it does in our home. One day I set some pysanky eggs in a basket, another day I put out the pitcher with apple blossoms, and on another I added my wooden scripture verse to the windowsill along with the pansies I was given. Tess found more pysanky eggs and so we put those out too. It looks like spring has stopped being entirely meek and we're beginning to hear from her loud and clear today. Streetside, the ornamental plum trees are blossoming and daffodils and forsythia are everywhere!
     In gardening news, I completely dug up the two beds that flank the stairway on the back hill. I dug all the perennials out in clumps and set them on a tarp to be kept moist. Since I'm redesigning this as a rock garden rather than a perennial bed, I will give most of these perennials away. I had to spray Round-Up on the empty beds to combat the invasive and persistent whatever-it-is weed/grass that causes me to mutter bad things under my breath. I've battled it for years and I'm not calling UNCLE yet. Once the new plants are in, I'll use landscape fabric, which I normally shun, to keep this invasive grass from reappearing. The fact that I'm using landscape fabric means I'm desperate, but shhh, the weeds don't know my strategy.
     So, here are a few photos from around the house. I reuse the same decorations year after year, but I use them in different places and in different combinations to change it up. The apple blossoms are artificial. I'll bring in real ones when they come into bloom, but these artificial ones were so lifelike that I had to buy them when I saw them at Ikenberry's Farm Store a few years ago.. We made the pysanky eggs over the years and that collection is ever growing (or shrinking depending on how many get broken.) They do break and I rarely flinch over that fact any more. I would probably mourn more over an egg one of the girls made when they were young than over a detailed egg made today. The end result of these eggs are beautiful, but the process of making them is just as rewarding. So, if it breaks, oh well, it was fun while it was being created.

This is the wood sign I stenciled and painted at the retreat last weekend. So simple!
This basket was Steve's grandmother's. I rediscovered it in the pantry and thought it perfect to use for the eggs.

When teaching a pysanky class, the back left egg is good pattern for beginners. They are much easier to make than you would think. The back right egg is a freestyle floral pattern. Also very easy.
I love the browns. It's hidden by the basket handle, but that's Audrey's Lord of the Ring egg : )

Many of the designs are symbolic. For example, the fish is the Christian symbol, but notice the pea pods in the border? Fruits and vegetables symbolize a good harvest and a good life. There are  many variables that can cause an egg to turn out flawed. This egg's shell absorbed the red dye in variations. I think this particular flaw is very pretty.