July 16, 2017

Fast-Forward 4 Months: From Snows to Spring to Bunnies to Blooms to Summer to July 4th and a Patiotic Parade

Here I am again, very slow to update the blog (for a writer, I'm a very delinquent blogger)...but from the last post on late season big snows in mid-March, I managed to completely miss any blog posts on St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, and Father's Day. That brings us up to July 4th (nearly 2 weeks ago) and practically the first of August! I have NO idea where the time goes, but it seems to fly at warp speed lately. Maybe I should just plan to update the blog quarterly rather than monthly, so I'll have more to say, if a little less often. Anything has to be better than every 4-5 months!

After the annoying snows of March, I did manage to take a few shots of the flowering shrubs planted in front of my home that provided a nice burst of color in May, along with a large and fragrant lilac bush. I've forgotten what these two shrubs are called - each about 4 feet tall and nearly as wide - but I did look them both up and made a note (just can't find it at the moment)...

Thought I'd also share a few photos of a couple of bunnies that seemed to think my yard has the most tasty grasses of the spring in June. There was a large bunny (the mother, I suspect) and at least two younger ones. Usually, I would see just one munching, then skipping through to the next patch. Here's a view of one of the little ones through the branches of my potted rosemary and sage... 

I love bunnies, but I'm not inclined to have any as I am a cat person and have one of those, so I just don't want to go there, where bunnies are concerned. They're fun to watch, though, now that I've moved any potted plants that were particularly tempting. Here's another view of the same one through my somewhat foggy patio door - I didn't want to scare him (her?) away, so I shot the photos through the glass...

I have a window box planter (not attached to a wall, so just freestanding on a patio table) in which I like to grow leaf lettuce. My ruby lettuce has been growing nicely since late spring and is just too tempting for bunnies to leave the planter accessible to them sitting on the patio, so it's up out of their reach on the table nearby. It's an heirloom variety of lettuce called Salad Bowl Red and it's very tasty, so I do understand why the bunnies find it so appealing...

And, finally, I did make a short trek to my favorite annual July 4th parade at a small, upstate New York hamlet in the Hudson Valley. In the 35 years I've been attending this parade, it never fails to amuse - it is blissfully short, which is the nice part, but it's always a little bit loose and funky, so a hoot! Gotta love a patriotic parade with a vintage Ford pick-up truck, a pretty older mare (a Morgan for those wondering) nicely adorned for the occasion - the only horse in the parade this year (it's horse country, so prior years have seen quite a few from tiny ponies to full-size horses) - a wooden wagon with one small, bewildered child, and two little cuties with flags who were just too adorable not to include:



 And, now, on to the rest of the summer!


March 19, 2017

The Historic Snows of the Ides of Mid-March

 Historic Snowstorm of March 14, 2017 - 26 Inches in 24 Hours in Upstate New York

The weather prognosticators gave us all plenty of warning...a mega winter storm was coming our way. A classic Nor'easter, meaning the winds circulated counterclockwise off the Atlantic coast, spreading their snowy bounty inland across the Northeastern US (the Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England), and in historic quantities in some areas.

It snowed non-stop from about 4am on Tuesday, March 14 (one day before the legendary "Ides of March") until sometime 24 hours later (on the very Ides themselves). My corner of the region went from literally no snow on the ground whatsoever for the past month or so to an epic amount, with the accumulation logging the most snow to fall in the immediate area of upstate New York in March...ever...26 inches in 24 hours. Areas in the Adirondacks to the north got upwards of 30-plus inches. That's a LOT of snow in just one day.

There were some consolations in all of this white stuff...first, the snow was constant but not heavy, it was like a light, white mist...literally a snow shower for 24 hours. None of that big, white cotton-ball-like heavy stuff laden with moisture. This was white powdery stuff. Great for skiing, if you're into that sort of thing.

One couldn't avoid the memo that the weather media was circulating well in advance. Don't got out on the roads if you could avoid it. Driving was treacherous and unless absolutely necessary, was best avoided until the snows ended. No problem at my end. I was more than happy to stay home, do some things around the house, roast a chicken, and eventually make my way out to clear the driveway before the volume would totally overwhelm my already behemoth snowblower. (Don't let anyone tell you that wrestling with a massive hunk of motorized metal that weighs about 250 pounds isn't pretty serious exercise. It's not for the faint of heart. I've ridden fairly large horses that were easier to maneuver!)

Did I mention chicken? Oh, yes, I picked one up on sale at the grocery on Monday since I knew I'd be stuck inside the next day and thought it was the perfect comfort food for a mid-March snowstorm. There's little about chicken, whether one I roast myself or one I buy already rotisserie cooked from the grocery store (my favorite), that goes to waste in my kitchen. I'll stuff the bird loosely with a chopped up onion, and, if I have some, add apple, fresh herbs, or whatever else strikes me.

 Snow Day Roast Chicken

Once roasted, I'll make an array of things with the left overs from salad, chicken stock and soup - whether classic chicken noodle or an Italian version with some sort of fun pasta and topped with grated cheese - to reducing the drippings to make a gravy base. Any leftovers of those by-products I'll put in containers (labeled and dated, of course) and freeze for another use later.  As I said, nothing goes to waste if I can help it.

From the last rotisserie chicken I bought pre-cooked recently, I made stock, strained it and put it right back in the pot to use it as the cooking liquid for cubed red potatoes. They, in turn,  became the base for a favorite rich, rustic curried potato and onion cream soup that is finished with evaporated milk and seasoned with basil and topped with chopped bacon. It has been a no-fail, go-to fall and winter soup for me for 40 years and I think it originally came from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine recipe in the early 1970s that a friend had made for a lunch we had together. It was wonderful, and my first conscious experience with curry - and the rest, as they say, was culinary history for me. I've never stopped making it since and I do it all "by feel" without a recipe...don't need one at this point.

The other major consolation of this mid-March snowstorm is just that...it's mid-March. The temperatures were unusually warm in February, and while we've had some bitterly cold, January-like days since the storm, the sun in March is that much warmer than it is in the dead of winter, so the snows of March 14 have been quick to start melting.

We also have some pretty solid snow clearing capability here in the Northeast - it's a science that we have pretty much perfected over the past seven decades or so (and, I must add, puts most southern states' efforts to shame when they get an aberrational dusting or glazing). Our main roads were down to bare pavement 24 hours after the storm ended, and the local roads were well on their way to cleared, too. (You wonder why our taxes are so high in the Northeast compared to much of the rest of the U.S., well, there's a bit of part of your answer. It's not cheap to keep the many miles of roads and highways clear of the white and icy stuff when it hits here as predictably as it does, but where would we be if we couldn't get that done? It's essential for safety and for commerce to continue uninterrupted, and part of the price we pay for living here in the "Great Northeast.")

We've lost about half - or a full foot - of the original accumulation of almost a week ago just due to the wonderful, warm, melting effects of the sun, which has been apparent every day since "snowmegeddon" on March 14. Love that! I'm thinking, barring any further colossal convergence of weather fronts blowing in from the northwest and the east, that this last foot could be nearly gone by this time next week. I certainly hope so, because, Spring will be here officially tomorrow...and it has been, in the words of Lennon and McCartney, a long, cold winter, but here comes the sun!

Come on in, Spring - we've been waiting for you!   

February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day and February Snows

I'm not even going to begin to express my regrets that I haven't blogged since July. It has been a very busy time, but I wanted to catch up a little here, and ahead of Valentine's Day, which is one of my favorite of celebrations.

Coming in the middle of February, I've always been grateful to have a holiday that provides us with a warm sentiment - simply love - and also delivers a most welcome explosion of vibrant red during an otherwise frosty, often grey skies and white landscape with trees barren of their emerald leaves.  It's a reminder that life will go on, just have faith in Mother Nature to bring spring soon.

As areas of the Northeast have been blanketed with upwards of 8 to 10 inches of the white stuff in the past few days (where we previously had practically none), and the temperatures are in the 20s and 30s (and single digits at night in some areas), the good news for folks like me, who don't adore winter in the Northeast, is that it won't last  forever and the warmer temperatures and green grass will return. In the meantime, Valentine's Day is a visually colorful, as well as emotional, relief.

So last weekend, I broke out the Valentine's box filled with vermilion treasures accumulated over the years. Among them are a few bears (see the photo above), even though I'm not a massive bear fan, including one that started the collection. It's the one in the center with the enameled red heart affixed to his chest. This sweet bear was given to me by my late dad when I probably was about 9 or 10 years old. He might have made the selection for me, or maybe my mom did, but he certainly was the one who gave it to me. And I've kept it all these years...how could I not? My dad also gave me the pair of sweetly embroidered little pillow sachets...the scented disks that perfumed them are gone, but they're still charming little keepsakes that compliment the bears.

Knowing of my propensity to acquire small stuffed white bears with red ribbon collars as Valentine's keepsakes, my now late mom gave me, many years later, the largest "gift" bear below. He's a Hallmark bear holding a little red gift box with white hearts. I don't recalwhat the box contained, if anything, but he seemed a fitting addition to my small collection of Valentine's bears.

In anticipation of February 14, the bears take up residence on the mantel and are surrounded by a few other items that celebrate the holiday of Love with hearts and flowers.

I've had this cute little rocking horse ornament for many years - I think my mother gave me that one, as well, since I've been a life long horsewoman - and I originally hung it on my Christmas tree. But I decided a few years ago that he really belonged with my Valentine's accoutrements and now he comes out, with his red hearts and lace mane, for February - a perfect Valentine's pony!

This carved wooden angel ornament originally was part of a group of carved natural wood ornaments designed for Christmas, but, once again, I appropriated her for the Valentine's display. She originally came from the charming shop in Rhinebeck, New York, that was owned by dear friend who now lives in coastal North Carolina, so it always reminds me of my friend and reminds me to get in touch with her. 

At the center and just below the mantel is this small twisted twig heart. I don't recall who gave it to me, but I've had it forever, too. It originally Day. It originally hung in the bathroom of my first home in the country and was festooned with a light "country blue" ribbon and small eucalyptus branches, but the leaves became rather aged and tired looking, so I removed them. What I couldn't remove was the dried glue that kept them affixed to the heart, so I just turned that side to the wall and hung the heart this way. I was never a big fan of "cutesy country" and prefer the simple, natural look and it seems to work just fine hanging there, I think.

I painted my dad's classic old olive green Army trunk in bright white with red trim when I was a young teenager 50 (eeek!) years ago. It originally served as my very first real "tack trunk" for my growing collection of equestrian gear, but it is currently my coffee table in front of the fireplace. (I've never parted with that trunk, either. Are you sensing something of a pattern here?...lol.) On top of the trunk is a red metal tray I picked up at Goodwill a few years ago, I think, holding some stray pine cones (left over from January's mantel and hearth decor) and a sweet heart-shaped twig basket in which I placed a sweet stuffed polka-dot cotton heart ornament that my oldest and dearest friend (from first grade through high school!) made and gave me decades ago. (We've remained in touch and lately we communicate via email almost daily - it's is a lovely thing to have that kind of enduring friendship at this stage of our lives since she lives several hours north of me in northern Vermont.)

Next to the tray is a small bowl from Pottery Barn that I picked up at Goodwill a few years ago - I found its blue and white checkerboard punctuated with pale red hearts so cheerful, so it comes out for Valentine's Day, too.       

I don't usually add much to the Valentine's Day collection these days, but I was in a local thrift shop last weekend and spied a very tarnished, small, metal heart basket for just 50 cents (!) and I couldn't resist it. The label on the darkened bottom read "L'Argentiere - Italy Style" so I knew that it was, at the very least, silverplate, if not sterling. (There was no stamp to suggest it was sterling.) I didn't care either way since it was delightful and, as I suspected, it polished up beautifully.  To borrow and revise an expression from the marvelous Ina Garten, how sweet is that?!

I hope you have a few small treasures and keepsakes to remind you of beloved family and friends, and that your Valentine's Day, and every day, is filled with delightful surprises and that most wonderful of sentiments....lots and lots of Love.

July 4, 2016

Fourth of July...Again

Happy Fourth of July!

I'm shocked that it has been six months since I posted (on January 1), but I thought I'd better get "fire-cracking" here and share an image from my July 4th holiday mantel. Mr. and Mrs. Patriotic Bunny make their annual appearance with a couple of stars and red-white-blue birdhouses I've had for a few years. I can't even recall where I got them, but they've got stars on their roofs and stripes on the front of the two white ones for a bit of vintage Americana on this most American of holidays.

Can't promise that I'll be more prompt with postings with life full of busy days and these summer evenings with daylight lasting long into evenings. It's the time of year that I'm happiest...we've slogged through the long, cold winters and what seem to be shorter springs before the hot summer weather arrives. Spring this year was cold, then quickly hot, hot, hot and humid - as if it was August! - but things got sorted out in June and the weather for the past week has been perfect. Cool nights, warm days, low humidity...everything we've waited for! So I'm enjoying the outdoors and not spending much time in front of the laptop...sorry!

I'm headed off to a favorite country store nearby today, so I'll try to do a bit better on the posting schedule, but no guarantees. Until next time, enjoy your Fourth and have a safe, happy and healthy holiday!


January 2, 2016

Holidays in Review

The arrival of the holiday season, while not exactly a surprise at Thanksgiving, was not something I was eager to embrace as early as Halloween, despite the retail industry's relentless effort to cause us to skip right over Thanksgiving (since one doesn't normally buy gifts for that) in favor of Christmas and zoom right into the holiday (read: shopping/spending) spirit. Accordingly, I resist all efforts to get into the "Christmas spirit" until December 1. It's just way too much red and green and holiday "cheer" before December's arrival, ignores the fact that it's still fall and, in some areas like the mid-south, still very much peak foliage season. To ignore that gives short shrift to autumn and the Thanksgiving holiday that I find equally worthy of our attention. Winter doesn't begin until December 21, so I express my resistance to the rushing of that season by not giving Christmas any significant attention until December. I won't decorate for Christmas until then.

As with Thanksgiving, my mantel is the primary focus of my holiday decorating. It's the area of my home that's most easily changed with the seasons and holidays, but in early December I also found a charming pre-lit faux evergreen 4-foot "pencil" tree in a nice, urn-like base at Goodwill for $12. There were several such trees available, but this one was the nicest, in my view, so I placed it by my front door (where there's a conveniently located exterior outlet). I put the lights on a timer, so it clicks on from dusk until about 11pm and gently illuminates the doorway, which makes it warm and welcoming, I think.

I also lucked into a huge "contractor" size bag full of faux evergreen garland at another local thrift shop - at least 200 ft or more - for a paltry $5.  Wow - that was quite a deal! Two of the garlands in the bag were illuminated, so I strung one of them around the mantle and added a little faux tree I got for $2, at the center, flanked by some votive candles in glass votive holders and small (real) apples.

Below the mantel I hung two small brass faux hunting horns with faux greenery and berries, red-and-green ribbon and jingle bells embellishments at each end. In the center, I hung another small embellished brass horn enhanced with a small vintage jumping horse and rider ornament that a friend (and former classmate from 1st through 12th grade) gave me recently. She was going through some old holiday items while to trying to edit out of her collection of ornaments she no longer wanted to keep and thought I'd like this one and another small brass hunting horn -- she was right. As a horsewoman, I do tend to lean heavily in the direction of equestrian-related decor, which is especially appealing for the Christmas holidays.

Tally ho!

While some with more European leanings might extend the holiday season until mid-January, I lean in the direction of wrapping up the "holiday season" now that New Year's Day has come and gone. I'm packing up the holiday things this weekend and putting them all back in storage until next December. It'll be back sooner than we realize.

As with most of the Eastern U.S., our weather was unusually mild in December, with no snow until two days before New Year's Day, and temperatures were atypically warm -- 65 degrees on Christmas Day. (That was a treat for those of us who aren't huge fans of cold and snow.)  Now that the weather has reverted to more "normal" conditions for Northeastern winters, I'll focus on keeping the bird feeders hanging outside stocked with seed and use the time indoors sipping hot chocolate (yum!) by the fire, cooking, baking, and cleaning, sorting and tossing the unnecessary things that tend to invade and take up space in one's life. It's never too early to start on "spring cleaning"!

I hope you had very happy holidays, whatever version you celebrate, and have a most happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! 

November 22, 2015

A Thanksgiving Mantel

My mantel, like those of many others who use the surface as a source of display and inspiration for an upcoming holiday, is a reflection of one's life, of special items and trinkets, images and message that "speak" to us.

This year's Thanksgiving mantel has evolved from my Halloween mantle, which I wasn't clever enough to photograph this year before I re-arranged and replaced some of the items - sorry! It's the first time I've placed so many 5" x 7" picture frames of favorite postcards and greeting cards on the mantel. I've accumulated both frames (most made of wood and sourced from thrift shops or church rummage sales for just a dollar or two - great sources for nice frames and glass!) and seasonal autumn and Thanksgiving images that I enjoy, so I decided to give some of them pride of place on the mantel this year.

I also picked up six pretty pumpkin-colored taper candles for 25 cents each at a local thrift shop in my area that helps generate support for local at-risk teens and families. I love this little store that always has some terrific items at very affordable prices that I invariably come away with something neat to use, give as a great gift and even to re-sell on eBay. I sent two of the candles to the life-long friend who sent me the first card on the left (above) with the pretty autumn leaves a few years ago. I always hang onto cards and images that I love -- you never know where they'll work for some other purpose, whether photocopied or used as is.

And speaking of eBay, I got two of the four ceramic candle holders with leaves and acorn bands around the base at Goodwill, and found the other pair on eBay. I think smaller items like this work best in quantity -- two is nice, but four is better - they make more of a statement.  I also find eBay is the best source for appealing and affordable vintage Thanksgiving postcards from the early 20th century -- they're beautifully detailed and have a wonderful timeless appeal for this most timeless of holidays. I try to pick up at least one each year.

It's a little hard to see the small square image on left above - it's a card I bought years a go of a tiny photograph of a country road surrounded by leaves. I love images of scenic rural roads in autumn...there's something so special about that subject - pulling you into the scene and inviting you to travel down that road in your imagination, especially during a season that's so visually glorious, yet so fleeting, so ephemeral.

Smack in the center of the mantel is a beautiful jar (missing its lid) in one of my favorite pottery patterns -- Mason's Fruit Basket in their red variation. This jar is similar to another one I've had for years, but it's slightly different since it has an iridescent glaze that reflects the colors of the rainbow as the light bounces off its gleaming surface.

Just to the left of the jar is a tiny, porcelain, hinged trinket box with a "turkey" surrounded by fruits and vegetables on its lid. I found this in an antiques store in the region two years ago and had to have it, along with its companion cornucopia hinged box below.

The two little ceramic pumpkins were enclosed inside the cornucopia -- how darling are they? So sweet! They're barely the size of a pea or bean! I love these little vintage treasure boxes!

The cute terracotta turkey votive candle holder came from another Goodwill store in the region. Might have been a dollar...certainly not much more than that.

I can't recall where the pretty carved gold frame came from, and the card was just one I picked up several years ago because I loved the image of pumpkins in, and next to, a wire basket atop a rustic dusty blue/aqua wooden box, and its simple message "Gather Together" that reminds me of the traditional Thanksgiving hymn, "We Gather Together" that we sang at school every year for 12 years. That's what I love about Thanksgiving - the traditions. It's not a religious holiday, per se, but a quintessentially American celebration of appreciation of the things we all have to be thankful for -- our freedom, our bountiful land and harvest, our friends and families -- that the "new world" provided to the European pilgrims who initially settled here, joining the native peoples who preceded them and things that we sometimes take for granted so readily today.

Enjoy all that this special holiday brings to you and your life. 

October 23, 2015

Tea Time in London Town - A Warm Memory

It's no secret that there's something wonderfully comforting about tea for those who enjoy its taste and charms. I've been a tea-drinker since childhood - probably a function of my maternal grandmother's influence (as a native of Northern Ireland).

Tea was, and is, always there when I was chilled or wanted something warm and flavorful. I enjoy a wide variety of blends, but Earl Grey is my strong preference. Something about the scent of the bergamot orange is like a warm embrace to me. I prefer my tea with cream (or milk) and sugar.

Often lately, this chilly autumn weather has brought to mind a memory of one of my most enjoyable tea experiences.

I was traveling for business to London, and was booked into a charming townhouse hotel in Notting Hill.

Typical for those flying "across the pond" from the west (I departed from Boston), I arrived at Heathrow airport at about 6:00 a.m. local time, so it was very early to arrive at the hotel. The lovely young woman who greeted me when I arrived, explained that my room wasn't available yet - no surprise, since the current occupants probably weren't even awake themselves at that hour, let alone checked out. As an alternative, she invited me to relax in the "lounge" - a cozy, den-like living room overlooking the garden behind the hotel (essentially a townhouse).

(The rendering at top and photo above are from the now-former hotel's brochure.)

Thoughtfully, she asked if I'd like some tea -- that was just the thing. I was weary from traveling and it was a chilly, early November day. Nothing could have been more welcoming and soothing after a nearly 6-hour trans-Atlantic flight.

I recall vividly the blue and white china on which my "arrival" tea was served. It was a familiar traditional pattern offered by several different makers - Johnson Brothers "Blue Denmark" is one version. You can see it in the photo above as the tea service to the left on the coffee table.

For whatever reason, that lovely china pattern always makes me think of that wonderful cup of tea and of time spent in London, nearly 20 years ago. I returned to that hotel twice more thereafter, in part, because it had two resident cats who were a delightful reminder of my own kitties at home.

The hotel was renovated a few years after my stays there, and it was operated for a few more years before being sold and converted back into a residential property. It probably was the best possible outcome for such a charming old building, but certainly a loss for travelers who appreciated its warm and welcoming environs.