December 9, 2012

Hard to Believe It's the Holidays

I barely had time to recover from our food-laden Thanksgiving when the spate of holiday celebrations began!  Fortunately, things are slowing down a bit and I've had a chance to catch up on some tasks, but I still haven't broken out the holiday decor in earnest...except for one thing.  I saw a nice image in the December issue of Traditional Home magazine (one of my favorites) that showed a simple planter in a deep bucket shape stuffed with evergreens and simple and festive.

Inspired by the simple elegance of the idea, I re-purposed a planter of mums (since faded) that I'd picked up at the grocery store earlier this fall.  I loved the little arch and "Welcome" sign added to the planter, so I wanted to use it again.  I trimmed some errant branches from a nearby juniper bush that needed pruning ('tis the season to prune your hardy plants and shrubs), stuck them in the pot with the potting soil left over from the mums, and added some variegated faux voila!  A cheerful little holiday greeting standing by my front door ready to welcome my holiday guests.  So simple and easy.

I'm ready now.  Let the celebrations begin!


November 18, 2012

Turkey Time Again?

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is upon us yet again. I adore Thanksgiving - not because it's a food fest (it is), but because it's a celebration about nothing more complicated than a traditional way for Americans to give thanks for the "harvest" - to celebrate the end of the growing season and all that this bountiful country provides to us.

I love the colors of autumn anyway - the colors of nature - golds, reds, greens, blues, purples - and how Thanksgiving gives me a chance to use them on the table and around the house.  I have to say, for all its focus on food, there isn't half the concentration on Thanksgiving in the stores than on Christmas.  The new approach from retailers for the holiday season is to start putting out the reds and greens of the Christmas holidays right after Halloween.  It's not nice.  It's much too soon, and, as a result, the Thanksgiving colors take a back seat (and less shelf and display space) to Santa and crew.  I'm not ready for Christmas decor until December and I don't want to deal with it until then.

I'm going to fight to keep the autumn colors around until Thanksgiving and just beyond.  This year, we have a full week of November after Thanksgiving before December kicks in, so I'm going to milk it for all it's worth!

I hope you and yours have a bountiful, tasty Thanksgiving holiday and you'll stop and think about how much this uniquely American holiday brings to us.  And I hope, if you can, you'll share a bit of your good fortune this season with those who don't have as much to celebrate at their holiday table this year.


October 27, 2012

And When October Goes...

I nearly missed a chance to post here during one of my very favorite months of the year...beautiful, vibrant, brilliantly colorful October.  Here in the Northeast, October is foliage prime-time...glorious, but just a touch sad, since the changing colors signal that summer is over and it's "time to dress for fall" the lyrics to "The Summer Knows" by the marvelous composer Michel Legrand (from the film "Summer of '42") remind us.

It's a wonderful song, and brings to mind all the beautiful melodies of the fall season. Two others, in particular, are long-standing favorites of mine and were combined and recorded as a medley (if you can call two songs a medley - I always think of a medley as at least three songs) by the late singer, Nancy LaMott.  They are "Autumn Leaves" (music by Joseph Kosma and Elnglish lyrics by Johnny Mercer) and Mr. Mercer's and Barry Manilow's "When October Goes".  Each is a wistful, musical gem brought to another plane entirely by the magnificent voice of Miss LaMott.   If you have a chance, check them out on MySpace or wherever you listen to and can find her music...I promise you won't be disappointed.

"The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold.... "

(And just a little reminder - as "Hurricane/Tropical Storm" Sandy bears down on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern coast in the next few days, last year - in 2011 - we had a freak late October snowstorm on October 28.  You never really know what Mother Nature might do...just sayin...)

October 28, 2011

"And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smokey roofs
I watch the planes go by"

Happy autumn!

September 2, 2012

Summer Swan Song

Hello, Everyone!  I apologize for the protracted absence from the blog this summer.  Think of it as a hiatus for "summer vacation" (I wish).

Actually, I've been phenomenally busy this summer. Between work and other distractions, I haven't had much time, or, admittedly, much energy to check in here.  I try to post at least once per month, but this summer's demands just hasn't allowed that.

I'm back now, things have calmed down a bit (fortunately), and I want to make up for lost time.  I've been visiting one of my favorite places on the planet a number of times this summer in Saratoga. This image - a beautiful painting by Sir Alfred Munnings, one of the foremost painters of turf scenes, wasn't painted there, but it is representative of the great energy, excitement and pageantry that is found at the historic Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.

 It's a beautiful place, in a city that came to life initially in the Victorian era, where the natural mineral springs gave rise to spas and attracted wealthy visitors from the urban areas of New York and Boston to "take the waters." 

The famous film, "Saratoga Trunk", based on the novel by Edna Ferber, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, tells the story (more or less).

Today, Saratoga Springs  has retained much of its Victorian heritage and is a very popular vacation destination from May through October. 

But it's the summer season, and the 6-week long thoroughbred racing meeting, that defines the essence of Saratoga.  It's world-class horse racing.  The Saratoga meeting is considered one of the finest anywhere - in the US and beyond - at one of the most magnificent, historic race courses ever built.  Next year - 2013 - is the 150th anniversary of racing at Saratoga and promises to be a terrific celebration.

If you've never been here, consider coming to visit - it's a place where lasting memories are made and, as the saying goes, "It's the August Place to Be"!

June 3, 2012

Celebrating a Diamond Jubilee

When I was young, back in the early 1960s, my dad, a self-professed Anglophile, gave his horse-loving daughter a special gift. He presented to me a miniature, metal version of the royal Gold State Coach - a replica of the magnificent horse-drawn carriage that has transported kings and queens of the British royal family since 1762, when it was built.

Mine is packed away for safe-keeping at the moment, but as the reports of the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, signifying 60 years of reign, are beaming across the airwaves and internet this June weekend, I thought I'd share this special memory from 50 years ago that reminds me of my late dad, his love for all things English, and my special gift.

Cheers and hail to the Queen!

May 29, 2012

Spring Brings New Beginnings...All Over Again

Long time, no post.  I do have an excuse, though.  I have de-camped from the country home where I'd spent the past two years to another home, still in the country, but about 60 miles north.  It was a bit chaotic in mid-to-late April as I also started a new job, and just two weeks later, moved myself and my kitties to our new digs.

In the process of this latest relocation, I piled more possessions into storage and gradually I'm finding the things that matter most to have at hand.  It's a great exercise, this moving thing.  Not one I want to repeat again soon, but it's still useful for weeding out things that take up space in one's life.

While I've moved in another direction, I haven't severed all ties with my previous location - not by a long shot. My former home is in a community very dear to me with many good friends nearby, but this new location is in an area where I last lived 40 years ago and it, too, is quite special to me.  I'm glad to be back here again, enjoying it from the perspective of an adult, rather than a child and, later, a wide-eyed teen, when I was last a resident here.  It's fun being a tourist in an otherwise familiar region.

The common theme, and one that I don't minimize, is that it's the rural landscape that brings me joy and contentment.  I can deal with cities and suburbia, but when I get up in the morning I am happiest looking at trees and fields and rolling hills, not parked cars, sidewalks and traffic signals.  So I've found it matters less where I live than the view where I live is one that resonates with me and reflects the things I value most.

I'm not sure how long I'll stay up here in this new location.  I'll be here through the summer at least, for sure, since it's near an important local attraction that has been an important part of my life since early childhood.  When the summer ends and autumn is in the wind, I'll go from there and see where I'd like to be.  I might stick around up never know.

So, I'm still here, a bit late in posting, but still in the country living a contemporary life...stay tuned.

March 3, 2012

March Madness

No, I'm not talking about college basketball here, but rather the crazy weather that has characterized this winter and launched us into March. We finally got some of the long-absent heavier snows that we should have seen during December, January, and much of February. It waited until the end of the month - to the eve of Leap Day (February 29) - before rolling in here to blanket the landscape.

The good news is that it wasn't all that much snow - maybe 6 inches or so, it didn't come down incessantly - maybe 18 hours, off and on, and it's already melting rapidly under 50 degree air temperatures and a blazing sun that I'm sure is having its impact. All of those factors make me much happier than I might otherwise be with a "heavy" snowfall. And they are nothing compared to the devastation that has befallen some communities in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky from the spate of tornadoes that slammed into them in the past few days. I send them prayers for recovery, and count my blessings for the relatively minor effects the snow has had on life here.

Just before the snows started to fall on Tuesday, I was up very early (as usual) and found, as I looked out the window, that I was not alone. A small herd of deer were making their way up the hill to the lawn, as they have been inclined to do fairly regularly this winter, for their morning graze. There were a couple of fairly small ones lagging at the back of the group - fawns that are probably six months to a year old, I'd guess. What made this little group a bit unusual was how close to the house they came that morning. Usually they're a good 50-75 feet from the structure...far enough that they can dart quickly to the adjacent woods, but Tuesday one of the ringleaders showed no real reluctance to stroll just beyond the windows. So, of course, I grabbed my camera and tried to snap a few shots as quickly as I could before I spooked him (or her...).

It was fun to see them out there, finding plenty of room to roam and graze, along with the shelter of the woods. It struck me as I observed them that they really are well designed by Mother Nature to blend fairly invisibly into the landscape with their light brown coats matching the grey/putty color of the terrain.

The other neat thing about this time of year is the ongoing display I've been enjoying from my amaryllis bulbs. My previous post displayed the brilliant Valentine red blooms of my largest flower, but those blossoms have faded. I'm now admiring the salmon pink of my second and third bulbs, which have provided a bit of cheer in an otherwise bleak view of the outdoors.

My pink geraniums, wintered over from last summer, also are in bloom and continue to thrive in the south-facing windows and sunny warmth of this partially passive solar house. They've been wonderful reminders that Spring, and cute bunnies and pastel colored things are not far in the future...along with shamrocks and corned beef. I'm more than ready for all of them!

February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day...and Farewell to a Great Diva

I think I posted a similar image last year, but I find it coincidental that my latest amaryllis - one I bought on sale after the holidays last year - decided to bloom not in December but just now, in time for Valentine's Day.

I have always loved Valentine's Day for the ruby rouge blast it supplies, usually in the middle of a snowy white winter...just long enough after Christmas and New Year's, just soon enough before the emerald greens of St. Patrick's Day, of spring and the pastels of Easter. This year, while we don't have the blanket of snow that is so typical of this season, the landscape is still bleak, leafless and lifeless, so the contrast to the vermilions and crimsons of Valentine's Day still remains strong.

It seems a bit incongruous, though, that on this bright and cheerful Valentine's Day, so many are still in shock and reeling from the sad news of the sudden death of singer Whitney Houston just a few days ago in California. I have written occasionally here of my affection for "great girl singers" and it is very sad that the last time I wrote of a very fine songstress here, it was to note the passing of one of the last of the great women singers of the mid-20th century, the legendary Lena Horne. How ironic, then, that Miss Horne was, as it turned out, Whitney Houston's singing idol. It is not surprising when one considers how alike they were - stunningly gorgeous women, phenomenal singers, grand personas of their respective eras.

It is lamentable, though, that unlike Miss Horne, who lived on into her 90s, Whitney left us much too soon at 48 - barely more than half Lena's age - with so many songs left unsung, depriving us of any chance of seeing her real redemption, and perhaps a full recovery from her demons, and many more years to enjoy her undeniable talent. Surely, she was not at her best in recent years, and her tribulations, unfortunately, were very public ones, but regardless of her more recent challenges, she leaves us with her legacy of remarkably beautiful, stirring and powerful vocals that will stand as a lasting testament to her great gift: one of the most glorious voices of our time.

Whitney Houston truly was one of a kind, a rare and unearthly talent, and whatever else one might say or think about her, her life and how she lived, or how she died, that simple fact is utterly without question.

For Whitney, I offer a Valentine's Day prayer that she knew, if nothing else, that she was greatly loved and will remain so by millions of people for many, many years to come.

February 8, 2012

A Morning Visitor...A Look Back

I know it's not the norm here on CC, but just had to snap this quick photo of a visitor just outside the window in the frosty morning sun to share it here on the blog. Look very closely in the center of the photo, just to the right of the fencing, to see my morning guest.

There's nothing more cheerful than a tiny bright red cardinal to punctuate the brown February shrubs in the tree line!

I just realized that today is my late Irish maternal grandmother's birthday. Maybe this red cardinal came by to make me stop and think about her, and the eternal cycle of life - winter to spring to summer to fall and back around again - the slow emergence from the frost and cold of winter into the warmth and sunshine and renewal of spring - as the cycle begins again.

I'd have to look at some old documents to determine which birthday this would be, but I think it was at least 115 since my grandmother came here, to the U.S., at about age 18 and I think the year was 1912 that she arrived on the USS California from Northern Ireland. She was one of those who passed through Ellis Island and headed north up the Hudson River to Troy, where she met and married my grandfather. I never met him, and she was well into her 50s, I think, when I was born. She was the only grandparent I knew, and, sadly, she died of illness when I was just 9. Hers was the first close family loss I had experienced, and I remember it seemed so strange to me at the time. I'm not sure I knew what to make of it, except that I knew my mother, her youngest child, was so sad. My mom was barely 40 when my grandmother died, and I can't imagine how that loss felt for her, but she had my dad and her siblings nearby to help cushion the blow. Still, it makes me so glad I had my mom with me until her early 80s. It was a great gift for which I was grateful for every day that we could spend together. She loved deep rosy reds, too, so perhaps the cardinal's arrival this morning was another reminder to enjoy the beautiful yet fleeting things in nature and in life since, alas, nothing is forever...

February 5, 2012

On to February...or is it really early April?

I seem to be on a monthly posting plan here at CC, so I'm going with it.

Unlike the snow-laden image in last month's post, this winter has continued to confound the weather prognosticators - and utterly delight folks like me who don't warmly embrace most of winter's frosty cold and snowy characteristics.

I could not be more pleased that since the aberrational late October snowstorm, we have had barely any of that nice-then-nasty white stuff this season at all, save the occasional dusting, maybe an inch or two from time to time. Just when I fear we might not see the ground for weeks, if not months, Mother Nature does a fast and wonderful 180 and quickly melts it all away. Bliss! Heaven! Joy!

As I sat in front of the trusty laptop, tapping out the latest updates here, I was momentarily distracted by some unexpected motion in the yard just outside my window. Usually, when I catch something in my peripheral vision while typing, it's one of the kitties, doing their usual "perimeter patrol," following the tree and fence lines that define the property, but not so this time. No, it was a small herd of deer - actually a small herd of relatively small deer - eight of them! - strolling across the lawn, nibbling along the way.

I grabbed the camera that sits next to my work table for just such occasions, and managed to snap a couple of shots. Alas, only one was worthy of posting - and just barely that - but at least it captured the whole gang...or is it gaggle? Either way, I was cheered to see them, late on this Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, and glad the snows of this weird weather winter remained at bay so they could easily find some fine February snacks and chow down like the rest of us on this annual football-and-food festival day.

Oh, and by the way, I'm not taking sides on this one. While I live in upstate New York, I'm quite near the border with Massachusetts, so, as it happens, home is essentially equidistant from the home stadiums of both the Giants and Patriots. That makes it a bit risky to lean one way or the other around these parts, so I won't be cheering more loudly for either. In fact, I'm reminded of lyrics to that fun song by the Scottish folk/rock band Stealers Wheel (no reference to the Pittsburgh football team) that hit the charts way back in 1973, "Stuck in the Middle with You". Forgive the artistic license, but I feel like singing (instead of "clowns" and "jokers" in the original lyrics) "Giants to the left of me, Patriots to the right..." If you're of a certain age, you surely get the drift and will start hearing the tune in your head, I'm sure. Anyway, enjoy the game if you care about it all. May the best team win and I hope no one gets hurt.

For my part, I'll be among those intently watching the magnificent new PBS series, Downton Abbey...that's Downton, not touchdown!


January 5, 2012

Yet Another New Year - Here We Go!

It's hard to believe it already has been five days since the arrival of 2012. If that's any indication, I have a feeling a lot of this year is going to fly right by. I have no idea where 2011 went, but go it did, so here we are.

The holidays were fairly low key out here in Country Contemporary land. We managed to squeak through the last weeks of December without any of the snow that descended so strangely in late October. I'll take it. I'm not a big snow fan, and heaven knows, after Irene's and Lee's visits, and an unusually wet summer season, we do NOT need that much snow. The creeks and streams are full to bursting still - very atypical for winter, when we usually just have a minor trickle. That's when the snows of winter and their melting in Spring becomes so crucial. Well, if we see any significant snows this winter, we're going to have some very BIG trouble come the warmer temperatures of Spring.

For my part, I'm just glad that - for the moment - we have not had any of the issues that make winter so treacherous. I'm very fond of bare pavement on the roads and that hasn't been a problem so far this season. Huge relief here.

In fact, while it has been unusually warm in November and December, we've had our first real winter chills in the past few days, with overnight temperatures being in the single digits and wind chills below zero in some areas. That said, it was in the 40s last week, and the forecast for the weekend is expected to hit that level, and flirt with 50 on Saturday. I can't tell you how happy that makes me. With every passing warmer-than-normal day we have, we're that much closer to Spring, as the minutes of daylight we see continue to lengthen.

We rounded that bend on the winter equinox late last month, and no sooner did we set the clocks back in early November (now implemented blissfully a week later than in years past - I view that as a perfect global birthday gift for my personal early November celebration), and we flipped the switch just a few weeks later (well, about six weeks later) to recapture a few more minutes of daylight in late December. All of these temporal landmarks make me supremely happy...well, as happy as I can be during my least favorite season of the year.

Here's hoping that this New Year will bring us all warm sunshine, blue skies, and a few extra minutes each day to stop, reflect on our blessings, and bask in the glow of the possibilities of the year ahead.

Cheers & Happy New Year!