November 9, 2019

Halloween and November's Winds...

View of my copper metal Halloween pumpkin with votive candle illumination 
to greet my trick-or-treaters.

Halloween was a beautiful, and oddly balmy warm day of 75 degrees (F) in upstate New York. It was gorgeous and a perfect day for trick-or-treaters, despite the forecast of rain that was due to roll in -- at just about the time when most young, costumed children would be strolling the neighborhood streets. Fortunately, the rains did hold off for most all of the late afternoon and early evening, but the warmer, calm weather was not to last for too long.

The winds didn't kick in in earnest until later that night and early the next day, on the first of November. I had gone out that day to run an errand and never looked into my side yard to see the damage that the winds had wrought on my fairly precarious stockade fence section. This fencing is at least 30 years old and long past its useful life, for sure. I didn't notice the damage until the next day when I had gone out to deal with some of the last of the plants that I had out for the summer and early fall. Usually, we're dealing with a serious frost by early to mid-October, but this has been an extraordinary weather year here in upstate New York. By that point, I typically have brought most all of my plants indoors to protect them from the bitter cold and frost, but not this year. A small number of the most hardy plants had remained outside, but frost was expected, so I went out to move what remained and saw the damage to the fence panel from the intense winds.


My fallen stockade fence panel - view from within my side yard toward the common area 
between residential properties. (Note the dog-eared panels at the rear.) 
 View into my side and back yard beyond from the common area between residential properties.

Replacing all of the stockade sections has been on my list of repairs and improvements needed for my home, as I prefer the look of wood dog-eared panels rather than stockade, but I hadn't been able to tackle them before the storm hit. I actually would like to remove the wood panels across the back of my yard and replace it with a fencing material that allows a view of the natural wooded area just beyond, but that will have to wait until the replacement of these very aged stockade panels along the side yard, which provide me with the privacy I crave. 

At the same time as the damage to the fence panel, the powerful, 50-60mph winds that blew through that day also managed to bring down a lot of the leaves still remaining on the disiduous trees - hardwood maple and oak - within, and just beyond,

 my immediate yard. I usually tackle the fallen leaves by Thanksgiving and try to get most of them up off of the lawn by December and any significant snow accumulation. This year, it was a much easier task with so many leaves having fallen by Halloween night, and they were drier, and therefore much lighter, than in years past. I've never had such lightweight brown paper lawn-leaf bags as I did this year. A blessing in disguise, I think. All told, I had about 15-18 bags of leaves lined up for the town to pick up - a nice perk for residents. They use them for mulch in the spring, which is one of the nicer features of living here. I have a bit more to do, but now we've got temperatures below 20F in the morning - certainly much colder than usual for this time of year, so I'm waiting until things warm up to do my final raking and yard clean-up.

Something tells me it's going to be a long winter and we're not close to that season starting yet!

October 15, 2019

Autumn in Full Glory

With autumn's arrival in earnest three weeks ago, the leaves have finally caught up with the calendar and are in their full glory in my part of eastern New York State. They've been well into peak color up north of me in the Adirondacks, but my area a bit farther south takes a little while to get into full swing, but we're there now and it has been a colorful season, if just a shade late to arrive.

I recall autumn seasons when we were at full, peak color in early October, but it is always driven by the arrival of colder temperatures that precipitate a real, vibrant leaf color change. We have had a fairly warm late summer and early fall, so, while I'm not complaining about that, we only had one night when temperatures  dropped into the mid-30s  - not quite a hard frost - to help hasten the usual change of hues this year. Still, it's great to have the leaves be well underway now, as this truly is my favorite time of year in this region. I'll be sad when it's all done and the time change back to standard time brings the end of daylight after 5pm - it's a real adjustment and, by contrast, the start of my least favorite time of year as winter looms closer. I'll be glad when we round the corner into the new year and the daylight begins to return, day by day.

Until then, I'll be out enjoying Mother Nature's greatest display and gathering my favorite harvest-time ingredients for hearty autumn dishes to warm those chillier nights to come!

September 17, 2019

Hints at Autumn's Impending Arrival

With the landscape changing so quickly as the temperatures drop even further overnight, I felt the need to keep pace with Mother Nature and swap out the blog's header...yet again. This time I opted for a "watercolorized" verison of a shot I took in October 2014. It's of a favorite location and stand of maple trees near where I lived briefly, in the country, of course. The colder temperatures overnight were just the thing to trigger the start of the leaves changing color dramatically, although they've been hinting at making their long-awaited change for several weeks.

Autumn, which was only a few days away when I first posted this, is upon us full bore now, so I broke out my autumn decorating accents for the season. (Please see my apologetic note below on my uncharacteristic post publishing error as I started, but never finished ny original post, so I've rectified it here.)

I have a lot of deep, rich blues and deep red in my decor, which, fortunately is the perfect contrast to the stark brightness of brilliant orange pumpkins. That said, I have noted with some interest, if not amusement, that pale turquoise seems to be THE thing in autumn decor this year, at least if one believes the decor-oriented retailers.

Here is a shot I took earlier in the season (really very late summer), of a display of faux pumpkins at local outlet of a major, national chain, when I noticed this sudden trend.

I'm sure those in the world of agriculture have been aware of these varieties for years (and I remember Martha Stewart showcasing them early on in her publishing empire, so I've known about "blue turbans" for a few decades now), but I think this is really the year when the blue/turquoise pumpkins have emerged as the latest "new" thing in mainstream retail world. Hardly, new, I'm sure, but they certainly give some interesting contrast to the standard orange pumpkins.

As a creative, artsy sort since childhood, I have to say, I love the unusual in the common perception of traditional fruits and vegetables. I'll take these pale blue and turquoise, and even white/off white, pumpkins and squashes any day...and certainly they're pretty to look at. That said, I am not a proponent of adding turquoise into my Christmas decor color scheme. It's jarring and I lean toward dark, rich reds and greens, and lately this autumn season, I'm embracing deep plums and olive greens with just a touch of turquoise thrown in. In fact, it's the color combination of my Ralph Lauren Chaps handbag that I brought out of storage for the season.

The color combination just makes me smile, so much so that I'm leaning toward using more olive and plum in my Thanksgiving holiday color scheme. In fact, my favorite Thanksgiving dishes are these beauties from The Victorian English Pottery called "Woodland Pheasants".

 I'm thinking of pairing them with these nice Botanica plates in olive green with raised leaves around the border. I have some of each plate pattern, so it would be easy enough to make them the focus of my dining table for my very favorite annual holiday (the one with food and gratitude at its core).
I also have a nice set of olive green corduroy placemats, so I'll probably break them out with a nice, neutral table cloth. We shall see what I ultimately pull together, but I do have the elements needed for a festive seasonal table in hand, so stay tuned when the holiday gets closer in late November! 

I've had traditional turkey dinner plates in the past, similar to the pheasants, but, while I like a lot of the various classic turkey motifs on fine dinnerware, I really am fond of those patterns that can be used readily throughout the autumn and winter), so I've sold my turkey plates and have replaced them with these nice pheasants. I also have a number of other decorative pheasant items that I like to break out during the autumn, as well - it's that crisp, fall harvest season that I so enjoy. I do love my region most of the year, and it is gorgeous right now, but how I would love to have a second home in an area where there's little winter snow and where the temperatures area a bit more temperate during the earliest months of the year - that, to me, would be heaven!   

(As I noted above, I offer humblest apologies to those few who read the earlier version of this post when it first appeared in mid-September. I thought it was ready to go at that time, but, apparently, I got distracted and hit publish when I should have hit save, so I've rectified that by augmented it with more text and photos, as originally planned, but rather belatedly on Oct 17. Mea culpa!)    

August 31, 2019

Labor Day Arrives But Summer Isn't Over Yet!

It's the end of August and Labor Day is upon us, but contrary to popular opinion (and the demanding world of retail promotion), summer is NOT, I repeat, NOT over yet! Yes, summer is starting to fade a little, but only a little, and the calendar and Mother Nature tell us that autumn doesn't begin officially until later in September, a little less than a month away.

Sure, the temperatures in this region of eastern New York, have started to fall a bit - and thank heaven for that because this summer was a hot and humid one for far to many days for my taste. It's bad enough to be confined indoors for a good chunk of our very cold winters, so no one wants to be forced indoors during what are usually the very nicest months of the year, the months that beckon us to come outside and play.

Personally, I am a BIG fan of autumn, and I'll be happy to enjoy its return, but not before it's time. I actually am particularly partial to this time of year as well - late August and September - where one can enjoy warm days and cool nights - perfect for gardening and sound sleeping.

The photos above are of the latest iteration of my summer faux floral arrangement. They began the season with some tall stems of bright yellow faux forsythia that helped make the seasonal transition from spring, with pastel florals in pale pinks, creams and lavenders set against the bright sunshine yellow floral branches, to the brilliant bold colors of summer. I exchanged the pastels for the orange and yellow gladiolas, deep purple delphinum and a few cheerful golden yellow poppies. I just removed the forsythia the other day to leave only this arrangement, and moved it from a corner of the living room to the center of the raised hearth of my nearby fireplace. It is meant to ease the transition from summer smoothly into autumn. (It also helps to have flowers, even if they are faux silk ones, that are easy on the purse as their use can be extended into each season by simply swapping out one season-specific palette with the new one by removing a few stems and adding a few others, extending their impact over a longer period. I like the flexibility of that approach.

They are displayed in a tall, antique stoneware crock that I've had for about 30 years, purchased at a country auction when I first moved from the city to the country back in 1989. I was particularly keen to buy it since it is stamped with the name of my home town (Albany, N.Y.) and the numeral "3", which presumably refers to its capacity as a 3-gallon crock. Fortunately, it wasn't terribly expensive - maybe $20 or $25 - I can't recall exactly - as I wanted it specifically to hold large stems, whether faux or real, as the seasons dictated, and I've had it in my each of my living rooms since (there have been three) and I still love it. I always love coming across functional vintage pieces that have some inherent link to a special place in my life -it makes the item even more special to me.

So, don't be in a rush to be rid of summer yet, and don't let the retail industrial complex that drives so much of store design and merchandising these days have you believe that you should be preparing for Halloween (2 months away) - or, heaven help us, those December holidays -  way before their time. There's NO rush, so don't let retailers tell you they're around the corner so you must buy, buy, but - they're NOT! They'll all be here when they're supposed to be, whether we like it or not, so take some time during this late summer season of lovely weather that so many of us experience in September to smell and enjoy the summer flowers that still remain. And if you're in a place where the leaves put on a show in autumn, let their changing colors tell us in due course that autumn is upon us -  and not a month before it's due to arrive merely because Labor Day has. 

August 13, 2019

Hot August Days and Nights

Despite the series of hot summer days with temperatures in the high 80s and low-to-mid-90s that descended here in upstate New York over the past month (I think I heard from one of the local meteorologists on television that we'd had at least 12 or 13 days of high heat and humidity), my side-yard garden on the patio and beyond seem to have weathered the worst of the heat. We've had quite a bit of rain over the past few weeks - several of the usual late July to early-ot-mid-August weather fronts came roaring in from the west and exploded over the region with the requisite pouring rain, occasional hail, strong winds, thunder, lightning - the usual gamut of severe summer storm ingredients.

A number of communities in the region suffered some serious damage, with power outages from downed tree limbs and a few massive trees that were literally upended right out the ground, roots and all. That's always stunning to see - sad, too, because they're usually big, old and majestic trees that just weren't a match for Mother Nature any longer.

I was always terrified of thunder and lightning as a child, but I eventually grew out of that and now I'm just appropriately cautious and far more wary of the damage that they can cause to property.  Fortunately, I've generally  managed to avoid all of the associated perils brought by the storms, though one roared through in the late 1990s that did some damage in the region and I lost a lovely old cherry tree at my former farm. It it took out a section of paddock fencing, but it wasn't anything more significant than that. (The horses were in the barn at the time, and they were safe and sound, but fairly awed the next day by the tree in their paddock that wasn't there before!) Thanks to help from friends (and a homeowners insurance claim), it was cut up, the fence was repaired, and the remnants of that tree made for some very nice firewood a year later, though, too.

It's always a relief when these sudden, torrential storms pass and things calm down and the sun comes out. Usually, the late afternoon or early evening light is gorgeous, and typically provides a lovely rainbow. We're not located in as "scary" an area as some parts of the country that are in "Tornado Alley" in the Midwest, nor are we subjected to the challenges of hurricane season in coastal areas, but our summer storms can be doozies, regardless, and the occasional tornado has been sighted. A few have touched down, and some have carved a visible path, so they're not totally unheard of, but they are fairly rare compared to other regions of the country. It's a good thing. We have enough to deal with in winter with snow and occasional blizzards, we certainly don't need repeated battering by severe summer storms and damaging weather.

The recent scorching heat and humidity always makes me want to avoid cooking over a hot stove - no cook top or oven activity to compound the already super-high temperatures outside. It's just too much and keeping the house cooler rather than warmer is always my goal during these hot sieges. I look for things that are cold or at least cooling in nature - salads and chilled soups. I've done some really super versions of gazpacho lately, and a chilled cucumber soup with plain Greek yogurt, a dollop of sour cream and dill from the late Irma Rombauer's classic "Joy of Cooking" - no serious kitchen should be without that book in its library. I've had mine for decades.

Tonight, it wasn't hot for a change, so I made another somewhat old-school favorite for dinner: shrimp with a fresh tomato sauce with crumbled feta cheese and another dollop of basil pesto (pictured below). The shrimp can be sauteed quickly (as I did this time) in a bit of extra virgin olive oil, with some minced roasted garlic (my own home-made version), but the fresh tomato sauce is always a bit more flavorful if made a day in advance, so the flavors have some time to "mature" in the refrigerator before re-heating for the sauce. I don't really have a recipe for this dish, since it's pretty basic and easy to prepare, like most the cooking I do these days (after the same aforementioned decades). Cooking is fairly instinctive for me at this point, rather than informed by formal recipes, though I might consult one of my cookbooks or options found online, if needed, to be sure I have a good idea of the ingredients and method involved if I'm not certain. I'm not one who adheres religiously to recipes, but I will be a bit more disciplined if it's a baked item that I haven't prepared before or tackled very often.      

Hope you're staying cool this summer and finding great recipes to embrace again or to try for the first time.

PS: For those following, you'll notice that I've changed the blog's header image and the font colors again. It might be contrary to the tenets of good blog design, but, as a creative person, I like to have the header reflect the season, much as I like to have my home and environment reflect that, as well. Since we're in mid-summer at the moment, I thought a garden shot, based on the one shown in the text but cropped and enhanced with a watercolor effect app on my phone gives it a more impressionistic feel. Stay tuned as the header images evolve through the year in concert with the changing seasons. Cheers!

July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July! How did it get to be July already? This year is flying by!

I'm sure I've shared Mr. and Ms. Patriotic Bunny in the past, but this time I decided to have them flank my blue and white Chinese porcelain pitcher at the center of my mantel. I filled the pitcher with red roses and white carnations, so I didn't have to look for blue flowers. I think this is much nicer as it's hard to find really lovely blue flowers that are attractive and hold up well.

I "adopted" Mr. and Ms. Bunny about 20 years ago when I attended a July 4th celebration along the Erie Canal, due east of Syracuse in central New York. There was a craft fair that accompanied the celebration in Chittenango, New York (where renowned author L. Frank Baum lived and wrote that amazing tale of Dorothy from Kansas and the Wizard of Oz), which is where I found this delightful pair and I still enjoy them every year when July rolls around.

Chittenango Landing is home to a wonderful canal boat museum at the site of a historic boat yard and dry docks to service the travelers on the canal. Among the special features I recall was a historic canal boat that was being carefully preserved underwater and was visible from the surface. Any effort to lift it from the waters threatened to damage the boat and potentially hasten its deterioration if exposed to air, so it was decided to leave the boat where it rested to protect it where it remained submerged.

It was a time when I didn't mind "working" on July 4th as it was a lovely day and I experienced a wonderful local canal attraction that I hadn't previously visited. If you haven't seen this region of upstate New York, it's well worth a visit to drive on local routes along the Erie Canal between Waterford, just north of Albany, and Tonawanda, just west of Buffalo where the Erie still flows. It's not the original Erie, as it has been enlarged twice since its original 1825 route, the last time 100+ years ago in 1917, and the eastern segment now incorporates river sections that have been "canalized" with locks and dams to make them navigable for boats and paddle craft up to a maximum of about 40 feet wide by 300 feet long. Yes, you can still navigate the entire length of the Erie Canal "from Albany to Buffalo", as the old folk song describes, and many do. You can even rent a real "narrow boat" that you can captain yourself for a multi-day excursion of your own design along the canal.
To be honest, it's as fascinating and rewarding as any European cruise and it's right here in the USA - if you live here, you don't need a passport to get there and enjoy it!

Here are some photos I took a few weeks ago at Erie Canal Lock 2 Park, at the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal in Waterford. The lock is on the right with the view east to the Hudson River where it meets the Erie and just north of the Hudson's intersection with the Mohawk River. 

Enjoy your Fourth of July holiday and celebrate the many freedoms we are privileged to have living in these great United States of America, thanks to the founding fathers of our country and the many men and women who have continued to protect and defend the rights that were so hard won back in 1776. 

June 20, 2019

Bon Voyage, Spring - Hello, Summer!

It continues to amaze me how fast the time passes lately, but here we are, on the final day of what was a fairly wet spring. It seems, lately, like every week the forecast is for five days of rain and two days of sun...if we're lucky. Fortunately, for the past two weeks, that sunshine has managed to appear for most of the weekends, so that's a good thing for those who don't have to report to work somewhere and be stuck indoors during this glorious late spring weather.

Still, it feels like we really haven't gotten the best that spring usually has to offer...warming temperatures, but not too hot, and cool breezes. It's been a mixed bag of cold, warm, warmer and a little bit of hot and humid. I don't recall humidity like that here in the "Great Northeast" until mid-summer, usually late July and August, but it has been visiting lately with the warmer temperatures and the rainy weather. I'd say it's strange, but with what has been happening with weather generally around the globe, I won't speculate as to the cause. Draw your own conclusions, but please don't dismiss the scientists and meteorologists.

All of that said, the excess of rain this spring has been very helpful in my efforts to remedy what previously was a long neglected lawn at my home. Previous occupants were transient over the 30 years of my home's existence. (I've been here for 5 1/2 years.) This was the year that I have made a commitment to addressing what was threatening to become a patch of sandy soil rather than a nice, lush patch of grass. It's not a huge lawn area, and easily maintained, but prior owners didn't seem to care. This spring, I fertilized the lawn, and have been tossing seed down systematically since April in the areas in most desperate need of attention. It's getting a bit late now to expect quick germination, so I'll scale back until mid-autumn, but I've been very pleased with the areas where I concentrated and the new grass has emerged well and seems to be thriving. I've also watered where needed, even though we've had so much rain. Those first few days of seeding are so crucial to keep them moist so they'll germinate and grow well. It's a slow process, but so gratifying when the bright green shoots pop up and fill in the spotty areas. I have more work to do later this year, but am keeping at it to keep things going in the right direction.

I've also got some flowers and herbs growing from small nursery plants and from seed, along with my usual flower box of leaf lettuces and a pot of radishes...all appear to be doing well. I've had other indoor projects to tackle this year, so am not spending too much time on gardening, but have relied on the easiest plant choices that have worked well in the past.

I also retrieved from storage my wood outdoor chairs and settee (in photo above). They've seen a bit of wear over the years, but with a bit of tapping with my mallet and wood glue to put them back into place, they are tightening up well again and make a nice area in the shady corner of my yard - a relaxing place to sit and enjoy a cooling glass of iced tea!

Here's to a pleasant (and hopefully a little bit drier) summer here and wherever you are (if you don't need the rain). Do make an effort get out and enjoy the balmy, beautiful outdoors as much as you can, as the chill of fall and winter will return soon enough to remind us that Mother Earth always needs a rest from her spring and summer labors in providing us the beautiful trees, fields and meadows, flowers, plants and bountiful produce.