Saturday, December 31, 2011

And, a Happy New Year!

Very best wishes to everyone for a lovely New Year's Eve - doing what you want with the ones you love best.

While we're at it, let's hope for more peace and tranquility in 2012; more troops stationed in North Carolina, Texas and California and many fewer in Afghanistan and Iraq.  (Yes, we still do have troops there.  Easy to forget them.)

Let's also hope for prosperity; an easing of the financial markets, more jobs, better pay and fewer people on unemployment insurance.  (It is insurance, not a giveaway.  All employers pay a portion based on their payroll.  If you've worked, you've earned your coverage.

And, how about a Congress that does something other than argue.  One that realizes that cooperation and collaboration are not dirty words.  One that remembers that they work for the people and not the special interests.

I'd also like to see a world  where it's fun again to fly.  Not thinking that will happen in 2012, tho.

And, finally, a world filled with flowers and the folks who grow them, arrange them, give them and love them.  If the mud boots fit, please wear them with pride!

Let's lift a glass [filled with the beverage of your choice, of course] to 2011. It was a good year, but one we have definitely worn out and used up. 

And then lift it again to 2012 - full of good food and flowers, and also full of hope, full of promise, full of exciting days to come!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Lesson Learned

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was not happy with my centerpiece, and actually that is not true.  I was rather satisfied  [ok, smug] that it turned out pretty much as I had envisioned it.  But there was a problem.

How it looked on December 23rd.
Had carefully planned my week so that Friday [when I did not have to work] I would be finished with everything else and only need to arrange the flowers.  Seemed like a good plan, given my stage fright when faced with cut flowers and a bowl.

Went to the florist on Thursday afternoon to get the flowers.  Passed up my grocery store - where I most often pick up flowers on the fly, and where the nice young lady was unpacking case after case of incoming flowers.  "Not fresh enough.  Been sitting in a box for a week. " I said to myself.  Instead, I went to my favorite florist where I had a wide variety of choices and where they let me wander in the cold room and choose what I wanted.

What I actually wanted was ranunculus - preferably red, white or green - but I would have taken any color they had.  They had no ranunculus at all.

Plan B.  I found a pre-made bunch of chrysanthemums, alstroemeria and greenery that was burgundy, green and white - perfect colors for my house, for the dish, and just exactly what I would have chosen given total freedom of choice.  I added a few white Gerberas and additional white and green mums and headed home very proud of my choices and pleased with my luck.  Oh, and they were less expensive than the ones I ofter get at the above-mentioned grocery store.  [More smugness!]

Back at home I recut the stems, put everything in a tall container of water with the food stuff and left it on the back porch until dark, then moving it into the kitchen for the night - next to the door where it was coolest.  I also cut many pieces of myrtle, rosemary and nandina to provide the basic greenery.
About half looked like this on Friday, and all of them by Monday.
Friday morning I found that the flowers were actually well past their peak.  I threw away at least half of the pre-packaged bunch, and used all of the extra flowers that I had picked out one-at-the-time.  I hear some of you [you know who you are!] yelling at me, "take them back for a refund", but it's Friday.  I don't want to drive all the way to the florist to see what they still have left.

The rest came out fine, well, at least ok.  They looked nice on the table and all my guests were men - I'm just saying ...  But, by Monday, they had to go.  And yes, I did continue to add water.  They were just old!  Fortunately, I had enough alstroemeria and nandina to fill a small vase and they still look good today.

But, I [hope] I learned to look more carefully next time and not get sucked in by finding what I thought I wanted without spending sufficient time to be sure that it was in good condition to start.  You all would have been smarter. 

And now, on toward New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 26, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 12 - Christmas Dinner

Finally, the piece de resistance!  Dinner for three on Christmas Day with all the trimmings.

 Hope your day was filled with good friends and family, good food, good times, and a little something special in your stocking!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Noel!  Wishing you and yours all the good things of the season.  
You've all made my year a happier one.  
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and providing support when I needed it. 

Hope today is a lovely day for you and those whom you love.  xoxo

Friday, December 23, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 11 - The Centerpiece

The agony and ecstasy for me!  I want something pretty for the table, but I agonize over putting it together.
I planned ahead and started looking for materials early, and thanks to the encouragement of some talented flower-arranging bloggers [you know who you are!] it went easier.  The vase was Mother's.  It is beautiful glass, but a terrible shape for a beginning flower arranger.

Thanks to lots of greenery ("Otto Lueken", rosemary from the garden, and mystery evergreen) and a few flowers we're in business for the weekend.

Actually, we will talk more about this in a couple of days.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 10 - "The Stockings were hung by the chimney with care..."

Stockings were always a big deal in our house - filled with little presents (sometimes of the "big things come in small packages variety"), an orange, a candy cane, and a bag of chocolate coins.

These days we tend to go more for toiletries and maybe a little something for warmth, but still the chocolate coins!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 9

Today's a good day to stop and remember our roots.
Light and miracles.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 8 - The Holiday China

There are rites of passage in every family - moving from the children's table to the adult table and being allowed  to eat off the "good china" -  in ours.   [In Southern families the "good china" is still a thing to be revered and passed from generation to generation.]   Getting our own holiday china was one of those milestones for Mitchell and me. 

We inherited some Spode"Christmas Tree" from Mitchell's mother and added a few pieces to have enough to use it for Christmas breakfast, but I really wanted something more "grown up".

I searched and searched - falling in love with a different pattern every year - until I found "Boxwood and Pine".  We use it from Thanksgiving until New Years and for special occasions that pop up in the fall or winter.

It's fun to look forward to using it every year!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 7 - The Music!

What would the Christmas Season be without the music?  Flat as a doormat!

From the simplest carol like "Silent Night" to the fancy oratorios ("Messiah") and even the symphonic ballet "The Nutcracker Suite" we all adore the music.  Christmas music in the malls starting Labor Day - not so much!

We're more likely to be listening to classical music most of the time, but when I look in our CD rack the variety of old favorites I find is astounding.  From country to classical, choruses, orchestras, instrumentals - it's all there.  Here are a few of my favorite things:

Joy to the World (Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus) - This has been my absolute favorite Christmas album for decades.  Released in 1987, it was recorded in 1971 and is the full rich, glorious sound of full orchestra and chorus.  It fills the house with sound - strings, big brass, timpani and voices - and makes you want to replay it all evening.  This is my go-to album for tree decorating.  Somehow I got it into my head that the name of the album was "The Glorious Sound of Christmas".  It's not, but that would be a better name for it.

Odetta: Christmas Spirituals - Probably Mitchell's favorite album.  Just a guitar, a bass and a bit of drum set and the unique voice of Odetta.  It takes one to the core of what Christmas is all about.

The Christmas Album (Canadian Brass) - Who doesn't love brass?  Carols and secular songs arranged for a tuba and its friends.  We actually have three CD's by brass quintets.  They are like the champagne of music - all sparkly and bubbly.

Russian Christmas (St. Petersburg Chamber Choir with Olga Borodina) - If you don't know Russian choral music, this would be a great way to introduce yourself to it.  While American choral music often features the high clear tones of the sopranos (think St. Olaf's choir and their tone), Russian choral music starts with the biggest most solid bass support that you can imagine.  In person, you can actually feel the sound vibration of the basses.  You won't understand a single word of this album, but maybe that's a good thing.  You have to listen with your heart, and that's not a bad thing.  Olga Borodina is a splendid mezzo-soprano, so this is a double treat.

Songs of Joy and Peace (Yo-Yo Ma and Friends) - A  wonderful mix of Yo-Yo Ma and everyone from Diana Krall to Dave Brubeck to Renee Fleming to Chris Botti.  Popular songs as well as standard carols and more classical Chrismas music, all tied together with five improvisations on "Dona Nobis Pacem"  (Give us Peace).  A lovely gift to the ears.

Christmas Harp (no artist given!) - What could be more Christmasy than standard carols played by a harp?  I know!  From "What Child is This?"  to "Silent Night", it's the perfect thing for Christmas Eve.

Christmas (Michael Buble') - The 2011 addition to our collection.  We need more crooners.  Enough said.

Hope you're listening to your favorite sounds of the season,  too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 6 - Father Christmas

A gift from a long time friend, Father Christmas has had a place of honor in our home for years.  She painted several sets of Santas for her friends and family.  We are proud to have one of them.
Somehow he reminds me of the giving and not all the craziness of the season.  Clearly he's Father Christmas bring light, or "LIGHT" to the world.  Can't get much more clear than that.
PS:  Please see Anneke's note.  Turns out he's actually Sinterklaas - does that name sound a bit familiar?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 5 - Oh, Tannenbaum!

Truly one of the big, big days of the season -
The 1st (and prettiest) White House ornament.
the day the tree is trimmed.  One can't have too many Christmas trees, altho I find myself limited to two at the moment - a tiny one in my office and the real one in the living room.  I want one close at hand so I can enjoy it all day long.We've collected ornaments forever.  There are tiny glass balls left from childhood, along with a felt bird (Girl Scouts in the 6th grade) and the purple Merry Christmas ball inherited from Dad.  There are ornaments collected from places we have traveled - a flamingo (Florida), Chinese kissing fish (San Francisco), a gourd (Pennsylvania), red pepper (N.M.) and a cut-out of Texas.

Some of these are as old as I am - horrors!
Many are handmade - a clothespin deer, copper stars, an angel made of nails, the tin star on top.  There's a collection of angels and one of Santas.  A dill pickle for luck and a teddy bear for fun.  Many are gifts from friends.  Each a reminder of some place or some one  - a part of our history.

One of a legion of Santas - mostly old fashioned.
Made in Florida from the scale of a Gar Fish - honest!
Peace on Earth, Good Will to Women.
I'd leave it up all year, but some folks in our house are against that!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's Monday ... There Must be Flowers in the House!

Well, there's a tree and a bit of Chrismas cheer on the mantle and on the table, and even on the sideboard, but there would not have been actual flowers except that my sweet boss sent me a dozen roses.  Guess she liked the Holiday Party!  Am planning a "real" arrangement for Christmas weekend, but this is the best I could do today.  Go join Jane's party and see what people with talent can do!

Artificial [duh!] fruit and berries in a natural wood bowl.  Festive, but not fussy.

Leftovers from the office party.  Might as well put them here ...
... and there.

A mixed dozen of red, pink and lavender plopped in the cut glass pitcher.  You can never go wrong with this. 

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 4 - Shipping

Gathering all the pretty boxes and packing them in cartons, then anticipating the pleasure they will bring when they are opened Christmas morning.

How did all those packages fit into just four boxes?   
It's another high point of the season. 

Take good care of them, FedEx.  They have a long way to go to Georgia, Tennessee and New Mexico!

Friday, December 9, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 3 - The Gifts

Wrapping the presents may be my favorite part of the season.  I love the paper.  I adore the ribbon.  I thrive on getting up early in the morning, spreading it all on the dining room table and just wrapping away. [You do have a fabric cutting board, don't you?  Works even better for paper!]
All wrapped on Saturday morning.
I was a sucker for the wrapping paper that children [or their parents who work in your office] sell for school fund raising, so I currently have enough paper stockpiled to last at least five years.  Sadly, when one works at home, one doesn't get the opportunity to purchase school wrapping paper any more, so the day will come when I have to go accost some child on the street and demand s/he bring me paper ... or else!

With so much else going on this month, I do the shopping and wrapping early - well, at least for the out-of-town gifts.  Wouldn't want to totally miss the panic on Christmas Eve when I discover that I have missed something.
Sande (a Gift Wrapped Life) encouraged me to go with fancier ribbon last year, and I have enjoyed that.  For my brother's family I did a theme of poinsettia paper with green ribbon, but each person got a different ribbon.  They won't notice, but it was fun for me - and that's what it's all about ... right? 
This one is headed for New Mexico.
Everyone else is getting the best of the paper I have left, and I'm making another trip to buy more ribbon!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How to Make Glass Block "Lights"

For those who wanted to know how to make the glass blocks, it's way easy.


1) Glass blocks - available at Lowe's or Home Depot and surely every other big box retail hardware store.  Also available at craft stores, altho I found them less expensive at the hardware stores.  The "new" ones (sometimes marketed as "craft blocks") come with a 1.25 hole already cut in one of the sides, and usually a plastic "cap" to cover the hole and hold the light string in place.  They are usually 9 x 9, but I did find some 6 x 6.

If the block does not have a hole already drilled in it, you will have to do that yourself.  I would Google "glass block lights" and find a video or better instructions.  You will need a glass drill, and water or oil, and there is a fairly high incidence of breaking the block.  Get the pre-drilled kind if at all possible!

2) Lights - I used strings of 50; one string per block.

3) Ribbon.  I like the wired ribbon that is somewhat sheer, because I thought it made better bows.


Stuff the lights inside.  Tie the ribbon around the block.  That's it.

You can use your imagination all day long, tho.  White lights, multi-colored lights, all red, all green, all purple, or a mix of two colors - whatever turns you on, or matches your decor!  Then mix or match the ribbon.

I used white lights for everyone and a different ribbon for each couple for whom I made the blocks.  I gave them in sets of two.  I also think they could be a really nice thing for someone celebrating Chanukah.

I made five sets in one afternoon - it's really easy!  And, the total cost is $6 - $10 per block, depending on what kind of deals you get on the pieces parts.

For us, I made the third small block because I wanted to stack them.  In the first year, I kept them out all year and changed the ribbon for holidays: red for Valentine's day, green for St. Patrick's Day, and red, white and blue for the patriotic holidays - you get the idea.  Got tired of all that ribbon-tying, so have settled for Christmas ever since. 

Enjoy! and thanks for asking.

My 12 Days of Christmas

Day 2

By now everyone has a set of glass blocks, but several years ago they were an "ah ha" moment for us.  We saw they in South Carolina over Thanksgiving and came home and made many blocks for friends and family as gifts that year. 

We used all white lights, but I may make some more with multi-colored lights next year.  I love the soft glow they give to the floor.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My 12 Days of Christmas

There are so many things that I love about this crazy last month of the year.  Instead of babbling mindlessly for the next couple of weeks, I'll share the things that are special to me instead.

Day 1 - The Wreath
Growing up we always had a live wreath.  Mother and I would go to the market downtown to pick just the right one.  They all looked alike to me, but she always had a preference.  Years ago I switched to an artificial wreath [partly so that I can leave it up and enjoy it longer], it has changed over the years.

The latest version is a bit over-sized since it's on a large wall.  The ornaments were a gift from my sister-in-law a few years ago.  Somehow, it feels just right to me, and the perfect way to kick off the season.
Would you like to share your special things of the season?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

There's no place like home.  I feel like Dorothy ... it was a lovely week in a little corner of Paradise, but I was so glad to get home to my own bed last night!  Apparently Mitchell was, too.  There is still an occasional snore coming from beyond the bedroom door.

We walked on the beach and watched the kingfishers fish.  We strolled and enjoyed the peace of the marshes.  We ate, we drank, we laughed.  The Colonel and Dora visited us for part of the week and we ate and drank with them.  Laughed a lot with them.  We even slept late and took naps, but still arrived home tired from the road.

We did small business shopping all week.  The best was a shop that sells only olive oils and flavored vinegars - The Oilerie.  You can taste everything before you purchase and then they decant it and seal it like a bottle of wine (no wonder I love that place!) and label it like a wonderful gift - one you give to yourself. 

There are lovely galleries and craft shops on Hilton Head, and clothes (of course).  So many wonderful restaurants that the difficult part was choosing just one per night!  And, actually, an excellent outlet mall.  We hit the latter on the way onto the Island last weekend and never went back.  I'll pass on Black Friday, thank you very much!

The best part of the week, tho, was exploring an old cemetery where we spent two days documenting the gravestones.   Located overlooking a marsh and deep within a gated community, this is one of the most peaceful places you could hope to visit.  The Colonel got interested in genealogy a number of years ago and spent significant time  tracing his roots.  When he discovered how useful tombstones were to that research, he also got involved in a neat project to document tombstones to help others find information on their family members and ancestors.

Find a Grave is a website where thousands of cemeteries all over the world are documented with photos of individual headstones and as much information as possible is posted about the people buried there.  The Colonel has posted more than 14,000 photos over the past few years.  Which brings us to Talbird Cemetery on Hilton Head.

It is an African American cemetery that dates back to the middle of the 19th century (or earlier) and contains more than 300 gravesites.  It is still in use today.  A gentleman who lives nearby has taken on the project of keeping the cemetery mowed regularly and cleared of undergrowth.  He is also trying to reset and repair toppled and broken stones. 

We spent two days photographing the individual stones, which The Colonel will now post to the website in the hope that others will be able to use that information.  We are now looking for information on two other old cemeteries that we might try to document next year.

We spent two lovely days in the fresh air, but ended up thankful that we could do something [ok, something rather odd] that will be helpful for someone who can't come to South Carolina and do it alone.  A Thanksgiving well spent! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

There's so much to be thankful each year.  This year it's the sun coming up over the ocean; the Colonel and Dora who are spending the week with us; the 352nd home a month early; and friends in the blogosphere.

Hope you have a great day with those you love!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guest Garden - Coastal Discovery Museum`

I've often said this entire island is a garden, but in
Azaleas in November.
November there is a limit to what's actually in bloom.  That does not mean that there's not plenty to see.  A fairly new addition is the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.  One of the oldest parcels of land, Honey Horn has passed thru many hands to wind up owned by the City of Hilton Head and operated as a museum with 68 acres of land and some interesting gardens.

The museum focuses on the history of the island, which is really the history of America's first freedmen.  The slaves of these barrier islands (Hilton Head, St. Helene, Dataw, Lady Island and many  smaller ones) were among the first people freed when Union forces started taking lands along the Carolina cost after the fall of Ft. Sumter.  Originally formed into several small communities these freedmen and their descendants lived on this land for nearly 200 years before vacation development made it popular, and led to a bridge to the mainland.  The museum and its plantings reflect this history.
Bi-color Oleander.
Yupon Holly

Indigo - leaves an
There are small plantings of South Carolina's history crops - Sea Island cotton, indigo, and rice.  Sadly, little Sea Island cotton remains - remember the bole weevils from early American history? - and rice production has moved elsewhere, but here you can see these founding plants that aided in the agricultural growth of our country.   There are also vegetable plantings to illustrate what was grown for the table and to sell for income in those early years.

In only its fourth year, there is still much to be developed at Honey Horn and many opportunities for community involvement.  An interesting little garden, this was a project for an Eagle Scout who planted this area in native carnivorous plants.  There are both red and yellow pitcher plants that are native, as well as Venus Fly Trap.  And, I suspect the scout designed and "planted" the planter, too. 

Red Pitcher Plant

The only "formal" garden is filled with camellias - sadly, not yet in full bloom.  The early blooming varieties were lovely and the promise for later in December and January makes me want to come back soon.

One of the wonders of this farm, tho, is the trees.  One red cedar is thought to be more than 400 years old.  There are several individual trees that are the largest in the state, and there is Spanish Moss everywhere.  The feeling of the farm is one of peace and industry, filled with human history.  In ten more years, I predict it will be gorgeous.

There is also an interesting sculpture exhibit going on ... but that's a post for another day.