Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Shopping done? check!

Wrapping done?  check!

Cooking done?  All but an oven full of baking.

Decorating done?  Finally!

Stockings hung by the chimney with care?  Absolutely!

Nothing left except to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas! and hope that you are with people you love and filled with hope and joy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Cheer

Today we come back home - to my home.
After seeing so many pretty wreaths this year, I decided I wanted something different.  So, I took it down and started over.
I had most of the redder poinsettias from a mantle piece I did several years ago and only added a few more based on the slight change of color I wanted.  The real culprit was the ribbon.  I found this one day and fell totally in love with it.  
 How can you not love those feathers?
It's not Christmasy at all, but how could I resist?   It's a warm, red-ish brown with those gorgeous feathers in shades of gold, silver, and red with the gold edge.  The flowers that I added were a more peachy shade to try to pull the redder shades toward the browner ones.  
And then, of course, a bit of the shiny white and berries that are red in a brownish tone.
 These flowers are sort of organza with lots of gold, as if they were sprayed.
Am very pleased with the result.

[Now, everyone, off to bed early so that Santa can come.]

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gardenfest of Lights

Mitchell and I made our almost annual trek to the nearby Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden last night for dinner and a balmy stroll thru the gloriously lighted garden.  There was a bit of rain, but not enough to tarnish all the shiny we found there. 
As usual, my photos didn't come out well enough but his phone to the rescue for a look at the caterpillar tunnel.

We dined in their treetop Tea House surrounded by trees wrapped in red and gold lights and children in their best pre-Christmas finery and manners.  All in all a lovely evening. 

Then a quick ride thru the neighborhood to see the lighted houses.  Am happy to report that the wreath we looked at a few days ago came into its own at night.
In the dark this dazzles with lights and seems to hover low in the sky - Star in the East-style.  It was big, bright and lovely.   You'll have to use your imagination, tho. 

As we rush thru these last two days of shopping, wrapping and cooking I hope you are with those you love, or that they will be with you soon.   Peace and joy ... but mostly calm and quiet!

Holiday Cheer

Several  days ago the lesson was that sometimes more is too much.  Today's lesson is that sometimes less is more. 
This is on a store in a nearby strip mall and is very eye-catching from the street.  I think the red materials at the top catch the sun to get your attention. 

I really like this one.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Memories from the Past

Do you ever see an idea in a magazine on or TV - I just dated myself again - or on Pinterest [there, that's better!] and you say, "I just have to do that!"?  I am particularly prone to doing it when I am already overloaded.  For me this year it was making marshmallows.

Yes, I know, it's bizarre, but i was fascinated.  In the December issue of "Better Homes and Gardens" if found a recipe for Flavored Marshmallows.  Had to try it. 
Fortunately, we have nieces in town who have school aged children who will enjoy them.  I will have to apologize to the mothers for giving their kids a box of crack cocaine sugary sugar!

The recipe was deceptively easy to follow and within 30 minutes I actually had something that looked and tasted exactly like marshmallow cream.  Into the 'fridge for the night ...

... and this morning -  voila!
This is where the memories from the past come in.  Way back in Girl Scouts the "in" thing to make was a tuna noodle casserole (canned tuna, mushroom soup, spaghetti, and crushed potato chips - don't you remember?) and Mother got recruited to help teach half the troop how to make it.  Only three easy steps.  What mother wouldn't want to help?

So on the appointed afternoon half my troop trouped into our kitchen and the stuff started to fly.  There was soup everywhere, chips crumbled all over the floor, cans of tuna - well, you don't even want to think about it.  Fifteen happy pre-teens went home that day - each carrying a casserole to proudly present to their families for dinner and Mother took to her bed!

Making marshmallows is a bit like that.
First, you peal off the parchment paper and start coating the block of marshmallow with confectioner's sugar and then you start cutting it into strips, then cubes.  Not terribly difficult, but it takes forever and gets sugar everywhere.

Ninety minutes later there are three holiday boxes ready to deliver, plus a big bag left for us - we will find someone to give it to, lest I eat them all!
I felt like one of those Girl Scouts headed home with my treasure, leaving behind a kitchen for Mitchell to clean. 
Ok, so I cleaned, too.  I'm tougher than Mother was!
In case you would like to give it a try - not this year! - the recipe follows with comments.  
Ho, ho, ho!

Flavored Marshmallows
Better Homes and Gardens, Dec. 2013

Prep:  25 minutes.  Chill: 4 hours   Cut up: 90 minutes

4    Envelopes unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup water
3    cups granulated sugar (not sure which one this is in England)
1    cup light-colored corn syrup (I used Karo - the clear one)
1/2 cup purchased syrup (I used Starbucks Caramel because I had it - peppermint would be good)
1/4 tea salt
     gel food coloring - whatever color you like
     confectioner's (powdered) sugar

1.  Line a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan with parchment, leaving 2 inches of paper hanging over the sides.  Coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. 
2.  In a very large bowl put gelatine.  Pour the water over to cover completely and stir to combine.
3.  In a large saucepan combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, flavored syrup, and salt over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely melted.  Bring to a boil over medium high, add a candy thermometer and boil until temperature reaches 240 degrees - about 2 minutes.
4. With mixer set on medium speed, pour sugar syrup down the side of the bowl slowly into the gelatin.  Increase speed to high and mix five minutes until marshmallow is light and fluffy and bowl is cool to the touch - about 122 degrees.
5.  Using a rubber spatula, spread mixture evenly into prepared pan.  Add drops of food coloring to mixure about 2 inches apart and swirl in coloring with a table knife or spreader.  Chill uncovered 4 hours or overnight.
6.  Remove from refrigerator.  Sift powdered sugar over marshmallow.  Turn out onto cutting board that is coated with powdered sugar and peel off the paper.  Then sift more powdered sugar over the marshmallow.  Using a sharp knife cut cut into squares.  Place additional powdered sugar in a bowl and dredge the cubes to prevent sticking.  Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Makes 117 one-inch marshmallows.

Nutrition:  I am not going to share that.  It's pure sugar, but then ... it's Christmas.


1) I used a 15 x 10 inch rimmed cookie sheet  - yield was 160-ish marshmallows slightly smaller than one-inch cubes.

2) Coating the parchment with non-stick spray is crucial.  If in doubt ... overdo it.

3) The gelatine may look really thick and clumped up when you start beating it, but it will smooth out as you add the hot syrup.

4) I think it would be difficult to do with a hand mixer unless you can recruit a second person.  Pouring the hot syrup down the side of the bowl would be difficult if you were trying to control the mixer too.

5) The cutting was tedious until I got a pattern.  I used my longest bread knife to score it and then slid a small knife or spreader along the blade to cut thru the mass.  It is very sticky on the sides, so lots of powdered sugar needed.  I did strips and then cut them into cubes one "row" at the time, packaging as I went.

Overall ... well worth the effort, but not very often!  Enjoy!

Holiday Cheer

You know [I think] that for me at Christmas time more is better.  But I may think that this one has just a little bit too much "more". 

Was driving down the street and it leaped out at me.  I just loved it ... well, at first.
I love the colors!  All of the balls at the bottom are almost apple green - just a variety of sizes packed tightly together.  The shiny blue at the top is wide, shiny ribbon loops, and the streamers are a different shade of blue and not shiny.
 On closer look, tho, I think it's actually too much.  
Here's a longer view.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Cheer

Another in our series of alternative placements ...
Altho it's a simple green wreath, it is LARGE and at has tiny white lights for night time.  It's the location that was interesting to me ...

The "upper structure" of this deck is only in the front and is used for hanging baskets during the growing season, but makes a great place to support this wreath.  Interestingly, the house itself has no decoration at all.

Was pleased to have an email this morning from a reader of these silly posts.  She sent me a photo of her own wreath which is hung at the front ranch gate - think the Lazy Z in some old western flick.  It looks great, but she said it was just for me to enjoy.  Anyone else what to share for group consumption?

The bad news is that I have found enough new wreaths to go to daily posts for the rest of the month!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Cheer

Another alternative place for your wreath ...
if you happen to have a pair of fancy brick pillars leading up to your house.

Wish I could get close enough to clearly see the wreath on their front door.  It appears to be larger than this one and have lots of gold.  But, I like the simple elegance of these - it's a pair, of course.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Cheer

There's more to life than the house, and more to holiday decorating than the front door. 

How about your shed?
Another one sans bow.  Otherwise, a great idea!

I've threatened to do this with our little shed.  Think I might ... next year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Season

This week's lessons will be on placement.  

I've mentioned that we put our wreath on the side of the house because our doors are steel (no nails!) and our storm doors don't work well (ok, they don't close - sort of defeats the purpose!) with wreath hangers.  In looking for pretty wreaths to share I have realized that other people hang their very effectively in "other" places, so this whole week we will explore some of those possibilities. 

I love the brightly colored balls on this one, but ...
even more, I like the way it is displayed.
Just wish it had a bow!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Time

Doing my "research" for this project has encouraged me to carry my camera all the time - something I know many of you already do ... or you have figured out how to take good photos with your phones and how to transfer them.  [Ok, so i haven't really tried all that hard!]

Today's lesson is fun.
All - well, most - of you can visit this wreath, too.  No matter where you live.

You will find it in your local Starbucks coffee shop.  It's some sort of artificial leaves - they feel "preserved" some how - with a few bright ornaments and a simple bow.  Somewhat classy commercialism!

This one's for Sara in LPV.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Time

Today's lesson is Tradition.
This wreath is a great example of a slightly modern twist on Colonial America.  This wreath could easily be in Colonial Williamsburg - you see many of these in Richmond and probably all over the states that trace their history to that period.  It is perfectly matched to the plank shutters.

It's a form of della robia wreath, like my Mother always made.  This one has apples, oranges and many, many berries. Mother always bought a boxwood wreath and then added kumquats and berries by sewing them to the wreath.  It was quite a production, but lovely.
 It goes beautifully with the della robia "fan" above the door, which is even more colonial.  It has the pineapple at the center, which is traditional and shows a bit more greenery.  If we were being picky - and we are not! - we would want more green showing in the wreaths.

With a wreath in both windows and the door fan, this cottage is perfectly dressed for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Time

It's been a fun week looking for good wreaths, and I have learned a lot.
First, lots of people use a plain green artificial wreath with just a ribbon.  They are pretty, but not what I am looking for this month. 

I have nothing against artificial wreaths at all!  We keep them up way too long for fresh greenery to look really nice, so it's a choice - go natural and put it up later and take it down sooner, or go artificial and enjoy it for three months.  I joined the artificial crowd years ago.

Secondly, lots of people [apparently] give little or no thought to how the wreath looks on their door.  Contrast, folks.  You need contrast if you want it to look really nice from the street.
This wreath is a good example of the latter.  It's on a chocolate brown door.  It caught my eye as I was driving by.  When I got close enough, I could see that there is lots of red and gold that make it pop out from the brown background - even thru a glass storm door.

I am finding it difficult to get good photos, tho.  Don't feel comfortable tromping into the yards of strangers [especially with the alarm company sign right next to my objective!], and clearly my telephoto isn't powerful enough to get really good images from the sidewalk.

Today's lesson = contrast!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holiday Time

Inside our front door you will find this wreath. 
Several years ago, i saw the idea of an indoor wreath in a magazine and loved the idea.
This is just red berries on a grapevine base, but against the white door it brings a nice pop of color to the living room.  And, i'm thinking of going with more "natural" decorations this year ... maybe.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Holiday Time

This is my wreath.  I used it the last three years on my porch.  Our glass storm doors do not work well with wreath holders, so we mount it on the house and use a slightly oversize wreath.
The ornaments came from my sister-in-law and are painted tin.  
I have really enjoyed this wreath and put it up before we left for our Thanksgiving trip. 

 Now, I am thinking that i'd like to re-do it this year.  I have a lot of ideas, so you may see it again ...  closer to Christmas.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday Time

The second wreath that i found on our little trip last week was a beauty of red berries and "ice" crystals.
This was on the door of a music shop in Harrisonburg, and shimmered in the morning sun.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Time

This is the time of year when I annually search for something to say in this blog.  I question why I write.  Am I a garden blogger?  Most likely, but i don't really have any expertise.  All i know came from the Wise Women who taught me over the years - and continue to teach me now.  This time of year, there's nothing happening outside, so i find myself at a loss for ideas to contribute.  
Am I a cooking blogger?  Clearly not!  I work at home, so i can't blog about life in the workplace.  Style?  nope!  Travel?  not likely.  Commentary on current events?  Not!

i like to think of myself as part of the vast world of blogger friends, but am not sure that i contribute much to the conversation [especially since i can't comment from my tablet and find myself using it more and more]. I don't want to just crawl into my chair, bury myself in a book [actually, i do like that idea!] and not post until spring, so i need a holiday project.  

This year it will be wreaths.

It seems like the Thanksgiving weekend is the start of serious decorating for Christmas in the States.  Except that, as i have been looking for interesting wreaths to share, i am not finding many yet. 
This charming wreath was in the downtown square of Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we vacationed for a few days early last week.  The wreath was pretty enough, but it was the whole little "summer house" that caught my eye.

Stay tuned.  There will be plenty more before the month ends. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm Thankful

Whether it was the Pilgrims or the Jamestown settlers, I'm glad our forefathers and mothers took the time to be thankful for their survival and started us on this annual observance.

We live in a time of such plenty [at least in much of the world] that an annual pause to reflect is in order.

This year I am especially thankful for good health.  My younger brother is dealing with serious vision issues and it makes me realize how precious my good [tho aging!] vision is, and how much it contributes to my well-being.

I'm thankful for Mitchell, who enriches my life daily.  Playing his harp fills our home with music and my heart with joy.  
And, the man can cook, too. 

I'm thankful for Elizabeth and James - they know why.

And, I am very thankful for the friends I've found in the blog world.  Women and men across the globe who share their daily loves and lives with each other and with me.  Interesting people with triumphs and tribulations who offer support and guidance to folks who used to be strangers.  
It's a wonderful world on the blog.  Who knew?
You know who your are.  Raise a cup or a glass and know I am saying "thank you" when I raise mine .... hopefully filled with something bubbly!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


November may be the only month when the garden truly sleeps.

There is nothing left actively blooming, but as I look around the camellia is full of buds that mean flowers by Christmas and then in January the hellebores will burst forth and we will start the entire cycle again.
Outside, it's time for a rest.  Time to enjoy the grasses and the berries.  
Time to focus indoors for a few months.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mission Accomplished!

If you garden, it's nice to have your own compost pile.  It's good for your garden, good for the environment, and probably good for your soul.  There's a lovely sense of accomplishment when you "make dirt" and then use it to enrich your own plants.  You avoid filling your municipal landfill with recyclable materials, and you have a place to put all the cleaned-up stuff that comes out of your beds - without filling your weekly trash cans!

At the top of my garden "To Do" list for the past two [probably three] years has been "turn the compost pile".  It's one of those things that is ultimately satisfying, but in the moment ... not so much.
 Before:  all sticks and branches on the left; one the right there's good dirt on the bottom with this season's "new" stuff on top.  This was in September.
There is a convenient corner in the back of our yard - behind the sheds - where I built a compost pile that is 4 x 8.  It's "constructed" of four metal fence supports and the back property-line fence and is actually two 4 x 4 "bins".  The idea is that there would be "old" ready-to-use stuff on one side,  and "new" work-in-progress on the other.  That worked great for the first few years, until we got the chipper/shredder.  

It's one of those "role" things.  Deep in his heart Mitchell thinks that he should operate the shredder, but he doesn't get around to it often.  Recently, I have discovered that it's easy to do, so without discussing it, I just took over doing it.
With the last two weeks of mild temperatures and sunny afternoons, I dragged out the shreader/chipper and then took pitchfork in hand and finally got it done.  It took me three afternoons to get the limbs and sticks shredded and down to small twigs that could be left to decompose.
 This is November.  See how the right side has grown in two months!  It was over my head.
The chips.  About the equivalent of one bag of mulch.
Under the right hand pile was nearly three FEET of good composted soil.

 Chips spread on top of the piles and the left one stomped down ... we're ready to add leaves (on the left) and use the good dirt in the spring to replenish the beds.
And like so many other things that we put off in life, I'm now asking myself why I wasted so much time finding reasons not to just do it!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where's the Color?

Fall color has been disappointing.  After all the rain and good weather all summer I really expected a spectacular fall, and it's been dull. 
 This is the prettiest tree in the neighborhood, but not it's usual glory.
Leaves are dull and brown, not red and yellow.  Many of the trees that I count on from year to year have just faded this year.  Even the Bradford pears didn't do their red-kissed Marilyn impression.
 My favorite tree every year.  It's owner let it grow up in the same spot as the shrub, which is evergreen, so we always get this pretty two-tone for a couple of weeks.  Not so nice the rest of the year.
Boring, boring, boring.  Guess it's Mother Nature's way of reminding us we can't have it all every year.  We need to be thankful for the summer we had and wait for a great fall some other year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday Workday

 So much left to do and so many fewer hours!

There's a lot of satisfaction that comes from cleaning up the beds, getting plants ready for their long sleep and watching for the process to start over again, but there is one part of my garden that .... well, doesn't exist.  

I love tulips and all the little beauties that come up in early spring and summer - freesias and ranunculus - but there are very few in my yard.  One clump of daffodils has bloomed since the first year and there are two small clumps of tulip that have survived for several (three, maybe) years but I drive around and see tulips everywhere in April.  Other people have lots of little things popping up and i have little or no luck with them.  

This lot is heavy with clay - dark, gray, slimy clay!

So, I'm trying something new.
I have filled my biggest pot with bulbs!  Way too many bulbs.  There are tulips [Valentine Candy blend], scilla [Siberica], chionodoxa ['Pink Giant' - don't know what it is, but pink!], freesia and ranunculus [rainbow, pastel and picotee] all layered, fed, watered and snuggly nestled down for a winter's sleep. A total of 85 bulbs!  I know they won't all come up, but i will be  thrilled with a quarter.

Hope Springs Eternal.  Or is it, Spring Hopes are Eternal?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Hate DST

Daylight Saving Time.  I hate it, hate it, hate it.  

Most of the year I just don't like the philosophy.  It made some sense 75 years ago - before air conditioning, and electronics, and lots of things that make our modern life better but as an energy saving strategy it makes no sense today.
This time of year, tho, i hate it because like the cows my body just cannot adjust.  I'm still waking by some circadian clock that overrides the one on the wall.  You know ... at 5:15 instead of 6:15.  And the 
darker evenings make me sad and lethargic.
I had such good plans to get out in the garden every afternoon for an hour or so, but all I want to do is plop in my chair and read.  What do you think wins?  Reading, it is!

Fortunately, on those afternoons when it's a bit warmer [you remember that i don't do "cold" - right?] I have done of bit of clean up in the yard.  As always Mother Nature has a little something to raise the spirits.
The roses are still going strong in their pots.  Both the David Austin 'Sister Elizabeth' and the unknown mini that just soldiers on!

But there are surprises, too.  Like the snap dragons that just bloomed this week - what?
Or, the salvia.  When I cut back the heavy, dead parts I found newly blooming shoots underneath.  And, don't you love the fragrance of salvia?
And, not one but five iris trying to rebloom.  One has made it so far. 
 If the cold nights don't kill them, we'll have more for the house ... very soon.  

Thanks, Mom!