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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creating A Thing of Beauty

John Keats said A thing of beauty is a joy forever. I think he might be right. The beauty may not last forever, but it sure might help bring a bit more joy into the world while it does last. I believe we must all strive to bring a bit more beauty into our lives. Why not?  It sure beats the heck out of dwelling on the ugly things that bombard us every day.

So, as I sat on my garden bench drinking a cup of coffee the other morning, watching all the lovely little birdies flitting about, my eye was drawn to a branch not far above, that held the tiniest bird I'd ever seen. As I stared in wonder, it suddenly took to flight and I realized it was a hummingbird.  You don't often see them at rest, so that is what puzzled me for a moment.  I realized the bright orange blooms of the nearby trumpet vine were what had attracted the teeny bird, and I decided I needed to do more to coax my hummingbirds out into the open so I could enjoy their beauty more often.  I thought I might turn my bench spot (now plain and simple) to a hummingbird room that would be more inviting to the small birdies and maybe butterflies too.  Here's what I did. I scoured my garage, house and shed for things I already had to furnish my room.

A vintage crocheted throw I snatched from a guest room, would provide a nice cushion for the bench seat

I took a stained vintage linen towel and turned it into a pillow.  Just stitched up two sides, inserted the pillows, and tied with a burlap ribbon.  Needed a decoration, so I stenciled a French design in grey. The pillow will make a nice support for your back while waiting for the birds.

I thought you might like a place to rest your feet or a cup of coffee or glass of tea, so I dragged out an old green bench from the garage.  It use to belong to Bob's dad who was quite handy with a saw and hunk of lumber and used the bench for cutting or sitting at his workbench.  Unfortunately, his son did not inherit that skill, so the bench really was just a place to collect junk.  I think it looks better in my hummingbird room!

As you can see the bench has some paint stains, but I don't mind; I think they add character.  I also added a ceramic watering can planter and an iron bird platter that I found hanging out in the garage.  The bench needed some greenery, so I stole an urn of thyme from the patio and added it to the vignette.  The sun helps release the herbie aroma...lovely! Beauty for all the senses.

Next, I took an old crate that was wasting away on the side of the house by the garbage cans and turned it into an end table next to the bench.  It made a great resting spot for a plant (more on plants in a bit) and just had to add the cute red ladybug lawn ornament from a planter on my patio to join us in the hummingbird room.  Thought she might feel more at home here.

 The trees needed a little bling too.  A lovely green birdhouse that was looking pretty in my sunroom would be better in the branches of the bower in front of my bench providing a nesting spot for some wrens.
And two solar mason jars from the front door area will vie with the fireflies at night, lighting up the hummingbird retreat. that I furnished the room where I would be able to spy those busy birds, I needed to attract the hummers and butterflies to the area.  The trumpet vines only ten feet away were a start, but I knew hummingbirds would love a few sweet red flowers too.  A quick trip to The Garden Gate.  I scored big with half-price sales!!! I snagged a hanging basket filled with red verbena and petunias (you can see it in the above picture hanging in the branches of the hedges that shade the bench). I also snatched up a large pot of red verbena, and that I placed on the crate end table next to bench.  Things were shaping up.

Still needed a few more things to tease out the shy, wee birds.

I hung a hummingbird feeder that was gathering dust in the garage in a branch close to where I saw the bird in the morning.  I whipped up some hummingbird syrup ( 4 parts water, 1 part sugar, heat until sugar melts, cool) and put it in the feeder.  I know this will need to be changed frequently, so I only made a 2 -cup batch.

I also set up a special snack for birds and butterflies. After some brief research I learned these winged critters like jam and water. I took the pedestal base of a broken birdbath and set a plant saucer on top, then set a mason jar cap filled with raspberry preserves, and a small glass bowl of water in the saucer.  Hope they like the special treat.

So, I'm ready now to do some serious bird watching....and even if they don't show up in droves, I'll be able to enjoy some lovely things of beauty all around

It brings joy to also share the beauty with beautiful family and friends...

What things of beauty do you see in your life?  What beauty might you create?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Z is for Zucchini

ZUCCHINIIIIII!!!!!! The season is upon us and now the question is...what the heck does one do with all that zucchini?  I don't have a vegetable garden, yet I am still plagued by overabundance of the green squash.  My daughter, in all her generosity, decided I should have the free zucchinis given to her by friends and neighbors (she hates all things squash). Not only did she hand over three zucchinis, she handed over two giants and one behemoth!

So the challenge was on.  I searched through my Pinterest boards and printed out some likely recipe candidates, donned my apron and began baking a variety of breads.  It's amazing how many zucchini recipes are out there, but then again, I guess it's not so surprising considering everyone faces this squash dilemma every summer.

Here are the results of three hours of baking:

On the left is Award-Winning Zucchini Muffins, front and center is Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread, and on the right back is Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread.  Now here is the amazing thing... I made all of these from the one behemoth zucchini and still had more of that same zucchini left!  Take a look at the large chunk still left...
My husband did a taste test of the three baked goods.  He liked all three but the overwhelming favorite was the Cinnamon Swirl (have to admit it was mine too),
though it is really unfair to compare since they were all quite different.

The Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread was quite moist and lusciously lemony.  It was just a tad too moist though. I  think perhaps that was due to the fact that I substituted brown rice flour for cake flour.  Whenever I can, I like to use gluten free and vegan ingredients.  I also used almond milk with apple cider vinegar as a substitute for butttermilk.  I don't think this affected the batter at all.
Click Here for recipe
The Award-Winning Zucchini Muffins were unique because they had a brown sugar oat streusel on top and chocolate chip surprises in the muffin cake...Yum.

Next time I make these, I won't follow the instruction to fill the muffin cups to top before adding the streusel.  They took too long to bake fully and therefore dried out a bit.  Still very yummy though.  Again I substituted spelt flour for the all-purpose flour.  In all of the recipes, I used organic cane sugar instead of refined sugar. Click here for recipe

The cinnamon bread had a great texture, and not even a hint of the zucchini taste that was hiding inside, just delectable spicy cinnamon bread. (spelt flour again instead of regular flour).
You can find the recipe HERE

So, three baked zucchini dishes done.  But what about that last piece of the giant squash? I refused to be defeated by that elephant-sized zucchini.  So, with dinner only two hours away, I decided to make a sidedish for the fish my husband was making for dinner.  A quick scan of Pinterest recipes, and...voila...Zucchini Fritters! First grate the zucchini and let sit to draw out water, drain and squeeze it dry,

then add all the spices and flour ( recipe called for Kamut flour, I used spelt). And fry the little fritters up.

Perfect complement to sole.  Add local corn on the cob from the farmstand and you have the perfect summer dinner.  Catch the fritter recipe HERE

What's that you say?  What happened to the other two large zucchini from the first photo?  Never fear, tomorrow they will meet the SPIRALIZER!  Can't wait to try out this gadget.  Think I will either do pesto zoodles or a Thai zoodle version.  I'll let you know.

What are your favorite zucchini recipes?  Any unusual or unique ideas for cooking with the abundant green squash?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A most cherished possession

Earlier, I had promised a separate post about my grandmother's china.  It is one of my most cherished possessions, mostly because every time I use these dishes, I think of my grandmother and remember again, what a wonderful lady she was.

When I was a child, my grandmother Lillian, lived with us.  She was quite severe in appearance and in manner, but there was no question about the love she had for her family.  Lillian raised six children through the grueling Depression of the 1930's, single -handed.  They all became upstanding citizens with a strong belief in family. When my mother married, she brought her mother to live with her.  Lillian was a member of our household for as long as I can remember.  It was my grandmother who took me to church every Sunday, who took me on bus rides to do shopping downtown, and who taught me to make the traditional Christmas cookies my family now love.  But, she taught me much more:  she taught me about the goodness of hard work, the importance of thrift, and the joy of earning the small pleasures of life. Every time I use these dishes, those are the lessons I remember most.  Look closer. Maybe you can see these lessons too.

When I was young, these dishes would be used only on special occasions.  Every Thanksgiving they would grace our table, and when the meal was done, my sister and I were in charge of washing and drying them...CAREFULLY.  We were told of their dearness.  Grandma had bought the twelve place settings and serving pieces, one at a time from quarters saved from her meager paychecks.  I don't know how long it took her to collect the set, but I know they were precious to her because she had to work so hard to get them.  I often think that we don't do that enough today.  My children ( and me too I must confess) take things for granted.  Instant gratification is more often than not the way of the world.  It's difficult to appreciate things that come too easily. The china was handed down to my mother, and then it was divided in half between my sister and me.  I house it in a separate cupboard, a vintage Hoosier, to give it a place of honor.

I've done a little bit of research on it.  The china was made by the Knowles China Company, which was quite well-known throughout the industry from the beginning to middle of the 20th Century.  The company closed on 1962.  This was largely blamed on tariffs which were said to encourage the importation of foreign dinnerware at prices so low that Knowles could not compete.  Sounds all too familiar in today's market doesn't it!

The dinner plates have the Knowles stamp , the name of the pattern (Princess Rose) and a serial number.  I believe the serial number dates the pieces.  In this case it ends in a 51 so I am guessing the pieces were purchased or were at least made in 1951.  Also, looking on websites, I believe the pattern is Princess Rose Coupe.  Coupe is the name of  a style of the handles and gravy boats and creamers.

I use these dishes all of the time.  I don't wait for special occasions.  They are very dear to me, and they make me happy every time I put them on my table.  Most recently, I used them as part of the table setting at the wedding breakfast that I hosted for the bridesmaids of my daughter's wedding.  I also used parts of my collection of pink Depression glass, so my grandmother's Princess Rose china with the delicate pink blossoms mingled perfectly with the other dishes on the table.  Pink was also the color of the bridesmaid' dresses.  What great luck!  Here's a few shots from the table:

Princess Rose fit right in along side of the pink champagne at the mimosa bar!

So that's the tale of my grandmother's china.  Do you have any treasures?  What  heirlooms do you cherish?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Doot, Doot, Doot Lookin' Out My Back Door (with apologies to CCR)

I LOOOOOOOVE July!  Every morning as I sip my coffee at the little round table in my sunroom, and my husband feeds me tidbits from the morning newspaper, I get to gaze out my back door to the scene above. Lush green bushes and grasses, bursting buds of flowers, and flittering bees, birds and butterflies entertain me and fill me with a peaceful joy.  I can even hear the gentle babble of the fountain as it is the closest thing to our open door.  

The bricked patio is indeed in need of an overhaul.  We have been wanting to fix it up for the past few years, but the economy and my daughter's wedding have put that on hold for at least another year.  And yet, as I scan the scene this morning, there is something sweet about the weathered, moss-covered bricks.  They've held up for nearly 35 years.  The richness of their colors is not to be scoffed at; I hate to think of the sterile Belgian blocks that might replace them (my husband's preference).  The bricks allow me to imagine a colonial cobbled street in my own backyard.

 The rains that plagued the spring have continued into the summer and have created a growth spurt in all the vegetation.  Check out some of the beauties that are thriving in my yard.

Morning Glories starting to bloom!

Day Lilies and Black-eyed Susans...

Faded Queen Anne's Lace makes way for Suzie!

One of my favorites in the garden is the bee balm.  It flowers early July and lasts the rest of the summer.  It's full and thick with flowers and the best thing is that it attracts so many flying critters! Bees, insects, butterflies and HUMMINGBIRDS!!! Wish I was a better photographer so I could capture some of the visitors to the bee balm.

Another hummingbird attraction is the trumpet vine that grows up the side and over the roof of our shed.  Its bright orange blossoms are like flashing neon signs to the fast little birds that drink their nectar.  Also the thicket created by the plentiful vines provides shelter for every type of bird imaginable. It's like an airport some days, watching flights take off and land.  You may notice the color scheme of my shed.  I painted the shutters, window and fencing to match the colors of the trumpet vine and a purple sage bush (not blooming yet) that stand guard at the corner of the shed. (apologies for the cloudy picture; I've not mastered lighting yet).

So, that's what I see out my back about you? What do your scenes look like?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A True Patriot

I just spent the Fourth of July holiday with the most patriotic person I know...My Sister.  I am grateful for her no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to loving America because there are so many people out there condemning my country, and most of them are Americans themselves. I am anxious about the direction our country is taking these days.  I see millennials marching in the streets protesting Old Glory.  Really?! The Stars and Stripes are to be despised? What???!!! To them it represents evil, oppression, greed, white supremacy and more.  Sad.  I don't even know how to respond to that view.  Do they not know the blood and sacrifices and tribulations that went into the making of that flag?  Do they not know the millions of people around the world that flag has protected and supported?  There is no country in the world who has given so much to others as the USA.  Shame on anyone who is not proud of America.  Yes, she is not perfect, because she is human after all...but she is the closest thing to perfection ever created.  It's time we embrace that fact about her, and celebrate the good.  And hence the reason for this post...Patriotism.  Yes, it is not totally lost.  Take a look at my sister on the Fourth.  Isn't she a hoot? From the top of her head to the tips of her toes she proudly wears the red, white and blue...

Her children roll their eyes and laugh at her, but I am grateful for her unabashed love of our country.  She's not afraid to show her pride.  We need so many more patriots like my sister.  Our country is being stepped on and crushed by leaders as well as the masses, and we need the common devoted patriots who dwell in our land to beat back the negative voices and promote the goodness that is still the heart and soul of America.
Here are just a few of the ways my sister visually shows her support and pride in the USA.

From welcome mats...

to patriotic bunting adorning her home...
to lawn decorations....
my sister's home sings God Bless America.

After 9/11 my sister was so moved, she wanted to do something to support our troops who were fighting in the Middle East, so she created a memorial of sorts for all to see.  It is a mound whose center is graced by Old Glory flying at the top of a flag pole.  Around the pole are life-size military figures in the uniforms of the various military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard).  The response to this memorial was astounding.  People knock on her door and thank her; letters of gratitude arrive in her mail. Many times she has thought of taking it down (it's kind of a pain to keep it in good repair) but the public love it and being the patriot that she is, she just can't do it.  It remains a landmark in her neighborhood.  Here is a quick shot of the memorial.

I remember one Fourth of July only a year or two after 9/11, when she invited neighbors to gather around the memorial for a shared reading of The Declaration of Independence.  What a sight that was...yes, some may think it was a bit hokey but, all who attended were touched by a spirit of national pride and a sense of community, and an understanding that we are truly blessed to be living in the most wonderful country in the history of mankind.  And thanks to Sue, we didn't have to be ashamed to show our pride.

My sister is a second grade teacher.  Her students are fortunate to have her.  She celebrates America every day.  They don't have to hear how awful their country is nor are they denied the experience of showing pride.  They actually sing patriotic songs, like God Bless America! They thank the military and the First Responders of their community every year in an assembly on 9/11, thanks to my sister's insistence on recognizing those who serve and protect our country.  She is passing along an awareness of the greatness of America to new generations.  Isn't that what schools are suppose to do...promote the good, and create loyal citizens?  There is at least one person left who knows this is what needs to be done....Thanks Sis.