Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post Christmas Snowfall

In spite of all of the rain (yes, rain!) we had for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we still managed to keep our blanket of snow so we could have our white Christmas.  Albeit a sort of shiny, glazed-over-looking snow, it was still snow!  I woke up yesterday to find it looking like a snow-globe outside!  Giant new fluffy snowflakes.  And lots of them!  My son took off to go skiing in all of that new-fallen powder.  That's the best!!  It's been a long time since I've gone skiing.  Maybe one of these days, I'll surprise him and go too!  If it's like riding a bike, I'll be ok.  Otherwise, I'm sure I'll provide plenty of antics that'll certainly keep him amused for hours!

Here's the view from one of the bedrooms yesterday at mid-day.  Sorry about the slight "checkerboard effect," I shot this from the window and the screen is a little noticeable when the picture is expanded.  The weatherman called for us to get 4" and I'd say that we received more like 7.  Nonetheless, it is so pretty!  I always love the peaceful quiet of a snowfall.  Everything seems so hushed.

It didn't stop snowing till mid-day today.  Today I took a look around to see how much we finally ended up with, and here's how my gazebo looked at mid-day today.  Of special note:  there is B-L-U-E sky overhead!  Something we haven't seen in eleven days.  Whew, was it ever good to feel the sun on my face again!

And, as the sun was finally setting, another unusual sight appeared....

Do you see it there?  It's just through the branches of the spruce.  We haven't seen Mr. Man in the Moon for eleven days now either, and I gotta say, it's nice to see him again, too.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Vintage Holiday Tree Attire

My mother has some wonderful vintage Christmas ornaments, and uses them each and every Christmas.  She has ever since I can remember.  She also has the most wonderful lights on her tree, complete with their original vintage reflectors.  The reflectors are actually metal.  The outer one is silver-tone, and the smaller, inner one is colored.  Her guests always complement on how pretty and unusual they are.  You just don't see the new lights sets looking like this these days!  So I thought I'd share some of her tree decorations with you.

Here's one of her little vintage snowmen.  She's got several...some have black markings, others have red.  They're all made of plastic and date back to the 40's.  Things had so much character back then didn't they?

And this is her little Rudolph.  Of all of her vintage ornaments, he's always been my favorite.  He's also made of plastic, and was hand-painted.  He does have a red nose, if you click on the picture (it's sort of hard to tell at the angle I snapped it), but you can see that it's red.  I think she told me that she bought him at Montgomery Ward back in the 40's.  Do you know the real story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?  He was actually created as a promotional gimmick by Montgomery Ward in order to drum up a little extra business.  It looks as though that turned out to be a pretty successful ad campaign didn't it?!

I truly hope everyone had a wonderful, blessed and safe Christmas....and I hope Santa was good to all of you!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Crafty Little Trimmings For My Tree

Call it crafting, re-purposing, it whatever you like.  I like to think I'm kinda crafty, and I sometimes have these big streaks of creativity.  Sometimes, my ideas work out pretty good, and that's ok with me.  Sometimes they don't, and that's ok too.  I don't know what it takes to flip on my "crafty" switch (I really wish I did though!).

Several years ago, one of my crafty friends had been hanging on to wine and champagne corks, thinking that one day she'd find a use for them.  Well, I guess she never did, and eventually she asked me if I'd like to have them for a project with my preschool students, so of course they came home with me!  It wasn't long before my students and I created several crafts with them.  But I still had quite a few corks left over.  I started out with...are you ready for this...a half-filled brown paper grocery bag, so there were a lot!  Now hold on a minute.....I know what you're thinking...they weren't all from her house.  Most of them came from the church.  And they came in all shapes and sizes.  Perfect!

A few years later, I started to think about all of those wine corks.  What could I use them for?  Then one came to me!  I thought I'd try to make little ornaments with them.  So I got out my paints and crafty supplies, and what follows are my results.  I made dozens of each, and sold them at craft fairs.   My crafty friend and I used to go in together on booths.  All of my ornaments had their own personalities because it was impossible to make them exactly identical!  Some of my Frosty's had little stranded wire arms that I bent into "twig" shapes and spray painted dark brown.  Some of my Santa's had bigger beards than others for a little variety.  But I had to hang on to these two guys though...they were the first two I ever made.



My little Santa was made from a standard wine cork.  First, I painted his suit red. Then I added Snow-Tex for his beard, and painted his face with twinkling blue eyes.  Well, they're about as twinkling as I could make them!  I used scraps of felt for his hat, and added a tiny pom-pom to embellish it.  For the hanger, I cut a paper clip in half, dabbed a bit of glue on it, and pressed it into the top of his hat.

Frosty was made using a champagne cork for his body, and a wine cork that had a plastic "rim" for his hat.  (I don't know what kind of wine comes with this cork/plastic top...if you do, please, please tell me!)  I painted his hat black, turned it upside down and glued it to the champagne cork.  Then I applied a nice coat of Snow-Tex to his entire body.  I added the black buttons, eyes, smile, and his carrot nose with a bit of glue.  To make his nose I used the clipped end of a round toothpick that I had painted orange.  The hardest part was waiting for the Snow-Tex to dry.  I tied a narrow tartan ribbon around his neck for a scarf, and added a black pipe cleaner with a tiny sprig of plastic holly to the brim of his hat.  The little black bits that look like coal are actually plastic aquarium gravel.  I used the cut paper clip for Frosty's hanger, and added a tiny little red satin ribbon to hang him with.

It's just weird how I stumbled upon that idea to use the aquarium gravel!  I happened to make a stop at the local pet shop for dog food while I was in the middle of this project.  It's my habit to always look at all of the animals whenever I'm there (I can't help myself!).  When I got to the fish dept. I noticed the gravel in their tanks...and I had a brainstorm!  (cue the big streak of creativity!)  It looked as if it would be absolutely perfect for Frosty!  They didn't actually sell this gravel there, but the guy at the counter was happy to scoop out a bunch from one of their tanks for me.  He asked me what I needed it for.  So I told him.  He was quite amused!  So was Frosty.  It worked out perfectly.  And don't worry, the gravel received a good scrubbing before I used it!!

I've been seeing the beautiful ornaments that so many of you have been creating, and I just had to contribute.  And I barely made it!  I've been so busy and ohmigosh time is quickly running out for any last minute preparations!  But I have written up all of my Christmas cards, embossed the envelopes, and sent them out last week.

Christmas is now just around the corner - - someone please tell me how this happened?!?!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our Dilly of a Tradition!

We have a family tradition that we enjoy every Christmas.  I haven't met many other families who partake in this, but I never thought it was unusual or anything.  Maybe it's more popular in certain regions than it is in others.  I don't know.  But it's something we look forward to, it makes us laugh, guys are so competitive, and it's fun!

So, what is this tradition you ask?

We have a Christmas Pickle!  We don't have any little ones around here anymore, but it doesn't matter to us, and we still have fun with it.  It's a life-sized, blown glass ornament that I hide deep in the boughs of our tree.  It's always the last ornament I hang, usually the night soon as nobody is looking!  It's green, so it blends in with the tree pretty well, especially once all of the other ornaments and lights are in place.  When we sit down to exchange gifts, the first person who finds The Pickle receives a special "Pickle Finder" gift.  Over the years some of those special little gifts have been a Chia Pet (yes really!), a box of chocolates, or a tin of homemade cookies.  It's a goofy little gift that everyone can have fun with.  I've got it all dialed in for this year, but I can't tell you what's in store for The Finder this year.  All I can say is it's something that's never been given to any Pickle Finder before.  I'd hate to spoil their surprise!

I'd be interested in hearing if anyone else has a Christmas Pickle, or has heard of them.  Maybe in fact, it is a regional thing.  Whatever the case may be, I have noticed them more often in the last several years, so maybe their popularity is on the upswing?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Well, it looks as though Mother Nature has plans for us!  And from what I'm hearing, I think we're in good company.  We're in the midst of getting our first measurable snowfall of the season.  I always think Christmas lights look so much prettier with a blanket of snow.  So far, it looks like we only have a 2-inch blanket, but more is expected!  I just had to run out and snap a quick picture of some of our decorations.  I left the flash on so the falling snowflakes would show up.  If you look closely at the lower right-hand side of the picture, you'll see that we had a little four-legged visitor hop across the yard not too long ago.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Guess Who Came to Town Last Night??

Last night we took a little drive for a once-a-year event.  The Canadian Pacific Railway has a Holiday Train that makes stops around various northern US and southern Canadian locations.  This is the first year that we've gone to see it, and we weren't disappointed.  It was absolutely worth braving the cold!  The local radio station was there, along with a group of a-Capella singers.  The train was decorated with hundreds of moving and flashing lights for Christmas, and was truly a sight to behold.  There were hundreds of people there, and such an energy in the air!  The train pulled into town nice and slow so you could have a good look.  It was a great photo op, and it looked to me as if everyone had a camera.  I know I did!


Once they stopped, one of the boxcars was opened up to reveal a stage.  There was a really great band (The Odds and Shaun Verreault) that performed for half an hour, and Santa Claus even opened up the show!  They played a mix of songs with a very interactive round of Jingle Bells that all of the children loved!  At the end of the show, Santa came around the crowd and handed out candy canes to the children.  It was a wonderful experience.  If you're in the north central part of the US and you can possibly make it to this event, I would recommend that you do!

One of the main purposes of this event is to raise monetary and non-perishable food donations for food banks.  Canadian Pacific then delivers, and donates this to the Second Harvest Heartland, and Emergency Food Shelf Network charities here in the States.  The donations they pick up in Canada go to Food Banks Canada.  At this time of year, it is especially rewarding to remember those who are struggling during these particularly challenging times.  What a wonderful way to keep the Christmas spirit alive!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Quick Little Dinner

Ok, we decided that we've had just about enough turkey for a little while.  Well...actually it was my idea, and I really love turkey, but...well, it's time for something else!  So last night I whipped up a little home made Chinese!  Mm-mmm.

It's my Pork Fried Rice, and my guys really love pigging out on it, so I have to make a huge batch for them.  Well, alright, I'll be honest here...all three of us love pigging out!  This is easy to make, goes together pretty fast, and it's to die for!

Sometimes I cook a bunch of pork chops on the grill and freeze them so I can use that meat for future meals. When I cook ahead like this, I usually cook the pork until there is just a tiny bit of pink left in the center; that way it won't be over-cooked or dried out when I use in the future.  It's a great time-saver and adds a wonderful flavor to your dishes.  That's what I used here.

Pork Fried Rice
4 tbsp. oil (peanut, sesame, or your choice)
3/4 lb. pork, diced
6 c. cooked rice
5 scallions, chopped
1/2 lb. baby carrots split into fourths
1/2 lb. tiny broccoli florets OR 1/2 lb. snow peas
1 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
crushed peppercorns
4 tbsp. soy sauce
sesame seeds
3 eggs, beaten (optional)

Get all of your ingredients prepared, within reach of your stove.  Heat the oil until it's nearly sizzling and add the diced pork.  Cook until no longer pink.  Stir the rice, scallions, carrots, and broccoli into the wok until well heated.  Add ginger, pepper and soy sauce.  If using eggs, make an indentation in the top of your mixture and pour the eggs into it.

Stir fry 4 minutes in a hot wok, or until it's cooked to your preference.  Serve immediately with a sprinkling of sesame seeds over the top.

Really, you can use so many different types of vegetables in this meal.  The ones I listed are what I almost always tend to have on hand, so I chose these ingredients for supper last night.  You could certainly use bean sprouts, celery, or peppers.  Just be creative and have fun with it!

And remember...
only 24 shopping days till Christmas!

Saturday, November 28, 2009


We've certainly had a strange year.  We had plenty of rain, and plenty of cool weather.  I've heard several different farmers (in different areas of the midwest) say that it's been the worst growing season they can remember.  This fall's rain has made it tough for the farmers to pick their corn and combine their beans.  I was beginning to think that the field behind my yard wasn't going to get picked until we had a hard frost.  There's just so much moisture in the corn, it would take a hard freeze to dry it out.  Here's how it looked mid-day yesterday.

A few hours later, I thought I heard some rumbling sounds coming from the other end of the field.  Sure enough, there was not one, not two, but three combines out picking the corn.  By the time I could grab my camera and run to the back of my yard, two of them had already made their first pass.

I hung around and waited just long enough for the third one so I could get a picture.  It was beginning to get dark and my camera couldn't focus too well so my pictures aren't the greatest.  I set my f-stop all the way down and hoped for the best.  Kind of looks like there may have been an issue focusing with the lack of light.

I've been wanting to have a bonfire, but have been holding off because I didn't want to set the field on fire!  Our bonfire pit is at the back of our yard and it's pretty close to the field.  Hopefully the weather will hold out for us so we can have that fire.  Tonight is supposed to be dry and 38° so keep your fingers crossed!

Don't you just love sitting around a fire?  We don't have a fireplace (gasp!), but we do have a nice-sized bonfire pit!  Hey, it works for me.  I don't know about you, but we could sit around a fire all night just staring at it and exchanging small talk.  I sometimes wonder why we humans have such a fascination with fire.  And as long as I'm thinking about it...I should add water to that primal fascination list.  Wouldn't it just be so perfect to have a hot tub with a fireplace nearby?  I'd be so happy in absolute heaven!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let the Baking Begin!

What a surprise we had yesterday morning!  We woke up to find that it had s-n-o-w-e-d.  Less than an inch, but it was snow.  Thank goodness it didn't stick!  I know it's November, and it's the right time of year the for that.  I'm just never quite ready for winter and the inevitable snow and f-f-f-reezing temps that come along with it.

One of the things that I do love about this time of year is that it's baking season for me.  I tend not to bake nearly as much when it's hot in the summer  But when the temps cool off, I'm always ready to bake just about anything, especially for our family gatherings.  Besides, is there anybody who doesn't like their home smelling like a bakery?  My son came in the house the other day and wanted to know what I was baking.  When he thinks he smells something baking, in true "guy tradition," he's always ready to be first in line!  My oven was off and I wasn't baking a thing.  I had a candle burning, and it sure smells good!  It was one of Paula Deen's Cinnamon Pecan Swirl candles, and boy does it smell like the real thing.  If you haven't tried this one yet, I heartily recommend it.  Oh, and don't worry, my son didn't go empty-handed for very long.  I did bake up some cookies!

One of my brothers has a really big cookie fetish.  From as far back as I can remember I've called him Cookie Monster.  He joined us yesterday for Thanksgiving, so of course I baked a batch of cookies just for him.  Enough to fill a tin so he could bring them home.  This time I made Shortbread Cookies with giant Ghirardelli kisses.

I was so busy yesterday with all of the preparations, baking and cooking!  I was so busy in fact, that I didn't think to grab my camera so I barely have any pictures of the food at all.  I did manage to take a quick shot of one of the pans of dinner rolls I baked.  They've kind of developed their own reputation, and are pretty popular around here.  And they're big.  Really big.  You could use one of these babies for a hamburger bun.  The pan in this picture is a vintage one that used to belong to one of my neighbors when I was a kid.  She always kept an immaculate yard and garden, even into her late 80's.  And she did all of that work by herself (including the mowing!).  Oh, her flower beds were so amazing!  When she passed away her daughters held a sale, and I bought her muffin pans.  She used to make the most delicious muffins, and she'd share them with us too!

I hope everyone had a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving.

Now.....let's all enter the "100 Ways to Be Creative with Leftover Turkey" zone!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Beautiful Painting...Courtesy of The Heavens

Isn't it nice to take a little time and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us...

And just when you think it can't get any prettier...this happens...

I tend to stare, in awe, when I see sunsets.  And when the clouds are just right it's worth it.

And finally...

I didn't use any filters, these colors were 100% natural.  They were all taken earlier in the year at the edge of my yard, next to the field (you may have noticed the soy beans!)  The field isn't mine, but it was one of the deciding factors when we bought this house years ago.  Kind of helps me remember my roots.

Hope you enjoyed this heavenly little spot of brightness!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Green Garden Concept

I have a great way for us gardeners to recycle something that may otherwise end up in a landfill.  It's also just one more way that I cut costs (which is a good thing!).  I heard about this years ago, and I forget where it was now.  If I somehow remember where it was, I'll give proper credit.

As a side note: if you have kids, this is a good project that they will enjoy helping with.

I don't know about you, but every year I start quite a few seeds inside to get a jump on the season.  I'm in Zone 5A so my plants need a little head start!  I don't have a greenhouse (not yet!!).  Instead of purchasing dozens of those little peat pots, why not use empty toilet paper tubes instead?  They biodegrade, and will enhance your soil.  Another bonus: you've already got them in your house, so no purchases need to be made.  Free stuff is good!!!

Paper towel tubes are also excellent, as they are almost exactly the same diameter.  Each paper towel tube will yield 3 pots.  You can also be creative and use empty cardboard tubes from gift wrap.  Some of the gift wrap tubes (especially from Christmas paper) can be quite wide and are helpful for planting more than one seed, such as squash, pumpkins, melons, etc.

Why am I talking about this now?  It's November, and many of the people in this country aren't even planting any gardens now!  What am I thinking?!?  Well, if you start saving your empty paper tubes now, you'll have plenty saved up by spring to get your garden off to a great start!  So start saving! 

Here's how I make my little homemade paper pots: 

For toilet paper and paper towel tubes:  Make cuts (one inch long) into one end of the tube.  Space these cuts about a half inch apart.  Continue doing this until you've gone all the way around one end of the tube.

Next, simply fold these "tabs" inward to form the bottom for your paper pot.


For wider tubes:  Make the cuts long enough so the tabs will span two thirds of the way across the open end of the tube when you fold them over.  You should space your cuts a bit farther apart for these bigger tubes, too.  Then fold the "tabs" in the same manner as for the smaller tubes.

Next, fill your new paper pots approximately 80 - 90% full with your favorite potting soil, and pack it slightly to eliminate any air pockets.  Then plant your seeds.  Oh, I should mention that if you live in a cold climate, and your potting soil is kept in the garage or outside, you will need to make sure your potting soil is at room temperature before planting to allow for good seed germination.  Overnight usually allows enough time for the soil to warm up.  Once your soil is in, and your seeds have been planted and watered, the pots tend to hold their shape well.  You can write the plant ID right on the paper pots so you can keep track of what's what until planting time.

To keep it all together and waterproof, I use plastic seed starter trays (that I've had for years).  The variety I use have black bases and clear plastic lids.  I've seen many of the big box home centers carry these.  The brand I use comes in 2 different sizes (1 1/4" and 1 3/4" peat pots).  I use the larger one.  Minus the peat pots of course.

The real beauty is that toilet paper and paper towel tubes are perfectly sized to fit into the little indentations in bottom of the 1 3/4" trays.  I just love it when things work out this nicely!  The jumbo-sized paper pots (e.g. Christmas wrapping paper type I mentioned) work better in the lid, but you'll need to take measures so they don't tip over because the lid doesn't have any perfect-sized indentations like the base has.

When removing your paper pots from the tray, you'll probably need to slightly twist them to safely lift from the tray.  Sometimes little roots will grow out of the opening at the bottom and they may intertwine.  There are no special steps are needed when transferring your plants to your garden.

PS. This idea works very nicely even if you do have a greenhouse.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween Cactus?

I have a little Christmas Cactus that is entirely confused.  Now I think they're called Christmas Cactus because they tend to bloom at Christmastime.  But not mine, nosiree.  It blooms at Halloween.  And I have no idea what's up with that!

Here's the condensed version of how this little cactus came to live with me.  It was given to me by one of my students during the very last class I taught.  I had been teaching for many years when my DH decided that it was time for him to move on.  I was also attending college classes during the day, which I immediately needed to drop out of.  I took a day job instead, in addition to my night classes, and I continued teaching for about a year after our divorce was finalized.  I taught 3 classes per night, 3 nights a week (of course in addition to working more than 40 hours a week!).  My son would come along with me at night, and my classes started around 6pm, and wouldn't end until around 10pm, so it was hard for him to work on his homework while there.  Not to mention, it wasn't exactly my idea of spending "quality time" with him.  Of course I always wanted to be available for him with homework questions, and just to hang out.  So...after much thought, I made the decision to go into an early retirement of sorts.  At this point I had been an instructor for 15years, and I really liked it!  Besides, I thought I could always teach classes any time I wanted to in the future.  I really loved it.  Everything about it.  I met the most interesting people, and I made a wonderful friendship that I still have to this very day.


At the very end of my very last class (November 1997!!!), one of my students and her little girl presented me with a tissue-wrapped object.  When I opened it, it turned out to be a cute little Christmas Cactus!  How sweet!  It wasn't blooming, and the only plant stake it had said that it was a Christmas Cactus and that it had been grown in Canada.  I really had no idea what color the blooms would be, but I couldn't wait to find out.  My dear grandmother had an absolutely gorgeous Christmas Cactus that bloomed hundreds of bright red blooms every Christmas.  I knew how she cared for it, and I thought my odds would be pretty good that I could have beautiful blooms too.

I read up on Christmas Cactus's, and followed all of the advice, but I never seemed to have much luck in getting it to bloom.  Nonetheless I kept trying.  It did have an incident once when a well-intentioned neighbor was house-sitting for me.  Half of the cactus got broken off, but it was a tough little guy and pulled through.  Eventually, that half filled in pretty nicely, but still no blooms.  I moved it to different parts of my home with darker and cooler rooms for periods of time.  Still nothing.

A couple of years ago, I bought a small bakers rack and set it up on my front porch.  I have always admired porches that had one.  I'm on the lookout for a full-sized bakers rack so I can have two and get my porch looking more the way I'd like it to.  I decided to put my Christmas Cactus right out there on the porch, and I also bought several different varieties of cactus to keep it company.  But that's another story for another day!  At the end of the season, I brought them all back inside and set it up in the living room below a southern exposure window.


I was certainly shocked to find my Christmas Cactus filled with all of these tiny little whitish nubs.  At first I thought it may have insect casings or something.  But those little nubs looked much different in a just one day.  Could I have buds forming?!  I'd better keep my eye on this.  They grew very quickly, and in a matter of days, they began to pop open!!  So that's what my cactus was wanting these past 10 years!!  Oh what a glorious sight!  You would have thought I won a lottery or something.  They are creamy-pinkish-ivory, with fuchsia stamens.  No idea what variety this Christmas Cactus is, but I adore the exotic-looking blooms, and how fragile they look.  If you happen to know, please send me a note!

This is the second year that it's bloomed, and there are even more this year than there were last year!  Oh, I hope next year it will produce even more!




Friday, October 30, 2009

A Witch's Brew Tale

Every year my community holds a Halloween Party in our Community Building.  It's great fun for kids of all ages.  There are prizes for kids costumes, and a Halloween Treat Decorating contest.  I always wanted to enter something in the Treat Decorating Contest, but inevitably something always came up, or I got busy, or I just never got around to it.  Well last year was my year.

I baked up a batch of sweet little Kitty Cat Cookies, and whipped up a Witch's Brew Punch.  Instead of serving it in a plain old punch bowl and cups, I used a pumpkin and mini pumpkin gourds.  I carved out a pumpkin and put my brew in it!  I was going for best decorated here, and I really wanted to win!  I also carved out a few mini pumpkin gourds and painted "blood" drooling from the top where I cut the tops off.  I completed the look with spooky black gauze, some festive fall leaves, spiders, bats, and a snake (all fake of course!).  But the one thing that I thought would really put me over the top, and hopefully sway the judges, was the dry ice I added to my Brew!  I would have added a bright red glow-stick as well (for an eerie red glow!) , but I knew the lighting at the party would be too bright for it to be effective.  Anyway, I was just sure my creativity would give me the win!  Ha!!! it turns out, I did win.  It was a win by default.  You see, I won because I was the only entrant in the contest!!!  Who would've guessed?!  A little competition would have made it more satisfying, but none the less it counts as a win in my book.  ;)

Here's my first place win in the 2008 Halloween Treat Decorating Contest...

Witch's Brew:
1 32oz Fruit Juicy Hawaiian Punch
1 2-liter 7-up
1 pint of sherbet  -  your choice of flavor
1 fairly large pumpkin (the round kind - not the tall variety)

It's nothing fancy, just your basic traditional party punch; just combine everything in your pumpkin and very carefully add some dry ice.  Yes!  The punch is perfectly safe to drink even though there is dry ice in long as the dry ice stays in the pumpkin.  When dry ice melts, it produces a gas (the steam).  It is not safe to allow dry ice to touch any part of your body, especially your mouth!!  Just keep it in the pumpkin and enjoy the swirls of steam in there.  Adult supervision is definitely needed if little ones are around.  Just to be sure nobody got hurt, I stayed with my display for the duration of the event.

Kitty Cat Cookies:
1 bag of skinny pretzel sticks
1 bag of mini M&Ms
1 bag walnut halves

Make your favorite full batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Immediately after removing the cookies from the oven, decorate each cookie with 4 skinny pretzel sticks for whiskers, 2 walnut halves for ears, a red mini M&M nose, and 2 green mini M&M eyes.  These cookies won't stack well at all, but the cute factor makes it worth while!

I cut out pumpkins from waxed paper to place the Kitty Cat Cookies on.  I didn't think they'd be too appetizing just sitting there on that gauzy fabric!  The guests were so polite, everybody made sure that it was ok before they took a cookie!  Well, of course it was ok!  And once it was clear that it was ok, the Kitty Cat Cookies did a major disappearing act!  I think I only brought a couple home (I held them back so my guys could have a couple later).  I originally started out with a batch of 60 or so.

My pumpkin gourd cups were just for looks.  In order to actually use them, the insides of the gourds would have needed a coating of paraffin just to be safe.  I served up the punch in good old fashioned solo cups (orange of course!).  The pumpkin punch bowl was not coated, but I did scrape out every piece of string, goo and seed.  I rinsed it several times to make sure nobody had a  "chunky" Brew! 

The kids were so cute!  There were so many adorable costumes (most of them were home made), I don't know how the judges made any decisions.  The Association had a photographer set up in a corner with bales of straw and pumpkins.  The grand prize Kids Costume Contest winner was a little guy who was made up to be a fireman.  He was walking around with a firetruck made from a cardboard box that night (steering wheel, bell and all!).  His cardboard firetruck was held up by suspenders over his shoulders.  It was really well designed, and he was so shy and cute!  Everybody had a good time, went home with candy, and had their bellies filled with Halloween goodies.

Have a very safe and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's a Wrap...Almost

Where did summer go?!  It seems as though it was just getting started.  Fall is definitely here to stay with its crispy air.  Most of my gardens have been nipped into dormancy, and are waiting for me to properly settle them into hibernation.  I always have mixed emotions about fall.  I adore the colors and the smell in the air.  Yet I am saddened to think that for the next 6 months everything will be just so...naked.  But for now there are glorious displays of golds, oranges and bright reds waiting to be noticed around every new turn.

I took this picture of a Marmo maple (Acer freemanii) on November 11, 2008

And this one on October 27, 2009 of the same tree.  It's kind of hard to tell the difference!

My beautiful Japanese Whitespire Birch (Betula platyphylla japonica) in a riot of bright gold.  I took this on October 21, 2009 just before it started raining.  (Sorry about the blurring on some of the branches, it was quite windy when I took this!) It rained for 3 straight days and nights, with even more wind.  The show's over now for this tree, or rather it's been relocated, as 99% of its leaves are now scattered across my lawn.  It makes such a pretty carpet!

The Bidens (Bidens ferulifolia), and Lobelias (Lobelia erinus) are still holding their own.  Even though they've stopped producing new blooms, the foliage and existing blooms are still looking pretty fresh.

I've also got a few cute little Callie Rose (Calibrachoa) blooms hanging on.

I just happened to look down at the rocks along the edge of one of my flower beds as I was walking my yard.  It was just too perfect not to photograph; all of the colors were arranged better than I could have done myself!

My Crimson Pygmy Barberry (Barberis thunbergii'Atropurpurea nana') has begun to prepare for winter too.

I found this leaf stuck to one of my benches and thought it had a very interesting pattern.  Sort of makes you think of camouflage doesn't it?

And my snapdragons are among the season finalists every year.  I have no idea what variety they are, they didn't have any plant tags when I purchased them.  :(

They're so pretty, I just don't have the heart to cut them down.  They're really much brighter in person.  The blooms are so deep and bright that they almost hurt your eyes to look at them in the sun.  I've really had amazing luck with these guys.  This snapdragon basket was drowned nearly to death when we had flooding this past June.  The entire basket went completely limp within a few hours.  I brought it into my garage hoping that it would perk up.  Whenever the weather was dry, I optimistically set it back outside again.  Nothing doing, it stayed limp, the soil stayed soaked, and eventually the leaves got crispy, but stayed green.  I set it back outside again after a month, thinking that it was a goner.  It rained again (of course!), and you'll never believe it.  In a couple of days there were all of these miraculous, tiny leaf sets popping up all over the stems!  (I really wish I knew what variety they are!)  I cut away the stems that didn't show any new growth, and found that I had lost half of my basket.  The remaining half filled in so nicely, and the new growth was just as gorgeous as the original!  Snapdragons truly should be called a resurrection plant.  I am planning to clip the spent blooms from this plant once they freeze, and dry them out.  Next spring I'll plant them in hopes that these seeds will give me beautiful color for another year.  Cross your fingers for me...


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Unplanned Excursion

Sometimes just when you aren't planning to go anywhere, you find yourself aboard a jet heading out of town.  One of my brothers suffered a heart attack while vacationing with his wife in Florida.  They were visiting their daughter, and we thank God that they were there.  He didn't have just any old heart attack.  No.  He went all-out and had himself a ventricular tachycardia.  That's a bad one, and I learned that only 5% of the people who suffer this actually survive!  My SIL used to be a nurse, and my niece is a physician.  The only better place my brother could have been when it struck him, would have been the ER.  They literally saved his life.  Well, after just over a week, and a few bumps along the way, everything's just fine now and he's even been released from the hospital.  He's a real trooper, and has gone above and beyond what his medical team has asked of him.  I don't know which guardian angel watches over him, but he's got a good one!

I want to add that my brother is in excellent physical condition, eats very sensibly, and runs between 7 and 11 miles every day.  He has just had a complete physical and during that visit, his doctor told him that he was in such good condition that he did not need a stress test.  He was planning to enter a half-marathon in the next few weeks, and wanted to be completely checked out prior to running.  It looks as though he'll need to put that off for a little while.  Although one of the attending physicians did say that he should be able to begin running again in the next month or two. (!!!!!)  I think he needs to get a really good pair of running shoes for his guardian angel before he does anything like this.

I didn't take many photos while I was there.  Our time was spent at either my niece's house or the hospital, but I did see a couple of things that caught my eye while while I was there.  My mother and I flew to a location about a hundred miles from my niece's.  Sometimes airlines don't offer good flight times (or rates!) for smaller cities.  We rented a car and drove the rest of the way.

Along the way I spotted this vintage gas station sign that had a couple of gas pumps by it.  I wonder how much gas cost on the day these pumps were last used...

And then just past the pumps there was a Navy jet mounted on a pedestal.  I didn't look at the plaque, but I wish I had.  (We were in a hurry to get to the hospital.)  At first I thought that object under the wing was artillery of some sort, but learned that it's a fuel pod.

Till next time...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Local Pieces of Americana

Been thinking about the farm quite a bit lately.  I guess it's because it's harvest time.  I don't know why, but I always liked the smell of fall.  There is a certain scent around a field when the corn is being picked that I can't really explain.  And I like it!

All of this thinking caused me to get out my pictures for a good looking-over.  So I thought that as long as I have them already out, I'd share some of them with you.  There are so many things about that little corner of the world that are endearing.

If you drive through town too fast (and most out-of-towners tend to), you won't get to see what may be the biggest oak tree in the entire state.  We've often wondered how old it is.  Taking into consideration the slow growth rate of oaks, our best guess is that it must be over a hundred years.  This oak is so big, that it took me, my son, my mother, and my father to encircle its trunk!!!  I swear one of these days I'm going to bring a tape measure.  Just for reference: my son is 5'10.

Each one of its limbs (and there are many!) are big enough to make a large tree all by themselves.  It's truly a beautiful tree, and I'm very pleased that it is quite healthy.  I've tried for years to figure out an angle where I can actually fit the whole tree into my picture.  Here's the view from underneath...or at least as much of the oak as I could fit in my lens.

If you travel a little ways out of town, you'll come to this cozy little town with a population of....2.  Yep, that's not a typo.  There are 2 people in town.  And this is a place I make sure to visit every time I'm Down Home.  Wouldn't miss it.  You see, this little town is called Moonshine.  And if you're ever in the Moonshine vicinity, I would very highly recommend that you stop by the Moonshine Store.  Now, I know what you're far as I know, the strongest drink they serve is Birch Beer (Mmm!)  It's a cousin to root beer, without the hops, barley or malt.

Moonshine has THE BEST hamburgers in the world!  If you do get there, you might want to be on time.  Helen closes up her grill promptly at 12:30pm.  They only serve grilled food for an hour and a half Mon through Sat.  The last time we were there, they served up over 1,000 hamburgers.  Think about that for just a minute....Over. One. Thousand. Hamburgers. In. 90. Minutes.  Absolutely astounding.  They do serve several items on their menu, but that was the total for just the hamburgers served.  And they're priced right; 3 burgers, 3 bags of chips and 3 bottles of pop for $16.00.

Several miles to the north, you'll find another small town that offers a business with an unusual way of advertising...and I might add that it's really big.

There's a dirt track nearby...lots of fun, where the boys (and sometimes the girls!) are guaranteed to give you your money's worth!

I guess these things are just slices of Americana.  Things that we've all driven by in passing.  I try to take in all of these little things, and whenever I can, I take the old State Routes instead of the Interstates.  Yeah, it takes longer, but you get to enjoy more of our country.  And if you take a little extra time, you'll definitely get to meet some genuine characters along your way!