When Mother Nature wreaks havoc, make a wreath

The day before Thanksgiving, Mother Nature gave the northeastern US a large dose of heavy snow. It was so thick and sticky that the trees all bowed their limbs under its weight.

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Some were strong and resilient; but many succumbed to their white, fluffy burden and snapped- leaving some without power and many with a lot of cleanup. Fortunately, neither of those happened to me, but my neighbors had piles of pine branches lined up at the curb.

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What a shame to let them go to waste.

At this time of year, I usually support the local farm and buy a decorative wreath to hang on my door. This year, I decided to make the best out of the messy situation and do some recycling instead. I grabbed my clippers and carefully cut select boughs from the discarded limbs. Then I clipped some wild bittersweet and sumac from the nearby bushes and snipped some holly and tall grasses from my garden. I meticulously tied them together with garden twine and added a red felt bow I had saved from last year.

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My apologies to anyone who thinks the perfect wreath looks something like this;

 

but I am very pleased with my handmade, salvaged from nature, symbol of the seasons. Happy Holidays!

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A cozy fall night

Here we are, the week before Halloween,  cozied up in the family room with a fire in the fireplace and the world series on tv. Nothing seems more of an indication of fall than the smell of the wood burning, the sounds of baseball in the background and the taste of apple cobbler in our mouths. With the freeze warning we have in place, I went out and cut the last few flowers from my garden: dahlias, chrysanthemums, roses, cleomes and marigolds. There is one pumpkin that has cultivated on our vine which we may be able to carve out next week. I harvested my basil crop and made a batch of pesto. Branches of oregano and rosemary are hanging up to dry and the cold frame has been installed so we can continue to collect lettuce and swiss chard until Thanksgiving.
Everything has a season, and that is good. We all need a time to sit and be cozy with our thoughts- especially after a busy and productive summer. I hope you all can take some time to relax and enjoy the tastes, smells and sounds of the season.

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A Sweet Start

L’Shanah Tovah! It’s Rosh Hashanah and time to start the new year. As we cast aside our regrets, apologize for our mistakes and set new goals for the coming year we will celebrate the abundance of the season with sweet treats. Typically this has involved dipping apples, which we picked from a local orchard, into honey we purchased at the farmers market.

This year, however, we have not yet gone apple picking. I am too excited by the organic peaches and plums that the local farms are now selling. For this reason, I was very pleased to read about a new take on the Rosh Hashanah tradition (reprinted from the Chicago Tribune in my hometown newspaper). The author, Laura Frankel, suggested that it was perfectly acceptable to celebrate with another type of sweet fruit. Especially if it was one you could only get at this time of year .

Farm fresh peaches and plums for the new year treat

Farm fresh peaches and plums for the new year treat

Lucky for me then. I had just purchased a quart of what my grandmother called Svechuan plums. I think you would identify them as prune plums. They are oblong and less juicy as well as more tart than regular round plums.They only are available in September and my grandmother used them to bake pies she called Svechuan Kuchen. I fondly remember sitting around the table with my extended family while we each had a slice or two of pie. Of course, my grandma always served it with ice cold freshly whipped  cream.

So, now that I feel affirmed to expand the holiday tradition because of the author’s suggestion, I plan to bake a plum creation of my own – a Svechuan Buckle. I will probably throw in a peach and some raspberries from my own garden to make sure it is moist. And a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top will make it the perfect sweet dessert for our new year celebration.

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If this photo made you wish you could share a piece with us, I included the recipe below. Enjoy!

Svechuan plum buckle   all crisp and golden on top

Svechuan plum buckle all crisp and golden on top

Svechuan Plum Buckle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I was setting up my deck last weekend, getting ready for a summerful of barbecues- kicking off this weekend with some friends and fried clams. I saw a huge hole at the top of my umbrella. Not a good thing to have in something supposed to protect you from the elements. I did what most of us would do, I checked my local stores for a replacement and when that failed, I went online to find the custom size I needed.

The cheapest model I could find would have been over $200 with shipping. Besides, I wasn’t sure how sturdy and reliable it would be. Our old umbrella has survived for 4 years and owes us nothing, but it really worked well and would be hard to replace. My husband started to dismantle it for the trash and discovered that the under layer was undamaged. It was only the top piece (18″x26″) that was torn.

Now I had a reusable solution in front of me. Instead of taking the umbrella to the landfill, I went to Joanne’s Fabrics and bought 1 sq. yd of Sunbrella fabric for about $10. I also bought a pillow form as I anticipated leftover material. When I got home, I took out my Singer sewing machine and got to work. In just over an hour, I had created a replacement top to my umbrella. My husband fitted a grommet on the top (coming up with that was a project of his own) and our umbrella was back in business. The next day, I made a matching pillow with the remnant fabric so that the furniture looks like a set.

Where did you get that awesome set of deck furniture?

Where did you get that awesome set of deck furniture?

The only part torn was the tan colored top. Don't you think this one looks better?

The only part torn was the tan colored top. Don’t you think this one looks better?

Now you may think that was pretty savvy of me, but it really seems like a natural thing to do. When I described my project to my mother she made me laugh by recalling one of my earliest “reduce, reuse, recycle” projects:

I was probably about 17 and I had a favorite pair of leather slippers. Over time, the insides had worn thin or torn. They no longer provided the warm, cozy feeling one would want in a pair of slippers. The leather soles were still in fine shape and I saw no reason to throw them out, especially given the cost of replacing them. I went to my local craft store and bought some fluffy faux fur for a few bucks. I tore out the old lining and stitched in the new one. I think those slippers lasted me another 8 years.

I still crack a little smile thinking about that project. But it is thanks to my resourceful parents and grandparents that I saw the value of saving things, by fixing and reusing them. From my grandparents I learned how to pickle and preserve food when my garden produces an excess. My grandmother and aunt taught me how to sew, which has allowed me to make everything from baby blankets to Halloween costumes. My parents showed me how to grow flowers and vegetables and instilled a sense of not wasting things. My sisters and I still like to tease our mother for saving wrapping paper to use over again.

This is a strong testament to how a family passes on its values from generation to generation. So even though I didn’t live through the wartime rationing, the energy crisis of the 1970’s made an impression on me. Nowadays, my own children are part of the generation to recycle waste and shop locally. They are both creative in their own ways, so maybe in a few more years it will become apparent how our family values manifest themselves as my children become adults. For now, I’ll just keep doing what I do and enjoy the sense of satisfaction of another successful project that saved both money and waste.

BTW, this pillow is more comfy than any of the store-bought ones. It will be my favorite spot to sit this summer!

BTW, this pillow is more comfy than any of the store-bought ones. It will be my favorite spot to sit this summer!

Mother’s Day Regret

If there was ever a holiday that was set up to make people feel badly, it is Mother’s Day. With the incessant commercials and advertisements running on tv, the internet and the papers, we are all being brain-washed to expect or feel obligated to celebrate a day created by retailers. When I was growing up, we disdainfully called this a “Hallmark holiday”.

I’ve tried repeatedly to remind myself of this fact. Instead, I remember the precious spontaneous moments when my child made a Freudian slip and said “love you”; or thanked me for staying home to care for him when he was sick. However, at this time every year, the lilac bush- which my children once gave me as a mother’s day gift simply because they knew how pleased I would be- bears the fragrant yet bittersweet reminders of a time when they were young enough to fall under the spell of motherly love.

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Now it seems they do everything possible to break the mold:  by either completely ignoring the day or blatantly offering favors or expressions of love to their dad, instead of me, on mother’s day. It is enough to break my composure and bring a few tears to my eye. Why should I feel so badly, I tell myself, because they choose to make a political statement (similar to the one my sisters and I launched on the company that shared our family name)? Why does it feel like a personal attack?

To  hide my feelings of disappointment I do the opposite. I go online and email a gift to my own mother- even though I know she agrees with me on the principle and we exchanged our own expressions of love and appreciation yesterday (and at least once a week throughout the year). I try to sit with my husband, who is taking a break from mowing the lawn to watch some golf. Unfortunately every break is loaded with sappy commercials and then, to make matters worse, a sob story about the mother of one of the golfers comes on. It is too much to take. I flee the house, hop on my bike and try to escape it all- even for a few minutes.

Now my husband has run out to the store to buy groceries for dinner. I almost wish he wouldn’t. At this point, I no longer think it is his responsibility to serve me on mother’s day. It should be between me and my children. If they have somehow managed to escape the song of the Sirens, I should be thankful for their strength to withstand the commercialization of an absurd idea- that there is only one mother’s day…

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The Magic of the Beach

  In four more days my kids will be done with school and we will be heading to the Jersey shore. No, not the raunchy version that we see on tv. We stay on a family friendly island where wild nightlife means riding the roller coasters or double shot. And there are no bars to visit in the evening, instead we hit the ice cream parlor for our favorite sundaes. If you want to gamble, you’d have to go to Atlantic City- or pull out the cards and chips for a family game of poker. The days are spent building sand castles or boogie boarding and the evenings are for lacrosse and sunset walks on the beach. Even though there are wi-fi and cable tv, the kids are more likely to pull out a board game or walk to get ice cream. Something about the salty air and the sound of the waves makes us all relax.

The scramble to get packed in a few short days and the long drive to get there, will be worth it once we cross the bridge with our windows rolled down so we can catch our first breath of the ocean. Something in our senses connects that smell with eating cotton candy or salt water taffy, relaxing on the warm sand or floating in the buoyant water.  The memories have compounded over the many years we have gone to the same beach. We have our traditions built in. We already know what activities we will do and where we will eat and sleep. The order or frequency does not matter, as long as they are all covered.

I have my pile of books at the ready. I plan to bring them down to our spot and relax under the umbrella. If the waves don’t put me to sleep, and I have time to read between swimming and walking on the beach,  I hope to finish at least one book by the time we leave.

My husband is preparing his fishing gear. He loves to get up early and throw his line in, hoping to catch dinner. Success is not his goal, though. It is the seduction of the waves, the unexpected tug on the line, the uncertainty of whether it will be a striper, a sand shark or a shoe. Any catch is a good one.

The kids have their lacrosse sticks and boogie boards for some fun beach activities. At some point they will probably decide they are not too old to build sandcastles and will take on the challenge of defending their fortress against the tide. Long ago I passed on the sand castle building techniques which my father had taught me. They know how to look for the biggest clam shell as a shovel and how to dig a trench so they can dribble muddy droplets through their fingers for a more gothic look on the facade.

We will bring our kayak along so we can paddle down to the pier or if a pod of dolphins happens by we can quickly jump in and follow along. In the past we have had the fortune to see them fishing within a few feet of us, diving underneath our kayak and popping up on the other side. It is a more memorable experience than visiting Sea World.

Shell collecting, especially in the ungroomed areas of the beach, almost always results in unusual finds. Horseshoe crabs, seagull feathers, sea glass, and lost trinkets will wash up along the high tide line. There are long strands of seaweed that have little  pockets of air.  They are every kid’s favorite ocean treasure because they are fun to pop!  On our beach walks, there have been two occasions where we came upon a crowd of people assisting a beached whale. Once, a family member helped carry it to the truck bed on which it could be driven to a rehab facility.

Jelly fish and crabs are the only creatures to avoid in the water; but I humourously remember the days of shark sightings when I was a kid, the year that Jaws was released. Most of the evacuations were caused by paranoid adults who were totally spooked by Steven Spielberg. Anything floating in the water or touching their leg was considered to be a shark. After that summer, I decided to never see the movie, lest it spoil my enjoyment of swimming carefree in the surf.

When my kids were young, I spent a lot of time playing on the beach or in the waves with them. Now they are old enough to wander the beach without me. They can come and go between the house, the beach, the roaming ice cream truck and the hoagie shop. No one has to be on a schedule and everyone can relax or have fun in their own way. The beach casts a different spell over everyone; but it provides a type of magical therapy for all.

Appearance Matters

It seems to have become an annual tradition that the week before Memorial Day, we spruce up our outdoor spaces. The threat of frost has passed, the gardens are in bloom and we are ready to kick off some barbecues. Before we do though, our chores include weeding and mulching the gardens; as well as power washing the decks and siding and repainting the cedar furniture and deck.

Instead of seeing a dried out, tangled patch of assorted plants running amok, we now have  a weedfree garden, freshly covered in dark wood chips and bursting with purple orange and pink flowers. The difference in appearance is stunning!

   

Likewise, washing the cumulative dirt, leaves and cobwebs off the front porch and slapping a fresh coat of cheery almond stain on the rocking chairs and tables makes the space much more appealing- especially when I add the new throw pillows and a hanging geranium.

The work is time-consuming and sometimes messy, but the results are well worth it. Because I know what is involved, I dig out my sneakers with the rubber treads wearing off , a baggy pair of shorts which I don’t normally wear but saved for chores like this, and an old t-shirt already decorated with paints of blue, yellow and gray from earlier projects.

By the time I am finished with the front porch furniture, I have smears and speckles of color on my arms and legs. There is even a section of my hair that is clumped together by dried paint. I don’t mind, though. I have been working hard and these marks are proof of that. Besides, I am so happy with the results of my efforts that I decide to keep going and tackle the even bigger project on the deck.

Unfortunately, we are out of stain and I will need to go out for more. I look at my spotted arms and legs, the stains on my shirt and the stiff clump of miscolored hair. I would never consider going to the grocery store like this. With my baggy, unflattering shorts, my sweat-soaked shirt and messy hair I cringe to imagine what people would think if they saw me.

I know it would be a waste of time to shower and change, only to come back and resume painting, so I decide to wear this outfit with pride. Recognizing my smears, stains and unfashionable clothing as the attire of a DIY painter in the middle of a project helped me see my appearance in a different light. After all, I was going to Lowes. Wouldn’t half the people there look like me?

As you can guess, no one gave me a second look or raised an eyebrow. It was obvious I was just coming in for more supplies for my deck project. Going out dressed like this should never have been an issue in the first place. Why should appearance matter so much?

Anyway, I returned home and resumed painting my deck furniture. The new coat of stain hid all the chips, cracks and layers of color the pieces had acquired over a dozen years.

       

They are well-made  adirondack style chairs and now they look as good as new. Once the deck gets its touch-up, I’ll be able to arrange the potted flowers and tiki torches and make it look very inviting. Soon I will be ready to entertain guests and kick off the barbecue season.

I guess that means I better freshen up my pedicure. It is one thing to go to Lowes looking disheveled, but I could never look like that when I have guests. Besides, after all that hard work, don’t my nails deserve equal treatment of a fresh coat of paint? Then it will really feel like summer!

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