Sunday, February 24, 2013

Diggin Dirt

What an awesome Sunday. The weatherman said we were suppose to get some nasty weather and we did get some off and on on Saturday, but today was beautiful. It was a little too chilly to be out this morning which was just fine with me. Gave me a chance to take a good cup of coffee up into the studio and work on another one of my "50 Things in my 50th Year" list; write an e-book. I've been writing on it for a while now and I'm happy with the way it's coming together. Can't wait to share it with all of you.

I worked  upstairs most of the morning but I kept looking out the window and seeing the sun touching the trees and I just had to get out in the dirt. I'm so glad I did. Signs of Spring were everywhere. The buds on the lilac are swelling...

 ...and I could see that another warm day or two and the flowering crab and cherry will be dressed in beautiful spring blossoms.

Even the little daffodils and hyacinth are pushing up through the dirt in the patio planters...


I have a plumb tree right out the living room window that is generally the one that blooms first. It's always my indication that Spring has officially arrived. And it always catches me by surprise. I'll be going along, rushing out the door to work, coming home late and then all of the sudden I'll look out the window and there it is; my lovely plumb tree covered in pink masses of delicate blossoms.

My yard in February sometimes overwhelms me. I look around at all that needs to be done and get to thinking that I need to do it all. And do it all right NOW. I'm trying to lighten up and stop doing that. So, today I concentrated on cleaning out the planter along the drive way. It's a 40' section that has two tiers of planting area. The top row has always had roses in it and the bottom was filled with sweet strawberries that the slugs just loved. I decided that this year I would use that area to its fullest potential and do some square foot gardening. The entire area gets really good sun so things should grow very well there.

It took me a while to work the soil and get rid of all the blackberry vines that were taking over. It felt so good with the sun on my back and the smell of fresh turned soil. The time I spend out in the dirt is like a  meditation to me. It's so calming to hear the birds in the trees, breathe the crisp air and turn the soil as I envision the wonderful variety of fresh veggies I'm going to grow. The memory of the rich flavor of a warm tomato, fresh from my Grandmother's garden makes me excited to do the labor it takes to grow my own. Nothing like digging a little dirt to put your mind at ease and ground you. Makes it easier to face the coming week and all that it holds.

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead,

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mary Jane's Casserole

In our family, and in many others I'm sure, we have family food traditions. If someone died, Mom took "Funeral Potatoes". If you were sick, you got buttered toast quartered into triangles (I think I still believe that toast cut that way instead of right down the center has some magic healing ability). Thanksgiving was always turkey and Easter was ham with Mom's brown sugar glaze. It's just the way thing work. And that's why, every February, I looked forward to my birthday and another family food tradition; Mary Jane's Casserole and Angel Food cake with pink cherry frosting.

Our birthdays were the one day of the year that we got to pick our favorite dinner. I don't even remember where the recipe came from or how old I was when I first asked for it, but my birthday dinner was Mary's Casserole (which we promptly renamed "Mary Jane's Casserole" in honor of my Mom). I realize now that I must have been an odd kid. When I could have had burgers or pizza, it was a chicken and broccoli casserole I wanted. My mom always made it for me when I lived at home or close by but since I'm 7 hours away, it's up to me to make it for my special day.

A few birthdays ago she gave me this awesome gift....

It's a great 3 ring binder filled with all our favorite family recipes and the fact that every recipe is written out in her hand makes it even more special...

This casserole is so easy that I don't know why I only fix it once a year. It's good if you make it the night before and put it in the fridge for the next day. And it's even better if you can get your Mom to drive 7 hours and make it for you!

What you'll need:

3 large chicken breasts (you can also use canned chicken and it works just as well)
3 packages of frozen chopped broccoli
3 10 oz cans of Cream of Chicken soup
1 cup Miracle Whip (you can use Mayo)
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Poultry Season
1 box or bag of seasoned bread cubes for stuffing
1 cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Spread broccoli in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.

Cook chicken breasts (I bake mine but you could boil or fry them), cube into bite sized pieces and layer on top of the broccoli...

In a small bowl, mix the soup, Miracle Whip, lemon juice and Poultry Season until well blended. I added a bit of curry to this one, but I think I like it better with just the Poultry Season.

...spread evenly over the top of the chicken layer.

Spread stuffing mix over the top of the soup mix. I used this mix, but I like the seasoned bread cubes better...

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour until hot and bubbly. Remove from oven and spread cheese on top...

Return to oven until cheese is just melted. About 5 minutes. Dish up and enjoy. Soooooo good....

I actually took my birthday off this year and got to stay home and write and play with the dogs, so by the time Ken got home, I had this cooking away in the oven. While I was waiting for it to come out, my sweet husband drew me a bubble bath to soak in. I came out to find the last part of my traditional birthday dinner. An Angel Food cake with cherry frosting that he had frosted all on his own.

And a single candle to mark 50 years. It was the perfect birthday dinner. Nothing fancy, just good home cooked food from my child hood shared with the love of my life. Yep, pretty much perfect.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Turning 50...

Today is my 50th Birthday. To be honest, I have no idea how I got here. Seems like just last year I was 16. And I thought 50 year old women were OLD. Funny how your perspective changes when you're the one that's suddenly 50.

I'm not too proud to admit that this landmark birthday has bothered me. As it loomed closer, I found myself in a tailspin. I wasn't looking at this as a good thing at all, but rather the beginning of the end. I had all of these things I wanted to do and time was running out. I think I even gave up a bit, feeling overwhelmed and having my own little pity party.

But then, I decided to change all of that. I needed to challenge myself. Find things that would make me feel more alive than ever before. Step out of my comfort zone and take the chance of failing knowing that if there was anything I had learned in the past 50 years, it was that I was fully capable of picking myself up, dusting myself off and getting on with getting on.

So this is what I did. I wrote a list of 50 things I would like to do/see/accomplish/conquer/experience in my 50th year. From January 1st of this year to February 19th of next, I am going to challenge myself to make my life a richer experience. I'm excited about it. So excited that I've told several people my plan. And I've had two negative comments that have made my resolve even deeper. "Pretty ambitious aren't you? (Said with a smirk and that look that said she thought I was full of beans) and "Well, that will never happen" when I said that I had plans of being a writer and eventually being able to leave my day job.  (And this from someone who has never read a single thing I've written. So really, how in the world would she know?!)

Now normally, I take those comments to heart somehow thinking that these people must see something in me that I don't and that they must know better than I do that I won't succeed. But there's just something about turning that magic age of 50 that makes me think that I can do anything I want to and the only person that has to believe it is ME. And I do believe it.

So, back to my list. The 50 things that are on my list are are a huge random mix. Big things, little things and things that wouldn't mean a thing to anyone but me. And, only a month and a half into my venture, I've managed to mark several things off that list. One of my biggest was my goal of getting 50,000 views on this blog. I thought it would take a while, but one morning I woke up to find that one of my posts was picked up by a larger site and by January 29th I hit that goal. And since then have far exceeded it. Other things I've marked off? Visit San Francisco, go over the Golden Gate, see a real orange tree, road trip with my youngest son...feels so good mark them off my list and treasure the experience of each of them.

I'm looking forward to my 50th year and the years to follow. I haven't shaken the feeling of time running out, but somehow I think that's a good thing. It's made me step out and do things NOW. I'm not waiting any longer and I'm not going to be afraid to take off on an adventure. I refuse to let the opinion of someone who doesn't know a thing about me color my passion and desire to be a writer. I feel free to do and be what I want. And that feeling of adventure and freedom more than make up for the wrinkles, gray hair and jowls that have marked my 50th year!

Feeling very blessed and loved on this beautiful birthday,

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Vintage Valentine Treasures

I love Valentines Day. Could be because my birthday is in February so I consider it "my" holiday, but I think much of it is because it's a day filled with love and a day dedicated to telling others how much we love them. Hopeless Romantic. That's me. Turns out that it's also my grandma.

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother always had fancy candy boxes tucked here and there. She was most defiantly a sugar grandma. She loved her candies. But there was something about these heart shaped boxes decorated with ribbons and trims that even as a young child I knew were special. The candy that they held long gone, she still kept the boxes. They were always there in the bedroom or tucked on a shelf and I can say in all those years, I never asked why she kept them or even bothered to look inside.

Then, a few years back, as my sweet grandmother entered the last years of her long life, we had to go in and clean things out to prepare the house for sale. It was such a sad, hard thing to do for all involved and I couldn't help but think how I would feel if I were the one that wasn't able to care for myself and had no control over people (even if it was family) going through my things. It broke my heart.

When we got around to the pile of candy boxes, something made me look inside. Many were empty, but every one had a note jotted inside in her familiar script telling who gave her the candies and when. Two of the candy boxes held small treasures and as I sifted through the contents I was thrilled to find that she was a hopeless romantic just like me. And very sentimental.

In my mind my grandma was, well, a grandma. Her whole life involved loving on grand-kids, gardening, cleaning and cooking, making sure we all had enough baked goodies to keep us happy. But the day I opened up this Valentine heart......

...I found out that she was also a woman. My grandpa Frank had passed away from cancer in April of 1962, leaving my grandmother alone since both her boys were in the service. I hate to admit that I don't know much about how she and grandpa met or when they married. I do know that after he passed she worked very hard at the local bakery and, as far as I knew, didn't even look at another man until the 1970's when she married Grandpa Mulkey.

But looking though this small collection of treasures, I was thrilled to find that for a period of time in her 50's she was a girl in love. It was a side of my grandma that I had never seen. This heart shaped lace and ribbon trimmed box was filled to the brim with cards, photos of a man I had never seen before and matchbooks with her own little notes...

"Matches he left at the house Dec.18, 1967" and "Left this last night Feb. 25, 1968. He had dinner here...". There were even empty cigarette packages with little slips of paper. My favorite? "I love him so very much. Left this at the house May 22, 1968. We had a wonderful time just talking for hours."

I have several photos of my grandma at all stages at her life, but out of all of them, this is one of my very favorite....

 I found it tucked in the bottom of the box along with a few other photos that she treasured. There she is, as cute as can be in her bakery uniform, a 50 some year old woman so in love that it radiates from her. Around the edge she had written "1967 at 1:45 in the afternoon talking to Bud." Such a beautiful picture of the loving soul that was my grandmother.

I treasure this little box of love and it makes me smile to know how much like her that I am. When I'm gone, my children will find box after box of little love notes that Ken and I have written to each other that I can't bear to throw away. I hope that they sit and read them and feel the love that I had for my sweet husband and marvel at the fact that in my 40's I became a giddy girl in love. The back of this little valentine box of my grandma's sums up the way I feel about the love of my life...

..."how I love that guy, no one will ever know." I've never loved anyone like I love my husband. I like to think that when people see us together they know that we have something very special between us. I'm still amazed that the Universe saw fit to bless me with a man who knows me better than I know myself at times and loves me regardless of my shortcomings.

Wishing you all much love on this Valentines Day. And if you happen to be without a valentine this year, I'm here to let you know without a doubt that it's never to late to find love. My grandma and I are proof positive of that...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Spring Color

By the time the New Year rolls around, my Christmas decor is looking a bit tired, has lost its sparkle and needs to go. There is just something about January that makes me want to pack away, clean up, toss out and start fresh. But, after clearing away the layers of lights, glitter and greens that make up my holiday home, the place looks....well....bare.

I've been thinking of what to do for Spring for a while now. This is the first year in several that I haven't had a retail store to decorate and I can put my creative energy into our home. One of the downsides to having my own little shop was that I could never just live in the season and enjoy it; while Christmas was up I was planning for Spring. Spring was spent planning for Summer. Summer for Fall and then it was the Christmas season all over again (which I had planned out sometime in the summer!).  I loved that this year I actually enjoyed my Christmas decor and wasn't spending my time stressing about what to do when I pulled it all down.

I know it's still Winter, but I just wanted some Spring color to get me through until Spring officially gets here. One of the things that I've done with our decor is to keep the "foundation" pieces of our home fairly neutral and solid colored making it easy to make a few changes in accessories to get a totally different look for each season. Our walls are painted a rich latte color with a ton of white trim and wainscot to set it off. I've painted the mantle and built-in book cases on the west wall a dramatic black and I've added a blue chaise and a brown sofa cover until I can save enough for a new sofa. The great thing about a sofa cover is that it hides a multitude of sins (like big pink mauve flowers and threadbare cushions) on a tight budget.

All of my other colors I've pulled from my favorite focal piece, this clock...

I've always loved the blues and the brown and cream colors in the clock, but my eye kept being drawn to the orange. I have NEVER been an orange person. EVER. But all of the sudden, I had to have it in my home. I think I might have to blame my son Jake for this one. He loves orange and found this great leather chair at Goodwill...

Not only is it oh so comfortable, but there is just something about the orange color that I'm crazy about (seems that Boris likes it too).  I also love birds and nests (is there anyone who doesn't?) and flowers. I wanted a combination of all of that for my Spring decor so I started looking and thrifting.

Jake started me off  by surprising me with a gift of two new throw pillows. Both have a nice cream colored background. One with a black bird in a cage and other with an awesome blue bird on it. I just love them. The color was perfect for my room but my other pillows were my winter color and needed to go. Ever the "shoe-string budget girl" I came up with an inexpensive solution and a way to add some great orange accent. A $3.99 target place mat, some stuffing and a needle and thread and before you can say "that beats a $40 Pottery Barn pillow cover!" we had this...

For my mantle, I decided that keeping it light with some ivory accents and a touch of gold and moss green would be the way to go. I got into my stash of spring things and pulled out some silk flower left overs from my shop. I spent one afternoon making a huge arrangement of spring flowers and pulling different items to add to my display. While I was working to get just the right look, Boris Von Tuttle (yes, that really is the cat's name. Jake is known for giving his cats names bigger than they are. Case in point? One of his childhood cats was named "Tubby Irvine Jack Jawan". Strange child, but I love him...) decided that the whole thing needed a feline touch...

I wasn't really sold on the idea. Birds and Cats? Not really a good mix in my experience. Turns out that the whole big floral arrangement idea wasn't a popular one. While I was at work, Boris and the Schnauzers decided it needed to go. Boris knocked it off the mantle and Oso and Miso had a hey day tearing it to shreds. Ok, I got it, no flower arrangement on the mantle.

I finally settled on this....


I had actually found two pottery pieces that were the perfect color and had them sitting in the display. Just needed to put something in a frame and it would have been done. That is until we woke up to a loud crash. Boris strikes again. Came out to a big pile of pottery dust. That cat can be such a decor critic.

The poppies were a little bush I had picked up years ago for a shop display and  you can't tell from the photo, but my collection of old metal frames hold some great decorative paper. And, of course, there had to be a little bird in the mix. The last thing was quick trip to St. Vinnies book section to pull a little more orange and blue in. Might add a few other things but, for the most part, I like it.

The last thing I did was to pick up and Ikea throw on Ebay. I wasn't sure I was going to like that much orange but took a chance. Against the teal blue of the chaise and with the bird and flower pillow, the combination is...

...WOW. For someone who has spent several years in Neutral Nirvana, this bright pop of color is a huge change. But I like it. I like it a lot. Such a happy color to get us through a damp and gray winter to Spring!

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