Friday, September 4, 2015

For Love of Figs

It’s late summer, and that means one thing to me: figs.

Figs are my favorite fresh fruit. Two weekends ago, a friend invited me over to pick figs from her trees, and I happily took her up on her offer. She has no idea what kind they are; she inherited the trees when she bought her house. After a bit of research, I identified them as Celeste figs. They are a small fig but quite sweet when you let them ripen sufficiently.

My favorites – and the sweetest to my palate -- are black mission. I wish I could grow that variety, but they don’t do well here in the American South.

People ask me what I do with figs, and I tend to reply, “Eat them.” Duh. Figs are so seriously good that eating them out of hand is the absolute best way to enjoy their flavor. But you have to wait until they are perfectly ripe, bordering on overripe. Sitting out on the counter, they get that way fairly quickly.

I also enjoy figs for breakfast. A few sliced figs, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, and a swirl of honey creates a bowl full of joy.

I also adore fig preserves. Aforementioned friend and her mother put up several pints of homemade fig preserves, and I was the happy recipient of a jar. Scrumptious on a spoon!

However, in case you are the type to want more options, here’s a link to a Pinterest search page in which I looked for fig recipes. Just for you.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Birdsong at Night

I'm sitting in our cabin here in Maine, listening to birdsong. That's not unusual, except that it's fully dark, almost 9 PM, and I'm sipping a nice Cabernet, not my morning cup of coffee.

I love wild birds. I love feeding them, watching them, identifying them, and listening to them. My daughters once shared my delight and awe, but now they are teenagers and not much delights or awes them any longer. It's quite sad. But I remain hopeful that once they get past this stage (which has its own delights, I assure you), they'll return to those things that once bright them joy.

The bird I hear now is a hermit thrush. I've been enjoying listening to them for years here in Maine. I never hear them down South. They have a very unique and lovely song; it's intricate, whereas some birdsongs are quite simple. And there's a unique whirring aspect to parts of it.

I first learned about hermit thrushes a few years ago when the girls and I visited Birdsacre and the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary, a wonderful house museum and bird sanctuary in Ellsworth, Maine. There we learned about the life and vocation of Cordelia J. Stanwood, a 19th century pioneer ornithologist and photographer whose passion was birds. We enjoyed out tour of the house and the girls got to help the volunteer feed the birds that live there. Our favorites were the sawwhet owls.

As a memento, I purchase a biography of Cordelia, written by Chandler S. Richmond and titled Beyond the Spring. Frankly, I did not hold out much hope for a well-written book. So I was pleasantly surprised at the engaging style of Richmond's prose. And what a story, too! More to the point of this post, however, is her deep admiration for the hermit thrush. She wrote:

“When the thrush speaks to me, it seems as if the rags and tatters that enshroud my soul fall away and leave it naked. Then I must be simple and true or I cannot feel the message the small voice brings to me. When the thrush sings, I desire to live in a small, scrupulously neat camp, open to the sun and the wind and the voices of the birds. I would like to spend eternity thus, listening to the song of the thrush.”

My response to the thrush's song isn't quite as strong, but I do love it. Here's a link to the hermit thrush page at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. You can see photos of this bird and, more importantly, listen to recordings of its song. And here's a link to the hermit thrush page on the Audubon website. Excellent recordings of its song are down lower on the page. Prepare to be charmed. And the next time you hear a bird singing at night, think of the hermit thrush.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Perils of Getting Dressed

A while ago, I posted on Facebook this plaint: “All I want is a white, scoop-neck tee shirt that isn’t see-through. Is that too much to ask?”

Apparently I’m not the only woman my age with such desires because I got a lot of responses. Some suggested stores I’d already checked with no luck; others suggested stores at which I do not typically shop. I checked an online store a friend recommended and found such tees in various colors – including white – and on sale. Shazam.

I’m not a clothes person. I mean, I wear them so I won’t get arrested and also to cover up the awful things time is doing to my body. But I’m not a fashionista, and I don’t like shopping for clothes. All that searching through racks, taking off my clothes in hideously cramped and ill-lit dressing rooms, trying on multiple items that disappoint. . . Yuck.

I don’t like to think about clothes much either. Lately I’ve been drawn to the minimalist wardrobe approach that’s sprung up on the internet. The capsule wardrobe, the 10-piece wardrobe, the French woman’s guide to fashion, etc. And I like the concept behind these as well. Why should I waste my “creative energy” on worrying about what I’m going to wear every day? Who needs the stress?

But these approaches have limitations. For example, I find I want to have more than just a black and white closet, a la fran├žaise. I don’t do much accessorizing, so rounding out with handbags, headbands, and other colorful accountrements is not my style.

Another issue is that shopping options for women my age are more limited. Places I used to shop, like Old Navy, Gap, etc., don’t suit me anymore. I’m no longer friends with sleeveless tops, for example. And form-fitting maxi dresses don’t flatter my form. After two kids, I’m a little hippy. And low-rider jeans? Don’t get me started.

And even though I don’t have much fashion sense, I do have a budget. So when I peruse fashion/lifestyle blogs for women my (ahem) age for some ideas, I balk at paying 90 bucks for a three-quarter length sleeve tee shirt. Which is the same reason I don’t use those online clothes shopping services where they send you a selection of clothes items picked JUST FOR YOU based on a questionnaire. They’re too pricey.

So if you have no style, a small budget, an even smaller amount of interest in clothes shopping, AND you’re nearing a certain age, you’re pretty much out of luck when it comes to getting dressed and liking what you see in the mirror. It’s basically out of necessity that I’m a jeans and tee or sweater person (although I’ve been known to throw on a scarf for a touch of flair). I’m not completely hopeless.

Frankly, I'd rather spend my money on other things. And if you take one look at me, you'll see that fashion is not my top priority.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bien Dans Sa Peau at the Beach

My daughters are in the ocean, jumping waves. The water is frigid, just like the ocean at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, at the height of summer. It took them a while to get used to the water, but once they surrendered to its frigidity, they threw themselves in with abandon. Now they are drenched, salty, sandy, and ecstatic. I am certain their lips are blue.

They say that it's more fun to come to the beach with daddy than with me. He gets in the water with them, while I sit on the beach and read. There was a time in my life when I would have been in that water. In fact, I enjoyed the ocean then more than my daughters do now. My sisters and I paddled on our floats, body surfed, searched for fish and shells, and nursed a few jellyfish stings. A small price to pay.

Now I sit in a beach chair with my book, my big white sun hat protecting my face, my sunglasses covering my reading glasses. I must look ludicrous, but I don't care. I am ecstatic myself. The wind and the smell of the salty air and the feel of the velvety sand on my toes, sand that has just recently been underwater, are heavenly.

There is a narrow lookout between the wide brim of my sun hat and the top of my reading glasses.  I watch my girls through that slit. As I read, I look up periodically to check that they are safe. They don't need me as much any more, and there is freedom for all of us in that. I am able to sit and relax and enjoy. They are able to play and splash and run. And we don’t worry too much about what the other is doing.

We do, however, keep our eyes on each other. We look up from time to time to make sure that the other is still there. That's our touchstone, our way to make sure we are where we are supposed to be in the world.

They've come back to the towels to warm themselves in the sun for a bit. They have taken the time to tell me that I look ridiculous, which I know, but I am beyond the point of caring. In fact I’m beyond the age of caring. And it's rather freeing, this not caring very much of the kind of picture one presents to the world. Sometimes I do care. I take care with my appearance and my clothes and my hair and all of that. But at other times I just let it all go and just be myself, who I am in that moment. And the world can keep its critique to itself.

For me, this is one aspect of the French woman’s ideal, to be bien dans sa peau, literally, “well in her skin.” It’s an all-encompassing phrase with many life aspects. But at the moment, I’m well and truly enjoying one of them. And I’m at peace with myself.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Musings on a Winter Morning

My deck.
I sit at my desk with a view to the back, watching snow fall quite heavily. The girls are asleep; they went back to bed when they heard of their school's two-hour delay. Watching the snow, I wonder if two hours will be enough of a delay. This is the South, you know.

I've had a lot on my mind lately and that's where it's all stayed -- in my mind. My job keeps me very busy these days, as well as my household management duties. And I've taken on other volunteer roles, ones I feel really good about. But there are adjustments to be made, trade-offs. I haven't the time I once had to devote to my blog or any other personal writing projects.

So all my thoughts and ideas whirl around in my head. I need to get them out on virtual paper! But just to get going, here are things I'm thinking about and hope to write about:

  • I'm not a French woman, no matter how much I admire many of their philosophies.
  • I do like the French take on decorating. I'm not much of a changer.
  • College is on our horizon. I've been reading, researching, planning, and discussing with my daughters, particularly my elder one. I have lots to share.
  • My role as facilitator of my daughters' educations.
  • Books I want to tell you about.

A cardinal just lighted on a snow-covered branch outside my window. I haven't blogged about birds in ages, and it used to be such a big part of my life. I miss those details. I want to make sure I'm not too busy to see and appreciate the little details that make life so delightful. Right now, my girls are snuggled in the elder one's bed, happy in the news that school has been cancelled and playing Minecraft together. I love it. I cherish it; we only have a few short years left of such things.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Perchance to Dream: The Bailey-Floyd House

Located in Abbeville, GA, about an hour and a half from Macon, the Bailey-Floyd house was built c. 1850 and is a lovely example of Greek Revival architecture. The listing states clearly, "This property needs work, a jewel in the rough." But its negotiable price is a mere $44,000. With that price, you could probably work out a plan for immediate and then later renovations. Or it could be a money pit. There's always that possibility!

But seven bedrooms! Small-town living! Two hours from the Georgia coast! $44,000!

The master bedroom is on the main level. The yard features large, established pecan trees. Both bathrooms are on the first floor, which isn't convenient. My guess is that there are substantial structural issues to overcome and quite possibly all systems need updating. Ch-ching!

I ran a quick Google search and found that the house is also reputed to be haunted. Of course it is! It's an old house in the South. They all have ghosts, right? I don't think that would turn anyone off. I also found that it's been for sale for several years. One price I saw was almost twice its current asking price.

Ghosts may not scare people, but severe structural issues might.

Still, can't you just picture it, restored to its former grace and stateliness? I can. Maybe someone else with the know-how, contacts, patience, time, and deep pockets this sort of renovation requires will, too.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Window Frame Art with an Equestrian Flair

See her two stuffed animal pups peeking out?

My daughter is an equestrian. She's ridden since she was five years old and has competed at the local level for quite a few years now. At Christmas, both girls get a calendar for the new year, and Tiny Girl's has always been horse related. She's collected quite a few by now. So I bought a window frame for a few dollars several months ago, and she selected and cut out some favorite calendar photos and paintings to make a piece of art for her bedroom.

 First, we cleaned the window frame and glass. Then we adhered the pictures to the back of the glass using Scotch Photo Mount adhesive spray. I tested a cutout we didn't plan to use to make certain the adhesive would not smear the ink. Success!

Himself is going to add hooks to the top of the frame so we can safely hang it on the wall. For now, it's propped against her chest of drawers.

For a few dollars and a few minutes, we have individually designed artwork!

Have you tried the whole window frame art idea?

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: More Middle Grades Historical Novels from Susan Kilbride

Pop over to The Curriculum Choice to read my review of two more middle to lower high school level historical novels from Susan Kilbride's marvelous Our America series!

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Perchance to Dream: Historic Home in Georgia

I love old houses. If Himself and I had our druthers, we'd live in one. But since I've sworn I'll never move again, it will remain a dream.

Anyway, like most dreamers, I like to drool over the objects of my adoration. Like this one, Panola Hall in Eatonton, Georgia. Now, it's a wee bit out of our price range (ahem!), but still. Isn't it gorgeous?

Built in 1854, Panola Hall is a wonderful example of Greek Revival architecture. There are 12 fireplaces, heart pine floors, pocket doors (which I covet greatly), a spacious kitchen with granite countertops, a large center hall -- quite common in houses of this time period -- and very high ceilings: 12 feet on the main level and 14 feet on the second floor. Oh, and porches! There's even a raised daylight basement with nine-foot ceilings, four large rooms (each with windows and a fireplace), a second kitchen, and a grotto.

Below is a photo of the center hall. I love the color of the walls. Notice how the staircase is located away from either doorway.

The dining room. See the pocket doors peeking out?

The floors are especially gorgeous here in the kitchen:

The master bedroom. Swoon!

Lovely master bath.

The rear facade.

The backyard features a brick carriage path, a domed well house, a fish pond, and several heritage plants.

And it boasts its own "spirit presence of a refined Southern belle," Sylvia. (It's an old Southern home; of course there's a ghost!)

I would certainly put my own stamp on as far as color, curtains, and furnishings go. But oh, what scope for the imagination! For more information (and photos), visit the real estate listing here. The photos come from that site.

Are you entranced with old houses, too?

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Making Plans for Dining Room Curtains

It's time to make plans for curtains in the dining room. The windows have stood naked for far too long. After looking through Country Curtains catalogs and other sources for ready-made ideas, I decided on custom-made curtains for several reasons.

One: the windows feature pretty moldings. It would be a shame to cover them. See?

Two: I have blinds and the header box thingies, which I also like.

Three: I am in love with this fabric, which I've adored since I first caught sight of it at Calico Corners a few years ago:

I think the lighter blue in the background with complement the wall paint color, Opal Silk by Behr, really nicely.

I've contacted a decorator here in my area, and she and I have both texted and talked on the phone. I sent her photos from my Pinterest board, Gorgeous Home, with some ideas of things I like. I'm especially enamored with the idea of finials rather than rods, like so:


I can't wait to get started!

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken: A Pinterest Success!

I love Pinterest. I pin things all the time, and sometimes I actually try them. I have several recipe boards: Tasty Eats and Sips, I Get to Lick the Beaters!, Small Plates, Why, Yes, I WILL Have Another Glass, and Freezer and Crock Pot Meals. A new suppertime favorite came from Tasty Eats and Sips. I've made it twice and everyone here LOVED it (which is actually a minor miracle).

Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken from The Recipe Critic! Here's the link to the recipe.

You should know ahead of time that this recipe is not fast, but it is easy. Also, it's divine! The cornstarch makes a perfect coating, and the sauce is absolutely wonderful. I had all the ingredients on hand, too.

Here are my tips and amendments so you'll know what I did differently:

  • I used a whole bag of Tyson frozen chicken breasts. There were eight of them, but they are on the smaller size, as opposed to fresh breasts.
  • I didn't bother to measure the cornstarch. I just dumped some into a pie plate and added when necessary.
  • The first time I made this, I only needed two eggs. The second time, I needed all three called for. I depends on how many breasts you're using.
  • Your fingers are going to get really goopy. You may want to consider putting the cornstarch in a paper bag and shaking the pieces to coat them. I just rinsed my fingers periodically in warm water, but I'm going to try the bag method next time.
  • I needed more than the 1/4 cup canola oil. I simply added when necessary.
  • I used garlic powder instead of garlic salt in the sauce. We watch our sodium intake around here.
  • I served atop Success Boil in Bag jasmine rice and steamed broccoli for a one-dish meal.

If you decide to print the recipe, copy and paste it into Word, and then copy and paste my tips as well. That way, everything will be together.

My entire family gives this recipe five stars. It's would be delicious any time of the year, but Tiny Girl and I ate ours in front of the fire last night. Then we played a fun game of Scrabble, in which I earned a lifetime personal best (so far) of 63 points on one turn!


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