Friday, October 21, 2016

A Botanical Surprise

My Nana Dunn had a green thumb.  In fact, I think she had a green hand, she was so good at making things grow.  Nana and Pop's house at 15 Maynard Drive in Farmingdale on Long Island, New York had a lawn which looked like green velvet.  Their phone number was MY4-5696.  Here is the house on Google, but it isn't nearly as pretty as I remember it.  It is the split level home in the middle with gray shutters.
Nana and Pops

If any errant dandelion dared besmirch anything in her yard, she was on the ready with an old screwdriver and the top of the metal trash can turned upside down to rip them from the ground.  She would hold the lid in front of her like a shield; kind of like Joan of Arc!

The back yard was all grass except for two feet around the fence perimeter which they filled with zinnias in every color.  At the back wooden fence which separated their yard from the Noto's yard, they planted these beauties, called "Chinese Lanterns."
Tricia Noto and I would pump as high as we could on the swing set while Nana hung laundry out in the fresh air.  At night, the adults would sit out on the concrete patio and sip a beer, while we kids caught lightening bugs in empty mayonnaise jars.  

Nana didn't have a lot of inside plants, most likely because she didn't want to clean up dead leaves or flowers. She was a meticulous housekeeper and an immaculate woman whose house was always tidy and smelled of Fels Naptha soap.

She did have one inside impatiens plant, which was gorgeous. Nana babied it like a child.  The impatiens sat in front of a sliding glass door where it received perfect light.  Frugal woman that she was, Nana didn't go out and buy a plant stand for it.  Instead, she artfully draped an old, paint-spattered stool with a pretty tablecloth and arranged the bottom of the cloth just so on the carpet.  It was beautiful.

I've never been able to keep an impatiens going inside until a few weeks back, I noticed the pink flowers at the bottom of a green plant given to me years ago by a very old woman named Grant Creekmore.  Only she said it as , "Grant Creekmo"  Grant was a matriarch of my church who taught school in the building across the street from me. 

Grant had snowy white hair piled on the top of her head and often wore a silver necklace with cut outs of little children all around it, like charms.  She was drafted during World War II because of her unusual first name and had to go to the Draft Board here in town in person to fix it.  She's organizing things in heaven, now.

I guess some would say that I picked up seeds on my shirt from outside and somehow transferred them into the house.  I'd like to think that Grant and my Nana got together in heaven to let me know that they are thinking of me.  

My Nana didn't get drafted during World War II, but she was such a formidable woman that she could have given Hitler a good butt kicking and a piece of her mind, as well.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Frugal Finds - Library Card Catalog

I've been yearning for a library card catalog since I saw this beauty in the living room on Big Bang Theory:

They look lovely and can store so many things.  

A local vintage shop was selling a recently made catalog for $620 - Jeepers!

Here's an amazing example, reassembled from two broken down ones and rebuilt - on line for $1,000:
Card Catalog Redo

Each time I see one, I am transported back to the East Hartford Public Library - Wickham Branch. Located just two blocks away, I could walk there from my grandmother's house.  Looking down, I can almost see my little feet in red Keds trudging along, making sure to not to step on the sidewalk cracks and break my mother's back.

There was always that "library smell," hard to describe, but redolent of book pages, paste, and age. Eau d'library. I still feel a thrill when I see a big ole pile of books at a library, a junk store, or a yard sale. The entire world opens up through reading.

My neighbor, Bob, had a yard sale.  He's a carpenter.  I noticed a shelf of drawers that stacked and excitedly talked to Bruce about how I had found the little pulls on line for $3 a piece.

Bob heard me and brought out those very pulls out from his garage, giving them to me for free.  I paid him $25 for the drawers.

And this is the cobbled-together result in my front hall:

Bruce added the drawer pulls and created the labels:
I think I like my $25 version better than the $1,000 one!  I get a kick out of doing things on the cheap. My library card catalog makes me think of kind Bob Sauls and my wonderful Bruce every time I use it.

Anyone can spend a lot of money to make a house look special. 

Here's to all those bloggy girls like...

...and countless other creative women who cast household magic from items discarded by others.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Work Views - First Sgt.'s Hat

I was using a desk in the office, unusually for me as I am typically in the field.  Doesn't that expression sound like I'm plowing the north 40 or something? What I mean is that I work away from the office most of the time. 

I came back from lunch and saw this hat on the desk.  Thinking that someone had left it behind, I turned it over to see if his or her name was inside.
Instead I saw this 2014 funeral bulletin for a fallen trooper secured in the hat's dome.  I teared up.

First Sgt. came back for his hat and saw me looking at the inside.  "First Sgt.," I said.  "That is so beautiful."

He is tall and lanky with a Virginia twang to his voice.

First Sgt. carefully secured his hat on his head, giving it a slight tilt with a thumb and index finger to the brim. He said in a matter-of- fact tone,  "Yep, I carry Tommy wherever I go."

Valor     Service     Pride

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What I've Been Reading

I read voraciously, almost to a fault.  My mother is a great reader.  I even remember the first word I learned to read.  It was the word "look" and my mother had made the O's "looking" eyes, so I got it right away.  I think I was 3.

As a kid, I would snitch Victoria Holt novels before my mother was even finished with them!  I would be content for hours reading such classics as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Little Women, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. My most exciting Christmas gifts each year were always the big stack of hardcover books. My sister is also a great reader, but her daughter, my Piper girl, beats all of us hollow!

Here's my Mom on the beach at Cancun last week reading.  Pretty nice legs for nearly 80.
And here she is off the beach...the birthday girl.
Over the last little while, I've been reading:

1. Mosaic - Diane Armstrong

A moving and extremely well-written nonfiction book which reads like a novel.  Diane writes about the 5 generations of her Jewish family, before and after World War II, up to present times.  She tells an amazing tale of survival and a sorrowful tale of those who did not survive.  I downloaded it on Kindle.  
Mosaic by Diane Armstrong

2.  Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

Laurie Colwin, sadly departed from cancer before her time,was an author I dearly loved.  (Home Cooking and More Home Cooking). She referred to this writer as the "incomparable" Barbara Pym. I found this book at Goodwill yesterday.  Barbara is extremely skilled in painting pictures of personal idiosyncrasies.  Autumn Quartet describes the lives for four British office workers of a certain age.  I find a great metaphor this story as we learn how suspicion, inward thinking, and selfishness ultimately hurt the person who holds these acidic emotions more than anyone else. The book also paints a compelling picture of older folks who have lived through World War II clashing with the Swinging Seventies.  Quartet In Autumn - Barbara Pym

3. Eleanor and Hick - Susan Quin

This was a very well-researched and well-written book about the relationship between our most memorable First Lady and the pioneering newspaper reporter Lorena Hickok. Their relationship has become somewhat controversial after the release letters the two shared. The reader may draw her own conclusions.  I like to read anything about the Roosevelt family. 
Eleanor and Hick - Susan Quin

4. Under Magnolia - Frances Mayes

This book is a recent publication from the bestselling writer of "Under the Tuscan Sun."  I enjoy memoirs and Under Magnolia didn't disappoint.  I was sad to learn of her religious views, but I enjoyed her look back at her Southern beginnings in a very dysfunctional family.
Under Magnolia - Frances Mayes

5.  Our Chemical Hearts  - Krystal Sutherland

Piper mentioned that she was just starting this book and she talked it up so intelligently that I downloaded it on Kindle.  The narrator is 17 years old and I don't usually like young adult books. I've gotten engrossed in this one, not only for its own merits, but also because it draws me closer to Piper's way of thinking. 
 Our Chemical Hearts - Krystal Sutherland

If you read one of these, please comment and let me know how you enjoy them!  I do not receive any consideration for these links, just wanted to make it easy for readers to find them.  I share out of pure love for reading.

Five Frugal Things

Kristen, over at Frugal Girl and some other bloggers, run an occasional feature called "Five Frugal Things."

The Frugal Girl

Here are my five frugal things:

1.  I save $2.50 per shirt because I launder and press my husband's shirts vs. taking them to the dry cleaners.  The price is based on the lowest price around here.  I save some more when I use an old spray bottle filled with water instead of spray starch, which I rarely use.

2.  I wash zip locks and use them reuse them .  I rinse and run them through the dishwasher. They dry on a multiple skirt hanger in the laundry room.  I haven't purchased any zip locks for over a year and a half.  Not only is this frugal, but it helps the environment.
3.  Instead of using plastic wrap, foil, or bags, I try to use glass containers which do not add to landfills.  This can difficult to do when packing lunches, but again, it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

4.  I pack my husband's lunches and dinners (when he teaches at night).  If he ate out instead, this would amount to a total of over $40 per week or $160 per month. I base the cost on an average of $5 per meal, which is low.  I can provide a meal much more cheaply than that.

5.  The cost of cable television in our area is ridiculous.  We have no other options but to use Cox Cable or have no cable at all.  We chose no cable at all about 2 months ago.  We are thrilled that we did so.  This decision saves over $100 per month.  We have digital antennae now, a one-time $25 purchase.  We can get about 20 channels this way, including ION, MeTV, the three networks, and PBS.

Netflix and Hulu give us access to wonderful programming at a low cost. Bruce and I watch the local news and the national morning TV shows and then turn the television off. The exception is during weather concerns, such as today as we await hurricane news.

Rather than vege through programming we are not especially interested in just because it is on, we watch programming we love (60 Minutes, Law and Order SVU, the new NBC drama "Timeless") and then keep the television off.  I listen to the radio via the computer  We find other things to do, in my case sewing and in Bruce's puttering around fixing and improving things, such as repairing a well-loved vintage necklace for me.

I do not want to stand before God and have Him show me many wasted, mindless hours watching television and be reminded that while basic needs of the poor went unmet, I chose to spend over $1,200 per year on television and wasted time that I could have redeemed for good. Ephesians 5:16.

Most evenings these days, we listen to classical music on XM via computer and read.  Both of us find it very cozy to have our showers and then relax reading in bed with a certain angelic dog in between us.
The other night, GASP, we didn't even watch the vice presidential debate.

I asked Bruce what his thoughts were about cutting the electronic leash of cable and he told me that he feels more peaceful.  I agree.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Not Eating Out in Portsmouth, Virginia

"Not Eating Out in New York" is a blog I truly love,written by a young woman with a background in Taiwanese cooking.  She has been publishing this thoughtful blog for 10 years.  

Listed in the blog are numerous reasons for "not eating out" ranging from saving money to cooking with friends to controlling what you ingest to the ability to eat fresher, more natural, and more local foods.  She spent an entire year at the beginning of the blog by never eating out even once.  I strive to emulate her by "not eating out in Portsmouth, VA."

Two weeks ago, I made a commitment to eating cleaner.  I started by ending my 42-year-old love affair with diet soda.  Six months ago, I got serious about recycling, deciding that I didn't want to leave all this garbage for my nieces' generation.  I was appalled by how much soda I was consuming and how many cans were left behind.

Researching "aspartame," (the sweetener in diet soda) which was originally invented to be a rat poison, I was appalled at all the damage that ingesting it does.  Aspartame is considered so harmful that it cannot be sold or added to food in Europe.  I am noticing a marked difference in how I feel, including more mental clarity, as well as not being hungry all the time.  

I've also gotten serious about ending fast food at lunch, Sometimes it is tricky to have home-cooked food in the middle of a work day, but not impossible.  I heated leftover roasted vegetables in red pepper sauce in which I poached a fresh egg from a chicken who lives a block away on Chesapeake Avenue.  I shredded a tiny amount of leftover cheese on it and enjoying eggy perfection.

Do you think you don't have the time to eat healthier?  You do.  Tonight's menu was prepared at oh dark thirty this morning.  I put lean pork chops in the crock pot with caraway seeds and two sliced up apples, along with sauerkraut.  It cooked on "low" all day.  

I shucked corn and quickly boiled it for two minutes with two bay leaves.  Finally, I broke off the tough ends of asparagus and par-boiled them in a scant amount of water for another two minutes. When I got home, all I had to do was reheat the vegetables.  Total initial prep time was under 7 minutes.  We all have 7 minutes.

I used to think that only tree huggers and extremists stressed out about food.  However, I understand now that we are losing our connection to food, to the growth around us, and to our families as we constantly eat out or bring home fast food. When we do, we often consume substandard food, preserved with chemicals, grown thousands of miles away, and then laced with fat, sugar, or salt (or all three) to make the food more palatable.

My roasted vegetables and poached egg from a chicken who lives in an adorable red chicken house down the street ground me a lot more effectively than chicken nuggets. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

On Fresh Eggs, Good Neighbors, and a Silly Dog, Indeed

I was awakened this morning by one of Lulu's little friends who wanted her to come out to play. Surely you must think Lulu is a child.  Well, she is, but Lulu is classified by society as a D-O-G, please don't mention this to her as it will tamper with her self esteem.  Lulu is convinced she is a person and even sleeps with her own pillow.  In our bed.

Lulu's friend is Spunky, the guy across the backyard, a hoodling hound of unknown provenance who knows to go toward our bedroom window and holler if we're not in the kitchen when he arrives.

Spunky is often joined by Roscoe, his cartoon-character cautious younger brother, a purebred Boston Terrier so careful that it took him two years to come to the back door.  Amusingly, when he was still unsettled about us, he would bark when we went out back, as if we were trespassers on his turf.  Go figure...

Her other friend is mighty Merlin, a German Shepard, and the dignified older gentleman next door. She will bring Merlin into the house.  Lulu can open the back door.  Merlin is extremely well behaved.  Lulu doesn't let Spunky in.  He's an indoor terrorist.

While Lulu and Spunky got out with Milk-Bones (I should buy stock in Milk-Bones), I had some fantastic double-chocolate infused coffee bought on the cheap at El Lotto Grande (Big Lots) as my buddy Alex of Living the Small Life would say.  Fancy flavored coffee is one of our guilty pleasures, so when we find it marked down, we buy 10 or 11 bags and store the extra in the deep freeze.

I digress a lot.

See those eggs above?  They came from my friend Nancy's chickens and all of them live a block and a half away.  I made a delicious egg sandwich with a beefsteak tomato sliced on top.

Here's my homage to chickens and eggs in  my kitchen.  I picked up this little coop for taking chickens to market in Los Angeles of all places.
There's nothing like fresh eggs.  Bruce knows this having grown up on a farm, but I've just learned their delights from Nancy's chickens.  The yolks are bigger and are almost orange.  Her chickens, depending on their individual breed lay eggs in pale tan, brown, and a blue-green shade that's quite striking.  

Their taste is just, well, "eggier" than store bought.   If I was saying that in Spanish I would call them "huevisimo."  If I was very smart as well as extremely pretentious, I would call her hens' eggs the Platonic ideal of eggs.

One of the things I've learned along the years is to delight in small things, for the small things are more frequent than the big ones. 

Blessing abound all around me; beautiful zinnias planted by the Olde Towne Civic League, a hot cup of double-chocolate coffee in my Starbucks mug with the New York City skyline and a yellow taxi, a silly dog standing on two legs at the back door, homemade chicken salad shared with a friend, and a neighbor who provides fresh eggs and tomatoes better than money can buy.

And the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  That's a big blessing and not one of the small things.