Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cat's Meow...Confessions of an Ailurophile

I’m a cat person. Yes, an ailurophile ( which according to Webster’s is a “cat fancier, lover of cats”). I’m sure those of you who have read the “About Me” section of my blog saw this coming. Sooner or later I had to do a post dedicated to…cats. Don’t get me wrong - I also love dogs. In fact, those who know me well know that I have a deep love and reverence for all animals…all life. But there’s something about cats... I live with 3 right now, but have loved and lived with many over the years. Maybe I love cats because they’re a lot like me - quiet, independent, love to eat and take naps...but back me into a corner and my claws are likely to come out. When my niece, Chloe, was little I asked her why she liked cats so much and she answered, “because they’re soft, you can pet them, they’re so beautiful.”  Yes, Chloe, I think that sums it up very well.
For other ailurophiles out there, I’d like to recommend one of my favorite books, “Diary of a Cat” by Leigh W. Rutledge. This little gem of a book will make you laugh and make you cry. For everyone who’s ever been owned by a cat, it’s a “must read.” Just as the title suggests, the book is a diary "written" by a cat. I love entries such as this: “July 5 - Played with a catnip mouse. Knocked my head into a dining room table leg. Slept.” Other days are more active, of course, and through the cat’s point of view, the reader gets to know a delightful cast of characters, including Mrs. V, the cat’s human companion, and her neighbors. Trust me, if you have a cat in your life, I’m sure “Diary of a Cat” will become one of your favorite reads too.




Monday, June 27, 2011

Almost Heaven ~

"Almost Heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River..."
Lyrics and music by John Denver

My roots go deep into the mountains of the beautiful state of West Virginia. On my father’s side I can count back 8 generations to the first of my ancestors who settled there (which at the time was Virginia.) On my mother’s side, Congressman Kellian Whaley (my g-g-great Uncle) gave a speech that was pivotal in West Virginia becoming a state. I have so many lovely memories…of playing with my cousins under the hot summer sun…eating fresh strawberries from my Grandpa’s garden…sitting on my Aunt’s front porch gazing up into the mountains on a crisp autumn morning.

The mountainous state of West Virginia has more than one million acres of land in 2 national forests, 9 state forests and 37 state parks. The steel-arch bridge that covers the New River Gorge was, for a long time, the longest bridge of that type in the world (it’s now the third longest.) Just a few of the other attractions in West Virginia include Harper’s Ferry, the Cass Scenic Railroad, National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the world-renowned Greenbrier Resort. Nature’s canvas at some of its’ best. In the words of John Denver, “take me home…country roads.” Sometimes a picture really is worth a 1,000 words.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Outdoor Tea Party

Ah…the lazy, hazy days of summer! No better time to invite a few friends or neighbors to an outdoor tea party. Impromptu or planned, it’s easier than you may think. Set up a portable table in a corner of your yard or patio, or cover the picnic table with a colorful cloth and floral-pattern paper party napkins. For a centerpiece, gather blooms from your own garden (or from the local farmer’s market) and place in a vintage pitcher or vase. Even a few interesting-shaped branches will do. Lemons or limes placed in a clear glass bowl also make a lovely centerpiece for an outdoor theme party. For a more natural look, look for a few smooth, medium-sized stones and lay down the center of the table on a layer of moss (available from most craft or flower shops.) Intersperse votive candles among the stones to cast a warm glow. If you wish, you can even hang a chandelier or colorful paper lanterns from branches of a tree. Vintage teacups in a floral pattern and mismatched teaspoons add an elegant, yet fun and casual flair. Plus, they can be collected throughout the year at thrift sales and antique stores.
Offer different varieties of tea and set out milk, honey and sugar. Serve tea sandwiches, such as watercress, cucumber and cream cheese, or egg salad (with bread crusts removed.) Sweets might be petit fours, fresh berry tarts or mini-cupcakes. The idea is that no other cutlery other than teaspoons should be needed at an afternoon tea. Everything should be dainty finger-food, and it’s generally a good idea to serve both savory and sweet foods. For a traditional English tea, consider scones with jam and clotted cream (for an easy, delish recipe for homemade scones, see my previous post “Tea and Devon Scones.”) For fun, you might want to ask guests to don fancy hats, or keep it simple casual dress. Anything goes, really, just relax and enjoy these first long days of summer!
Martha Stewart’s Crisp Vegetable Sandwiches:
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, basil, tarragon, or mint
8 slices wheat bread
1 piece (4 inches) cucumber, very thinly sliced into rounds
2 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons softened butter

Place cream cheese and herbs in bowl; stir with a rubber spatula until combined. Spread cream cheese on 4 slices of bread; layer with cucumber and radish slices. Spread remaining slices of bread with butter. Place, butter side facing down, on radishes. Trim crusts; cut sandwiches in half.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mom's Petunias

When I was in the fourth grade, my parents bought their very first home. We lived in a small Midwestern town and the house was a modest, 3-bedroom ranch-style in a new subdivision. It had shiny hardwood floors, a full basement, small backyard and wooden window boxes. What I remember most about our house on Dudley Street are those window boxes, overflowing with brightly-colored petunias. Every summer, Mom planted and tended the window boxes, as lovingly and efficiently as she did all the other household chores. Always planted with petunias - some years they were multi-colored, other years a theme of red & white, or hot pink and the deep purple ones that felt like velvet to the touch. The window boxes were her pride and joy. Many years later, I remember Mom saying, “our flowers were the best on the block!” Container gardening is an art form and my Mom was an artist - although she didn’t see herself in that light.

People often forego the pleasures of gardening because they think they don't have the room. But, container gardening is an easy and efficient way to enjoy many of the benefits of traditional gardening. Anyone can do it - regardless of where you live. Containers can be traditional - like my Mom’s window boxes, ornate stone urns or clay pots.  Or use your imagination - a basket, old teapot or wheelbarrow can be turned into a fun and whimsical plant cantainer. I once planted flowers in one of my nephew’s old, size-14 tennis shoes! The main thing to remember is that all containers must have good drainage, with at least one drainage hole. Let your pots make a statement - a cast iron urn says "formal" while a wooden barrel says "rustic." Remember - pots and window boxes tend to dry out very quickly, so water, water, water - early morning and evening are the best times. Experiment and have fun, and just like Mom, you’ll soon have “the best flowers on the block!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ode to Summer and Playing in Mud ~

The corn is high,
wheat fields stretch before us,
warm and golden beneath the sun.

The smell of newly mown grass lingers,
as a soft breeze breaks the heat of a lazy afternoon...

Trees fill with birdsong,
and come nightfall, fireflies play hide 'n seek
to the gentle laughter of children.

Touch the morning,
Embrace the evening,
It's still a beautiful world.

...and may we all play in more mud puddles!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bodega Bay beaches, saltwater taffy...and The Birds!

“Not a care in the world, I’m down by the sea, where the wind and the waves are telling me I’m free!”

Nothing inspires me more artistically than nature, and the freedom of the open road. I love discovering off-the-beaten-track towns and villages and exploring new places. When I lived in northern California, one of my favorite “one-day getaways” was Bodega Bay. This sleepy little fishing village is about 68 miles north of San Francisco, along the rugged Sonoma Coast. The town was made famous in the 1960s Alfred Hitchcock movie, “The Birds” - and remains much as it did then – a quiet seaside hamlet, with windswept beaches and a coastline reminiscent of the Scottish moors.

Over the years, the movie “The Birds” has developed a cult following, with people coming from all over the world to see buildings used in the film. There are actually two towns – Bodega and Bodega Bay - that were combined for scenes in the movie. The creepy schoolhouse is located in the village of Bodega (about seven miles inland from Bodega Bay.) Movie buffs remember Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette leading frightened children from the schoolhouse as menacing birds watched from the school’s jungle gym. For many years, the schoolhouse fell into ruins, but it’s now a private residence with a small museum that's opened on a limited basis.

Bodega Bay is the perfect place to fly a kite on the beach, explore tide pools, and watch the sunset. The beaches are rocky and often shrouded in fog, giving them a mysterious quality. Guided whale-watching trips are available (generally December-May,) or if you’re lucky, you might spot one from the headlands at Westside Regional Park. Fishing remains a mainstay of the community’s economy and restaurants offer up inexpensive, fresh delicacies of the sea. The rest of the town includes an art gallery, a gift shop and a fantastic kite shop that also sells salt-water taffy. Yum!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"...I must have flowers, always, always." Claude Monet ~

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it,
it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to
someone else." Georgia O'Keeffe

"I'm not really a career person. I'm a gardener, basically."-- George Harrison

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."-- Abraham Lincoln

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."-- Claude Monet

"Earth laughs in flower."-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

 "One who plants a garden, plants happiness."

"There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Remembering Dad ~

My Dad was a quiet, soft-spoken man who didn’t ask for much from life. He was hard-working and honest, paid his bills on time and shunned buying on credit. Dad was a machinist in a factory, and often worked seven days a week when I was a child, but we were not wealthy - not even close. I didn’t realize this when I was a kid, because we always had food on the table, new clothes in the autumn when it was time to go back to school, yearly (modest) vacations, and something under the tree at Christmastime. But, looking back as an adult, I realize my parents must have struggled more than I ever realized. I got my love of nature and animals from my Dad - two things that greatly define me as a person. I can see him now, sitting on the front porch or in a lawn chair under the shade of a tree, sometimes reading the Louis L’Amour westerns he loved so much, but often just sitting...thinking...listening. Dad had a “pet squirrel” named Myrtle that he trained to come inside the door, climb up his pants leg and sit on his chest as he hand-fed her peanuts. He always had a small, backyard garden where he grew tomatoes, green beans, onions, and squash. He made the absolute best homemade vegetable soup and cornbread, and other southern favorites like green beans with ham, fresh, sliced juicy tomatoes and fried potatoes. One of my favorite memories is going mushroom hunting with Dad in the springtime. He taught me where and what to look for, but more often than not, I’d find a comfy fallen log ...and just sit. I loved those times with him in the woods - and I think he knew, although I never told him so. Years later when I’d come to visit from out of state, and would get ready to leave, he’d stand in the doorway, wave and blow me a kiss as I drove away - until I was no longer in sight.

I was heartbroken when Dad got prostate cancer and passed away on a day in late autumn. I spent the last three months of his life, helping to care for him, along with my mother and sisters. It was both the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and the most honorable thing. As hard as it was to watch his physical decline, I would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world. Afterwards, it took months to begin to feel normal again - whatever this new normal was without my Dad. That spring, I planted a garden in his honor and the tomatoes were the biggest, reddest,and juiciest that I’ve ever seen in my life. I desperately wish I could talk to Dad again, and feel one of his hugs. But there are times I believe I can hear his voice - it’s there in the whisper of the wind when I'm sitting outside in the stillness at twilight. I especially smile when I watch a squirrel scamper up a tree as I think of Dad and Myrtle, and in that moment, I know my Dad is still with me and will live in my heart forever.

“Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun,
to have lived light in the spring,
to have loved,
to have thought,
to have done?” Matthew Arnold


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...