Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Fall Table

As if there weren't enough signals to the change of season to be observed all around me, my dining room table always provides yet another reminder.

Remember this soothing beach scene played out in the center of the table? It kept me smiling all summer. No, we never made it to the beach, but I could touch sand and shells and smile at the seagull any time I wanted.

By the end of summer, however, things were beginning to disintegrate a little! Little fingers had played in the sand, and it had spilled everywhere . . . even on the gorgeous wood of the table!!

The pelican who had been so jaunty standing on his driftwood perch in the early days now cowered tentatively behind one of the beach chairs. I know, little fellow, a few months in this household can reduce you to a mumbling ball of neuroses; can't it?! I feel your pain.

The table shouted out loud, "Enough of summer!! Bring on fall!"

I first became inspired for my fall table by this fabulous picture in a Lowe's magazine. I loved all the different looks of the various pumpkins and the elegant touches of gold.

So, I got some different pumpkins, squash, gourds and brought them home. I fully intended to add the gold touches, but when I saw the different pieces in all their beauty, I couldn't bear to cover any of it up with gold!

How could I spray over this beautiful mottled acorn?

Or these fascinating Hubbards?

Or these sweet, creamy mini pumpkins?

No, these needed to just be piled onto the table, accented with some crepe myrtle seed pods,

and a few tiny terracotta pots spread around with votives inside.

Spray the seed pods gold? Paint the tiny pots gold inside or outside? No, gold was just not working for me this fall. I wanted the real colors of the vegetables, the imperfect oval seed pods, the rough terracotta of the little pots.

Perfect. Fall has arrived on my table top. And, oooooh, just look how warmly it glows at night!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh, Oh, Oh, It's Magic!

This ripped and shredded dish cloth is what I found on Middle Son's desk. A craft project? An act of frustrated dish drying? An attempt at clothing construction? No. Let me back up and explain.

There is a new craze going on in our house. It's sleight of hand . . . it's the art of illusion . . . it's magic tricks!! I think every boy probably has had a small interest in "magic" as he has journeyed from toddler to adulthood. But in our house it has become a craze, a passion, a career for Middle Son. Actually, the Man of the House and I are quite relieved. If Middle Son is to become a street magician, we can take the money from his college fund and begin using it for the groceries that he is downing at an alarming rate.

It started out as rubber band tricks . . . rubber bands magically moving from one finger to the other, knotting, unknotting. Very cool!

Then it moved to coin tricks and on to card tricks. I have to admit, I was (and still am!) impressed. He can do some great tricks.

There were a terrifying few days where he was into lighter tricks. Hmmm, burning lighters being flipped in the air by a 13 year-old . . . no.

The tricks have now moved on to illusions involving things like multiplying sponge balls and disappearing, reappearing, and changing pieces of fabric. This presents a greater challenge for Middle Son. Whereas rubber bands, coins, and cards were readily available, the props for the ever-growing list of new tricks is a little harder to come by.

Which brings me to the picture above. In its former life, this cloth was an excellent all-cotton drying cloth, the kind that your grandma had, the kind that can dry a whole drainer full of drippy dishes without blinking. Yes, it had a worn hole and a few slight stains. But, still, it was one of my favorite drying cloths. I found it, in the condition shown, on Middle Son's desk.

Upon questioning, I found that portions of it are now magician's cloths!! Cloths that can be stuffed into your hand and then vanish. Cloths that can be stuffed into your hand, looking like one small cloth, and come out the bottom of your hand as one large cloth. Granted, really cool stuff. But, come on, my favorite drying towel?

While still emotionally adjusting to the kidnapping of my favorite kitchen towel, I came upon this:

In its former, useful life, it was this:

But there was a need for sponge balls. Sponge balls to be put in the hand and then magically disappear into thin air. A sponge ball which is put into one hand and then moves magically to the other hand. A sponge ball which is put into one hand, moves magically to the other hand, and then multiplies into 3 sponge balls.
And, so, a useful sponge has become 4 little magic props.

Down in the bottom of a trash can, I found this:

At this point, I was beginning to catch on. Magic props were needed, and my kitchen drawers had become the supply closet. I happened to be able to tell from these little scraps that they, in a former life, were the edges of a rather nice cloth napkin like this:

Nothing great, but I use them regularly to line bread baskets, etc. I didn't get much help when questioning the children. There were some wildly rolling eyes, pointing fingers, and it sounded like someone muttered "magic trick," but I couldn't be sure.

So, I'm wondering, what's next? When Middle Son discovers that real magicians favor silk cloths, will he head to my closet? When he's ready to pull things out of hats, will the neighbor's rabbit be safe. And, come to think of it, what should I expect when he's ready to practice sawing the lady in half???

Monday, September 21, 2009

West First Wood-Fired Pizza

Once upon a time there was a scrumptious, earthy, brick oven bakery in the mountains of Western North Carolina. There the people of the village gathered, chatted, drank down cups of fragrant coffee and munched away on lemon scones, wood-fired pizza, and from-scratch soups.

The people of the village grew discontent. Enough was not enough. They begged for the good baker to give them more.

And so, the good baker joined with another good baker and began a restaurant, down the road in neighboring Hendersonville. They called this restaurant:

I've already taken you on a little tour of my brother's bakery (Flat Rock Village Bakery ) in the past, so today we'll peek in to West First Wood-Fired Pizza. Not a really comprehensive peek . . . I was in a hurry that day.

The centerpiece of the restaurant is this gorgeous brick oven which my ultra-talented sister-in-law covered in a beautiful glass mosaic depicting swirls of fire going up the sides of the oven and disappearing into a few sparks at the top. Breathtaking.

This brick oven churns out the delicious thin-crusted artisan pizzas for which they are famous and piles of crusty ciabatta bread, ready to be served to your table with your meal.

You want a recommendation for the pizza, I suppose?

I love the Goat Cheese Pizza - fresh basil pesto with spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and goat cheese. ::sigh::

And if I am eating by myself and none of my family is around to harrass me about my love for fungus, I would order a Mushroom Pizza - portobella and shiitake mushrooms, mozzarella and fresh thyme, finished with truffle oil. And I'd eat the entire thing myself . . . shamelessly!

So, you're not in the mood for pizza? What about Chicken Papparadelle - hardwood smoked chicken breast in a shiitake mushroom, sweet roasted red pepper and corn cream sauce?

Or Handmade Ravioli - House-made pasta stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onion and feta cheese with a choice of marinara or four-cheese sauce?

Sorry, it's lunch time. I'm getting a little carried away!

Have I mentioned that my sister-in-law is an amazing artist? The restaurant has her signature all over it. From the side, a giant portrait of my grandfather looks down on the diners and across the room sunlight streams in through her gorgeous stained glass window.

Okay, I told you this was just a quick trip. So sorry to just tempt your taste buds and hurry you out the door.
Speaking of the door, look at this fabulous handle! Hand-crafted by a local blacksmith.

How about we grab a dessert to go on the way out! Rustic Fruit Tartlette with Vanilla Gelato? Chocolate Hazelnut Tiramisu? Wine-poached Pear & Marscapone? ::sob::

Oh, and about the the good people of the village? Well, they rejoiced. They crowded in. They ingested and imbibed. They supped quietly in the loft or dined boisterously down on the main floor. In short, they ate, they drank, they were merry.

And, as you can imagine, they all lived happily ever after.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Joie de Vivre

Yesterday afternoon at approximately 3:12 p.m. I made an executive decision. I decided I was leaving. Yes, leaving the house, heading east, and continuing to walk until I hit the Atlantic Ocean. And then, if I hadn't walked away every frustration and stress in my body, I would slip off my old walking shoes and begin to swim.

This momentous decision was precipitated by the convergence of three distinct factors: the bad attitude of a teenage female living under my roof, three days of continuous sibling rivalry between two of the males in my care, and (the final straw) the request from Oldest Son to assist him in the writing of an essay for British Literature on the significance of gender roles in the novel Jane Eyre.

"That's it, "I snapped. "I'm out of here."

Hence the decision to leave home . . . maybe permanently. I figured perhaps, perhaps around dinner time the children would begin to think, "Hmmm, we really are difficult on Mom sometimes. We should be so thankful for all she does for us. How could we be so irritating, self-involved, demanding, unappreciative?!"

"I'm coming too," chirped the little voice of Youngest Daughter.

"No! I need therapy . . . walk therapy. No children allowed!"

I grabbed on tennis shoes and headed for the door.

A soft, little hand touched the back of my jeans.

"Can I come too??" Large brown eyes begged. "What am I going to do here?"

I looked around the house, currently simmering with all kinds of attitude and conflict, and then out to the big, wide open outside, with its fresh air and lure of all kinds of possibilities.

"Okay, grab your shoes."

Youngest Daughter returned five minutes later, having put on a pink dress, a pink bow slightly askew on the right side of her head, and her high-heeled, white dress shoes with rhinestones on the toes. Apparently she was really, really looking forward to this walk.

I strapped her into the little umbrella stroller, long since outgrown, and we left Oldest Daughter grumpily slinging stainless steel polish at the refrigerator, Middle Sons banished for an undetermined period to their rooms, and Oldest Son pondering Jane and Mr. Rochester.

Ah, sweet, fresh air. I pushed and puffed along, letting my mind slog through the swamp of thoughts weighing me down.

First, what to do about the Hurricanes' tee-shirt order . . . or should I try and figure out when to get someone out to look at the pillar that needs repair in the living room . . . can I even remember how to write a literature essay . . .

"Mommy! I think that was a bee! Was that a bee that almost flew into me? How funny! Look at that flying bee! Ha! I just love flying bees! What's that stuff they get out of flowers? They use that to make honey; don't they? Do they get the honey out of the flower? No, no, I don't think they get it there. But how do they make honey? How do they, Mommy?"

I responded with forced cheerfulness and gave a shockingly brief description of the making of honey.

Now, where was I? Boy, I need to make several phone calls today . . . my e-mail in-box really needs to be purged . . . did I ever respond to that request for casseroles for single moms . . .

"Well, would you look at that??! Those ants have made a hu-u-u-u-uge ant mound. That must be what people call an ant farm. And there's another one. Okay, Mommy, we're going to play a game. Every time we see an ant mound we have to say, 'Ant farm! Never sit on it!' Okay, I'll start, 'Ant farm! Never sit on it!' Ha! What do they even do down in those ant mounds? How do they live down there in that dirt? Look it's spreading out just everywhere!"

I've got the volunteer list due for the basketball teams. Ugh, I hate starting out new Excel spreadsheets . . .

"Mommy!! You missed one! I can't believe you missed that one! It's huger and huger!! 'Ant farm! Never sit on it!' Ha! I won! You are just NOT looking if you missed that one! Oh . . . my . . . word! Stop right now. Look at that bug! What do we call that bug again? Oh, a grasshopper. Look at the dots on his legs! Oh . . . my . . . word! He's missing a leg! He's missing a leg, Mom! Now, if we find a grasshopper that is missing ALL his legs, we will step on him. But this one, no, he is just missing one leg. Aaaah, poor little grasshopper, Mommy! Oh, and there goes a black bug. What do we call those black bugs, Mommy?"

And so it went. I tried to sort through meals to be planned, mistakes to be fixed, and figure out whether the cryptic note on Monday's calendar indicated a dentist appointment or school pictures. Not happening. I had brought Pollyanna along, and she was not to be dismissed.

We concluded our walk, rolling down the road to home.

Youngest Daughter leaned back in her stroller, lazily crossed one rhinestoned foot over the other leg, spread wide her arms and sighed, "I'm just going to lay back and enjoy the summer!"

Is there no justice? Can a grown woman not just walk out her front door and indulge in a solid half hour of self-pity, grumbling, and stewing without constantly being reminded of the joys of fresh air, the self-important fluff of pampas grass, and the delight of watching a small boy blow bubbles on his front steps?

No, apparently she cannot.

But I found out something very surprising. Though in my solid half hour walk I had not solved one problem, organized one snarled mess, or, for that matter, had even one complete train of thought, I was calmed, refreshed, and ready to re-enter the mayhem called "home" with sanity intact by the end of the walk.

A little fresh air, stretching of the muscles, and some indefatigable joy of living will do that for you!

"The cheerful heart has a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Mystery Plant

Okay. Step over here.

Now, close your eyes and breathe in.

So, what do you smell??

I know, I know. How do you describe it? Is it fresh grapefruit? Is it honeysuckle? Is it ripe mango? Is it the fragrance "Happy" by Clinique?

All I know is that there are 2 of these bushes on either side of the brick stairs leading up to our house, and every time I poke my head out the door or hop up the stairs this delicious sweet, fresh smell comes wafting over.

I called My Mom (the horticulture whiz) to ask her what the plant was, but over the phone the words "green leaves, white flowers, and fresh grapefruit" weren't very helpful.

So, does anyone know what this is? Lygustrum? Tea Olive? Or just my own, personal mysterious fragrant shrub of delight.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bad Dog

This is a bad dog.

Just today, at lunch, I made a luscious grilled deli meat and cheese sandwich for Middle Son and placed it, piping hot, on his lunch plate. At that moment, Middle Son chose to dart off and attend to some pressing distraction. And also at that moment, this Bad Dog "seized the day" and seized the sandwich. It makes me VERY MAD when animals of the household steal human food. Very, very mad.

I know this is startling, but you'll have to forgive me if a tiny piece of me wished that Bad Dog burnt his tongue on the hot cheese.

I made another sandwich. Middle Son ate half of the sandwich. Middle Son chose to dart off and attend to some pressing distraction. Bad Dog seized half of the second sandwich, gobbled it down in one swallow and actually grinned . . . grinned at me!

Middle Son, still hungry, pulled a large, delicious dish of leftover mashed potatoes out of the refrigerator, set them on the counter and warmed up a full plateful. Middle Son left the potatoes out on the counter. Middle Son chose to dart off and attend to some pressing distraction. Bad Dog sauntered cavalierly into the kitchen, put his two naughty paws up on the counter, stuck his furry head down into that bowl and went to town.

When I discovered him, there was a quarter cup of potatoes left in one corner of the dish, and buttery mashed potatoes rimmed his smirking mouth and extended up to the corners of his ears.

Bad Dog . . . bad, bad dog!

I'm ready to banish him to the outside. I'm ready to call the pound. I'm ready to attach him to the mailbox with a large "Free Dog" sign on his chest.

But then . . . !

But then I find him playing "fort" with Youngest Son.

And I find Middle Son and Bad Dog curled up cozily on blankets on the living room floor, heads resting on pillows (yes, my decorator couch pillows), covered by a red throw (yes, my Martha Stewart red throw with pompons ::sigh::).

And the old buzzard lets Youngest Daughter lie right on top of him and pull on his ears and inspect his calloused "elbows" without a complaint.

And somehow I just can't do it. I just can't send him off to doggy jail. I just can't banish him forever and ever to the cruel, cold out-of-doors. And goodness, if I don't even find myself forgiving him and loving the old fellow all over again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tote Bags and Prince Charming

My knitting projects are not something you should plan your schedules by. If you want that, you had better go to Yarn Harlot, where Stephanie McPhee regularly rolls out a new pair of socks or a blanket or a full-blown lace shawl on a weekly basis.

I like to keep my knitting projects very . . . uh . . . fluid as far as schedule, color, fiber and any other variable is concerned. All are subject to be changed at a moments notice. They are also subject to being started and being abandoned at a moment's notice.

Which brings me to my current project. You remember the tote bag I was going to be working on?

(Photo Source: Purl Bee)
Knit in this stunningly warm and welcoming yarn?

Oh, I could cry just looking at it! I bought this from a small yarn shop up in Hendersonville, NC and unbelievably bought only a 50 gram ball!! What was I thinking. The tote needs 100 grams. So, weeks later I went back to the store to pick up another 50 gram ball. And . . . you know the story . . . no more 50 gram balls of this glowing sunshine of a color!!

I asked the proprietor if he would be getting any more. He looked shocked and said no, of course not. He is from Lebanon and every fall he leaves to go and buy his yarns in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and brings them back to his shop to be sold in the upcoming year. Hence, the beautiful yarns. Hence, the one-of-a-kind projects. Clearly I was not shopping at Hobby Lobby.

And so, there you go, 50 grams of fiber sunshine tantalizing me . . . but not enough to make my tote.

I bought this cotton instead, but it's kind of like settling for going to the ball with your kid brother and watching Prince Charming whirl around with Cinderella.

Just as I was ready to lift the knitting needles to get going on the "Nest Tote," across my computer screen comes this distraction.

(Photo Source: Purl Bee)

This pattern is crochet. Crochet is faster. I'm tempted . . . really, really tempted. This pattern with the sage cotton yarn. It could work!

If I can't have the Prince, guess I can be satisfied with the Kid Brother. ::sigh::

See what I mean . . . always keeping my projects fluid . . . very fluid.

P.S. You can find the pattern here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Watermelon Sorbet

The recipe had been calling to me for weeks. "Watermelon Sorbet." Those two words said everything that I thought needed to be said at the end of a meal on a warm summer evening. What a way to end the summer . . . with a delicious watermelon sorbet. Sweet, frosty, mellow. Goodbye Summer, you've been wonderful!

The recipe promised "delightful flavor and texture." "Family Favorite!" it crowed.

So I planned for this pièce de résistance that was going to delight my family. Picked the watermelon. Picked the evening. Picked the meal.

When I sliced open the watermelon, it was end-of-season pink, instead of the full-bodied red I was dreaming of. Oh, well, nothing a little extra sugar couldn't cure.

I made the sugar-water syrup, chopped the watermelon, added the lime juice, processed in batches in the blender, chilled 2 hours. And then slipped it into its icy metal home to be made into sorbet.

Ten minutes after starting up the ice cream maker, there was a distinctive thudding sound, instead of the placid swishing I was looking for. I peeped in and found the whole substance to have become a stiff mass, clinging to the paddle, like so many chickens backed up against the hen house in the face of an oncoming storm. Thump, thump, thump, it clunked around.

I rescued the mass from its dizzying revolutions. It promptly separated into a thin, watery liquid and sharp icy crystals. I chopped, refroze, chiseled, scraped, and by the end of dinner I served what was to be my signature "farewell to summer."

"I'll pass," said the Man of the House, who doesn't care particularly for watermelon even in its native form.

"Watery," declared one of the 5 food critics at the table.

"Too lime-y," said the another who had questioned the addition of that ingredient from the beginning.

"Icky," piped up the third, apologetically.

"Delectable," said Oldest Son, clearly wanting to escape dish duty for the night.


He consulted his I-pod and its link to the online thesaurus.

"Enticing! Swashbuckling!"


"Good!" said Youngest Daughter, dreamily, delighted by anything in which she could find a pure, source of sugar.

Ah, yes, goodbye, Summer. We've loved you. And now we send you off with a less-than-rousing farewell.

So, what to do with a half-gallon container of rock solid watermelon ice? Partially thaw and reblend.

Watermelon slushies, anyone??

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Coming and Going

There has been a lot of coming and going in this household lately. More than I would like. And more than is good.

But with Oldest Daughter taking some dual credit classes with a local university, volleyball season in full swing, school starting up for all 5, and all the other responsibilities that you know as well as I . . . well, there's just a lot of coming and going.

And sometimes that coming and going can begin to make me feel stressed and a little lost in my own world and anxious.

This past Sunday Youngest Daughter brought home yet another coloring page from Sunday School. I accepted it from her with mild pleasure and slight irritation. After 5 children and 17 years of school art, camp art, church art, home art, and more, I am guilty of feeling, "Now what am I going to do with this?" Don't stone me. It's true.

We've worked out a system where the current art goes up on a cupboard door for a week and then the "art fairies" come and whisk it away to their fairyland where they can enjoy it forever. Okay, that's what I tell myself. I've never explained this to Youngest Daughter and she hasn't asked!

I have to confess, I never glanced at the artwork that came home last Sunday and went dutifully up on the cupboard door.

But this week as I was coming and going, as I was looking at a "To Do" list that was much longer than humanly possible for a single day, as I felt the pressure start to creep up the back of my neck, and as I began to feel alone in the swirl, my eye caught the piece of childish artwork and, even better, a blessed reminder.

Ah, "The Lord keeps watch over me as I come and go." He is with me. He is my helper. The day stopped swirling, the stress crept back down my neck. I am not alone.

I called Youngest Daughter over. "Honey, this is beautiful! Can you tell me what the picture is?"

"Well, this is me and I'm sitting on the green grass and I'm blowing bubbles and the sun is shining. Oh, and these are God's eyes. He's watching over me."

Oh, lovely, delightful Father!! With me in the car! With me as I'm making up another daily "To Do" list! With me as I'm deciding at 6:05 p.m. what to make for dinner with frozen chicken, 3 red potatoes, and an eggplant that should have been used yesterday.

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.