Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real: Outdoors (Mostly) Edition

round button chicken

So this week's installment is bugging me.  I'm just OCD enough to be irritated when I don't have a clear cut selection for each category.  I like to categorize things most of the time and get twitchy when lines are blurred.

For example, many of this week's photos are positively, frustratingly real and while they have the potential, nay the probability, of prettiness in the future, I'm not sure I can declare them satisfactorily pretty.  And I've been leaning dangerously close to grumpy as our first real heat wave sets in (ok, maybe not in terms of the official weatherpeople's criteria of being over 90 degrees for three days, but in laymen's terms, if I have to do outdoor chores with a hand towel in my belt loop for two days straight, that's a heat wave) so contentment has been a tad more elusive lately!

But enough of the shilly-shally.


Let's start with the actual pretty.  This was part of our project blitz weekend but I wanted to save it for this week's post.  We FINALLY have a covering on the bathroom window!  And I would like to explain this a bit because it makes me feel moderately brilliant.

I bought that shower curtain months ago, right after we moved in to the vicarage.  I had known for months that I wanted to do a shocking shade of green on the walls with white beadboard, vintage-looking black and white tile, and black and white toile shower curtain and window treatments in the upstairs bath.  I was thrilled when I found that shower curtain on sale but knew it was going to be hard to match it for the windows but figured I would think of something.

And lo! I did.  And then I got Mom over here.  We cut off the bottom of the shower curtain and used it to make a cafe curtain and a valance (not shown because it isn't finished yet), then went and got some black and white polka dot fabric to replace what we cut off and add to the other pieces.  I had really been hoping to find some black and white ticking or a crisp striped fabric but they were not to be had and I really do like the whimsical and classic polka dot.

I am not kidding; these curtains bring a smile to my face every time I walk into or past that room.  Which would also qualify that photo as Happy, too, wouldn't it?

Remember this?  Although I only did that a few days ago, I've already changed it up because I realized that chair is going to deteriorate rather quickly out in the elements and I don't want that to happen AND Mom and I thought of something better!

I've had this old washtub lying around for years.  I got it either at a yard sale or in the trash and have always wanted to use it as a planter.  But as there weren't no hole in the washtub and we were loath for some reason to put one in it, we used it for things like washing the cars, hauling small amounts of dirt, and storing drinks on ice for backyard parties.

We got some violets, petunias, dead nettles, purslane, and ivy in there

THEN.  When we were moving and asking the perpetual question of, "Are we bringing/packing this," The Vicar pointed out to me that the old washtub did indeed finally have holes in it.  He wanted to throw it away, foolish man.  But I knew my long-hoped-for dream of having flowers in the washtub were about to become a reality.

And then there was this old wrought iron headboard I had gotten, also years ago, also in the trash.  Honestly, The Vicar thinks I am plain old nuts when I drag home old rubbish like this.  Especially when I let it sit in the basement/shed/backyard for years while I wait for inspiration and opportunity to plunk down on my head.  Mom and I had already decided to find a vine to plant so we could use the headboard as a trellis when, in a flash of true inspiration, it occurred to me that we should use the headboard and washtub together.

Which leads me to:


Inspiration is knowing you must have a clematis to plant next to your front step to grow up and all over the old, gnarly, but totally cool wrought iron headboard you're propping up behind the old, beat up, but also totally cool metal washtub on your front porch.  Happiness is finding a sad-looking one that is an obvious victim of neglect at Lowe's and guilting the salesperson into letting you have it at half price, knowing your gardening fairy of a mom can nurse it back to health in no time at all.

When we moved in, this area was covered with a piece of plywood and we kept our firewood on it.  Now it's on its way to being a lovely flower bed thanks, again, to Mom.  Hydrangea, irises, lilies of the valley, impatiens and creeping myrtle, for anyone who's curious.  And those rocks were all found in the backyard (and hauled into place--mostly) by  Calvin.

The Vicar's only attempt at veg this year with a bit of fresh herbs on the side.  My husband does love having fresh, homegrown tomatoes in the summer and was happy to find that the southern side of the house gets full sun all day long.  And though they look a wee bit wilted here, they are doing rather well.  Mmmm...Caprese salad is calling my name...

And these are my herbs.  The Vicar tends to them but they're mostly mine.  Mint, rosemary, and cilantro.  I also have a basil plant on my windowsill that I've managed to keep alive since mid March.  We love being able to go out and pluck a few leaves of mint any time we want some mint-iced tea.  Or juleps.  Or mojitos.  But, for some reason, I keep forgetting I have cilantro.  Must remember to get some avocados next time I'm at the store!


Today's funny is brought to you by twelve-year-old boys who get bored in the car and rifle through Mom's purse.  Yes, I keep a fancy fan in there.  Dead useful thing to have in one's purse.  I highly recommend it.

Starting out Happy then veering off into possibly Funny and Real

Now, stay with me here.  Don't be fooled by the seemingly boring nature of this photo.  I know there's not much to see here but look at that small tree on the left.  Yes, it's a tree, that's the point.  We're having a tree taken down in the farthest part of the backyard.  So the tree guy was here yesterday.  And it just so happened that Mom was tinkering around in this flower bed and wondering what this plant was and casually asked the tree guy if he knew what it was.  And he did.

So, yeah, it's a pear tree.  An apparently expensive ornamental pear tree that nature has just blessed us  The tree guy said they grow fast and are beautiful and much coveted for their spring blooms and autumn foliage.  We were so excited.  I had visions of hanging a partridge decoration in it somehow and was ready to start looking for such a trinket but decided to look up info on the tree itself first.

And that's when things got real.

It's a Bradford pear, which the TG told us.  Which means it will get HUGE which the TG did NOT tell us.  And they have shallow roots, are top-heavy and easily split and topple over in windstorms.  WHAT UP WITH THAT, TG???  So, clearly, this thing cannot be allowed to flourish mere feet from the house.  And now, in contrast to being romantically giddy about having it appear as if by magic in our yard, I am afraid of it.  I want it gone.  It could actually kill us in our sleep, but maybe I'm letting my imagination run away with me again...


So, these shots are of the mess it seems you must create in order to improve your yard.  I think it actually looks worse than when we moved in!  I guess it's like any home improvement: it always looks worse before it looks better!  As perhaps you can tell, The Vicar has been power washing anything that can stand it and having a marvelous time at it.  And Mom and I have been planning and digging and planting and watering.

Or at least Mom has, and like a giddy schoolgirl, I might add.  I discovered something this week.  I can't say that I'm really contented with it, but I do feel that it's better to know the truth than waste time wondering, you know?  But anyway, I discovered, after decades of uncertainty, that I seriously dislike gardening.  In fact, I think I could go as far as saying I hate it.  I know, I know.  I'm disappointed in myself, like I'm admitting that I don't really like children or ice cream or bacon.  Come to think of it, I don't really like children.  Except my own.  And my nieces and nephews.  And a few other friends' children that I've gotten to know.  But I'm not one of those people who just loves children.

I don't really like animals all that much, either, truth be told.  I am just a soulless void inside.

As far as ice cream and bacon are concerned, we're good.

All this for a silly graduation party, can you believe it?  We must really love that girl or something.  But it's going to look beautiful when it's done and then, THEN, oh, the Pretty and Happy pictures I will have to share!

But until then, join us each week as we practice capturing contentment in our everyday lives.  Every Thursday at Like Mother, Like Daughter.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and now the summer season has unofficially begun.  Blargh.

I hate summer.  Don't get me wrong, I love the extended hours of sunlight and school being out, but I hate the heat.  Actually, it's not so much the heat as the humidity.  HATE IT!  And this year, I am the one who has to host an outdoor party at the end of June.  Don't get me started...

But since I brought it up, we've begun preparations for said party (which is, of course, Redheaded Snippet's graduation party which will pretty much also be a housewarming type thing as it will likely be the first time a lot of folks see the new house for the first time in all its glory) and took advantage of the three-day weekend to do so.  And because we've been focusing on the party, we were too tired to really do much of anything for Memorial Day.  Which is probably fine.  Because I don't think centuries of brave men and women gave all they did just so we can knock ourselves out over the perfect backyard burger and American flag cupcakes.

When you have very little time and even less money, prioritization becomes the name of the game.  And we've been slowly picking our way down the list of priorities, weighing them carefully against the amount of time we've got until this party.  Now, perhaps you wouldn't think curtains in the master bedroom would be very high up there as far as graduation parties go, but I think you would if you understood that those windows look out onto an area through which any number of men may be wandering at any given time!  So Mom came over again and worked her magic with the old sewing machine.  These were more of the great-aunt's curtains that were quickly fashioned into lovely, lacy window treatments with a few snips and zips on the trusty machine.  We were tired of having to change in the bathroom!

Way less glamorous, but just as necessary, party-wise, is this rubbish bin containment field The Vicar built in just a few hours.  We're all about concealing our rubbish bins behind lattice.  And those young, little plants are lilacs that Redheaded Snippet got for me for Mothers' Day.  There was a huge lilac bush (more like a small tree, really) in the yard in the house in which my sisters and I grew up.  We played in it every day, used its glossy, wide, heart-shaped leaves as play money, and made ourselves giddy sniffing the flowers (which we were expressly forbidden to pick--that was Mom's job) when it was in bloom.  When we moved, Mom took suckers with her and planted them all around the new house.  And when we moved into our first house, the Cottage at Wits' End, she brought suckers from those to plant there.  So, for Mothers' Day, Redheaded Snippet went and dug up suckers from both our old house and Mom's house so I could have the original childhood lilacs in our new yard.  Isn't that sweet?

This was another afternoon's work for The Vicar.  Our portion of the property isn't fenced in so we've been working on a solution to contain silly Nutmeg, who has to be watched carefully every time she's let out to do her business because she will insist on going off to find The Vicar if she's left out too long.  This is the side of the yard that visitors to both the vicarage and the church office see so we were concerned about it looking nice as well as providing a bit of privacy for us.

This is the view from our patio.  That brick building is part of the church.  That's how close it is!  Though you can't see it in this photo, there is a section of lattice (to the right, behind that pine tree--visible in the left of the previous photo) that had been installed prior to our arrival.  That got us thinking about simply adding more lattice to it to make a fence with gate all the way across.  And when Mom offered to let us have her old arbor, that sealed the deal.  And before I knew it, The Vicar had it finished!  Well, it still needs a latch, some paint, and a good power-washing, but he'll have that done before this weekend!

While Mom did the curtains and The Vicar did the structural additions, I fussed and fiddled with decorative things and, dare I say it, even got a little crafty.  I dragged this cute, little, blue chair and basket of bottles up from the basement and set them out on the front step with a few planters and a cute slate sign.

I changed out the springy stuff for more summery stuff in foyer: just an old window, a stars and stripes sign, a few American flag twirly things and a bit of rusty, old flags and stars garland.  I don't have a lot of summery stuff anymore but then I do like things to be a little more bare in the summer.  Maybe I think it's going to help me feel cooler if there's not as much clutter around...

So this is where I got crafty.  Maybe crafty isn't the word.  I probably should say this is where I got crafty for me.  I saw an idea on Pinterest and decided to try and duplicate it.  Of course, now I'm looking at it critically and seeing how I could have improved it but anyway...I took an old piece of patriotic bunting I had in the basement and wrapped it around another old window I had lying around.  It took me forever to get the fabric folded and wrapped just so, which was frustrating, but I do like the finished effect.  And though it only took four staples, a staple gun was involved so, to me, that counts as crafty.

I wanted to put it out on the front porch but had woefully misjudged the amount of space on that porch.  And so it went on the antique desk on the side porch.  Which is probably for the best since that porch is covered and protected from the elements.  Who cares if the only ones who see it are those coming from the church offices or copy room, right?

Finally, it wouldn't be Memorial Day without some kind of festive, fruity new dessert, would it?  We were invited to spend the day with friends and I needed a dessert to share.  More specifically, I needed a dessert that was quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive to make.  And so I turned to my trusted America's Test Kitchen cookbook and found the perfect candidate: Summer Berry Gratin!  That's what it's supposed to look like, up there...

This is what it looked like fully assembled.  Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blackberries macerated in sugar and a pinch of salt with some bread crumbs, brown sugar, and butter crumbled on top.  Apparently, the French use stale croissants which I think would be pretty killer.  But this recipe calls for the more practical use of white bread that has been buzzed in the food processor.  I probably have croissants around more often than I have white bread but I decided to comply with the recipe.  Next time, I'll probably fiddle with the ingredients a bit...

And here it is, in all its browned, toasty, hot fruity, gratin-ed glory.  Mmm-mmm good and a success at the get-together, I must say!  Not a crumb was left at the end!  I'll definitely be bringing this one back out to play!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real: Gratitude Edition

round button chicken
Capturing the context of contentment every Thursday at Like Mother, Like Daughter
For starters, I must say I felt a little guilty trying to think of something to feature in a post about contentment after watching footage of the tornado-ravaged town in Oklahoma.  As Calvin said soberly, after joining me in viewing a gallery of photos of the damage, "...and I've been whining about having a runny nose all week..."

It does help to put things in perspective, to remember and pray for those whose lives have been turned upside down.

But contentment, like joy, is something that exists in spite of our circumstances not because of them.  And like joy, contentment sometimes takes practice and/or an act of the will.

So, this week my contentment is enhanced with extreme gratitude for the life I live, the loved ones I cherish, and the luxurious comforts I enjoy, undeservedly.

And so:


Yup, prom time, or as the kids called it, PRAAAAMMM!  A few things you need to know: if you're looking for modest and modestly priced dresses for PRAM, go to David's Bridal.  We looked EVERYWHERE and wound up there in desperation only to find we should have gone there first.  Don't think it's just humdrum bridesmaid dresses.  Also, Mom did the hair again.  She should go into business, that lady.

Same boyf as last year's prom.  Great kid, great family, so maybe he is a little too attached to his phone...

Mothers' Day.  Flowers from the yard picked for our tea table by The Vicar.

I know, I'm a little behind the times but we've been busy with PRAM, you know.  Mothers' Day was a delightful (if not a little exhausting) day.  Daria was visiting and while we couldn't manage to get Dharma up here with her girls, Lobelia and Sweet Pea came over for the day, and Mom, of course, and all of us girls had a lovely, smashing, feminine tea party.

Lobelia made a delicious, fancy salad (with goat cheese, y'all!) AND the dainty tea sandwiches and brought about 27 bags and tins of tea.  Daria went out and procured things like lemon curd, quince jelly, Nutella, and clotted cream.  I made scones and my now-famous white cake with lemon curd and whipped cream.  And Mom went to our favourite bakery for its famous cream-filled donuts and petit fours.  We probably should have had phials of insulin set by every plate.  It was decadent.


I think Sweet Pea agrees.  This little spitfire who rarely sits still for anything was perfectly content to sit in her chair and tuck in to an array of delightful treats.  She thoroughly enjoyed herself the entire time!  What a little imp she is!


Throughout all of the PRAMapalooza, Calvin was kind of a sulky mess.  Being a twelve-year-old boy, he couldn't care less about something as ridiculous as getting all dressed up to go to some fancy place to dance. But the closer we got to PRAM and the more we fussed over his sister, the more squirrelly he became.  At one point, after he had machine-gunned Redheaded Snippet with a series of innocuous, little-brother-esque barbs (things like, "That hair-do makes your head look pointed," "You look pretty.  For a cow," you get the idea), he himself said, "Wow.  I don't know why I keep doing this!  Why am I being so obnoxious today?"

I pulled him into a hug (oh, how he HATES that--but The Vicar says he must always allow it) and said, so only he could hear, "You're just a little envious of all the attention she's getting and you want some, too.  Don't worry, your time will come."  He looked at me, amazed that I was so dead on.  And then went right back to being a punk.  By the time we were taking photos, he had retreated to the love seat with the laptop. So I took a photo to prove to him later that we hadn't completely forgotten about him.  He was unimpressed.

Now this, THIS, I bet this has you stumped, doesn't it?  What is going on here?  I was startled the other day to walk into the kitchen to find a group of men standing in our back yard!  Oh, sure, one may encounter the odd solo gentleman strolling through one's yard from time to time, people like meter readers and exterminators to whom one's husband forgot to alert you, you know.  But an entire group?  It was, as I said, startling.

Well, you may recall, as I seemed to have completely forgotten at the moment that I was peering out the window, that we now live in a parsonage on our church's property.  So the land is not ours.  And we are not its caretakers.  The Vicar quickly came to the window when I told him of the backyard gathering, took one look and said, dismissively, "Oh, those are the deacons."  "Yes, I know that but why are they all in the backyard?"  It was odd, ODD I tell you!  Turns out they were examining a tree to see if it needs to be taken down.  Which is really not quite as odd after all.  But I'm not sure I'll get used to groups of men strolling past my windows.


Finally, in the I-can't-believe-I-am-posting this category, this is our bath mat.  I made the mistake, I see now, of getting a black one for the main bathroom that everyone in the family uses many, many times a day.  I shake it out and wash it and try to keep it hung on the towel bar unless it's actually being used as a bath mat, but it looks like this ALL THE TIME.  I swear, six seconds after I've brought it up from the dryer and hung it in the bathroom, I'll come back in and find it exactly like this.  Clearly, black was NOT the way to go.    Lesson learned.

Where have you found contentment this week?  Or maybe recent events have made you more aware of all of the joy in your life that you haven't been noticing?  If so, take a few photos to share and get some practice in!