Friday, September 28, 2012

I love to play at photography - in fact, if I had it to do over again, that might become a career.  But at this stage of life, I'm just developing it into a hobby for my own enjoyment.  So, from time to time, I will be posting pcitures I've taken and especially like.  Mostly this is for my own benefit - an easy way to remember my favorites and perhaps get a little feedback on what others like - so I can choose what to enter in next year's fair.

"End of the Line" 
"On the Line" - antique clothes line
Hows that for an action shot?
"Some Pig"???
Playing with perspective

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire . . .

Many of you who read this will wonder how I got to be this old without noticing more of the world around me.  I must have been busy cooking, cleaning, raising kids or reading a book.  But since moving to Green Acres, I have become fascinated by the flora and fauna. Case in point, the Horse Chestnut trees in our front yard.  Didn't pay a bit of attention last year, but this year Dave pointed out the not-so-subtle signs of squirrels preparing for the winter.

Seriously can't believe we both missed this mess last year when we had to mow every other day because it actually rained.  Maybe the squirrels knew last winter would be mild and didn't stockpile as much?  Is this a sign that we should store up canned goods and buy a generator before snow flies?

Anyway, Dave found one of the chestnuts among the empty hulls and when I saw how beautiful they are, I decided I wanted a bowl of them as living room decor.  (Hey, if that is a bad idea - if chestnuts attract ants, or rot and smell like tofu, or turn lime green and stain your good bowl - someone please speak now.)   For the rest of the nature-oblivious among you, horse chestnuts are a member of the buckeye family.  They are not edible like real chestnuts - even when roasted on an open fire - and they are toxic to dogs and cats.  Although they have a nasty taste that will usually cause pets to avoid eating them, it's wise to rake up the shells and keep the nuts out of reach in the house.  Which raises the question of why squirrels eat them in the first place.  Do they have unrefined pallets or are they just too cheap to buy some Skippy?

If you want to harvest some horse chestnuts for decorative purposes - or to feed your pet squirrels - you are going to need 4 things:
1.  One or more horse chestnut trees
2.  A husband with a good throwing arm
3.  A dog that likes to play fetch
4.  Chuck-it brand Wonder Ball* for dogs

Arguably, you could omit the dog, but then you would have to buy dog toys to use for just a few minutes and that would be wasteful.  Also possible that you could omit the husband if you happen to have some throwing skills yourself.  For clarification, it doesn't have to be your own husband - this is a perfectly respectable reason to borrow someone's husband.  You could even use an unmarried man or, for that matter, a woman if you choose to be open-minded that way - whatever shakes your particular tree.

You are looking for ripe seed pods like these:  
Politely request that the husband throw the ball repeatedly into the upper branches of the trees, causing branches to rustle and chestnuts to fall to the ground.  Be sure and stand away from the trees during this portion because those little buggers hurt if they - oh, say -hit you on the back while you're bent to look for chestnuts on the ground . . . I'm assuming.  This is where the strong throwing arm comes into play because, contrary to the popular belief that squirrels are hard workers who toil diligently to store enough food to last an entire winter, they are actually very lazy and will collect the nuts from the lower branches, thus avoiding excessive climbing, then sit back and laugh while humans try to access the few remaining nuts up there in the cheap seats.  (Run-on sentence much?)

After the pods have fallen to the ground, simply remove the soft outer shell.  If they're really ripe, the shell may crack open or fall off completely when they hit the ground or the pickup or your back, depending on what's underneath the tree at the time.  Inside you will find a treasure.  Smooth, shiny gems that look like they are carved from wood, right down to the intricate grain:
The wonders of God's creation never cease to amaze!

*Chuck-it brand Wonder Balls are the #1 ranked dog toy according to an informal poll of the administrators of this blog.  Guaranteed to be indestructible by fetch-obsessed Springer Spaniels, Big Red Idiot Dogs who can/will eat anything, and cows.

**It has been brought to my attention that these may be Iowa Buckeye (also called American Buckeye) rather than Horse Chestnut trees.  Either way, the harvesting procedure remains the same.

Monday, September 24, 2012

In My Best Pinterest . . .

Are you a Pinterest addict?  If so, it's time to stop making "wish lists" and start making those wishes come true.  Trish, of Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity is sponsoring the "Pin It/Do It Challenge" during the month of October.  The concept is pretty basic - make or do some of the things you have pinned; give/receive encouragement from other pinners, and maybe get some ideas for future projects.  If you want to give it a try, visit Trish's blog to sign up (link above).

Trish offers three levels of participation to coincide with your level of enthusiasm.  I am signing up for the "Pin Obsessed" level, which is to accomplish 8 or more pins. I created a "Pin it/Do it Challenge" board with all the things I thought I might actually try.  There are twenty-one pins on it and there's no way I'm going to get to them all, but my hope is to get some Christmas gifts made, try a new recipe or two, and finally hang some bedroom curtains (we've only lived here 18 months).  Here's what I have lined up:

  • Book marks
  • Coasters
  • Business card holders - to hold all those "rewards" cards stores give out.
  • Potholders
  • Casserole Carriers
  • Placemats/table runners
  • Coffee Cup Cozies
  • Bottle "aprons"
  • Bedroom curtains
Cooking - low calorie/low fat recipes:
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Strawberry Muffins 
  • Skinny Monkey Cookies
  • Weight Watchers Taco Soup
DIY Projects and Other Crafts:
  • Spoon Ring
  • TV Tray Ironing Board
  • Curtain Headboard
  • Christmas Gift Tags
  • Gratitude Journal
  • Book Page Christmas Trees
Decorating:  Candy Corn Candle

Activities:  Nature Treasure Hunt (with kids/grandkids)

If you want to try any of these projects, you can find them on my Pinterest Challenge board.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Six Word Saturday

A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasboard . . .

My fair entries
This week I made my first attempt at entering the County Fair, and I would say we had a reasonably successful year.  I received 3rd place on my Wild Plum/Apple Jelly, 3rd on peach pie, and 3rd on apple pie.  I also got 1st place for my chili sauce, entered in the "Homemade Catsup" division - but there were only two entries, so I'm not sure that really counts.  Dave placed 3rd in the Animal Photos competition with his picture of Gabby, the Big Red Dog and her following of heiffers. 

We learned a lot about the subjectivity of judges' opinions.  They didn't award a ribbon to my chocolate chip cookies 
because they "needed more chocolate".  That would be because I like a larger cookie-to-chocolate ratio so I only put in 1/2 the bag of chocolate chips rather than the full bag called for in the recipe.  To each his own, I guess. I also entered Snickerdoodles made from a recipe which won a Grand Champion ribbon for a friend a few years back - but this group of judges deemed them "too thick".  Obviously not Snickerdoodle connoisseurs! :)  My flowers didn't win, either - but every group of "5 brown marigolds" entered looked identical to me, so obviously I'm not up on the finer points of marigold standards.  

I'm thrilled with our ribbons and the $7 in prize money we've got coming.  It was hard work getting everything ready, but also a lot of fun.  Already brainstorming ideas to enter next year.

In case you're not familiar with my 6-word phrase, A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasboard is a song from the animated movie Charlotte's Web.

Six Word Saturday is sponsored by Cate at Show My Face.  Just describe your life, or something in it, in exactly six words.  Visit Cate's blog and play along.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beating a Dead Horse . . .

Following the outcry that arose after it came to light that an author(s?) has been pseudonymously* posting Amazon reviews praising their own books and panning fellow authors' work , (read story here) I heard many readers say "I'm no longer trusting reviews by strangers.  I'm relying on the opinions of book bloggers I know."

But Cynical Me can't get past wondering how well we really know the bloggers we're trusting.  Are we always getting an honest opinion?  The reason I question is because I know I've done it myself.  Forgive me bloggers, for I have sinned!  I confess - I have written reviews that may have (slightly) exaggerated the pros and (slightly) underplayed the cons of a book.  In the name of good manners, I have glossed over slothful plots and gluttonous verbosity.  Brothers and Sisters, I have prostituted my blog out of greed for a measly free book. None of this is news - I've discussed this topic before - repeatedly (*see post title) - most recently when I had a little "Come to Random House meeting" with myself, changed my book review policy (the vague one in my head since I've never actually written one down), cancelled my affiliation with the two blog-tour sponsors I have used, stopped entering contests for giveaways that come with real or implied agreements to write a review, renewed my commitment to finding my reading joy, and vowed to leave it alone.  

But here I am, flailing at this poor horse again because of a Twitter conversation and/or experience this morning.  I was scrolling through tweets, stopping to click on links to book blogs, book news, book reviews, book magazines . . .  When I had finished, I tweeted: 

  • Is anyone else overwhelmed by the volume of book genres, sub-genres, discussions, analyses, explanations and reviews available?
  • I used to just go to the library and pick a book. Now I have to research a Master's Thesis in Literature to decide what to read next.
That observation led to a conversation with a Twitter friend (who shall remain anonymous so she's not accused of sharing any views or sentiments expressed here) about how difficult it can be to sift through all that information, glean what is useful and toss the chaff; to not let the perceived "prestige" of reading what's trendy encourage or discourage me from reading what gives me joy.  Let's face it, the person on the train or in the doctor's office reading 1Q84 appears smarter than the person reading Wicked Business, but it doesn't mean they're having more fun.

I'm not pointing fingers or implying that any specific bloggers are deceitful in their reviews, or biased in their reading choices in order to promote their blog, gain prestige or carve out a bigger piece of the blog world for themselves.  The point to this rejuvenated attack on a defenseless deceased equine is to remind myself that the friends who visit here trust me to say what I really enjoy reading and my honest opinion of those books; to reiterate my determination to stop letting my reading choices be swayed by hype, media and book tours, and trust the book blogger I know best - me.  And now, honestly, I will let dead horses lie.

*That's really a word - I looked it up!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Coming in October: Murder, Monsters and Mayhem

Murder, Monsters and Mayhem - or Mx3 - is a celebration of all things scary, spooky and horrifying, sponsored each October by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves.  There will be prizes, guest posts and links to other participating bloggers.  The rules are flexible. To quote Jenn: "There are no real rules for participating, just read/watch and blog something in the horror/supernatural/thriller genres in the month of October."  Visit Jenn's Bookshelves to sign up and prepare to be scared... uh.. "snot"less.

Those of you who know me are shaking your heads, "She's a big pansy. She's not reading vintage Stephen King or watching movies with Freddie Krueger."  You're right, I'm not.  First off, I read most of King's books in high school and don't need to revisit those sleepless nights when I couldn't turn the lights off.  And I'm too wimpy for books or movies with bloodshed.  So I'm doing Mx3 Lite - with more emphasis on suspense, ghosts and magic.

My plan is to post weekly with a wrap up of one book and one movie.  I'm getting a bit of a jump-start on the books, just to ensure that I get them all done on time. (Hey, Jenn said there are no rules!).  Here are my reading choices:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley 
Death by Diamonds by Annette Blair - also the T and T Bookclub pick
Ghosts of the Missouri River by Marcia Schwartz 
(no image available - a collection of stories by a local author)

When it comes to suspense movies, who does it better than Agatha Christie and The Master of Suspsense, Alfred Hitchcock?  My choices are:

Rope - (1948) Directed by Hitchcock, starring Jimmy Stewart
Murder on the Orient Express (the 1974 version) - based on the novel by Christie, starring Lauren Bacall
Wait Until Dark - (1964) starring Audrey Hepburn
North by Northwest - (1959) Another Hitchcock classic, this time starring Cary Grant

And the grand finale':  House of Dark Shadows - The story of Barnabas Collins, the bloodsucker who made vampires cool before Stephenie Meyer and Johnny Depp were born. 

Based on the Soap Opera, Dark Shadows, which ran from 1966-1971.  The film was made in 1970, while the soap was still in production and starred Jonathan Frid, the same actor who played Barnabas on tv.  Any other children of the 60's/70's remember Barnabas?

There will also be some overlap with the October "Pin It/Do It" challenge sponsored by Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity.  Trish encourages Pinterest addicts to accomplish a few of the fabulous things they've pinned, so I'll throw in a craft project or two or maybe even a recipe with a Halloween theme.  Visit Trish and Jenn and sign up to take part in a freaky-fun October.  Or else . . .

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

There's a Hole in My Bucket . . .

When I joined Pinterest a few months ago, I started a "Bucket List" board to record the things I want to do "someday".  Here's what I have so far:
  1. Meet Tim Gunn
  2. Build a house on the farm in Kansas where my dad grew up
  3. See the Rose Parade in person 
  4. Travel to Italy
  5. Travel to England, Scotland, Ireland
  6. Take a summer vacation at Tyler Place Family Resort in Vermont with all my children/grandchildren
  7. Spend a summer on the coast of Maine
  8. Take a tour of lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast
  9. Attend the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.
  10. Tour the White House at Christmas
  11. Watch 4th of July fireworks from the mall in Washington, D.C.
  12. Sleep in a glass igloo in Finland to watch the Northern Lights
  13. See a whale in the wild
  14. Vacation on Macinack Island
  15. Have a car customized by Count's Kustoms
Probably very similar to many people's lists.  But, this morning, something sparked the thought that there's a problem with this list - a "hole in my bucket", so to speak.  These are mostly big-ticket, wildest-dreams ideas.  Unless I win the lottery or inherit millions from a rich, reclusive relative I'm not aware of, most of these things aren't going to happen.  At best, a small portion of them will - given I live long enough, the stock market doesn't take another huge hit, and our children eventually graduate from college and become self-sufficient. 

So, I have been rethinking my bucket list and decided I also need to have a smaller-scale, more attainable list of things I want to accomplish, or at least try.  I'm calling it my Mason Jar LIst:
  1. Camp overnight at Indian Cave State Park
  2. Hike all eleven trails at Indian Cave State Park (2 done)
  3. Buy/rent a camper and take a wandering vacation - no plans or itineraries
  4. Make an Americana quilt for my bed
  5. Read all the books in my house
  6. Make a quilt for each of my children/grandchildren
  7. Buy a baby doll, make a wardrobe for it, and give it to a total stranger.
  8. Host a family reunion for my cousins on my Dad's side (coming in April)
  9. Start a Little Free Library
  10. Hike to Hanging Falls Lake in Colorado (not hike all the way to Colorado, just from the road to the lake)
  11. Start a book club
  12. Write a book
  13. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
  14. Lose 11 8 pounds
  15. Have a best friend again
  16. Make and keep a gratitude journal for a year
  17. Decorate my kitchen in Vintage 50's decor
  18. Have a different themed Christmas tree in each room of the house
  19. Win a blue ribbon at the county fair (sort of, but there were only 2 entries in the category, so I'm not counting it)
  20. Meet a fellow book blogger I only know on-line
  21. Have an article published in a magazine
I'm sure this will be a fast-growing list, and hopefully I'll be just as quick with marking things off.  I'll update it as I go along.  What's on your list?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Last of the Summer Reads

In May, I selected eight books I wanted to read for my private summer reading program.  Below are numbers six and seven.  I've run out of summer and haven't gotten to that last book - The Uninvited Guests - but I'll tack it on my so-far-unwritten fall list.

Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank:  When her husband is killed in the line of duty, Jackie, and ten-year-old son, Charlie, decide to return to her childhood home on Sullivans Island.  Awaiting them is Annie Britt, the family matriarch who has kept the porch lights on to welcome them home. Thrilled to have her family back, Annie promises to make their visit perfect—even though relations between mother and daughter have never been smooth. Annie's estranged and wise husband, Buster, and her flamboyant and funny best friend, Deb, are sure to keep Annie in line. She's also got Steven Plofker—the flirtatious and tasty widowed physician next door, to keep her distracted. (from publisher's blurb)
Funny - in a "not really" sort of way - that I find myself identifying more with the matriarch in many books lately, rather than the younger heroine.  I liked Annie.  She grates on people, she's a perfectionist, she's a little bossy - at least that's what her husband and daughter see.  But when you get inside her head, she is so much more and her motives are always for the benefit of her family.  Jackie, her daughter, should be the more compassion-inducing character - young widow, war veteran, single mother - but I found her a bit self-indulgent and headstrong.  I'm sure many readers under forty will see the relationship differently.

Whichever side of that line you're on, I think you'll enjoy this story.  It's a 4-star winner on my scale.  Here are a couple of quotes I especially liked:

You want a piece of advice from a tired sixty-three-year-old waitress who has seen it all? . . . Love your momma, honey, and try to treasure every minute you spend with her.  Forgive her everything she does. She's not out to aggravate you.  I'd give every last tooth I have left in my head to have my momma back for just ten minutes.  I'm not lying either.  She was the best friend I ever had, and well, I didn't know it until she was gone.
The young people dressed as though they had no respect for the sanctity of the occasion of worship, but don't get me started on that either.  Church is no place for shorts and jeans, even if one attends the twenty-eighth splintered-off sect of some minuscule, hardly-heard-of Protestant church that holds it's services in a barn.  Sorry.  You're going to worship the Lord?  Dress for the occasion, please.
Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook:  A winning and witty novel about a woman who emerges from the shadow of her overbearing family and finds herself “dancing with the stars.”  Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the round-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as Tag’s gatekeeper at his New England seaside compound.
Then Deirdre’s sometime boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman. While drowning her sorrows in expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use her brother’s massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing with the Stars replacement. 
Irresistible and offbeat, Wallflower in Bloom is an original and deeply satisfying story of having the courage to take a leap into the spotlight, no matter where you land. (from publisher's blurb)

Being a big fan of Dancing With the Stars, this book caught my eye just for the potential of a behind-the-scenes glimpse.  Deirdre has shades of Bridget Jones, and similar humor.  She is a charming protagonist - so totally unaware of her own talents and value - that you want to call in and vote for her.  Also a 4-star read.