We Did It!

January 16, 2012

Friday night I married my best friend in a beautiful, perfect ceremony at the theater where we were coworkers. We had 70 of our closest friends and relatives, music provided by wonderfully talented friends, food catered by another talented friend, and decorations and cakes provided by the bride.

Yes…I really did my own cake(s). And here’s the mess to prove it! They looked beautiful in the room, though.

My groom and I spent days gathering dead tree branches, painting them white, stringing lights in the big ones and affixing rhinestones to the smaller ones. The overall effect was stunning and just what I wanted.

Candles lit the way into the venue, along with some dramatic lighting provided by my colleagues in the tech department.

It was beautiful. I couldn’t have asked for a better evening. We will share more pix when we get the professional ones back. In the meantime, I can’t stop smiling….

World’s Worst Blogger Strikes Again!

January 6, 2012

Image

 

So…I’ve been busy these last several months.  Like reallllly busy.  Does the graphic above give you a hint?  It’s one of the labels on the water bottles we will offer our guests at our wedding.  Yes, I’m getting married.  After 22 years of militant singleness…I’m deliriously, happily, totally in love. I would have never expected to be taking such a step at 63…but here I am.

And here is my groom. The one on the right! Isn’t he cute?

Jack and Hollywood at "the farm"

The big day is one week from today. We are absolutely BURIED in wedding plans – physically and every other way. There are boxes of candle holders…boxes of favors…boxes of centerpieces…boxes of wine and champagne…bags of wedding cake ingredients…stacked everywhere. (Yes, I’m doing my own wedding and grooms cakes.) I work at the wedding venue, and I’ll be able to start moving this mountain of stuff over there a few days prior…but for now, we just deal with it.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to take pictures of the details over the next few days. And maybe there will be pictures of the build-up as we start pulling it all together. It should be fun, if not a little hectic. Stay tuned. There may be something worth watching soon! :)

Beverage of Choice

June 27, 2011

White Merlot  on the patio

One of the things that I wish I knew more about is wine. I am intrigued by it – and somewhat overwhelmed. Adding to my frustration is that I don’t like red wine. Perhaps I’ve just not been exposed to the best of the reds. I need to work on that.

In the meantime, I’ve begun reading a local blog called Whining and Dining. One of the things they do is organize wine and cheese tastings. Online! Participants are given the names of the upcoming wine and cheese selections, and at a certain time, everyone logs on, cracks open the wine, slices the cheese and talks about it. What a great concept! It’s been very informative, not to mention entertaining. One of the most interesting things about it is that it has freed me to pursue exploring my favorite types of wine – the blushes. There is a general lack of acceptance of blush wines – or so I thought. But, this group tastes blushes with regularity – and many members make no apology about liking the blush wine of the moment. That makes me feel better about my own taste in wine. I no longer apologize for leaning toward the lighter wines. Apparently, that’s perfectly fine!

The wine above was a white merlot, bottled by Beringer. Nothing fancy. Just cool, drinkable pleasure. I totally enjoyed this bottle and will be stocking up a bit in the near future. There are several more blushes in the fridge, along with a pinot grigio and a couple other varieties I’ve never tried before. All are on the light side – and that’s OK. It’s time to own my wine preferences and get on with it! Anybody got a corkscrew?

The tree has left the building!

April 18, 2011

Yesterday afternoon Sweet Boyfriend brought over his son and daughter-in-law to dispatch of the Damn Tree. I’ve chosen to capitalize here because the thing has taken on a life and personality of its own. They began with a few initial cuts with the bow saw. Before long, they were moving on to the big boys, using the little chainsaw I bought for the occasion.

As each branch came down, we all dove in to cut it into little pieces. That part was an amazing process to watch. It took us no time at all to sort out who had which job, and we made quick work of it!

Before long, we came to the most difficult phase of the project. Elimination of the main trunk. That was a bit of a challenge with my baby saw.

I didn’t expect this to be the most complicated part – but it was. Eventually, it was dispatched, and we were left with THIS!

Now I’ve just got to work on those roots crawling all over my yard. But, I’ve eliminated a few already, and I have a battle plan. It will probably take most of the summer, but they’ll be history soon, too!

I took the combatants to dinner to celebrate. And then I went home and stood in my yard and just stared at the stump for a while. What am I going to complain about NOW?

I figure something will come along in no time at all! :)

And the Tree Goes On

April 15, 2011

First, let’s catch up. The photo above is the final version of the flower bed I was working on earlier. It was a BEAR getting those stumps out. But, finally, the last one was history, and I put in decorative grasses, two spirea, a climbing rose and some begonias. What happened to the caladiums and hydrangea, you might ask? I know you’re dying to find out!

Well! We had a little storm last week. When I came home, another third of the tree was lying on the ground. Once again, I dodged the bullet. No damage to my house or the neighbor’s house. But, it was obvious at that point. The tree had to go. So did all those shade-loving plants I had purchased. Luckily, Lowes is friendly about returns. I got more tools to assist in tree (and tree root) removal – and some sun-loving plants.

So, that’s where I was. Waiting for the weekend when I could – with any luck – recruit some help to get that tree down all the way. And then there was Monday night….

This is what I woke up to Tuesday morning. It was not a storm. Just a little wind. Not much at all. This illustrates just how dangerous that tree had become. I had to get the thing out of the street and away from my mailbox. I have a very grumpy mailperson. Ahem! So, I hauled out my new saws and choppers and took care of what I could. However, when it was all said and done, the thing that was bothering me was this:

That’s a very large, heavy limb you’re looking at. It was balancing precariously on a smaller limb, with part of its weight supported by skinny little branches on the ground. I was afraid that one touch would send everything crashing down on my head! What to do? What to do?

I did nothing.

Sweet Boyfriend is really, really sick this week. He’s the victim of some medical malpractice, but I won’t go into THAT right now. It’s sufficient to say that I’ve been bouncing between both houses and work, trying to keep him medicated and looked-after while maintaining my job and house. And not doing a very good job at any of it. So, the long and short of it is, I had no male assistance with this project. And, oh yeah…the guy across the street did WATCH me work for a while. A$$!

Wednesday is trash day. I knew the city would pick up all the piles of branches I had created. But, what I did NOT expect was that the city workers would take away the big branch you see in the photo and a couple of others that were hanging to the main trunk by a little bit of bark. These were HUGE pieces, and they’re SUPPOSED to be cut into small chunks before the city will deal with them. But, they took my hunks!!! I have no branches, logs or dangling limbs in my yard at this point. I will be sending thank-you letters to the city, BTW.

I have found male help. Someone who is young and strong and not afraid of my chainsaw (like yours truly, for instance). He will be over Sunday to take down the rest of the tree. If it stands up that long! Cross your fingers!

Adventures in Gardening

April 2, 2011

Aren’t they pretty? My new plants. I had high hopes of turning them into a new flower bed by this afternoon. It ain’t happenin’! I really bit off more than I could chew this time.

So, back in the winter, I talked Sweet Boyfriend into helping me dig up a row of shrubs in front of my dining room windows. The world’s ugliest shrubs. I wish I had taken a “before” photo, but I didn’t think about it until it was too late. But, the offending shrubs were lurking in the background when I documented the damaged tree last year. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Ugly, ugly, ugly!

It’s history now. But, left in its place were six stumps. Six very stubborn stumps. I sprayed ‘em with brush killer an left them to finish out the winter. Here’s one of them awaiting removal earlier today –

No problem. I’ll just slip my brand new sharpshooter shovel under those roots and tip ‘em out. Then, I’ll replace the ugly with hydrangeas, caladiums and begonias. All bright and pretty and new

Well, that was the PLAN. What actually happened was when I applied significant pressure to the handle of the shovel, the damn thing snapped in two!

The force of the break sent me sprawling face first into the dirt. I creamed both knees on the brick edging and sprained my right wrist. I’m just counting my lucky stars that i wasn’t impaled on the broken shovel. I had a few scary nanoseconds as I headed earthward. It’s amazing how many cusswords you can say in such a short period of time.

Sweet Boyfriend says they will give me my money back on the shovel. Wonder if they’ll restore my dignity, too!

The Last Pilgrimage

March 25, 2011

It sounds so final, doesn’t it? I guess it is, really. Last week I lost my sweet Aunt Billie. She was my father’s sister, and the last of her generation. All my father’s siblings had very small families, and several of them don’t seem to be into procreation – so we are a dying breed. I felt it was important to be there. This meant I had to make a pilgrimage to the place of my birth – a small, shrinking town on the Texas prairie.

Pampa has been haunting me. I don’t really understand why. I don’t like the place. It’s dusty, sad and ugly. It suffers from extremes of weather, no matter what time of year. The damn wind blows ALL THE TIME! For some reason, I have felt as if there is a lonely, unattended, dirty little girl wandering those streets that needs to be gently guided to her rightful place – in the past. I didn’t find her last week. And maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be. She is long gone. A strong, capable woman replaced her many years ago. But, the search for her took me many places.

It started on the prairie about 25 miles out of town. My grandparents lived at a refinery camp in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to stand on their homesite, under the cottonwood tree, and gaze through the distance to the next bluff where the Phillips 66 refinery stood. I wanted to hear the oil wells doing their relentless work…one more time. Unfortunately, that was not to be. A ranch has bought up all the land and posted it with numerous large signs warning that trespassers will be fully prosecuted. I didn’t feel like tangling with cowboys that afternoon….so I stopped just short of the final dirt road to Grandma’s house and took this shot of the horizon. If you look closely, you can see the Phillips 66 refinery far in the distance. At night it sparkled like a diamond necklace. I loved watching it when I was a small child. It’s funny what things stand out in your mind.

Leaving the prairie behind, I made my way into town and had lunch at a cafe where my grandmother would take me after shopping. Coney Island was already an old, established business when I was a child. And, I swear, they haven’t changed a thing, including the fryer oil! I sat at the counter – and used the same stool where I had once spun myself sick. The food was awful! But, it was clear from the crowd that this was still “the place” to gather for a quick sandwich or coffee and pie. I’m glad I stopped.

It was just a few blocks to the place that holds a lot of history for me and my family – the newspaper office. This was where my father – and I – worked. He was classified advertising manager. I landed my very first job there. On Saturdays I would roll coins for the circulation department when the “paper boys” turned in their collections. They paid me $5 for a day’s work. That was a fortune back then! Later, I got my own paper route. I was the first girl “paper boy” in town. Nobody quite knew what to think about that!

A block or so away from the newspaper office was the LaVista. It just kills me to see it crumbling. My brother and I spent many long Saturday afternoons there. For a quarter, we could watch bad movies, one after another. We were in heaven. Afterward, we would walk over to the paper and drive home with Daddy. At 12 and 9, we thought we were grown!

Of the three schools I attended in Pampa, this one was the least changed. I attended Horace Mann for grades 1 and 2. It looks exactly the same, although it is now an administrative office. I think it’s interesting that the playground remains. Just out of the shot is the monkey bars where I took a head-first fall into the gravel. I thought I was going to die! I can still feel those frozen nanoseconds I was in the air on the way to the ground. Time does stand still sometimes.

Another thing that remains much the same is Central Park. Yes…they really do call it Central Park. But, it’s funny. It’s much, much smaller than when I was a child. It was the site of many Easter egg hunts, church picnics, school outings and family reunions. I loved Central Park. Its shady elm trees were a welcome break from the relentless Texas sun. I wish this trip had come a little later in the year. It would have been nice to see the park in full greenery.

Also still in great shape is the church where I was baptised and confirmed – St. Matthews Episcopal Church. It was nice to see that it’s been well cared for all these years. I wanted to attend a service there, but the timing was just a little bit off. I couldn’t fit it in.

Cruising the neighborhoods, I located this house. It holds so many nice memories. This is where my grandmother, mother, aunt and I held on together while our men were away during the Korean Conflict. It was a total Girl House, full of nail polish and hair pins. I have my first Christmas memories in this house. The earliest photos of me all dolled up for Easter are taken in front of this house. Even though we were women against the world, there is no sadness associated with this little house.

It was interesting as I drove around to see that people I once thought of as “rich” were far from it. Make no mistake – there are pockets of money in this little town – but all those people I thought were wealthy…just weren’t. Of course, there’s a reason I thought everyone else was rich. This is where WE lived…all six of us.

My last night in town, I was treated to a traditional prairie sunset. This photo was taken behind my hotel. Sunsets like this one – and those that are made even more beautiful by the incredible Texas cloud formations – are one of the few things I will always miss about Pampa.

Cakes and More Cakes

March 6, 2011

I have baked myself into a corner. I work at a performing arts venue, and this year I began a tradition which, while fun, can be somewhat time-consuming and challenging (not to mention expensive). I’ve started baking for our ushers. They have a little place where they sign in before each performance, stash their purses and coats, etc. Nearby, I set up a coffee service and a cake or tray of cookies/brownies for them as a token of our appreciation. Now they look forward to and expect this treat! I enjoy doing it, and they ARE suitably appreciative. But, sometimes, when there are lots of performances in a short period of time, it can get stressful. I needed to come up with something affordable, easy and flavorful that I could whip up in a variety of guises. Enter the Cheater’s Bundt Cake. I enjoy baking from scratch, but lately, cake mixes have become my reality. The following method allows me to create something homemade that offers special texture and taste…without dictating that I bake into the wee hours during those busy weeks. The ushers are really loving their bundt cakes.

Cheater’s Bundt Cake

1 Cake mix – flavor can vary according to outcome desired
1 Small box Jello or Instant Pudding Mix, according to outcome desired
5 Eggs
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
3/4 Cup Water or Juice or mixture of both
OR 1 Cup fruit puree

Place the cake mix and Jello or pudding mix in mixing bowl. Break eggs into a bowl, add other wet ingredients. Stir briefly to break up eggs. Pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir until blended. Scrape bottom of bowl. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes – a little less if using a Kitchenaid. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Cool on rack. Frost. Devour!

For frosting -

Place 1 pound of sifted powdered sugar in a large bowl. Add 2 TBS melted butter. Add 1/4 tsp salt. Add extracts and liquer as desired. Gradually add fruit puree or other liquid until quite thick but still a little “droopy.” I like to add 3 TBS cream cheese powder and 1 TBS vanilla powder to most icing combinations for extra flavor. Spoon over the top of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Sometimes it needs to be coaxed into the most artistic drips.

I have seen similar recipes using four eggs (most common) and more oil. I find that this combination works best for me. The cake doesn’t take on an oily texture, and the extra egg adds a little bit more poundcake-like texture.

Favorite flavor combinations are:

Pureed fresh strawberries and strawberry Jello. LorAnn strawberry flavor in the icing along with the cream cheese powder and vanilla powder.

Puree 1 can of LIGHT apricot halves (do not drain away the liquid). Also stir into the batter about a cup of minced dried apricots which have been soaked overnight in a little peach schnapps. I used apricot Jello, but not all supermarkets carry apricot Jello. Peach or orange would work well. The apricot puree is also used in the icing, along with the cream cheese and vanilla powders. I don’t have apricot flavoring, but a little touch of it would take the icing over the top. LorAnn makes apricot flavor, and all of their flavors are terrific. This cake got RAVE reviews!

For a pina colada cake, use pureed pineapple for the liquid – and pineapple jello. I only know of one local supermarket that stocks pineapple Jello, so you might have to substitute lemon or orange, which won’t be quite as authentic….but it’ll still be good! This is a good place to use a vanilla pudding instead of Jello, if you can’t find the pineapple Jello. For the icing I use coconut milk rather than the pureed pineapple. I don’t use Coco Lopez, which you see in lots of coconut cake recipes. It’s too sweet for this recipe, IMHO. Instead, I use coconut milk from the Thai foods aisle. Then, I top the frosted cake with lots of shaved coconut.. A little splash of rum in the icing is fun. Plus the cream cheese and vanilla powders. Cream cheese isn’t part of a pina colada, but I love cream cheese icing on other pineapple cakes…so I add it here, too.

Key lime cake is almost a cliche. I start with a lemon cake mix for a little extra zing plus lime Jello . I add water and lime juice mixed about half and half for the liquid. I feel that 100% lime juice is just too much. But, you can never have too much grated lime zest. I put lots in both the cake and frosting. For the frosting I use only lime juice for the liquid. I don’t put the cream cheese or vanilla powders in this frosting, as those aren’t classic key lime pie flavors. But, I do add a healthy shot of dry coffee creamer to give it that extra creamy flavor instead. Try adding some tequila and orange extract to the frosting to turn this into a margarita cake! Maybe a few sprinkles of sea salt on top???

Try a lemon/ginger cake. You can use either a lemon cake mix – or a yellow one, if that’s what you have on hand (as I did). Plus lemon Jello. Add a little lemon juice to the water – and some lemon extract, too! Then, add a generous spoon of ginger – however much you like. I used dried, cracked ginger which I ground myself. Grated fresh ginger would be marvelous. If all else fails, just use the stuff you’ve got leftover from the holidays. Oh, yeah…don’t forget to add grated lemon zest. More lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon extract and ginger in the frosting tops it off. Of course, you can skip the ginger all together and get a yummy lemon cake.

There are lots more flavors that can be played with. Raspberry, orange, blueberry, blackberry, peach. And, then there are nonfruit flavors such as chocolate, coffee, matcha (all good instances to use the pudding mix instead of Jello) .

Have fun with this and come up with your own flavor combinations!

Obsessions R Us

February 10, 2011

It was only a matter of time before another obsession took over. This is a rather old one – recurring with renewed passion and vigor. I’m playing with electronic art. Specifically, I’m turning digital images into paintings. The opening graphic was from an old, old photo I took nearly 20 years ago while touring in Maine. It was printed on paper, which I later scanned. I have no idea where the original is. Nor do I know why I scanned it just 100 pixels wide! But, I did. In any event, it was the perfect subject for my new baby – Dynamic Auto-Painter.

Here’s how the original looked before processing. This photo is enlarged from the version I had saved all those years ago.

Meh! It never did it for me. And, believe me…I tried playing with it. A lot.

I’m not going to go on and on about DAP. If you’re interested, you will follow the link, and from there will go on to the discussion forum, as I did. But, I will say that it offers TONS of opportunity for artistic expression. You can make the painter do just about anything. I’ve done many versions of the pieces I’ve played with so far, tweaking the brushes, making the paint wetter or drier, adding detail, removing detail, changing the color blends. It’s amazing what all you can do with this.

Here’s a lousy photo that I took last week. There just wasn’t enough light on the stage to capture this guy as he came from the wings in a poof of fog.

And this is what DAP did with it! This was my first try – and why I’m hooked!

You should see it printed on canvas, with a brush stroke overlay of clear acrylic. Stunning!

And, finally…my soon-to-be niece used this photo of her and my nephew as the avatar for her Facebook account. I couldn’t leave it alone.

Typical avatar photo. Pleasant enough. Here’s what I did with it. First, I took out the Christmas stuff. Made a sorta background out of colors I picked up off their clothes and faces. I wasn’t too careful, knowing DAP would take over and do magical things. It didn’t let me down. Here’s the outcome….

Nice, huh? As soon as my new wide format printer and some large-size canvas arrive, this is going into a frame. So is the High and Dry in Maine shot.

I need to get some more walls!

A good read

January 21, 2011

An old and dear friend, Liz Moore, has published a book. It’s a great read – and one that a lot of people can relate to, I think. It’s the true story of her Great Adventure. Who hasn’t dreamed of throwing a bag in the car and taking off for parts unknown? Pretty much any Boomer who watched “Route 66″ back in the day can relate, I’m sure.

In 1999 our office moved from Texas to the Washington, DC area. Most employees were not invited to make the move. It was a sad and devastating experience. Liz took the opportunity to follow her dream of driving aimlessly across the country, stopping in appealing small towns to make a life for a few weeks. She planned to work, volunteer, make friends and get to know this vast country a little more intimately. She did that…but not without a bit of frustration. There were great rewards as well. There were detours along the way. Some small…some life-changing. She ended the journey in a totally different place than she intended. Come along for the ride. You’ll have a great time!

Making it Home is only available as an ebook. You can download it to your Kindle or to your PC if you don’t have a Kindle. There’s a link in the little green purchase box to buy it for your PC. You’ll have to download a Kindle on PC app – but that’s free and painless.

I hope you’ll read Liz’ book. I think you’ll like it!

World’s Worst Blogger

December 28, 2010

Max posing under the tree

OK. I admit it. I’m a horrible blogger. I go for months without uttering a word. The sad thing is, my blog is my browser homepage. It’s not one of those “out of sight/out of mind” things. It’s in my sight all day every day. I’m just hopeless, I guess.

The thing is, I don’t know what kind of blog this is. It’s not a cooking blog, although I cook (bake, really) quite a lot. It’s not a crafting blog. I craft even more than I cook. It’s not a travel blog. I don’t travel enough for that, sad to say. It’s not a mommy blog. It’s definitely not a grandma blog. There are none of those little people hanging around here. It’s not a photography blog, although I do take quite a few photos. I guess it’s just a “little bit of me” blog. A very little bit of me. Maybe that should be my new year’s resolution…to blog more often.

Nah….

Who would care?

Here’s an illustration of what a terrible blogger I am. Most people blog about Christmasy stuff as a buildup to the holiday. They might share holiday preparation tips and recipes. Not me. Nosirreee. 3 days after Christmas, I post a photo of my cat under the tree. I could have posted about dragging the decorations down from the attic, getting the house set to rights and setting out candles, etc. I could have talked about packing and shipping umpteen pounds of toffee to friends and relatives.

But, no. You get a post-Christmas kitty-under-the-tree photo. I’ve got to do better than this!

But, isn’t he a handsome devil?

What a weekend!

November 3, 2010

This has been the busiest few days in recent history. I’ve had all sorts of creative projects in the works…with several events mixed in, just to keep things interesting.

This weekend was the Race for the Cure. I had never participated in one before, but this year was special. My boss was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in June and just finished her chemo this past week. She wasn’t feeling her best, but she managed to do the Fun Run – and we were there every step of the way with her. She’s the one wearing the pink survivor shirt below. (Isn’t that a great picture?)

We met our team fund raising goal and were also the highest-ranked civic organization. So, it was an especially happy day for us.

It was a beautiful morning as we took off down the road with 19,000 of our friends!

I loved being part of this. Aside from doing some good…it was just plain fun! Loads of interesting people turned out. It seems we ran into someone we knew every time we turned around. These ladies were new acquaintances, however. Their hats were just the beginning of the story. Their vests and jackets were covered with even more pins. They literally flashed in the sun! They are survivors and have been collecting pins and doing races for a long, long time! I hope they gather so many more pins that they run out of places to put them!

Tired, but happy, we vowed to do this again next year. Bigger and better than ever.

But, that’s not all…

The previous evening our boss was honored by an arts organization at their masked gala. We all donned our masks and cheered her on as she gave the best acceptance speech of the evening.

The upcoming “normal” weekends just can’t compare with this. I need to find something interesting to do!


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