Thursday, April 11, 2024

Complicated - but there's always the garden!

Since my last post life has been complicated. 
I want my days to be like my bits and bobs around the house, neat, clean, organized, tidy and in top working order. Instead, these days, and past several weeks, I've been inundated with home projects, some planned, others nasty surprises, ranging from emergencies, to 'fix its' that are not actually broken but "let's do it now and be safe rather than sorry later".

I'm not going into the sordid details, just know nothing lasts forever in a home be it plumbing, electrics, roofs, outdoor structures, or even perfect gardens. Things age, wear out, break, disintegrate, fall off, blow away . . . . . . and even grow too big to manage, like 100 ft oak trees and 10 ft azalea shrubs. Who knew that taking down a tree that size might some day cost $5,000! Our biggest tree still stands and we say a little prayer when the wind picks up, wondering why the builder didn't clear the land before sitting our little house on it forty years ago. The azaleas we embrace and love their huge size with thousands of blooms right now.

As homeowners we sometimes turn a blind eye to maintenance issues, especially those of us who know very little about building and the length of time products last before dripping, cracking, corroding etc.  At times like this I wonder why I didn't decide to spend my life married to a plumber/electrician/sheetrock/painter/handyman. Even better a general contractor who could help out with everything in the home requiring attention and, with a snap of his fingers, have a reliable service person there with the right tools, a working pickup truck (that doesn't drip oil on the driveway!), who uses tarps and drop cloths and eventually fixes everything perfectly . . . . . . . and doesn't talk down to me or make me cry!
Are you getting the picture here?  

Yes, it's my garden and I love it. I sometimes complain wishing we could move to a new place with no repairs, less maintenance, no garden to weed, on one level with no stairs, no lawn to mow, no large trees to fall on us when the winds pick up . . . . . . . . . . .  and then I recall the months stretching into years of the pandemic and how having a garden perhaps saved my life.  All those days spent in the garden, on the front porch, back deck, away from the mosquitoes in the screened gazebo, were days I remember with love. The garden was my safe haven while the world was in turmoil.
Gardens here are at their peak of loveliness right now - the southeast brings a springtime where everything blooms profusely. It was my reason for moving here all those years ago when Bob's company flew me down to Raleigh in April 1977 for a weekend to look around - he was already working here - to see if I liked it and would want to make my home here.  I fell in love and had no doubts about living here . . . . . . . knowing immediately I would so enjoy having a real garden like I had in England as a child.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Through the garden gate.........

. . . . . . . on the first days of Spring.

Spring has arrived, its beauty already brightening up the landscape.   

This Magnolia liliflora in the garden by the gate was planted 16 years ago when quite small, just 18" in its garden center pot. It's now about 20 feet tall. A moderately fast grower until about 20 years of age, it should top out around 25 feet with a 20 ft. spread. One of the earliest multi-stemmed flowering trees in the USA, it blooms from late winter and is a beautiful first indicator of spring, with flowers opening before the green leaves appear. . . . . . .I think you will agree it's very lovely.

The trumpet vine I've left on the arbor over winter as it supports a plethora of pollinators and wildlife, including hummingirds. It looks healthy and is making preparations to bloom soon, however, being such a vigorous plant, it will need to be cut back to the ground next fall to keep it in check.........and allow a touch up paint job on the woodwork. The John Cabot climbing rose is making its way to the top of the arch also, despite pruning it back some weeks ago. I will let it do its thing this spring as it is a beautiful hardy rose.

The backyard drainage issue was worked on a couple of weeks back and hopefully will correct the water runoff during heavy rains. Water rushes under the fence from the neighbor above whose back yard slopes down. I've just found a photo taken at Easter 2001 when the fence, also the potting shed, were both installed. Guess they've done well for 23 years. . . . . . and there's Bob, still with hair (shhh!!!!) with granddaughter Jasmin who's now 27. Where did all those years go?

Cool, rainy days are welcomed in springtime. I embrace them knowing that the torrid heat and humidity we must learn to live with in this area are not far behind. 
The gazebo, my favorite spot once mosquitoes arrive, well actually at any time, still stands. Its cedar 'bones' quite sturdy although the roofing shakes may have to be replaced some day - no leaks but they are well-chewed by squirrels.
The deck will be getting a makeover come May - when our builder is scheduled! The 20 year old Brazilian hardwood, Ipe, showing age, will be replaced by lower maintenance Trex composite deck boards, steps and metal railings that will hold up better and give a refreshing new look. I've already purchased a new patio umbrella, previous one broke off in a bad storm recently, so will put that up soon.

As we know, if maintaining a garden, no matter the size, the upkeep is never ending as outdoor structures can never really be a hundred percent weather resistant!  I won't even get into too tall, aging trees and massive shrubs. . . . . . that's another 'through the garden gate' story for later.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Family and the Secretary ~

A Saturday morning memoir ~

Those days are gone. My life is different now. I miss much and managed to do much more in times gone by. I'm not a fan of aging. I wish I had more energy, that my legs and arms were stronger, my feet more sure and comfy where planted. My memory though still good doesn't always give me a word immediately. Names are sometimes forgotten. I look things up but I don't ask Siri. 

I sleep upstairs in my 'room with a view' and let my better half enjoy the master bedroom downstairs. I have to have the light on and read for a while in bed or I can't fall asleep. He falls asleep when his head hits the pillow, snores and changes position a lot. I never seem to move once I'm sleeping soundly. I wake up with hair flattened on the same side every morning. I like my bed and always say "goodnight" to my long gone, much missed Mum. I recall in her later years, long after my Dad died, when she told me snuggling into her bed was the best part of her day. She lived to be 91. She looks down on me from the photos on the wall, a child with her siblings in one, age 21 in another, and as a bridesmaid - and the dressmaker of all four gowns - at a sister's wedding in another. Sepia photos of children in lace up boots. Girls with hair bows, a boy in short trousers, grandmother holding her second set of twins. Five children in four years! The historic part of my maternal English family. I remember them all and feel their absence every day.

The antique secretary once belonged to a North Carolina country doctor. The piece is sturdy, weighs a ton, probably mahogany, the paint was done prior to my purchase from SuzAnna's Antiques. I love it and will never part with it. It's the first thing I see when I wake each morning. It holds my collection of favorite books and a mishmash of items. I change or move around things on the shelves and padded bulletin boards I made. I store paper goods, pieces of my life. . . .and secrets inside.

In earlier days, which really weren't that long ago, I so enjoyed what friends and I called 'treasure hunting' - mostly shopping and collecting vintage and some true antiques. Come Spring I was anxious to get going with gathering new pieces for my booth at SuzAnna's Antiques. I shared a fun space with my dear friend Vanessa. We loved those special days, buying, displaying and selling, and the camaraderie of the other dealers.  

~ SuzAnna's Booth 2011 ~
I still have several items shown here in my home 

Today I came across an old blog post about those days. It included this list I made in March 2011 -

SuzAnna's Antiques is really warming up now that Spring is here................soon I'll share more pics of the treasures available........meanwhile I'm off to a huge neighborhood yard sale this morning. 
My shopping hunting list for my booth includes ~
  • Chandeliers for glitter and glamour - French would be best
  • Small furniture items in need of love and new homes
  • Ironstone Platters, must be crazed, cracks add character
  • Antique silver flatware/trays - unpolished of course
  • Old beautiful linens for tables and beds 
  • Shells, coral, barnacles - for seaside decor
  • Old bound books - fun to read and play with
..............and whatever else catches my eye. 

This Saturday morning is dull. It rained in the night and there's no sun yet to dry things up. But no snow as in the northeast. That said, the sun has just popped out which always helps when life seems somewhat downhearted. Bob's eye surgery Tuesday went well however he does not have restored clear vision yet!  We are hoping this will improve with time. . . . . . .we are great believers in healing takes time.

~ Pieces of the past ~

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Seventeen Years of Blogging. . . . . . almost!

 SPECIAL DAY arriving soon!

On Tuesday, February 27th - 17 years ago (2007) - I wrote

 my first ever blog post. 

~ Saturday - early morning sun and shadow ~

Blogging changed my life! It made me see more clearly the corners and colors of the world close-up, often through a lens, and it gave me the wonderful chance to write down my thoughts . . . . . . . . and to become acquainted with you

Thank you for the many times you have stopped by to encourage me to keep writing and taking photos. I love to read your generous comments and, when possible, have truly enjoyed meeting several of you in the real world. Knowing each one of you, and being gifted with your friendship, whether in person or online, has been a part of my life which I will always treasure. This year I may not be traveling as much or to such exotic places. Our home needs a lot of TLC as, like us, it's aging and has issues, and we need to address them. I still hope to bring you stories and images, some perhaps from special places, others leaning more toward memories from everyday life over the years.  

I just want to thank every one of you, my friends who are my 'blog family', who visit here from around the world, share your lives, ideas and tips, support me when I'm feeling up, down, mediocre, or indifferent, and have stuck with me for so long. All I can say is thank you so much, I hope I can continue to take photos, post them, and add words and stories you will enjoy.

Postscript:  My reason for posting this a few days early is due to Bob
 having eye surgery on Tuesday ~ our day will be very busy!

~ With love and thanks ~

Sunday, February 11, 2024

When snow falls ~~~~~

In winter I like to sleep a little later but a couple of weeks back I actually set my alarm for 5:30am. Other than doing that to catch an early morning flight, it's probably something I've not done since getting up for the day's first game drive in Africa, or an early morning docking of the ship in some country in the world, the latter two happenings one doesn't want to miss.

How I miss those exciting days.

Knowing that the snow, if it had come that particular day, would be here around sunrise, then within an hour or so would turn into freezing rain and sleet for the remainder of the day, I wanted to be ready to get a few photos. I stepped out to get the newspaper, crunching through frosty grass. . . . . it was bitterly cold. The birds, mostly wrens, sparrows, cardinals and finches, were already hunting for breakfast. I spread extra seeds and nuts along the porch rail.  Over the years, many of my special bird photos have been shot from the window, the porch being a favorite place for visiting garden birds. 

The weather forecast was wrong. Not a snowflake arrived that morning........or any other time this winter so far.  

Last night, while trying to fall asleep, I found myself counting the places where I've lived in my now rather long life. Not so many compared to other ex-pats I talk with. While growing up in England I lived at three addresses in the same town from birth until moving to the USA just prior to my nineteenth birthday. That move was to be for just one year - a working visit with no plans to actually emigrate. That's what happens when a special someone comes into your life and changes your plans, your outlook, your entire future.  No regrets though. In sixty one years here I've only lived in four places. Washington D.C., New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. This last address has been my home for over forty seven years.  

My first American winter in Washington was a very cold one, especially when temperatures plummeted around Christmas. Not only did I see snow, I learned to ice skate - well stand up and take a few gliding steps - on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  Frozen solid and not exactly smooth ice for a beginner, I fell down a lot!  

On moving to the New England states, winter was all about snowfalls. Mostly deep and never-ending for several months. Nor'easter storms often caused crippling blizzards. Plowed snow piled up in dirty grey heaps until the next fall made it look lovely again. I skated a little on outdoor ponds and a couple of indoor rinks, never becoming proficient, but loved to go to holiday ice shows, such as the Ice Capades in Boston. I also viewed a couple of Bruins ice hockey games, shivering and miserable in the cold of the now demolished Boston Garden, and anxious for all to be over.  

Raleigh is in the southeast and has a great climate...........most of the time!  Rather too hot, and definitely far too humid for this Brit in the height of summertime. Spring is beautiful, Autumn even better. Winter can be fickle. Yesterday when writing this, the afternoon was almost hot at 72F and the sun brilliant. Dog walkers passed wearing shorts, Bob was sunburned a little on his head after spending time in the garden without a hat!  I changed from a cozy sweater into a thin one while making vegetable soup over the hot stove! This morning it's cool again. Rain is pouring down This current season brought sufficient rain in January but apparently we'll get plenty more over the next few days.

We still haven't seen a single snowflake! I doubt we will.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Who doesn't love a collection -


Borne ceremoniously to the table, the soup tureen has always been a symbol of family warmth, and often a showpiece as well. To make a dramatic and grand impression, there was no other more suitable vessel than the soup tureen. 

I have to agree that a bowl of hearty homemade soup, or its thicker version more like a stew, is at the top of winter's list of soul-satisfying meals. Following a slow, aromatic cooking on the stove, it's always fun to consider your collection of serving pieces for a hot liquid offering. Tureens with lids are perfect and probably the way soups were kept hot when being brought from long-ago downstairs kitchens ~ such as the one we all loved in 'Downton Abbey' ~ to the gorgeous dining room above stairs.

Symbol of love and communion, soups have often celebrated the gathering of families, friends and kindred souls. Prior to the Renaissance (14th to the 17th centuries), people did not travel far from home and everything at the table was shared. Not only soup and bread, but bowl and spoon. When travel began, new and exotic foods were discovered, and by the 18th century choreographed dining feasts with a huge choice of dishes were served to impress guests. Often two or more tureens would be brought to the table allowing diners to choose a favorite to have ladled into their soup bowl.

Though the word "tureen" is probably derived from "terre", Old French for clay, some early examples were crafted from precious metals, even humble pewter. In the golden age of porcelain (from the mid-1700's to the late 1800's), when botany became a universal passion, florals, fruits, even vegetables were hand-painted on white, oyster and cream oval and round tureens.  

My personal collection of tureens take up most of the shelving on each side of the fireplace. I enjoy them displayed there with a few other items mixed in. Over the years I've added shapes and sizes, some antique, others vintage and a few even new. I'm still tempted when I spy others for sale, however realize I have nowhere to put them so leave them for other collectors who do.

Do you have a collection of special, much-loved items?  Are you still adding to it?

Winter Warmers
"Of soup and love, the first is best" : Anonymous


Sunday, January 28, 2024

Hot Pots ............Cool Smoothies

Let's just touch briefly on eating today.  
These short, dark days of winter, especially in January and February, I find myself craving wholesome food. Comfort food has been required on some chilly days recently, however the past several days have been unbelievably warm here, reaching mid-seventies - I even popped the A/C on for a short time on Friday evening as the house was hot upstairs!  However my kitchen has been busy - well I've been busy as I do not have a sous chef, just a dishwasher guy who resembles Bob!  He's a great help.

Bean and Winter Squash with Chili, Mint and Cream.

Last week I made my favorite winter 'hot pot', a term used more in the UK than here. Somewhere between a soup and a stew, these wholesome one-pot dishes of winter vegetables are meals in themselves. You can add meat - we are non-meat eaters - as the French often do in their 'potages', or stay strictly vegetarian. One pot actually cuts down on calls to that dishwasher guy as the sink doesn't fill with too many items during the prep..........and other than a couple of deep bowls and soup spoons there's not much cleanup after this comforting meal.
During the cooking period the ingredients simmer away in the pot, flavors enhanced as they bubble gently. You can taste test and add more seasoning if needed, and these sturdy recipes can even gain flavor when left to stand a while, and then enjoy a gentle reheat when mealtime arrives. Here, I must say, the leftovers are always extra delicious so make enough for another meal in a day or so! 
Hot pots are fun to make, nutritious and easy. Make them a complete meal when serving with a good crusty bread, a roll, warm naan, or topped with homemade crunchy croutons (I always use up leftover breads to make mine), a side salad, cheese and fresh fruit . . . . . . or skip the bread and use it later in a dessert!

Rummaging through a box of old recipes saved over the years - prior to shelves of fancy cookbooks and online versions - I discovered my mother's lovely handwritten recipe for "Bread & Butter Pudding". 

An often served dessert when I was growing up, left over buttered bread served with a meal was never thrown away. Times were tough and food was still rationed for several years after WWII was over. Desserts were sometimes made from first course savories such as Yorkshire Pudding (Popovers here in the States), always baked in a separate dish alongside a Sunday roast beef.  Remaining portions were given a spoonful of golden syrup (Tate & Lyle of course) and we children gobbled it up!  Needless to say we didn't count calories or watch our diets back in the 1950's, and we ate everything that was put in front of us. We did go out to play and walked everywhere which I'm sure helped.

Bread Pudding as it's called in the USA, seems especially popular here in southern restaurants, and there are plenty of recipes floating about online, however this time I decided to use a leftover from the holidays, an Italian Panettone bread.  Glad I did when despite it still being within "Best By" date, it was definitely rather stale.  Being bathed in a nice eggy vanilla custard and baked slowly to a crisp top was all it required. Try it if you have one hanging around, you'll be surprised. I served mine warm with a dash of heavy cream plus a splash of Chambord liqueur, delicious!

Panettone Bread Pudding

Full of Fruits Breakfast Smoothie 

Lastly, I'm back on a smoothie kick. This is the best way for me to eat fresh fruit. This particular one contained a small banana, blueberries I had frozen, fresh raspberries and strawberries, grated coconut, unsweetened almond milk. I usually eat/drink this meal mid-morning as I rarely eat lunch. Two meals a day are ample and since shedding over 25 pounds slowly during the past two years (no strict weight-loss diet, just smaller portions of healthy foods), I find I just can't eat anywhere near as much now.  Perhaps the older one gets the less food you require. It's more important that you eat healthy foods in smaller amounts. Just had annual lab work done, everything looks fine so far.  So have just returned to my plan from the pre-holiday weeks during which I slipped a bit when it came to snacking on the wrong/delicious Christmas goodies. A fruit laden smoothie yesterday, oatmeal today, and perhaps a hard boiled egg with a slice of avocado toast tomorrow.  Any ideas for easy breakfast/brunch goodies are welcomed as we all go forward into February. Thanks for checking in here. Stay well, eat healthy.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

We women and the future -

This morning I was up early despite the bitter cold. I had an appointment for lab work at the new medical practice we have signed up with. Our primary physician surprised us by retiring early at the end of 2023 so we had to search for someone new who was willing to take on older patients. Shortly after 9:30 AM I was on my way home again, craving coffee mostly as I had fasted for 12 hours for the blood draw. I considered a coffee shop, a quick breakfast place, or perhaps a grocery store stop for a few items for the veggie stew I'll be making today. I even considered a stop at T.J. Maxx as I passed by and recalled how I used to enjoy shopping, or rummaging through, in my younger days! 

But I didn't stop anywhere because I longed to just be home. I took the more scenic drive through quieter streets and it reminded me of what driving used to be like just about everywhere. Now the main thoroughfares are horrific and I no longer feel safe on them.  The houses are changing, small ones being replaced by new builds far too big for the average homeowner or family. Not much garden surrounds them for children and dogs to play in, it's all about the house.  The gardens have very little  color right now but they are still lovely in their winter neutrals, especially in the sunshine. The bird baths, frozen and sparkling, still entice the birds, and I splash mine with warm water on these cold mornings as the sparrows, finches and others sit quietly in the fig tree waiting to drink.

Yes, I did say my younger days because quite honestly I'm feeling different lately and I believe it's due to aging.  I used to do so much more with my time. I have now slowed down somewhat. You may recall that I've loved taking candid photos of women when traveling. I feel strongly about women and their place in this world of ours, a world getting harder for so many, when it should be better, easier, safer. 

Over the years I've taken many photos of women whose lives are much different than my own and I often go back into my photo archive, or revisit blog posts where they were featured, looking at these photos wondering if things have changed for them. Most seemed happy as they went about their daily lives..........but of course they, like me, are much older now.

Kerala, India

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cochin, India

Kerala, India

London, England

Moscow, Russia

Hue, Vietnam

Niigata, Japan

Saigon, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Zambia, Africa

Zambia, Africa

Laayoune, Western Sahara, Africa

Western Sahara, Africa

Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde Islands, West Africa

. . . . . .and here we are, in the second half of January already.  Our plans for this year are not quite etched in stone however we do have a list. The house needs some TLC including a replacement roof and we're busy getting estimates. As always, it's like comparing apples to oranges when you place said estimates next to each other. Daring young men clamber across the shingles, balance on the ridge vent, mark patches with chalk, and one flew a drone over the house last week. It hit a tree and fell on the front steps. He requested 'super glue' but that didn't work. He returned yesterday with a new drone which did a good job. Maybe we'll get that roof when the weather warms up.