BELFAST

I love to travel. I love seeing for myself in person those  places I have seen on TV, unfortunately some in the most horrific of human stories, some transformative, many  inspirational. And the experience is always enhanced by visiting those places with people who saw the history first hand, to hear from them about how the experience felt. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to see many historic places in this world: taking the historic walks in Boston and Philadelphia,  seeing the 911 Memorial in New York, the Coliseum and Forum in Rome,  standing in the room in Potsdam, Germany at the round table around which sat Winston Churchill, Stalin, and President Truman following the Second World War as they carved out the new Europe, an awe inspiring moment for me. Those world leaders stood where I now stood – incredible.

I once walked through Berlin with a friend who had grown up and lived in East Berlin under communist rule into middle adulthood until the night of the reunification. He walked with me through the streets and told me terrifying stories of armed guards standing at the Brandenburg Gate, making sure no one passed over into the west  OF MUSEUMS AND MEMORIES. The Brandenburg Gate was the line of demarcation but in actuality easterners were turned back about two blocks east of the Gate to be sure no one came close enough to try to run through to the west. He told me his family’s story of the night the Berlin Wall came down, telling me of their skepticism that the wall was actually going to be demolished. It was one of the most spellbinding and awe-inspiring stories I’ve ever heard in my life.
My husband and I had been to the Irish Republic about 17 years ago when we drove from Dublin, to Kilkenny, on to Kinsale, then to Killarney, to Galway and the Ashford Castle in Cong. I have an Irish friend who jokes, “There’s no point in being Irish if you’re not going to be maudlin and melancholy.” Instead, we love our Irish friends here in the U.S. and we fell in love with the people in Ireland whom we found to be simply so joyous, warm and fun! We were invariably greeted in the many pubs we visited with a roaring fire, a pint of Guinness (which is an acquired taste as far as I’m concerned), and a smiling welcome from people you feel you already know.   I always knew I wanted to go back.

Last month, I had the opportunity to go to Belfast in Northern Ireland for the first time because my husband’s college was participating in a basketball tournament there. But we spent the first few days in Dublin in the Irish Republic which is full of the Irish history and its ongoing struggle with Britain.   We spent an afternoon visiting the General Post Office which is still a working post office but is also the site of the Easter Rising of 1916, a critical part of the Irish story, the Catholic Irish wanting Ireland to be its own country and not part of Britian.    The Irish people of course  as always were friendly and welcoming to Americans,  many with relatives who have been  emigrating to America since the famine in the mid 1800’s and are a huge presence in the U.S.   So when I’ve been to Ireland, I feel as though I’m going to visit a people with whom I’m very familiar.   It seems that everyone you speak with has visited the U.S. or has a relative living here.  You can pick up a conversation as with someone you already know.    After three days in Dublin and visiting Glendalough, a glacial valley in County Wicklow and  St.Kevin’s monastery in the bitter cold – this is Ireland in December, folks! – we left for Northern Ireland.

The first thing to note is that the six counties that make up Northern Ireland are part of Great Britian and thus follow British law and use British pounds as currency, as opposed to the Irish Republic that uses euros.  Currently there’s no hard border as one crosses seamlessly into Northern Ireland from the Republic. But now due to Britian’s plan to secede from the European Union because of the Brexit vote, there is a lot of talk about what that may mean for a crossing into Northern Ireland in the future. We had the benefit of being joined on our trip by some British friends prompting much lively discussion about the similarities between in the Brexit vote and the subsequent vote to elect Donald Trump to the American presidency.

I had no preconceived idea about Northern Ireland but it interested me because I remembered the horrible tension there thirty or forty years ago. I remember watching the nightly riots in Belfast in the same way as I view the Middle East on the news now. Back then we saw rumbles in the streets and bombings in the ongoing conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics, an unresolved chasm from the Rising days and beyond. We hired a guide who took us on a political tour of the section of Belfast that lived through the years of The Troubles, as that period is called. The Troubles were generated out of the fact that after 1916 the island had been divided into the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland which remained part of Great Britain. Our guide had been a teenager during The Troubles thirty years ago and he told us his job was to make petrol bombs. The area involved in The Troubles is still cordoned off, separating the Catholic and Protestant sections by walls, fences and gates that can be closed at a moment’s notice should any sign of conflict arise.   UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3358

He took us to Falls Road first and then Shankill Road  I hadn’t heard those names for a very long time but immediately it took me back to the brutal newscasts.   The time  is commemorated by murals and  memorials throughout the area.     This area was  the epicenter of the fighting that took place from the late 1960’s through to 1998. You get the impression that while things have calmed down, in no small part because of the intervention of our President Clinton in 1998 who brokered the Good Friday agreement, distrust and tension still simmer below the surface.   In fact our guide told us that a question had been on the ballot in the last election asking whether the fences, gates and other barricades should be taken down.   The answer from 78% of those voting  was a resounding “No.”

Although I was grateful for the opportunity to hear first hand about what went on here, I felt a bit guilty about touring this place that was a home to so much misery and bloodshed for so long. It is hallowed ground.   I asked our guide how the locals who still live in the Falls Road area feel about strangers coming through since it represents so much heartache for many of them. He said that it’s a place of history  to which tourists flock, and that it should be seen.    But it’s obviously  also a place that brings in revenue, as with most tourist areas, so the locals recognize that.  He did say that anyone who guides tourists through this area has agreed not to tell their clients what side they were on during The Troubles and try to give as objective and balanced view of what happened here as possible.

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Signing  the Peace Wall near where President Obama signed it a few years ago

Belfast is  the city in which the Titanic was built. In the more modern part of town stands the most amazing Titanic Museum  that  upon approaching it replicates a vessel being overtaken by water.

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The outside facade of the  magnificent Titanic Museum 

Inside, there are four floors of memorabilia, holograms and reproductions dedicated to the Titanic from it’s inception to interviews with actual survivors following the sinking.    There are  verbal tapes of actual survivors telling their story of how they survived.  Very powerful.
What I also found in Belfast was a city with diverse and beautiful architecture and a rousing nightlife full of energetic Irish bands and the ubiquitous pints.

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The Belfast City Hall decked out for Christmas

We stayed at the Hotel Europa in Belfast which during The Troubles was the most bombed  hotel in all of Europe, having been bombed 52 times in about 30 years. Our guide actually had a picture that he showed us of the Europa in those days with the front entrance in ruins.

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Walking on the Giant’s Causeway

There was so much to see and do in Northern Ireland, with not nearly enough time to do it all in the five days we were there.  We did make our way up to the Causeway Coast in County Antrim, home of the Giants’ Causeway, 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It’s Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction and Ireland’s only World Heritage site. A day well spent. And thinking I was going to come home with a new tale to tell my grandkids about the mythical Irish giant, Finn McCool and his Scottish nemesis, Benandonner, little did I know that they were totally aware of the story and filled in the blanks as I excitedly told them that I was actually walked on  the causeway!

We loved our visit to Ireland and look forward to going back again.    It’s not only a  country that seems to love Americans, it’s one that is a relatively easy, fast flight from the eastern part of the U.S.  When we went in December, we were already in eastern Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, so we flew from Newark airport – a quick five and a half hour trip into Dublin!
I’d love to hear about trips that you have taken and adventures you have had!    Until next time…….

BEGINNINGS

 

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s that annual transition time when we look at the world with new eyes, a new perspective, that time of year when everything seems once again fresh, clean and possible. Just as with that other annual event, the birthday, New Year’s Day represents new hope, an opportunity to take stock, perhaps to chart a new course.

Over the years, I have tended to be a resolution maker. “This year I will start doing this” “This year I will stop doing/being that.” I saw the year stretching out in front me and it all seemed like such a loooooong time! I have enough years under my belt now to realize that resolutions made for an entire year were often too daunting or forgotten as the first week wound down. I made futile attempts to chart the year in one big gulp based on the needs or whim of however I ended the previous year.

More recently, though,  I’ve come to realize that there are endless opportunities for change, for accomplishment, for shaking things up.  Not all “resolutions” need to take a year or a lifetime. Every day, or even every portion of a day, offers opportunities for new beginnings, continual course corrections. Had too many carbs for lunch? Make up for it that night at dinner.

So now I’ve made my 2018 list of “things” to do. It’s not a long list – pretty short actually – and imminently doable. I won’t tell you the items on my list but I can tell you that they are short term goals that should be able to be accomplished over the course of several weeks or months.  They are things I’ve been stuck on for a while. So we’ll see how I do. When (if) I complete those, I can surely come up with another list – or not!

Do you too  have some things you are looking to shake up this year?   If you do or don’t, I  wish you all good things!    Have an amazing year!

Until next time…..

 

CHRISTMAS TREE, OH, CHRISTMAS TREE

As I have stated many times on this blog, I love Christmas. I love the time leading up to Christmas, the songs, the spirit, the sense that people seem, even though somewhat harried,  to be kinder, more cheerful.   I believe  the editor of the New York Sun who wrote to Virginia O’Hanlon in  1897 in response to her query in  his editorial titled “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  Virginia’s friends had told her there was no Santa Claus.    He said, “How dreary would the world be if there was no Santa Claus…..there would be no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence…..the eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”    That’s why I always tell people that I believe in Santa.    This is the sensibility that I love in this wonderful season.      Maybe seeing the world this way is just wishful thinking on my part, especially in a year when we grasp at anything that makes the world seem better. But I truly love all the magic around Christmas.

This year we were gifted with an early Thanksgiving which usually means a more relaxed prep time for Christmas, having gained that extra week to shop, to bake, to make merry.    But my husband’s college alma mater was playing in a basketball tournament in Belfast, Ireland  this year and we decided to go  with some friends on a wonderful trip to Northern Ireland to roam around, discover this part of Ireland to which we had never been,  and then cheer on the team during that final week of November thus cutting us off from that jump start to the holidays.       It was all worth it because we enjoyed every second of our time in Ireland (minus the last five minutes of game 1 when our team lost!).   And Ireland itself was already so dressed up for Christmas that it easily fed my spirit!

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The pace since our return has been non-stop. This past week, our first full week back, was filled with parties and get-togethers with friends and family, always a brilliant kick off to the season. Then this past few days were defined by  decorating, choosing our Christmas tree, gift shopping and wrapping.

We always buy our tree at the local animal farm which serves as a way to help support the work of the farm and provides us with a beautiful selection of trees and other greenery every year. While my husband and I steadfastly adhere to the tradition of a real tree, we have little patience for the actual exercise of picking it out. So our tradition is that my husband sets his stop watch as we enter the farm to see how long it takes us to pick out the centerpiece of our home decoration.    This year our search took a full 10 minutes!     Somehow through the years using this method,  we always end up with a beautiful tree that we are proud to display. Our tree this year is a balsam fir beauty which we noted is slightly larger and taller than our trees in other years.

We decorate every room of our first floor and finished basement. Every day we  finished another piece, with our tree being the last to get done.     I love the transformation of the house into a place where around every corner there is a vignette of Christmas flowers, old decorations that bring back Christmases past and loved ones now gone,  and my various Nativity scenes that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

I must say that  when we finished decorating the tree, I was feeling pretty good.    UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_33cbFeeling that with the tree done,  things were under control.     I gamely went out and finished my shopping,  making huge progress there too! Driving back home, so ebullient was I that I switched from MSNBC on Sirius and away from the dismal political banter and changed to the AM station that plays holdays songs 24/7! As I listened, I thought through my plan to sit leisurely that evening in our family room next to our beautiful tree and write Christmas cards.

Just then I saw that I had a message on my phone from our home security system indicating that something had set off the alarm. I called home. My husband answered. I asked him what was going on and he said, “What a mess! The tree fell over. The breaking glass set off the alarm.” Ugh! In forty years, we have never had that happen.    I’ve had friends to whom this has happened, with one of them so frustrated with the tree that he javelined it out the front door!   So on the rest of my drive home, I realized how thankful I was that there was no break-in but I  envisioned what awaited me. Broken ornaments all over the floor, the tree in tatters, water from the tree stand damaging my floor.

When I walked into my home, along with my husband there were two of our dear neighbors helping him upright the tree! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_33cc  While it was certainly  a mess of sorts, it was far less than I had foreseen. Actually very few of my ornaments, collected over the years from friends and during our travels, were lost.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_33ce

The problem seemed to be that the trunk of the tree was not straight, creating the instability.      My husband and our neighbors cut off the crooked part of the trunk, which was fortunately at the bottom, and solidly  repositioned a shorter, more edited but sturdier  tree in a new larger stand that my husband ran out and bought.   So forget the cards; that night  would be for redecorating the tree.

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All in all, we  were actually hindered only slightly.  The cards will wait for another day.     It could have been much  worse.   I do believe it  was partly Virginia, her letter and the editor’s wise response that got me to recognize this insignificant setback for what it was.  Relatively nothing in the scheme of things.   All’s well that ends well – now back to the magic of Christmas!

 

 

FOR EVERY TIME THERE IS A SEASON

WHEN THE BEAUTY BECOMES THE BEAST

Back in June I posted a picture on Instagram of a gorgeous hydrangea bush that I saw on my walk while I was in Pennsylvania.  My hydrangea obsession of the season was to have my hydrangea bushes produce beautiful blooms like the ones they seem to turn out every season back East. I must say that this year in the midwest almost everyone I spoke with was having a banner year with their hydrangeas. No, they weren’t necessarily getting the gorgeous blue of the Pennsyvlania bush, but it was a better than average year for this flower that I love and that has eluded me for so long.

thumb_IMG_0735_1024This summer I did have some lovely lavender and bright pink  which was a huge step forward from other years! Did a few shots of Miracle Gro really do this or was this just a lucky year?   Whatever it was, it was a source of major enjoyment throughout the summer!
Now it is late autumn. My gardens are way past prime.    Perenniels have been cut back and annuals pulled.    What a few months ago was so lovingly nurtured and gave so much pleasure, is now a stub waiting for their time next year.

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And the remnants of my hydrangea beauties are now a pile in my driveway, to be discarded.

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Of the nine trees in our yard, I have a very large maple tree in my front lawn, too big for my taste now, but a beautfiul tree nontheless. I marveled at the fact that this tree in addition to other trees in our neighborhood and all over town had kept their leaves much longer this year.  The foliage also maintained  a brilliant green color way into fall than I thought was evident in previous years. It may have been a result of a very warm September and October. Whatever did it, the other day I went outside and seemingly overnight I was met by a thick blanket of leaves begging to be raked. I know that the gardening gurus say that raking is unnecessary and even counter-productive. But given the depth of the blanket, I felt (perhaps incorrectly) that this could not be good for the lawn long term, particularly since there were many more leaves still waiting to fall. thumb_IMG_1541_1024Generally our lawn service crunches up leaves as they cut the grass every week. But now it was November. Typically they stop cutting at the end of October, further proof that we were about two weeks late in our falling leaves. So just with the leaves under that tree, I raked together 7 lawn bags of refuse that afternoon. The next day there was a new blanket of leaves that had fallen. But what was that sound I heard? It was indeed our lawn service still cutting our grass and mulching up our leaves!
And yet nature always evolves in such a way that there is beauty still in our yard – the turning colors of our azaleas and hostas make me so happy as I look out on them!   To everything there is indeed a season.C584A0A5-708E-4811-A6A1-CFA530E464F4
DECORATING FOR CHRISTMAS
With my leaves now rotting and nurturing my lawn, bushes and trees for spring, my mind is turning to the holidays. My friend’s blog (ivy&ironstone.com) was recently posted and I am adding my own response to her question about when to decorate for Christmas. There is of course the argument that with all the work involved in decorating, why not get it up and leave it up for as long as possible. I am such a purist, though,  that I love the magic of turning on the Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving, but not before. My feeling is that this gives each holiday its due. The decorating is a sort of announcement that the time of year has come for joy and peace. And this was a year and a time that surely can use an infusion of joy and peace.

It is as usual a very busy time. This year, however, we have already begun to test our strands of light  and my husband has already put them on the bushes  because we will be in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving this year and then away in Ireland the week after.  The strung lights will remain unlit until we get back home in a few weeks.   So we’ll start to sparkle a little later than usual this year.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!   One of the very many things I am so grateful for, is the ability to write this blog and enjoy so many other blogs that I follow.

Until next time……

 

 

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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We have long been in an era of holidays starting earlier and earlier: Valentine’s day advertising will start very soon, Christmas trees go up in stores in late August alongside Halloween decoration displays.    And along with the very early, elongated promotion, every holiday seems to have gotten much BIGGER in every way, taking on even greater and greater significance.    Every holiday is more of an event than the year before – more parties, elaborate mechanized decorating inside and outside the home, more gifts for every occasion (I’m guilty here!).
I’m not necessarily criticizing,  by the way!  I fully recognize my lifelong take on Christmas, for example,  could be considered over the top by some.  My total love of the Christmas season has been documented in past blogs   CHRISTMAS EVE. I will go to almost any length for  food, decorations, gifts and celebrations at Christmastime!DECK THE HALLS!

I’m  similarly crazy about Thanksgiving and love a large family dinner.  I also love a good fireworks display as much as the next guy!

 

9BBD3B81-F73A-49CC-979F-1E971383C8E7But Halloween, no matter how much marketing surrounds it, has somehow escaped me. Even as a child, I half-heartedly went along with getting dressed up in a costume of my own invention but didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I participated more as a social thing with my friends rather than really digging in  and creatively putting together the best costume possible.       I also never quite  got the concept of going to strangers’ doors for candy.   I know, every party has a pooper, that’s why you invited me – sorry, just never been a huge fan!

 But I’m also  not really as much of a crank about it as I’m coming off.   I do have a nodding history with Halloween.    Once in about fifth grade I was a “glamour girl” with tight leopard skin pants (where did I find those?), I recall even an off-the-shoulder top and actual high heels.   In retrospect, it seems just a tad risqué to flaunt in the faces of 1950’s nuns.   But the nuns and my parents apparently didn’t mind:   there wasn’t much there to flaunt making this pretty tame by today’s standards.         By high school it was the mid-Sixties and I went to a Halloween dance as a 1920’s Flapper, fringed dress (made by my friend’s mother) feather headdress and all.   Other years I may have been just  a run of the mill hobo.  And we’ve had Halloween parties in our current neighborhood that have been a ton of fun but most of them involved wearing regular  street clothes and carving pumpkins. Another year there was an actual costume party in the neighborhood and we went dressed up but neither my husband nor I  can remember what/who we were.       When my son was little, I gladly put together a costume for him  (although nothing terribly original) and we went  trick or treating but I never  really got into it as much as the media hype said I should.

Halloween is now  an event that has become the kickoff to the other holidays leading up to the end of the year.    Along with pumpkins, mums and ghosts, houses are now festooned with orange lights; skeletons dancing in the windows of upstairs bedrooms (a very cool display in the window of a neighbor that is mesmerizing as you drive by), there’s a Halloween card for everyone on your list, front lawns are pretend cemeteries.    A lot more effort is put into it than when I was a kid.      And again, a lot of it is  pretty cool.

My son, daughter-in-law and grandkids live in Chicago and their immediate and  extended neighborhoods comprise the epicenter for all things spooky, inventive and fun!     I have to say that their goings-on and the exuberance of our grandkids  have shown me how  much fun Halloween really can be! The streets are closed off to traffic around their homes; EVERYONE – kids, parents, grandparents – is in costume; families are out in the street going from home to home; people hand out candy and snacks to revelers; it’s a giant party! I’ve even seen a house or two  or ten where grown ups share adult beverages rather than candy! Everyone is in a great mood! It doesn’t feel like forced fun – it’s real fun!

Before my retirement, I always went into the city directly from my office so I didn’t wear a costume. I’m well aware, no excuse! I could have brought a costume with me to change into, right?  My hand is now slapping my forehead!

I’ve been going into Chicago from the ‘burbs for Halloween for the past eight or nine years, since my grandkids were born, watching them dress in  increasingly impressive costumes.   No run-of-the-mill hobo, witch or ghost for them!!   There was  the time my grandson went as a musk ox during his horned animal phase, or as a construction truck during his construction phase!  Or my granddaughter as a hot air balloon.  I thoroughly enjoyed every costume they’ve had.

My role was one of accompanying  the grandkids trick or treating or handing out candy at their house. But each year, I was aware that I was drawn into the spirit of the whole celebration more and more. Last year I actually put on a semi-elaborate mask while most of the rest of the family dressed as members of the Addams Family or Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Watson.    thumb_IMG_1276_1024

I so enjoyed the Addams Family that I became inspired to participate fully this year.    As my grandson told me what this year’s theme is and asked me what I would like to be within that theme, I came to the conclusion that it’s not Halloween about which I’ve been so tepid.   It’s the thought required to come up with  a theme.   If someone does that thinking for me and presents me with the concept, I can completely rise to the occasion and join in.   So over this past month I have been gathering up the pieces of the costumes that both my husband and I will wear! He and I will be full-on characters  costumed in this year’s family group theme! Look for pictures on Instragram and Facebook on October 31! In the meantime, enjoy!   Happy Halloween, everyone!
And get those Valentine’s decorations up – you’re late!

See you soon…..

 

 

 

 

Home decorating has always been a passion of mine.   My husband and I built our current home in 1989 and, except for  building a deck off of our kitchen immediately after we moved in and, of course, landscaping, occasional painting, it remained pretty much untouched until about 2006 when we contracted a major re-do on our landscaping.

I began to view home design/decorating/renovation  as an actual  hobby when I realized that I almost always have some sort of a project going, big or small.   And if I’m not actually in the midst of completing a project, I’m thinking about it.   We started planning our first major indoor reno about fifteen years ago.   That was when our son and daughter in law got married and we realized that we wanted a place for eventual grandchildren to play in when they weren’t outdoors.    We had a very large vacant basement that ran the full length and width of our house.    This space houses contiguous areas that now include a walk up wet bar, a play area for the grandkids, a TV viewing area and poker table/dining area.    It also includes three enclosed areas:   a half bath in the main basement area, an office, and a utility area.

We found our contractor who would help us to realize our vision for the basement space and we were off to the races!  We found this contractor through referrals from friends and neighbors who had used them and were very satisfied.   We were so happy with his work that we used him for all of our other projects throughout the years.    And actually, when I retired, coincidentally he retired!   We also found a custom cabinet maker who has redone all the cabinetry in our home.

Then about 10 years before I retired, I decided that we needed to evaluate every room in our home for any needed spiffing up and complete  those before my paychecks stopped. We methodically gutted and re-did the two upstairs bathrooms, gutted and re-did our kitchen,  upgraded our trim, replaced our air-conditioning unit and got all new windows.    In that way by my retirement date any room that needed a facelift, got one.

I must say, though,  that probably the most satisfying upgrade of all has not been on the inside of the house, but on the outside. One fall day about ten years ago, my husband and I were walking around our property, surveying our outside, checking what the exterior of our  house needed.    Painting?   New Roof?   Our neighbor joined us, I think, just to see what new ideas I could come up with.    My husband and I decided that it was probably time for the roof to be replaced since it was the original roof.     With that decision made,  I turned my attention to the deck on the back of the house.      Even with the western exposure  we certainly tried to use our deck,  but found that it grew almost uninhabitable during the mid afternoon in hot July and August, prime time for deck use. And then it  could also become unusable in the evenings as well because of insects. Hmmmmm.      As we walked around the yard, I morphed the conversation going from possibly installing an awning over the deck to maybe adding  a lower level of the deck to the existing structure outside the family room windows. Still I knew that this design, while attractive, fell way short of solving our core problems: the awning would help the sun issue, but would do almost nothing about the unbearable heat in mid-afternoon.    And the insect problem was still in no way addressed.    In my view only one option worked: since we were already going to be redoing the roof on the house itself, why not just extend it over the expanse of the current deck, screen it in, install a large white wicker ceiling fan over the table to create a breeze when none was available naturally. I also opted for a brick patio off the porch to add more entertaining space.    And for good measure, we decided that we should have the house painted, as well!    In for a dime, in for a dollar.  As I outlined the design of this space, my  husband just looked at me, familiar with the usual project creep that came with most of my renovations.

The space would be usable from April through October.   I stopped just short of the next obvious step: making  a true four season room out of it, the proposal of which would have sent my husband to irreversible apoplexy.   When we were finished with our planning that afternoon,  my neighbor just laughed and said, “Well, you just took  a $50,000 walk!”

But my husband had to agree that my plan was pretty much on target for solving the problem. So in March of 2008, we started work on redoing the back of our house. Our contractor had to be sure that the footings of the deck could uphold the new structure that would now include screened walls (and a screened floor to keep out the bugs!), a roof structure, and roofing itself. The deck was already the size and shape I wanted, about 18 feet by 22 feet, so a decent sized rectangle.

thumb_694E685F-87FA-4228-B880-45F20246653D 2_1024It would hold two seating areas on either end of the porch plus a table and chairs that would seat six under a large white wicker ceiling fan. The brick patio would come off the steps at the side of the porch.    The project was completed at the end of May that year, just in time for the prime summer season and to welcome our first grandchild, a boy,  that July!

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Since its completion almost ten years ago, we have enjoyed any number of gatherings in the afternoons and evenings on our screened porch. It easily handles twelve to fifteen people with overflow drifting to the patio for more casual dining and gathering.   When we’re not partying out there, it is where I write, often where I meditate, or just sit out there and enjoy the flowers and the bird sounds.   The TV decorating shows  call places like this “a sanctuary,” or “an oasis.”    I always laugh at how la-dee-da that sounds but  I truly believe that is what our porch is to me – an oasis.   This space and the surrounding outside area has given us many seasons of pleasure, memories and fun with our family and friends.   I think is easily the most enjoyable re-do we have done in almost thirty years of living in our home.1E47A0F4-08AB-4AE3-8543-8FA6521313C7 2

And now as autumn will soon give up its delightful weather, at the end of October we will close down our porch for another year.   We will cover the furnishings, bring in our pottery, store away the toys until next April when I will do my happy dance as we bring it all back together and alive again!

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Before I sign off for now….

This week is the one year anniversary of my blog.  I posted my first entry on October 3, 2016.   I  want to thank you for reading it.   I truly hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it!

Until next time…..

 

SEPTEMBER

 

SUMMER, WHERE DID IT GO!

I say this every year and here I go again – it seems like our summer went by in the blink of an eye. It was a beautiful summer, a moderate summer for us in the Midwest, but it seems like it was just June and now here we are, September and  a day away from  official fall. Last week on her blog my friend wrote very eloquently about moving on seemlessly from summer to fall. But I’m one of those people who has  a tendency to cling to summer for as long as possible.

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Reading in my hammock for the very first time in the two years we’ve had it!

Our weather right now is playing along beautifully with me, holding on with temperatures still in the 90’s but there’s no denying that darkness is falling just a bit earlier each evening. I can no longer walk in twilight at almost 9 p.m. Far from it. It’s now 7:37 p.m. and it is pitch dark outside.

But how fortunate we are! The contrasts of weather in the country now are incredible. While I’m lamenting summer’s end, I think about those who have had their lives upended by the violent hurricanes that devastated  the south and  the islands this season. Three very powerful storms ripped through Texas and Florida and now several more  attacked Puerto Rico and the other islands off our East Coast.   And then the earthquake in Mexico.  When will it end for them?

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I get to put out the mums at my front door, this year a pretty rust color. We started trimming back our bushes. Because of the relative dryness this past month, leaves on the trees are already red and gold mixed in with those that are still green. I  have several stalwart hydrangea blooms hanging in there in this,  the most beautiful summer for hydrangeas that I have experienced in the almost thirty years we’ve lived in this house. I contrast that with those who have had their bushes and trees torn out of the ground and all the other things that have been lost, with loved ones injured or worst. I count my blessings as my heart breaks for them.

 

GETTING BACK TO COOKING……

Toward the middle of September, I generally start my way back into the kitchen in a semi-serious way. Magazines and food shows are all about easy living in the summer so it coincides with all of us being less formal about how we prepare and eat our food.

But September means the days are going to start getting slightly cooler, slightly shorter and things move inside, meaning I go back to cooking in the kitchen instead of on the grill. Also it means I review my magazines containing those design and food articles that have been languishing since spring; I cut them out and file them.     I have found that a number  of our friends this summer have taken vacations in Europe which for many of my fellow foodies meant that they have taken cooking classes in places like Hungary, Provence and Italy, leaving me incredibly inspired! I’ve decided that I will try at least two new recipes each week to challenge my skills and also to combat the boredom that sets in with making the same things week after week.

I really do love to cook. What I don’t like is the prep. I watch as Ina and Giada gracefully throw a pinch of this and a cup of that into their latest concoction, all ingredients and tools at their fingertips (let’s forget that they have staff and I don’t).    I’ve assembled a reasonably well appointed kitchen over the years with most of the accoutrements that the directions call for.   I also went out a few years ago and bought myself various sizes of those cute little glass dishes that I can fill in advance of needing them during the cooking process so that I can be prepared and not still foraging madly for the ingredient when the recipe screams, “Do this NOW!”

My one rule of thumb is that when I’m doing a recipe for the first time I follow the instructions to the letter.

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A picture of the original Poblano Soup from Better Homes and Gardens

Also I want it to look reasonably close to the picture in the book.

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My rendition of the Poblano soup – a very close likeness to the original in my opinion!

So I go about my task in my disorganized little way and I must say that although I can become frazzled, the end result usually is not bad and enjoyed by everyone which is really all the encouragement any cook needs.

Yesterday’s offering was Chicken and Poblano Pepper Soup. Never mind that the temperature outside was 91. Possibly I could have waited to do this one until later in the fall. Anyway, this soup was given the seal of approval by both my husband and me.    I will put a checkmark on the recipe meaning that we will have this again. It’s super easy to make and if you’re not a pepper fan, or don’t like spicy, don’t be afraid of this recipe. It’s really not overly spicy since Poblano peppers are milder than chiles and the Jalapeno’s are used only as a topping at the end, so you are in charge of how hot you want it. If you try it, I hope you will like it.

RECIPE – CHICKEN & POBLANO PEPPER SOUP
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1 1/2 lb tomatoes, cored and halved
1 fresh poblano chile peppe, stemmed, quartered, and seeded
1 1/3 cups thinly sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TSP dried oregano, crushed
4 bone-in chicken thighs skinned
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

Tortilla chips
Toppings: crumbled feta cheese, cilantro, sliced jalapeno peppers, chopped red onion and/or lime wedges

In large pot heat oil over medium high heat. Using tongs, carefully place tomatoes, cut side down in the pot in a single layer. Cook without stirring 5 minutes or until well-browned. Add poblano quarters, onion, garlic, oregano, and 1/2 tsp. salt; reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
Add chicken and broth to pot. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, coverd, 20 minutes or until chicken is done (175 degrees F)
Strain broth; pressing tomatoes and chile with a spoon; discard solids. Pull meat apart; discard bones. Return chicken and broth to pot; heat through. Serve soup over tortilla chips (I didn’t do it this way because I thought it would make a soggy mess – I served them on the side) with toppings. Makes 4 servings

From BHG.com/Poblano Soup

If you try it, let me know what you thought!

Until next time……….