Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

While falling asleep last night, ridiculously early I might add, several titles for this blog came to mind. None of them stuck. The one I've chosen is entirely literal. We're going to be all over the place today. Furthermore, there will be lots of pictures!

 So let's start with the other morning shall we? I received an early Christmas present from Matt, in fact, he couldn't wait to give it to me, mostly I think because after reading so much about our birds, he wanted to see them in action. Anyway it's a clever bird feeder called The Nuttery which claims to be squirrel-proof. As you well know, squirrels have had the run of our place lately, what with chewing a hole in the kayak, dropping palm seeds in the pool like mad, AND eating all the bird seed. Always one looking for a solution to a problem, Matt brought out the big gun.

Now, seeing birds is something that is easy to take for granted; we had no doubt there would be bird sightings. Except there weren't. Bruce insists that they don't like the safflower seed I bought, so we went back to all sunflower seeds. Finally, Mrs. Cardinal made an appearance, however when she did, I was the only one around.
So, now you know what the feeder looks like. The morning after Matt left, I got to see Mr. Squirrel in action and you will too if you keep reading! Because he'd done as he pleased in the past, he hung out on top for a moment,
undoubtedly scoping out the competition. He got a little closer to the prize,
 And still closer,
 showing off his acrobatic skills. Finally, not to be thwarted he hung on for dear life,
still getting nothing!!! I wish I could remember how he got back on the pole, but for some reason I have no photographs of that action. The Nuttery won the battle, leaving Mr. Squirrel to pick up the droppings,
although, in this photograph he still seems to think he's the champ!

Switching gears now, I was thinking about how the simple things in life can either amuse me or bring me pleasure. Who else do you know who can get excited by a new plastic container and perfectly peeled hard-boiled eggs?
Seriously, does anyone else come to mind? I, on the other hand, keep marveling at the clever design of my new container. And the eggs! Perfection! Maybe it is because I spent many, many years not knowing how to properly prepare hard-boiled eggs so that peeling them is as easy as spreading butter on toast. With my faulty memory it's a miracle that I can recall anything, however,  I still remember signing up to bring deviled eggs to a party at the hospital years ago. A disaster--every egg looked like it was pock marked! Now I know better.

You should have seen my face when, after opening a new box of Coke, I pulled out these cans.
Never, in all my lunch time, Coke drinking years have I come across a white can! Turns out it's a "Save the Polar Bear" campaign. I once read that if a merchant put some charitable offering on the product, sales went up dramatically. Wonder how this will fare?

Apparently, I'm the only one who is wildly jazzed about all my new flowers. Instead people complimented the food on Thanksgiving. Remarking on this to Bruce and Matt, they assured me that my flowers were great, but it was okay if I was getting the most pleasure from them. How about the color on this poinsettia? Fantastic, right?
I came across this fascinating piece on NPR about the sounds you still hear in your head, think, Green Acres theme as an example. How about you?  Do you still hear sounds in your head of long ago jingles or theme songs?

After both Bruce and Matt left this week I was feeling a little blue. Not horribly, just a little sadness. During the last week I've had the opportunity to spend time with two different mothers and their first borns. And, of course, I was spending time with my first born. It was an interesting experience, watching both Jen and Liza interacting with their children. Nothing quite compares to your first born child. All four of my sons have a special place in my heart--if you know what's good for you, you best not criticize them too strongly. A little is okay, more than that and the mother bear comes out of me! Having said that, there is so much effort with the first child. Well, duh-- you are just learning how to parent. I really don't know what I'm trying to say except that your first born will always be your grand experiment, at 7 months, 22 months, or at 35 years old.

I took a walk with Baxter in our neighborhood to shake off my sadness, knowing that seeing the world in action is good medicine for whatever ails you. I've been trying to practice with my camera phone with limited success. We were just fixing to get moving when I decided it would never work while hanging onto Baxter's leash. Running back into the house I grabbed the Nikon off the counter. Good thing that I did, otherwise, I would have NEVER been able to get a shot of this eagle!
Because I had the camera over my shoulder a young man who was exiting a back yard after cleaning a pool, pointed out this magnificent bird. Apparently, while cleaning the pool he heard something overhead and there it was, high up in the oak tree. Fantastic! We watched for a few minutes as I tried to move in closer. Because he only had his phone, I offered to send him the photo via email so he could have proof for his family. Only a few minutes later the eagle took off with yours truly trying her best to react!
Clearly, I'm not a wildlife photographer, but you do get the sense of his wing span. I can't help thinking that this experience was meant to be for any number of reasons which I'll leave to your imagination. 

Had enough of me for the day? Of course you have! Finally, we have enough to play bridge today so I've got to get moving towards that end. Let's just hope I can remember how to play....


Monday, November 28, 2011

It Must Have Been the Hair

 I have very thick hair which I did nothing to deserve. My mom gave it to me many years ago. People often remark how lucky I am to still have thick hair at my age and I suppose they are right, however, thick hair is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. Mine definitely has a mind of it's own as evidenced by how it behaved on Saturday. Badly.

I meant to get up earlier to wash my hair and fix it before Matt and I went to the Winter Garden market. 6:00 came and went and I was still snuggled with Bruce. 6:30 and I knew I was sunk. Although I did get it washed, the drying process was left to chance. Not a good idea Gail. Not at all. As such, by the time my hair was completely air-dried, some three hours later, it went every which way, none of which were good.

So, I told you we got the iPhone 4S on Wednesday afternoon. I say we, although it really was Matt; my role was merely handing over my debit card! My reason for finally caving was to use the latest device for taking credit cards called Square. Forgive the coloring on this photo--I took it this morning while it is still dark outside, merely to show you what it looks like.
Matt accompanied me to the market to not only see what it was like, but to assist me with the Square. We began the day with some practice rounds sliding his card. Fortunately they have a screen that allows you to do just that, with check marks given when you are successful. I'd heard from other vendors that it takes a bit to get proficient and that was certainly the case with my practice rounds! Sadly, however, Matt's services went unused as I had NO sales. Nada. We did, on the other hand, have a pleasant day visiting and enjoying the atmosphere and fantastic weather. Once we arrived home and I saw my hair in the mirror I was convinced that was my problem. Always good to find a place to lay blame!

The rest of Saturday was fairly uneventful except for the Florida State vs. Florida game. It was not pretty, in fact it was an ugly win, but we'll take it.

 Sunday Matt finally got an opportunity to sleep in a bit while Bruce set me up at the market. He and Bruce spent the day together, going to see The Muppets and having lunch at Tijuana Flats before joining me later. I was thrilled to report that I got to use the Square and did just fine on my own. It helped immensely that the couple were young and actually said they were thrilled to be my guinea pigs! Here they are looking at the email receipt that I can send:
Aren't they sweet looking? The receipt comes with my company name, picture and even a map where they purchased from me. Pretty cool huh?

Once again, the weather was spectacular--seriously perfect! Some wonderful repeat customers helped make the day.
 Lake Eola looking very nice indeed. And here's Matt enjoying the view from my booth chair:
Another quiet evening at home, this time watching the Food Network. Bruce and I both were hoping we weren't boring Matthew, who pretty much lives a jet setter type life at home, however, he kept assuring us he was just fine relaxing for the most part.

Monday morning, Matt's dearest friend Liza came over with Clara. It had been a year since last she visited our home and boy has she changed. Of course, you knew she would--that's what babies do! She's an adorable toddler now, full of curiosity. Amazingly she talks up a storm and is super smart and cute. We drove over to Cypress Grove Park for a little playtime, taking bubbles with us. 
Matt, the bubble master is giving Clara a chance to try it for herself. Swinging was another big hit. I even had a go at it myself!

Brains and beauty--a powerful combination. I came across this article which is So interesting! Heddy Lamar as inventor? Brains + Beauty= Amazing; I know a few folks like that.

Lunch and a quick trip to Big Lots and it was time for Matt to leave. By this time a cold front made it's way to Florida via some rain. Bruce was working at home so he did the driving and we sadly went to the airport.
Bruce insisted he take our picture together. I joked with him once I saw the pictures--a few of his favorite things all in one shot--his wife, his son and his CAR!

Handing the camera back to me, I took this shot, which although it is blurry, does just what a good photograph should do--makes you feel the moment...
There are few things that make me any happier than knowing that all of our sons LOVE their dad.

And that's all I have to say for today....

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011, Diary of a Feast

It all began with my shopping trip on Monday. Well, actually, for those who know me well, making lists is not something I do too often. Monday however, I made an exception after poring over a couple of cookbooks and magazines. As well I made a list of the guests, giving me some sort of idea about just how much food I'd need. Only 12 this year. First stop Clemons for produce, followed by Publix for the turkey and dry goods.

One of the first things I made was the cranberry sauce. Although I don't eat much of it myself, I always like to have it on the table for those who do. Bon Appetit had a recipe with two types of Dijon mustard which seemed like a winner with both my sister Maureen and brother Pat very big mustard fans. Don't cranberries coated with sugar look lovely?
The recipe could not have been simpler--cranberries and sugar cooked until the berries popped, cool, followed by the addition of 4T of regular Dijon and 1T of whole grain Dijon. On Thursday afternoon I heard it was tasty. Another super simple recipe came next. Believe it or not, you mix a box of spice cake mix with a can of pumpkin, plop it in the muffin tins and bake. That's it folks. Two ingredients with bonus points for being vegan! Apologies for the sub par photograph. :-)
I mostly cleaned house on Tuesday morning, waiting, waiting for Matt's arrival at 5:00. Totally worth the wait. After dropping off his stuff we made our way to Ross, mostly to mosey and help him stay awake to get into EST. Shopping with Matthew is never dull and for some odd reason I always seem to find the best stuff when he's around including this trip. An awesome apple corer and some cool adjustable pie crust covers were two of our finds.

Wednesday morning, while Matthew enjoyed a bit of our warm Florida weather on the front porch
I began toasting the Israeli couscous for a taboulleh style salad. I oogled and awed over the cute little pearls of pasta:
I've included the recipe for those interested--I did as I was told. Pie crust followed with the pumpkin pie going in the oven next.
Meanwhile, the apple corer came out and worked beautifully! After rolling out the bottom crust Matt filled it with my pretty apple mixture,
Always up for a challenge, once I said I'd never done a lattice top before, Matt jumped all over the idea, taking it upon himself to fashion the first such crust in the Peck home. Miraculously he did just that.
Lattice top, sugar sprinkes, and new handy pie savers!

Once the pies were done, a trip was made by yours truly and her eldest son to buy an iPhone. I've finally caved. This is not something I would have tried to accomplish without one of the boys; the whole process befuddles me! More to come in another post regarding my entry into the world of smart phones!

Up early Thursday morning, more cooking ensued, followed by setting the tables. Our dear brother in law Danny sent flowers the night before to grace the table:
Because the pumpkin muffins were so tasty we decided to expand upon the idea after I found some mini loaf pans in the cupboard. Actually Matt made them with a few additions--banana and chopped pecans. Didn't they turn out cute?
They were delicious! I kicked my vegan son out of the kitchen for the turkey and dressing preparations. A fresh turkey was on the menu this year for the first time in my life. No wondering this year if the turkey had thawed! Basting, basting, and more basting gave the turkey this beautiful brown color:
After letting the turkey rest, he did all the carving. The counter was cleared of the remnants of carving with the feast taking it's place.  So here's what we had:
Roast Turkey
Sausage Dressing
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Sweet Potatoes (Matt mostly)
Grilled Asparagus
Green Beans with lemon zest
Sauteed corn with Peri-peri and lime zest
Green Salad
Couscous Salad
Pumpkin loaves with apple butter
Apple and Pumpkin Pie
And here's who joined us:
Maureen, Richard and Jennifer Condon.

Bruce, Matt and Danny.

The kitchen crew:
Bill, Dave, Burch (friend of the boys) and with her back to us, Michelle.

If you can believe it, David ate this entire plate full!!! Originally he said it would be no problem, however, after finishing it all, he admitted that about half way through, it became a source of pride. Silly, silly boy.

While Bruce was up to his elbows in soapy water, the rest of the gang lounged around admiring darling Spencer and watching football.
Lisa (on her knees) could not get enough of the darling boy! This picture makes me laugh a bit--the television is clearly not enough:
Michelle left early to spend a little time with her family but before she left I convinced her to pose with her brother in law:
So, pretty much aside from the food, Spencer stole the show--you would be hard pressed to find a more good-natured baby! Matt got a hold of him and seriously did not want to let him go:
Amazing how he and Matt seem to be concentrating on the same thing! We all went to bed still stuffed, but happy and thankful for a wonderful day. It didn't take me long to put all the clean dishes away, finish up the leftover ones, and have the kitchen pretty much back in order. Matt and Bruce finished off the apple pie this morning, turkey leftovers for lunch, and football for the afternoon. It's all good.
Until we meet again,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Serving of Gratitude

I find pleasure in the titles the New York Times uses for their articles, including the one I'm pirating for today's post. Clever, clever folks. While reading the article, my gratitude factor went up dramatically, proving good writing can do wonders.

Realistically, I think I'm pretty full of gratitude most of the time, not just around Thanksgiving. If you were in my shoes wouldn't you be grateful? Specifically, all 5 of the Peck men are working, which in and of itself is a small miracle these days. Plus, none of the boys have come back home to live; I'm all about being an empty nester. My health, and most of those I love have good health which as we all know money can't buy for long. When we were younger, calamities of the kind that do cost money to fix were so difficult because most of our money was spoken for. Things like a big car repair or a broken washing machine could really depress me. Then, one day, a friend of mine said that her attitude was that if something could be fixed with money it wasn't really worth fretting over, unlike problems that no amount of cash can fix. I liked it, adopting it as if I'd thought of it myself. It was if a burden was lifted or something. Sort of like the song,
Count your blessings, 
count them one by one. 
Count your blessings,
see what God has done.

I know just what you're thinking--that's easy enough for you to say Gail because you have more money these days. While that is true, it still requires an attitude adjustment, as in thinking about what's really important. So, while looking through my photo album for things to illustrate my point I decided against showing the people I love because you already KNOW how much I love them and are grateful for their presence in my life. Instead let's look at some things which can bring joy and gratitude because of what they are, where they came from, or maybe for the smile or laugh factor....

Appreciating the past is a good way to make a person feel grateful. I have no idea who made this quilt I brought home from Bruce's mom's house. Sadly, she's not hear to tell me either.
It is well worn and handmade. Handmade is good. Handmade shows that we value the other person more than we value the time we spend making something. I like to ponder the days and nights this woman, or at least I'm assuming it was a woman, spent hand quilting and piecing this quilt. It might have taken many, many, snowy nights seeing as how Bruce's family came from way, way upstate New York where the days and nights are unbearably cold for months on end. No central heating back then, unlike we enjoy with a flick of the wrist today. Now that's something to be grateful for!

A complete riot of color which is enough to make anyone smile! Growing things is most definitely a way to make a person grateful for those things which are out of our control. Sure we can water, but there's nothing like rain and sunshine for growing. Living in Florida is a blessing for the growing season which never really stops. Walking Baxter the other morning I was delighted to come across this gorgeous yellow flowering bush which blooms only in the fall or winter.
Now some folks complain about our weather, the usual suspects of excessive heat and humidity, however, most folks would love to have our perpetual sunshine which brings everything to life.
I've often said that I can't tell you how I would do with the long cold winters others live through, but I can, with 100% certainty, say that a long gray winter would do me in. CANNOT live without seeing the sun regularly.

Humor, in all it's many forms, is enough to make a person feel grateful. You know, the whole, laughter is the best medicine idea. The other day, while getting the car to pack up after the Winter Garden market, I walked across the street and saw this little guy using my car as a perch.
Naturally it made me laugh. Oblivious to my presence, he only jumped off when I started the car. Didn't go far though, made the adjacent car his perch!

Which reminds me of something else I have to be grateful for. While doing the Winter Garden market I've made the acquaintance of a wonderful family who is fairly new to our area. Three delightful young girls, still innocent, have helped me load my car two weeks in a row! They run up when the market closes at 2, begging to help. I'm no fool---I say yes and thank you! The kindness of strangers cannot be taken for granted. The girls love to come and tell me about their week, showing off whatever they are wearing or doing.
I'm more than grateful that I get to do something I love--taking photographs and meeting people. A win-win situation all the way around. If you'd asked me five years ago what I'd be doing today, I'm confidant that selling photography would not have been my answer. So, there's that. The idea that with the help of family, a person can do something entirely different. Help that comes with either a nudge in a different direction, or maybe, equally as important playing the role of cheerleader. Bruce got me going in this direction, providing endless support as you well know, however, there's a legion of other family, neighbors and friends who've kept me going when I've felt low. What's not to like?

And then there's the comfort of the everyday. Tea, how I love you. Morning or afternoon, doesn't matter, you are there for me every day.
Proving you can teach an old dog to do new tricks, since learning about an electric kettle from my British friends, I've happily made the switch. Thank you Thomas Edison for bringing electricity to our homes way back when. We so take it for granted!

I'm going to go eat my bagel, cooked in my electric toaster just now after finishing typing this piece on my iMac, after which time I'll move into the homemade mode. There are pies to be made, beans to trim, and countless other tasks before the big day tomorrow when we will welcome our family to celebrate Thanksgiving.

May you be inspired to be thankful and grateful each and every day,

Monday, November 21, 2011

History in the Making

 Nothing earth shattering going on, just my own personal blogging history. In 920 posts, spanning four years this is surely the first post I've begun in what I call the middle of the night. Being the world class sleeper that I am, it's unheard of for me to be up at this hour, and in fact, it's not my idea at all.

I was in the middle of a dream about wine and tea. And skewers. According to my dream, wine is the most drunk liquid in the world, followed closely by tea. Ah yes...two of my favorites. The skewers? Something about most foods could be put on skewers making them a great investment idea. Silliness, I know, but that's usually what dreams are made of. One of my least favorite bugs in the world, a buzzing mosquito interrupted this fantasy. Yep, I woke to itching. As in like crazy. Both ankles and my right upper arm. So much so that I couldn't get back to sleep so rather than toss and turn I'm writing. Or, at least until sleepiness returns and itchiness goes away following a liberal coating of hydrocortisone.

Saturday was a fine day in Winter Garden, made even more so by having easy access to this:
 Actually I got one of his raspberry twists, but those almond croissants on the right are mighty delicious too. Maybe because it's newer to me, don't know, but I really love taking pictures at this market. Could be the newness of the space as well, clean and tidy. The crowds mostly fit that description as well.
Despite the mild weather on Sunday it was not my best showing at the market. There were people, just not the buying kind. Cole, Dana's son who often helps her described the day as lethargic which is probably as good a description as any. All I need do is look at Jim and Kathy's orchid display to know whether it's a general buying day or not.
They took home more than they planned. I did talk to some folks, and I read another New Yorker, this one with an article about a Charles Dickens camp. Apparently for some 30 years up to 250 adults spend the week attending lectures and discussing one of his novels. This last year it was Great Expectations. According to the article, Mr. Dickens was sorely disappointed when he came to America the first time, claiming that our politics were a mess and Americans were boorish. We all know history has a way of repeating itself as we witness the current political mess. The boorishness, I'll let you decide that one. Remarkably back then, American publishers had no obligation to pay British, and I'm assuming any foreign authors, royalties on their writings. Can you believe it? His books were wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, however, he made money on only one of those sides. All sorts of other interesting facts came to light such as his kicking his wife out of their home and keeping the children but then again you may not be as interested in this sort of thing as I am.

Speaking of Charles Dickens, the most famous line from A Tale of Two Cities, still fits.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 - 1870)
Amazing to think about isn't it? Nothing new under the sun and all that....

I wish I had the time to read non fiction magazine articles like those published in The New Yorker.  Of course, then you'd have to hear about them and you may not be nearly as fascinated as I am with pieces such as the one I read at Saturday's market about Rin Tin Tin's beginnings.

It is common knowledge amongst my readers that Bruce can fix just about anything. Saturday evening, after gathering the necessary tools while I was at the market, fixed his kayak. I mean as in welding plastic. Here's the set up:
He's got the kayak over one of the patio chairs, while another one stands in for a light stand. After dinner, while I was watching the disappointing Florida State football game, he worked on it. Using a piece of plastic given to him by the folks at Travel Country, he used a heat gun thing to do the welding.
The hole is closed, but you knew that with Mr. Bruce at the helm. According to Denise, Bruce's assistant, moth balls will keep the squirrels away in the future. All that's left to do is a bit of sanding, however, that will probably wait until Thanksgiving Day when he's next home.

Have I mentioned how obsessed I am currently with purple flowers? If not, I am now. Love them!
The border planting of pansies I was hoping would look nice for Matt's visit is coming along nicely. The unseasonable rains we have been having, as in the unexpected 1/2 inch today, is helping. As I type this I'm thinking Matt is probably preparing to go to the airport. A whole week he'll be here, which I know will fly by. If it doesn't cool off soon, I suspect he could almost get in the pool while he's here. Speaking of which, my beautiful pool has a problem, fortunately covered by warranty. Taking the water for the testing last Thursday I found out there is no chlorine in the pool. Nada.

The pool guy came right over, checking things; his diagnosis is a bad mother board on the chlorine generator. I know, because it is saline you think there is no need for chlorine, but that's not how it works. The machine makes chlorine out of salt. Allegedly, a repair guy will be out Wednesday morning, however, when I returned late this afternoon with Thanksgiving groceries, there was a message which I returned too late to speak with anyone. Hope there's not a problem. Between the oak leaves, and seed things from the palms, and now no chlorine, it's been hard

Finally, as I really do need to get back in bed, I think we can all agree that Thomas Friedman has got it right in this article whereupon he claims that instead of laying the burden totally on the teachers what we really need to fix our educational system is better parents.  I'm glad someone had the nerve to tell it like it is. I hope this generation of parents will be able to put down their devices long enough to make the time for their children. I'll stop moralizing and Mr. Baxter and I will soon be fast asleep, or so we hope.
Good night,

You Just Never Know