Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is it Men?

We had a water problem the other night, and as Howard knelt in front of the bathtub checking to see if the water was still rusty, I realized that both of his socks had the heels out of them! Now, I'm handy with a needle and thread, but I'm a QUILTER, not a sock darner! and certainly not these white athletic socks that come in packs of a hundred! I quickly slipped them off his feet (yes he was protesting vehemently!) and tossed them in the trash. I won :)

Not 24 hours had passed before I looked down and realized that both of Howard's socks had the heels out of them! Thinking that he had retrieved them from the trash, I dashed upstairs only to discover that the previous day's socks were still in the trash. With horror I realized that he had multiple sets socks with huge gaps in the heels!

By this time Howard was relaxing out on the patio, oblivious to my distress over the sock situation. I grabbed up my very best pair of Gingher cutting shears and flew out to the patio. Lifting his pant leg, I began chopping the offending sock right off his foot! Before he could even realize what I was doing, I had it halfway cut off! When the ensuing struggle was over, it was a draw -- I had one sock and he had the other.

Yesterday I snuck into his sock drawer and removed the remaining offending pieces, replacing them with a new package of athletic socks -- I wonder if he'll notice that he doesn't have any more air-conditioned socks?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mail Day!

Will you look at this glorious pattern??!!!! Did you ever see anything like it? No??!! Me either! That's why I had to buy it the minute I saw it!! This is the first applique design by Australian quiltmaker Kim McLean and it is stunning!!! You can see this and her other designs at Glorious Color website. Scroll down the left side menu to find her link.

The individual blocks are really large so a novice applique person like me believes all things here are possible! I've got one block separated from the pattern package and 2 of the little border blocks to try. I'm so excited!!!

And, if you know me well, you know that I could not stop at just one! So several of her patterns now live at my house :) Have to go choose fabric ... wooohoooo!!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm not really creative ...

When I was in 5th grade, or maybe 6th grade, I painted a picture of one of the California Missions ... and I felt really really good about it! The next time I felt really good about a painting was more than 20 years later when I decided I wanted to try my hand at "creating". I went to the art supply store and bought a canvas, some charcoal, a book on how to do it, and a supply of paints and brushes. I painted like that for a year or so and then took some lessons. And even though I know lots of the "rules" of painting, my favorite thing is still to just get a canvas and paints and put down the colors of my mind.

Ten years after my painting, a very "non-crafty" friend of mine introduced me to cross-stitch. Ooooo painting with thread! I can do this! And the second thing I ever stitched was a pattern that I designed. I went on to win a dozen blue ribbons for my stitching, and my house as well as my friends and family have evidence that I stitched. I still love pulling out a fine piece of linen and taking that first telling stitch that says something great is being born. I still love getting out graph paper and designing little pieces for my own enjoyment -- another way to put down the colors of my mind.

I used to make clothing in my younger years (teens) through my poorer years (young adult) and then one day I woke up and I had enough money to buy clothes off the rack. So I stopped hanging out in fabric stores, but that was all going to change ...

Another ten years go by and I was introduced to quilting. Fabric. Color. Textiles. Tactile. My introduction to quilting came in a small town in Virginia with a woman who had been quilting for over 60 years. We cut cardboard templates, stitched little seams, and strove to get our quilting down to 10 stitches per inch (never have accomplished that). At the end of that 6 or 8 weeks I had stitched curved seams, inset seams, straight seams ... cut big pieces, little pieces, appliqued, and practiced a good quilting stitch. I was totally hooked. I went off to the fabric store again and bought enough fabric for the 5 quilts that were in my mind. Fifteen years later some of that fabric is still sitting in my stash, so I guess I still like it!!

Quilting became the way for me to record the colors of my mind.

But I've never thought I was creative ... I just sort of go along for the ride. I see a great pattern that someone really creative has designed and immediately that rainbow appears in my head and I know how to color it. Fortunately, this happens more and more to me these days -- maybe I'm becoming friends with my muse.

I'm starting to believe in my ability to create something -- a beautiful quilt that pleases me. I'm buying fabric because I fall in love with the colors. My brain is exploding with fabrics that I want to cut into -- there's not enough time to make all these quilts!

I love color.
I love fabric.
I love quilting.
I love my quilting friends.

But I'm not really creative ...

Customer Service Thoughts

It's Crab Meat Newburg Day, but it's also National Food Service Employees Day and I thought it would be nice to talk about the folks in the food service industry. Having worked as everything from waitress to bartender to chef to caterer, I've had a lot of experience with good and bad food, but more importantly with good and bad service. What makes good service in a restaurant? For me it is attention to detail -- not forgetting that extra bit of butter requested! -- or a check-in from our server that all is well in dining land -- never having to stretch my neck looking for the server because we haven't seen signs of help for a while. We dine out very frequently and I've noticed a lovely upward trend in good service in the restaurants we frequent -- like folks really want their customer to enjoy their evening.

But food service is not the only place where we encounter customer service -- good OR bad! I've noticed improved customer service in my online transactions. Yes, I'm an Internet shopper, and every now and then something goes awry in an order. As of yet I've only had a single problem getting satisfactory correction to the error and it was with a large, national craft company -- and I'll never order from them again.

For several years I worked for a mail order gardening company as a customer service representative. It is a fantastic company that really believes that their customers are important and as a customer service person, I was totally empowered to fix whatever problem existed. It takes oh so much less energy to say, "what can I do to make this better for you", than it does to argue with the customer and make the customer feel bad about the experience. I diffused many a caller's bad temper with those words and it has become my standard on how I rate good customer service. If a store or company or restaurant doesn't make me feel that my business is important to them -- no matter how large or how small it is -- then I will simply take my business to another place that does make me feel valued. On the other hand, if the establishment makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, I tell them how much it is appreciated.

So my thought for the day is to thank the next person who gives you good service -- no matter where it is. We all want to know that we're appreciated!

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's for dinner?

Even though we're in the north of the southern states ... and it's still rather warm, September just means autumn to me and heart-warming meals! I found this FANTASTIC new chicken at the deli the other day -- not usually a fan of deli chicken -- made by Boar's Head and it's called EverRoast. I had them cut about an inch slice off it and used it for the chicken pot pie. Super simple to make.

1 pie crust - make your own or go to the refrigerator section and buy one (optional)
1 pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed at room temperature about an hour
a pound or a bit more of chicken, cooked and cubed
heavy cream
chicken stock
salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage (any or all of these work well with this dish)
1 egg

We like lots of crust, so I started with a pie crust in my pie dish and baked it at 425 about 10 minutes to give it a head start. Then you need veggies -- I used baby portabella mushrooms, green beans and carrots ... oh, and some little pearl onions I had in the freezer.

Saute the mushrooms in a bit of butter.
Slice the carrots and cook in 2 cups of chicken broth for about 10 minutes.
Slice the green beans into pieces and cook in water for about 5 minutes.

In a saucepan, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter (don't let it brown), and stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour. Slowly add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of heavy cream and the chicken broth from the carrots. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Stir in your vegetables and chicken and whatever herbs you wish to use.

Pour into pie pan.

Open one package of the puff pastry, unfold one piece and cut into strips. Lay strips across the pie plate, then go crossway weaving with over/under. I had some little pieces leftover so I just put them on the top. There's no such thing as too much pastry with pot pie!! Brush the whole top with the egg beaten with a teaspoon of water (this makes it brown that lovely color).

Bake at 475 degrees F for about 15 or 20 minutes until the top is golden.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Breakfast Update

I've now had a couple of weeks of eating breakfast -- helped along by taking some medication in the morning that requires food in order to work -- and I must admit that I'm kind of liking how I feel as the morning progresses! The breakfasts aren't always the lowest calories, but at least they aren't donuts!

One of my favorites is oatmeal -- old fashioned cooked, not instant packet. I usually put some fruit (raspberries and blackberries are my favorites) in the bottom of the bowl, and a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar. Put the oatmeal on top and stir it all up ... trust me, this is goooood!

I also love little quiches that I make in custard cups without the crust and I use real eggs and fat free half and half for these -- spinach, cheese, and mushrooms are still my main ingredients.

Scrambled eggs with cheese and topped with salsa is a really simple breakfast to whip up.

And, finally, there's always the multigrain bagel with cream cheese and Nova salmon topped with a little slice of red onion.

I think I'll keep working on this habit :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Better Breakfast Month

I've always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day -- and every single diet or better-eating program stresses the same thing ... then why is it so darn hard to get in the habit of eating breakfast?! I've tried so many tips and tricks, all to no avail. The sad fact is that food is the last thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning! However, in the interest of working towards better eating habits this month, I'm going to have some food within an hour of getting up in the morning.

Breakfast today - using my new Pampered Chef 8" skillet, some Egg Beaters, mushrooms, cheese and spinach and I'll have an omelet in no time!

It's Cherry Popover Day, too ... oh my! Have you ever had a popover? Lovely air filled muffins, crusty and crispy on the outside and melty-butter sweet on the inside! Made with beef drippings as the fat instead of butter you'll have the English traditional Yorkshire Pudding! The secrets to great popovers -- hot pan, hot fat, batter rested for a few minutes. Saying that, here's a recipe for cherry popovers that you can add to your breakfast (though it probably won't be the "better" part of the breakfast, it will sure be the "best"!

Cherry Popovers

Melt 3/4 of a stick of butter in 8" or 9" oblong pan or in individual muffin cups.

Combine:1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 t baking powder 1 t salt and 3/4 cup cold milk. Let batter rest about 10 minutes.

Pour batter over hot butter in hot pan. Mix cherry pie filling with 3/4 cup sugar and divide on top of muffins or spread over top of batter in single pan.

Bake 325 degrees for 50 minutes until puffed and browned. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Asian Noodles

If you haven't yet tried Pampered Chef, go online and look for someone in your area! It's a line of stoneware, cookware, and gadgetry that is unequaled! I've been buying it for years and have never seen a piece of Pampered Chef that I didn't love ... So, I went to a Pampered Chef party a couple of weeks back and this time instead of stoneware I decided to give their titanium-coated skillets a try. As that little Taco Bell dog says, "I think I'm in love!" Got two pieces, the 8" skillet and the HUGE deep wok-style skillet. Wooohoooo ... I can flip an omelet again! and I made my favorite Asian Noodles without everything ending up all over the stove top! Stacey is my Pampered Chef person -- click on this link to see my new skillets! And don't forget to order your cinnamon and Asian spice while you're there -- best cinnamon I ever tasted!

Here's my recipe for Asian Noodles:

6 oz boneless pork tenderloin or chicken breast cut into 2" x 1/4" strips
Marinate them covered for 10 minutes (can be more) with a mixture of
2 T Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, or good table white wine
2 t hoisin sauce
1/2 t cornstarch

Combine 3 T dark soy sauce, 2 T oyster sauce, 1 T low-sodium soy sauce and 1/2 t sugar. Mix with whisk or fork. Set this aside.

For wok cooking, you want to put ingredients in from the longest to cook to the most delicate. I generally use broccoli, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots and whatever else might be leftover in the refrigerator. Chop the vegetables up into bite-sized pieces and set aside. You also want 3 cups of chopped Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage)

Cook 1 pound of fresh Asian-style wheat noodles. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again and set aside. The rest of the preparations will go fast ...

Heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil (my favorite), canola oil or peanut oil in your wok over high heat. Stir-fry broccoli, mushrooms and bamboo shoots until the colors are bright and they smell wonderful. Put them on a plate and set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil on high heat and stir-fry cabbage for 2 minutes -- it will wilt a lot!. Set aside, wipe out the skillet and ...

Heat another teaspoon of oil on high and toss in a teaspoon of minced garlic and stir for about 10 seconds. Add pork or chicken mixture (sauce included) and stir-fry about 3 minutes. Put the meat with the cabbage.

Now you're really hungry and the smells are fantastic! Last step! Wipe out your wok and heat 1 tablespoon of oil on high heat. Stir in reserved cooked noodles and stir-fry about a minute. Add a cup of chopped green onions and the soy sauce mixture, cooking about a minute. Add the pork or chicken back in, stir to combine, and feed the hungry masses.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today's Lesson Learned

We're on the weight control patrol today. Last night I ate some sorbet -- ok, I ate a lot of sorbet. Granted it was fat free and real fruit, etc., but it was still sugar. So why should I be surprised that today I can't get sweets off my mind? Well, I'm *not* surprised! I think I get it ... I think I get it ... If I say this often enough maybe I really will get it. I am addicted to sugar ... if I don't eat sugar, I don't crave sugar. conversely, if I *do* eat sugar, it sets up a craving for me. So, having (hopefully) learned that lesson today, I'll stay away from refined sugar this week and work at getting control of this food thing!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Weighing In

My weigh-in this week wasn't as much fun as last week, but considering how much I didn't do the right things, it wasn't nearly as bad as I was afraid it was going to be. New stepdaughter and family arrived on Monday ... in the middle of the night Monday I was downstairs on the computer (not unusual) and somehow (I'm thinking alien influence) any time I opened my mouth I found an Oreo in it!!! Needless to say the next morning I had one bad sugar hangover. And that of course set me on the wrong road for the rest of the week. The positive thing for the week, though, is that I wasn't filling myself with sugar, just some bad carbs and not balancing my nutrition. It was a little challenging to stay on routine when it was way more fun to be playing with babies :) ... On to another week :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New book news!

If you've ever ventured into the world of romance, more than likely (and hopefully!) you've read some of Christina Dodd's fantastic writing. She has now expanded her genre into the world of paranormal romance with the first in a new series, "Storm of Visions". I'm totally excited to see this as I've never read anything by her that wasn't great! You can read more about the book at Barnes and Noble.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Today's choices ...

Life is so good for me today that I am able to make choices of the things I want to do! Believe me, I don't take these days for granted!! The writing prompt for this morning is,k "The next time the phone rings, what would you like to hear when you pick it up?" and I sort of let my mind wander a bit to answer it. I'd really love a publisher to be on the phone telling me that they have decided to purchase my book!! "What book", you might ask ... and my answer is "the one in my head". Therefore, this truly is a fantasy phone call. But it did lead me to make a choice to spend some time today working on the character of said book .... and maybe someday I will get that call :)

What choices are you making today?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Talk about shiny balls ...

... my mind is all over the place this morning! On our quilting blog, Living in Stitches, Nonja talked about achieving perfection in her quilting, and her quest to take it easier on herself, to enjoy the process as well as the finished product. I've spoken about my epiphany before -- the time I realized that I was way too stressed over "getting it perfect" and that this was actually preventing me from enjoying the process of learning!

This new awareness happened during a week in the autumn in Vermont, when I visited the Shelburne Museum with my friend Kerry who was visiting from Australia. The museum has at any one time over 100 of their 400 quilts on display so we went to view the selection. Well, of course they were gorgeous -- they were in a museum, for heaven's sake!!! But what I really noticed was that not all the seams matched up, not all the points were perfect, and even the quilting stitches weren't totally even. Wow! And these quilts were in museums! They had stories ... made for parish preachers, made for friends moving away, moving to keep warm during the cold winters, some had even been entered in World's Fair competitions ... but they sure weren't perfect!

Later in that same week, Kerry and I traveled down to Bennington, Vermont, where the Jane Stickle quilt is on display for one month only each year! This quilt was made during the Civil War and has been made famous through the charting work of Brenda Papadakis in her book, "Dear Jane" ... The blocks are about 4 1/2" finished, and Brenda did a great job "normalizing" the blocks so that they all fit together. Thus, when I actually viewed the quilt for the first time, I was absolutely shocked lol!! Not horrified -- just surprised!!! Some of the blocks in the actual quilt are different sizes, and she added muslin strips to them to make them fit. The applique is wonky at times, and perfect at others; the seams work well sometimes and sometimes not. It was such a relief to see this beauty in person!! I've seen many, many reproductions by friends in the quilting world, and they are absolutely gorgeous and perfect (to my eyes, anyway), but seeing the original somehow gave me the freedom to learn, to grow, to experiment, to just try!! And I'm so fortunate that these memories stay with me so that I no longer fear trying something new, or giving myself permission to do something even though I'm not skilled enough to do it perfectly. So, thank you to the generations of quilters before me!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

African Violet Progeny

I'm so excited!!! Remember the 60 violet leaves that I set down to root back in the late spring? Well, finally, after two months we've got "mouse ears" as the new plants are affectionately called. Most of the May leaves and some of the June leaves have sent out their first plants and they are looking great. Each leaf can produce many children, so I just leave them to grow and grow until they fill up their space. I've had as many as 10 baby plants off one mother leaf. Once you take out the mother leaf to separate the babies, you'll often find babies that haven't emerged yet ... so it's always exciting! The little plants stay with the mother leaf until they are about the size of a nickel. At that point they are generally strong enough to survive on their own and they get put into little thumb sized pots by themselves ... that's when the plant rack really looks like a plant nursery ... Of the 64 leaves I started, I've only lost two, which is a good success rate!

Stopped in at the garden center yesterday to pick up some spray calcium for the tomatoes (blossom end rot .. ugh) and they had a whole stand of little violets outside looking hot and tired and pretty sad. Well, what a bonanza they were!! All named violets! I picked up a few and then thought they were such a great deal that we went back for more. So I have 8 more little violet children to add to my collection! Today I have to spend some time organizing them on the plant stand. They sure love this hot humid weather in Virginia!

Vampires at Large

Are you a Twilight fan? Is that your first foray into the world of vampires? During our party weekend a number of friends were talking about vampire stories and I gave a few authors that I enjoy. Then I started thinking that there are probably more that didn't come to mind, or that I didn't even know about. So I started doing some research. Here, for your reading enjoyment are some books/authors that sound intriguing.

Adrian, Lara - Midnight Breed series (romance)
Kiss of Midnight
Kiss of Crimson
Midnight Awakening
Midnight Rising
Veil of Midnight
Ashes of Midnight
Shades of Midnight (December 2009)

Davidson, MaryJanice - Undead (Betsy Taylor) series (humorous, lightweight vampire chick lit)
Undead and Unwed
Undead and Unemployed
Undead and Unappreciated
Undead and Unreturnable
Undead and Unpopular
Undead and Uneasy
Undead and Unworthy
Undead and Unwelcome

Feehan, Christine
The Carpathians and their Dark Series (shapeshifters, wild and exotic animals, romance)
Dark Prince (first in series)
Dark Desire
Dark Gold ...
Dark Slayer (most recent, book 20 in series)

Frost, Jeaniene
“If Buffy and Angel had a daughter, she’d be just like Cat Crawfield, a vampire hunter with some vampire blood and an attitude.”
Halfway to the Grave (first in series)
One Foot in the Grave
At Grave’s End
Destined for an Early Grave

Galenorn, Yasmine (check out her mystery series, too ... great writer!)
Sisters of the Moon series (vampires, shapeshifting, witches) urban fantasy genre
Dragon Wytch
Night Huntress
Demon Mistress

Hallaway, Tate - comic vampire romance
Tall, Dark and Dead
Dead Sexy
Romancing the Dead
Dead if I Do

Hamilton, Laurell K - Anita Blake animator (raises zombies) and vampire hunter series
Guilty Pleasures (first in the series)
The Laughing Corpse
The Circus of the Damned
The Lunatic Cafe ...
Skin Trade (Book 17 in the series)

Harris, Charlaine (anything by her is a real treat to read!!)
The Sookie Stackhouse series (HBO’s True Blood based on this book series)
Dead Until Dark (first in series)
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World ...
Dead and Gone (most recent, book 9 in series)

James, Dean
Simon Kirby-Jones is a gay vampire living in England.
Posted to Death
Faked to Death
Decorated to Death
Baked to Death

McCarthy, Erin - Vegas Vampires series (humorous, lightweight vampire chick lit)
High Stakes
Bit the Jackpot
Bled Dry
Sucker Bet

Neill, Chloe - Beautiful coed unwillingly turned vampire. Romance/Mystery
Some Girls Bite
Friday Night Bites (due Fall 2009)

Raye, Kimberly - Dead End series (romantic vampire chick lit) (she also has a Harlequin Blaze vampire series that I didn’t include here)
Dead End Dating
Dead and Dateless
Your Coffin or Mine
Sucker for Love

Whiteside, Diane - vampire romantic suspense thriller based in Texas
Bond of Blood (first in series)
Bond of Fire
Bond of Darkness

And here are a couple of websites to check out:


Friday, July 17, 2009

Left brain/right brain

I woke up at 2:00 this morning thinking about right- and left-brain dominance and how it has always fascinated me. Oh, well what do you think about when you get up in the middle of the night? The thoughts were probably generated by the book, A WHOLE NEW MIND ... WHY RIGHT-BRAINERS WILL RULE THE FUTURE, by Daniel Pink, that I picked up on reserve at the library yesterday. Besides just controlling which hand one uses, the left and right brains dictate how we process thoughts and ideas. As a refresher (I'm sure you've heard this before):

Left brainers are:
  • logical
  • sequential
  • rational
  • analytical
  • objective
  • look at parts
Right brainers are:
  • random
  • intuitive
  • holistic
  • synthesizing
  • subjective
  • look at wholes
Understanding which side of your brain is dominant can help you work more effectively in any relationship. If your boss happens to be a left brainer, and you're a right brainer, your random thoughts on a solution may not sit as well as those of someone more concrete. On a more personal level, if your every dream is to be a lawyer, and you are a right-brained person, you need to develop some strong analytical brain blips.

For years I've tested out equally right-and left-brained. I guess that means I could be an artistic accountant? ... If you've never been tested, or want to see how you measure up today, here's an easy quiz for you.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Two Week Gap

The past two weeks have gone by in a blur -- culminating with my wedding to the most wonderful man in the world -- Howard Smith (of the Boston Smith's hehe). He is my heart mate and our day was full of fun and joy. Leading up to the day, we had our niece Jenny and grand-niece Sophie here from Texas for their summer vacation. They arrived on July 1, and we had a full week of activities scheduled for them!

July 2 - getting acclimated and settled in. We all went through Tish Boyles "The Good Cookie Book" drooling and choosing our favorites. We did have to narrow down our choices from 40 to 6 to make it realistic. The goal was to fill all the cookie jars in the house with a different cookie. We almost succeeded!!

July 3 - was a special day for our little friend Dylan who turned 6 years old. We started the day on the beach at Fort Monroe with a group of friends. Enjoyed lunch and swimming until the jellyfish stung the little ones and then we headed for the pool. We ended the day in a wonderful Japanese restaurant where Jenny and I shared Sushi and we were entertained by the hibachi chef.

July 4 - the birthday of our country. What better place to spend it then at the site of the last battle of the Revolutionary War -- Yorktown, Virginia. We wandered the historic town, dined in historic buildings, clapped for the Fife and Drum Corps and enjoyed the best firework show ever!!!

July 5 - not ready to slow down yet, we rose early and headed for Washington, DC, for a touristy day. Sophie had seen the movie "Night at the Museum - Battle of the Smithsonian" and the museum curators put together a treasure hunt of sites shown in the movie for each of the museums. We started at the American History Museum, to the Natural History Museum, on to the shuttle past the Capitol Building to the Air and Space Museum, then the Hirshorn and finally the Smithsonian Castle. We then boarded the shuttle again, rode past the Lincoln Memorial and got into our car. Drove to the White House, and finally waved goodbye to Washington near the Jefferson Memorial. What a full day ... but wait! We're not finished yet!! We drove out to Fairfax, Virginia, to the home of nephew Darby Carter, wife Kim, son Joe and new baby Rainey Miranda. We all got to snuggle baby, hug family we haven't seen in a long while, and enjoy laughing and visiting. Back on the road (after locating a Starbucks!) and home by 11 p.m. It was a wonderful 16 hour day chock full of fun!

July 7 - beach day
July 8 - Colonial Williamsburg
July 9 - beauty day
July 10 - ready to party
July 11 - our lovely wedding day

Photos and more stories are on webshots.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Fun in Virginia

Since we have several different age groups of children visiting this summer, I did some scouting around for fun places ...

Richmond, The Science Museum of Virginia "From bugs to space and what's inside human bodies ... explore!" They also have the largest planetarium in Virginia. Good for all ages. Very interactive. And don't miss the Children's Museum of Richmond is for toddlers-12 and was voted 11th Best Children's Museum in America by Child magazine! See the Waterplay exhibit as well as explore a cave, climb to an eagle's nest and tinker in an inventor's lab.

Williamsburg is loaded with choices for every age! There's Colonial Williamsburg where kids can wear colonial costumes while they visit the authentic 1700s village. (The whole historic triangle -- Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg is worth visiting often!). Move on to Busch Gardens for amusement part fun, or the Water Park Treehouse. The Pottery Factory has been a huge outlet center for all the years I've been in the area (a looong time!). And for the older kids Water Country USA boasts the most get-wet action. Check out the twistin', turnin', spit-you-out river rafting adventure, along with 415-foot flumes propelling you to a pretty quick 25 mph!

Norfolk has the Nauticus National Maritime Center with more than 150 interactive exhibits. Also in Norfolk is the Virginia Zoological Park, which boasts more than 350 animals, such as elephants, Siberian tigers, monkeys, reptiles and birds. There's also great shopping at McArthur Mall downtown!

While in Hampton, be sure to visit the Air and Space Center where children can experience flight controls and wing walking, ride in a World War II bomber and become an air traffic controller. Very cool place to spend some time with kids!

Newport News - The Virginia Living Museum is the place to go if you're wild about wildlife. See the combination native wildlife park, science museum, aquarium, botanical preserve and planetarium!

The Children's Museum of Virginia, in Portsmouth, is the largest children's museum in the commonwealth. The most popular exhibit here is the antique toy and model train collection, one of the largest on the East Coast. And don't miss the Bubble Exhibit! While in Portsmouth, visit the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame & Museum. Full of simulators and interactive courts to test your skillz, the museum showcases 20 sports and more than 200 Virginia athletes, coaches and other influential sports figures.

And you can't visit the Hampton Roads area without a visit to the fabulous oceanfront where beaches stretch for several miles and the water is fine! Take an excursion into the Atlatic Ocean with a Dolphin or Whale Watching cruise from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. While you're there, check out the six-story-high IMAX® Theater! Spend the day in the museum with exhibits and activities for all ages. The Ocean Water Park is right next door when everyone is ready for more action! If you're visiting in late August, do not miss the 47th East Coast Surfing Championship between 2nd and 9th streets on the oceanfront!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not all cupcakes are equal!

First up on the cupcake auditions is a beautiful chocolate chip cupcake with dark chocolate fudge frosting. I think I came pretty close to "Martha's" version. I ended up with three dozen of them and it's fortunate that some family is coming into town tonight so there will be a new home for these delicious (really!) cakes! Before I started baking, it occurred to me that there might be a place to buy cupcakes in lots of varieties and I visited a new cupcake store. What a disappointment! The cupcakes were huge, which can be good or bad, but it was absolutely the worst cake I have ever tasted! It was like heavyweight cardboard. And while there was a good amount of frosting on board, it was standard "bakery" icing made with vegetable shortening instead of a luscious buttercream. The second picture is a mocha cupcake from the bakery, but I couldn't figure out why as there was no mocha taste. And the malted milk ball and walnuts on top made it more of a mystery. So, looks like we'll have a little cupcake factory going here in a couple of weeks! Tomorrow's flavor: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oh joy! Oh bliss! I got this book in the mail yesterday, so today is going to be a cupcake-testing day! It's Martha so you know it's a good thing! Cupcakes are so civilized ... they're just the right size that one can eat the whole thing and not feel like a pig. There's endless variety. They can be decorated with whatever imagination one has at any given moment -- but they can also be plain! I'm so glad that the cupcake has been enjoying a resurgence in the chic world. We're going to have cupcakes at the wedding instead of a traditional cake. I want to test some out, but I think we'll end up with a variety. What's your favorite flavor?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the Garden

I took a quick peek out in the garden today and found a couple of treasures ... I have four pots of begonias going and this is the first bud! They are beautiful Flamingo Begonias from Dutch Gardens and will eventually look like this beautiful plant. Yes, they do have all those lovely colors on them! I just went over to look at Dutch Gardens home page and the amazing new tulip! Definitely for my fall garden!

The second pleasure in my little garden is a little tomato plant that is absolutely growing it's heart out and already has two tomatoes on it and they are almost bigger than the plant itself! Better get some stakes to help support the lil sweetie! This is a Rutger's tomato plant. This variety was introduced in 1934 in Rutgers, NJ, and was grown as a commercial vegetable used by Campbell's and Heinz. It's not grown commercially any longer, but it is still available from many seed companies as an "heirloom" tomato. I'm growing this one as a canning tomato. Also in the garden are Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Roma, and a couple of cherry plants.

About Aging

Most of the time I forget or don't think about how old I am (59), but then there are days like today when I am reminded that 30 was a while ago! And moving a room of furniture around by myself is probably not a good idea. We both woke up with aches and pains (although he looked more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than I did, definitely!). Even the kitties looked at us oddly as we sort of groaned our way downstairs for that elixir of life (coffee!) and settled ourselves on the porch. Ahhh there's a valid explanation out there -- it's going to rain! So, we're both a little achy in the joints because of the oncoming rain, and it has absolutely nothing to do with aging! That's my story and I'm sticking to it. My conclusion is that age is just a state of mind, not a state of body.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June is Iced Tea Month

This is the seventh annual National Iced Tea Month -- who knew? We're being encouraged to drink at least one glass of iced tea every day this month in celebration. What are we celebrating? Well, it definitely tastes good, it's easy to obtain and reasonably priced, and it actually has some healthy benefits -- phytochemicals in green and black teas have strong antioxidant properties! Iced tea has been around for over 100 years -- since the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (you can learn more about that by watching Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis") when an enterprising British tea purveyor realized folks didn't want hot drinks and promptly began adding ice to his tea. It's been an American hit ever since -- 80% of the tea we consume in the U.S. is iced!

I love iced tea -- any iced tea: green, black, flavored, sweetened, lemony -- love it. For this month, my choice has been entirely devoted to "Awake" by Tazo, a bold blend of black tea from India and high-grown from Ceylon that is truly invigorating. You can easily find it online or at your local Starbucks Coffee Shop. I make mine a bit concentrated by using 3 teabags per 16 ounces of boiling water, then add water and ice when I'm ready for a drink.

It's gardening week for me here in Virginia -- still have lots of plants here that need to find permanent homes. I've been creating a little woodland retreat area in amongst the trees in the back yard and have 20 or 30 shade plants to incorporate -- hostas, astilbes, bluebells, hollyhocks ... I'll put up a picture when the planting is done!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Shiny Ball Story

My Google Alerts this morning sent me to a blog that mentioned African Violets -- my new passion (well, not really new, but renewed). Last month I decided I really missed my violet obsession so I rushed out and ordered new plants and leaves. The lovely Irish Sweeps is blooming it's little heart out, and here's a couple of NOIDS (no identification/no name) that are struggling valiantly to hang on ... and here's one tray of leaves -- there are 60 planted. Now I just have to wait for the little baby plants to grow. Wish they'd hurry!

And already I got distracted from the shiny ball story by telling you about my violets! and of course I had to go out and photograph them, then download a new photo editing program, and two hours later, voila!

Have you ever seen a ferret running around? They are so very cute, and they love shiny objects and will run to one, see another and forget the first, and on and on -- easily distracted by the next fun thing. Well, that's me!

I seem to get very focused on the subject or hobby of the moment. I go to the library. I want to find blogs or forums with similar interests. I buy books on the subject. I search out any kind of information I can ... until another shiny ball catches my eye.