Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I am thinking of the lilac trees
That shook their purple plumes,
And when the sash was open
Shed fragrance through the room.
Mrs. Anna S Stephens, The Old Apple-Tree

We returned from our trip south just in time to enjoy the lilacs which are in full bloom throughout the island. They are in tough competition with the rhododendrons which have also burst forth in full color. Rhododendrons, or rhodies as they are called here, thrive in Washington and Oregon. Just like azaleas, rhodies are acid loving plants (along with their sister, the camellia). It is not uncommon to find huge rhododendrons growing happily wild amidst giant evergreens. The reason for this is simple--they love acidic conditions. Evergreens, pine trees especially, create very acid soil by dropping their needles on the forest floor~ nature's perfect mulch.

One of the many things I love about the Pacific Northwest is the dense forests which push relentlessly toward the shore, halting only at sand's edge. To access almost any beach requires a hike through the woods on paths which have been forged over time through native ferns, salal and rhododendrons. I love walking through this thick overgrowth and then suddenly emerging at the beach. It's as if I've reached the light at the end of the tunnel and I never stop marveling at the experience.

But yet, my heart belongs to the lilac. To me they are a gift to the senses, more so than any other flowering bush. Lilacs in bloom not only look stunning but they are intoxicatingly fragrant. OK, so intoxicatingly is not truly a word but it works so well in this context.

Because I grew up in Southern California, I never saw a lilac bush until I moved to Missouri. But now there are lilac varieties that are bred especially for warm climates. Here of course it gets cold enough to grow the non-hybrids. I have three bushes which range in color intensity from deep purple to white. New to us this season is a volunteer bush which is unrelated to the other two. It must have wandered in from a nearby neighbor. I love volunteer plants--"rogues" as my cousin calls them. I have more volunteer foxglove, columbine and strawberries this year than ever but this new lilac is the best of all the newcomers. And it came up along our property line fence, as if its location were by perfect design.

Lilacs are very low maintenance. They only need to be fed with an all purpose fertilizer twice a year. They are not prone to disease or pests and pruning is optional. This is my kind of plant! I am sad to report that we lost a very old lilac bush last year. I read recently that moles will chew the roots causing the bush to die. Based on the number of sudden and unwanted mounds in my yard I have to think that the moles were indeed responsible.

As you can see, I cut lilacs and brought them inside this afternoon. I love the intense purple blossoms more than all the others but unfortunately that particular bush is not getting enough sunlight. It has been shaded by more aggressive trees and shrubs and now blooms only modestly. I am not sure what I am going to do but we have so many items on our "to do" list that I won't be addressing the lilac issue for some time. I am just happy to have lilac blossoms on the kitchen counter to beautifully scent the house. Lilac blooms are ephemeral you see, lasting only about 2 weeks if conditions are right. And then they take their bows, forcing us to wait 50 weeks for another show.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leaving On A Jet Plane!

Larry and I are leaving this morning for Orange County, California. Friday we have the privilege of attending our son's graduation from Law School.

It took me about a week to coordinate our respective wardrobes. We don't live close to any significant shopping other than a small outlet mall and a few other stores which are about 15 miles from our house. It took me a couple of trips but I think I'm ready. My suitcases are packed and in overflow mode. I had to get up early so that I could sit on them to get them zipped before Larry awoke. You can imagine how much this bothers him considering that he is a retired airline pilot!

Wardrobe is crucial to a good time, right? How can I know in advance exactly what I'll be doing? My motto? Too much is just right.

This morning the sun is shining brightly and this bodes well for our journey. We have had a such a protracted period of gloomy, wet and cold weather. This has been the most disappointing spring I have experienced up here. But the week promises to be gorgeous. This always seems to happen when we plan a trip. Well my gardens should kick into overdrive while I'm away. I'm just hoping that the copious amounts of Sluggo I scattered yesterday will keep the snails at bay.

I don't know if I will have the opportunity to post in the coming few days. We are only taking one laptop and that presents a problem--Larry isn't very good at sharing his computer. But that's about the only thing he isn't good at. I'm lucky to have him at my side.

I think this will be the last time we watch our son receive a diploma. At least I hope it is. The real world is knocking at his door.

Until next time!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Beige~ It's Atmosphere

"Beige is atmosphere. It's bisque, it's ivory, it's cream, it's stone it's toast, it's cappuccino. It's, well, it's magic." --Albert Hadley

Albert Hadley is an American interior designer of great renown. He has served some of our country's most elite; notably, Jacqueline Kennedy among many others. Mr. Hadley decorated the Kennedy White House as well as one of their private residences and later worked for Aristotle Onassis. I also read that he was the designer of choice for both the Astor and Getty families! This man's resume is amazing.

I was delighted to come upon the above quote while perusing a Victoria Magazine publication entitled Rooms of Bliss. The magazine was given to me recently by my friend Linda. If you are like she and I you find that from time to time a selective thinning of old magazines is a necessary chore. I use the word 'chore' because this culling process can be painful. I for example had more than a year's worth of Coastal Living stored very neatly in Longaberger baskets around the house. I love having quality magazines near comfy chairs. There is nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than to sit with a good cup of coffee and thumb leisurely through the pages of past issues. I find it hard to let them go.

I'm trying to understand how Linda was able to part with Rooms of Bliss. I feel like she unknowingly gave me thing of great value. Beneath the cover is page after page of exquisite intimate spaces that evoke feelings of delight and awe. I have turned these pages time and again; studying the wall colors, the moldings, the furniture and the accents. Why do some rooms wrap themselves around me such that I long to emulate their look? Has this ever happened to you? Just when you think your house has reached the pinnacle of personal expression and style you stumble upon a picture that speaks to you so deeply that you want to switch direction and begin the decorating process all over again?

Well, returning to real, I do want to mention how seriously I share Mr. Hadley's affinity for beige. He's right, it's magic. Beige is not boring. Who created the notion that a mother of the groom should 'wear beige and fade into the woodwork'? I personally think beige can be stunning if well chosen. Beige doesn't have to retreat. Not in a dress nor in a room. Beiges vary in intensity and in pigment. Some are ethereal and some are bold. Beiges may have elements of pink, gray, yellow, brown or even purple (as in taupe) and more.

The walls of every room featured in Rooms of Bliss are neutral. Some are strikingly intense, such as mud or adobe and others are what I would call a "whiter shade of pale"(meaningful to any child of the 60's); more reminiscent of a linen table cloth or a drapery sheer. But in each room setting the neutral wall is the great unifier; the "less" that is more. The furniture and accessories look perfectly in place because the neutral wall showcases them--allows them to take center stage. And in return the well-chosen furnishings make lowly beige look like a million bucks.

A few months ago I repainted almost every room in our house. My choice was Laura Ashley Taupe (from Lowe's). We have lots and lots of doors and windows and therefore lots of woodwork. I really love the way my crisp, white trim looks against my taupe walls. It reminds me a khaki pants worn with a white oxford cloth shirt. I am blissfully happy with my choice.

Consider how much beige we see in nature and how delicate the interplay of shades. I recently bought a dozen free range eggs and was surprised to find an array of tones ranging from very pale to boldly brown. Ponder the beauty of a wheat field as the shafts dance in the breeze. The color is never static. Seashells are another work of art. The above picture is of a shell I keep on an end table. I love its subtle markings-- such sophistication. Apparently God loves beige as much as I do. He has sprinkled it everywhere.

Our house is affectionately named, "Shell Cottage". The name was inspired by a nautilus that I treasure. I love the combination of browns, beiges and white. I love to collect shells, though most of the large ones I've had to purchase. And I love to collect smooth beige stones when I walk on the beach. To me their is nothing more soothing than the feel of a small stone that has been tumbled smooth by the ever-shifting tides.

Well thank you for reading through my ruminations about beige. If it were up to me beige would be a primary color! By the way, a doctor asked me recently if I dream in color. Hmmmm.... I think I dream in beige.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Looking For A Little Spice In Your Life?

Sorry, I'm not going to write about that sort of spice--this blog is rated G. But I am going to tell you something that happens with regularity in our household because I'm wondering if any of you can relate. As for the spice? I mentioned in my previous post that Larry and I made a delicious Thai pumpkin soup on Mother's Day. So I've decided to share this piquant recipe and tell you a little about my culinary life with Larry. Ooo La La!

When I am trying an unusual recipe for the first time I work on it by myself. I hide the ingredients list from Larry and I refrain from asking his advice. Otherwise he might decide he doesn't like what I'm making even before he tries it. Sometimes his food taste is just a bit limited and it is not uncommon for him to say, "don't tell me what's in it". Once in awhile he will tell me that what I'm making doesn't sound good. And once in awhile that makes me grouchy. I try to laugh this off and carry on but on occasion my touchy alter ego gets the upper hand and bad karma begins to hover above the kitchen. Believe me, no one wants to be around a good cook with a bad attitude.

When we made this Thai soup together we had a nice time. There was no way for me to sneak around since he was stationed there next to me slicing and dicing. (I've never met anyone that dices with more precision than Larry). Anyway, even though Larry was part of the process, keenly aware of anything entering the stock pot, he thoughtfully refrained from questions and comments. It was great fun working side by side on a sunny Mother's Day morning.

Upon returning from church I set the table in our sun room and Larry joined me for lunch. Much to my delight, Larry attacked his with a great deal of zeal. There was nothing tentative about his approach, but rather a robust vigor! He made short work of that soup. When he finished he said he had something to tell me. "I didn't think I was going to like this", he said. "I was totally against it... but it was really good!" I had to laugh. This happens all the time. Why, I wonder, do I ever waste time on a bad mood?

Recently I made a grain and flour free chocolate cake. Does this remind you of the war-time cakes described by your mother or grandmother? Let's see-- no eggs, no sugar, no butter, no flour, no taste. Surprise! This cake was probably the most delicious chocolate cake ever created. I don't love chocolate but I loved this. This was not your 'just desserts'--I'm talking cake heaven. I asked Larry if he would like to know how I baked such a decadent creation; something so truly gratifying and possibly even sinful without so much as a tablespoon of flour. No, he said, don't tell me. You see, for Larry knowledge diminishes pleasure. That is to say, ignorance is bliss. If I tell him what went into this cake he might not like it as much. Sometimes this makes me crazy. I just don't get it. If you truly like something why would knowing how it's made change your opinion? I have lived with Larry a very long time and I don't think I will ever figure this out. I guess I'm not supposed to.

Now, about the soup. I'll tell you up front it has coconut milk in it. I hope this doesn't discourage you. Guess what? Larry strongly objects to anything coconut! But as I mentioned above, he sincerely enjoyed this soup. So here you are. I hope if you make it you will post a note about your experience and any tips you might have. I always enjoy comments. Do you cook for someone whose taste parameters are somewhat narrow? I would enjoy hearing about that too. By the way, it might be nice to serve the soup with jasmine rice. Since I am avoiding most grains I served ours with a generous side of broccoli slaw sauteed with red bell pepper. Larry enjoyed his with soy sauce. Dang! This can make me grouchy too. But since I'm still on a Mother's Day high I'll talk about soy sauce another time.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

1 Box Organic Vegetable Broth
1 Can Organic Coconut Milk
2 Cans Organic Pumpkin (Make sure you don't buy Pumpkin Pie Filling)
2-3 Cloves of Garlic, diced
1/2 Large Onion, diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Diced Jalapeno Chili
2 Tablespoons Diced Fresh Ginger
2 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice (Fresh is best)

  • Sautee the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients except for the Coconut milk. Stir to blend. Heat to almost boiling and then simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn the burner to the lowest setting or if you are not planning to serve right away turn it off.
  • Just before serving whisk in the coconut milk.
  • Heat, serve and enjoy!
This soup was actually better the next day. It thickened a little more and the flavors were a great mesh.

A Tall Drink of Water

Today is Mother's Day! For me Mother's Day is like celebrating my birthday a second time. Larry hugely indulges me. He takes me fun places and buys me fun things and he insists that I do only those things that I want to do--and then he helps me do them.

This morning I decided to prepare our lunch before we left for church so that I wouldn't have much fussing about to do when we returned. Together Larry and I made a truly delicious Thai pumpkin soup. Larry grated the fresh ginger and expertly seeded and diced a jalapeno. I could have made the soup by myself but it was much more fun having Larry at my side in the kitchen. He is such a good sport about taking over those tasks which I consider to be the least enjoyable and I appreciate that so much.

Larry and I have done a great many things together (and we have done many great things). But I am proud to say that our son John is the embodiment of our most significant mutual accomplishment. It is the blessed woman who is able to say with regard to her husband, that child rearing was a mutual endeavor. Larry, who claimed to never want children, was sold out to parenthood before baby John and I ever left the hospital.

As I mentioned, today I get to do whatever it is I want to do and that extends to blogging. And what I want is to write briefly about motherhood.

I don't think there is any career as enriching or rewarding as the parenting experience. There is also no job that is more complex. Babies don't come with an owner's manual, darn it. And it's not as if I could have downloaded something from the internet. All we had 28 years ago was an Apple II computer. Hardly high speed. And who could even fathom the World Wide Web in 1982?

I don't know that I had held an infant more than a time or two my entire life and I'm sure Larry would say the same about himself. But something magical occurs the moment a nurse sets that tiny bundle of swaddling in your arms for the first time. That little ball of joy becomes your own--more than your own but rather a part of your essence--and you suddenly understand love at a new depth.

My own mother once told me, "You will understand how much you are loved when you have a child of your own". My mother has told me many true things but this is the truest of them all; it is fact.

Well I can't navigate life now, at age 56 without instruction sheets, manuals and booklets. I have a file folder full of them and it's overflowing. And I also have Google. Everything is on Google, right? Imagine being able to Google such topics as cradle cap or head banging. Is your child afraid of tornadoes? Find a chat room. Find a preschool, find a doctor, find support groups for neurotic moms-- it's all there! But I had none of that. I was young and I was flying blind. I have asked Larry many times to explain what it is that we did so right when we so didn't know what we were doing.

Well I have concluded that it really doesn't matter so much what we actually did do or didn't do. The important thing is that we gave our all and we gave all of our love. We had so many ups and a few downs. We got off track and back on. But we look back and we look ahead and we say, "it's all good". Love is both a mystery and an answer. We invest so much of it yet we get so much back. The returns are huge.

I'm sure if my own mother reads this she will agree totally. My mom was always and still is the best. I am a good parent because she is an excellent one. She actually was better than a owner's manual. She was a living guide post. I could say the same about my dad but this is Mother's Day after all. I can write about him next month.

I am so proud to be John's mom. He is a source of endless joy. Not because of the things he has done or will continue to do but rather because he is who he is. I have not retired from mothering but I have rewritten my job description. It is very difficult to retire from a career as a mother. I'm not sure it's possible and I know for a fact that I don't want to. It's not that I want the responsibility or the control. I just want the pride and the fun.

John is graduating from Law School and next week we will be traveling to Southern California to help him celebrate. I still remember just how I felt when he graduated from Montessori kindergarten; like it was yesterday. The school's director handed him his diploma and she spoke these words~ "We send you on your way with love, knowing you will do great things in your life". I cried then just as I will when he steps confidently forward to receive his Juris Doctorate. Not simply because a law degree is a wonderful thing, though it is. But rather because family is a wonderful thing. It is life's greatest blessing.

I leave you with this thought from the American writer, William Saroyan~

Of course if you like your kids, if you love them from the moment they begin, you yourself begin all over again, in them, with them, and there is something more to the world again.