Category Archives: Blog Posts

Fall Baking: Pumpkin Bread

I’m sorry friends that this is coming out so late this week, but I can honestly say I’ve had my hands full lately.   Between my “day job,” some projects we’re doing around the house, and getting the garden set back to rights after the long dry spell through July and September I have barely had a moment to breathe, much less write!

Luckily, some of our projects are coming to an end, just in time to herald the beginning of  Autumn.  While it officially starts early next week ( on my son’s birthday this year) we are already seeing signs of it’s imminent arrival.  The temperatures still soar into the eighties during the day, but those days are already growing noticeably shorter, and it is easy to allow my thoughts to turn to preparations for fall-decorating with mums and pumpkins, a few scarecrows, and perhaps a witch or skeleton or two; and fall baking.

I love the sights and smells of autumn, especially in all the apple and pumpkin recipes that are so seasonal this time of year.  To that end I decided to share one of my favorite recipes for pumpkin bread.  I know, a quick Internet search can yield dozens of such recipes, but this is a tried and true version that I’ve made and shared multiple times, and is very good served warm with butter for brunch or with coffee on a crisp Autumn morning.  I hope you enjoy it!

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I can’t wait to share this homemade treat with my family!

Pumpkin Bread 

1 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup raisins

In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients.  In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, pumpkin, oil and water.  Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just moistened.  Fold in the nuts and raisins.

Pour into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

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Happy Labor Day!

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All across the country, many cities will be having their last, and most spectacular fireworks shows of the year this weekend.  Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Today is the day we Americans celebrate the national holiday Labor Day, the official celebration of laborers and the collective power of unions, and the unofficial end of summer.

Many Americans use Labor Day as the excuse to hold one last barbecue, or go on one last camping or fishing trip, or just plan a picnic and a trip to the nearest firework show.   My family plans to grill out at home this year, and just enjoy a day off from jobs and normal responsibilities.

While many employers are giving their employees a much-deserved break, just as many companies will be promoting wares and holding massive sales to attract consumers.  I need a new stove, so perhaps I will venture out later myself.

While the official beginning of autumn is still a few weeks away, most school children have just or will be starting back to school this week, and kids and adults alike have fall on their minds.  What that means to individuals varies, though many focus on the beginning of football season, and getting ready for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow, I will think about taking down the red-white-and-blue decorations I’ve had out around the house since Memorial Day, and pulling out my own stashes of orange candles and harvest decorations.  September is still warm here, though the nights have cooled down into the sixties and even fifties a few times, and the garden, which was so dry and wilting in the August heat, is coming back to life.

Fall and Halloween decorations have already made appearances in many stores, and fall flowers like chrysanthemums and ornamental cabbages are ready to take home and plant in gardens that will very soon be festooned with pumpkins and gourds off all types, dried cornstalks, and bales of hay.  Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I look forward to the colors, the scents of fall baking, and the cooler temperatures.

However, all of that can wait till tomorrow.  Today is about relaxing, and spending time with family, and eating some good food, preferably outdoors.

I hope you and yours have a very Happy Labor Day!

A Holiday to Remember

Hello everyone!  I’m back from a much-needed and very pleasant vacation with my family.  I thought I’d share a few photos taken on our extended holiday through South Carolina.

We started our vacation by heading to Folly Island outside of Charleston, South Carolina, where we shared a beach house with my husband’s family.  Here are some shots of our home-away-from home.

This sign was one of the first things to greet us.  I loved the walking directions to places all over the globe.

Here is another image from the front of the beach house.  We enjoyed the rental of Shell House and may return again some day.

Local art adorned the beach house outside and in, and helped the place feel really inviting.
More artwork hanging on the walls of Shell House, made of locally collected shells.

Of course we didn’t spend all our time inside this lovely house.  We were only 1/4 of the mile from the beach!  We did take the time to explore the town of Folly Island and visit some of the local attractions, like this very impressive restaurant only a short walk away.

This is from the inside of Wiki Wiki, one of the more colorful local restaurants on the island.

Here are some shots of the beach itself.  The first night we arrived was luckily not part of the busy season (as many schools were already back in session) and the beach was very quiet after five p.m.

First views of the beach off Folly Island, South Carolina.
Folly Island is well established as a spot for fishing and water sports, as well as having a scenic and busy pier area with restaurants and multiple hotels.

We didn’t spend all our time hanging out at the beach either.  Nearby Charleston includes many historic sites, including horse-drawn carriage tours and visits by ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument.

Our ride for the day, Otis.
The best way to see Charleston is by horse-drawn carriage, where I took this picture of historic Circular Church.

 

Ft. Sumter, the place where the first shots of the (American) Civil War were fired.

I hope you like seeing a small sampling of my vacation photos, and that you all are inspired to plan your own getaways in the near future!  Summer will be over before very long, so make the most of it!

Top Reasons to Watch-Stranger Things

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Many of you have heard of this popular show, available on Netflix, about the strange happenings in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, and the group comprised of mostly kids and teens who find themselves in the perilous position of saving the world from a hostile takeover from another dimension.

Now currently in its third season, Stranger Things has attracted a wide audience, and inspired merchandise ranging from books and tee-shirts to coffee mugs and Funko Pops.  Why are we so taken with this show?

Science fiction and fantasy combined.  The characters are regularly pitted against creatures from the “Upside Down,” an alternate reality that first appears to be an invention of Will, the would-be comic book artist, and which would easily fit into a sci-fi or horror movie.  With the exception of Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, the team are not equipped with superpowers or special weapons.  This group of underdogs uses their brains, their friendships, and their luck to battle things the government won’t acknowledge or can’t handle. (At least until it comes to the cleanup and the obligatory non-disclosure agreement.)

I love the 80’s culture.  Stranger Things takes place in the 1980s in the states, and embraces this, in all its glory. Big hair, shoulder pads, legwarmers, and popular movie/TV references abound, as does the music, from groups like Huey Lewis and the News and Wham.

Lucas waxes poetic about New Coke in one episode, which also features a reference to Chief Hopper as Magnum P.I.  A Russian assassin, Grigori, appears in the latest season that bears a certain resemblance, and attitude, comparable to The Terminator.  Add in government cover-ups, Russian sleeper agents, and conspiracy theories that are not just theories and you have the plot of the perfect 80’s show, but with writing and special effects that demonstrate modern tech.

Nerd Love.  The “core” group of friends embrace their intelligence and differences freely. Dustin compliments Erica on her math skills “You’re a nerd!”  They spend their free time playing Dungeons and Dragons, and use their knowledge of these games to theorize about the denizens of the Upside Down, and even to name the creatures from there-the Demogorgan, the Mind Flayer.  They use their connections with the audio visual club to help uncover vital details and ham radio equipment to communicate with each other, long before cell phones are common.

In the second season, the core group of boys-Dustin, Mike, Will, and Lucas- go to school dressed as The Ghostbusters for Halloween. Little do they know, but those costumes will soon become strangely appropriate.

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Hardcore Females.  While not all the heroic characters in this ensemble are female, there are plenty of girls in this equal opportunity action series to please even the pickiest of viewers.  Of course there’s Eleven, the preteen telekinetic who’s something of a superhero despite having spent most of her life confined to a laboratory, but she’s hardly the only female character that stands out in the lineup.

New character Robin, the nerdy ice cream server, uses her gift of languages to decipher hidden Russian codes and help veterans Steve and Dustin infiltrate a hidden Russian base under the mall.

Nancy, the teenage angst-star from previous seasons, has evolved into a Nancy Drew-esque would-be reporter who chases down the truth, even at the cost of her job and in pursuit of rapid mutating rats.

Joyce, the mother character played by Winona Ryder, has proven over and over that she pulls no punches when it comes to protecting her children or doing what is right.  This season alone, we see her wielding shotguns, chasing after Russian spies, and yelling at both clandestine government agencies and conspiracy-theorists alike to accomplish her goals.

Beat the boredom of summer reruns on cable and check out this amazing show on Netflix!

 

Interesting Myths and Facts about the Moon

This coming Saturday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the one of the most iconic events of the twentieth century- the lunar landing of the Apollo 11, where the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.  This amazing feat was an incredible testament to human ingenuity, determination, and willingness to reach for seemingly impossible dreams.

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Saturday, July 20, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Long before this event, humans have been fascinated by our closest neighbor in the sky, and have used it as a source of inspiration and superstition.  Here are a few of the more interesting stories our ancestors have told to explain the existence of this celestial body:

  • Many cultures worshipped the moon as a goddess. The Greeks and Romans even had three separate goddesses to describe the phases of the moon; Artemis as the new moon, Selene as the full moon, and Hecate as the dark side of the moon.
  • The ancient Chinese explained lunar eclipses as being caused by an enormous dragon that swallowed the sun, and so they made as much noise as possible to scare the dragon away.
  • Multiple cultures have told stories about the “man in the moon.”   Most of these variations say that he was put there as punishment for stealing, some even for the attempted theft of the moon itself.
  • The moon’s phases have historically been linked with madness, and the word “lunatic” comes from this belief. Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder believed that a full moon affected the water in a person’s brain, causing irrational behavior or insanity.
  • Our modern holiday Easter is actually calculated by the moon.  We celebrate on the first Sunday following the first Saturday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  This tradition has its roots in archetypal symbols involving femininity, fertility, rebirth and the lunar cycle.

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    Our closest neighbor in the sky.  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And a few interesting facts:

  • Humans have attempted to track the phases of the moon for at least 13,000 years, based on an eagle bone artifact found in France that appears to have been used as a counting stick.
  • The oldest known map of the moon was found carved into a rock in a prehistoric tomb in Knowth, County Meath, in Ireland.  It is estimated to be about 5000 years old.
  • A full day on the moon, from one sunrise to the next, lasts an average of twenty-nine Earth days.
  • Common cell phones today are 400 times more powerful than the computers used to guide humans to the moon in the 1960s and 70s.
  • There is an Outer Space Treaty in affect that gives the moon the same jurisdiction as international waters.  The treaty allows the moon to be used for peaceful purposes by all nations, and prohibits military bases and weapons of mass destruction from being placed on the moon.

For more interesting facts about the moon, you can find plenty of resources such as this one.

Happy Independence Day!

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Happy Fourth of July!  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tomorrow is officially the day we celebrate our Independence in the United States, but the festivities have already started!  (In my neighborhood, we’ve been hearing firecrackers go off in the evening all week!)

On this most important of national holidays, we recognize that our country, despite our differences, our problems, and our political debates, we all share a core of ideals and values.  We acknowledge that though we are far from perfect, we still have such potential, along with the freedom to choose our own destinies.

Tomorrow, and this week, is the perfect time to set aside our petty arguments and embrace that which makes us all Americans.  Take a moment to remember that we have servicemen and women overseas even now, sacrificing to keep our values and our safety intact.

white and red flag
Happy Independence Day! Photo by Aaron Schwartz on Pexels.com

However you choose to celebrate, by going out to one of the many parades or fireworks shows around the nation, or by just staying home and grilling out in the backyard, I hope this Fourth is your best yet!

 

Happy Father’s Day!

This coming Sunday is the day set aside each year to celebrate the man that means so much too so many of us-Dad.  Where would we be without our fathers?  We may not always appreciate the advice or lessons they attempt to teach us, or eagerly jump into the chores they give us.  Still, dads have a way of letting us know they care in everything they do.

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How will  you celebrate your father this weekend?  Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com

My own father passed away a few years ago, but I feel blessed that I had the chance to know him, not only from the perspective of a child, but as an adult.  And what a difference a few years made in my opinion of him!  As I grew older and raised my own children, I began to appreciate him all the more, for all the hard work and sacrifices he made in raising me and my siblings.

Towards the last years of his life my dad was more likely to have, and take the time, to tell us some of the fascinating stories of his own childhood, then some seventy-plus years past.

My father was born and raised in rural Tennessee, and received more education about farming, animal husbandry, and carpentry work than he ever did in formal schooling.  He raised wild turkeys, which I learned were actually capable of flight, and which he had to chase out of trees to get them to their roost at night.  He learned to churn butter, and grind pork into sausage by hand, by actually helping to provide for a large family of parents and siblings.

He left farming behind, and moved into the city, when he and my mother started a family, so that his children could have advantages he lacked growing up.  Many of the skills he acquired working the land did not translate well to our little suburb, but he adapted, and till his last year still tended a garden in the backyard, and helped family and friends with home repairs.

My father was not always an easy man to know, or communicate with, but in his own way he always showed he cared.  You could see it in his smile, feel it in his hugs, and tell in the look of pride on his face whenever he watched his grandkids.

I miss my dad, but I know he’s watching over me, and my family.  I hope we make him proud.  When I watch my husband interact with our children today, I am reminded that behind his sometimes gruff manner, he really does have the best interests of our children at heart.  He reminds me of my own father just a little bit, but that’s okay.

Thanks for listening to me ramble on.  The main point I hope to make is that fathers are special, and often underappreciated, so take this time to acknowledge everything they do and mean to us.  Above all, to all my readers out there, Happy Father’s Day!

Amy

I Need a Vacation! Helpful Planning Tips

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Someone is more than ready for a vacation!  Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

As more and more of my colleagues talk about the plans they have made for vacations this year, or actually have already taken time away from work, I long to head out for some “time off” of my own.  Where to go?  What to see?  Decisions, decisions.  As I buckle down to make my own plans, I thought I’d share some tips that have helped guide me in the past

Consider your group.

Do you have young children that will be going on vacation with you?  Teenagers? Elderly parents?  Every aspect from your trip needs to keep your company in mind, from travel method to accommodations to planned activities.  Tailor your plans to find something everyone can enjoy, whether that be a trip to the beach or mountains, or a road trip with numerous stops along the way.  Remember that some members of your group will tire easily, or need snacks, or distractions along the way- you know who these are!

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What is your ideal vacation?  Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Consider a “destination vacation.”

There are various places that offer all-inclusive packages, from theme parks that include transport to/from the airport, as well as meal plans and shuttle services; to cruises that offer a variety of on-board and site-seeing tours; to resorts that feature water parks, spas, and quality restaurants on the premises.  This type of vacation means you can book and pay for almost your entire trip in advance, and spend less time on the road and more time having fun!  Plus, there are trips of this type to meet almost every budget.  It’s easy to find good deals on vacation packages to destinations like Florida here

Staycations can work-really!

If you have no desire to spend your free time in an airport or on the road, or if you only have a short break from jobs and other commitments, a staycation could be your best bet.  The key to enjoying this type of holiday is that you absolutely must remember you’re on vacation, and actually taking a break.  No fair checking in with work or completing that household project you’ve been planning to get done!

Play tourist in your home town.  Do the fun and interesting things you’ve always meant to do, like trying a new restaurant, or visiting the aquarium or museum, that you keep postponing until “you have time.”  Take a day trip to a nearby attraction, something you can enjoy in one day, and still be home to sleep in your own bed.  Turn off social media, and pretend that you’re far off the grid.

Hopefully very soon my husband and I will settle on some plans for a vacation,; I think he is just as ready for one as I am!  Until then, I hope you all enjoy the warmer weather, and get to plan a trip of your own!

Amy

What Being a Mother Means to Me

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Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

When I decided to write a post about Mother’s Day, which is this coming Sunday, May 12th, I had a lot of possible directions to take.  I could have made a list of gift ideas, or written about how time spent together is more valuable, or even quoted numerous authorities on motherhood, family, and love.  However, since I am blessed to be a mother of two myself, these choices seemed a little too self-serving.

Instead, I decided to share some of my feelings about being a mother.  I became a mother for the first time when I was only twenty.  I was not really prepared to take on such responsibility, but then again, who is at any age?  The learning curve was steep with my son, though I did my best, and I like to think I did not do a terrible job.  Four years later we welcomed my daughter to our home.  In some ways it was easier the second time round, as we already knew some of what to expect, but then again, no two children are alike.

As my children grew I began to see them more and more as distinct individuals, each with their own unique personalities, though they inherited plenty of traits from their father and me.  (Sorry about that, kids.)

I learned early on that it doesn’t make sense to dwell on ideals-what I’d like the children to do or be, but it’s far more important to see what and who they truly are, while still rooting for them to reach their farthest potential.  My kids have grown up to be independent, responsible adults, and I like to think I helped them best along the way by teaching them to make their own choices, and accepting the consequences.

I know that being a mother doesn’t stop at a certain age or point of development-I still worry about their safety, their happiness, their future.  I want the best for them, and would do anything I could to give them that.  Mothers love fiercely, completely, and protectively.  I think if my children were in danger I could perform heroic deeds to keep them safe, though I am hardly brave or strong as a person.

Being a mother is a lifetime conviction, and no other vocation is as devoted, as stressful, or as blessed.  It is a calling that it not for everyone, certainly, but it comes with endless rewards for those who accept the challenge.

To all those readers who are, or plan to be, mothers out there, I wish you a Very Happy Mother’s Day!

P.S.  My all-time favorite gifts from my children for Mother’s Day were the hand-written cards and poems I received when they were young, some of which are still hanging framed on my bedroom walls today, and the breakfasts that were lovingly cooked by teenaged hands years later.