Category Archives: Blog Posts

How Will You Celebrate Fall (In a Year of Crisis?)

How do you show your appreciation for the season? Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

While the weather is definitely starting to cool off here in the Midwest, and a number of leaves are already falling to the ground, many of the other usual signs of the season are muted this year.  I have seen a few of the neighbors changing the décor on their front porches, and there are pumpkins for sale in the local grocery stores, but, not much else. 

There are less Halloween decorations and costumes available, less talk about the season on the news, for obvious reasons.  This year we are under a quarantine, which means even in areas that do allow for trick-or-treating it is unlikely that many will feel safe allowing their families’ participation, not without justification.

I remember when my children were young, the year of the awful events of 9/11, and the nation was gripped by terror.  That year, following those eye-opening and life-changing tragic events, many families were in fear of going out, of taking part in normal events.  We flew American flags in defiance, all the while waiting for the next attack, the next crisis. 

When Halloween came around that year, fearing for our children’s safety but not wanting to deny them the joy of the season, we stayed home and invited the extended family over for our own celebration.

All the children came in costume, and the adults were assigned different rooms, hallways, and corners of the limited space with a bag or bowl of candy to give out so the kids could “trick-or-treat” before we had a party with games, food, and creepy music.  Later, we would recall that Halloween as one of the best we ever celebrated, despite the fear that inspired the planning.

The point I wish to make is, don’t let the current situation get you down.  Yes, we are under threat, yes we must take precautions, but that does not mean you cannot enjoy the season.  If it makes you happy, decorate for fall.  Festoon your space with mums, pumpkins, and what have you (I already have a few of my own in place.)  While circumstances dictate we must adhere to a certain amount of isolation, we can still enjoy ourselves and allow our kids to have fun and make memories that will last.

However you decide to celebrate, or even if you choose not to, I hope you get the chance to enjoy the beauty of the crisp air, the brilliant colors, the tantalizing aromas, and the sweet tastes of the season.  Happy Fall!

It’s Labor Day Time Again!

This coming weekend marks American holiday Labor Day.  Though the official holiday is Monday, September 7th, for many the celebrations will begin this Friday and continue throughout the extended weekend.

Photo by Aaron Schwartz on Pexels.com

What a year it’s been!  At this time last year, most of us were planning to celebrate this American holiday in our own style-with family and neighborhood gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks shows.  What a difference a year can make!  Now, many of us fear, not unreasonably so, to venture out unless absolutely necessary.

Labor Day, officially a federal holiday celebrating the efforts of American workers, and unofficially the” last hurrah of summer,” means many things to different people.  Some take it as a welcome break from work, as federal and state offices will be closed, as well as many businesses.  For others, it’s about shopping the big sales, or an excuse to party, or just a last summer blowout as children are returning to school.

This year, though many schools are finally back in session, albeit many are using a method of staggered attendance, the holiday doesn’t have quite the same meaning.  Many, my husband included, are still working at home and will be for the foreseeable future. 

However, for many, including the adults in my family, it is still a paid holiday we intend to enjoy.  While we are planning a cookout, we will be having a smaller crowd this year, and any shopping we do will probably be accomplished online.  Still, the day gives us a perfect excuse to pull out our smoker, and prepare too much good food, which will furnish leftovers for a few days at least.

Labor Day also means that autumn is just around the corner, and I’m already looking forward to cooler temperatures, putting up fall and Halloween decorations, and planning autumn treats to bake and share.

While the world is a vastly different place right now, we still can take joy in the day and wherever else we can find it.  I choose to be optimistic that things will get better.  In the meantime, we need to continue about our lives as best we can.  This means planning as near a normal holiday celebration as possible, and rejoicing in the time we have as a family.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

Amy

Making the Most of Your Staycation

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

As I was driving home from work one night this week, I heard the radio announcer call our current times “The Era of the Staycation.”  How apt and how current he was.

Due to the coronavirus that is impacting us all in so many ways, people are staying home.  Some of us are working at home, others have lost their jobs, and some are simply choosing to stay home because of health concerns.  Many recreation facilities and events that we might normally visit or attend at this time of year are closed, either temporarily or for the duration. 

Whatever the reason we are not venturing out, we are spending the time and possibly the money we would normally put towards a summer vacation in the security of our own homes.

Since we are staying home, many of us are choosing to make upgrades to the place we live 24/7.  We are spending our resources on sprucing up our spaces; with paint, with landscaping, with pools and recreational equipment.  In short, we are making our homes a vacation destination tailored to our needs and desires.  If you have a large budget to make upgrades, think how best to spend your dollars so that whatever changes you make will add long-lasting value and function to your home.

If you don’t have a large vacation/remodeling budget, there are still things you can do to make your enforced staycation fun, memorable, and happy for entire family.  Even minor changes, such as paint or houseplants can give your space a new look.  Try “shopping” around your house for furniture, art, pillows, and lighting that might look better in another spot, or simply refresh your scenery. 

Plan activities to set the mood for fun and relaxation.  Let the kids camp out in the backyard, and consider moving the TV to a patio for family movie night.  If you don’t have a fire pit, you can always make s’mores in the microwave to eat on your deck or balcony.

To get a completely new view, try sites such as https://artsandculture.google.com/ where you can take virtual tours of parks and museums from your computer or blue toothed TV.

The choices for a staycation are limitless; all it takes is a little imagination and effort, and of course, those closest to you for a truly memorable vacation at home!  I hope you get to enjoy one soon!

Easy Chicken and Dumplings

An unexpected rain storm after a week of sunshine and warm summer weather prompted me to make one of my family’s favorite simple but filling comfort food recipes.  I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients:

1 32 oz. carton chicken stock (or broth, if you want a thinner, more soup-like dish)

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 1 ½ lbs.)

1 can condensed cream of chicken and herb soup

¼ tsp poultry seasoning

1 can (16 oz.) refrigerated biscuits

2 medium carrots, chopped (1 cup)

3 celery ribs, chopped (1 cup)

Directions:

In 4 or 5 qt. Dutch oven, heat stock, chicken, soup and poultry seasoning to boiling over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low.  Cover; simmer five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Increase heat to medium-high; return to low boil.

Flatten biscuit dough by either rolling on floured surface or by hand.  Either cut into strips with a pizza cutter or tear into pieces about 2 inches wide and long.

Add vegetables and dough pieces a little at a time to boiling mixture.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover; simmer 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent dumplings from sticking.

Ladle into bowls and serve warm.

A Moment of Beauty

A simple thing of beauty.

A few days ago, my daughter bought a pack of sparklers to share following a family celebration held on a warm evening in our backyard.  She insisted I take one in hand which she then lit for me, and watched as I held it on our deck in the near dark.  I was hesitant, only because I had never actually held one before.  But when my sweet daughter offered, I couldn’t refuse.

I had never held a sparkler in my hand before.  I’m a grown woman, just turned forty-nine, for the first and only time, thank you, but I have always harbored a small fear of those tiny sparks of fire, undoubtedly left over from childhood.  My parents, bless them, were like many, slightly overprotective, and instilled in me a heavy dose of caution in respect to campfires, matches, and by extension, fireworks.

Oh we used to go to the city shows when I was little.  I remember sitting on the tailgate of our pickup truck or standing on a hill or in a parking lot, wherever we could find the best spot to see the fireworks shows the city would produce.  I would stay close to my parents, ears firmly covered with my hands, while we watched and oohed and aahed at the vivid colors on display.

Later, I recall watching firework celebrations with my own kids, though larger crowds in our adopted home city often made actually getting to a show and finding room to watch more awkward or problematic.  We did manage though a few trips to see fireworks from the Reds stadium downtown, and once on a memorable family vacation to Florida.

I stood and watched that little sparkler as the long stick burst into crackling flashes, a ball of light similar to the head of a dandelion, ready to be released into the wind.  I held on tight to the end as it burned down, a personal firework at close range, though without the bright colors and loud boom that accompanies the larger ones.

How could something so beautiful, so innocent, hold so much secret meaning.  Though it lasted only a few moments, that ephemeral flare was a reminder that life is fleeting, and deserves our full attention.  We should make the most of the time we have; as families, as communities, as human beings.

In this day and age, fear and uncertainty are plagues that haunt us all.  It is more important than ever that we take the time to see beauty, to enjoy the little moments, to share in new experiences when we have the opportunity.  We need to live in the moment, like most of us have always aspired to do anyway.

I have you have some special moments of your own as we move into this weekend, a special holiday for those of us in the U.S., as we celebrate Independence Day on Friday.  Make the most of it!

Amy

100 Years of Stories-Agatha Christie

Who doesn’t love a great mystery? This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the “Queen of Mystery’s” first novel, A Mysterious Affair at Styles, which I reviewed last year (see my review here. ) While the bestselling author of all time is no longer with us, her stories survive and even thrive, as reprints, as well as inspirations for movies and televison shows.

Even those who have never read her novels have most likely heard of The Murder on the Orient Express, which was last made into a movie in 2017, and the official author’s website contains a listing of many current and classic productions based on her amazing work.

Born in England in 1890, the daughter of an English mother and an American father, the young Agatha Miller was an avid reader who created imaginary characters and wrote poetry even as a child. By age eighteen she was writing short stories, but did not begin writing detective fiction until World War I, when her husband, Archie Christie, was posted to the War Office in London.

In the 1920s she became a sensational news story for her personal life as she disappeared for several days soon after Archie asked for a divorce. When she was later found, she claimed no knowledge of where she’d been or even her identity for a time. She eventually recovered but that event was never successfully explained, though much has been speculated. That particular time in her life was even made into an episode of the BBC show Dr. Who, which features the author and includes elements form several of her books.

The late authoress was known for writing intriguing characters, including a number of heroic and intelligent female detectives and adventuresses, most notably Miss Marple and Tuppence Beresford.

I myself have read numerous of her books, and have reviewed several of them on my Goodreads site.

A Quick and Easy Summer Dessert

Hello everyone! For the past week we’ve been enjoying summer weather in the Midwest-temperatures soaring into the high eighties and low nineties, interspersed with pop-up showers that go as quickly as they come about!

To combat the heat, I created this really simple dessert recipe, which my daughter liked so much she demanded I write it down, so now I’m sharing it with you. Enjoy!

Amy

Mixed Berry Trifle

Ingredients:

16 oz. frozen pound cake, thawed

3 cups berries, (I use a mixture of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries)

1 4 oz. pkg instant cheesecake flavor pudding

Milk

8 oz. container frozen non-dairy topping, thawed

Directions:

  • Slice thawed pound cake into cubes, layer one third into glass trifle bowl or other large bowl.
  • Spread one third berries over cake. 
  • Beat pudding mix with milk according to package directions, spoon one third over cake and berries.
  •  Repeat layers with rest of cake, fruit, and pudding. 
  • Top with Cool Whip, and chill for at least 30 minutes to one hour before serving. 
  • Refrigerate leftovers.

Happy Memorial Day!

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

This Monday, May 25th, marks the U.S. holiday of Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor our veterans, especially those who have given their lives in service to their country.   This day also marks the “unofficial” start to summer, and gives many an excuse to gather with friends and family, picnic, have a day off from work, and just enjoy the weather and the day.

When I was growing up, much of Memorial weekend was spent travelling to family cemeteries and “decorating” graves with flowers, either plastic, fresh cut, or in pots.  (This weekend also marked the official “proper” date where it was acceptable to begin wearing white pants and shoes, though that little fashion rule has been greatly relaxed since!)

Of course, this year is a little different.  Many of the usual celebrations are cancelled this year, and many of the services honoring veterans; i.e. parades, speeches, ceremonial laying of flowers and flags; are being done as closed, recorded events that will be televised for the public later.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

While we are dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still ways to honor our fallen veterans and have an enjoyable holiday.  We can still visit cemeteries, as long as we follow social distancing.  A number of communities are having virtual events where we can watch and participate.  Naturally, of course, we can still cookout, overeat, and play with sparklers and roast marshmallows in the comfort of our backyards.

My workplace, which has been open without stop during the current crisis, is closed for the day, and I may actually find time to put my feet up while the guys man the smoker.   When I started writing this, I had a berry cobbler in the oven, and spent much of yesterday prepping food, so it will be good to relax.  I’ve already begun pulling patriotic decorations out of their storage bins in the basement, and the house will be festive with red, white, and blue from now until after Independence Day. 

While things are a little different this year, I like to think we’re starting to get back to normal, or at least, the new normal.  While we cautiously wear masks whenever we go out now, at least we can go out and run errands, even visit a restaurant.  And this holiday gives us just a little bit more “normal” to celebrate, and enjoy.

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

Amy

Living in Dangerous Times

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The world is a scary place right now.  Of course, the world has always been a place that contains untold dangers, we are just acutely aware of them right now.

This has become a world where we are all a little more, or a lot more, cautious about our next door neighbors, or the person next to us in line at the grocery store. We are all a little more meticulous about cleaning anything that could have been breathed, sneezed, or coughed on by anyone, family or otherwise.

  I am lucky to still have my job, but there are measures and safeguards that have been put into place that would have been unthinkable only a short time ago.  For instance, everyone, guests and customers, are expected to wear face masks, for their own safety as well as that of everyone else in the building.  Naturally some people do not like this fact; after all, who really wants to wear a mask?  The fact remains, this requirement was put into effect based on guidelines from the CDC.

In Ohio, we are finally going to see the first of regular businesses open next week, though the governor is planning to all things to resume in stages.  All we can do right now is keep going, and hold out hope that a cure is found, that no new cases or deaths are reported, and that things slowly go back to normal.

Still, not everything is all bad.  Perhaps you’ve been able to use this enforced time at home to finish some of the projects on your to-do list or reconnect with your family.  Maybe you’ve re-instituted family game night or family movie night.  We’ve made time for picnics in local parks, and simple activities such as shared conversations while cooking, tending the garden, and venturing out for drive-through.

My husband and I have even found time to binge watch a couple of new shows we’ve haven’t seen before-Westworld, Season3, which is available from HBO or the app and is simply amazing.  It takes the premise of the Michael Crichton book and the 1970s movie but completely reimagines it in a way that questions whether artificial intelligence can be just as real or valid as human life. 

We’re also watching Penny Dreadful on Netflix, a show that originally appeared on Showtime and features a cast of assorted odd characters in Victorian England that reminds me of one of my old favorite movies, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, except this show has the potential to be much darker.

While there are a lot of scary things going on, and unpleasantness surrounding being “encouraged” to stay home, I urge you to  look for the good in the situation.  now is the time to think about our priorities, about what we want to do when life is back to “normal,” whatever that means.

 I hope you find a way to brighten your day, and an early Happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms out there!

Amy

Happy Earth Day!

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of the celebration of International Earth Day, a day devoted to addressing issues that affect this planet we all share.

Earth Day is acknowledged as a time for groups of individuals from diverse nations and cultures join together to protest the actions that cause pollution of air and water, and negatively impact our climate for ourselves and future generations;as well as engage in activities to help cleanup and nurture our environment.

The very first Earth Day celebration in 1970 heralded a movement in the United States that let to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air, Water, and Endangered Species Act. Many other countries adopted similar laws.

While most of us are living in quarantine at the moment, there are still things we can do to support this movement and help make our world just a little bit cleaner, greener, and healthier for us all. We can commit ourselves to recycling; properly disposing of waste products that contains harmful chemicals like batteries, paint, electronics, aerosol cans, and other materials that can harm our environment; and planting trees in our backyard or community. For information about proper disposal see the link here: https://www.consumerreports.org/recycling/recycle-old-batteries/

If you need ideas about how you can celebrate Earth Day at home or want to join the live discussions, the main website for Earth Day is here:

https://www.earthday.org/

For myself, I hope to spend some timeworking in my garden and enjoying nature!