Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

As a young child I  had a unique outlook on life.  Since each experience was new to me, I lived in a constant state of surprise and amazement.  As I became a young adult, I seemed to be so sure of everything.  There was no gray area in my way of thinking...it was all black or white, yes or no.  But as I became an adult and assumed the accompanying responsibility, the subtleties of life brought on feelings of doubt and second-guessing.  It became harder to judge situations as right or wrong and easier to see both sides of any story.  Having reached maturity (that's a euphemism for getting old) I seemed to have reverted to those childhood feelings of surprise and amazement.  However, I am not amazed at the "newness" of things...I am amazed at how things just seem to work out.  Paul puts it like this in Romans:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
The operative words in this statement are according to His purpose.  My life experience has shown me that God has His own timetable and lately, that doesn't seem to be the same as my timetable!  And let's don't even talk about His purpose, because my plan isn't even on the same page.  However, if I calm down, let go and look for God's plan...well, that's where the amazement happens!
This was made evident to me this evening as I read a Facebook post by my fabulous son, GW.  He was the subject of an Alumni Spotlight article on the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts webpage.  This story begins when GW was a senior in high school.  As he thought about what he wanted to do with his life and the education that would be necessary to attain his goals, he decided that military service would be the best route.  He could serve his country, make a living and earn money to pay for his education.  He passed all the tests with flying colors and the recruiter said his scores were so high that he could be a nuclear physicist if he wanted.  However, there was one small problem...he had a slight hearing loss in his left ear and the Air Force wouldn't admit him.  Not even our senator and good friend, Saxby Chambliss, could pull the strings necessary for GW to get in.  He was very disappointed.  He ended up getting a Soccer scholarship to Middle Georgia College and then transferring to Valdosta State University, where he earned his degree in Criminal Justice.  He wanted to go on to graduate school immediately, but wasn't sure if he wanted a graduate degree in Criminal Justice or Public Administration.  In the midst of his deliberations, Christmas happened.  I usually give the kids money and let them purchase what they want, but I like to have at least one gift wrapped and under the tree to make Christmas morning more fun.  I looked all over town for a large cooking pot for GW, because he had borrowed mine while at VSU.  I couldn't find one in any of the stores.  As I searched the shelves at Lowe's for something else, I found a cookbook published by the company that makes Webber grills.  It had recipes and instructions to cook everything on a charcoal grill.  Since grilling had been one of Steve's favorite pastimes, I bought the book for GW.  And as they say...the rest is history!  He began cooking out of the book for his friends and found that he really enjoyed it.  In a few months, he told me that he had decided where he wanted to go to graduate school.  He wanted to earn a culinary degree.  He found Cook Street in Denver, Colorado, and excelled in his classes.  He did a 3 month internship in Italy after graduation, but when he returned home, he couldn't find the job he really wanted.  He worked in Chicago, taught cooking classes at the Arts Center and worked for a time at Park Regency Nursing Facility.  Nothing really suited him and he was truly disheartened, when by chance (or most probably, by God's plan) he found the job at Sweet Grass Dairy.  A year and a half later, he couldn't be happier.  To be highlighted in the alumni spotlight for his Alma Mater is icing on the cake...excuse the pun!  So here I am on a Tuesday night, amazed at the plan of God and that I (and my family) are a part of that plan.  If you would like to read the article about GW, you can find it at the Cook Street webpage.

P.S.  For my family...take note of the distinctive "Stinson mouth" that GW displays...the family trait of biting your tongue when you are hard at work!

Evidence that cooking is in his blood...he was assisting
the caterer at Angie's wedding at age 10.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Migliore di Sesso...quasi

There's nothing much on television tonight except the Grammy Awards, and I don't particularly want to watch a bunch of rappers strut around with all their bling and make acceptance speeches while murdering the King's English.  Just call me old fashioned, or maybe just old.  So I sat down at the computer to see what was happening on Facebook.  Maggie posted about satisfying her sweet tooth on a Sunday night and showed a photo of Sea Salt Caramel Gelato.  My mouth is watering so profusely right now that I can hardly type!  It's a good thing I don't live in Perry, Georgia, because I would probably have my freezer filled with every flavor of gelato that is made and I would also weigh about 300 pounds!  But seeing that gelato brought back memories of the trip the Maggie & I made to Italy in 2009 to visit GW.
After GW graduated from culinary school in May of 2009, he traveled to Italy for a 3 month internship.  He spent the first week at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Costigliole d' Asti, Italy.  
ICIF school.  I would have a hard time studying in such a beautiful place.

GW and his classmates at ICIF.

In August, Maggie & I traveled to Italy to see the sights and visit GW.  He was working at a restaurant near the town of Busseto, which is about 90 miles south of Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna province.  

Our week in Italy was quite an adventure...much too long to recount in just one post.  Suffice it to say, anything that could go wrong did go wrong!  I will recount some of our adventures in future blog posts.  Tonight, as I saw Maggie's post about gelato, I could almost taste the smooth creaminess of true Italian gelato.  We sampled enough of it during our week in Milan that I consider myself somewhat of an expert.  We were expecting warm weather during our stay because it was the middle of August.  However, we did not expect a record-breaking heat wave.  To add insult to injury, the Europeans have a very interesting attitude toward air-conditioning.  Most of the buildings were equipped with air conditioners, however, because all of the doors and windows were also open, you could hardly tell the difference between the temperature inside and outside of the buildings!  I thought that a nice glass of ice water (I knew better than to ask for sweet tea) would keep me cool, but I soon learned that there was only one ice cube in all of Europe and it was on loan to France the week we were in Italy!  So, even though it was hard, I forced myself to eat gelato to keep cool.  It is hard to describe the creamy texture of true Italian gelato to anyone who has never tasted it.  And the flavors...everything from vanilla & chocolate to cantaloupe and pineapple.  
You can see that I ate gelato at all hours of the day...and night!
Even though we were walking everywhere we went and sweating some pounds off during the heat wave, I realized that I couldn't eat gelato to cool off all the time.  One afternoon when we finished a tour of Milan, Maggie & I found another way to cool off that didn't add any inches to our waist and didn't cost a penny.

Dangling our feet in the fountain in front of the Sforesco Castle in Milan, Italy.

After reading all of this, I suppose you are wondering what the title of this post means.  I'll give you a hint...it's in Italian and describes what eating gelato is like.  I'll leave it to you and the Google translator to figure it out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hand and Foot

I love to play games...not the kind of games people play nowadays in relationships with other.  The kind of games I like to play involve cards, dice, letter tiles, giving clues and COMPETITION!  In my family, playing games is a long-standing tradition.  My Pe-Paw Stinson started it all, I guess.  He loved to play dominoes and cards.  Me-Maw & Pe-Paw were my daycare providers way back in 1953 when my mother went back to full-time teaching.  I can clearly remember sitting in the front room (that's what my grandmother called the living room) in his green chair by the window and playing dominoes for hours.  When he had a broken leg, we filled his cast with Tic-Tac-Toe games.  During the summers in Cedar Mountain, Pe-Paw loved to play a card game called Rook.  We still have the deck of Rook cards at the cabin.  My dad inherited this love of games in a big way.  When we would make our 14 hour car trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Cedar Mountain, North Carolina, every summer, Dad would always keep us entertained with games.  We used to "Count Cows" for hours at a time.  The teams were usually me & Dad against Mother & Bert.  We would count any cows that we saw on our side of the road.  We usually would set a limit for the game...play for 2 hours or until we reached Pineville, Kentucky.  Each time you saw another pasture of cows, you would add them to your previous total.  However, if you passed a church or a cemetery, you had to "bury" all you cows and start over at zero.  I loved having Dad on my team because he was always driving the car and knew where all the churches & cemeteries were located.  He was known to have taken a slight detour in order to avoid a cemetery!  Dad also loved to play card games.  He had a very sharp mind and could always remember which cards had been played and the highest card that was left to be played.  The cabin was not equipped with a television, so at night, we would play games for entertainment.  That's where a great tradition was started.  To this day, when the family is gathered at the Three Bears' House, we clear the table after supper, call all the relatives who like to play, gather the family around the large table on the back porch and play games until midnight.  There is no one in my family who is shy and retiring.  We all get rather boisterous during the games and competition is intense!  No one is left out of the game playing.  Ages range from 4 to 101.

Game night at the cabin.  Peyton is the youngest at age 9 and Nonnie is the oldest at age 101.  
Even the pets are included in the games.  Puddin loves to sit in my lap and watch the action.

So when I was asked last night by a friend to substitute for a missing player at their game night, I was thrilled.  Aileen McNair, Beth Sheahan, Patti Suggs and Fran Ambrocelli usually play games on Friday nights.  Patti was out of town, so I was invited.  Each person brings one course of the meal, they play a little while, break for supper, then play some more.  The evening is finished with a wonderful dessert.  Last night, we met at Fran's house.  She is the owner of the Barber-Tucker-Crawford House, a historic Bed and Breakfast in Southwest Moultrie.  We gathered around the kitchen table and played Hand and Foot.  It is a wonderful card game that is kind of like Canasta.  You play with a deck of cards for each player, plus one more deck, so an electric card shuffler is almost a necessity.  I had never played before, but since card games are among my favorites, I easily picked it up.  There was lots of laughter and the competition was keen.  For supper we had Spinach Salad, Chicken Tetrazinni, and homemade bread.  After 2 games, we finished the evening with toasted Pound Cake and Pistachio ice cream.  It was a wonderful night...playing games, eating good food, meeting new people and remembering my family tradition of playing games.

Kailey, Todd, Angie, Melody and Pam playing games when we gathered at the cabin for Nonnie's funeral. What a fitting way to remember her!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Oh Where, Oh Where Has This Blogger Been?

It has been a week since I have posted on my blog and I am honored to say that several people have reminded me of that fact.  So...people are actually reading what I have to say.  I really don't have an excuse for not blogging.  I have not been particularly busy for the past week, nor have I been out of town and away from my laptop.  I have just been uninspired and lazy.  Since Steve's death, I have noticed that I have experienced many of these periods.  At first I thought that it was my reaction to the grief of losing him and that I was going through periods of depression that were marked by listlessness, inattentiveness and generally feeling like I was in a fog.  These periods seemed to be brought on by events or situations that reminded me of Steve...his birthday, Christmas day, our favorite song playing on the radio, seeing one of his friends, or a finding a letter in the day's mail addressed to him.  As time wore on, I found that I could prepare myself for the "big" days on the calendar like anniversaries, birthdays & holidays.  If I psyched myself up for several days before the event and planned something different for that day, I could trick myself into not going into that deep, dark hole of sadness & anger that would pull me into the fog.  After 5 1/2 years, I was mastering this technique to the point that I actually seemed normal.  However, I began to experience these periods of fogginess for no apparent reason.  Such has been the case for the past week.  Over the weekend, it hit me like a lightning bolt.  In January of 2007, having finished radiation & chemotherapy, Steve's doctors performed several tests and determined that he was cancer free.  We were so elated and celebrated with BBQ and our friends.  Three days after that party, Steve experienced a day of disorientation and an inability to communicate effectively.  More tests determined that he had 2 brain tumors.  Dr. Johnson immediately scheduled Steve for Gamma Knife Surgery.  I was terrified, but Dr. Johnson assured me that it would be okay.  The procedure does not involve a knife and it is not surgery.  Steve's tumors would be subjected to concentrated bombardment with Gamma rays to kill the cancer.  On January 31, 2007, the procedure was performed.  It was like being in a Science Fiction movie.  A large metal cage was screwed into Steve's skull and he was placed in a contraption that looked like a CT scanner.  I was a nervous wreck, but Steve was happy because he was in a chemically altered state and all he had to do was lay there, listen to Willie Nelson albums and sleep.  The treatment was successful and 6 weeks later, tests showed that the tumors were shrinking.  The lightning bolt that hit me over this past weekend was the recollection of what we thought was a turning point in Steve's recovery and the realization that it had dredged up strong emotions that triggered "the fog".  So, I guess I'm not "over" Steve's death just yet.  That's very hard for me to say, because everyone thinks I am so strong and able to handle this.  If they only knew!  But recognizing what is happening is the first step in making it better, so I guess I am on the road to recovery.  I just wish I could move on and be whole again.  I'm like the person who prays for patience, but wants it right now!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Crafty Saturday

I love craft projects!  I have done so many cross stitch projects that I can't remember them all.  My easy chair used to be so covered up with bits of thread from my various projects that it was hard to tell what the original color & fabric really were.  I also like to do glass etching, painting, and sewing projects.  If I started right now and did nothing but craft projects for which I have already purchased the materials, I would have to live to be 150 years old to complete them...and that probably wouldn't include eating & sleeping.
This morning, I decided to work on a glass project.  I saw it, of course, on Pinterest.  It's a project to turn regular wine glasses into chalkboard wine glasses.  The finished glasses have chalkboard bases on which your guests to write their names so they don't get their own glass mixed up with someone else.  After the party, you simply wipe off the name and use it over again.  I started by taping the stem so I could get a nice, clean line.

Next, I mixed the paint.  You can use any indoor paint you wish, but make sure it is flat finish.  Pick any color you like.  Interestingly enough, I chose Claret.  You mix one cup of paint with one tablespoon of unsanded grout.

It is easiest to dip the base of the glass into the paint so that you get a smooth coat.  I transferred the paint into a disposable paint tray and began dipping.  You have to turn the glasses so that the paint is even and then prop them on the side of the tray to make sure most of the paint drips off.

After most of the paint has dripped off, you can stand the glasses in waxed paper and let them dry.  The paint is really thick, so it takes a long time for them to dry.

I can't wait until they are dry so I can try them out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Little Things

Have you ever noticed that human beings are always waiting for "the next big thing"?  Cars, movies, fashion trends, books...we are so busy looking for the "big" things that we miss the "small" things that can really make a difference.  This notion really got my attention yesterday.  I have undertaken several renovation projects at my house over the past few years.  My aim has been to improve my life and lift my spirits.  In my bathroom, I  had the old fiberglass tube/shower removed, a new tile shower installed, new tile laid on the floor and new paint on the walls.  A couple of years after that, I bought all new appliances for my kitchen, new tile put down on the floor, granite counter tops and tile back splash installed.  I love these improvements.  It is really a joy to cook in my new kitchen and I really love my shower.  I have been looking at my living room and planning some improvements there also.  I have thought about painting, maybe a new area rug and even some new furniture.  The room seemed very crowded.  I have two overstuffed chairs with detached ottomans.  Steve & I decided several years ago that recliners just didn't seem to hold up to the heavy use they were getting at our house and that ottomans might last longer.  But lately, they always seem to be in the way.  As my two dogs race up and down the hallway and through the living room as they chase each other in play, the ottomans go careening across the floor.  One chair is so close to the doorway from the hall into the living room that I was always stumbling over it.  I even went so far as to stop by Turner's Furniture store yesterday to look at recliners, chairs and chaises.  I soon realized that I was going to have to spend close to $500 to purchase a new chair and then I had to figure out what I would do with the chairs that were already in my living room.  On the way home from the furniture store, I had an epiphany.  Why not just re-arrange the furniture and see if I could make more room.  I moved one of my chairs & ottoman across the room and voila...the room seemed larger!  How easy was that?  I sat in my "new" room for the rest of the afternoon and evening and marveled at the simplicity of this solution.  If simply moving a chair across the room could make it feel like I had enlarged the area, what small thing could I re-arrange in my life to open my mind and refresh my attitude?  I haven't found it yet, but I intend to try very hard to discover it this year.  It will probably turn out to be something so simple & obvious that I will wonder, "Why didn't I notice this before?"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Katie & Mama J

There are many activities that I enjoy.  However, three that are at the top of my "favorites" list are cooking, doing crafts and spending time with my family.  It is a rare thing when I get to do all three at once, but today was one of those days.  Katie Garofalo (my son's girlfriend) came to the house around 9:30 this morning and we spent the day making candy, baking bread, etching glass and visiting.  I was in hog heaven!  Katie has been wanting to try out some candy recipes from a marvelous book she owns that is all about chocolate.  Talk about "right down my alley"...I would eat my shoe if it had chocolate drizzled on it.  I also have a few recipes from various Southern Living books.  So we compared recipes and decided to make Turtles.  Before we started that project, I mixed up the dough for Aunt Rhoda's bread and set it aside to proof ...that's fancy culinary jargon for "rising".  Katie realized that we were missing a couple of ingredients for the turtles, so she ran to Winn-Dixie while I did some prep work.  I chopped and toasted pecans and assembled wax paper sheets.  When Katie returned, we unwrapped and heated the caramels, then melted the chocolate.  Before you know it, we had a cookie sheet full of turtles.

A sprinkle of sea salt on top and they were finished.  Now all we had to do was keep our hands off of them until the chocolate cooled and hardened!  I took my mind off the turtles by finishing the bread.  After kneading and shaping the loaves, they went into the oven.  We had plenty of time to complete the glass etching project.  Tomorrow is the Secret Pal Tea at the Presbyterian Church.  Anyone who is so inclined can  put their name in the hat and pull out a name.  We remember each other once a month throughout the year with small gifts, cards, and surprises.  In January, we have a party and reveal ourselves to our pal.  I planned to etch a trifle bowl for my Secret Pal and Katie was interested in learning.  In between steps, we enjoyed some lively conversation.  The bread was done in an hour and when I took it out of the oven and placed it on the cooling racks the aroma of the bread & the chocolate-covered turtles was too much to resist. 

One loaf went home with Katie for her & GW to enjoy, two loaves will be shared with friends and you can see what we did with the other loaf!  There is nothing like the taste of bread, fresh from the oven.  The craft project turned out very well, also. 

If your eyesight is good, you can see the name of my Secret Pal on the trifle bowl, but I know I can trust you not to breath a word to her.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Monster Under The Bed

I was never afraid that monsters were hiding under my bed when I was a child.  But in recent days, I wonder...  I have no idea what got into me this morning.  Maybe it was spring fever, brought on by the balmy temperatures we have experienced in South Georgia during the last week.  Most probably it was the need to find my missing sock.  Whatever the reason, this morning, I decided to clean under my bed.  What was I thinking?  I have a king size Tempurpedic mattress and lots of pillows.  I stripped the sheets off and put them in the washing machine.  I tried to just roll the whole bed frame aside, with the mattress still on top, so I could vacuum the carpet.  That didn't work because while the mattress is in one piece, the bed frame and box springs are in two pieces.  I quickly determined that the mattress had to be removed...easier said than done.  For starters, there is not enough room in my bedroom to just pull the mattress off the frame and lay it on the floor.  I had to stand it on end so I could walk around with the sweeper.  It was not a pretty picture.  It looked like Cirque Du Soleil meets the World Wrestling Federation!
I swear...that mattress was like Frosty the Snowman who magically came alive.  Almost exhausted, I was horrified when I saw what was under the bed.  I started to take "before and after" photos, but I was afraid the Health Department would arrest me if those pictures were published on the world wide web!  I found not only one, but two missing socks.  But the best was yet to come!  My Jack Russell/Rat Terrier, affectionately known as Puddin', has been using this space as her secret hiding place for the past 5 years.  I found squeaky toys, tennis balls, and chew sticks.  That was to be expected.  However, what I didn't expect was that Puddin' has developed a love for pecans.  Before Christmas, I bought 50 pounds of pecans, had them cracked, and picked them out to give as Christmas presents and also to put in the freezer for baking.  Apparently, Puddin' has been raiding the wastebasket where I have been throwing the empty shells and carrying them under my bed to see if she could find one little piece of pecan that I had missed.  I think she has been training my new puppy, Sweetie Pie, to do the same thing, because I don't see how one dog could do all that damage.  I found a Tupperware container that I didn't even know was missing and lots of shredded paper.  There must be some ingredient in paper that works on dogs like catnip works on cats, because Sweetie Pie is addicted.  I also found some unrecognizable items that I quickly sucked into the vacuum.  Puddin' does not like the vacuum cleaner.  She barks at it even when it is not running.  With all the noise I was making as various items were being sucked into the hose, she was adding a few more decibels with rabid barking!  Poor little Sweetie Pie was so undone by this spectacle that she hid under the chest of drawers.  I could barely see her nose sticking out.  I didn't find any dust bunnies...I found dust elephants!  Could this be the reason for some of my allergies?  At any rate, I finally finished with the vacuuming, sprayed the mattress with FeBreze, and started moving the bed back into place.  My shins will never be the same.  I must have run into that bed frame 5 times before I got everything back in place.  Immediately, the dogs wanted to inspect my work.  As they jumped onto the bed, they were overtaken with fits of sneezing...the FeBreze didn't agree with their sensitive noses!  I had a good laugh, which I needed after my workout.  With clean sheets (there's nothing quite like that smell) and bedspread back on the bed, Puddin' and Sweetie Pie just had to make one more inspection.  It's too bad I have to tear it all up tonight when I crawl into bed.  Would it be too weird to sleep in the guest bedroom tonight?

The ladies have to check out the bed.

I guess it passed inspection and is suitable for napping!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

California Here I Come...

I seem to remember a song from my childhood called California Here I Come.  The lyrics are:

California, Here I Come
Right back where I started from
where bowers of flowers
bloom in the spring
each morning at dawning
birdies sing at everything
a sunkissed miss said, "Don't be late!"
that's why I can hardly wait
open up that golden gate
California, Here I Come

I have been thinking about my blog from yesterday for most of today.  Anyone who knows me very well knows that I do not like exercise.  Oh, I love to get out in the yard and dig in the dirt, pull weeds, trim shrubs and plant flowers.  I even like to do things like painting walls, moving furniture, pressure washing the porch, and washing the car.  However, I do not like organized physical activity, such as sit-ups, squats, running, or deep knee bends!  So when I announced to the world last night (well, at least to a few friends who follow my blog) that I was going to be riding my stationery bike, it didn't dawn on me that I really have to keep this exercise thing going...probably for the rest of my life if I continue to try out home-made bread recipes!  I jokingly wondered how long it would take me to pedal to California.  As I thought about that today, several things connected in my mind.  One of my dream trips has always been to fly to San Francisco, rent a convertible and drive down the coast highway to Monterey.  

I happened to mention this dream to my brother a couple of months ago.  He & his wife have traveled the world and he told me that was one of his favorite trips.  He suggested we plan to make the trip next January so we could see the Elephant seals in Big Sur.  I said, "Sure."  I should know not to mention anything, however casually, to my big brother.  Today, he called me and related his idea for our trip to San Francisco, Monterey and Yosemite!  So...California, Here I Come!  And just to make my bike riding a little more interesting, I have decided to keep track of my mileage and see if I can pedal to San Francisco by next January.  I will keep you up-to-date on my mileage and when I pass through interesting areas, I'll post information and photos.  It should be loads of fun.  Anyone want to join me?

Monday, January 14, 2013

The View Through the Handlebars

2013 has been about moving myself to a better place.  I have been using this blog to boost my attitude.  I have been cleaning my house and de-cluttering (as much as a professional pack rat is able to).  I have begun to organize my life and plan to keep it organized.  I am trying to relax and let God's plan for my life begin to work...that has been the hardest thing for me to do.  So, I figured that as long as I was in the mood, I would take this opportunity to get myself in shape and improve my health.  I am not exactly unhealthy, but my blood pressure needs improving and my doctor says that my cholesterol could also be lower.  That was very hard for me to believe, because my cholesterol hasn't changed since the last time I had it checked a couple of years ago...still at 150.  However, I guess the rules have changed and now instead of under 200 being the optimal level, it is now supposed to be under 100.  My doctor wants me to take medication, but I hate taking pills so I am trying the diet & exercise route.  You can tell by the blog title that my exercise bicycle has become my new best friend.  I have it set up in the living room, right in front of the television.  I plan to ride twice a day for a total of one hour.  However, I don't plan to kill myself at the beginning.  Tonight I pedaled through part of Castle.  In the morning, I will ride for a little longer and build up to my goal.  I have recorded my weight and measurements...which will not be posted on this blog until I reach my goal.  I hope my health improves as much as my attitude has so far.  Ten minutes and two and a half miles tonight.  I wonder how long it will take me to pedal to California?  I'll let you know when I get there!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Modern Inconveniences

This post should have been written yesterday, but because of a "modern inconvenience" I was unable to type.  Thus, I am doing today what I planned to do yesterday.  By now, I'm sure you're very confused, so let me explain.
I have two very large Bradford Pear trees in my front yard.  Steve & I planted them just a few years after we built the house, so after 28 years of growing, they are quite large.  I really love those trees because they remind me of my home in Cincinnati.  Although Moultrie is beautiful in the spring, the fall leaves much to be desired.  I always miss the beautiful show of colorful leaves when the first frost can be felt in the air.  The Bradford Pear trees supply a bit of color in my front yard every fall.  It is for that reason that I savor every last leaf on the trees and refuse to rake them until all the color is gone.  This year, that ran almost until Thanksgiving.  By that time, I was so busy with holiday plans that I just didn't have time to do yard work.  Every time I made plans to tackle the job, it would rain and spoil my plans.  So on Saturday morning, I rolled up my sleeves, put on my work gloves, started the John Deere lawnmower and attached my new yard sweeper that I had purchased last fall.  This modern convenience allows me to cut the work time almost in half.  It also saves my arms & back from strain.  I had only made two passes at the front yard when I noticed that the sweeper wasn't tracking correctly.  Upon further investigation, I found that the wheel had come loose.  I found a concrete block and propped up the axle so I could see how to fix it.  It wasn't anything major...just the plastic housing around the wheel had jarred loose and allowed the wheel to become disconnected.  I quickly repaired it and got back to work.  Two more passes at the yard and the same thing happened again, only this time, I left the whole wheel mechanism scattered across the front lawn. I decided that the repair would take more expertise than I possessed, so I went to plan B...the leaf blower!  Now I was really reminded of Cincinnati because this is how we cleaned the yards there after the leaves had fallen.    Before cranking it up, I filled the gas tank on the blower so I wouldn't have to stop to refill it in the middle of my job.  To my surprise, it took two more fillings of the gas tank to finish the yard!  All in all, it took me 3 hours to blow all of the pine straw and leaves into appropriate areas.  When I turned off the blower, I was surprised to find that my right arm was still under the impression that the blower was still running.  My arm vibrated and tingled for the rest of the afternoon, just as if the blower was still going.  In addition to the vibration, my muscles were so fatigued from the chore that I could hardly lift a glass of tea.  I plopped down in my chair to watch the football playoff games and didn't move for several hours. So my modern convenience turned into an inconvenience instead.  I must admit that the yard did look beautiful and I had received quite a workout, so the afternoon wasn't a total waste of time.  I still have to figure out how to fix the yard sweeper.  Maybe that roll of duck tape will do the trick.

Friday, January 11, 2013

40 winks

I have found another perk of retirement...afternoon naps!  I found this out quite by accident.  I had been working all day making cookies, taking Sweetie Pie to the vet for her final shots, doing laundry and scanning some photos.  By 3:00 this afternoon, I had finished all of my chores and decided to relax in my easy chair and do some reading.  I am reading a book by one of my favorite authors; Jan Karon.  She left a career in advertising to write books.  Her most famous series is the Mitford series.  Father Tim Cavanaugh is the main character in this delightful series that takes place in the fictional town of Mitford.  Shepherds Abiding is a wonderful Christmas story.  I started it long before Christmas, but the rush of the season prohibited me from reading as I should.  So, on this balmy January afternoon, I decided to catch up.  About 10 pages into the book, I found myself so relaxed that I fell asleep.  Approximately an hour later, I awoke to the dogs and my book in my lap.  I didn't get much reading done, but I felt very refreshed and ready for more work.  I remembered that Bert Harsh, Vice-President at Riverside Manufacturing, Library Board Chairman and good friend, used to take about an hour nap after lunch when he retired.  I now understand why he did.  I'm not sure if it will be an every afternoon occurrence, but it certainly wouldn't bother me if it turned out that way.  I can't wait until spring so I can relax in my rope hammock while I nap.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Cup o' Joe

One of my favorite indulgences is a good cup of coffee.  Long before Starbuck's was around, I was enjoying gourmet coffee.  In my late teenage years, General Foods came out with their International Coffee flavors.    Each flavor was inspired by flavors associated with various countries and came in a cute little tin, decorated with the colors of the flag of each country.

My favorite was Suisse Mocha.  Inspired by Swiss chocolate, this flavor had the most inviting aroma.  I also liked Cafe Vienna which was flavored with cinnamon and Orange Cappuccino, from Italy.  All you needed was a cup of hot water, a tin of coffee and a spoon.  Money was tight for my parents back then.  My brother & I didn't know it at the time because they always provided for all of our "needs" and most of our "wants".  So spending hard-earned money on fancy coffee was probably a big stretch for my mother, but she did it anyway.  Truth be told, she enjoyed it as much as I did!  When I went away to college, Mother would send me packages to lift my spirits.  She called them "goody pokes".  They included candy bars, cookies, or other supplies that I couldn't find in the small village of Cullowhee, but there was always a tin of International Coffee nestled among the other items.  A cup of that coffee would transport me back to my home and I could almost picture Mother sitting across the table from me enjoying a cup.  
During the recent Christmas holiday, I organized my kitchen pantry and discarded out of date items.  As I burrowed deeper into the pantry, I uncovered a bag of ground, chocolate-flavored coffee.  I instantly remembered that Mother had put it in my Christmas stocking years ago.  It was still sealed so when I opened it, the fresh aroma filled my nostrils.  I wasted no time in readying my single-serve coffee maker and brewing a cup.  I added a detail that was a trademark of Vera.  She always liked to drink her coffee or tea from a china cup.  No clunky ceramic mug or Christmas cup would do for her.  She wanted a dainty, china cup.  In fact, she loved china cups so much that she started collecting them.  I am proud that she entrusted them to me several years ago and I proudly display them on the buffet in my dining room.

So this morning, as I drink my customary cup o' joe, I am remembering many times in the past when Mother & I shared coffee, laughter, and most of all...love!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On the spur of the moment

One of the nicest things about being retired is that when the spirit moves you to do something...you can just go ahead and do it.  You don't have to worry about a board meeting or whether the front desk will be covered...you can just go.  Today was one of those days.  Maggie has painted her back foyer and is in need of a few accent pieces to go with the new decor.  Now, if there is one thing that I have, it is accent pieces.  Steve Jenkins would have called them "junk", but I prefer the elevated name of "accent pieces"!  Anyway, I had the perfect mirror to go in the foyer, along with some decorative plates, so after I did my civic duty and voted in the special election, I loaded the pick-up and jumped in for a spur-of-the-moment trip to Perry, GA.  It was a beautiful day; a few clouds, but sunshine peeking through every once in a while and not much traffic on I-75.  I made one stop in Norman Park to pick up some of Lauri Jo's salsa and jam for Maggie and then I hit the open road.  Michael Bolton and Eric Clapton serenaded me while I drove.  I love to turn the music up when I drive and I had it so loud that when I came to the ungated railroad crossing on Main Street in Perry, it was a good thing there was a car already stopped for the approaching train or there might have been a collision!  I delivered two mirrors and two decorative plates to Maggie.  One of the mirrors had belonged to my neighbors, Randy & Pat Gay.  It had made the rounds in their families and was no longer needed, so it found a home in Maggie's hallway.  She has been trying to cover up, I mean decorate around, a large circuit breaker box that is strategically placed smack dab in the middle of her hallway.  The mirror beautifully disguised the box and is perfect.  The other mirror is a family heirloom.  It is a round mirror that is etched/painted around the border with gray and silver vines.  It belonged to my mother, Vera, and holds a great deal of sentiment.  Mother used it as the base for her wedding cake.  The day before Maggie's wedding, I used the same mirror as the base for her Victorian Charm cake.  The plates also hold some deep sentiments.  One was given to me as a wedding gift from a couple who attended my home church in Cincinnati.  The other plate was hand-painted with delicate pink flowers by Mother as a baby gift for Maggie.  To see the glorious results of Maggie's painting, click here.  After hanging mirrors & plates, Maggie & I decided to go out to lunch before I returned to Moultrie.  I have been craving some Grillmaster BBQ for several days, so we drove to the restaurant, only to find it closed on Tuesdays.  However, our second choice was just as tasty...The Swanson.  We usually dine in the sunshine-yellow front room, but today Maggie and I were seated in a lime-green room.  The paint colors at the Swanson always make me feel so happy!  I had fried chicken, broccoli casserole and macaroni and cheese.  They serve the tiniest little butter muffins to add just the right touch.  It's too bad I didn't have a driver, because after that delicious meal, I could have napped on the way home.  All in all, it was a wonderful day.  I arrived safely back in Moultrie around 4:00.  No need for supper tonight.  As my dad would say, "I think I'll just have a toothpick and a glass of water."

Grillmaster BBQ; a converted gas station.  How Southern can you get?

The Swanson

Maggie's Victorian Charm cake atop the mirror.

Vera & George Stinson cutting their wedding cake.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We're off to see the Wizard...

The Colquitt County High School choral department presents a musical every year in February.  This year, the production will be The Wizard of Oz.  Connie Fritz, the Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian, is active in the theater productions in the county and always lends a hand for the high school musical.  So when she found out that costumes were needed for 40... that's right, 40...munchkins, she put out the word on her Facebook page that she needed help.  The result...14 people showed up at the Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian tonight to cut & sew costumes.  Brightly colored piles of fabric greeted us as we entered the room.  The Schwartz girls sorted the colors and organized the scraps into piles.  Amzie Cooper manned the ironing board to iron out the wrinkles.  Karla Howell, Kim Booth, Susan Kirkland, and I laid out patterns and cut out fabric.  Jop Long and Amber Schwartz serged the fabric that had been cut.  Connie organized everything, answered questions and provided bottled water & encouragement.  What a wonderful evening!  While we were working away, lively conversation could be heard.  I was able to catch up with Kim & Karla about what was happening at Sunset School.  Since my children had attended there many years ago, I had lost touch with everyday happenings.  Amber & I discussed Friends of the Library business, since she will be the president & I will be the treasurer for the next two years.  We made a good-sized dent in the piles of fabric and had plenty of fun to boot.  I'm not sure if we will have another work session, but if we do, I would encourage everyone to join us for the fun.  I can't wait to see the production in February!

Getting organized.

Sorting reds, pinks and blues.

Sorting greens, yellows and oranges.

Amber Schwartz brought her own sewing machine.  Jop Long tried to hide behind her machine.

All ages found plenty of work.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Playing with fire

I have always loved a fire...bonfire or fireplace, it doesn't matter to me.  There is something about staring into the flames that is very relaxing.  I guess it stems from my childhood at the cabin.  We had no television to entertain us in the evenings, so Dad would build a big fire to take the chill off the evening and we would gather around it.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins would usually come to call.  Uncle Ed would sometimes bring a No. 2 washtub filled with Lima beans or green beans along with a juicy watermelon.  The melon would be placed in the creek that ran through the front yard so it would cool quickly and provide a sweet reward when the work was finished.  The washtub of beans would be placed in the center of the living room floor.  Everyone would grab a section of newspaper to place in their lap to catch the strings or hulls.  As we strung or shelled the beans, the "old folks" would tell stories about growing up in the mountains and their ancestors.  Not only did I gain a love of a fire, I also gained an interest in history and genealogy.  My ancestors had such unusual names; Granny Fanny, Grandaddy Seph, Pink Bishop, Lala Jerry...what child wouldn't be fascinated by such names.  And the stories were just as exciting; my uncles climbing around to the Sheep's Mouth at Caesar's Head to rescue a straying lamb, square dances on the top of the 100 foot water tower that had no guardrail, Aunt Dixie stopping a team of runaway horses by waving her straw hat as she stood in their path, Pap-Paw Jones sewing up his own wound with black thread after being cut by a boar's tusk, Uncle Lewis being prayed over by Miss Janie when he came home drunk.  Every evening, I was transported into a magical world that sounded like a fantastic story in a book, but was really the story of my mother & her siblings growing up in rural Appalachia.  The fireplace was always the focal point.  As the evening wore on and the beans were all strung, the warmth of the fire would bring on drowsiness.  Curling up on the couch, I would fall asleep to the hypnotic hum of voices.  It was so comforting and safe.  This feeling became such a part of my being that when Steve & I began to plan the building of our new house in 1984, a fireplace was at the top of my "must-have" list.  We finished the house on May 31st and moved in on June 1st.  I was so excited that on that very night, even though it was 80 degrees outside, I turned the thermostat down to 68 degrees and made Steve build a fire for me.  I know the neighbors must have thought we were lunatics, but I didn't care.  To take the chill off of today's gray South Georgia afternoon, I built a fire.  As I snuggled in my easy chair with a lap full of Puddin' and Sweetie Pie instead of Lima beans, I was transported back in time to the Three Bears' House on a cool summer evening.  I could almost hear the sweet voices of relatives as they related stories of their childhood.  Who needs the television with a heritage such as that!

Saturday, January 5, 2013


First Presbyterian Church of Moultrie celebrates Communion on the first Sunday of every month. Several years ago, I volunteered to bake the Communion bread. It was nothing new for me because my paternal grandmother, Gustava Lee Roth Stinson, baked the bread and prepared communion for many years at my home church in Cincinnati, Price Hill Baptist Church. My mother assumed the responsibility when Me-Maw needed help. I was in my teens, so we made it a family endeavor. Three generations of Stinson women always had great fun in the kitchen on Ebenezer Road on the Saturdays when we prepared the bread. It is really quite easy. The recipe is one that Mother used from her red-and-white checked Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. It is nothing more than pie crust...flour, shortening, salt and water. Me-Maw had a metal-edged ruler that she used to cut the dough into squares before baking. I still use it today. My rolling pin belonged to Mother, as well as the pastry blender. I use a piece of cotton cloth on which to roll the dough. I'm sure it came from a scrap that was left over from one of the many dresses that Mother sewed for me. It looks like a pattern straight from the 60's! I have used it for so many years that it is impregnated with shortening and flour that has formed a kind of Teflon coating that keeps the dough from sticking. Now that Me-Maw & Mother are gone, you might think that I prepare the bread alone. Absolutely not! The spirits of these two amazing ladies are right there with me in the kitchen every time. Today as I was preparing the bread, Henry Klar called to tell me about someone from our church who needed prayer. Henry starts the telephone prayer chain and I send a message on the email prayer chain to about 20 members. I told Henry that I would send an email as soon as I finished baking the Communion bread. His parting comment was, "The Lord be with you as you bake the bread." I replied, "He always is!"  I suddenly realized that Communion for me was not only celebrated in the sanctuary of my church.  I was celebrating Communion right here in my kitchen at 109 Buck Creek Road...Communion with God and communion with Me-Maw and Vera!  It doesn't get much better than that.

My tools for making Communion bread.  See what I mean about the 1960's cloth?

Gustava & Herb Stinson (Me-Maw & Pe-Paw) in the Price Hill Baptist Church parking lot in 1954.  The black Pontiac on the left is their car, purchased from their son-in-law at Sieve Pontiac

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Three Bears' House

In the early 1940's, my father was stationed at the Army Air Corps base in Greenville, South Carolina.  At the same time, my mother was working at the YWCA in Greenville, South Carolina, and was in charge of arranging events for the servicemen at the base.  They met at one of those events and eventually married.  They remained in Greenville until 1945 and a few months after my brother was born they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio...my father's home.  Before they moved North, my mother bought 5 acres of land from her father, Solomon Alexander Jones, and my father (with the help of Solomon and other Jones men) built a cabin which they intended to use as a summer retreat.  They had no idea of the influence that this place would have on their lives, their children's and grand children's lives, or various other relatives and friends.  As was the custom, the cabin was given a name.  There were many "summer people" who had built cabins on Cedar Mountain and each had a distinctive appellation.  Vera & George chose Triple Oak because of the large oak tree in the front yard that had a single trunk that split into three large branches about 6 feet from the ground.  The name was very stately while the cabin was very meager.  Dad used rough cut lumber to side the cabin in batten and board fashion.  The interior was not insulated, but rather showed all of the studs & joists.  A huge stone fireplace was the focal point of the living room.  The stones had come from blasting the spring which provided our water.  Solomon did the blasting of the spring and the building of the fireplace.  The cathedral ceiling was supported by several large Poplar tree trunks used as beams.  The downstairs bedroom belonged to Vera & George and the two loft bedrooms housed guests until Bert & I came along.  The name of the cabin was changed by Bert.  Looking forward to their summer visit, Bert asked when they would be going to the Three Bears' House (obviously influenced by a bedtime story).  The name stuck!  At first, there was no indoor plumbing, but my meticulous Northern grandmother, Gustava Stinson, insisted that my grandfather, Herb, build an indoor bathroom after her first visit.  Mother cooked meals on a wood-burning stove and I remember visits from the ice man to replenish the "coolant" for the icebox.  We did not have a telephone or television until the late 1970's.  There was no need for "artificial" entertainment...we had relatives that were very entertaining!  There was our cussin' cousin Markley, so named because of his colorful language, and his old-maid sister, Corrie.  Uncle Paul was a storyteller and quite a comedian.  Uncle Speedy (Clyde Gustavus) was the teaser.  When he came to visit one Saturday and noticed my hair curlers as I was preparing for the weekly square dance, he asked if I was sending or receiving.  Bert & I spent every day with our cousins; Martha and Paul Howard and Ruth Jones.  We hiked the woods, waded in the creek, picked blackberries, swung on grapevines and walked the footlog across the creek.  What a wonderful childhood we experienced! 
All of this has come to my mind today because my brother & I are organizing a trust with the bequest left to us at Mother's death in August.  We named it The Three Bear's House Trust because the cabin is the focal point for our extended family.  Five generations of the Stinson/Jones family have enjoyed summer vacations and have been profoundly influenced by the house and it's builders.  Today, it looks very different from its original facade.  Winterizing the house for year-round living by my parents changed it drastically. But when I close my eyes and think about the cabin, I still picture it as it was during my childhood...a house full of laughter, love and character.  For those who did not have the privilege of seeing it then, I provide these photos.  They were taken in 1972 by Lance McKinney and yes, that is a very skinny Melody playing with our little chihuahua, Taco, in the front yard.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

tra·di·tion (noun)...

...the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs or information from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.
Traditions are very interesting.  Some traditions are ingrained in us by our cultural or ethnic background.  Others are more personal and come from our families.  Having Southern roots and a large but close-knit family, most of my traditions fall into this second category.  Christmas morning held many traditions during my childhood.  My household would awake early and anxiously await the arrival of my paternal grandparents (Me-Maw & Pe-Paw) and my aunt & uncle (Sissy & Ray).  Uncle Ray owned a Pontiac dealership and always drove a white convertible.  On Christmas morning, he & Sissy would pull into our driveway with the top down, even when it was snowing, and presents piled to almost overflowing.  To my childish eyes, he looked like Santa Claus in a convertible!  The family would gather around the tree, each staking out a spot on the couch or in a chair.  My brother & I would hand out the presents. Present opening was always the same...we opened them one person at a time, starting with the youngest and going to the oldest.  We all watched the person who was opening their presents and made appropriate sounds of approval and joy.  It was a good thing Me-Maw was always the last because she insisted on saving the bows and not ripping the paper so it could be used again next year.  This painstakingly precise process took a long time and my brother & I had very little patience!
New Year's Day is also steeped in tradition.  Eating black-eyed peas insures good health in the new year and eating greens brings you wealth.  Being with family & friends on New Year's Day will signify happiness for the year.  So, today I ate my greens & peas and spent time with friends.  I certainly don't want to tempt fate.  However, I have a few personal traditions that I observed today.  I always watch as many college football games as I can on this day.  Today the Dawgs and the Noles made me proud.  And while I am watching football, I am taking down the Christmas tree and the decorations.  As fond as I am of Christmas, it is always refreshing to see all the space in my living room when the tree is gone!  However, I have one tradition that might sound a little strange.  I have a beautiful island in my kitchen which is more like an old-fashioned sideboard.  Steve designed it and his good friend, Frank Clements, built it using heart pine.  It has stood in the same spot for 25 years.  Frank instructed me to oil it once a year to keep it looking good. Over the years, it has developed a venerable patina.  A dark circle is visible where a hot pan slipped off the trivet.  A faint red stain remains from kool-aid.  The yearly oilings have softened these imperfections without erasing pleasant memories of happy times.  Today I oiled the sideboard with Georgia olive oil.  It brought back memories of Steve and Frank and every friend who shared a meal or a conversation around it.