September Summer

October has begun and with it will come falling leaves. But even the weather takes its own time in the South. Our uncharacteristically mild summer stayed all through September, urging folks to go one last time to the pool or to take a nap in the sun.  Cooler days are forecast for next week, but before they get here I just want to linger a moment over some late summer pleasures. DSC_0108 I’ve spent the waning weeks of summer enamored with this farro and chickpea salad. With the zing of za’ atar,  this salad is perfect for hot days.DSC_0091I took my friend R. through my yard so he could practice using his new camera. He gleefully snatched up a passion fruit off the vine and demonstrated how he used to eat them when he lived out in the country.DSC_0068We documented the flowers’ demise, DSC_0102the day’s deepening shadows,IMG_3051and how the blue of the sky peeked through the pergola roof.
IMG_3014On another warm Saturday I helped a friend with a yard sale. I put a few things out  to sell but my friend sold more than I did. Could the figure above have jinxed me?DSC_0060One  lovely Sunday night I made some fish tacos for an al fresco dinner.DSC_0063DSC_0066And it tasted as good as it looked.IMG_3065Finally, we met some friends at the Levitt Shell to hear an outstanding concert by the Memphis Dawls. Usually summer is a season I tolerate but do not enjoy. Humidity is not my friend. But thanks to these last mild weeks I’m able to usher it out with kinder regard than ever before. Goodbye, summer, and thanks for each moment and memory!

And how about all of you? What late summer fun did you enjoy?

Picturing Life

As a magpie, I tend to make decisions based on what attracts me, believing that I’ll have a nice shiny time doing something regardless of my skill level. This is a practical point of view for someone who has not had much art education. One advantage of ignorance is that there is always more to learn.

However, with ignorance also comes frustration. Why doesn’t something come out the way I had hoped? Why are the directions so hard to understand? Why do these art materials want to thwart me? When the frustration mounts, I must find a class to take.

This past Saturday I finally took my first in-person photography class. I was nervous about this because a) it lasted all day and I don’t like to be confined, and b) because I knew good and well I did not know much about how to use my camera. Would the class be over my head? And what about when the teacher wanted to get into additional equipment such as zoom lenses? Because YIKES!!!! I had somehow LOST, LOST my zoom lens! What kind of a photographer does that?????

Saturday came, and once again the universe saved me. It turns out that what is behind photography is not fancy equipment, but the photographer’s trust in his own ability to see, and the patience to take many, many pictures until he gets it right. The day flew by as we looked at photo prints and photography books, learning about what makes a picture worth looking at.

I did learn some technical things which I have not yet tried out. I decided to get out my last set of pictures, those that I took last month when I went to Winston-Salem North Carolina for my nephew’s high school graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. With what I just learned, would I find these pictures worth looking at? Look along with me now, and tell me what you think.

The three questions to ask yourself are: what do I see, what does it mean, and how do I know?


Does the picture make you curious about the lady on the left? Here’s the story. We befriended her while waiting for our carry out order, and found that she had tried to donate her vintage LIFE magazines to Ellen’s library, and been turned down. But with Ellen to the rescue her treasures will now be accepted with thanks.



Why photograph these guys? Because all of Ellen’s St. Francis statues have been decapitated through various means. A little too much of a coincidence, yes? Is it a curse of some kind? Sure, they’ve been repaired, but when will disaster strike again?



My nephew’s Eagle Scout ceremony and combined grad/Scout party were on Sunday afternoon. Because of my sister’s graduate school schedule she had had to leave all the party prep to her hard working husband. What you see here are some of our efforts, before the party to turn an essentially male party into something civilized.

Imagine our horror when we saw on Sunday morning that the husband and son had lined up cloth camping chairs in a straight row across the backyard, blocking the bucolic view and reminding one of a Protestant wedding reception. The cloth chairs were banished by us, tactfully, and tablecloths added. In addition, we bought pillow cases to recover chair cushions and purchased potted herbs for natural centerpieces. Just then a Scoutmaster showed up to help. He allowed as how we should protect the tables from bird droppings, so he covered all our pretty work with hefty bags, weighted down with logs. Sigh.


Here was the ceremony in a tiny country church.


And here is the Scout with the beautiful soul. I would hope that his optimism and willingness to serve others comes through in the picture.


I do not claim this as an example of a good photo, but seeing my salt of the earth brother in law moved to tears on Father’s Day was priceless to me.



Then came the party. Above, my sister again tried to inject a little civilization with the relish tray. Note the implement being used to spear a goodie from the plate.


In addition to simply trying to record the events of the day for the family, I also wanted to show through photos the way Ellen’s lifestyle differs from mine. She is fortunate enough to live a more rural lifestyle, while I am more of a city girl. Meaning that chickens would not be guests at my lawn party.


But these girls made a day of it.


As an out of town guest, I was paraded through the guests, and then allowed to mingle or simply observe as I chose. Folks came and went. Hilariously , some guests brought their OWN cloth camping chairs and lined them up in a row. Much meat was consumed my man and boy. The afternoon was unhurried and the weather glorious. DSC_0472

I was pleased to finally meet Ellen’s next door neighbor, Bonita who is an artist and photographer. She showed me a few camera tricks and took this photo of us, on manual setting, of course. When she left she invited me over to see her art studio.


Later in the day I moseyed over to Bonita’s, opened the back gate and knocked on the door. She gave me permission to take photos of some memory books she has made, both of which have already been exhibited. Currently she is working on a photography book of vintage American movie theaters. Was I jealous? Yes.DSC_0517

When I returned from Bonita’s, most of the guests were gone. As the shadows grew long in the yard, a late staying guest built  a campfire. Don’t think this was not a thrill for a city girl.


Those of us who were still there pulled chairs around the fire and put our feet up on logs. Fireflies swept past us as we listened to the calls of the owls and shared whatever stories came to mind. After a time fatigue and mosquitoes drove us inside.

I went to sleep to the sounds of the whirring attic fan, tired but gratified to have been a part of the day. I would have two more days to spend at my sister’s, providing moral support as she completed her end of the semester projects, folding clothes from the clothesline as needed, and taking night walks down her dark country road, wine glass in hand.

As I look through these pictures I ask myself the three questions. What do I see? I see a family celebrating a once in a lifetime event, surrounded by loving friends. I see a life made with love, humility, hard work and persistence. I see treasures in unexpected places.

What does it mean? To me it all means that life goes by swiftly, and we must tune in to get every bit of pleasure and whimsy it has to offer. It means I am fortunate to have these people in my life. How do I know? I know because I know, but does all of that come through to those who view my pictures?

I’m hoping you’ll let me know what you think.

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.


Password to the Pavilion

I am writing on the day after Christmas, exhausted, but in a good way. Yes, I am tired because the last few days have been like riding on a rickety roller coaster while holding onto wrapped gifts for everyone in your family… oops? You forgot to wrap something? Then get OFF the ride until you wrap that thing, and wait in line to ride again. Go over your holiday schedule while waiting in line. Is that your phone alarm reminding you that right now you are due at Roller Coaster #4? Where your Uncle Barnabas has made reservations for your whole family? Best drop out of this line again. You’ll just have to come back at midnight, if you have time, for this ride. And you must ride it, because it is so much FUN. Just look at all those happy souls on the ride right now with their mouths frozen into grimaces as they whip around the curves, clutching those wrapped packages with a death grip. How can it only happen once a year?

Actually all of that was just in fun. I am exhausted  in a good way because I have spent the holidays doing just what I want to do and nothing else. In the Holiday Amusement Park of life I am seated in a secluded pavilion on a park bench, aware but undisturbed that so many others around me are overextending themselves. I am comfortable and at peace, surrounded by those who mean the most to me. Back here in the pavilion I can see the festive lights and hear the noises, but I am removed enough so that if a stressed out roller coaster rider lets go of a wrapped fruitcake while at the summit of the ride, it can’t hit me or mine in the head.

It's shiny out here, but out of the way f flying debri.

It’s shiny out here, but out of the way of flying debri.

I enjoy myself so much in my  holiday pavilion; I only wish I had known about it sooner. Come to think of it, many of those I have seen walking  among the pavilions are closer to my age. Perhaps the way out here cannot be seen  clearly until one reaches a certain age. We who have found our way to the pavilions are at peace because we decide how much hustle and bustle we want. Others do not dictate it for us. Sometimes we may decide to dash briefly into the melee and race one  other past the midway rides and back to our sanctuary. When we return, out of breath and laughing, we relish the fun we had.

Things don't  get over the top unless we say so.

Things don’t get over the top unless we say so.

When you are at the Holiday Amusement Park, have you noticed the signs that point to the outer pavilions, where folks may be less active, yet at the same time more present? If you have not seen them I do hope that you will look. You won’t look until you are ready, but just in case, I will pass on a little hint. There are many signs posted at the park. You’ve seen them: “Frenetic  Friends and Family Roller Coaster”, “Codependent Merry Go Round”, “Big Box Shopping Dodge’em Cars “, “Yes You Will Attend This Party  Scrambler”, the “Yes You Will Buy Me This Hurricane” , and the like.

If you want to see the sign for the Peaceful Pavilions, you must pause in front of each preceding sign, read it, and say out loud, in a firm voice, the word “No.” Just that one word. But you must say it each time. Do not despair if it takes you several years to say no to each sign; no one ever said they weren’t tricky little devils. But remember that no matter how hard it may seem to say no, that eventually saying yes is going to become even harder than you can imagine.

But only if you want to.

Don’t say yes unless you want to.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

I hope you will join me at the pavilion one of these years. I’ve met so many nice people out here. At first we are incredulous that we found the place, and that  enjoying the holiday season can be just as easy as saying “No.” Then, very quickly, we get involved with what we have always wanted to be able to say “yes” to: relaxed days and nights, making memories with friends old and new, helping those less fortunate than ourselves, even thinking about the new year to come. Until we meet in the wooded area beyond the midway rides, happy holidays from me and mine in the peaceful pavilion. We’ll keep the lights on for you!DSC_0351

Hurricane Ellen

I know you wonder why you haven’t heard from me. I know you’ve  been worried about me. So let me assure you that I have lost neither life nor limb. But I have experienced a powerful natural phenomenon that  one doesn’t encounter every day : Hurricane Ellen.

I volunteered to experience the effects of this powerful little swirling force. I invited her. I flew  her here in fact! You may have heard of her last year if you read my post Extra Extra, Read All About It, which details my lovely girls getaway with Hurricane Ellen. I referred to her in that post as The Little General, but I have been informed NOT to call her that any more.  So for now it is Hurricane Ellen. She’s not going to like that either, but my brain is in too much of a whirl to come up with a   title that describes her in more superlative terms.

I do owe Hurricane Ellen a better moniker, and the flattering description she so richly deserves. In print right here I promise to do it. But not right now. I am packing to go out of town for the weekend, and my force of nature house guest just left this morning. For now I just want to tell you I am still here, not harmed,  but actually much improved from having my wonderful sister here for almost a week.

In parting I will say that if you know someone you long to spend the week with, go ahead and make it happen. Don’t wait to have the time of your life. You may not experience it as a Hurricane, but any force of nature brings its own rewards. I must stop here because my husband is clearing his throat and giving me those “hurry up” looks.  I will give the full Hurricane report when I return!

How Did It Go?

Whoa! I haven’t partied like THAT in a long time! It’s nice to know I could fit so many  people in my house. Even now I pinch myself that they all found their way here.  But really, how did it go? You’ll have to tell me because when something is at my house I can never tell. I’m too busy with my hostess duties.

I’ll tell you what I DID notice.  The doorbell kept ringing and ringing and ringing!  I met so many people I can’t remember all their names, but they were all book lovers. And such a creative vibe! It doesn’t even seem real that I got to entertain so many readers, bloggers, writers, and artists.

Here's what got the party started!

Here’s what got the party started!

Did you see that knot of people at the top of the stairs? The hipsters  drinking out of the whiskey glasses? They met each other after they got here and sat up there for hours discussing everything from literary theory to the best discount travel sites.

They helped themselves to the glasses. Sorry everyone else had to use Solo cups!

They helped themselves to the glasses. Sorry everyone else had to use Solo cups!

And then there was the group that stayed over by the fireplace; I guess they were lucky, in that crush of people to have a place to sit down on the hearth. I overheard a lot there about literary fiction.  People were good natured about the crowd, though, and perched wherever they could.

In the sunroom there was lots of laughter, apparently connected to a disagreement over the best children’s literature. Everyone was advocating for their favorite childhood book characters. I merely smiled as I looked in, knowing quite well I had “Bread And Jam For Frances” upstairs  in a bedroom, literally above their heads.

People formed  groups organically, in a kind of human Dewey Decimal system. I met grandmothers, sci fi fans, hikers, librarians, poets, cooks, and doctoral students. Young mothers seemed clustered together, and the retirees stayed put on the upholstered chairs. People kept offering to help me but I really just wanted them to meet each other and have fun.

Mingling among the groups. I had little time to spend with each person. I did admit to someone that I don’t really know how to use twitter,and that the weekend I was trying to write my first blog post, I nearly burst into tears trying to crop the magpie picture on the header. I had hoped to get each person to just recommend to me ONE book, and I was going to keep them in a list  on my phone so I wouldn’t lose it. But I couldn’t even keep up with my red solo cup of wine, much less my phone. I guess that will have to be a future blog post.

I was glad for people to peruse my bookshelves. It would be the first thing I'd do in THEIR homes!

I was glad for people to peruse my bookshelves. It would be the first thing I’d do in THEIR homes!

I would say there were one hundred people in the back yard. Some seemed to recognize flowers I had photographed for the blog. Others were out there to smoke or to get some fresh air. The few times I checked out there, I got some good tips on growing tomatoes.

I don’t regret catering in the barbecue. That’s the easiest way I know to feed 500 people on short notice. Certainly my guests  had no great cuisine expectations, but there was no way I was entertaining without serving food. There is no banana pudding left, by the way.

I guess my social skills WERE needed for my impromptu party!

I guess my social skills WERE needed for my impromptu party!

Thanks to onecreativescientist, the ice chests were stocked with beer, soft drinks and ice. My few wine bottles were supplemented with donations from my gracious guests. Krugthethinker and thewaiting were absolute angels; they were two extra sets of hands to  greet guests, keep drinks flowing, and direct people to the facilities.

I'm thinking of some little hostess aprons for krugthethinker and thewaiting for all their help.

I’m thinking of some little hostess aprons for krugthethinker and thewaiting for all their help.

I won’t even try to count the languages and nationalities represented. But wasn’t it cool how many made friends, exchanged emails and made plans to visit one another in India, Wales, Chile, England? And to read one another’s work?

As soon as I get this place cleaned up, I’m going to sit down and write some thank you notes.

A lady always has stationery at the ready.

A lady always has stationery at the ready.

DSC_0719Because I really am thankful that so many people stopped by to read my post. It WAS like a party for 500 people, one I would love to experience over and over again. In fact, I would love to know more about those who stopped by, and to make a new friend, or 499 friends. Welcoming all of you into my life, however briefly, is the best Fresh Press of all!

Come On Over!

Hey! I’m having a party and YOU”RE INVITED!!! We are somewhat limited in that this is a ladies’ dinner party on a Monday night, but if you’ll join me while I get everything out for tonight you will FEEL the excitement!!! Come on; I’ll show you!

Since I’ve recently returned from Istanbul. we’re having a  simple Turkish theme.  The menu is Turkish red lentil soup,DSC_0425 homemade bread,DSC_0428 salad with a Turkish lemon dressing, and Turkish delight for dessert. DSC_0417DSC_0435  The soup recipe is from  Bimur’s Turkish Cookbook. I was able to use my dried mint DSC_0376and pul biber (red pepper).DSC_0384  They were some of my treats from the Istanbul Spice Bazaar.

I’ve already cooked our food so it’s time to set the table. This is a no-fuss party, so we’re using our clear dishes which can go in the dishwasher.DSC_0357 I’m putting some fresh mint on every plate;  later we will use it in our soup. Our dinner napkins, which had to be pressed but thankfully not starched, have a simple but timeless design.  Timeless design is also Turkish! DSC_0361Spices from the Istanbul Spice Bazaar will be part of the table decor, as well as party favors for the guests. DSC_0358They’re even shaped like dolmas, don’t you think?

Now let’s get out a few pretties. It is nothing but pure Magpie Fun to get pretties out for a party. We have fancier things, but tonight is more casual. Here are the wine glasses I painted a few years back. Which one will you choose?DSC_0399

DSC_0397DSC_0396And look at these cocktail napkins. DSC_0368They are an estate sale find. The package said they are paper but are supposed to look like silk. I don’t know if I will serve any chai, as many ladies don’t want caffeine at night, but I’m ready with my Turkish tea set if there are any takers.DSC_0365

Here is a cute little guy I’ve had for a while. DSC_0387I bought him somewhere and then rudely shoved  him into the back of a  kitchen cabinet where he languished for years. If I hadn’t had to clean out my cabinets to be painted he might still be there. He will be on hand tonight to help the ladies with their olives.

I will serve the dessert on this lovely torte plate given to me by a very special lady in my yoga class.DSC_0370 It may be a little large for the occasion, but the lady who gave it to me is so peaceful and generous I would like for her spirit to be a part of the gathering.

So that’s it – an easy dinner party for a weeknight, combining Turkish and Southern hospitality! The only thing left to do is pop the bread in the oven. Wait a minute! I need to go press my hostess apron!DSC_0423

Yes, waist lines did used to be smaller, but no matter. I can get it around me. Thanks for being here a little early to help me set things out. I get such an adrenaline jolt  before a party that I’m always afraid I’ve forgotten something. But of course that’s part of the fun too! Oh! Wasn’t  that the doorbell?

Winter Holiday Club

Who wants to join the Winter Holiday Club? Requirements: Wish fervently for snow so that we can all stay home. Go nuts when it does snow. And most importantly, sing the Winter Holiday  Theme Song. I’ll teach it to you now. It is sung to the the tune of the song “Happy Holidays”. The lyrics are “Winter holiday.” Just those two words. As soon as the first flakes fall, or as soon as the forecast seems bound to actually come true, members are to serenade other humans and pets with the lovely song. If no one is around to serenade, then the telephone may be used to share your joy. Dancing while singing is optional. After numerous stanzas, or when you are are told to please stop, go find your snow clothes and get outside!

Since so many of you will  be joining, I’ll go ahead with my Club Report. I, as founding member of the Club,  have gotten a head start on the snow season by spending the new year in Banner Elk, North Carolina. That is not cheating. Many of us do not live in a place where we can count on snow every year. We have to go places where we can be surrounded in winter loveliness.

My destination at Banner Elk was Boulder Falls Retreat, owned by our dear friends Beth and Jim. Their mountain oasis, which they rent out through VRBO when they are not using it, has everything one could want in a mountain hideaway: mountain views, privacy, comfy furnishings, toasty fireplace, hot tub, and a waterfall on the property. Who wouldn’t dream of being snowed in there, sipping a warm drink by the fire, and listening to the rushing mountain stream outside?

Boulder Falls Retreat. It's only a few years old.

Boulder Falls Retreat. It’s only a few years old.

As we drove to the cabin a few days after Christmas, I thought I might get my wish of being snowed in. About an hour out of Banner Elk we ran into snow, sleet, and hail. Yippee! Would it stick? We didn’t know, but when we left the cabin to eat dinner, the roads had become more treacherous. We decided not to venture further that night, and pulled off the road to eat at a place I will not recommend.

Jim is not a member of the  clergy, but it looks as though he is either praying that our car made it to the restaurant or that we would be able to eat the sub par food.

Jim is not a member of the clergy, but it looks as though he is either praying that our car would make it home from the the restaurant or that we would be able to eat the sub par food.

Back at the cabin, snow continued to swirl around us. I wanted to take pictures, but night pictures of snow are way beyond my skill level. Sadly, lots of the snow had blown away in the morning. But I was not to be deterred. Right after a heavenly breakfast of sour dough bread French toast on a bed of melted butter and warm maple syrup, ( Good food is a vital part of WINTER HOLIDAY)  I donned my “I only wear this stuff once a year” snow togs, grabbed my camera and got outside for WINTER HOLIDAY!!!!!

Rushing water outside the cabin.

Rushing water outside the cabin.

Don't worry. I'm the only one out here.

Don’t worry. I’m the only one out here.

Since I was apparently the only one celebrating WINTER HOLIDAY, I was on my own to explore the environs, and try different settings on the camera.  Being alone in the snow is a delightful solitude. And it was magical! The world was white, crisp, and clean. I could hear only my crunching boots and the icy water tumbling over the boulders. Overnight, the world had decorated itself just for me.

The waterfall behind the house.

The waterfall behind the house.

DSC_0351I continued a ways down the road before making my way back to the cabin and sliding down some boulders on their property to climb some railing onto one of the porches. From there I could take pictures of the view beyond the cabin.

There were no takers for the rocking chairs that day.

There were no takers for the rocking chairs that day.

Later that day, my hostess and I drove into Boone to try to stimulate the economy while the men visited the local family billiard hall. No alcohol, no cola, good burgers.We celebrated the evening with a hearty winter dinner of kale, sausage and pasta.

Downtown Boone, North Carolina

Downtown Boone, North Carolina

DSC_0381The next morning the four of us debated whether to go snowshoeing or to hike the trail at Linville Gorge Sate Park. Because our hosts had more company coming that afternoon we opted for hiking at Linville Falls. But first we had to bulk up with this mountain breakfast of crispy hash browns, eggs, crumbled bacon with toasted sour dough bread. Disclaimer: If you rent the Boulder Falls Retreat, the owners will not be there to cook; you’re on your own.

Was I in danger of becoming spoiled?

Was I in danger of becoming spoiled?

Without a doubt. Especially with the freshly ground Peet's coffee my husband made us each morning.

Without a doubt. Especially with the freshly ground Peet’s coffee my husband made us each morning.

Vigorous outdoor exercise is a vital part of WINTER HOLIDAY.  The idea is to challenge yourself physically and go inside and treat yourself to whatever goodies you want. Linville Gorge had just the kinds of hills and trails I needed to hike. And the views were spectacular.

The falls.

The falls.

Here I am with our hostess. I was trying not to look as though I were afraid I would fall off into the chasm below.

Here I am with our hostess. I was trying not to look as though I were afraid I would fall off into the chasm below.

These beautiful vistas were worth the climb over a sometimes slippery trail.

These beautiful vistas were worth the climb over a sometimes slippery trail.

This fungussy stuff reminds me of  hydrangea leaves.

This fungussy stuff reminds me of hydrangea leaves.

Shiny snow crystals.

Shiny snow crystals.

After many bracing ups and downs, and photo ops, the four of us were tired and chilled. And we ALL recalled an establishment we had passed on the road, advertising coffee and desserts. How convenient that we would be passing by there on our way back!

Winter Holiday Club members are always on the lookout for a place like this!

Winter Holiday Club members are always on the lookout for a place like this!

After our exertions, did Linville Mercantile ever hit the spot! The proprietors don’t need publicity from the likes of me; they’ve been featured in Rolling Stone and other publications. Apparently the area has  “Merlefest”, and the Rolling Stone writers dropped in then, and kept coming. And if you had walked in that place with a freezing nose and freezing hands and smelled that sour dough bread fresh out of the oven, you’d keep coming back too. DSC_0477

It can be hard to remain civilized when someone sets down a loaf of steaming hot fresh bread in front of you.

It can be hard to remain civilized when someone sets down a loaf of steaming hot fresh bread in front of you.

I think the owner said there were one dozen eggs in this cake.

I think the owner said there were one dozen eggs in this cake.

Oh, the steaming hot bread and butter! Oh, the apple butter! Oh, the pineapple upside down cake! Have mercy!I f I hadn’t had the option of getting up to take pictures I don’t know if I could have maintained decorum; I may have reached right cross the table and crammed an entire loaf of bread into my mouth.

Other customers also trying to act civilized.

Other customers also trying to act civilized.

More desserts for next time!

More desserts for next time!

I wish I could have lingered to shop.

I wish I could have lingered to shop.

Or set a spell on the porch.

Or set a spell on the porch.

We arrived back at the cabin in time to prepare for six New Year’s Eve  guests: two neighbors with their two houseguests for cocktails, plus two more houseguests for Beth and Jim, Allan and Janet. My husband and I didn’t know any of these people, but we joined right in, chatting about where to stay in Italy, weddings in Scotland, and life in the Czech Republic.  See what good fun the Winter Holiday Club members experience?

When the cocktail guests departed, we enjoyed a chicken and olive dish for dinner, with bourbon cake for dessert.DSC_0490DSC_0492 Grouped comfortably around the fireplace. the four of us welcomed the New Year with toasts of homemade limoncello. My only regret was that I was way too full to contemplate getting in the  hot tub. Maybe next year.

All too soon it was morning, and time for my husband and me to make the nine hour drive home, where no snow would await us. We had time for one more mountain breakfast at the Grandview. By the time we all ordered I could see we were going to have the whole works: corned beef hash, grits, biscuits, eggs, sausage – in short, everything people our age are not supposed to have.DSC_0493DSC_0494DSC_0495 But we did have good company while eating  it!

DSC_0497We took leave of friends old and new right there in the parking lot. I didn’t think to ask them if they want to join the Winter Holiday Club. But I think I will. How about you? I’d love to hear YOUR WINTER HOLIDAY reports! See you at the next meeting, but in the meantime, get started memorizing those theme song lyrics!

Queen of the Book Club

Many women, and I am sure some men,  belong to a book club these days. Like all  groups, book clubs develop their own social norms. In some groups there is no overt or covert censure for not reading the book you agreed to read for the evening.  Meanwhile, members of  other clubs may send a invisible chill across to the room to that unlucky  woman who announces once again she hasn’t gotten around to reading the story. Some groups even have  compulsory attendance rules. Yikes.

Now MY Book Club, since you want to know,  falls into the very- few -rules- category. Members take turns hosting, and the selection of books seems to happen by some unseen democratic  process. I am not an original member of the group, so I don’t know if they ever said things in the beginning such as , “Let us  read books of literary merit. Or at least no insultingly bad best sellers.” But I am grateful that no one in the group ever suggests reading some type of annoying treacle. Because I wouldn’t want to burst out in some unflattering pronouncement if someone were to make such a suggestion. And though we try to respect one another’s book suggestions, my ardent bibliophilia requires me to maintain some standards.

So of course we discuss the book of the evening, and compare one another’s responses to the characters, plots, and prose. Spirited debate takes place over whether character A actually had an ulterior motive when he undertook Action B. When one member announces she couldn’t put a particular book down, another will declare she found the characters in the very same book completely boring.  We are all equals in the realm of book discussion. No member is admired more, or less,  because of her reading habits.

But  if you want to locate  the Queen of The Book Club, go where the food is.  Because good food is one of the top reasons to have a book club.  Wine is another.  Listen to the talk in the dining room.  What talented, genius woman baked  that warm crusty bread, oozing with melted butter? Who conjured the Indian vegetables sizzling with tumeric and roasted cumin seeds? Who churned  the homemade mango ice cream?  For SHE is the Queen of the Book Club for the evening.

The Queen’s subjects identify themselves by their adoring glances at their plates, their raised eyebrows and bugged- out eyes, and their enthusiastic expressions of gustatory pleasure. Mmmm! MMmmm!! MMMMM!!! Oh.  Chew.  OH!! Yes! I’ll have what she’s having! The subjects approach the Queen with supplications to release her recipe and the its provenance, a request to  which she complies with appropriate grace and ceremony, as befits a royal. The Queen declares her dish was something easy to do, and that the other members can also achieve the same results.  Recipes will be emailed forthwith. She doesn’t preen, but appreciates each and every subject.

The higher culinary standards of the group have challenged me to look for dishes to bring which at least to me seem  more novel – ha- than the average fare. I have at times felt the warm glow that comes from assuming the Crown for the evening, when  I ran across a new recipe on a blog, and decided to give it a try.

Have YOU ever been the Queen of The Book Club? If so, what dish did you make? For those who  have not yet been the Queen, I am  from time to time going to share some recipes I have made which catapulted me into royalty. Because I think everyone deserves to be a Queen, if only for the evening.

Today’s selection is Very Green Tahini Dip. I saw this recipe on Tasting Table and was intruiged by the combination of ingredients.

Very Green Avocado-Tahini Dip

Recipe adapted from Wild About Greens, Nava Atlas (Sterling)

Yield: 1½ cups

Cook Time: 4 minutes


4 ounces (about 4 cups) baby spinach or arugula

1 large, ripe avocado–halved, pitted and diced

⅓ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

Juice of 1 medium lemon

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, cilantro or dill

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crudités, pita chips or fresh pita bread for serving

DIRECTIONS1. Wash the greens in cold water and transfer to a large skillet with the water clinging to the leaves. Set the skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the greens are wilted, 3 to 4 minutes.2. In a food processor, add the wilted greens, avocado, tahini, lemon juice, parsley, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Process with 2 tablespoons of water to yield a medium-thick consistency (add up to 2 more tablespoons of water if needed). Serve with crudités, pita chips or fresh pita. Calories Per Serving: 108; Sodium: 161 mg; Total Carbohydrate: 6 g; Fiber: 3 g; Fat: 9 g I thought the 1.5 cup yield sounded as though it could be skimpy so I was generous with my arugula.Fine so far. The my scooped out my avocados.I  think this is about where I found that I had indeed thrown out that drippy looking jar of tahini I used to have in the refrigerator for all that time. But I had sesame seeds so I could just make my own. A little tapping on the computer and I had my recipe for tahini from a blog called Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice :


sesame seeds
olive oil (not extra-virgin)


  1. For every cup of sesame seeds start with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and add more as needed. Make a little or a lot.
  2. Toast sesame seeds gently over low heat stirring often, about ten minutes, they don’t need to take on a lot of color. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Add the sesame seeds to the bowl of a food processor along with 1/4 cup of olive oil for every cup of seeds, pulse until a thick paste forms, scrape down the sides, and add more olive oil if needed until it reaches a consistency you like. Store in glass jar tightly covered in refrigerator.

But did I have an entire cup of sesame seeds? I did not!  Was my kingdom at stake? I threw in a few pumpkin seeds with the sesames  and hoped for the best.

They pureed nicely, so crisis averted , but I think when I buy the enormous bag of sesame seeds I plan to get I will make my own tahini ahead of time.

Then I got kind of hypnotized watching the ingredients pulsing in the food processor. It was getting close to time to go so I forced myself to put the dip in a bowl. About that time two eminent food critics – my son and one of his friends – walked into the kitchen. My son wrinkled his nose a little  because I had  failed, inexplicably to him, to make a meat dish for him to taste. But taste they both did. Once, then twice, then once more, until I had to say, “Uh guys, I’m taking this somewhere right now.”

If you love arugula as I do you will love the nice bite it gives. If not, spinach will work. I served this at the book club with small sweet peppers but chips could be used.  And folks, it was a winner. It was green, vegan, snappy, and delicious. And I smiled benevolently  at all in the dining room,  for I was Queen of all I surveyed.