Friday, May 26, 2017

Garden Time

DEBORAH CROMBIE: April and May are gardening madness months in north Texas. We have to get plants in before blistering heat shrivels them--and shrivels the gardener as well. We spend so much time and effort getting things just right, then hope we can bear to go outside to enjoy the fruits of our labors!

Speaking of fruits of our labors, I made the mistake of mentioning to the lady at the feed store the other day that I'd been gardening like crazy. Wherefore she whipped out her phone and showed me her acres of perfectly tended vegetables. And told me that she would can everything they didn't eat during the season. I slunk away, tail between my legs. My vegetable plot is a half dozen rather sad plants in pots on the south side of the house.

My garden is flowers, mostly native perennials. To recover a bit of self esteem, I thought I'd share it with you. But upfront I have to say that a lot of the credit goes to my fabulous lawn service guy, Agapito, who, although he runs weekly mowing and edging crews, is a true gardener. He does the major digging and planting, the mulching, and this year, the re-graveling of the flagstone walkways and the re-laying of the patio. I just buy stuff and say where I want it. 

I do get some hard graft credit, from two months potting multitudes of flowers (and my few measly veggies.) And every day there is weeding and picking up, etc., etc., etc. My list of garden chores is endless.

In winter, I find it hard to imagine that the garden will ever be pretty again. Especially this year, as we had extended very cold weather, and we lost a lot of plants ($$$$!!!!) But the spring renewal and replanting results are glorious! I have insanely--because we still have rose rosette virus here, and I've lost nearly two dozen vintage roses in the last three years--planted NINETEEN new roses. Send them blessings.

Here are snippets, and I wish the photos came near doing it justice. The garden wraps all the way around the house, so I am just showing you bits of the front and the back. I would invite you all for a garden tour if I could! And tea afterwards!

Two of the three front berms.

Mealy blue sage in the foreground, with Turk's Cap (not yet in bloom), Red Velour crepe myrtles (also not yet in bloom), cannas, coneflowers, and Mexican sage.

Yucca. zexmenia, yarrow, and skull cap in the foreground. The feathery tree is desert willow, adored by hummingbirds.

Red and purple salvia, guara, skullcap, Calla lilly, and winecup. And the ever-present coneflowers.
View from the driveway, which will be gorgeous when the Turk's Cap, acanthus, and Black-eyed Susans bloom.

The coneflowers in their bee-infested glory.

The front walk, with new Red Drift roses.

Two of my new David Austin roses, Lady of Shallot (which has yet to bloom) on the left, and Munstead Wood on the right.
The newly relaid patio!!! Thank you, Agapito!!! What a job that was!       
The patio with everything returned to its proper place.

Deck with pots, my haven.

And the new gas grill, the crowning touch!

We began this garden twenty-two years ago on a weedy, neglected ninety-year-old corner lot. It has grown and aged and evolved. Parts are unrecognizable from the original concept. I've learned, and the plants have taught me. Mostly, it is loved, not only by me, but by the birds and bees and butterflies. And, of course, the German shepherds, and my granddaughter, who is happy to pick the flowers, and can run on the relaid patio without tripping!

How about you, REDS and readers? Do you suffer from gardening fever? Are you growing flowers? Veggies? Or a tomato in a pot?

(I should add that I am always sore, and my nails are always FILTHY...)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Advice for a Happy Marriage

LUCY BURDETTE: John and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary next week. I feel so grateful to have a husband and a marriage that I can rely on for love, support, and lots of laughs. And that his kids, who were part of the package, have become my beloved family, too. Here we were on that day 25 years ago. #younganddumb

Every marriage has its challenges and heart of ours was probably negotiating a new relationship while becoming a stepfamily. Some statistics show that divorce rates for all marriages lie between 40 to 50%, with second marriages coming in at 60% or higher. There’s a reason for that—it’s hard! The kids have to cope with an upheaval in their lives, loss of their full-time parents, and two sets of rules (if they’re lucky and have both parents involved.) The divorced parents have to grapple with having contact with the parent of their children to whom they are no longer married, often for good reason. The stepparents have to face the reality that a peaceful, orderly life as they knew it has changed. I had been single for seven years when I married John—I had a cute little Cape Cod house, two cats who were always glad to see me and never talked back, and complete control over my schedule and my refrigerator. Making the adjustment was--ahem-- a challenge! #biggestchallengeever #notalwaysgraceful

At one point early in our marriage, we were advised to develop a schedule of positive reinforcement for the kids, where they earned points for things like picking up, cleaning the guinea pig cage, setting the table etc. And then let them choose prizes they could win once they reached a certain point total. We posted all this on the refrigerator. Molly's top choice was a big troll. 

One day John's brother and sister-in-law came over and Margaret noticed the list. In a perfectly flat voice, she looked at John and said: "But Roberta already won the big troll."

Thinking about what I’ve learned over this period of years, I wondered what I would have advised my younger self? #stillworkinprogress #advicefromme

1. If there is a choice, opt for being kind and generous. Corollary to that: How important is the stand you are taking right now? (See Still Working, above...) #channelDalaiLama

2. In tough times, remember the things that attracted you to this person. (Let’s assume for now that these were positive!) Are they still there? #worthfightingfor

3. Every day thank God and Universe for my John! #Lucy'sgotthebigtroll

What's your advice for a happy marriage or partnership?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rhys on Downsizing

RHYS BOWEN: Hallie's post on Monday, on tossing out spices, herbs from her pantry touched a nerve with me. I am not planning to move or downsize or anything but I know I'll have to some day.
I have a good friend who has just moved into an upscale retirement community. She has a large apartment, gourmet meals, plenty to do, from lectures to yoga to concerts to trips to places of interest. I have to admit it does have its appeal. So I'm thinking... someday. If I were on my own, I might well do that.

And I have recently become fascinated with that show on tiny houses. I've tried designing a few tiny houses in my head but I'm always put off by having to climb a ladder to get to my bed. No way I'm going to do that in the middle of the night!

But then I look around my six bedroom house, each room filled with--well, stuff. And I ask myself what I would want to keep if I had to move to a small space. And the answer is "Not very much." Photos of the family, definitely. A Queen Anne writing desk.
A glass topped table filled with little boxes.
 My pride and joy that is a Gaugin numbered print (and I was thrilled when I saw its brother in the Gaugin museum in Tahiti). A couple of other paintings, but that's about it.

I have become less attached to things as I get older. I could easily give away all my furniture. Many of my clothes. Most of my books (except for my Agatha Christie collection and one each of all of my books). I'd probably have a hard time parting with my Agatha teapots, my other awards.

We were at our condo in Arizona this weekend for my grandson Sam's graduation. One of the reasons I love the condo is that it is only stocked with what we really need. Furnished from scratch. Nothing superfluous! While I was there I sat looking around me, thinking "I could let all of this go, apart from my adorable ceramic man from Mexico and a couple of Native American pots. But then would the Native American stuff even look right outside Arizona?

So I've vowed to start eliminating as soon as we return from vacation in Europe. I've already weeded out boxes and boxes of books but now the time has come for pictures and ornaments. My collection of paperweights that has not been taken out of a box for years. Ditto my Indian elephants. I will keep weeding out until I will become an Eastern sage, living with the minimum around me and meditating..... well... not quite.

So how about you? What would you hang onto if you had to downsize?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

All About Your Name

The Women of Letters logo
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Do you still write letters? I mean, letter-letters? It’s difficult for me, because my handwriting is so illegible, I honestly get emails from people saying “Thank you for your thank you note. What did it say?”

But the other day I participated in an astonishing event. Sponsored by Women of Letters, it’s an international program that asks women to write a letter on the topic of WOL’s choice, then read it out loud to an audience. 

I was thrilled to be invited. Until I heard their topic. We had to write “A Letter to My Secret.” My secret? It took a lot of thinking. And at some point, I was dismayed (?) to realize I have no real juicy secrets. I guess that’s a good thing—no, like, criminal record, or almost criminal record, no horrible encounters or crushing humiliating miseries. Any secret I thought of was—embarrassing. Or boring. Or embarrassing AND boring.

And then I got it. I would reveal—that I do not like my name.

Here’s a photo of us all on stage.

My letter began like this:

To: Whom it may concern:

Yes, I understand where you're coming from, completely. Because let me tell you, Whom, I never liked my name either. "Whom it may concern" works really well for you, and I wish I had thought of it. But I have had to make other arrangements

And then it went on:

It was 1963, remember. And it was bad enough being considered a farm girl when I wasn't, but what made it worse that was that my name was Harriet Ann.  Harriet Ann! 

When all the cool girls are Debbie and Linda, and you are nerdy bookie and unpopular, and named Harriet, it does not make for a pleasant junior high experience. In fact, when all I wanted to be was most popular, they voted me most individual. Harriet the individual. And they put my picture in the school paper upside down. They would not have done that to Debbie or Linda.

I could not understand why my obviously sadistic parents named me this. They tried to explain it, that it was a family thing, that my father, my biological father, was the music critic for the Chicago Daily News, and my great uncle Harry, or something like that, had introduced him to the music of Mozart. So they had, in gratitude, named me after him. Uncle Harry, not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Which would have been equally horrible.

I did my best, as geeky little Harriet, to overcome this name thing. Oh, you're saying, how about Harriet the Spy? She was cool. Yes she was, and had Harriet the Spy existed at this time, I would've been fine. And writing you about something else.  But there was no other Harriet except for Ozzie and Harriet. Ricky Nelson's mother? Are you kidding me?

It went on—we each read for about 8 minutes. (And I mentioned Harriet Vane, of course.) But wow, it was a memorable evening. 

I ended by revealing how I kinda like Harriet now.

Here’s another photo—this is me backstage with host Sofija Stephanovic, then Abeer Hoque and Callie Crossley,  then me, then Marianne Leone, Rose Styron and Claire Messud

And if you EVER get a chance to attend a Women of Letters event—we had a packed house at Oberon in Cambridge—please do. 

We’re not allowed to talk about what anyone else told—what happens at WOL stays at WOL. 

But people were laughing, and crying, and it was truly unforgettable. 

So Reds and readers—I won’t ask you to tell your secret. Not today at least. But—do you like your name? Have you always felt that way? What do you wish you were named?


Monday, May 22, 2017

How old is your paprika?

HALLIE EPHRON: Last week’s post on our rotating recipes had me looking in my supply closet to assess my staples. An aside: When my husband was a poor graduate student his go-to meal was “staple stew” which consisted mainly of canned tomatoes and beans with a little chopped meat (if he was flush) and a ton of chili powder.

 Here’s the cabinet where I keep my spices and flavorings and assorted staples.

Pulling at random from the shelf, I checked out some of the “BEST BY” dates:

  • Cayenne pepper 5/2005
  • Celery seed 5/2005
  • Ground ginger 8/2012
  • Marjoram 8/2007
  • Baking powder 6/2007
  • Paprika 4/2020
This explains why my from-scratch cakes rise so feebly.

At least they're all this century. Probably not so for the poppy seeds, mace, and ground sage which had no best-by dates (hadn't been invented yet?) but they were all priced $.59. I can only imagine when I bought them.


I can say for certain that spices and herbs with expired dates do not kill you. But how long before you pull the plug? This exercise resulted in my tossing dozens of items.

The good news is that these days, mostly I use fresh herbs—basil, mint, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill, scallions—many of them from my garden. And fresh ginger, always have some of that in the house. Fresh herbs make it abundantly clear when they've passed their best-by date.

So here’s the test. Go to your staples supply closet shelf and pick a few at random. Are you expired and what do you intend to do about it?

We really should do this every spring.