Monday, December 13, 2010

The Secret Ingredients Remain: The Same But Different

While a few things have changed with the German Christmas Cookies, such as when they are made, what they are topped with, and who makes them, some have not and that includes the secret ingredients. Christmas cookies, weihnachtsgeback, or more specifically the making of them, has been a tradition descending from the maternal side of my family encompassing now at least seven generations.

The farthest back we can trace this tradition, dates to the latter part of the 19th century and at a minimum, originated with my great-great grandmother who lived in Birnfeld, Germany. Her family owned a flour mill in a small rural town in the German countryside, a farming community where chickens, cows and families grew up together, a bucolic existence to be sure. Such charming, close-knit villages generally developed around mills and the services needed to sustain daily living. The abundance of flour gave rise to the creative formulation of recipes among the village women, one of which is my great-great grandmother’s recipe which endured through the previous 100 years or so in my family to this day.

Time passes.

My mother, who is the source of this information, was born in Heidelberg, Germany during World War II when everything needed for daily living was scarce. Food, clothing, money and housing. As a result, my great-grandmother, Maria Dorathea Firnschild-Meixner, lived with my mother and grandmother, essentially raising my mother, as my grandmother had to work to support the family. My grandfather was supposedly killed in the war, another story for another time. Christmases came and went. In spite of the war, somehow they found a way to make the Christmas cookies, regardless of the scarcity of food.

Tradition was, at that time, to make the cookies one to two weeks in advance of Christmas Eve, during the night when the children were asleep. A coal stove was employed for baking during my mother’s childhood and a brick oven during her great-great grandmother’s life. One batch was made and one batch only. The cookies were regarded as a treasure to be slowly savored. The cookies, I would say, resemble a shortbread style, not too sweet but delicate, their flavor improving with time as the Christmas event approached. They were topped with either a light, tangy, lemon glaze or a rich egg yolk wash and garnished with a single almond or pecan placed in the very center of the sweet, indeed a luxury at the time. The shapes cut out by the ancient cookie cutters that had been passed down through the family, came in the shapes of chickens, ducks, stars, hearts and circles.

Time passes.

During my childhood, the tradition changed somewhat but yet remained the same. Due to their popularity among our family and closest friends, one batch was not ever enough to satisfy demand and hence evolved into nine gargantuan batches of cookies. My mother spent long days making them to give as “heart” gifts to those we loved. Now the egg wash was not only garnished by nuts but by pearl sugar, infusing each bite with an extra measure of sweetness. Not only were the cookies graced with the delicate lemon glaze but now some had raspberry preserves gently sandwiched between two thin cookies and were sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar. The cookie cutters now included bells. The baking now began during the first week of December and was tackled during the daytime when we as children could watch and pinch pieces of cookie dough off when we thought mom wasn’t aware, but came to find out later, she knew.

Dough pinching. My favorite baking activity. I thought I was so clever, sneaking into the fridge at night to eat the cookie dough, my favorite, beating chocolate chip cookie dough any day of the week (in my humble opinion). The dough would take an entire day of it’s own to assemble, mixing the cold hard mass by hand, and would be put in the refrigerator to keep it’s chill until baking time, usually a day or two later. I would carefully unwrap a round of dough, pinch off a portion, smooth over what I thought was much remaining, and rewrap the goodie. By the time I was finished or sick whichever came first, it was plain for my mom to see, there was significantly less dough. She never said anything, though. It was our unspoken secret.

Time passes.

Now I make weihnachtsgeback for my family and friends. It is every bit as popular today as it was years ago. Some traditions remain yet change. My mom and I usually make seven batches, the first or second week of December, during the day. Now the cookie cutter collection includes leaves, a very large angel, wreaths, trees, and frogs, yes, frogs, in addition to the time cherished and worn, stars, chickens, ducks, circles, stars and bells. The toppings remain the same, for some things cannot be improved upon without sacrificing the nature of the cookie and that is indeed sacred to us. I prefer for the finished cookie to be a bit thicker and pale in color, my mom prefers them to be thin and a toasty-looking tan. Making these cookies is an art and took me, a good cook, years of practice to master. And believe you me, thicker and pale is the way to go!

The most beautiful, meaningful change occurred when my mom came to live with me eleven years ago, we now make the cookies together, as mother and daughter. Sometimes we have even been able to include my sisters who do not live local to us. Our ultimate dream would be to have my mom, myself, my two sisters who make these cookies also, my niece and great-niece all come together to make these family heirlooms, although we may have to rent a large kitchen to do it! It has now become a family activity, a treasured one we look forward to each year. Although we grumble about the mess, the hard work of mixing the dough (which my mom has succumbed to letting the kitchen aid mixer do the work since her hands are now arthritic), the hours spent on our feet, about whether thicker and pale is best or thin and darker, and how my angels always break because they are too big, each year the experience is priceless. For the record, now I eat all the dough I want not caring if my mom knows or not, still snitching from the fridge for old times sake to see if she notices! And yes, for the record, I still usually get a belly ache by the time we are finished.

The dough disappears, but what remains is the laughter, the being covered in flour, the beautiful results after two days of baking and the memories we create each blessed year that will carry on and sustain us in the generations to come, passing this touching, special, culinary legacy down to our children’s children. I have boys but hope someday my eldest, who enjoys his familial history and traditions, at least will show an interest in this great generational tradition or maybe his beloved will. In any event, my nieces will carry on.

The same but different. The shapes are the same but different, the timing is close to the same but different, we gobble instead of savoring the holiday treasures, the environment in which they are made has expanded, but the recipe remains the same.

Oh! I almost forgot! The secret ingredients! The flour may no longer come from my great-great grandmother’s mill but the secret ingredients that flavor the cookies with a special edible fragrance, remains the same: love, family, and tradition. They may be intangible ingredients but they flavor the pastry with a delicate but definable flavor that cannot be replaced with anything you may purchase at the grocery. And now, with the addition of the family creating these morsels of love together, we add laughter.

Stop by. Taste and see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Poems. Prayers. Promises.

As a young boy, the poems held the future as a rose. But what do young boys know of roses? He knows only of those poems that he is read, and to what child does a parent read a rhyme of anything other than sunshine and rainbows and truth? So, he believes in the reality of the fantasy.

But the fantasy is tarnished. The poems echo, hollow in his heart. Prayers are cried in haste, trying to recall the fantasy. Because promises lay in waste at his feet as he stands, waiting, at the screen door, praying the promises he’s been given will come true. That he will be met, at the door. Pleading for something he doesn’t even quite understand but knows he wants, he needs. The evening rings empty as another promise lies broken at his feet. Another prayer is unanswered. Another poem is a lie.

Careful to avoid being hurt by the broken pieces, he steps around them, thinking he is not touched by the jagged shards, but they embed in his shoes. Following him, wherever he steps, though time.

The little boy, now a man, stands at the screen door. Remembering the lie of the poems of the past. Now is the time to write his own poem. A poem that paints the future as a rose. What does a man know of roses? He knows of the thorns, but the thorns have taught him how to handle a rose. He thinks he knows. But as he writes, his hands are pricked and he bleeds, staining his own poem of the future. And the jagged shards of promises past, make scars on the path he treads.

The little boy, now a man, doesn’t understand prayers for they have left him untouched with their non-existent answers. He feels the pain, the bitterness and the wanting. For what he is not sure. But he knows he wants. The pieces that go missing leave him searching. Yet he searches in vain. Afraid to pray, unwilling to pray, he searches . . . in vain.

The little boy, inside of the man, tries to write the poem. But without the prayers, the promises he makes fall in pieces around his feet as he stands at the screen door. His promises are carried away like chaff on the threshing floor in the presence of the wind. He tries to be different, oh how he tries. But until the little boy inside of the man, is let go to heal, and grow, there will be no change. He has kept it all these years. He has kept his pain, as fresh after all this time as a new fallen snow.

The acceptance of the imperfections of the old poems, of the answers to prayers not seen but indeed present, of the promises broken not in malice but in self-absorption, will lead to the little boy inside becoming a man of his own promises. Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong, or righting the past. Forgiveness is robbing the wrong of the ability to hurt life, to mar the future, cleansing the poison that eats away at who we are. It is the healing of the wound from the inside to the outside. Forgiveness presents the gift of clarity, of sight. Forgiveness of the past is the key to the future as a rose.

The man, stands at the screen door. The key cradled in his hand. Poems in his heart. Promises on his lips. Emptiness at his feet. And the future before him, as a rose.

Friday, November 12, 2010

If You Can't Smell Autumn In The Air Yet, Bake These

I love the pumpkin scones I get at Starbucks to go with my tall Earl Grey tea with plenty of cream. Yum! But I cannot always afford to feed that habit. Well, I found a pretty good recipe that comes very close to what I can get at the store with the green sign. Try them, you'll love them! I've included a photo of how mine turned out.


2 cups flour
7 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ginger
6 T. cold butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 T. half and half
1 large egg

Powdered Sugar Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1T. powdered sugar
2 T. whole milk

Spiced Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
3 T. powdered sugar
2 T. whole milk
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1 pinch ginger
1 pinch ground cloves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Using a pastry knife, fork, or food processor, cut butter into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly and no chunks of butter are obvious. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half and half, and egg. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball. Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1-inch thick rectangle (about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide). Use a large knife or a pizza cutter to slice the dough twice through the width, making three equal portions. Cut those three slices diagonally so that you have 6 triangular slices of dough. Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes. Scones should begin to turn light brown. Place on wire rack to cool.

Mix the powdered sugar and 2 tbsp milk together until smooth. When scones are cool, use a brush to paint plain glaze over the top of each scone.

Combine the ingredient for the spiced icing together. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scone and allow the icing to dry before serving (at least 1 hour). A squirt bottle works great for this, or you can drizzle with a whisk.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Green Tomato-Blueberry Jam

5 cups fresh blueberries (or same amount of frozen, thawed)

4 large green tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 4 pounds)

1 1/2 cups water

5 cups sugar

3 (1.75 ounce) packages of fruit pectin

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pulse blueberries and chopped tomato in a blender or food processor 3 or 4 times or until mixture is almost smooth.

Cook blueberry mixture, 1 1/2 cups water and sugar in a dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.

Stir in fruit pectin and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until mixture thickens.

Pour hot mixture into hot jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Remove air bubbles; wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands.

Process in boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Goldilocks Morning (tweaked repost for a writing assignment)

Yes, it’s a Goldilocks morning. The variety of which is usually only found in movies, art, or music. This day, it was apparently my good fortune to be in the middle of such a beautiful and moving composition.

It is early with getting my son, Brawny Boy, up and at 'em which is no simple feat in and of itself! While he begins his a.m. ministrations to get his cute carcass presentable for the girls at school, I lay on the sofa in the living room wishing I could be back lazing between the sheets for it was a late night and will be a hectic day.

The windows of the living room are oriented to the rising sun which is quickly on it's way to it's daily zenith. The rays of sunshine stream into the room and over the sofa on which I relax. My wiener dog, Liebchen, is on her perch at the window, napping in the sun's warmth, waiting for a squirrel to make it's usual early appearance in the front garden looking for leftover acorns.

Keira, not be be left out, jumps up to join me in my morning appreciation, stretching her long puppy body on mine. At six months, her feet reach my ankles and her muzzle meets my chin. She lays here softly breathing. She likes the feel of her breathing, snuffling, underneath my chin, has done this ever since she was tiny. Her heart beats out it's strong, rhythmic beat against my heart. Since when did she get so heavy?

The windows are open, drawing a pleasantly cool and purely refreshing through the house. Through the open windows,an assortment of birds play the music of nature, singing of the newness of day. Joining them in four-part harmony is my cockatiel, Oleo, making sure the world knows "Oleo is a pretty, pretty, pretty bird". Every once in awhile throwing even more "prettys" in there, when he is feeling especially "cocky" : ) He wolf whistles at my 83 year old father passing through the kitchen, like a testosterone befuddled construction worker might whistle at a hot babe on the street. My dad says it's good for his ego at his age, and whistles back at Oleo to return the favor.

My eyes are closed in relaxation and wonderment "How is it that I am so lucky to be blessed with such a day as this?". What did I do to deserve this gift? Nothing. I woke up breathing.

For whatever the reason the world continues to spin on it's axis, I will accept it's bestowal of this time. Enjoying it, reveling in it, appreciating it. How I can take such life for granted is a gross act of selfishness. I will immerse myself in it, use it for good and LIVE it. Trying to spread it's joy to those I meet, who see not the gem they have been given.

How do you feel about your day? How will you think of it as you move through it's portals? How will you use and enjoy it?

I’m blessed you took the time to enjoy my morning with me at this late hour and I’m not sure how your morning blossomed into the story of your day, but mine? Was just right.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Own Personal Mastercard Commercial

Starting 2 & maybe 3 new businesses, investment: None of your biz
Bed and Breakfast: $1,000,000
First major deposit into my B&B account: $$$$
Realizing my dream and my own worth: PRICELESS!!!!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Yes, I Have An iPad And Here Is What I Think About It

As of Saturday morning, I have an iPad (see iPhone photo). In fact, all of us here at MauroMedia have one. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. After all I read on the internet, one almost feels afraid to state the fact. There's not a single product in my remembrance, that has received such "dissing".

At any rate, I read an article "13 glaring iPad shortcomings" and since friends have asked for my opinion about my iPad, I thought writing about it would be a way to address their "13" and give you my own personal, non-subjective, non-techie view. Please, read the article first. It will make my responses to each issue much clearer as I am responding to their statements regarding the iPads perceived shortcomings. Let me preface this with the following statement:

Until November, the only exposure I'd had to Apple products was owning an iPod. I had never used a Mac computer and obviously did not understand anything about operating them. Not getting the whole "Mac love" thing, I am not biased concerning their products.

While I am enjoying the use of the iPad, I do not consider it a toy and I do not consider the issues the article author cited as "severe".

#1 It's awkward.
I'm a girl, I've never carried a phone on my hip. It makes me look fat, for pete's sake. Nor would I carry it like a butler would a tray, ridiculous. I don't want it under my armpit for obvious reasons. It is carried in my hand. I have it in the iPad Case which is non-slippery, protects it and transports well. I am klutzy and have no problems carrying it around. Are babies easy to carry? Do we need EVERYTHING in life to be effortless?! Do you need a butler to carry everything for you? Not me, thank you.

#2 It's heavy.
How long have you been sitting on that couch, Mr. Potato? I, in no way find it heavy or difficult to carry around. I have carpel tunnel and have not found it taxing, tiring, or painful to hold it for a length of time. I bought a book and have been reading it on the iPad. I love it! Consider it a Kindle PLUS so much more. Prop it up to watch a movie, for pete's sake! Why would you hold it?! Are you going to hold the TV while you watch a movie?! So why would I hold the iPad out in front of me? Oh, and by the way? Who wants to read a book on a smartphone that is the size of a small calculator? My eyes aren't that young anymore. The Kindle? Great for reading books but does it have apps? Access anything other than Amazon? Hold your calendar, address, and list information? Can it hold your portfolio of your work? Photos? Have 3G capability? I'm a weenie. It ain't heavy enough to preclude me using it and I use it in comfort.

#3 It's slippery.
So don't hold it under your arm. Why would you treat a major purchase with such nonchalance? Put it in the Case. It won't slip.

#4 The screen has too much glare.
So does the tv, so does a cell phone, so does the car windshield and so does snow. I use it in a sunny environment and have no problems. The clarity is phenom!

#5 Forget reading in the sun.
Okay, this one is splitting hairs and could have been included in #4 but maybe their aim was to connect it to the unlucky #13. Adjust the angle at which you are viewing it. Hard, I know, I could barely accomplish it *rolling eyes*. I, personally, wouldn't take a machine like this to the beach, which is made up of SAND incidentally and isn't good when it gets in ANYTHING (haven't you ever had it in your swimwear bottoms?), and I worry about thugs and no-accounts stealing my things when my head is turned. I would take a paperback novel which costs roughly $7 or less (if you get it at a used book store or swipe it from your sister or best friend) and if something happens to it, it's no big deal.

#6 Fingerprints are annoying.
I am not anal retentive or nor do I have OCD. I don't notice the fingerprints unless it is turned off and even then, it doesn't cause me behavioral problems. Just like my mom did on the refrigerator, I wipe them off if they build up thicker than a 1/4 inch. If they bother you, use a small piece of microfiber cloth. You don't need a big towel. There are more important things to be annoyed with in this world that you can choose to let get to you, try war, poverty, hunger or the healthcare debacle.

#7 It does not multitask.
Hmmm, I missed that memo Apple sent out telling me they expect me to spend hours at a time on the iPad. They must think no one has a life. This does not take the place of my 27" desktop nor would I expect it to. It gives me the capability of doing more things when I am mobile. Frankly, I am a big multitasker and this inability do run multiple apps/tasks doesn't bother me at all. and is doing one thing at a time once in awhile all that bad? Oh, and all it takes is hitting the home button and the app to switch from one task to the other and it takes just a sec. Not a big deal for me.

#8 The browser is limited.
I'll be honest, I'm not sure what creating Google Documents is. Yeah it doesn't play Flash but that hasn't limited what I do. As for it being limited in any way I use it? I've done everything I want to do with the browser.

#9 The virtual keyboard stinks.
I have big fingers/hands. All keyboards stink for me. It's way better than my iPod Touch! Most peeps that I observe "hunt and peck" anyway. I use proper keyboarding technique and am working at getting better using them on the glass. If you want a full-size keyboard, get a desktop or large laptop. This is NOT meant to be that. I can live with it. If you do a great deal of word-processing, spreadsheets, or printing, stick with your lap/desk top. I don't expect this to take the place of that for me.

#10 There's no USB port.
Now this one might pose difficulty for me but I consider this to be similar to my iTouch and other people's iPhones (which I do not have) and I haven't heard them complain about the lack of a USB port.

#11 iPhone-only apps look horrible.
What did you do before apps? When the iPhone apps came out, were there 150,000 of them immediately? It will take time for the iPad to catch up. I don't put apps on my iPad that aren't intended for it. That would be like putting maple syrup in my car's gas tank. Maple syrup wasn't intended to be used in a car. Be patient. Everyone and their dog are coming up with apps.

#12 The price is just too high.
All prices, on all things, are too high when we want something. I want organic milk which costs $7-$8 per gallon versus $2.25 for non-organic milk. It's too high for me. But if I want something, I save for it. If I don't, then I don't. Remember how expensive VCR's were? If it's too high for you, wait, the price may come down. And if someone's iPad memory fills up quickly and they decide a bigger one is what they want, buy their small one and you might get a good deal.

#13 It doesn't replace anything.
Is it supposed to? It doesn't for me, it supplements. I like the way it works, it works great for what I will do in the field, on the go, and when lounging in bed where my desktop proves to be awkward. :-) I like books on it, I like the size. Bottom line: I LIKE it. It makes for a great PR and work tool in the photography/media business (not for photo processing). As a portfolio while out on the go, it can't be beat. For note taking while out on gardening business and using some of the simple design and reference apps, it is a great tool for garden designers and will get even better as new apps come out. Oh, by the way, Skype works beautifully on it!!! The sound works great!

If you do not frequent areas with Wi-Fi, wait and get the 3G model. As with any new product, deficiencies will be improved and tweaked

Not one thing in this world is meant to be the be-all and end-all, not man, woman or technology. And honestly, I couldn't care less about being cool.

In my personal opinion, if you don't want it, don't buy it. If you want it, get it. I love it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Birthday Gift to You

Yep, it's my birthday but I am gifting you with a quickly put together little b-day gift. You women, that is. Oh yeah, you men can benefit from this as well but not to the degree my female friends can :-)

I am 47 today, yes, 47 inching towards 50. And I don't like it. Nope. Not one bit. Sure, I know the alternative is not too good but I whole-heartedly hate the aging thing and fight it every day of the way. Graceful does not describe how I am embracing my age for although I am above dirt, I want to look as young as I can for as long as I can and my fight for it began at 13. I was told if I invest in my health, it will pay dividends now and in the long run. I am at the long run part and I think it is paying off, judge for yourself.

The first and most important part of what I have done and do to fight the aging process is directed internally and being healthy on the inside shows up on the outside. Yeah, I've been a goody-goody in the language of my boys. I have been a vegetarian for a total of about 26 years with the last 23 being the long stretch. Never have I partaken of tobacco, alcohol or drugs my doctor has not prescribed for me. Getting plenty of sleep, exercise, fresh air and sunshine is part of my regimen along with eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of M & M's, Hershey bars and brownies :-) Hey, it works!

All things working together to make me good from the inside clear to the outside :-) Hard life experiences have helped moderate the age I look so I am thankful for the very hard things that have happened in my life for without them, I would be concerned I would look like I'm 12 years old :-)

NOW for the nitty gritty. People have asked how my skin looks good, my hair, etc. Here are the specifics of what I use. Take it for what it's worth. Try it if you like, it is what works for me and has over a period of time along with what I previously mentioned.

Hair: CHI Infra Shampoo and Conditioner for a kinky look, when I want a smooth look it's Paul Mitchell Super Skinny Shampoo, Conditioner and Relaxing Balm, hairspray - Professional Ultra Firm Hold for the kinky look, Redken Quick Dry 18 for a softer flexible hold.

All over skin: Dove Gentle Exfoliating Body Wash (never soap or anything drying), I use my own body scrub (see the Hershey's blog entry I did in July), Neutrogena seseme oil (at the end of showering), and Neutrogena Firming Body Moisturizer with Active Copper.

Face: Olay Foaming Face Wash for Sensitive Skin, Neutorogena Anti-Oxidant Age Reverse Lotion with SPF 20 (always use something with SPF of at least 20), Olay Regenerist Eye Lifting Serum, Olay Filling+Sealing (awesome!), Olay Regenerist Lip Anti-Aging Concentrate and I use Rimmel make up which my skin loves.

While some products from different companies don't work well together, these do very well. I am frugal and a little bit of these products goes a long way and lasts me a long time. Okay, well maybe not the hairspray :-)

My birthday wish for you is that this may be helpful and make you feel even more beautiful than you already are for if we FEEL good, we look FABULOUS!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Alice in WonderWeird?

Tonight, my friend Rita and I took in a movie: Alice in Wonderland. Now, normally I am not into fantastical movies of this sort but as part of the expansion period of my life, I decided to take a chance that I miiiiiiight enjoy it and I went.

Before I left my place, dgdreamin, who inhabits my part of the Twitter universe, suggested I critique the flick upon my return. Here, I do so. These are my thoughts and my thoughts only about how the movie hit me.

As I said, fantastical movies are not my typical genre but I watched with an open mind. The opening was your typical old-timey English setting, hey, not too bad so far. ( I have a penchant for the English accent and you just might hear me using it this week *smile*) Things got a tad bit funky when she fell down the hole.

The plot was a good versus evil story but with twists along the way or maybe they were only perceived as twists because I'd not remembered what Alice in Wonderland was about. The Cheshire cat totally creeped me out, the Mad Hatter both made me want to look away and confused me, the Caterpillar's blowing smoke in Alice's face annoyed me, and the Queen of Hearts caused queasiness. Alice seemed too young for the age she was supposed to be in Wonderland and her actions seemed stilted. Contrived.

And then, she grew into the role and I do not mean when she ate the cake. Indeed, she DID regain her "muchness", appearing older and I relished watching her, hearing her speak. Along with the change in attitude I had towards her, I saw the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter differently. No longer did the Cat creep me out, I admired his cleverness. The Hatter held me riveted. The Caterpillar intrigued me. The Queen of Hearts, well her bulbous head still made me queasy. Not mentioned yet is the hairy beast (can't remember it's name) who reminded me of the Abominable Snowman from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer but much meaner. By the end of the movie, I wanted to take him home.

The movie was crafted in such a way as to completely turn my perception of the characters around before it was finished. Not all will agree with what I think but it is how the movie hit me. By the end of the tale, I was hooked and realized I'd thoroughly enjoyed it! Of course, I took away a few things from it as well and they are:

1. Alice's hair is to die for ~sigh~
2. Alice kicks awesome a**!
3. Even in stress, there is humor to be found (makes it manageable).
4. I want a suit of armor just like Alice's and I don't want to have to make it myself from foil (note to self: google armor).
5. That Mad Hatter can DANCE! I want to learn how to do that before I die.
6. It is good to open your mind to new things, you just might enjoy it.
7. I have regained MY "muchness" and am proud of it.

Until I viewed this movie, a brief trailer was all I'd seen leaving me with no desire to watch this movie. Now? I'd happily head back to see it again. Or is that a - GAIN?! :-) Told you I'd be English this week . . .

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Does Anyone Understand Groundhog Day?

Now I don't rightly know about Punxsutawney Phil and his legend.

It would seem to me, that if Punxsutawney Phil could not see his shadow, it would be because the sun was not shining i.e. the sky would be overcast, gray, dreary signaling winter is still here and will continue for another six weeks.

Conversely, it would appear to me if Punxsutawney Phil COULD see his shadow, it would be an indication the sun is SHINING producing a very spring-like day thereby signaling spring is quickly on it's WAY.

Why is it the other way around? If it's gray and dreary, he cannot see his shadow and THAT signals spring will arrive SOON? Come on.

At any rate, I have my own system. If my plants look like this:

Spring ain't even anywhere close to bein' here. Just sayin'.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chemicals and the Cold: I Believe One Made The Other Lethal

Last week, there was an episode of the Dr. Oz Show focusing on organic foods. The Food Inc. documentary was discussed on the Oprah Winfrey Show the same week. Clearly, the world is catching on that we need less processed food going into our bodies and less exposure to chemicals.
It is my belief that my own life has been directly affected by chemicals used in food production. Now, I thought I was safe from most of the dangers of antibiotics, growth hormones and improper food being given to animals because I am vegetarian and have been for about 23 years. BUT, the dangers of chemicals came to me via treatments of vineyards and orchards i.e. pesticides and herbicides.
I will preface what I am going to say with what my doctor told me: "there is no conclusive evidence that either the pesticides or herbicides used to treat the fruit are the cause of your condition." That would be because there are no studies done to prove or disprove the cause effect relationship.

I have an allergy most people have not heard of:  cold-induced urticaria.  Let me share with you what I know from my experience.
June 1996 saw me move into my beautiful home in the countryside of southwestern Michigan with my property being bordered by hundreds of acres of orchards and vineyards directly on the north and west sides. The farmer owning those fields would come by my home and caution me he was going to spray that day and while the chemicals were "safe" I could feel free to keep my kids and pets indoors with my doors and windows shut. Which of course, I did.
August 14, 1997. I'd been through one entire year of orchard and vineyard spraying. I spent the day on the beach of Lake Michigan. A warm day, we had a cooler of ice-cold soft drinks to quench our thirst. No problem.
August 15, 1997. I began the drive to visit my parents in Nebraska, stopping at a convenience store to pick up a cold soda for the trip. As I held the soda in my hand, my hand began to burn, to itch, to swell, turning red and yellow. Startled, I surmised there must be something on the bottle causing my hand to react. Locating some napkins, I wrapped several around the bottle and the reaction ceased getting worse, although it was a day before my hand returned to normal.
Throughout the week I was in Nebraska, my thighs swelled when I jogged in the early morning chill of the high desert, my tongue and lips swelled when I drank a slush at the Dairy King, and my finger swelled as I held the garden hose to water my dad's flowers. My father suggested I begin to write these incidents down in a log of some sort, which I did.
In the next six weeks, there were more occurrences of this sort with everything from a breeze in England causing hives to erupt on my legs, to leaning against a porcelain sink and getting hives on my midriff.
Upon taking this log to the doctor, he brought out an ice cube after reading it, he did a simple ice cube test and informed me I have cold-induced urticaria. In layman's language, I am allergic to cold. Cold temperatures. For me, temps below about 50 degrees induce my body to react. The cold temps cause my body to produce histamines creating hives both outside and INSIDE my body. If I eat cold food or breathe cold air, my throat will swell shut and I will die. If the cold radiates onto my heart from what is passing through my esophagus, it swells and will stop. Eating a bowl of Breyer's ice cream, almost killed me.  If anything cold i.e. air, surface, food, water touches me, my body reacts in a very negative and potentially fatal way. I fall into the lake? I'm a goner. Get locked out of the house on a cold morning? I'm a goner. There are worse allergies though, so I consider myself lucky.
There is no cure, only prevention. Curiously enough, it affects my life in ways I'd not foreseen, even in the summer. It's complicated. My allergist informed me that something caused my immune system to become permanently altered, thereby causing this reaction.
Now, long story, but this is how I think what I have is caused by chemical exposure. I heard of two other people in the same area who were exposed to similar toxins. One lived near an orchard, the other picked grapes at a vineyard often eating them without washing them. Coincidence? Not in my book. A friend of my best friend, also had this condition and had to move to Florida. She moved from the area in which I was living. There was also an inordinately high occurrence of cancer, especially of the breast, in my area. Some suspicion it is from chemicals related to the fruit production industry getting into the ground water but it has not been proved.
So. Obviously, I believe, organic is the way to go. More and more I switch to healthier ways of living, my eating included, wanting to eradicate them from my food intake. In the past, it was not near as difficult and I didn't think of the costs involved in purchasing organic products. But now, I am on a very fixed income and am finding it cost prohibitive to do so. There is only so much money to go around.
What tips, what advice do you have for me that might help make it more financially feasible to buy organic (I do garden organic)? With a gallon of milk at $7 versus $2 non organic, eggs at $4 and other products likewise as high-priced, how do I do it? How do YOU do it?
I look forward to hearing your suggestions and wish a long and healthy life for each of you!

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Maybe They're Just Not That Into Me"

Dear Abby,

It's the story of my life *sigh*

A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me (yeah, dawn does break on Marblehead occasionally) I had not received any bright, full-color, horticultural-eye-candy-filled plant catalogs enticing me to purchase their spring wares. Apparently, there was fineprint on the mail-forwarding dohickey-thing I filled out at the post office that informed me the plant/seed catalogs were NOT going to be sent onto me in Colorado. I'd neglected to read that part, I guess. Therefore, I did what every self-respecting plantaholic would do: I went online and signed up to receive every horticulturally-related catalog under the sun (don't worry, I recycle).

Now, here is what I don't understand: two weeks later, where are my catalogs? Each day, I inspect the mailbox. Waiting expectantly. Salivating. Each day, I continue to be disappointed. Don't they want my business? Or is it 'they're just not that into me'?

Wondering how to ascertain as such, I went to the experts for their opinion and adapted the criteria I found to help me answer that question.

Now I know, nurseries/seed distributors are just not that into me if:

1. They don't get back to me in less than TWO weeks.

2. They aren't sensitive to my growing needs.

3. They don't listen to me, or respect my opionions AND returns!

4. They leave me hanging on a figurative trellis, waiting for catalogs.

5. They do not bring out the best gardener in me (or they would give me plants that will not die).

6. They don't make me WANT to WANT them!

7. They don't call me to see if I need something.

8. They don't take the time to get to know my friends, putting them on their mailing lists :-)

9. They don't put my name in their little black book, in stone, with a star beside it.

10. They don't take an interest in my interests, (okay, so maybe I don't want them sending out spybots to infiltrate my facebook and twitter accounts, sending me advertisements).

11. They don't bring me flowers anymore. They don't ship my order the whole way, but instead make me meet them in a seedy part of Nevada behind some pokey cactus thing.

12. They continually backorder the things I ask for.

So far, only Bluestone Perennials, Burpee and Park are into me (yeah, I got THEIR catalogs).

Tell me how you know when a nursery is into you! What clues you into knowing someone wants YOUR business? Do you have an outstanding customer service story? A favorite nursery? A mail order source you'd recommend? I'd love to hear about it!


Needing A Plant Catalog Fix In CO (aka Needing Nursery Validation)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Twitter Soup: A Delicious Blend of Interesting Peeps!

Twitter whets my appetite for information, friendship and sharing. Nevermore than now, during my self-imposed house/dog-sitting exile on top of this snowy mountain.

This week is reminiscent of that time back in March when I broke my ankle i.e. too much time on my hands and not enough to do, therefore I am spending inordinate amounts of time on the computer (especially Twitter and FaceBook but here I will be referencing mainly Twitter). But that is not necessarily all bad! There is a wealth about life you can learn from others! Contrary to belief, the internet is NOT a total waste of time.

In addition to enabling me to connect with family and friends, both old and new, social media can be truly educational, encouraging and enlightening, not to mention entertaining. There are quite a few characters out there whom I have enjoyed getting to know! You wouldn't BELIEVE what I have found on Twitter! I will share it with you someday :-) It's AWESOME! But for now . . .

Here are just a few of the links I have looked at and learned from today. This is a drop in the proverbial bucket as to the volumes of information available to you via, in this case, Twitter and FaceBook. Browse them at your leisure and you just might find something to interest you, too!

Click on the embedded links to enjoy what I did! Take your pick!

Truly hilarious from kissmyaster

Amazing photos from AmazingPics 2009 Nature's Best Photography

Jim Goldstein's take on Embracing the Imperfect Image

Hear about the earthquake FIRST from Interleafer

Gaze on my childhood idol Donny Osmond every so often, he's always nice to look at :-)

Be inspired and learn how digging in the dirt changed lives not just for one family but for families across the nation

Learn about new ways, coming down the pipeline, to garden for your kitchen from Jennifer Bartley

Discover how gardening is different yet the same around the country (begin with my friend Susan's blog and access the other's at the bottom of her recent posting, I found someone in MY new area I can look to for help as a result!)

Do you have ANY idea how important getting in touch with the natural world is? Shawna Coronado can share with you how it basically saved her from a horrible life!

And of course, if you're into garden porn, you can't go wrong with this scintillating, mouth-watering offering of pics from Arcadia1

Speaking of titillating, I learned of a "must-have" plant last night that you MUST take a look at and you will see why it caused quite a stir on Twitter recently. Annie's Annuals has this one! Just call him 'Mr. Happy'!

What interests me, might not speak to your likes but this is intended to show you how simply wonderful these places on the web can be and there are truly amazing people out there just waiting to make your acquaintance.

Give it a go. Look for me: @gettingdirty . See ya on Twitter!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I need all the help I can get.

NOAA says the Boulder area has some of the highest peak wind events of any city in the U.S. I believe it, all day the wind has been at about 50 mph and this hasn't been the only day. I also did some checking and my area also only receives approximately 14 inches of moisture per year with July being the driest of the summer months. Great. Cold, dry winters, too. Couple this information with my area being a zone 4 out on the open plain beneath the foothills of the Rockies where those winds come sweeping down and you have some harsh growing conditions.

This previous weekend, I notified the seed/plant catalog companies I normally purchase from, of my new address in order to begin planning what I would like to plant this coming growing season. The more I learn about this growing environment, the more I realize I am out of my element, my comfort zone. I've never grown anything in conditions like this before. Yes, I have much educating of my middle-aged brain to do. And quickly.

Hence, my plea for your help. If you have any advice, experience, or resources to direct me to, I would love you forever if you would share. I do intend to contact the cooperative extension for advice and information, although I will not be able to pursue the Master Gardener program here at this time, maybe next year.

I'm thinking grasses, prairie plants, natives and such but must learn what those are first. Direct me with specifics, please :-) I will be posting a photo soon of the house around which I will be gardening to give you an idea of the style of the structure to which the gardens will be married.

As I begin this new gardening journey, I will document with photos and journal entries my progress. Whether successful or not, you can join me in my new experience.

Come along and let the experiment begin! I look forward to your suggestions.