The Importance Of Place Cards

As someone who loves to have people come eat at my table I am a big proponent of place cards. I don’t like that, sit-anywhere-you-want, attitude. I like to curate my table. Now, I have no problem inviting a random group to come for dinner, but once they are at my house I want to mix it up around the table. I never want there to be any feeling that there is a “cool” group at one end of the table and an outcast group at the other end.

It helps to put the loud with the quiet, the extroverted with the shy, the good listeners with the story tellers. By writing someone’s name at a place I am saying specifically, “I am glad you are here and I think you will enjoy the people around you.”

Place cards can just be simple bits of paper with a name hand written on them or something more elaborate. My very favorite place cards I ever did were when I had a string of “bass” Christmas lights and I wrote each guests name on a fish and strung it around the table.

I wish I had a photo of that because it was brilliant.

I was having more people than my dining room table could fit in my little house in Washington. So I got a piece of plywood and put it on top of my table and covered it with. Big sheet of green felt. I ran the string under the felt and cut holes in it and stuck the light up plastic fish out of the hole at each place. The rest of the decorations we small succulents in little pots and a scattering of votives. It was very fun.

A few years ago Nancy at Chapel Hill Needlepoint was clearing out stuff she hadn’t sold in a while and a roll of hunter tree canvas caught my eye. It was a steal of a price and I thought it would be good to make Christmas things out of. One plan was to make place cards.

Well, the roll sat in my office for a couple of years and today I decided it was time to make some place cards for my annual Needlepoint exchange with the stitching table advisors. Since time was running short I forgave myself doing boarders or cute holly leaves and berries. I thought it was ambitious enough for me just to stitch the names.

Then I had to come up with a way to make the canvas stand up and act like a place card. I went to the dollar store and bought some fat stubby peppermint sticks which I hot glued to a card leaving a skinny space between two sticks as a slot to hold the canvas. Ta-da! I had a place card that was a little more than a slip of paper with a name scribbled on it. And it makes a nice trinket for the guest to take home.

It looks good, but I have to say, it in no way beats the light up bass name cards. I wonder where that string of lights went?

Back To Basketball

For years, six to be exact, I sat in the bleachers of Carter’s basketball games. It was a great place of camaraderie, joy and a little pain. I got to know and love the other parent supporters, a group that morphed through the years with some who had older girls who showed me the way and explained calls to Moms and Dads of younger girls who explained the calls and I showed the way.

It was a giant family I loved spending time with. Over the years parents of graduates would show up to support the current team and it was like old home week to have them back. I have missed basketball games. My calendar is still subscribed to the RSS feed that says when the games are. Although I no longer have a parent account on the school system I have no way to unsubscribe to the girls basketball, I have made no attempt to change this because I still like to know when they are playing.

I looked at my calendar yesterday and realized that this was the only game I could go to before January. I made myself go out in the dark and drive over the gym where I spent so many hours sitting in my crazy creek needle pointing, cheering. I got to the gym ten minutes before the game started and got a big hug from Carter’s coach Krista. Her sweet baby, Hayes was in the stands with the volunteer Mom, Stephanie taking care of him. Having a team baby is the biggest change this year.

I joined the other parents in our regular section of the bleachers and got caught up on all the news. I cheered for the girls and lamented missed opportunities. I was happy the girls won a big victory, but I missed seeing Carter out there, or more specifically her calling plays in from the side.

After the game was over I went out in the hall with Krista and Hayes and she said, “Imani says she misses Carter because she was the best at doing the introduction flourishes with each player as they are introduced.” I miss Carter doing that too!

Talking About Art

Harkening back to my college days as an art major, today I spent the better part of today at the Nasher Art Museum. Ruth Caccavale, who is a docent at the Nasher, had invited friends to come for lunch and a tour of the museums show of Carlo Dolci’s works. It was a most glorious way to spend an afternoon.

When Ruth invited people you just picked the time that fit best in you schedule. It was luck that some people I like, but don’t get to see often we in today’s group so we had such a nice lunch at the Nasher Cafe.

I had mistakenly paid for the maximum amount of time in the parking lot, but it turned out to be a good thing because I ended up being at the museum for almost four hours. We had a little time between lunch and the tour so I went through the exhibit of the 60’s to 80’s works. I was pleasantly surprised to see a work of my cousin Maude Gatewood on display. It was a good warm up before going into the Dolci exhibit.

What? You have never heard of Dolci? That is how Ruth started her tour. Carlo Dolci was a 17th century Florentine painter who was supported by the Medici’s. He was a devout religious painter and thus many of his works have biblical subjects. But he was also considerable conservative so not even baby Jesus is ever really naked.

Ruth brought the whole exhibit to life and I highly recommend you go see this show which is closing in January when all the works of art from the major collections from the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Getty and other collections will be returned to their home museums. On December 9, at 11:00 Ruth will be doing what is called a slow art talk about one painting, Poetry, which I wish I was going to be in town to go to for it is a beautiful work and she is an excellent docent.

To me there is nothing more enlightening than spending an afternoon talking about art. It is so much more pleasurable to hear about the issues of the 17th century than deal with those of today. Thanks Ruth!

Your Chance at Being a Duchess Just Ended, But What a Happy Ending It Is

Hooray for Meghan Markle and her engagement to Prince Harry. What great news, that a divorced biracial American could land the most eligible Prince around. This is exactly the kind of mind candy we need to take our attention off the mess of political and sexual wrongdoings that have dominated the news for the last year.

Since Harry is about to be the sixth in line to the throne when Princess Kate gives birth to her third child, he is probably never going to have to be King. And honestly, who really wants to be king? Being a well loved Prince with a beautiful and smart (she went to Northwestern) finance is the best spot. Harry has really come into his own with the Invictus games and his new best friend Barack. I bet that he and Michelle get an invite to the wedding and 45 does not. Talk about something that will make the current POTUS mad.

So now your chances of becoming a Duchess or even a princess have gone way down. Unless you re about two or three years old. Then you can set your sights on Prince George. The future King on England. Hopefully with Harry marrying a divorced American it can open up George’s possibilities to anyone, so why not another American.

This is way bigger than Grace Kelly Marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco. Yes, she got to become a princess, but it was of a place that is less than a square mile big. Meghan is going to be a Duchess of the United Kingdom. That’s big.

Let the hoopla begin! There is nothing more fun that a royal wedding!

For The Love Of My Robot

When I got the call that long term house keeper couldn’t keep cleaning my house because lifting my vacuum up and down all my steps was too hard I was despondent. I decided I could clean my house myself. Once day of working with my very heavy Dyson animal I understood why my house keeper quit.

My mother had sang the praises of her robot vacuum a few months back so I decided that might be the answer for me. I researched online and chose an Ecovac Deebot N79 based on reviews and a good price.

When it arrived it did not take long to set it up and learn to use it. I could let it go on it’s own or I could use one of the programmed methods. I tried them all. The evidence that it was working well was the full dirt tray I emptied after every use.

Yesterday I did all my Christmas decorating which is a fairly dirty job, between the dust on the Christmas boxes coming down from the attic to the pine needles from the many garlands I put up. After all the decorating was done I let the vacuum go on automatic mode while I took a shower. By the time I was clean so was my whole house.

The machine can run for two hours on a charge which is more than enough time to clean the rooms on my main floor. It is slim enough to fit under most of my furniture and the cabinets in the kitchen. The most amazing thing is it’s ability to clean around the legs and under the table of the dining room.

It may not be a sexy gift, but if it is given with a pair of diamond earrings I bet that if you asked the receiver to give one gift back after six months more would give back the diamonds! As sorry as I was to see my housekeeper go, I have to say my house has never been so clean. As long as I keep dusting first and sweeping the steps the Ecovac does the rest.

Christmas Still Threw Up at Our House

When we built our addition we designed a place for my fourteen ft Christmas tree to go that could be seen from either the front or back of the outside of our house. Ever since that time, twenty one years ago I have put up a giant tree. In the early days it was a real tree stand it took three days to decorate it and two days to undecorate it. Then one year the real tree fell over, breaking hundreds of cherished ornaments.

That was when I made the change to a fake tree. Since the lights stay on each section all the time I was able to cut down the tree time to two days total. The tree was not my only christmas decorating. Outfitting the rest of the house still took a good while.

Due to our visit with Carter I had made the decision not to put our big tree up this year. Carter vetoed the idea of no tree, so she and I will put up a small real tree very close to Christmas. In the meantime I had to put up some decorations today so I can hold my annual needlepoint Christmas.

I hung my garland around the entry to the living room to display my Needlepoint, just like I did last year. I built the Christmas village on the dining room side board, just like every year before.

But what to do with the big space where the tree used to go? I just couldn’t leave the space empty awaiting a small real tree two days before Christmas. So I decided to install my Christmas village under glass that usually goes on the glass coffee table in the living room in the big room in front of the window.

I started with one table but quickly realized I needed another one at a different level to make the village more interesting. I added a third, then had to scour the house to add more green and white decorations to compliment the glass village. After it was done I realized it needed light. Off to Target to get a compliment of fairy lights. I came home and wrapped the lights around the village and ta-da! A new Christmas decoration. I am not sure I am ever going to want to put my big tree up again.

Not Exactly Glamping at the Farm

After a lovely fancy post Thanksgiving breakfast with my parents and our very proper cousins Harry and Margaret, who dressed up for breakfast, Russ, Shay and I set down the road to see my other family. My father’s brother Wilson, who sadly is no longer with us in body, lived next door to my parents on the farm in the original family home. His children, my first cousins and all six of their children come home to be with their mother for Thanksgiving. The three first cousins, their spouses and their kids are a very tight knit group, so there is always some kind of fun going on around their house.

As Russ and I were leaving my parents I saw down the road that my Uncle Wilson’s 1970’s era pop-up Cox Camper was out of the stable and opened in the field. What I could not see from my original vantage point was that the whole family was sitting on the the other side of it in vintage camp chairs. If I didn’t know them to be doctors and therapists I would have thought some red neck family of gypsies had just set up camp on the farm.

My Uncle Wilson was a great camper. He also incredibly fastidious when it came to camping. We stopped to visit. We got quite a laugh about the many camping items my cousins had discovered still in their original boxes in the camper. It was as if my Uncle Wilson was right there with us. The many blue tarps, still in their factory folds were there, just in case there was a sudden storm. A never used camp griddle, still in it’s box was at the ready in case we wanted to cook up a batch of flap jacks.

My cousins were busy inspecting the whole contraption making plans for future camping trips so their children could experience camping like they did. The kids were intrigued for a while, but not enough to join in in the cleaning of the candy apple congoleum floor.

I told my cousins how much Airbnb places were charging for glamping experiences. We decided we could really make my father crazy by setting up a half dozen pop-up campers just in sight of his house and renting them out.

It may not have been the traditional Black Friday activity, but it was the perfect farm entertainment for a bunch of kids. My cousin Leigh is bound and determined to take this thing camping. We looked at the official registration sticker on the dirt covered license plate and since the last year this thing was registered was 1994 we decided it might need to be checked out to see how road worthy it is now. I’m sure that Cox Campers are not yet in the airstream category of vintage campers, but you never know when hipsters are going to decide they are the thing. When that happens my cousins will be set.


Giving Thanks

This was going to be a very different thanksgiving. Not like spending turkey day on a beach in the Seychelles Islands, kind of different. We still were going to the farm to be with my parents and eat basically the same meal we do every year, turkey, stuffing, creamed onions and pumpkin and pecan pies. The different part was there were not the same people around the table.

Carter is still in Berlin, the first time she was not at thanksgiving, but also our friends the Ushpol’s, who have come for thanksgiving for the last three years were at their new home in Atlanta. To make up for the missing friends and family our cousins Harry and Margaret came from Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. Thank goodness for them to help add to the table where so many were missing.

We had a very civilized dinner where I got to learn so many new and intersecting facts about distant family members. Harry’s mother was my Grandmother’s youngest sister and the lore on that family is deep. Harry informed me that we were related to Robert E. Lee and I am not sure how happy I am about that. Adding him to the other crazy people, Merriweather Lewis and Patrick Henry, we are related to, makes perfect sense.

Before our Thanksgiving meal Carter texted us from her “Berlin Thanksgiving,” they were providing her at school. She was crying because they handed out cards to the kids that all the parents who went to orientation wrote to our kids. I had forgotten that we wrote them. When they asked us to write a note to our child they never told us it would be handed out at Thanksgiving. Carter seeing my hand writing was overcome. Not having her here was hard on me, but she said they provided a nice real turkey meal to the so she felt like she had a thanksgiving.

Of course this day is not about the turkey or the pumpkin pie, but about being thankful. It is not about who is or is not at the table but about being grateful for those people who you love, even if they are not there. It is a pause to take time and appreciate. So to all my friends and family near and far I give thanks for all of you. I hope that you had a chance to spend a few minutes to think about all the good in your world. I am thankful for you.

Post Anesthesia Shay

With no real child at home, not even for Thanksgiving, Russ and I turned our full parenting attention on to Shay Shay. Things we might have ignored when she was just the dog in the family have been elevated now that she is our only baby in the house.

Last week she had a little spot on her back that we could not identify. It wasn’t big or particularly bad, but off to the vet we went to check it out. It was small, but $275 later we were making sure it was healed. While we were there the vet took a look at her teeth. Perhaps it is time for a cleaning. Sure, I said, it’s only money.

I was half hoping that they did not have a dental opening until the new year, so imagine my surprise when they said, “How about the day before Thanksgiving?” Well, she is our only child at home and taking care of your teeth is the most important thing you can do to have a long and healthy life.

I did not consult Shay if this plan was OK with her. If I had, she would have said, “Save your money Mom, I promise I’ll chew on a raw hide and wear all this tarter off. “

No food after midnight was not hard, since sleeping is her first choice activity, but leaving the house without breakfast was a tip off to Shay that this was not going to be her day. Despite pulling to get into the vet, Shay sat shivering next to me on the little bench in the examination room. “I feel fine, why are we here?”

I left with guilt that she was going to spend her day under anesthesia. After five hours I got the “It all went well and she is awake,” call, but I still needed to leave her at the vet for another three hours so she could more fully recover. As soon as I was able I went to rescue her, sure she must be hungry.

Poor pitiful thing with the gleaming white teeth, was still a little groggy. I brought her home just as Russ was pulling in the driveway. She looked like a stunned mullet. Skipping the kitchen all together she went up to our bed where she lay down and has remained for the last four hours. One band of fur was shaved off one leg where the anesthesia went in. It looks like a prison tattoo.

I know it was the right thing to get her teeth cleaned, but I have a lot of guilt for making her spend her thanksgiving vacation this way. I just hope she bounces back for tomorrow she goes to her favorite place, the farm, where she gets to be free and run through the fields and be the only spoiled child around. One thing for sure, is she will probably be starving, having not eaten a thing in 36 hours. Hey, it’s Thanksgiving, the perfect day to pig out.

Orange Ginger Molasses Cookies For Grown Ups

This summer while I was in Maine I shared a cookie called an Orange Julius Ginger cookie. It was spectacular. The three of us who shared it all agreed it was the best cookie of the summer. I came home and tried to recreate it. I finally came up with something close. It is a perfect thanksgiving treat for grownups who love things spicy and sweet.

1 1/2 cups soft butter

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup molasses

2 eggs

Zest of one orange

2 t. Orange extract

1 package pumpkin spice pudding mix

4 cups of flour

4 t. Baking soda

3 t. Cinnamon

3 t. Ground ginger

1 t. Ground cloves

1/2 t. Allspice

1/2 t. Nutmeg

1 t. Salt

1/4 cup of minced crystallized ginger

In a mixer cream the soft butter and sugar for three minutes. Don’t skip doing this well. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs and continue beating for a minute. Add the molasses, zest and orange extract and mix well. In a separate bowl mix everything else together and add to the wet ingredients in two batches, mixing between additions.

Chill this dough at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Take a spoonful of dough and roll into a ball and roll in white sugar and place on a Silpat on a cookie sheet. Place in hot oven and cook for 11mins. Let the cookie cool on the cookie sheet at least 15 mins before moving them. They will stay soft and chewy for a week in an airtight container.

Cook Now For Post Thanksgiving Meals

Over the river and through the woods, the big thanksgiving meal is coming. For many of you there will be more family in your house than any other day of the year. Of course thoughts are on turkey, stuffing and pies, but that is just one meal. I have watched many cooking show showing recipients about what to do with leftovers, but for most people there are not enough leftover to make more than one more meal out of them.

My suggestion is that you cook something tomorrow so you have food for the post thanksgiving meals. The easiest thing you can make is soup, even if you have never made soup before. If soup is not your thing, think of something Italian, like lasagna or Bolognese sauce for pasta. It is amazing how quickly people tire of American food soon after the most American meal of the year.

If you have a ready made meal you only have to pull out of the fridge it will free you up from spending time the kitchen when you might rather be doing something else with your loved ones that are home with you.

Make sure you buy extra bread, eggs and milk for the house if you have family home. The last thing yo want to do is have to go to the grocery store first thing in the morning the day after thanksgiving, that is unless your mother-in-law is visiting and you want an excuse to get out of the house.

Just don’t depend on leftovers if you want to make turkey soup for a crowd. Yo just never know if you will have all you need to make enough to feed a crowd. Just go ahead and make something else now. You can always make the turkey soup later, freeze it and serve it the day after Christmas. Thanksgiving is so much more than the one meal. Plan ahead!

My Italian Cousin

My sister did one of those twenty-three and me tests to find out what nationalities she has in her DNA. I was very interested since whatever she has I have too. It was quite disappointing to learn that we were all English, Scottish and a touch of Irish. Nothing interesting like some Dutch, Japanese, Mongolian. Despite my blood relatives being all WASPy I have some interesting relatives by marriage.

My cousin Kennan married an Italian and they have a grown son, Francesco. When Russ, Carter and I went to Italy a couple of years ago we met up with our “Italian Cousins,” which Carter found very worldly. Too bad Carter is in Berlin because Francesco is here in North Carolina for two months to work on starting a website.

I found out from my cousin Sarah that he was coming and looking for a place to stay in Raleigh. Thanks to my needlepoint friend Kate, who had extra space and took him in, I knew he was in a safe place.

I went to see him in Raleigh a few weeks ago and talk about his business. Since I know very little about what he is trying to do I thought Russ would be more help than me. Tonight we had him for dinner in Durham.

My job was to make dinner. Russ and I picked up some beautiful short ribs from the farmers market yesterday. I cooked them in the pressure cooker with onions, carrots, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, chicken stock and herbs. After the meat was all cooked I took the lid off the pot and cooked the sauce down, to a dark yummy concentrate. I also make sweet potato hash and balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts. As the meat was cooking I noticed a bag of black eyed peas I had gotten at the farmers market and thought they should be cooked so I threw them in a pot.

When Francesco arrived I commented to him, “I hope you like meat.” Turns out he is a vegetarian and never mentioned it to me. Thank goodness I had made the black eyed peas. I offered to add a fried egg to the hash, but he said he had a big lunch. I was trying to make a very American meal, but I should have asked when I invited him what his dietary restrictions are. Thank goodness I did not put any bacon in any of the vegetables I made.

Francesco was very polite about the dinner, but I tried to make up for it by serving warm from the oven molasses ginger cookies, also terribly American. He liked those so I gave him the extras to take home. At least he also was not gluten free.

“Lazy” Saturday’

img_6261Thank goodness I am married to a Russ Lange who is perfectly happy to have a do nothing day. Not that we did nothing, but it was nothing important.

Turns out grandmother Happy had not left a North Carolina and she volunteered to run by our house to pick up the baby quilt on her journey home to Texas. Since she was coming by around 9:30 Russ and I got up early and went out to breakfast at Fosters at 7:30. Apparently the only people out that early are parents or grandparents of very, very young children who might have been up for hours waiting for the place to open and the very old, who just don’t sleep. Russ and I decided we must be in the very old category.

The grandfather who sat next to us with his little granddaughter waiting for their breakfast could not understand why the three year old could not add two twenty dollar bills together. When he asked her what 2 + 2 was and she just guessed four he told her to add a zero on the end to come up with forty. It had either been such a long time ago that his own children were her age that he forgot how hard math is for a three year old, or more likely he never taught any children, including his own, math and instead his wife dealt with that while he was busy earning money. No matter what the reason the poor child had no interest in the bills regardless of their denomination.

After our early breakfast we did our farmers market run and were home in plenty of time to meet grandmother Happy. When she left our house she said, “Now you can go to the farmer’s market.” She was quite impressed when I told that job was done.

I spent the better part of the day finishing cleaning my house as my new job of housekeeper. It was incredibly satisfying when I was dusting plates on the wall in the living room to discover an unfound Easter candy. This means that I was dusting something that had never been dusted since Easter. I might be better at this than my previous professional.

Russ was also cleaning, washing my very dirty car for me. Then he said we needed to drive the Morris Minor so we took Shay for a ride to the New Coco Cinnamon location in Lakewood where we sat outside with our coffee.

We followed that up with a trip to the movies to see the new Murder on the Orient Express. It felt like we had a very full day by seven PM and we really didn’t do that much. I think we are going to be very successful old people.

Oh yeah, after I had finished vacuuming the whole house my new gift to myself arrived, a robot vacuum. It’s charging now so I have no report on it, but if I find it satisfactory I will be sure to report on it. I guess that next Saturday can be even lazier if I don’t have to ever vacuum again.

I’m Definitely in Quilting Production Mode Now

When your baby’s babysitter is having a baby you better get to work on a good baby gift. My friend Jan’s daughter is about to have a little girl. When I had Carter my cousin Leigh gave me my most cherished baby gift, a hand made quilt. Now Leigh hand quilted the baby quilt, which made it an even more spectacular gift. Now that I am learning to quilt, I decided that I would like to make a quilt, be it machine quilted, for Kim and Blake’s little girl to come.

The bay is due in two weeks and I know that she won’t stay little forever so if Kim is to get any use out of a baby quilt she needs it right when the baby comes home. I bought some material for the quilt last week, but was too busy with my Mom’s art show to get it started. So Wednesday afternoon I decided I better get started if I was going to make this quilt before the baby came.

I was unsure of the pattern I was going to do, but knew I wanted to work with half square triangles and knew I had to quilt it myself. Once I had made the squares I laid them out and decided on a pattern I liked. To my surprise I got the whole thing finished, including hand stitching the binding by tonight. A three day quilt! I was very happy with my first attempt to do my own quilting.

The only thing I wish is that I had finished it yesterday so I could send it back to Texas with grandmother Happy who was just here. Oh well, at least I think the post office delivery can beat the baby’s delivery.

Cleaning My House

Before Russ and I were married we lived three hours apart from each other, me in DC at my three story house and he in NJ in his two story house. We both worked busy full time jobs and took turns driving back and forth on weekends to each other’s house. Then we got married and kept the same arrangement for almost a year, while I still worked around DC. I had the nicest house keeper who helped keep my house clean, since I was hardly ever there and I had a dog and two cats who made it plenty messy. Russ had no help cleaning his house but his one cat made as much mess as my three animals.

One Saturday a few months after we married I was at Russ’ house, which we were also renovating ourselves and I was sobbing as I was cleaning his kitchen, for the upteenth time. He came in and in a panicked voice, asked me what was wrong. I told him that he had to find a house cleaner because he was the worst house keeper. Fearing I might keep crying, he promised me he would find someone, and he did.

Ever since then he has never wanted us to be without help to do the cleaning in case I start crying again. Of course, back then, I had a full time travel sales job and a catering business so paying someone else to do the cleaning was the best use of resources.

For the last thirteen years I have had a lovely woman help me clean in Durham. She has had three different assistants during those years, but she has been a constant. A few months ago her last assistant left her. With the crack down on immigration she has been unable to find anyone to help her. Tuesday she called me and said because she can’t find help she is going to have to stop cleaning my house because I have too many levels in my house and she can’t carry the vacuum up and down the stairs.

This came as quite a surprise to me, but I wished her well. I texted Russ the news and told him I was going to clean our house myself. “Can’t we get a vacuum for every level?” He pleaded. “No, this is ridiculous, I don’t work. I can clean the house.” Russ volunteered to help, which is also crazy since he works triple time and I don’t, but what a good egg for volunteering.

I cleaned the bathrooms tonight and found that I was quite energized by doing mindless work where I saw results immediately. I also found it to be a good work out, bending and scrubbing. I was going to dust and vacuum one of the levels but discovered that the duster that my lady used was her personal duster and I do not own one. So tomorrow I must go hunt out the perfect duster on a handle like she used to reach the things up high.

Let’s hope I can do as good a job because I have become very accustomed to my house always being clean. I really don’t have any excuse not to do this work myself and not whine about it.

Marriage Success

Russ called me and related to me a conversation he had with some of his junior team members about how hard it is to meet a good potential spouse. He told them our story of the ten day courtship and it gave a few of them a little hope. I asked him if he suggested they look for an engineer to marry? He admired that he had not thought of that. “I wonder what the divorce rate of engineers is?” He wondered to me.

While we were still on the phone I pulled up a site that ranked the divorce rates by profession, per year. It had the most comprehensive list of 511 professions, many I found to be strange groupings, such as “Food and tobacco roasting, baking and drying machine operators and tenders.” For the record they don’t make reliable spouses because they divorce at a rate of 29.78 per year.

I was right about engineers as good spouses because as a group, all engineers put together make the least likely to divorce, in the single digits. The worst profession to be married to is a dancer and choreographer at 43.05%. That is way above the next closest one of bartenders at 38.43%. Then Massage therapists, 38.22, and gaming cage workers 34.66, not to be confused with gaming service workers at 31.34%. But coming right between the two groups who work at casinos is extruding and forming machine settlers, operators and tenders, synthetic and glass fibers at 32.74%. I am not sure I have ever heard of those jobs, let alone know anyone who has ever been that, but they don’t stay married long.

As I was reading the list to Russ he asked me, “what about sales people?” since that was what I was when he married me. I started to troll down the list. I went past fence erectors at 19.57%, mathematicians at 19.17%, upholsterers at 18.92% and finally found parts salespersons at 18.77%. Russ said, “No, you sold whole machines.” I kept scrolling down.

Insurance Underwriters at 18.5%, crossing guards 18.17%, then I found Sales and related workers, all other 18%. Seemed not quite right. I kept going still looking for Russ’ original profession of electrical engineer.

Producers and directors 17.68%, private detectives and investigators 17.41%, Glaziers 17.28%. Interestingly Gaming managers came in at 17.06 % so if you can rise to though the ranks in a casino your relationship might just make it too. Paper hanger 16.48%, then I came to the average US divorce percentage at 16.35%, so everything I have listed so far is worse than the average.

Parking lot attendants were better at 16.02% as were writers and authors at 15.92%, but still looking for electrical engineers. Railroad brake, signal and switch operators 15.29%, I guess they don’t meet many people on the rails. Funeral service workers 14.76 %, not tempted by anyone at work, septic tank services and sewer pipe cleaners 14.07%, well if they actually got someone to marry them and do their laundry they better hold on to them.

Preschool and kindergarten teachers 13.02%, there is a reason you always likes your kindergarten teacher, loyalty. Then the scientists started to appear, chemical and materials scientists 12.01%. Finally electrical and electronic engineers at 10.5%. Russ was very close to the bottom. Chief executives 9.81 %, they probably can’t afford to get divorced.

But I kept going and to my surprise I found my first real job, the one Russ was asking about, sales engineer at 6.61%. My title was sales engineer not because I had any engineering background whatsoever, but because that was what IBM called their sales people. I beat Russ!

At the bottom of the list was optometrists at 4.01% and agriculture engineers 1.78%.

My take away from this list is what I knew in my heart all along, engineers make terrific spouses and whatever you do don’t work in a casino as a dancer, bartender or gaming worker or marry one, unless you are the boss.

Thanks to Good Friends

I am now in the very good graces of my mother thanks to my friends. So many of you came by my house and looked at her art and talked with her about it. An excellent number of you bought paintings. Some bought two or three. Many picked up some of her darling cards. Then there was the most wonderful one who not only bought paintings, but helped take down the show, carry all the painting to the car and pack them up in blankets and towels.

I want to thank each and everyone of you, but give an extra round of applause to Jan McCallum! I know you did not drive all the way to North Carolina from Texas to do this, but I am eternally grateful for your generosity to do all this work. My mother had said she was dreading the take down of the show, but Jan made it totally painless. Jan said she was getting her steps, but it was above and beyond the call of friendship.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the show, or want more Jane Carter Art, please visit her website at If you send me a message with what you are interested in I will get it at thanksgiving and bring it back to Durham for you to see it in person. If you don’t like it no worries, there is no obligation to buy.

There were a number of people who put in requests. More “little barns” will be coming and I will let you know when they are available. I too love those little barns and was thinking that a grouping of nine would be cool! Of course two or three is also nice.

For me I just love to go to my friends houses and see one of my mother’s paintings. I hope those who got some, love them and smile every time you look at it, that is what art is supposed to do.

Christmas is Like 40 Days Away

Maybe it’s not exactly 40 days away, but it is close. As I was running my mother’s art show today I had time between customers to think about all the stuff I haven’t done to get ready for Christmas and I started to worry. With Carter away we don’t have any sort of Christmas card. We haven’t had one in a while since when you write a daily blog everyone already knows way to much minutiae about your life and a card seems extra.

I have a couple of presents hand made, but since I was spending so much time making those presents for those people I have just let everyone off the list. I was thinking that I could find presents at the many German Christmas markets I plan to visit, but that is going to mean late presents for everyone.

As far as holiday entertaining goes, it is going to be sparse. I have my stitching group exchange and when I realized how close it was I rushed out an invite. Now I just have to plan a menu and, oh yeah, decorate the house.

No tree at our house this year, but that does not mean other decorations will not have to be put up. Every year I add one big new decoration, like the glass Christmas village or the Happy Birthday Baby Jesus Tree. This year I have been making Christmas placemats in various quilted patterns. I was shooting for a dozen, but I might have to settle for 8 and call those my new Christmas decorations of the year.

In this year of trying to have less all I really want for Christmas is to have Carter and Russ home and have us all spend time together. Since my Parents and sisters are going to Florida for Christmas this might be the best I will get. Maybe I can pull off a small low key Christmas. It might just be the start of something new.

Good Start

Setting up for an art show is exhausting. First you have to get the art from the farm to my house. That involved me bringing a load a few weeks ago, my mother bringing a big carful last week and both my parents bringing a car and truck full today.

Then there is the issue of trying to display it all. Yesterday Russ helped me place as many painting all around the entry hall, living room, sunroom, dining room, breakfast room and great room as we could before my parents got here. Then it doubled.

I had to make food because no one hungry buys art. That part was not so hard for me. For the record I made up a new really good molasses, ginger, pumpkin spice, orange cookie that I will be serving through the whole show.

Just as we were getting ready we had our first customers a bit early, but they were good at looking at everything themselves and each bought a painting. Then we had a few moments to finish getting everything ready. And no one showed up. My mother and I were sitting in the only chairs in the living room without paintings on them and I was worried. All this work, what if no one else comes?

About half an hour after the advertised start time two friends came, then five minutes later two more, before I knew it we had about 20 people all looking and buying and talking to my Mom about art. We sold a good number of paintings in the first day and my mother was happy. I was relieved, all this work and she was happy. I was mostly happy that some of my favorite paintings went to homes where I can see them in years to come. I love it when I go in a friend’s house and see one of my mother’s paintings. I feel calm to know they go to good homes.

Now we do it all over again tomorrow. I’ll be making some mini frittatas and cranberry banana bread for breakfast. Come on over and have some coffee and something to eat and stat your day with me and my Mom.

Art Show Starts Tomorrow 

My mother came down to my house last week to bring a load of paintings. We went to lunch and talked about which one was her favorite. “Fromage,” she told me. It is one in a series of shop scenes she has done. “I think it is my best one yet.” After looking at the photos I agreed.
“My eyes are getting worse, I am not sure how much longer I can paint.” This new came as horrible news to me. The thought of my mother not painting is like a day without sunshine, ever.  
I am hoping this prediction is a little like her, “This is my last Needlepoint” statement which was at least two pillows ago.
The art show I am having at my house, which starts tomorrow at 4 and runs through Tuesday afternoon may be the last show I have for my mother. Please come by and meet her and enjoy a treat to eat and drink while you look at the over 100 paintings we have here.
As for “Fromage” we will be taking bids in sealed envelopes and on Tuesday we will open them and the highest bidder will get it at their price. Everything else is priced so first come gets the best selection.

Finally Enter Old Age and I Like It

Last week Russ asked me if I was free to have drinks and dinner with his young friend Steven and his wife Mary tonight. Of course I was free for dinner since Russ was free. I had met Steven before and was looking forward to meeting his wife who had just graduated from divinity school.
As the week progressed I had not heard from a Russ about what time we were going to be going. The original plan of going for a drink at Ponysaurus and then to Piedmont fell through since Piedmont was having a private party. I threw out the idea that we go to Littler which we had been trying to get to for a while. Russ tried for a reservation and our choices were 5:30 and 8:30. I said I was fine with 5:30, especially given daylight savings.
We arrived at the restaurant to find Steven and Mary sitting on the big bench, the only people in the restaurant. They said they were thrilled that Russ had chosen the 5:30 option. The good news is that it meant we were the only people in the place for a long while so it was quiet and we had excellent, but not overly attentive service.
We had so much fun with this young couple, who it turns out are young enough to be our children if we had gotten busy having children right when we got out of college.  
After a yummy dinner of very interesting items, like a latke with a poached egg yolk and smoked trout, and a tomato tart with Stilton. We finished up with a big French press of decaf for us and one of regular for our young friends.
Just as our coffee was arriving the restaurant really started to get crowded and a very noisy group of old people, two of whom I knew, came in and sat behind us and screamed their conversation at each other. I was thrilled that we were the early birds and were making our departure at 7:45 having had just a lovely experience before all the commotion started.
Steven and Mary had a new puppy to get home to and we had our old puppy who needed us. I am fully embracing the old person life of going out early and getting home and enjoying the night snuggled with my loved ones. It was just the right amount of social. Now I am actively looking for early bird specials. Why fight it?

Earline Middleton is Pure Grace

Many of you might not know Earline Middleton, unless you work in the hunger relief world, or are a hungry child in North Carolina or run a feeding agency, or work at any Food Bank in the country, or are a legislator in North Carolina, or Washington DC, or frequent places where angels reside. Earline is a national treasure and has spent the last 27 years working for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC making sure people are not hungry, and she never makes anyone feel ashamed for it.
Tonight Earline was honored at the Food Banks’s Night Of Appreciation with our highest honor the Hunt-Morgridge Award. As an elder past board member I was on the committee that recommends to the board who the honoree should be. It is a big job to decide who, among the many deserving people, we should single out to honor. We have never honored an employee, but it was a no brainer that we unanimously chose Earline this year.
Earline has done many jobs at the Food Bank, but for as long as I have known her she has been the VP of Agency Services and Programs, which is the network of over 800 community agencies that come to the Food Bank to get food to feed people or provide pantries for people to get food free of charge. Without those agencies the Food Bank could never reach into the small places in communities where hungry people are. Without Earline we might never have built the network of people helping people.
Earline has a quiet strength about her, but when she speaks it is thoughtful and inspiring. She has a way of helping people in power understand what powerless people need and why we should all want to help them.
I feel honored to have gotten to work with Earline and am thrilled that she was honored this way tonight. In her typical humble way, when I called her to inform her that she had been chosen to be the Hunt- Morgridge honoree she said, “Are you sure?” I have never been more sure of something. Congratulations Earline.

Let’s Stop Day Light Savings

I know that fall back is way more popular than spring forward, but as far as I am concerned any clock movement just makes me tired and hungry. The same can be said for my dog.
I can understand waking up earlier and wanting to go to bed earlier as long as I am getting the same amount of sleep as before we changed the clocks. What makes no sense is feeling like I need a nap even though I got plenty of sleep.  
Then the is the eating thing. Why would I be hungrier? Shay has the same question. She normally eats in the morning and at night, but once we changed the clocks she wants lunch too. Why don’t we just live by the light of the sun whatever it is and stopping messing ourselves up trying to have light at certain times of the day. We don’t get more light no matter what the clock says.

I’m Not a Good Night Time Student

I’m three and a half months in on mastering my new hobby of quilting. I know that is not long enough to become good at something, but since I have made two king sized quilts, a twin and a dozen placemats my run rate is higher than average. Since I am using my 25 year old sewing machine I have not tried to tackle the actual quilting of anything larger than a placemat. For those of you who have never “quilted” understand that I am making the pieced tops of quilts and someone I pay is making the sandwich of top, batting and backing and doing the all over sewing that gives it the “quilted ” look.
I wanted to step up my quilting skills so I decided to take a class at the Cary Quilting Company. I chose the “free motion quilting class” as opposed to the one where you learn to do straight lines. Well, that is what I thought.
It was a small class of six and one very knowledgeable instructor, Christine. Once we went through the technical machine set up intro we got to practicing quilting. It started with straight lines. Wait, I’m not good at straight lines, the whole reason I was taking the class was to learn curvy stuff.  
Eventually we got to loops, hearts, flowers, stipples and back to straight lines. Like all skills it has to be practiced to master and I could not even keep at it for the whole three hour class. Obviously I needed the early morning class.
I think I am thankful that my old machine is not large enough to handle quilting a big piece. I am going to practice all I learned on placemats, but not worry about the big stuff. See, if I took to it I would want a new very expensive sewing machine and that just seems a little excessive. It’s just like if you gave a mouse a cookie. If I were good at quilting then I’d want a new machine and if I got a new machine then I’d have to get more, and better fabric and to get better fabric I would have to go on a road trip to many different fabric stores. And if I was on the road I couldn’t be quilting because my new fancy machine would be at home.
It was probably good I took the night class where I was at my worst as a student. I just saved Russ the equivalent of a new car.

My Mom’s Art Show

Prolific is not a strong enough word for how much art my mother produces. She paints everyday in her art barn up at the farm. She does water colors, oils, acrylics, mixed media. For years she entered art shows and has won everything thing she ever entered. After being admitted into so many state water color society’s for winning their shows, she had nothing left to conquer.  
The art market up at the farm is not big. Very few patrons travel down Shady Grove Road. What a shame because there is a treasure trove. Art covers every inch of the old tobacco barn she paints in, matted works lean up against the walls. Bins in the bag are full of canvases.  
Since I am worried she is going to be buried in her own creations I am having a sale of some of her works, starting this coming Sunday at 4:00 and running through Tuesday afternoon. Nothing makes a house more beautiful than original art.  
If you are young, prints on your walls are the way you fill in the blank spaces, but after a while you might want to consider a real painting. So come and take a look at my house. Of course I will have yummy refreshments and you can get a chance to meet my mother, which is a scream in of itself.
Bring a friend I don’t know and get ten percent off. The prices are already a steal for such great art. There are painting of many sizes and subjects and you might just find something you will treasure, or think one of your loved ones needs for Christmas. What better thing to get your husband than a painting for you living room.

You Can Eat The Skin Acorn Squash

A few weeks ago we had dinner at Vin Rouge and I had a special appetizer of a backed acorn squash. Before that night I had only ever eaten the flesh of an acorn squash scooped out of the green and orange skin. That night, since I was eating outside in the dark, and the pieces of squash were covered in a sauce I just cut into it and took a bite of the whole thing. To my amazement it was delicious and totally edible. Had I been eating a acorn squash all wrong ‘lo these many years?  
A few weeks later I was at the Lakewood and saw a similar acorn squash on the menu. I tried theirs and although it was a different preparation, I ate the skin again and confirmed that yes, I had been wrong to skip the skin for the last fifty six years. I felt like some novice who scooped the soft part out of Brie, leaving the perfectly delicious and edible rind.
I wanted to make my own at home acorn squash to confirm my newly discovers knowledge. I didn’t want to make a calorie laden sauce like Vin Rouge and I couldn’t remember exactly what was on the Lakewood version so I improvised this one.
Acorn squash- washed with seeds and strings cleaned out of the center, cut into wedges

Ricotta salata cheese

Pomegranate seeds

Pumpkin seeds

Crunchy Fried onions- store bought, or homemade 


Lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375°. Put the squash wedges in an oblong pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and put in the oven for at least an hour. You want the squash to start to get brown and the green skin to be tender. Take the pan out of the oven and put a small bit of butter on each wedge and a tablespoon of ricotta salata crumbles on each slice and put back in the hot oven for ten more minutes.
To serve put a wedge on a plate and top with pomegranate, pumpkin seeds and fried onions.

Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the whole thing. Eat every last bit. 

Love Should Have Died

We had DPAC Broadway tickets tonight. Our friends who go with us gave us their tickets in favor of spending their oldest son’s fifteenth birthday with him. It would have been a good call to give away their tickets if it was their trash collectors birthday.
We invited our friends Lane and Jon to go with us, but only Lane could make it. I made us dinner at home which quite frankly was the highlight of the evening because we got to talk to Lane. After our farmers market meal of red drum, acorn squash and red cabbage slaw it was off to the theatre to see Andrew Lloyd Weber’s follow up to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies. Love might have been alive, but plot, music and book were in short supply.
The production from the set and costumes point of view was fantastic, but the idea that the world’s most talented singer would be in a love triangle with a demented disfigured man and a drunk hanger on was a little hard to swallow. It was like an anti-feminist riot.  
Christine, the object of everyone affection held all the cards and should have shunned all the losers and gone on with life with her son, but instead she is destroyed.    At one point in the second act, Lane says to me, “she looks like Joan Crawford,” and I replied that she looked like Carol Burnet playing Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.  The music was whiny and the Phantom was not a strong enough singer to hear well. Perhaps being disfigured prevented him from projecting. My projection is this a show that has no legs and should be shelved now before it does any harm to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s legacy. Please let this one die.

Saint James Review

Russ has been spending most weekdays away in Minnesota for the last few weeks. It makes for little precious time. I thought that if I went away to help my friend on just the weekdays I would not miss any time with Russ. So I left Monday morning and came home Friday afternoon. lol and behold this was the one week Russ did not leave until Tuesday and came home on Thursday.

Not only was he home without me, he also took me to the airport and picked me up, something I never doo for him. When I got home he made a reservation at the new Saint James the seafood restaurant in the old Fishmonger site, brought to you by Matt Kelly.
We had been watching the transformation of the restaurant, waiting for it to finally open. The old place had been very smelly, not an appetizing thing for a seafood place. The Saint James had their soft opening Wednesday. I am not always keen to try a brand new restaurant in its first week of business, but Russ was very excited.
We had a very early reservation so we had a chance to see what the place really looked like without the bother of people. The blue and white theme is clean and there was no smell whatsoever. We opted to share a cup of the seafood and sausage gumbo, the the jon boat tower, of oysters, clams, crab, shrimp, mussels and ceviche. For a veg we opted for the Brussels sprouts and a Russ got fries with old bay, which I helped him with.
The service was attentive but not overbearing, the food was fabulous. The serving size of the sides were huge. I could have had the Brussels alone as a dinner. The seafood was great, but they didn’t do that much to it, which is the way it should be. The gumbo was very good, made with the darkest of roux.
I am giving the Saint James a hearty thumbs up, but Russ gets two thumbs up for being the best husband ever.

No Faking It

I am a “fake it ‘til you make it” person all day long. It started young with me. At four I lived on Crystal St. In New Canaan and all the kids going to South School walked up our street to get to school. I would often have a lemonade and cookie stand, selling what ever I could get my hands on. I was too young to know how to add, but that never stopped me from up selling every customer, “Are you sure you don’t want an Oreo with that lemonade?”
What I have found is that the older you get the less you need to fake it because skills you have learned are transferable to other things. Also, you just gain a wealth of knowledge from living that you don’t know you will ever use, until you do.
Today was a perfect example of both faking it and using a lifetime of gathered knowledge. In the work to be done getting my friends house ready to sell today I got to do many different tasks, most of them I had either seen done in 25 years of watching this old house or repurposing a skill I already had.
One example was the concrete work I got to do to fill cracks in outdoor steps. Warren mixed the quick create to my instructions making it the consistency of frosting. I used my cake decorating talents to fill the hole and smooth the surface. Building up a corner was not unlike making a Christmas ornament out of foam.
Refinishing a floor to bring out the beauty of old wood was the same as mopping a floor. A skill I wish I did not have to use so often. Painting trim was much easier than painting a picture. Of course the thing I did best while I was here was provide meals. The skill I use everyday.
I have spent the last few days being here to help my friends. Supporting Warren and Donna through the pain of losing their mother and getting her house ready to sell is not something I had to fake. Warren and I figured out we have been friends for forty years. There is nothing fake about that. I am glad I was able to use my lifetime of accumulated knowledge for the good of a friend who has never been fake to me.

Rejuvenate, the Theme for Today

After a fairly good night’s sleep on my little sofa with the cat comforter I awoke to day two of my mission trip to clean my old friend’s old house. My assignment today was to clean the kitchen. This was not just any cleaning. It was cleaning out the cabinets, determining what should be thrown, sold, packed to go home with Donna or Warren or left on the shelves to be used while the house is being lived in to get ready for sale. Then I had to scrub every surface and try and make it look new again. In other words rejuvenate the kitchen.
Here are some lessons learned: Murphy’s oil soap alone will not get the grime off wood cabinets. 3m Scotch Brite pads work better than paper towels or rags to clean kitchen cabinets along with warm water and Murphy’s. The hardest area to clean as well as the one that needs it the most is the place behind the door pull. A toothpick is the only way to get the gunk out of crevices.

After a good days work I almost finished the kitchen. There are still a few items that need to be sorted, but the room is cleaner, with the exception of the floor, than it has been in a year.
Warren spent his day in the room we cleaned out yesterday cleaning the wood floor so he can put a treatment on it tomorrow to bring back the luster of two hundred year old wood. By about five thirty I was sick of carrying out trash and recycling and wanted a break from my rubber gloves.
Warren and I had no trouble convincing Donna that we should go out to dinner. Warren thought we could run one small errand to buy Rejuvenate Floor refinisher on our way to dinner. I should have known better than to think that was an easy task. First we went to one local store called Klem’s. It was an interesting conglomeration of housewares, pet supplies, shoes, hunting and fishing gear and hardware. Sadly no Rejuvenate.
A good drive to find Home Depot. In the cleaning department they had Rejuvenate, but only the unwanted hi-gloss formula. We asked around for the satin finish and were told it was not in stock. Next came Walmart, none there. Back to Home Depot to get the second choice floor finisher, Bona, along with five other things we forgot to buy the first time we were there, like concrete repair, caulk and new liners for the burners on the stove. Then miraculously, in the flooring department and not the cleaning department the much sought after satin finish Rejuvenate appeared! Ahhhhhh, choirs of angels.  
By now it was eight at night and the little errand before dinner had taken two and a half hours. I was in need of rejuvenation. I pray this product makes the floors look like heaven, because we had to go through hell to get it.