We bought a home two and a half years ago, and I knew at the time that we needed to change some of the plantings at the front of the house. The previous owner planted holly bushes in a two-foot strip between the sidewalk to the front door and the garage. There are three major problems. One is that the area is in deep shade, no direct sunshine at all. And the second is that holly is prickly, and our guests could be scratched as they walk up the sidewalk. The third is that holly should be much too large for the area where these have been planted. The space requires a much smaller planting. I need to move two or three of the six plants to the back gardens, and give away the rest.

On the other side of the sidewalk there is a shrub rose and two plants which might be red-twigged dogwood. All three of those plants need to be moved, so that they get the sunlight they need, and the area leading up to the front door is open and inviting. I’ll have to research shade plants that will work in those two areas. Hosta and coral bells would work, but I’d like to look a little further.

We also have a bank of shrubs touching the front face of the house. There is a mass of overgrown juniper, a beautiful barberry, and a yew. The specialists at the Growing Place tell me we need to rip out the juniper because it is so overgrown. It would be okay to replant juniper there, but the present plants can’t be pruned back to a reasonable size. The yew brings in a green that doesn’t go with anything else that has been planted. I won’t mind ripping that out. I could bring in grasses behind the barberry, to contrast the form and color.

As soon as I learn how to upload a picture, this will make more sense. I have the perfect view of the house to share.

Winter’s End

We have had an astonishing Winter. We went 87 days with snowfalls of an inch or less. Actually, I bet there were about 85 days with NO SNOWFAll! I can’t remember a Winter like this; it’s a first. Temperatures were unusually mild. It felt like Spring a month ago. We were out on the lawn measuring everything that didn’t move, preparing for a landscaping class. Our neighbors were out working on their lawns, using leaf blowers to clean the sidewalks and drives.

Of course, now that we are in our last week of Winter, temperatures have plummeted, and storms are on the way. We had a couple of inches last night, and they are forecasting 6-9″ in the Chicago area, tonight and tomorrow. Cook and Lake counties, which border Lake Michigan, and DuPage county, are likely to have lake effect snow, which will bring them nine inches. We’re in Algonquin at the moment, and the northern suburbs may have six inches, perhaps a little less to the south.

I can deal with this. What worries me is that Winter could possibly come when we should be seeing Spring. I’ve lived through a blizzard that shut down Chicago in May. I’d rather not see that again. Everyone, think positive: NO MORE WINTER!!

Battle of the minds

We have a battle going on at my house. My husband seems to be thinking of ways to outsmart the neighborhood squirrels. I suspect that this is going to be fun to watch, because the squirrels have been hit and run experts for many years, and are not intimidated by the opening of the back door.

My sister gave us birdseed bells, suet, and a suet hanger for Christmas. I thought it was a splendid gift. I still do, actually, and so do the squirrels. I was concerned about the squirrels carrying the bell off, so we were careful about strapping it to the tree. I thought it might last part of a week, so that the birds might have a chance at it. It was gone in less than a day!

I could hear the gears turning in my husband’s brain as he thought about this problem. I came into the kitchen the next morning to find one of my pastry brushes sitting in the sink, with ORANGE bristles!
Sitting to the side of the sink was the other birdseed bell, with orange blobs and streaks over the surface. I don’t know exactly what he had painted on the bell, but I suspect it was something that would sear a squirrel’s mouth. I wondered if we were going to have to set a bowl of milk out on the patio to provide relief.

So, yesterday morning, after the surface had dried a bit, Dear Husband hung the second bell in the tree outside the kitchen window. There was a testing of the bounty, and then a pause for a couple of hours to regroup, while just the birds had a chance at it. Then, one of the squirrels came back to try eating from the bottom up. How did that sneaky little devil figure out that the bottom side of the bell was safe? DH says he should have hung the bell and THEN painted it!

While all this was going on, the squirrels had been ignoring the suet feeder, for the most part. When they couldn’t eat the bell, they changed their focus to the suet feeder. It’s two-sided, so it can hold two of the suet cakes at a time. I looked over later in the morning to see that both doors hung ajar and there was no suet to be seen!

Okay, so now Dear Husband is thinking about ways to lock the suet holder shut that will allow us to refill the boxes, but keep the squirrels out. And, he’s thinking about ways to paint the birdseed bells more successfully. AND, he realizes that he has to hang these things farther out on the branches so that the squirrels can’t reach them.

This situation is very different from our previous home where baffles and placement of poles was all that was called for. Someone has been training these squirrels, and it’s going to take some planning to outwit them. Scary thought isn’t it?

Middle of the Night Post

It’s the middle of the night and my feet are keeping me awake, so I’m going to post just a few quick thoughts.

My Thanksgiving post was the last time I saw my nephew, Andy. I’m SO glad that we participated, and that I had the chance to be with him before he passed away! It’s a Thanksgiving that will stay in my memory.

I was able to read what I shared with you at Andy’s funeral. Every friend he had ever made attended, and friends of all his family members came, too. He was a special man, and I’m glad his friends made the time to say goodbye.

Cookies. I think I had ten types of cookies by the time I quit baking. I wish I could say the Kolacke turned out well, but some of them didn’t stay folded over. They tasted good, but should have been rolled out thinner. IF there is ever another baking season like this, I’ll make my mother’s recipe for Kolacke, instead. Her’s were the little pillows of enriched dough, with indentations for raspberry or apricot jam, sprinkled with 10X sugar. I remember them fondly, and would like to give them a try.

Dear Husband is now official! His glider pilot license came in the mail last week. His thoughts are turning toward gliding, despite the fact that we are in the middle of winter. He wants to make a trip to Florida to look at a plane that is for sale.

My “Christmas” cacti are in riotous bloom! I have two large plants in the front window that are a hot orange color, with scads of blooms in all stages, and there are two pots of starts in my bathroom window that have the lovely fuchsia color. When they finish blooming, some time in early spring, I’m going to repot them, but I can wait until the blooms are done for the year.

I organized a dinner at a Chinese restaurant for anyone in our exercise group who wished to attend. I thought perhaps 25 people would participate, and was pleased when 22 showed up. I looked out the window around 3:30 in the afternoon to see that it was SNOWING!! It has been dry and cold for days, and we were supposed to get rain later in the evening. Since a large part of our class is in their seventies or eighties, I was surprised that anyone attended at all! It will be interesting to hear what they have to say about the evening when we return to class.

Enough. Perhaps it’s time to see if I can sleep. Night, all!

Christmas Giving

I’ve probably posted on this subject every year for the past ten years. I feel like the Grinch! I really don’t like to shop, and rarely know what to give my family, yet I need to make the effort.

My oldest sister gave me a book I can’t wait to read. My younger sister, who knows that we love to watch our backyard birds, gave us a suet holder and suet, and birdseed bells. Both of these are perfect gifts, something I really enjoy. Now, why couldn’t I remember that they love these things, too?

I told someone recently that I thought we should either have a specific limit as to how much we could spend on a gift, or, perhaps we should try having a year where we only gave things we made. I’ve been operating along a mix of those two ideas for a while, and both of them have pros and cons. It takes a lot of time to make things for my entire family, and not everyone wants something I can make. There are times when the perfect gift falls outside the cash limit that has been set. I need more ideas. I want to give more than a card, but not be bankrupt at the end of the holidays.

And, time is always an issue. I may have to start working on Christmas in September to accomplish everything. It takes a LOT longer these days to get it all done.

I feel very Grinch-y right now. It’s a good thing Christmas is past.

I Love Winter

I love winter when the sidewalks have been shoveled and the pavement is dry. I love winter when the roads are plowed and there is no slipping or skidding of cars on the road. I love winter when I can stand inside my cozy home and look out on the new-fallen, glittery white snow. I love winter when the temperature is between 30 and 40. I love winter when there is little wind, and very little wind chill.

I really do like winter, but as I age, the danger of slipping as I walk is a much more serious matter than it used to be. I don’t drive in snow storms unless I have no option. I don’t own clothing appropriate for temperatures below 20, or for snows higher than about six inches, and I don’t really want to!

Now that we live in a subdivision with sidewalks, we have to shovel, but the driveway is quite short, and the sidewalk length is manageable if we double team it. Still, I need to find someone to do our shoveling. Dear Husband shouldn’t be lifting heavy, wet snow, and I really don’t care to do the entire job on my own.

On the bright side, winter gives me a chance to piece quilts! I can hibernate in the basement, and sew to my heart’s content. Some days I barely make it upstairs in time for meals, and it’s a darned good thing that my hubby knows how to cook!

When spring arrives, perhaps the neighbors will see me once more.

Christmas Cookies

I’ve been baking, and I expect to bake all this week. I started with Turtle Pecan Shortbread. The picture looked wonderful, and the shortbread, which had almond extract, smelled heavenly! But, the caramel was a problem. You’re supposed to melt 24 caramels, and then dip two sides of the pie-shaped cookies in the caramel, and then in chopped pecans. The caramel is so hard and chewy you could break your teeth on it!

I have about 18 shortbread left that didn’t get to meet the caramel. I’m going to use chocolate to glue half a pecan on the center of each, and then drizzle them with chocolate. I’m thinking about dredging one edge in the melted chocolate and then in pecans, but I may opt for the easier version.

On the more successful side, I’ve baked Russian Tea Cakes (the little confectioner sugar snowballs), Peanut Butter Blossoms (which aren’t really a Christmas cookie, but are something my family likes at Christmas) and Thumbprints. I’ve frozen the Thumbprints, to be filled with jelly and/or icing later this week. I followed the directions, but they still turned out to be a two-bite cookie. I’ll have to talk with my youngest sis to see how she does them, because hers are one-bite.

I’ve also made fudge with semi-sweet chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and walnuts. And, I’ve made Haystacks with milk chocolate. I’m thinking about one more run of fudge, with milk chocolate.

I’m working on Kolache, the kind which are made from LOTS of butter, cream cheese and flour. I plan to use raspberry and apricot fillings, and I’m going to create and fill the cookies and then freeze them. They can be baked Christmas Eve morning.

I also plan to make “Fanciful Raspberry Ribbons,” and Sugar Crisp. (LOTS of Sugar Crisp.) That should be more than enough to create gift trays and have plenty for our house, too. I hope I manage to get them all done, and artfully arranged on the trays by Christmas Eve!

Andy

My nephew, John Andrew McGrath has passed away at 57. He had been ill for some time, and in great pain, and I believe his body was just worn out from the fight of dealing with it.

Andy will be cremated, and in a week there will be a visitation and funeral. If I can, and I’m not sure my tears will let me, I’d like to say this to those gathered:

HE’S AT PEACE. HE’S NO LONGER IN PAIN.

HE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT, AND GOD SAID, “IT’S TIME. COME HOME.”

WE MAY WANT TO QUIBBLE WITH GOD ABOUT WHO NEEDS HIM MORE, BUT I THINK GOD WOULD UNDERSTAND THAT WE MISS ANDY, SORELY. BUT ANDY IS FREE OF PAIN. HOW COULD WE BEGRUDGE HIM THE SURCEASE?

I HAVE MEMORIES OF ANDY, SOME OF THEM SHARED WITH ME BY OTHERS…

OF OUR SOCIAL ANDY RUNNING DOWN ROUTE 59 IN PLAINFIELD IN A SAGGY DIAPER, HAVING ESCAPED FROM THE BACK YARD OF THE HOUSE ON BARTLETT.

OR OF HIS HALLOWEEN COSTUMES.

DID I HEAR THAT HE DRESSED AS THE EASTER BUNNY???

BUT, THE MEMORY THAT I WILL ALWAYS TREASURE IS OF HAVING WATCHED ANDY DANCE IN HIS EARLY TWENTIES.

ANDY HEARD THE BEAT. HE HEARD THE RYTHMN, THE HARMONIES, THE FORWARD MOTION CREATED BY THE COMPOSER, AND THE LYRICS.

HE HEARD IT ALL, AND HE TRANSLATED IT INTO JOYOUS MOVEMENT. I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYONE ELSE MOVE AS ANDY DID, AND I CHOOSE TO REMEMBER THAT HAPPY MOMENT.

JOHN ANDREW MCGRATH, YOU FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT.
I WILL MISS YOU AND KEEP YOU IN MY HEART,

FOREVER.

Generations and Holidays

My siblings are widely spread apart in years. There’s nineteen years between my oldest and youngest sisters. My two older sisters have four generations on their family trees, while my youngest sister and I are grandmothers of fairly young children.

I tell you this because I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving, and how it has changed over the years. When we were young, even when we were newlyweds, we all gravitated home to share Thanksgiving with Mom and Dad. Those who married into our family occasionally complained that we were a tight-knit bunch and that we always wanted to be together. It meant that spouses celebrated with us when they might have occasionally wanted to celebrate with their families.

We have done the same Thanksgiving dinner for years, even when Dad arranged for us all to dine out together one year. Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Dressing and Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole, Broccoli Rice Casserole, Vernice Kastman rolls, and Mother’s pumpkin pie. My oldest sister makes a cranberry sauce, too.

This meal has altered a bit over time, with interesting veggies being added as one branch of the family veered toward a cruciferous diet, and another needed to go gluten-free, but the basic meal is still there. I personally am very happy that someone introduced pretzel salad to the mix! My preferred version is raspberry but one of my nieces made two of them last year, so that her stepfather could have strawberry pretzel salad.

Unfortunately, we’ve discovered that as you add generations to a family, it’s really difficult to keep drawing them all to one dining room. Now that both Dad and Mom have passed away, we have splintered into smaller groups. Distance and other family celebrations pull our younger ones away. I wonder if we will see a time when just the five of us, and our spouses meet for Thanksgiving, while the kids go off and do their own thing.

I truly loved hosting the family during the time when Mom lived with us. We set up three large tables, and occasionally a couple of smaller ones, and I chose to sit at the kid’s table, so I could see how they had grown over the year, and hear a new crop of jokes. We have some fierce competitors among the younger ones. If you got suckered into any of the games played after dinner, you learned early on that they took no prisoners!

I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving with my oldest sister’s side of the family. Dear Husband and I will take a Caesar salad, corn for the young kids, and Vernice Kastman rolls. It will be fun to catch up with her family and hear how things have changed this year.

To my friends, and the rest of my family, we hope that you have a wonderful day filled with loved ones and great meals. May we all reflect on just how fortunate we all are, and give Thanks.

He Did it!

Dear Husband has passed all three parts of the test to become a licensed glider pilot! YEAAAAA! He brought it down to the wire, but was able to squeeze in the flight test before they took apart the last glider for the winter. It’s a testament to the fact that he has built friendships, that they were willing to hold off so that he could finish his licensing.

This test makes him a pilot for life, but the glider association will require that he pass a test every two years to reassure them that he is still qualified to fly their planes.

Now that he is licensed, he is also eligible to be a board member. I don’t know if he embraces that option, or if he would like to avoid it. We’ve had more than enough politics in the past two years. I probably won’t hear anything more about METARS, NOTAMS, DUATS, or the PAVE model until he needs to review for the next test.

Congratulations, Sweetie! You Did It!