Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tree Dreams Are Made Of These


I was standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes the night before Thanksgiving feeling completely drained after 6 hours of driving accompanied by a 7 hour whirlwind tour of Memphis that day. As Charlie stood by my side doing the drying he asks, "Can we take a walk through the property tomorrow morning? I found a Christmas tree I want to cut down and use this year and I want to make sure you like it." Well, that perked me right up.
Like it?
Of course I am going to like it! This is what my homesteading dreams are made of for Pete's sake! To have land that provides almost all of our needs was the main motivation behind undertaking this move in the first place. Never mind that I tend to be persnickety about how tall and full our Christmas tree is. I know I scrutinize and inspect potential trees for bare spots, girth, limb strength and the perfect shade of evergreen. I can't imagine anything more bucolic than cutting down our own Christmas tree on our own land. I will love this tree no matter what.
After coffee on Thanksgiving morning, I pulled on my Wellies and followed him down the hill behind the barn. There she stood in all her splendor; a gorgeous tree that I think might be juniper or something of the sort. Her limbs would never be able to support heavy ornaments so decorating would need to take a different spin but that didn't matter because we were cutting down our own tree on our own property. That trumps using the antique mercury glass kugels.


 Out of respect for the sanctity of the Thanksgiving holiday I never, ever start decorating for Christmas until the Sunday after. It is my solemn rule. One holiday should never impede on another ~ they all deserve their fair share of time and attention. So after church while my heart was feeling full, grateful and ready to focus on only the good our sweet little family of four traipsed down that hill to get our first official Christmas tree for our new home. I watched the boys cut it down as Christmas carols rang through my head and even sang some aloud as the boys dragged it back up that steep incline. Charlie and Ryan were even forced  willing to pose next to the tree for a perfectly bucolic Instagram shot. Oh, Christmas tree indeed.

I'm not sure where and when it started to go wrong or what the hell happened in that barn but someone got a little slap happy with the chainsaw and the next thing I knew I was presented with a tree that did not remotely resemble the tall, lush one I approved at the bottom of the hill. They knew it too because they didn't even try to argue or pretend that the little, stout, chopped up thing was acceptable. In fact, I was told not to worry that there was a back up tree down there we could use instead.

Take two.
Back down we went but this time the kids disappeared into the woods together which left Charlie to drag the tree all the way back up himself because I needed both hands to carry the chainsaw and take pictures. He was out of breath, exhausted and mildly annoyed by the time we made it back up but it was his own fault since he was so overzealous with the chainsaw. I stayed outside this time to oversee the trimming and before you could sing Jingle Bells we were bringing her inside to take center stage in the living room.
It wasn't even a full half hour later that I noticed something smelled funny. Every time I walked into the open space that is our kitchen, dining and living room it smelled like cat pee. I had purchased a new candle which was burning so it was hard to determine at first where the smell was coming from. We have cats but they are not allowed in the house. And how could a cinnamon clove candle smell like cat pee?
I blew it out but the pee smell was still there. I gathered the whole family to see if they smelled it too. I think Charlie thought I had just changed my mind and didn't like the tree anymore, Ryan agreed that it stunk and Liam refused to take sides. Charlie was angry and asked if I wanted the tree out of the house. I felt bad. He went to all that trouble to cut down the tree(s) and it was pretty but we all know that no one can live with a pee tree.
So out it went.
look carefully and you can spot the possible culprit in the grass ~ funny he should be hanging out down there

Not one to waste things, I grabbed the vintage apple picking basket I had purchased a month earlier and filled it with trimmed branches for the front door. A few years back Southern Living featured an apple picking basket filled with wheat on a front door instead of a wreath and I was bound and determined that someday I would find the perfect one for my front door. I was disappointed about the tree but my apple picking basket success made up for it. Focusing on only the good was working after all.


On Friday morning Charlie said he was just going to go pick up a tree at a lot while I was at work. After the entire tree debacle I knew I was not going to press my luck and micro manage the selection. Unfortunately, I forgot that he wasn't here last year when the kids and I went to the Christmas tree lot and bought the world's most expensive Christmas tree. I also forgot that my husband is the cheap frugal one in our relationship and that the thought of spending upwards of $100 on a tree would make him lose his mind. I get a text late in the afternoon that says "We are getting an artificial tree."
Long story short, I had him meet me at Lowe's on my way home from work where I quickly chose a tree without closely inspecting, examining or fussing over that only cost $39.98. Christmas saved.
Oh, and don't worry about the two trees that unnecessarily lost their lives. I trimmed more boughs for the top of my china cabinet/bar and even used some in this week's floral arrangement. In small doses, you can't smell pee.




Sunday, December 4, 2016

Giving Thanks


Well, I did it.
Despite a Hail Mary grocery shopping that involved only buying core ingredients I knew I could make some kind of Thanksgiving meal out of, we ended up having delicious food, a lovely day together and most importantly a pretty table.
As I was panicking prior to the big day people kept telling me to stop stressing about not having time, that just being with my family is the most important part. While I nodded my head or responded to texts with "I know, I know" and "Of Course it is :)" quietly inside I was screaming: "No shit Sherlock. I know this and agree wholeheartedly. But it's all the components of Thanksgiving; the planning, the cooking, the setting of the table: that is what I love so much about it! What the ?!@*" Argh!
If I had my way I would be baking the bread for the stuffing from scratch, making my own fried onions for the green bean casserole, baking a variety of desserts, not just the pumpkin pie recipe from the back of the can (which I actually altered slightly and the pie ended up being amazing). I think you get the idea. To not have time to do the things you enjoy unless you want to give up sleeping sucks. There's no other way to put it.


Last year I was fine with ordering the meal pre cooked due to our crazy living situation. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving, one that is a precious memory I will cherish always. But it was supposed to be one, repeat ONE wonky holiday season followed by a return to normalcy once we were settled in. Feeling so ill prepared and overwhelmed this year was not ok because it was not supposed to be that way.


I left church on the Sunday after Thanksgiving with a tugging in my heart that I need to do a better job of seeing all the good rather than focusing on all the negative.  There is so much good! So why do the little negative things always seem to overpower it?
When I sit and think about our whole journey here how can I not feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It wasn't easy, goodness knows it wasn't easy but everything has worked out to surpass my every expectation. We have everything we dreamed of having in a home and in the location. We thought it would be out of our reach to have it all. I have been blessed here with some of the sweetest friendships I have ever had in my life and when I step back and see how they have been so divinely orchestrated it actually takes my breath away.


The dreams I still have are starting to take form and I know with every fiber of my being that I will walk into the fulfilling life I began dreaming about finding all those years ago.
So this holiday season I am going to try my hardest to see the good through the ugly, the light through the darkness and remember all the amazing things I have already seen happen. It may be the only way I can survive December. ;)

"When I started counting my blessings my whole life turned around."
~Willie Nelson

Sunday, October 30, 2016

You So Fancy


As a child, my family headed down to Florida on bi~annual summer visits to see my paternal grandparents MeeMee and Tee. MeeMee was originally named Meemaw by my older cousins, but then I came along and could only say MeeMee and it stuck.  I have no idea how we started calling my grandfather Tee, unless it was somehow derived from his middle name which was Lee. Everyone on my dad's side had weird nicknames. My great grandmother Laura was called Moonie, my grandmother's identical twin sister Louise was Boo and Moonie's sister was known as Auntie John but her real name was Ruth. Tee used to call me Mabel and my sister Mildred. I loved being called Mabel because it was sweet and pretty. To this very day it drives my sister crazy that she was Mildred because it's just not as nice as Mabel. Weird names aside, my grandparents must have been able to only take so much of 4 rambunctious kids because visits were bi~annual and we would never stay at their house. They would always rent us a condo right on the beach somewhere in the Clearwater area. 
All day long we would bounce between the pool and the beach begrudgingly coming inside between 12-2 pm because our mother was terrified our pasty pale Irish/Scotch bodies would burn to a crisp under the hot Florida sun. Family legend had it that one of our cousins once stayed outside between 12-2 and paid the price with a very bad case of sun poisoning. After the danger of being scorched by the sun had passed, it was back to the pool where cannonballs and spitting water abounded or down to the beach where you could safely pee in the water without being discovered. In the late afternoon we were once again dragged back inside kicking and screaming while spit shined, dressed up and loaded into the wood paneled station wagon for dinner over at MeeMee and Tee's. Dinner would be an hours long affair that began with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Every single night. 
My very petite grandmother who spent her days in slim, tailored ankle pants, cardigan twin sets and loafers would have slipped into something more dressy like a perfectly Floridian flowy caftan. She served Old Fashioneds and Tom Collins in her fancy crystal while my parents tried in vain to keep us from devouring an entire platter of pigs in a blanket. A few cocktails in they stopped counting how many hot dogs we had eaten and would usually share the booze soaked fruit leftover from their drinks. If not, there would always be an abandoned glass somewhere in which you could scavenge a slice or two of whiskey soaked orange and some maraschino cherries. That friends, is why my brother Tom and I both call the Old Fashioned our favorite drink. Those delicious memories run deep.
When dinner was finally served it was at the dining room table under the watchful eye of Grandfather Taylor whose portrait hung over the giant mahogany buffet. We never misbehaved at that table because no matter where you were sitting in the room he was watching you. He had been a Methodist minister in East Tennessee and I don't think anyone ever gave him a nickname simply because he was terrifying. We would never go into that dining room alone and God forbid you had to and the lights were out. Holy shit. You just knew that he would climb out of that painting and get you. Ironically, he now presides over my dining room table and I've become quite fond of the old fella. Oddly enough, he doesn't watch me anymore. Maybe because he's happy I brought him back to Tennessee after all these years.


My mother's family was the exact same way, minus the strange nicknames. I grew up firmly rooted in the notion that you always ate at the dining room table on the fancy china and if there was company, booze must flow first and little hot dogs rolled up tight in some lightly browned and slightly puffed breading should always be served. It wasn't because we were raised by amazingly talented chefs who entertained to show off their cooking prowess. The food was always good but not Michelin starred meals. This was just how they lived. Elevating the everyday into something just a little more special even if it was just with the people you love most.
I am fortunate that aside from all the ancestral oil paintings, I also inherited the entertaining gene. I'm no professional chef, but enjoy nothing more than feeding people I love at a beautifully set table. After over 20 years of doing it myself, I've found that there is no need for fancy crystal, floor length tablecloths or mini hot dogs. Just plenty of booze and a watchful ancestor will do. Although the hot dogs are always a nice touch.


Our deck is hand down the best spot for all of my entertaining aspirations. I did not find outdoor furniture I loved this summer and while sad at first that it cramped my style, it was actually serendipitous because we discovered that many of the boards on the deck were not cut long enough to safely support weight. Charlie discovered this standing in front of the smoker in the front left corner. Horrifying. Imagine if I had loaded a table, chairs, bar and the outdoor sectional I dream about on there? I shudder to think. By the end of September the boys had replaced all the offending boards and even added the posts and lighting I asked for. Now Charlie and I enjoy the deck most evenings sitting under the lights on our fold up camp chairs. Hey, if those camp chairs were good enough to serve as living room furniture in the apartment then they are good enough to serve as deck furniture too. For now at least.


Now that cooler weather is finally upon us I decided that I cannot wait for proper outdoor furniture or a freshly painted deck and posts to entertain outside. Life's too short. We invited some good friends over to share a meal and reminded them to bring their own camp chairs.
I lugged a fold up banquet table out of the barn and threw a huge piece of striped fabric and a denim remnant over the top just like I did for the pop up market. I not only grabbed mix matched vintage glasses, flatware and napkins but even dining chairs too. We served Joan's fabulous pot roast, mashed potatoes and fresh green beans from the farmer's market followed by an amazing apple pie that really deserves it's own post.
There was an epic game of Catchphrase with the kids outside as the sun set and I'm glad that we didn't worry about the level of fancy ~ we seized the moment and just did life.








Saturday, October 29, 2016

Life Goals


Every night I set my alarm clock for 4am with the intention of rising early in order to have some me  time before the crazy of the day begins. If I'm up at 4, I have enough time to sip my coffee, relax a bit in front of the computer, exercise and maybe even blow out my hair because sometimes I like to look presentable when I go to work.
I am a visual person so as I doze off I mentally walk through what the next morning will look like; from boiling the water for the coffee to the healthy lunch I will pack myself to the six pack abs I will have as a result of all that hard earned exercise. I think of ways I can be good to others and how I can leave the world just a little bit better off than it was the day before because I always like to do my part. I eventually drift off into dreamland happy, confident and proud of how ambitious and on point I am.
The reality is that every single morning I hit snooze until 6:30/ quarter to 7. When I am finally able to drag myself out of bed I am super stiff and achy because two dogs lay by my feet limiting my movement for a solid 8 hours. I let them out, hobble into the kitchen to put the kettle on and head downstairs to feed Frankie. By then the kettle is usually boiling and as I pour the water over the coffee grounds I will sometimes remember a forgotten load of wash that now smells like mildew so I have to rerun it on the sanitize option in order to get the stink out. You know it's bad when your family inquires if their clothes smell when you come carrying a freshly folded pile of laundry into their rooms.
By the time the carafe is filled it's light enough to let the chickens out so I throw on wellies and head out to the barn and the coop. The ladies come dashing out and wildly prance around getting their morning exercise while I am out of breathe with legs that feel like jelly just walking back up the hill to the house. So much for that six pack. I maybe have 15 minutes to sit and suck down my coffee before jumping in the shower and getting dressed. My super curly unbrushed hair that I have been shoving into a bun everyday has dreadlocked itself which means I will have to spend extra time trying brush them out someday soon or maybe I say the hell with it and just start wearing my nose ring again and going with my own brand of a 40 something punk/ alternative look? Decisions, decisions.
Breakfast tends to be a pack of animal crackers or fruit snacks eaten in the car on a generally long drive to wherever I am working that day. After a "healthy" breakfast like that it only makes sense to eat some kind of fast food for lunch so there's that. If I'm lucky sometimes I make it home before the sun sets, figure out if we will follow through with our meal plan for the night or just have what we have dubbed a "fend for yourself" night  (because thanks to all the highly nutritious stuff I consumed during the day I am sometimes not even hungry). I maybe have about 2 hours to hang out with the family before bed time and setting that alarm for 4am because tomorrow will surely, surely be different, right?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result isn't it? Just checking.....
My follow through to these best laid plans may be pathetic but a few Sundays ago as we drove to church I decided out of the blue that I was going to treat them all to kick ass grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch when we got home. No one got their hopes up thanks to my recent track record of follow through. This mildly annoyed me because I am an ambitious woman who can do anything she puts her mind to. I would show them. A few hours later I fried bacon, sliced tomatoes, saved a gorgeous loaf of artisan baked bread from molding and took great care to layer an extra slice of cheese on each sandwich (because melted cheese of course) when I realized that I may not cross things off on my to do list, be on top of everything I want to be on point with or to even be the upstanding social citizen I wish I was (sometimes recycling is annoying and I don't let people pull out in front of me when driving because they might be too slow), but dammit: when push comes to shove I can make one hell of a grilled cheese sandwich when I want to.
That my friends, is success. I'll take it where I can get it.
(Just turn your eyes from the dirty dishes that are probably still in the sink)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Neighborly


Our little farm is nestled at the end of a dead end road that is probably about a mile long and densely wooded. There's a good possibility that there are more deer living on our street than humans but since neither are often visible I'm really just guessing. Three other houses sit down at the end of the road and I believe there might be two others hidden deep into the woods at the end of long, winding dirt driveways. I assume a dirt driveway must lead to something or another but who really knows? I'm certainly not brave enough to find out.
We haven't officially met any of the other people who live on the street unless you count the couple about 1/4 mile up with the crazy loose dogs that jump out in the road and chase your car as you drive by. There's about 4 or 5 of them with a large snarling boxer as their ringleader. The woman just helplessly throws her arms in the air if she happens to be outside when the boxer leaps out in front of you. Meanwhile, you hardly notice her because you've just had a mini heart attack that has dislodged your heart and pushed it up into your throat. As you are choking on it you pray your car comes to a screeching halt so you don't hit the son of a bitch. This dog is lucky that it would be socially awkward to hit him right in front of his owner because he is such a menace that it has actually become tempting. A man who must live with the woman and said dog has actually given us permission to "just run him over" but we don't because he only yells it if he happens to be standing in the road when one of these incidents occurs. We realize he is probably just frustrated and embarrassed that the menace refuses to listen when called. And as tempting as it might be in that moment to lay the pedal to the metal, as fellow dog owners we couldn't imagine living with ourselves if we hurt one of them even though I've sometimes wondered if the world wouldn't be a better place without that boxer and his gnashing teeth and nasty growl. 
Naturally, these run ins don't count as "meeting" the neighbors and the people whose homes are in closer proximity to ours just mind their own business. In the first few weeks we would wave if we happened to be out front as someone drove by but our house is set off the road a bit and you can't really see well enough to know if they waved back. After a while we just stopped because it felt stupid. It doesn't bother us that no one has stopped over and I wouldn't say these people are unfriendly. Fact is, our driveway is gated and the gate is always closed. Not because we are unfriendly, but because we have three dogs and four free range hens and prefer to keep them from wreaking havoc upon the neighborhood. We feel it is the neighborly thing to do. Besides, let's give these people the benefit of the doubt: how would you feel if a Subaru Outback with New Jersey license plates came rolling down your bucolic Tennessee backroad? There goes the neighborhood indeed.
Truth be told, I was embarrassed about the Jersey plates myself because I didn't want these people to think badly of us. Jersey people have a bad rap and sometimes rightly so. Since I was born, raised and spent the first 40 years of my life living there I have no shame in saying that. People are different out here. It's a kinder, gentler place. Except in the isolated case of a loose, roaming boxer. I know when I see New Jersey plates driving around Nashville I gasp a little and say a quick prayer that if they're moving here it's because they love and appreciate this place like we do. I don't want anything about it to change and I will singlehandedly build a wall around Tennessee if I need to in order to keep that from happening. I hope you know I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. 


A few weeks back a small black pickup truck came languidly rolling down the street. There were two pit bulls hanging out in the back and an elderly gentleman up front who had a longish grey ponytail hanging from the backside of his baseball cap. He stopped at our house, got out and introduced himself to Charlie who just so happened to be outside. He shared how he and his wife live right at the end of the road in the exact spot where our street forks off sharply to the left. It's a tidy house nestled in a grassy knoll with a front porch and picket fence both painted a white that has seen brighter days. They have numerous outbuildings and a gazebo with a swing. We knew exactly what house he was talking about. Their place exudes a coziness that had caught our eye many times.

We were driving back from running errands in town a few days later when we spotted the two of them sitting on the front porch. It seemed like the perfect time to stop. They introduced themselves and somewhere in the introductions felt need to make mention that they are "just simple country folk". Maybe the black caftan I was wearing over my skinny jeans or the stack of bracelets on my arm looked fancy to them. I'm not sure. I may finally live in the country here in Tennessee but I still feel the need to accessorize most days. I did silently thank the Lord however that I didn't wear the navy maxi dress with the long caftan sleeves that looks like I should be serving drinks poolside in Palm Springs. That would have been a bit much. But fancy or not, it was without hesitation that they invited us right inside their humble abode because people here don't look at you funny with one eyebrow raised assuming you have an ulterior motive for being there. People out here still drop by unannounced to see how you're doing and invite you in to sit for a spell. Back home I wouldn't even do that to my parents or siblings. Back East you just don't.


We spent a good hour that afternoon chatting with them. Turns out they've lived right here in this pristine hamlet all seventy of their some odd years. They are as passionate about the state of Tennessee as they are this neck of the woods and they don't have to explain on either account for me to understand why. They have a cabin on 10 acres about an hour from here that they like to escape to because I guess that even when you live in a small village with just over 600 residents you must still feel the need to get away sometimes. I get it. Their kids are grown with families of their own so it's just the two of them in that sweet little house filled with over 40 years of memories and collected mementos. When they heard that this was our first summer without vegetable gardens the wife disappeared through the back door and returned with her arms full of tomatoes and cucumbers. I sent Charlie back down with a dozen eggs from our hens later that day. It seemed like the best way to reciprocate.
We've been back to visit with them again. Turns out the wife and I share a love of books and cooking. She's welcomed me into her kitchen where she's shared her well worn cookbooks and handwritten recipe journal with me. My heart skipped a beat looking through pages and pages of gracefully scripted dishes. We were standing over her recipe for Chess Pie when I told her I had never had it before. Like Southern hospitality, it doesn't really exist where I'm from.  I couldn't tell if her reaction was of pure shock or pity that I have been deprived of something like Chess Pie. She immediately went to the sideboard and lifted the dome from a pretty glass cake stand.
"I have one slice left of a Chess Pie I made." she said and then she looked slightly embarrassed. "Of course, it's a few days old now and I don't make my own crust anymore, but you really need to have some."
She grabbed a fork from a nearby drawer, carried the pie tin over to where I was standing, cut a generous chunk from that remaining slice and literally fed it to me. Like, actually spooned it into my mouth. I chewed slowly. It had a custard like consistency mixed with a crisp, sugary bite. It was not too overwhelmingly sweet and reminded me of brule but with a pie crust which in my opinion made it even better. For me, sometimes something very moist needs something dry to balance it. It was a delicious combination and she was thrilled I thought so.
Before we left she insisted that I borrow one of her cookbooks so I picked one she had mentioned was a favorite. It's nothing fancy or specifically Southern, just a soft cover spiral bound cookbook where she has lovingly drawn green hearts around certain recipes that must have proved their worth at her table. I thought of the hundreds of hard cover cookbooks I have at home with their lush photography, inspiring covers and was a little uncomfortable at how extravagant they would seem to someone who confessed she buys all her books at Goodwill. She doesn't turn her nose up at soft covers the way I do or choose cookbooks based on whether or not the images are so striking that they make her gasp for air or if the recipes use only the finest seasonal ingredients. She's looking for the tried and true ~ simple meals that not only fill the belly but end up filling the soul with comfort and a peace that all the aspirational visual imagery in the world cannot provide. Best part is, she doesn't even realize it.
Once upon a time I used to dream of spending a week or two taking cooking classes in the heart of Tuscany or Provence. Now I think I would sell my soul for a week spent by her side in that modest kitchen hearing the stories of our little village, growing up in the South and learning how to make proper biscuits and other classic Southern fare. And let's not forget that amazing Chess Pie.

Oh, and by the way they told us they don't often drive down our street. For one it's a dead end and for another there's those damn dogs. 

She also loaned me this amazing book about the history of our village. There aren't words to describe how awesome this is and how hard it will be to give it back.





Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Mix


Dinner party with friends:
Old classic Wedgwood dinner plates
Vintage mix match flatware
Chambray napkins from West Elm
Rattan chargers 
Vintage mix match glassware
Oversize scarf from American Eagle as a table throw

My infatuation with pink has held steady all summer long and shows no signs of letting up. With deep emerald green accents it may take me all through fall and winter too....

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Playing Tourist in our City













 When my brother, sister in law and mom came into town to visit earlier this month it gave us the perfect excuse to play tourist right here in our own city and all I can say is who knew Downtown on Broadway was so crazy? My daughter said and I quote, "This place is crazier than New York City." She may be right. While it was a blast exploring it all for the first time together my heart definitely lies outside the city limits in that rolling green countryside I am so fortunate to call home.