The Best Part of Summer…

S7305426

… is planting flowers and watching them grow. I got a late start this year, but this is how my yard is shaping up so far.

Flowers July 3 2017S7305419S7305468S7305465-001Collages12S7305430

My yard is so shady that to get much color in it, I rely on annuals. Maybe I should rethink that, though, as the flowers that seem to do best are my perennial daylilies and rose campions, both of which bloom profusely and require little care. Plus they more or less reflect the wild, blowsy nature of my yard which, despite the fact that it isn’t as well-manicured as I’d like it to be, is still much loved. I’m in heaven when I’m outside lying on the lawn reading a book or just watching the birds. It’s the best part of summer for me — what is yours?

 

Do You Love the Place Where You Live?

S7305184Do you love the place where you live? Its backyards and alleys, its houses and people?

Collages6Do you love its weather (physical, political, and otherwise)? Is it a place where spirits soar?

State College walk around March 23 2017-001Can you identify its colors, its faults, its charms?

State College walk around March 23 20171Does it accommodate art and embrace differences? Does it know where the wild things are and save a space for them too?

Collages4  Is there an evident pattern of pride that gives you a boost . . .

State College walk around March 23 20173s7305126.jpg. . . . rather than making you feel buttoned down?

State College walk around March 23 20172Do you love the place where you live?

State College walk around March 23 20174 Is it a place that is welcoming to strangers, yet where you can imagine your chickens coming home to roost?

 

These pictures were snapped a couple days ago, when I was walking around one of the neighborhoods of my hometown — the town of State College, Pennsylvania. My husband and I live about a ten minute drive away on its rural outskirts, but this neighborhood is quite special to us. When first dating, back in the ’90s, we walked these sidewalks for hours every night, talking and getting to know one another. I’ve lived here most of my life, with the exception of six years after college, so perhaps it’s natural that there came a time when I wanted to move away from this area and make my home in a sunnier part of the United States (the desert southwest was calling to me).

Lately, though,  I’m having a “second-honeymoon” feeling about the place where I live. State College has small-town charm and, at the same time, a population that is culturally diverse, thanks to the local university and, in particular, its graduate-student program, which draws many international students into our fold. For almost its entire existence, State College has revolved around welcoming newcomers — because of Penn State University, that is its business — and this welcoming nature makes for a town that is lively and friendly. To wit: while taking my stroll on Thursday, I looked up and saw a young man flying in graceful, arcing circles above the yard of his house. He was doing arabesques and changing positions as he went round and round, many feet off the ground. “Can I take your photo?” I called to him over the wrought iron fence of his yard. “Sure, come in,” he said, and in the space of ten minutes I learned a little of his history. (His name is Dimitry, he studied circus arts and, for a while, lived and performed in New York City before moving back to State College, which is where he grew up too. The long-poled contraption that suspended him as he flew in elegant circles above his yard was a gift he recently bought himself for his 26th birthday.)

“Are you happy to be back here?” I asked him as I was leaving, silently wondering if someone who has lived in the Big Apple would find State College to be more than a little too small. “I am!” he said without hesitation. “I love it here.”

swirl clipart

 

 

Want.

pottery-bunny

burlap-bunny-ear-napkin-ring-set-of-4-c

Source: Pottery Barn

There are so many cute bunny plates that I see in the Pottery Barn and Pier One catalogs. If I had room for more dishware I’d buy some, but I don’t, so I just enjoy looking at them.

lilly-the-bunny-plate-from-pier-one

Source: Pier One

Here are some of my favorites (not necessarily from this year’s catalogs … I got caught up browsing for bunny items, and these were the ones that stole my heart!)

bunny-plates

Source: Williams Sonoma

 

Around the Neighborhood

the-neighborhood1

I can see how I could write a bold account of myself as a passionate man who rose from humble beginnings to cut a wide swath in the world, whose crimes along the way might be written off to extravagance and love and art, and could even almost believe some of it myself on certain days after the sun went down if I’d had a snort or two and was in Los Angeles and it was February and I was twenty-four, but I find a truer account in the Herald-Star, where it says: “Mr. Gary Keillor visited at the home of Al and Florence Crandall on Monday and after lunch returned to St. Paul, where he is currently employed in the radio show business… Lunch was fried chicken with gravy and creamed peas”.

― Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

collages3

I was thinking today about all the years I spent fervently wishing that someday I would move to Arizona, live under the hot desert sun and those blistering blue skies, and never have to pass another cold, dull, gray winter in Pennsylvania. I’d spent three vacations in Arizona and loved it each and every time I went, even when the temperature was 105 degrees in early May. But in the past year or so, I’ve had a change of heart — one that is pretty much a reversal of what I felt before. I feel so lucky now to live in a neighborhood that has lots of open space — there is a horse farm tucked into our development, and a wide park that borders it, too — as well as neighbors who are kind and who watch out for each other. There is no heavy traffic to deal with, there is not a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality here, and yet we are only fifteen minutes away from our cute college town, with its buzz of students and activities that come courtesy of a thriving university environment.

And when I walked around my neighborhood today, snapping these photos of my neighbor’s muddy horses, the bare trees in the park, the mostly abandoned farmhouse up the road with the beautifully weathered wooden door, there wasn’t a break in the clouds at all, but I didn’t mind. When the sun comes out again, I’ll be happy — and I probably will want to visit Arizona or New Mexico again at some point, because my wanderlust hasn’t vanished. It’s just that I finally looked around and realized that I could love the place where I am now for a very long time, and that’s a great feeling.

s7305012-001

Refreshing, Versatile, Simple: My Recipe for Salad Dressing

20170119_151812

Big green salads are a staple part of my dinner routine year round, and whether I’m making one for only my husband and me or for a number of guests, you won’t find me putting out bottled dressings for people to choose from. In the European style, I dress the salad before I serve it, and I always use this same dressing, which keeps my salad greens tasting flavorful yet really light (never overpowering, never gloppy). My family loves this dressing, and friends have often asked me for the recipe. It’s so easy — there are only four ingredients, and chances are you already have them on your shelf. So, without further ado, here’s how I make it!

20170119_145341

(1) Pour 2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil into a small bowl …

 

20170119_145648

(2) Add 2 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar to oil …

 

20170119_145932

(3) Add 1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce …

 

20170119_150402

(4) Add 1 Tablespoon of Honey …

 

20170119_150643

(5) Give it a stir and a taste test using the tines of a fork (that is a good way to taste dressings, as it delivers just the right amount to your palate). If you want the dressing to be brighter, add slightly more apple cider vinegar. If you want it more savory, add a little bit more soy, etc. When satisfied, whisk dressing and immediately pour onto greens. This is enough dressing for a very large salad (a salad bigger than the one I have pictured above). If your salads are smaller, use what you need and refrigerate the rest.

 

20170119_150752

This photo shows the color of the dressing and how it is always rather separated (the oil from the rest of the ingredients), which for me is not a problem. It glides over greens easily. Just whisk and pour quickly on salad (I do both at once: whisk while pouring).

 

20170119_152538

Believe it or not, it’s also great on certain fruits, like fresh pineapple. The soy sauce gives the dressing a slightly salty, balsamic taste that is a wonderful foil to the sweet and more acidic character of fresh pineapple.

Depending on what type of salad I’m making, I will make little tweaks to this dressing. For instance, in the summer I use it to marinate cucumbers and tomatoes, so I’ll often throw in some herbs, like tarragon and basil (dill would work well, too); and if I’m in the mood for a saltier dressing, I’ll add just a bit more soy sauce. Likewise, if I want a sweeter dressing, I’ll add slightly more honey.

 

20170119_153128-001

One last salad tip. Spend a little extra money and purchase Campari tomatoes (it is not a brand, but a very special type of tomato that is sweet and flavorful … much bigger than a cherry tomato, but still on the small side). They are delicious, even in winter! The important thing in purchasing them is to make sure that the package they come in is marked with the word Campari. I’ve been fooled into buying “tomatoes on the vine” that look similar but are nowhere as sweet. Nothing else comes close to these, in my opinion.

Oh, In the Morning

 

20170115_122345He chews our book covers, he leaves hair on our clothes, he sometimes gets underfoot.

He also runs a mad dash to our bedroom each morning, the moment he’s allowed out of his pen, and waits by the bookcase until we are ready to pet and play with him. On the rare occasion when we don’t put him in his pen at night, he waits faithfully throughout the night in this same spot, on my side of the bed, for me to wake up. (If he leaves, it is only to use the litterbox, which he is very good about.) All in all, he puts beauty in our mornings and shows us how to greet the day.

 

Oh, in the morning
Feel like the sun
Coming up on daytime
Shine on everyone
Coming up on darkness
Warm me in your arms
Let me know another lonely night
Has come and gone

– lyrics from Arlo Guthrie’s “Oh, In the Morning”(from his 1969 album, Running Down the Road)

My Five Easy Resolutions for the New Year Series. First Up, Resolutions for the Home

orglz7cjfic-chelsea-francis

Photo by Chelsea Laine Francis from Unsplash.com

1) Burn more candles, all through the year. I love them, especially tea candles and tapers (I own some jar candles, which are nice to have outside on the patio in summer, since they don’t blow out as easily, but I really like the daintiness of tea candles and the elegance of tapers). They are one of the easiest ways to add chic and warmth to a home.

p7oz26cojd4-chelsea-francis

Photo by Chelsea Laine Francis from Unsplash.com

2) Change up the tableau that I keep on the windowsill above my kitchen sink. I spend a lot of my time standing in front of that window (because I like to cook, and then of course, it’s necessary to clean up), and I tend to keep the same objects there: a petrified rock from Angkor Wat, given to me by a writing friend; a smooth stone painted such that it looks like a turtle; a conch shell found and passed down from a relative who died in World War II; and a little glass jar, ridged and in a gentle sea-green color, that I use as a bud vase (I love to put daisies in it in summer). All of these items are precious, but when I see this photo above, with the beautiful animal skeletons, it makes me want to refresh mine and always have some found treasure there that is a bit unusual.

3rcdo5ssbwm-elizabeth-lies

Photo from Unsplash.com by Elizabeth Lies

3) Find a pretty way to put a map on one of my walls. To be precise, it needs to be a world map, because I’ve been realizing lately how weak I am at geography, and though I could study maps on the Internet, I think I’d like to frame a really nice one and put it above my desk. And then, of course, I must resolve to study it, so when someone says they’re heading to Luxembourg, I’ll know exactly where that is. (And here is where I ought to insert a blushing emoji in this post.)

ev3eeq0fprw-oliver-klein

Photo from Unsplash.com by Oliver Klein

4) Organize a closet, even if it’s a tiny one. I live in a small house that is generally lacking in storage, and last year I really dug in and got organized in most of the rooms of our house. My motivation stemmed from bringing my rabbit Boxer into our home. I cleared out a bedroom upstairs that had served as our home office but was also used as a catch-all space for anything we couldn’t fit into our closets. It became his room (where we keep his pen) and I found a poorly used space in our living room that I converted into a very streamlined home office and storage space that works so much better for us. This set off a chain reaction for me: I loved the results and made progress in a number of areas, but I still have closets that are utter chaos. I’m going to be busting a move on one of those babies, soon, and getting it cleared out!

 

jkmnm3cincw-yutacar

Photo from Unsplash.com by Yutacar

5) Throw a party for friends that isn’t just a dinner party. This will actually be one of the hardest resolutions for me to keep, simply because I get nervous over the thought of entertaining a large group of people. If it’s a small dinner party for family or for another couple, I’m golden: I’ve done that many times. But I’ve never thrown a carefree soiree for a bigger crowd, and it’s probably time I do that. Plus, I think I owe this to some friends who invite us to their parties all the time.

Over the course of January, I’ll be adding to this series, which I’m calling “Five Easy Resolutions for the New Year.” This one was focused on the home — five simple things to make my living space better and more enjoyable — but I’ll be back with resolutions in a couple other categories, too. In the meantime, what about you? Do you have a habit of making New Year’s resolutions, and do you usually achieve them?

 

 

Note: All of the photos in this post are from the website Unsplash.com — a terrific site which aggregates photos from individuals across the globe and, under a creative commons license, allows others to use them for free, whether for artisitc, blogging, or even commercial purposes. Be sure to check them out. It’s fun perusing their photos whether you’re in need of images or not.