I'm daughter to Lissie, sister to Jess, wife to Brien, mom to Hannah, Lily and Eleanor. I am a stay at home mom to my girls, and my free time is dedicated to gardening (I confess I'm still a novice and look to Lissie and Jess for advice), baking and cooking, and card making. I'm doing my part to make the earth a bit greener, trying hard to avoid processed foods and HFCS, and find the "slow food" movement intriguing and inspiring. I love visits to my local farmers' market, fresh produce, reading, getting out in nature, and spending time with my family.


Catholic, homeschooler, lover of books and great wine and an amateur gardening addict.


I'm Melissa aka "Lissie", mother of Rachael and Jessica, and grandmother to a passel of the sweetest children on the planet. I'm a semi-retired public educator and professor who works from home for a small publisher. I am a lover of all things beautiful ... flowers, the mountains, nature scenes, the innocent faces of children, and my rock and fossil collection, to name a few. I enjoy shopping at the farmers' market for fresh foods and then experimenting with new recipes. Good food and good wine delight me. I love to travel so my suitcase is always packed. Like my daughters, I take pleasure in simple things ... clothes drying on the line, tomatoes so fresh they are still hot from the sun, good books, and interesting movies. I'd like to know everything before I die.
Advent Children's Books

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve!  We will trim our tree, bake St. Nicholas gingerbread cookies to leave out for Santa and light candles and the fireplace and say our prayers before bedtime.  It has been a quiet and blessed Advent for us this year.   I am so looking forward to Christmastide!

Here are some books our children have especially enjoyed this Advent:

Lucy's Christmas features a Victorian era girl who enjoys preparing gifts for her friend's and family as much as she's looking forward to the Christmas celebration and gift sharing at her church.  It is a sweet, gentle book full of beautiful illustrations.

Tasha Tudor's Corgiville Christmas.   My 7 year old especially found the idea of dogs and cats having skating and snow picnic parties to be particularly funny!

St. Lucia, Saint of Light.  St. Lucy, with a crown of candles on her head.  She is the saint associated with light and she is an inspiration for generosity during a season in which the focus should be on just that.  She gave away her entire dowry to the poor.  

The Baker's Dozen.  This is the story of baker, so careful and precise that he became cheap and miserly.  This is the legend of how the Baker's Dozen of 13 came about.  

In the Legend of the Poinsettia a young Mexican girl is devastated that she is unable to complete a new woven blanket for the Baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve procession because her mother has grown too ill to help her.  Worried for her mother and ashamed that she has no gift she is inspired to pick some weeds to offer at the Nativity by an old woman.  Those weeds miraculously bloom into bright red flowers as she places them by the baby Jesus.  

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Just simple good fun from a classic Christmas story.  My 2 year old is obsessed with Look and Find books and this one has been fun and kept her attention through the last few weeks. 

The First Christmas. This book tells the Christmas story.  It has moving pictures that change when a tab is pulled.  The story is simple and the pictures are captivating for young children.  

Merry Christmas to you!  

The Grammar of Happiness

I watched a very interesting documentary recently.  It featured an American man who went into Brazil in 1977 as a missionary with the hopes of converting an indigenous tribe, the Piraha.  His goal was to learn their language well enough that he could translate the New Testament into their language so they could receive the Gospel.  Over the course of 25 years he learned their unique language, became a linguist by degree and lost his faith in Christianity.   The American, Daniel Everett, has challenged the prevailing view of expert linguists about how and why human beings acquire language based on his research of the Pirahan people. 

I had no idea linguistics could be so thrilling!  Even more interesting is the transformation of this man over the course of a few decades and where he is now both professionally and spiritually.  I find any conversion extremely interesting, especially if very strong beliefs were present before the conversion happened - even if that conversion is one that takes a person from belief in God to atheism.   I admire people who are fully engaged to the point that they come to some sort of personal conclusion, even if their conclusions about God are far different from my own.   I guess having experienced a religious conversion myself I have empathy for the staggering changes it brings to one's life.  

This documentary is very watchable, very thought-provoking and even entertaining.  I highly recommend it and I will be reading Dr. Everett's book soon.  You can watch the documentary, The Grammar of Happiness  on Smithsonian's website.


Fall Planting

Yes.  I'm still planting.  It sure as heck was cold today with the wind blowing, though!

Advent is upon us and I've finally gotten the final gardening jobs finished that must occur.  There are still some shabby looking daylilies out there that need trimming back but I am just not going to look at them and pretend they do not look pathetic and sad and in need of trimming.

I've planted peonies, alliums, transplanted some dwarf hydrangeas, moved nandina and catmint, planted potted mums in places that didn't need anything new but I couldn't stand to toss them as their blooms began to fade and spruced up my window boxes with some more euonymus to fill in.    I planted (with help!) 500 Dutch Master daffodils around the sign of my church last weekend and went back out today with my husband and added some compost to the bed and then mulched.  The Knights of Columbus were out there selling Christmas trees and well, I am just not ready for that yet.  Too early for me!  I'd wait until Christmas Eve if my children did not give me pleading Bambi eyes about the whole thing.

Back to the alliums.  I planted some and I'm not sure why.  I had a Groupon for my favorite nursery and no idea what to buy (for the first time ever).  I don't have a lot of space left but I had an area in the back of a bed that could use a bit of drama and height so I planted some alliums to perk it up.  I'm not even sure I really like them as they look like a plant right out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Huge lollipop flowers is what they are.

I also transplanted Cityline Rio hydrangeas into the front bed where they will get a bit of sun but mostly shade.  I bought these plants on a whim a couple years ago and I've not yet seen a single bloom.  They were in pots, I haven't pruned them at all and no idea what to do with them.  Hopefully they will be happier in the ground than they were in their pots. 

I also planted Cytherea peonies - 3 of them.  I've never planted peonies before, I hear they are a bit picky and will not bloom if not planted correctly so I pored over the instructions and I'm hoping for the best.  


Chocolate Fudge Pie

Ah, chocolate fudge pie...:sigh:  It's rich, chocolatey deliciousness, and Jessie inevitably asks for the recipe around this time of year so I thought I would go ahead and post and share (that, and Jori asked for it too ;oP).

This is a pie whose recipe doesn't call for a crust.  However, I like crust with my pie, so I'll use either a regular pie crust or a graham cracker crust (and as I was feeling lazy today, graham it was).


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans


Directions for Chocolate Pie
Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler; beat in sugar. Fold in flour and salt. Add vanilla. Beat eggs; fold into chocolate mixture with pecans. Turn into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes. Center of the chocolate pie should still be moist when done.

This pie is incredibly fudgy and is wonderful when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. :o)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!



I have a dear friend who also happens to be my neighbor and she always finds the perfect gifts to give to me.  These gifts are personal and particular as she understands what I like.   She gave me the book The Curious Gardener's Almanac by Niall Edworthy for my last birthday.  It sat on my bedside table for months, patiently waiting its turn, and finally I picked it up and it has been one fun delight after another as I've browsed through it.  This is not a "how to" gardening book and it isn't a book that needs to be read in linear fashion.  It has all sorts of weird and engaging tidbits.  
For instance:
"It is estimated that one third of human food supplies depends on pollination by insects, mostly bees.  It is not known exactly how many bee species there are in the world but the number is thought to be around 30,000.  Bees are particularly attracted to blue, white, yellow, and purple colors for their ultraviolet properties.  It is no use planting red flowers in your garden to attract bees because bees cannot see red."  
And honestly, with an author named Niall Edworthy, how can this be a bad gardening book?  Does that name not scream rural England to you, land of Gertrude Jekyll-esque gardens?  He claims to be a novice in the beginning of the book but it must be kismet that he has the name in the world that screams "Gardening Authority".  

I watched the documentary, "Last Will. & Testament" about William Shakespeare recently.  Apparently, most people know that it isn't a done deal that William Shakespeare of Stratford was THE William Shakespeare of literature fame.  He may have just been a dude with the same name as the pen name of another person.  I did not know this.   Lots of famous writers and thinkers have questioned the legitimacy of Shakespeare actually being Shakespeare (Freud, Mark Twain, to name two).   I watched this documentary on a whim and I'm so glad I did because it was so interesting!    


Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Cassis

Yesterday was Nana's birthday.  I wanted to make a cake she would enjoy, something decadent, rich and utterly delicious. 

Knowing Nana's love of chocolate and raspberries, I thought I had hit upon perfection after a skeg through my pinboards. 

Lil took one look at this cake and said, "It sure is flat!"  Why yes, yes it is.  Flat and full of dense, chocolatey goodness

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (2-1/4 cups)
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into six pieces; more for the pan
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. table salt
3/4 oz. (1/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy; more for the pan

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Lightly butter the bottom of a 9x2-inch round cake pan and line it with a round of parchment. Lightly butter the parchment and the sides of the pan and dust with cocoa powder. Tap out any excess.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a medium metal bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water, stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth. Remove the bowl from the water bath and set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and 2 Tbs. water. Beat on mediumhigh speed until the mixture is very foamy, pale in color, and doubled in volume, 2 min. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. Increase the speed to medium high and continue beating until well blended, about 30 seconds. Add the cocoa powder and mix on medium low just until blended, about 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out looking wet with small gooey clumps, 40 to 45 min. Don’t overcook. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 30 min. If necessary, gently push the edges down with your fingertips until the layer is even. Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cover the cake pan with a wire rack and invert. Remove the pan and parchment and let the cake cool completely. The cake may look cinched in around its sides, which is fine. Transfer to a cake plate. Cover and refrigerate the cake until it’s very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.

(Also, a helpful tip: To slice this cake (or any dense, sticky cake), heat the knife first, either by dipping it in a tall container of very hot water or by holding it under hot running water for a few seconds. Then wipe it dry before cutting the cake. The knife will cool quickly, and the cake will start sticking, so expect to rinse and repeat several times. A crème brûlée torch, if you have one, is also handy for heating up a knife.) 
I modified this blackberry cassis recipe to make the raspberry cassis.  I'd never made one before, and I have to say, this sauce hit the perfect note of sweet and tangy and was an unbelievable complement to the richness of the cake.

1 bag of frozen raspberries
1-2 baskets of fresh raspberries
1/3 cup creme de cassis
1/4 cup sugar, approx.
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1 tspn cornstarch
pinch of salt

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the raspberries, frozen and fresh, until they begin to release their juices.
2. Add in the creme de cassis, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice and bring to a simmer.
3. When the liquid begins to simmer, spoon about 1/4 cup of the liquid into a small bowl.  Add the cornstarch to the liquid in the bowl and whisk thoroughly until the cornstarch is dissolved.  Return the cornstarch mixture to the berries cooking in the saucepan.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to boil for about a minute.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer until the liquid begins to be syrupy.  Remove from heat--serve warm immediately or reheat in microwave before serving (if you are freezing the sauce for later use).

This cake wasn't that hard, nor did it take that long to put together.  I made the raspberry sauce while the cake was baking and simply reheated it when it was time for birthday cake.  If you're looking for an easy, yet undeniably decadent dessert, this is it. :o)


Pumpkin Carving

My husband is a very detail oriented, methodical, disciplined kind of guy.   It is nice to have him around because we balance each other out.   He is always our pumpkin carver as the kids like to choose their favorite character and see it lit up on the face of their pumpkin.  If it were up to me the pumpkins would have triangle eyes, a round nose and a lopsided mouth with a tooth or two stuck back in with toothpicks.  Absolutely nothing wrong with those kind of pumpkins as those were the jack-o-laterns that made up my childhood and I have nothing but fond memories of them.

Bob spent all morning last Sunday outside on our back porch as the wind began to whip (Sandy was on her way) carving these pumpkins.  Ella wanted to create her own design and she made a charming jagged grin with a nice "Boo" at the top.  I like her pumpkin a lot as it is very "her".  She is moving father away from commercial characters and she is very creative and likes to draw, write stories and so on.  I wasn't surprised that she wanted to go her own way with her pumpkin design.  Gabriel has left Thomas the Train behind and has become a huge super hero fan.  I either read or make up stories for the kids at bedtime and the other day I was scolded by him when SpiderMan began to fly in my story.  Apparently he only swings from webs he throws.  OK, now I know!  So, SpiderMan was his must have for his pumpkin.  Grace is very partial to Princess Aurora as she has long hair, a crown and wears a pink dress.    She liked the design that Bob carved into her pumpkin because Aurora's hair looks fancy and long.  Grace wants nothing more than long "princess" hair right now.

All three pumpkins turned out so well!


Blackberry Farm

Bob and I took a 4 day trip to Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN last week.  It was wonderful!  The weather was perfect with crisp air and blue skies.  The air smelled of falling leaves with a hint of woodsmoke.  The Smokey Mountains were a riot of color and just magnificent.  It was a magical trip.

I first learned of Blackberry Farm years ago.  I don't even remember when or where but I did live in Knoxville, TN for a year with my aunt while I was in high school and perhaps I heard about it back then.  Anyway, I've always wanted to visit as the service was supposed to be excellent, the food out of this world (it was) and just a relaxing place to stay.  The place has a very genteel southern feel and it is peaceful and quiet.

Sometime in early spring I was reading my favorite magazine, Southern Living, and they had a best places to stay in the South article.  In it was featured Blackberry Farm.  I decided that this was the year we would make the trip.  I began doing more research about the place and I discovered that their farm/garden to table program is pretty top-notch.  I was curious about how the garden was run on property and what is supplemented in the way of produce and supplies.

I chose to take a tour of the garden with the gardening manager.  He was very nice and informative.  Most people are hearing now about heirloom seeds and organic gardening.    I am particularly interested in heirloom seeds and the work of some specific seed companies because I am concerned about companies like Monsanto compromising the integrity of agriculture as a whole.  Patents  on seeds, seeds then cross-pollinating onto small farms and farmers, who never intentionally "stole" that genetic material being sued by huge, monstrous companies for damages is just outrageous.   I buy products that contain GMO crops - but I try to make informed choices, especially when I choose to plant veggie seeds in my own garden.  It is tough to find the right balance, but I don't think perfecting avoidance is the goal, I think balance and awareness is key.

Anyway, I discovered that Blackberry Farm, like the Gettles of Baker Creek Seed, Seed Savers Exchange, FedCo and other farmers and seed suppliers is working hard to find and preserve heirloom seeds from extinction.  I respect that Blackberry Farm sends out their gardeners on seed finding trips, supports seed trials in their gardens and then outsources that seed to local farmers to help grow produce to support their resort's restaurants.

I was very surprised to learn that Blackberry Farm is attempting to grow truffles - in East Tennessee!  How neat is that?!  The gardener I spent time with was especially proud of their truffle experiment.  Apparently they are on year 6 and should know within a couple years if it worked or not.  Several years ago a UT PhD student successfully grew truffles for his dissertation work, researched local places to sell them to and found Blackberry Farm.  BF then in turn decided if the student made it work then maybe they could too.  The truffle industry in France is about as corrupt as the tulip trade was in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It will be interesting to see if Blackberry Farm and their gardeners are successful with this experiment.

I'm happy to financially support via my patronage a company that chooses to fund work that I think is important for our collective good.    I had a great time there, felt very relaxed and loved every minute of our fall trip and even better I felt like in some teeny-tiny way I was helping support work that is meaningful and important.  Bravo, Blackberry Farm for supporting small, local, organic farms and striving to save heirlooms varieties from extinction.


We Made A Cake

Ella is participating in American Heritage Girls and is desperate to earn as many badges as she can so her vest is full and pretty like the girls who have been in the group for a while.  I really like the program and I appreciate the clarity and consistency of the badge program.  She chose a few different projects that she wanted to pursue and we got started with the Cake Decorating badge-work this week.

She needs to dye frosting various colors for part of the badge-work so she selected a cake with pink frosting (I know, you're totally shocked).  This particular cake was featured in the book Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.  I'd love to write out the recipe but it's a newish book and I have no idea about the copyright restrictions.   As it happens, the cake we made is featured on the cover below.  Not that ours looked like that!

This cake required hard to find ingredients like Dutch processed cocoa, so much butter that my heart is still palpitating and I had to actually take a bowl of egg whites and heat them up over a simmering pot of water.   Never again, I say.

We made raspberry buttercream frosting to go on top and it took longer to make than a Betty Crocker cake takes to mix and bake.  I kid you not.  My four year old son got particularly animated when it was time to mush the raspberries through a strainer and get all the juice but none of the pulp out.  I am still finding raspberry juice splatters all over the kitchen.  He definitely had a great time.

Heating egg whites over a pot of simmering water.

This cake turned out to be amazingly tasty and light and fluffy and the frosting was to-die-for good.   I just wish the author's bakery was close to my house so I could buy one of these cakes the next time I get a craving for it rather than having to slave over for hours myself.

We made the cake on the cover of the book pictured above.  Doesn't quite look the same, does it?!  

Ella is halfway to earning her badge with the making of this cake and I earned a nice glass of wine.  This book is great, even for a non-baker like me.  If you like making cakes, this is a book to have on your shelf!  Even as a non-baker, I'm glad I've got it handy as this cake was literally the best cake I've ever made.  Yum.

John Fullbright

I'm always happy to find a new-to-me musician who I think writes and plays amazing music. I recently discovered John Fullbright, a guy in his early 20s from Oklahoma who plays good old Americana music. He's an interesting blend of folk, blues and rock. His album From The Ground Up is probably going to be my most-played album this autumn.   It is just really awesome!



It's been cool in the evening the last few weekends so we've put the kids to bed and built a little fire in our fire bowl.  No marshmallows or hot dogs or anything of that nature to be seen, just a fire and chairs and some wine or beer to take the edge of the cool night.  

I've found it remarkable that we've had friends and neighbors stop over to sit awhile, to talk and drink and laugh.  This is so much better than plopping in front of the computer or TV to waste the evening hours.  Company with talk of politics, kids, sports, and other various odds and ends to fill our evenings with instead of thoughtless activities that are entertaining but shallow. 

I like this fire bowl.  My husband and I sit outside and talk.  We talk all the time when we are together but it is usually about the children, or what I am doing with Ella in our homeschool, or about his job or bills, or something else not related to us.   This little fire feels primal and participatory in a way that sitting on the couch inside does not facilitate.  We talk, we laugh, we share.  These are all so important and get left behind in the busyness of life. 

I have to smile at how the guys who sit around the fire like to poke and prod it, "build" it up to make more heat.  I don't know - maybe they are actually doing something productive.  What makes me laugh is that I, and none of the other women, seem to feel the same need to attack the fire every five minutes.  But the process of building and keeping the fire warm seems to be a bonding experience of sorts, which I can appreciate.  Women talk and men poke at the fire with iron prongs.  This is good. 

We've priced out some small square pavers to make an official spot in our yard for this little fire pit.  I'm sure the grass will be glad to finally be dug out instead of succumbing to the heat and torture every weekend.  Bob should finish the project tomorrow. 

The men talk of cold winter nights under the stars outside with this fire and a beer.  The women smile and think they are crazy.  We'll see what happens! 

Boneless Pork Chop Bake

I've been cooking for 50 years. I'm so tired of all the recipes I've made again and again that I need to find new ones. Now that I am retired, I have the time to research recipes, and every once in a while I find a winner. The one that follows is easy to make and delicious. I think you could use any kind of meat.

Boneless pork chops are baked with a flavorful sauce, delicious with rice or potatoes.

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 pounds boneless pork chops
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 4 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

In a pie plate or wide, shallow bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Lightly dredge chops in flour mixture. In a heavy skillet, melt butter or margarine over medium heat. Brown chops on both sides; transfer to a shallow baking dish. In the same skillet, sauté chopped onion, chopped bell pepper, and chopped celery until onion is tender; add mushrooms and continue cooking until onion lightly browns; add remaining 1/4 cup of flour, blending in well. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened. Taste and season to taste; add lemon juice. Pour sauce over chops in baking pan. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 1 hour.
Serves 4 to 6.

Hello, Fall

Cool evenings = fun with friends 


Coral Flower Carpet rose opening

New plants in the window boxes

Carding Mill 

Carding Mill up close


Late volunteer tomato nestled in the leeks

Pepper plants that are still going strong

Zepherine Drouhin that I gave up on a couple months ago, has put on 3 feet of growth in the last few weeks.  I think it must have been too hot for her without an established root system to grow well this summer.

Pansies and gentian violet 

All pink Pinky Winkies

Pyracantha berries are cheerfully orange!



This poor blog is probably going to be quieter (at least from me) over the next several months.  Summer is ending and once I get a few cool weather annuals in I think I'll be happy to say goodbye to gardening maintenance for a few months.  I had a pretty large landscaping project planned for this fall but I think there is just not enough time to do it justice right now and honestly, I am not up to it.  It will have to wait until spring.

I did put in some fall veggies including broccoli, leeks, chard, spinach, bok choi and I think it is finally cool enough to go ahead with some lettuce seed.  We've still been getting lots of peppers off the plants and our beans are finally finishing up.  The kids are out there daily snapping them off the vines and crunching away on them as they run around and play.  Ella is especially looking forward to fresh spinach and broccoli!

We are fully back in the swing of homeschooling again and all our activities are up and running now too.  I've got a pretty hectic schedule due to our choice to participate in a myriad of activities for the kids.   The killer is swim team practice four nights per week!  I haven't even had a chance to sit down with either of those shirt patterns and cut out pieces and get to work.  However,  I helped my daughter and one of her friend make doll pillows with a (simple) pattern we found in Sewing School, so a little sewing has happened around here even if I wasn't the one doing much of the stitching!

All this is to say that my crockpot has been pressed into service and so far I've made one recipe that is really worth blogging about.  I am not one to follow a recipe.  I'll find something that looks good and easy to make I'll see if I have what I need on hand.  If not, I change the recipe to work with what I've got.   I used the Apple and Onion Beef Pot Roast recipe from the Fix It and Forget It cookbook as my inspiration.

Apple and Onion Beef Pot Roast 

3 lbs. boneless beef roast

2 apples, cored and sliced 

1 onion sliced

2 Tbls. of soy sauce

2 Tbls. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup of water

3 cloves of garlic chopped

1 tsp. sea salt

Directions:  Brown the roast in a pan before putting into crockpot.   Mix salt and chopped garlic into the water and sauces.  Pour over roast.  Layer on apple and onion slices on top.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  

I served this with mashed potatoes - yum!  


Two Patterns

I've got two patterns I've been itching to get out and try my hand at making.  I am pretty sure both are above my skill level but not trying means I won't ever figure out how to sew well.  I've got the Reader's Digest Book Of Sewing that has helped me quite a bit when I've been stuck while working on other small projects so I hope that will keep me going with these patterns.

The first I am going to try is the Sew Liberated Schoolhouse Tunic pattern.   It has pleats (!!) and sleeves so will be more challenging than I've tried on my own before.  I will probably make a mock up version in cheap muslin first to get a bit of wind in my sails before I cut nicer (expensive) fabric for the real deal.  I found this tutorial on the blog, Don't Fear the Ripper, and let me tell you, I'll be using it!

I found another pattern I like really well, the Tova pattern by Wiksten.  It is similar to the Schoolhouse Tunic but has a bit more structure.  It is definitely an Intermediate level pattern which makes me nervous but we'll see how brave I feel after I've given the Sew Liberated pattern a whirl. 

If I become totally flummoxed I may call my former sewing teacher in Ashburn at the NOVA Sewing Studio and see if she'll let me come and receive help for a few of the trickier parts of assembling the garments.  Ella has made a few things from her children's sewing book, Sewing School, that we got during last school year and she loves to stitch while listening to me read aloud or while listening to audio books in her room.  She's old enough now to attend classes so if we can carve out time in the old schedule maybe I'll look into going bi-weekly for lessons again.  



I find that I prefer really fluffy, ruffly, gaudy flowers.  I find this puzzling because I am not typically a ruffly, fancy girl.   My wardrobe is pretty sedate as I spent a good chunk of my adulthood in solid black during my years working as a hairstylist in a salon.  It has taken me years to comfortably wear colored or print clothing and I still typically favor very neutral colors and classic styles.  My home has some strong color but nothing is particularly fancy or "shabby chic" or anything along those lines.

So why do I like such outrageously gaudy flowers?   I love roses, puffy phlox, hydrangeas, peonies and dahlias.  I love zinnias and petunias and verbena.  I always plant geraniums, euphorbia and sweet potato vine that creeps everywhere.  I adore larkspur, double hollyhocks and showy daylilies.  I could keep going but you get the idea.

I've been planning for two new beds that we will be putting in and planting this fall.  One will have a crape myrtle as the anchor and then have a mix of peonies and roses.  I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I really like the single blooms on Coral Flower Carpet roses, so I will be sticking with those.    I am most certainly going with Coral Sunset peonies because they are pretty and apparently have strong stems to hold up the flower heads.  I am trying to focus on structure over blooms and it is very hard for me.  I need to find some solid evergreen plants to anchor the beds.  Maybe I should explore ornamental grasses a bit more.  I'm not really sure at this point, I just know that I need to continue to think and plan and consider plants that I wouldn't typically be drawn to.

Suggestions are appreciated!


Bœuf Bourguignon

This recipe is easy to make and tastes oh, so good.


1/4 lb mushrooms, sliced

6 small pearl onions cut into fourths

3 Tbs butter

1/4 lb bacon, diced

1 lb Top Sirloin steak, cut into 1" cubes
1 Tbs flour

1/2 cup Burgundy wine

3/4 cup beef broth

1 bay leaf

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp ground thyme

1 1/2 cups carrots, diagonally sliced
hot buttered noodles

1 1/2 Tbs parsley chopped

1.  In a large skillet, sauté mushrooms and onions in hot butter until golden brown.
2.  Remove from skillet and set aside.
3.  Add bacon to skillet and fry until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
4.  Add Top Sirloin steak to skillet and fry in bacon fat, stirring frequently, until well browned.
5.  Return mushroom and onion mixture to skillet and add flour; toss until flour disappears.
6.  Add wine, beef broth, bay leaf, garlic and thyme.
7.  Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
8.  Add carrots and cooked bacon, and cook covered, for 15 minutes longer.
9.  Season with salt and pepper.
10.       Before serving, remove bay leaf.
11.       Serve over hot buttered noodles. Sprinkle with parsley.


August Garden

As always, the garden is starting to look tired due to the heat, and frankly I am also getting rather tired of going out in the blazing sun to care for it.  I've been watering, pinching back here and there but for the most part we've definitely entered the wild and wooly days of late summer.  The catmint and agastache are desperate to be cut back hard and my Westerland roses are out of control.  It is going to take a ladder at this point to prune and when I get around to it in late September, I am going to prune them back significantly.

There are a few plants that are still putting on a pretty good show and they are always troopers for me.

Sedum, it is just coming into its own right now. 

Blushing Bride Hydrangea, I prefer the soft blue so I keep it more acidic.  The contrast between the blooms that are drying out and those that are newly blooming is very pretty.  

Gold Flame Honeysuckle.  This is my last year for her to live in my garden as she needs more sun and room to grow well.  She's going to my neighbor's house in October but right now she's very lovely and sweet with some pretty blossoms.  

Thank goodness for crape myrtles.  I know they are probably as ubiquitous as Knock Out roses but they are so reliable for being pretty in late summer.  I have all Natchez as I thought white blooms on the trees would be a better neutral backdrop longterm.  

Blue Chip Dwarf Buddleia.  This has been a big surprise for me this year.  Last year I planted them and they did OK but this year has been amazing.  They required just a tiny bit of pruning in May and they have pumped out pretty purple blooms all summer long with zero maintenance other than being on the drip system.  The hummingbirds, bees, butterflies have loved them and my kids have been fascinated getting a view of all the critters at their eye level.   I got these from Lazy S Farm, they ship plants about as perfectly as one can and they were $9 per quart which is much cheaper than I've seen them anywhere else.  They grow so fast that it doesn't matter if you start with a quart sized in April.  

We have small kids so these pots, which I love, block off a long fall down the cement stairs to the basement.  The coleus, lemongrass and sweet potato vine all love the heat.  

Very pretty purple shade for the drying Blushing Bride blooms.  

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