Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Story of Miss Essie and Her Dog Rocket

I love to tell stories. I don't really think of them as stories, but my husband has convinced me they are. He loves it when I remember something from my growing-up-years and tell him about it. For me, they are just memories, but many are so uniquely Southern, and since he didn't grow up in the American South, he finds them fascinating. My memories, i.e., little stories, are about growing up surrounded by extended family; as a member of a rural community; experiences of church and school life; and especially people with sometimes quirky personalities. My world was populated by unique and interesting people, funny "characters," real people, and a way of life that has now forever disappeared.

In thinking about sharing some of these stories on my blog, I really didn't know where to start, but he suggested one. I've been thinking about that a few days and am conflicted on whether or not I want to. But in a way I feel compelled to do so, because I believe that "everyone has a story to tell" in his or her own unique voice. You may not find these stories interesting, but here I give you one, with more to come later. This is one of my husband's favorites.

Miss Essie and Her Beloved Dog Rocket

Miss Essie Goad (she was a widow and thus a "Mrs.", but everyone called her "Miss") taught English at the local high school. She was known for her no-nonsense approach in the classroom. You showed up for class each day--assignments completed; you listened in class, you participated in class discussions, you studied for her tests. And you never even considered bringing food or beverages into her classroom. And you never, ever chewed gum in her classroom! Follow Miss Essie's rules and you did ok. If you didn't, well, she could ruin your day. She had a sharp tongue at times, and could put a student "in his or her place" faster than any teacher I can remember.

Miss Essie loved to tell stories to her class, about growing up in the Depression, about her early years in the teaching profession, about the trips she took, the flowers she grew, her pets. Miss Essie was a talker. She could tell a story as well as anyone I ever knew. 

On the classroom wall hung a large  picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was her hero. Roosevelt was worshiped by a great many people in the South in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He was credited with bringing the end of the Great Depression -- a depression that southerners knew didn't begin after 1929, but had been in effect since the end of Reconstruction. Roosevelt brought jobs and electric lights to the Tennessee Valley. Miss Essie often talked about how difficult life had been before his programs brought prosperity to the area.

I visited Miss Essie once in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after she had retired. This was after I had read the newspaper story about her and her dog, Rocket. It seems her story was run by a local newspaper and picked up on the UPI wire and it went viral -- all over the U.S. She told me during my visit that after the story ran in newspapers she got cards and letters from people all over the U.S.  She seemed somewhat embarrassed, but in typical Miss Essie fashion, took it in stride.

She was a real plant aficionado  and had this beautifully landscaped lawn with many flowers and trees. Her beautiful little stone house  near downtown was full of African Violets and many other lovely plants. 

Miss Essie's house is gone now, like so many others than existed years ago. It was demolished some years ago to make way for a large and modern brick bank with white columns.

Here is the story of Miss Essie and her beloved dog Rocket.

Before I said my goodbye, Miss Essie walked me to her kitchen window and pointed to the spot she had buried Rocket.

"This is much better. I have him here near me now. He would have preferred it this way."

(Miss Essie died in November 1993 at the age of 92 years.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"My happiness is up to me. It's up to me to have a good day"

I had a little wooden plaque with these words inscribed onto it and kept it on my dressing table for years. It was a thought provoking message to ponder as I began my day. It helped me to keep things in perspective, to learn the hard lessons that I couldn't allow someone or something destroy my self-composure or derail my day. I like to think it had a positive impact.

More recently, I came across this and think it’s worth sharing:

 “There are more than 7 billion people on the planet and you’re going to let one of them ruin your day? Don’t!

And then there’s this:

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  Nathaniel Hawthorne

Perhaps Hawthorne’s observation is the best. We shouldn’t try too hard. We should just be still and let happiness happen.

Happiness was so important to our country’s founding fathers they designated ‘it’ an unalienable right in The Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happiness and the pursuit thereof is undeniably a big part of the business of being human. Unfortunately, the pursuit of happiness proves to be an elusive one to a lot of people.

So, what is happiness? What is it not? How do you get happiness? Why is it so many people want to be happy, but aren’t, in spite of the fact it’s free for the taking?

This is no doubt a complex question with many and varied answers, and I don't claim to have the answers, but here are just a few that might help many of us find the joy, contentment and happiness we want:
Find a hobby or pastime you enjoy. Become a creative person engaged in a creative endeavor. If you love your job, that’s great. If you don’t, maybe you should look for a new one. But become engaged in something. People with intense concentration lose all sense of time, don’t feel anything, are “one with the music”; time stops.

Another path to happiness is living a meaningful life. Know your strengths and use them in the service of something larger than you are. Not only does service to a larger purpose than one’s self foster altruism, but it takes us out of our own ego and stretches consciousness into something larger than it would be otherwise.

Be mindful. Live in the moment. Learn to savor the good things, the little things, in life. We all need to nurture a sense of gratitude for what we already have. For we already have so much!

Monday, February 27, 2012

February Skies

I really had not planned to show you pictures of the evening sky again. I was all set to post on another subject today.  But then I took the dogs out for a late afternoon walk around 5 p.m., just a quick one before they returned for their evening meal. Naturally I had my camera in my pocket and couldn't resist when anything this beautiful was mine for the taking.

It wasn't the most spectacular late afternoon sky I've seen, but it was so interesting! The clouds, the colors, the quality of the setting sun. I had to grab a few quick shots,  and when I viewed them on my phone, just couldn't resist showing them to you. I hope you'll bear with me. I just can't get enough of evening and morning skies!


I wish I knew more about astronomy!

All these were taken around my house.

When the sky is this beautiful I don't want it to end!

And I hope you had a chance to go outside after dark tonight and view the spectacular celestial show -- the alignment of the crescent moon, Jupiter andd Venus in the western sky, photo below.

Astrophotographer John Green caught the moon, Venus and Jupiter over Mooresville, NC, Feb. 23, 2012.
CREDIT: John Green & The ULAO Project

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cookie Report

I made the flourless Almond Butter Cookies yesterday that I told you about last week. Actually, the ones I made yesterday were with peanut butter, so that would make them Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies, wouldn't it! Today I made them with almond butter. Both are very good cookies!

In case you missed the earlier blog, here's the recipe:

Almond Butter Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies
1 cup almond butter
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside.
In a large bowl, stir almond butter and sugars together until well combined.
Add egg, baking soda, maple syrup, vanilla and salt and mix well. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips.
Using a teaspoon, scoop out small, walnut-sized amounts of dough and roll them in your hands to form a ball. Place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes

First, this is an easy recipe. Not a lot of mixing, not a lot of bowls to mess up. I did have to get the mixer out, as the dough is too stiff to mix by hand. A few notes: I left out the maple syrup, as recommended by Beryl. I used mini chocolate chips instead of the regular sized ones, as I think they work better in a smallish cookie such as this. I placed silicon mats on the cookie sheets and gave them a light spray. I removed the cookies from the oven after 11 minutes, not the 12 suggested in the recipe. Of course, this depends on your oven, so start watching them at about 10 minutes.

Getting ready:

Assemble the ingredients:

After mixing, roll into small (teaspoon-sized) balls, bake for 12 minutes:

Let cool five minutes on the pan:

Before transferring to wire racks to completely cool:

For the taste test:

These are very good cookies. In a side-by-side comparison, I like the almond butter version better, but the peanut butter ones are very good too. I don't keep almond butter around the house, so had to buy it special for this recipe. My husband was nice enough to pick it up for me yesterday at the grocery store. He called back and wondered if I wanted smooth, crunchy or organic; I said smooth. He was very glad I didn't want the organic, as it was $14. Can you believe that? The 12-ounce jar, non-organic, cost around $3.50. Well, plain old peanut butter is not so cheap these days either!

They are quite addictive so if you make them they will disappear fast.

So there we have it with a flourless cookie recipe. Can be a good option for those on gluten-free diets or those who want to eat less white flour.

If you decide to make these cookies, I hope you'll let me know what you think.

And because today was so beautiful weather-wise, I spent the afternoon outside planting pansies, a pot of lavender, and this beautiful flowering kale:

I hope we all have a very good week!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cookie Baking Day

I hope you are having a good weekend. Today I'm going to make the cookies I posted about previously in the "Baking Without Flour" article. I had a comment from Beryl, who made the cookies already and wrote to let me know her results. She reported that the cookies are" very tasty - a little reminiscent of the French Macaron. Actually quite a lot reminiscent of them."

Now that is a good thing to hear, because I absolutely adore French Macarons, and have made them quite recently. Had I been "thinking," I would have known these flourless cookies would be similar, as the macarons also  are made with no flour.... I just didn't make the connection that I'd actually done "flourless baking" before.

Beryl goes on to say that if she made them again she would leave out the maple syrup, as she doesn't think it added anything except stickiness and over-sweetness. She mentioned they have a tendency to stick, so I will use my silicon baking mat, or parchment paper, to hopefully alleviate this problem. She suggested leaving the cookis on the sheet for only one minute instead of the suggested five in the recipe.  

If you are just now visiting my site and are not familiar with the baking challenge I proposed for us, see the Baking Without Flour post in the Blog Archive, right side of page. I hope you'll join me in making these cookies and report back your results in the comments section.

I'll also be posting pictures of the cookies so please stay tuned.

And by the way, I have received the gluten-free Southern Buttermilk Biscuit recipe I requested from a food blogger. I want to make these for a taste test before I recommend them to you. It substitutes cornstarch, rice flour and potato flour for the wheat flour, so I have NO IDEA what these are going to taste like. I have never bought any of those flours. I hope I can find them at Publix. If not, I'll order on the Internet.

I leave you today with this beautiful albino peacock picture sent me a few weeks ago. Isn't this the most gorgeous thing? I love it and hope you will be inspired by its beauty on this February weekend:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Golden Hour: Sunset

I don't know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.
-John Glenn, NASA astronaut
Glenn was indeed a lucky man. I love sunsets and sunrises and am excited to see them each day. I cannot begin to imagine what it was like to see four of each in one day. 
I can't think of single thing that's more beautiful than a sunset or a sunrise.

I see the sun rise most mornings this time of the year, as the event coincides with my daily commute. Headed east, I look forward to the sun rising on the horizon -- the pinks, oranges, reds.The texture of the clouds, the interplay of light and dark. Then on my return trip home, headed west, I get to see the sun set, or at least I did in December and early January. With the days lengthening, I now have to walk outside the house to watch the show.
I photograph the sky with my phone camera, a Droid, and am amazed at the results. Brian Williams of NBC News interviewed famous photographer Annie Leibovitz a few months ago and when asked what camera she recommends, Leibovitz answered "iPhone." It is pretty amazing the results one can get with these phone cameras!
Here's a sampling of my recent sunset photographs:

Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.



The photograph below was taken at sunrise today, at about 6:15 a.m. CST. These colors are just amazing, aren't they?

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God.
Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.                                                                                
                                                                                    - Anne Frank

When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, daffodils and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.
                                                                                - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A List of Great Books

There are many lists of the “greatest books ever published.” The entries vary, depending on the person or organization compiling the list.

Apparently a list  by BBC made the rounds on Facebook a few years ago. It carried a note  saying it’s believed most people had read only 6 of the 100 books.

Instructions to Facebook users were to copy the list into NOTES, bold the titles you’d read in its entirety and italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.

It’s an interesting list. Most titles I’m familiar with, some I’m not; some I’ve read, some I own but never got around to reading; some I started and never finished.

A list of 100 is a long one, but I’m going to include it here. Not for us to look at and feel badly because there are so many we haven’t read, but hopefully to jog our memories and cause us to search out a classic we never got around to or to reread an old favorite.

I don’t know about you, but there are several here I want to read. In a future post I will talk about free e-books to be found online and downloaded. These are books whose copyrights have expired. Many on the list below fall into that category.
This list spans a large spectrum -- all the way from Shakespeare to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code! So be it. There's something here for everyone ..
Are some of your favorites on the list? I'm glad to see that mine, The Great Gatsby, made it, as it does onto most “greatest” lists. Others I really like include To Kill a Mockingbird, Rebecca, Alice in Wonderland.
Do you  have a special memory associated with any of the books? I do, with The Catcher in the Rye.On the first day of school when I was a senior in high school, our English teacher gave out the semester extra reading list, which included The Catcher in the Rye. The following day she asked us to mark that one off the list, as it had been deemed inappropriate." Naturally, every student who hadn't already, rushed out to buy and read it.
(Ironic, isn't it, since the book is about 16-year-old Holden Caufield.)

Looking forward to hearing from you about your favorites and what you might now be inspired to read:
So, the list

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte 
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee 
6 The Bible 
7. The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
8.  Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott 
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens 
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adam
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collin
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Come for a Walk with Me

February can be a difficult month. The weather is usually cold and rainy. Christmas and the festivity of the holiday season is behind us. Spring seems a distant dream. And when we're out and about the landscape can feel bleak and dreary. Taking a walk is definitely not as enjoyable as it is in April and May, or October and November. But still, beautiful things are to be found.  

Sycamore trees against a clear blue sky

 Red cedar and dogwood trees

A majestic Southern Magnolia

 Cheerful dwarf nandina

 "Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour."
- John Boswell

"The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size."
- Gertrude S. Wister

The very fragrant Daphne plant

 "Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ... a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream."
- Barbara Winkler
Hellebore, Christmas Rose


 An ancient persimmon tree

And finally, white cows in the distance eating hay.

"Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November,
February has twenty-eight alone,
All the rest have thirty-one;
Excepting leap year, that 's the time
When February's days are twenty-nine."

I just today realized it's leap year so we have one extra day to get through.
What are your feelings about February?

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Room of One's Own

 A Room of One’s Own, a book by British author Virginia Woolf, (1882-1941), was published in 1929. It is generally seen as a feminist text and argues for a place for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.

But the secondary theme of the book is that a woman must have money and a literal room of her own if she is to write fiction. She notes that women of her day had been kept from writing because of their relative poverty, and that financial freedom would allow women the opportunity to write. To have a room of one’s own was out of the question, Woolf said, unless a woman’s parents were exceptionally rich or very noble.

Things have changed by leaps and bounds since 1929, but I believe that having a “room of one’s own” nowadays means having solitary time to do things needed for self-fulfillment, be it time to sew, bake a pie, read a book, plant a garden, write, work on a project or just “be,” that is, to think, daydream, meditate, pray, watch a sunrise or sunset. Or surf the Internet! We all need undisturbed time for ourselves.

Your “room” might be your bedroom, or the forest, or the fields, the beach, your garden, a cafĂ©. It is as individual as the woman herself.

Consider this:


You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know who your friends are.

 You don’t know what your owe anybody.

You don’t know what anyone owes you.

This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.

This is a place of creative incubation. At first you might find that nothing happens there.

 But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen!!

(If you happen to know the source of these words, please let me know so I can give credit)

If you are having trouble finding time for yourself, here are some ideas to get started:

Get away from the phone and Internet. Prevent “staying connected.”

Wake up an hour early. Spend that time focusing on yourself.

Have a closed door policy for yourself; hang up the Do Not Disturb sign.

Read. This is a way to enjoy your own solitude.

 Running or Walking. Use your exercise time as your being alone time.

Turn off the television. Enough said!

Meditate. Spend a few minutes just focusing on your breathing. Shift all your awareness into your breathing, the muscles in your body or the various sensations around you. Meditation can help you appreciate silence.

Park the Car. If your house is busy, park your car somewhere quiet after work or any time during the day. This can guarantee you some alone time to think, read or plan out your goals.

Set Aside Interaction Time. It’s better to toggle between meditative solitude and complete social engagement than to be constantly half-engaged, half-detached in either. Set aside time to completely focus on family or friends.

Start a Hobby. Work on a creative activity in your spare time. With increasingly busy lives, hobbies are starting to disappear. But a creative pastime can allow you to explore all those creative ideas you can’t pursue at work.

 Chores. Focus on yourself when doing chores. Cooking, cleaning, washing or errands can become activities that center you throughout the day.

 Five Minute Thought Breaks. The next time you feel the urge to check your e-mail, spend five minutes just thinking instead.

 Stop the Music. I love listening to music. But silence can be better for focusing your thoughts. Turning off the iPod or radio for a few minutes during your commute can give you a chance to think.

Redesign Your Life. Alone time can be your chance to redesign the elements of your life. When you’re constantly connected and trying to interact, you don’t have time to evaluate those connections.

Somewhere I read this about solitude: “If you want to combat loneliness in your own life, become a master of solitude. If you aren’t fully comfortable being by yourself, you’ll never be able to truly connect with other people."

What about you? What is your way of creating a room of your own?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Flowers for the House

These are the flowers I had on the dining room table this weekend. I combined various varieties of daffodils and Hellebore Christmas Rose. I thought it was a stunning combination! What do you think? Yellow daffodils are so bright and cheerful on these dreary February days. They brighten my mood. I don’t think I’ve ever cut any hellebore blooms for cut arrangements, but will do so again. They have such short stems (at least mine do) that they have to go in short vases along with other short-stemmed flowers.

I placed the vase in the kitchen window just to capture some of the exterior light. I made pictures on the table which didn’t quite do the arrangement justice. And I might add that I’m not much at flower arranging. My sister got all those genes; her arrangements are gorgeous.

What are your favorite flowers? Do you most always have fresh flowers in the house? Are you able to gather flowers from your garden or do you purchase them? If you're like me, you always WANT to have flowers inside, but don't ALWAYS pull it off!

The next time I share plants with you -- in a few days -- I'm going to photograph my sweet basil growing in pots in the sunroom. I have been really lucky that the cuttings I started in the fall from the mother plant have lasted this long into the winter. Basil may be my favorite herb, at least for cooking!
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