Thursday, July 31, 2014

Avon Calling

Does anyone remember visits from the Avon Lady?

The local lady carrying the big black bag filled with treasures was a highly anticipated event in the life of this pre-teen girl. During summer vacation from school, I was allowed to sit with mother while the Avon lady dramatically opened her bag and showed mother all the newest products.

We never knew exactly when she was coming, but when she arrived Mrs. Verta parked her old Dodge in the driveway and stepped out immaculately decked out. Always in high heels and stockings, her hair carefully coiffed and face made up perfectly, she seemed the perfect representative for a cosmetics company. I was most intrigued with the large black product bag tossed over her shoulder

Whatever work was in progress -- inside or outside the house -- stopped when Mrs. Verta arrived. Sissy and I were allowed to sit alongside mother while the Avon lady removed one bottle or tube after the other, allowing us to sample or sniff.

I don't recall that mother ever visited a department store cosmetic counter back in those days. Why would she? Avon had everything she needed. Rich Moisure Cream, Skin So Soft Bubble Bath and hand cream were the standard purchases, along with To A Wild Rose and Here's My Heart bath powder, soaps and spray cologne.

When I became interested in make-up, I got my first samples from Mrs. Verta. And during those tender years I thought Here's My Heart in the beautiful blue bottle was the epitomy of grown-upness.

As a teenager I lost interest in Avon and wanted cosmetics from the drugstore. Max Factor pancake makeup, Windsong cologne, Revlon lipstick.

Avon is, of course, still around today. Representatives no longer make house calls in these days of Internet shopping. I occasionally see their product brochures in beauty shops and other places of business. Avon ladies are still around; but there are no longer any Mrs. Vertas.


The company was established more than 120 years ago. Becoming a representative offered a unique way for women to take control of their lives and move toward economic independence at a time before before women even had the right to vote and when most were expected to remain within the home rather than going out and earning a living.

It also was a way women living in rural or remote areas had a way of purchasing beauty products without having to travel into the towns.

In 1954 the famous "ding-dong, Avon calling" ad was first heard on US television. Below is an ad from 1962.

The company has an interesting history, which you can read about here.

Did the "Avon Lady" ever visit you?

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Dry Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a gift of summer. Finding myself with more Romas than I could use fresh, I decided to dry them.

In the past, I've sun dried tomatoes, leaving them outside in the bright sun all day, but it usually takes more than one day and that means bringing them inside at night and dragging them back out the next day.

I've also dried them in a dehydrator, but that appliance heats up the kitchen too much.

So this time I dried them in a 200 degree F. oven for six hours.

It's very easy. Half the tomatoes, no peeling necessary. Scoop out the seeds.

Sprinkle with a little salt and turn them skin side up to pull out as much moisture as possible. It's best to do this on a rack in the sink so there's no clean-up.

Toss them with olive oil, minced garlic, black pepper and fresh herbs (I used basil). Dried herbs also will work.

Place tomatoes on a cake cooling rack set on a pan lined with parchment paper. Any pan will do, and parchment is not absolutely necessary; it just makes for easy clean-up.

 Leave them in the oven for at least six hours. Mine required a bit more time -- another hour. For the last hour I turned them over to ensure both sides were relatively dry.

They will be leathery, which is ideal. You don't want them to become crispy.

At this point you can either freeze them, or do as I did and place them in a jar, layered with more fresh herbs and covered with olive oil.
These are so good chopped into salads or tossed into the cooking pot when making spaghetti sauce or chili.  They have an intense "tomato-ey" taste, much stronger even than tomato paste.

Now it seems to me I've read somewhere it's not safe to leave garlic infused oil outside the refrigerator, so I'll refrigerate. That will ruin the looks of it, as the oil congeals. But I'll simply take out what I'm going to use and bring it to room temperature and the oil will melt for use in salads.

If you've bought sun-dried tomatos, you know that they're quite pricey. I'm not one totally into preserving food, but with an abundance of tomatoes on hand, and for the little effort required, it made good sense to dry tomatoes for later use.

Next up: salsa. Another easy thing to make with tomatoes. Just chop everything up and store in the refrigerator. No jar processing for me. With the acidic of the tomatoes and added vinegar, it will last for weeks in the refrigerator.

Are you a big tomato fan? If so, how do you eat yours?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rosemary REALLY IS for Remembrance

Shakespeare may have been on to something when he penned the words “rosemary is for remembrance” in a famous scene from Hamlet. 

Actually, the exact words were, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.”

The words were spoken by an unbalanced Ophelia, who talks, sings and babbles about her father’s death. Shortly afterwards, Ophelia dies, so many interpretations of the scene revolve around a convention at the time of placing rosemary on the bodies of the dead. In this manner. Shakespeare is said to have been foreshadowing Ophelia’s impending demise.

Myths and Folklore

The perrenial herb has a long tradition as a symbol for remembrance during weddings, war commemorations and funerals by ancient Egyptians, early Greeks and Romans. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. 

Greek scholars often wore a garland of the herb on their heads to help their memory during examinations. In the ninth century, Charlemagne insisted that the herb be grown in his royal gardens. The Eau de Cologne that Napoleon Bonaparte used was made with rosemary.

The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the 'Rose of Mary.'

It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century, men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost.

All of the above looked at somewhat suspiciously by we moderns, right?

But wait! Recent research suggests a connection between rosemary and remembrance in people who are very much alive. Several studies evaluating aromatherapy found that rosemary actually stimulates memory and may preserve some cognitive function. 

If these studies are accurate, a sprig of rosemary is not the harbinger of doom that it was for poor Ophelia. Instead, it may be an aromatic preserver of the thoughts people hold dear. 

From the Telegraph,9 April 2013

"Essential oil of rosemary boosted healthy adults' ability to recall past events and remember to perform future tasks, which could include taking medication or sending a birthday card, at the correct time.

The improvement was unrelated to the participants' mood, suggesting it was having a chemical influence which improved their memory, the study found.

Researchers, who will present their findings at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Harrogate on Tuesday, said the results could improve the everyday lives of people with age-related memory loss.
Previous studies had already suggested that compounds in rosemary aroma could improve long-term memory and mental arithmetic, by inhibiting enzymes which block normal brain functioning.

Dr Mark Moss, who led the study, said: 'We wanted to build on our previous research that indicated rosemary aroma improved long-term memory and mental arithmetic.

'We focused on prospective memory, which involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times this is critical for everyday functioning.'

Sixty six participants were divided into two groups and asked to wait in different rooms, one of which had been scented with rosemary essential oil.

The volunteers then completed a series of memory tests, which included hiding objects and finding them again at a later stage, or passing a specified object to a researcher at a particular time which had been specified earlier.

People who had been assigned to the rosemary-scented room performed better at both types of test, and were also found to have higher levels of 1,8-cineole, a compound found in rosemary oil, in their blood.

The compound has previously been shown to influence chemical systems in the body which impact on memory.

Jemma McCready, a research intern who carried out the study, said: "These findings may have implications for treating individuals with memory impairments.

'Remembering when and where to go and for what reasons underpins everything we do, and we all suffer minor failings that can be frustrating and sometimes dangerous. Further research is needed to investigate if this treatment is useful for older adults who have experienced memory decline.' ”

So go ahead. Buy a rosemary plant or essential oil, make sachets, take a rosemary aromatheraphy bath.

Add rosemary to the shopping lists, before we forget!

Friday, July 18, 2014

It Doesn't Get Much Better Than This

July 18, 11 a.m. and the thermometer reads 70 degrees. Unheard of!

Windows open for two days and nights and a soft rain falling this morning.

An occasional breeze flutters through lace curtains bringing the soft summer scents inside.

What better way to spend a not-often-experienced summer morning than tucked in bed with a good book, dogs sleeping contentedly nearby.

Strong coffee, chocolate croissant (a once ever-so-often treat) and Vivaldi.

Ah, the good life. Fortunately, my needs and wants are simple.


I got my first Moonflower bloom this week and the size was beyond my expectation, because last year they were quite small.

They are somewhat later opening this year because I was later getting seeds started. Moonflowers are always worth the wait! Watching the emerging and slowly developing buds each day, anticipating and trying to predict which night they will open. And finally, about 6 p.m., there they are in all their magnificence.

Almost other-worldly in their size and luminescence. Their scent assaulting you as you draw near. 

I cannot wait until numerous flowers open; so far, there's only been one each night. But many buds are on their way.

I did something different with one of the plants this year: tucked it among nasturtiums in the window box outside the kitchen window.

As you can see, it's climbing the screen and forming buds. Standing before an open kitchen window smelling the sweet scent of the Moonflower will certainly lighten the load of kitchen chores, I think!

Hoping the cool weather lasts long enough to have windows thrown open when the first flower emerges.

I have just finished reading All The Light We Cannot See, one of those reads you don't want to end. Get it and you will not be disappointed.

From the inside flap:
 The back cover:

Wishing you cool summer breezes wherever you are!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

T.S. Stribling's Book

When T.S. Stribling’s novel The Store was published in 1932, it wasn’t the first time residents of a town were upset to see their town unfavorably depicted in print. (Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, and its reception by the residents of Asheville, N.C., comes to mind).

Set in Florence, Ala., The Store is the second installment of a trilogy that traces the lives of a family after the Civil War and through post-Reconstruction years. The books explore social, economic and political injustices that existed in the South, and discuss taboo subjects such as race relations.

The book's publication caused an uproar among the citizens of Florence; they threatened a libel suit soon after the book appeared. Stribling was saddened and offered his apologies but never denied using the town’s citizens as character models. It was said the town library refused to shelf the book and citizens were forced to join book clubs to obtain a copy, or drive across the river to check it out from the Sheffield library.

The Store received rave reviews in the U.S., but like the residents of Florence, many readers in the South were not happy. Today, I believe the novel has been largely forgotten.

It would be more than thirty years before he would return to the town that was once his home. He was invited and accepted a speaking engagement at the University of North Alabama in 1965. Afterward, his novels became required reading for UNA freshman English classes.

I “rediscovered” Stribling a few days ago as I was searching for previous Pulitzer Prize for Literature winners. After reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (the 2014 Pulitzer recipient), I thought it might be neat to see how many previous winners books I’ve read.

And there on the list was Stribling’s 1932 book. I read it a long time ago – in the early 1970s -- and have mostly forgotten the story. I plan to read it again soon.

Stribling was born in Clifton, Tenn., in 1891 and graduated from Florence Normal School (now the University of North Alabama) in 1902. He lived and worked in Florence for a time, but his career took him to many other locales, During the final months of his life, when he was in declining health, he and his wife moved back to Florence, where he died on July 8, 1965.
You can find out more about Stribling’s life and career here and here.

To read more about the town’s reaction to Stribling’s novel, see here and 

If you want to see how many Pulitzer winning novels you’ve read, there's a list
here.  I have read 14 and saw the movie of 7 others. There are several here I am adding to my reading list.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Medicine Cabinet

Here are the foods I try to eat each week for their health benefits. Fortunately, all foods that are touted as high in antioxidants, vitamins and other healing benefits are foods I'm fond of!

Sweet cherries

Fresh pineapple. The core is high in bromelain, which has been proven to help arthritis. I cut it up and place in the blender to create a "mush," best eaten with a spoon. Canned doesn't work; the bromelain is in the core. (Supplements also are available but I prefer eating the real thing).

Blueberries from my garden!

Tomatoes and peppers, fresh in season; canned when out of season.

You know the old saying, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Sweet bell peppers

Green tea, four cups per day. 

I love garlic and use it in many dishes I cook.

Cucumber, to make Sassy Water, add to salads or sliced and sprinkled with lemon pepper. Cucumbers have many, many health benefits!

Black olives

Black beans and beets


I love walnuts

Extra virgin olive oil

Honey, preferably raw and unfiltered

Turmeric, to make a tea that's good for joint health

Cinnamon in my yogurt each morning

Ginger, ground or fresh. I preserve fresh ginger in a jar with vodka. It lasts indefinitely! Add ginger to tea and some dishes I prepare.

Avocado. Leftovers placed in a jar and stored with lemon juice will keep it from turning dark.
I know this is a great number of items to work into my diet, but I'm on a mission! One is to address the arthritis I've developed in my hands by watching what I eat. Whatever it takes to get me off the NSAID I currently take. It works, but I'm concerned about being on it long term.

The other reason I'm very careful about what I eat is to avoid weight gain and potential diseases that could occur as time passes. 

Other items that a part of my diet include peanut butter, yogurt, eggs, leafy greens, chick peas and onion. A recent addition is Tofu. With my switch to a vegetarian diet, I take care to ensure I get enough protein.

So my diet is mainly Mediterranean, which is highly touted as a healthy one.

I am not obsessed with what I eat but I've just trained myself to eat without fussing about it too much. The good news is that since my husband has also gone vegetarian, I'm not spending as much time cooking meals.

What about you? Do you have any recommendations for eating a healthy diet?

Friday, July 11, 2014

What Happened at Findhorn

Often when I gather the meager offerings of the little potager garden in my backyard, imagination transports me to a remote corner of Northern Scotland. To a garden in a place called Findhorn. Where cabbages grown there weighed 40 pounds; onions 71.

From the book, The Findhorn Garden Story:

A miracle occurred over 40 years ago in windswept and barren sand dunes in the far north east of Scotland. On a small plot of poor soil around a thirty-foot caravan trailer the most wonderful flowers, vegetables and fruit grew to an enormous size. This remarkable event occurred with very little assistance from external sources – or so it seemed.

With an absolute faith in the art of manifestation Eileen and Peter Caddy, together their three sons and their friend Dorothy Maclean, had followed Guidance from God to set up home and garden in this place. Their discovery of how to contact and co-operate with nature spirits and devas made the seemingly impossible possible: the Findhorn phenomena had begun.

Now whether there's such a thing as garden nature spirits, devas, fairies and the like, to which the Findhorn pioneers attribute their gardening success,the fact remains that something magical happened at Findhorn.

If you want to read the complete Findhorn story, visit theQuantum Agriculture/Findhorn  page. It's a detailed story, much too long to tell here.

I read this book shortly after it came out in the early 1970s. It's available through Amazon and other sources.

By the way, I don't believe the magic of oversized vegetables being grown there still exists today. What happened?

Findhorn has evolved into a foundation -- a spiritual community, ecovillage and an international center for holistic education, helping to unfold a new human consciousness and create a positive and sustainable future.

Perhaps I should begin talking to my plants and try to summon forth the fairies and devas. Couldn't hurt!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day

How are you celebrating the Fourth of July?

Parades, flying of the flag, picnics, cookouts, eating watermelon and vacations at the beach are part of this national holiday. 

Firework displays are another. Large, professional fireworks displays are common in cities large and small. But many people choose their personal displays at home. Each little town might offer them for sale at stands such as this. 

Fireworks may be illegal in some states/cities. How about where you live? If you live outside the U.S., what are the traditions and rules?

This booth was set up in the grocery store parking lot in my town. Yesterday they were conducting a booming business (this phot was taken earlier in the week when no customers were present.)

However you choose to celebrate the day, here's hoping you have a blast!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Survivalist Movement

Survivalism (definition from Wikipedia)

“A movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or preppers) who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures (e.g., a survival retreat or an underground shelter) that may help them survive a catastrophe.

Anticipated disruptions may include:

Clusters of natural disasters, patterns of apocalyptic planetary crises, or "Earth Changes" (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, solar storms, severe thunderstorms, floods, tsunamis).

Anthropogenic disasters (chemical spills, release of radioactive materials, nuclear or conventional war, oppressive governments).
The general collapse of society caused by the shortage or unavailability of resources such as electricity, fuel, food, or water.

Financial disruption or economic collapse (caused by monetary manipulation, hyperinflation, deflation, or depression).

A global pandemic.

Widespread chaos or some other unexplained apocalyptic event."

There’s a television series here in the U.S. devoted to people who belong to this group. I tried watching it once, but it’s mostly too much for me!

I mostly think these people, at least the ones featured on the tv programs, are a bit off-balance and secretly HOPE for a catastrophic event that will take us back to the Dark Ages.

Why? So they can demonstrate how clever they were to have planned ahead and how good they are at defending themselves and their stockpiled supplies (read GUN nuts).

Yet, I know a few people who believe an emergency could occur and they would need tools and supplies to survive for an unlimited amount of time. I sympathize with this point of view “somewhat” and have thought about it more after reading two books:

A very readable book. Well written. Highly recommend.

From the cover: A story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war that sends our nation back to the Dark Ages.

A war lost because of a terrifying weapon, an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP).. that may already be in the hands of our enemies.

Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read. It has been discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a realistic look at EMPs and their awesome ability to send catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States, literally within seconds. EMPs are a weapon that The Wall Street Journal warned could shatter our nation. In the tradition of On the Beach, Fail-Safe and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future...and our end.

And this book:

Not as well written as the above book, but interesting nevertheless. 
From the inside cover: "In the face of a crisis that sweeps an entire high-tech planet back to the age before electricity, ...."

"...Yesterday's world is gone."


So I'm caught between wishing to live a minimalist life on the one hand, and preparing for an emergency on the other.

So I have to find a balance. Keep enough food on hand to eat for a while. Know a source for water and have a way to purify it. Anything beyond that is too much to think about.

The survivalists tell us that we must have guns to defend ourselves, that the people who are hungry will kill us and take any food we have. That we must kill them before they kill us.

Well, let them have at it. I don't want to live in a world as depicted in these books above.

(If you aren't familiar with this subject, do go to the Wikipedia link above for more information. It's fascinating! And scary...)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What to Wear?

My shopping excursion last week was not a huge success. The goal was to find "something" for an upcoming high school class reunion. I didn't know exactly what I was looking for and believe me, I found nothing.

Yes, there are many choices out there. The current style seems to be blouses large and sloppy enough to hide any flaws one chooses to; short and wide tops, many in the most outrageous prints. Oh, to be sure, there were a few in soft linen and nice colors but I can't get past the largeness of them.

These ridiculous tops are paired with equally large skirts with uneven hemlines. This is not my style or preference. Or one could choose pants, usually capri-style, which I also don't like.

So....what shall I wear? 

I imagine I'll pull out one of my LBDs. Boring? Perhaps. But it is, after all, my favorite look and I think it might work for the occasion. There's to be no particular dress code for the event, and I'm sure there'll be no shortage of looks on display -- everything from casual capris and tees, to church dresses/suits, to swinging chiffon numbers.

I could wear my LBD with a rounded neckline

Or the one with a V-neck

 I might accessorize with my classic strand of real pearls
or jazz it up with my clunky costume pearls

 Or would this be better?

Of course, I might make my large pearl studs the only jewelry and throw on the white linen scarf which also serves as a wrap in coolish rooms

Oh dear, and what about shoes?

Do I wear the classic black pumps?

And speaking of shoes, the shopping expedition last week wasn't totally unsuccessful, as I bought summer espadrilles. Not for wearing with LBDs, but will serve me well with jeans and summer skirts.

Wait, I also bought a second pair, something soft and comfy but still somewhat stylish

On second thought, maybe I'll just ditch the jewelry and pin a creamy white gardenia on my shoulder......or in my hair.

 I don't fret about clothes and outfits all that much these days. But for some reason I'm giving extra thought to what I should wear to the reunion.
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