Monday, June 30, 2008

A Soggy Homecoming ...

This is a follow up on our trip to New Orleans this past weekend. We arrived home at around 5:00 p.m., Sunday afternoon and were looking forward to unpacking and having some time to relax after traveling most of the day. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out the way we had planned.

This is what greeted us when we walked in the door ...

It seems that condensation from our air conditioning unit, which is in the attic, filled the drip pan, which in turn overflowed and soaked the ceiling in the dining room. Evidently, water dripped from the ceiling all weekend while we were gone and soaked part of the oriental rug and the pad underneath it.

NOT a pleasant thing to come home to after a fun trip to New Orleans, but I guess it could have been a lot worse. At least the furniture and dining room chairs didn't get wet.

So, instead of happily writing my post about our trip, I've been on the phone all morning with the air conditioning people (who are here now, thank goodness), State Farm, the rug store, and trying to find someone to repair the ceiling.

I just thought I'd cheer you up by sharing my Monday morning with you and, perhaps, making you appreciate yours more. This afternoon, I'm hoping to edit my 204 pictures from our trip and start writing my post.

To be continued ...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans ...

I'm so excited! My husband and I are going to New Orleans for the weekend. After Katrina, I said I never wanted to go back, but we want to get away for the weekend and New Orleans is fairly close, so we decided to go. I'm going to take my camera and hope to get lots of pictures to share with you.

Today I bought a Fodor's 2008 New Orleans guide book which outlines some pretty amazing facts about the recovery of the city:

Nearly 80% of the city was flooded

Almost 200,000 homes (71%) were damaged by flooding

90% of businesses have reopened in downtown New Orleans

There are now 812 restaurants in Orleans Parish -- more than before Katrina

Almost all of New Orleans' major hotels have reopened

The French Quarter did not flood and damage to its collection of historic buildings was relatively mild. Shops, clubs, restaurants, and museums have reopened.

Is it safe to go? The tourist areas and populated neighborhoods are generally considered safe, but the city has seen rising crime rates, and looting continues in some of its underpopulated neighborhoods (which we will avoid).

We're going to stay at our favorite New Orleans hotel, Windsor Court, and our plans include a lunch cruise down the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez, the city's only authentic steamboat stern-wheeler, and a visit to the Aquarium of the Americas. I get "seasick" fishing off of a pier, so I'm a little apprehensive about the steamboat cruise. I just hope I won't embarrass myself.

I also hope to visit some of the antique galleries and shops in the French Quarter, if my feet (and my sweet husband) don't give out on me.

Of course, any trip to New Orleans usually revolves around "Where do you want to eat?" ... and one of our favorite places is Cafe' du Monde, located on the river in the French Quarter. There's nothing like sitting on a bench at 6:00 a.m., sharing a bag of "melt-in-your-mouth" beignets and cafe' au lait, and listening to the sounds of the river and enjoying the sights and sounds of the French Quarter awakening. At least Katrina didn't take that pleasure away from us, and I can't wait.

I'll look forward to sharing our trip with you next week. Until then ... take care.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Life is Just a Bowl of ... Peaches ?

One of the best things about summertime is fresh, sweet, and juicy Georgia peaches, and these looked so pretty when I put them in my grandmother's little mixing bowl that I just had to share them with you.

I also want to share the little table they're sitting on. I bought it for $2.00 at a yard sale Saturday and just love it.

I bought this rusty old candle stand at the yard sale, too, for just $2.00! I'm going to use it as a plant stand somewhere in my yard.

Hope your day is filled with sunshine and smiling faces!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Best Ever Chicken Salad Recipe"

This delicious Chicken Salad is perfect
for hot summer days and is very filling.

Best Ever Chicken Salad
Recipe courtesy Fairfield Grocery
Shreveport, Louisiana

3 pounds skinned and boned chicken breasts
1 (49-1/2-ounce) can chicken broth
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped water chestnuts, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
3 cups mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper


Place chicken breasts in a large skillet; add chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, covered, 30 minutes or until chicken is done.

Remove chicken from skillet, and let stand 15 minutes or until cool to touch. Shred chicken (I use a fork to shred it which is time-consuming but gives it a wonderful texture).

Combine shredded chicken, celery, water chestnuts, and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl.

Stir together mayonnaise, ground red pepper, salt, and white pepper until well blended.

Spoon over shredded chicken mixture, stirring to coat. Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Yield: Makes about 8 (1-cup) servings (serving size: 1 cup)

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Landscaping Idea ... Jasmine-Covered Vine Framing Front Doors

I thought I would share an idea I had for my front doors. We have double doors and there's not enough room on either side of them to place urns or anything decorative, and they just looked bare to me. Last summer I planted two Confederate Jasmine plants beside the doors and trained them to grow up a honeysuckle vine, and I'm so pleased with the way they turned out ...

They have completely covered the vine now and were in full bloom when I took these pictures last month.

I leave the baskets on the doors year-round and add seasonal flowers. The vine also has tiny white lights entwined in it which add a festive look for holidays and parties. This picture was taken last Christmas ...

Monday, June 16, 2008

The "Art of Kudzu" ...

I was born and raised in the South, where the word "kudzu" becomes part of a child's vocabulary probably at the age of three or four when they say, "Mommy (or Daddy), look at that big green dragon!" ... to which Mommy or Daddy replies, "Oh, that's not a dragon, that's kudzu."

Kudzu, which originated in Japan and China, was introduced to America in 1876 at the United States Centennial Exposition. It was originally presented as a decorative garden plant. In the 1930's, the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted thousands of kudzu seedlings along roads and hillsides to prevent erosion and it has had a strangle-hold on the South ever since.

I've always been fascinated with the amazing phenomenon called kudzu and appreciated the artful and eerie way its creeping vines drape over trees, power lines, old abandoned cars, barns, and houses, literally swallowing everything in its path. [See pictures below] In the summertime, its deep green leaves look so cool and inviting, and its pretty reddish-purple blooms are intoxicatingly fragrant. So, why does just the word kudzu strike fear and dread in the hearts of so many southerners? Please keep reading.

Kudzu Facts:

The roots of the plant may go more than twelve feet deep. The vines can grow a foot in length a day, and more than sixty feet over the course of a summer. Multiply that by lots of vines on lots of plants and you can see why kudzu is considered "the plant that ate the South." It's also known as the "mile-a-minute vine," "foot-a-night plant," and "cuss-you plant." In Mississippi alone, kudzu covers over 250,000 acres--and that's a lot of land that could be put to better use.

Almost anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you can find the vine growing on utility poles, fences, trees and anything else that doesn’t move.

Yet, even with its destructive reputation, kudzu is something of a cultural icon for the South. There is a restaurant in Atlanta named after it, a comic strip written & illustrated by Doug Marlette called “Kudzu,” and a southern rock band goes by the name Kudzu. James Dickey, the renowned southern poet, wrote a dark poem about the vine, called appropriately enough, “Kudzu.”

Kudzu is now common throughout most of the southeastern United States, and has been found as far northeast as Paterson, New Jersey, in 30 Illinois counties, and as far south as Key West, Florida. It was also found growing (rather inexplicably) in Clackamas County, Oregon in 2000.

Above information excerpted from Wikipedia and
Kudzu Chaos, by Jennifer Holloway Lambe

I thought it would be fun to share some of "the art of Mississippi kudzu" with you, so I grabbed my camera and headed out to explore the closest kudzu infestation, which is about eight miles from my house. Here are a few of the more interesting kudzu formations I discovered.

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see a school bus in the background which has almost been totally covered with kudzu.

It was kind of an eerie feeling standing so close to these creeping kudzu tendrils. They seemed to be easing closer and closer to my feet, reaching out like the tentacles of an octopus, and I didn't spend but a minute there.

O, Christmas Tree, O, Christmas Tree ...

The road to nowhere ...

I had a neat idea after I got home from taking the pictures, and I may go back one day soon and try it. [Most of my good ideas usually happen after the fact.]

I'm going to go early one morning and put a flag at the end of one of the kudzu tendrils and then go back at the end of the day and see how much it grew. Should be interesting ... and I'll take pictures to show you.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"A Prayer for Fathers" ...

The Wit and Wisdom of Marjorie Holmes

Marjorie Holmes is my favorite inspirational writer. Her heartfelt and moving "conversations with God" touch on everyday life on subjects we all experience at one time or another.

Today, in honor of dads across America, I'd like to share an excerpt from her book "Who Am I, God?" It's called A Prayer for Fathers.

God bless fathers, all fathers old and young.

Bless the new father holding his son or daughter in his arms for the first time. Steady his trembling, Lord, make his arms strong.

Give him the ambition and strength to provide for its physical needs. But even more, give him the love and common sense to provide for its hungering heart.

Give him the time and the will to be its friend. Give him wisdom, give him patience, give him justice in discipline.

Make him a hero in his youngster's eyes. So that the word father will always mean a person to be respected, a fair and mighty man.

And God bless older fathers too.

Fathers who are weary from working for their young. Fathers who are sometimes disappointed, discouraged. Fathers whose children don't always turn out the way they'd hoped; fathers of children who seem thoughtless, ungrateful, critical, children who rebel.

Bless those fathers, Lord; comfort them.

And stay close to all these fathers when they must tell sons and daughters goodbye. When kids leave home, going off to college, or to marry, or to war -- fathers need to be steadied in their trembling then too, Lord (mothers aren't the only ones who cry).

You, our heavenly father, must surely understand these earthly fathers well.

We so often disappoint you, rebel against you, fail to thank you, turn away from you. So, in your infinite love (and infinite experience!) bless fathers, all fathers old and young.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Stained Concrete Project ...

One of My Favorite Projects...

I have a pair of urns in my courtyard and, as you can see in
the "before" picture below, the finish had faded and looked awful.

I stained the urns with Minwax Wood Stain in "Special Walnut,"
which gives them a rich "antiqued" look (see "after" picture below).

I usually do my urns about once a year.

This technique works on anything made of
concrete, like birdbaths, fountains, and statuary.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Cooking with a Granddaughter

One of my favorite things to do with our three-year-old granddaughter Avery Grace is cooking. There's nothing like seeing the excitement in her eyes when I say I need some help making cookies, or blueberry muffins, or in this case, a Lemon Pie. She loves pouring the ingredients into the bowl, and mixing and stirring, and will stand in a chair at the sink for as long as I let her "washing the dishes."

I have sweet and happy memories of times spent in the kitchen with my grandmother and I hope someday Avery will cherish these times with me as well.

This recipe is from one of my favorite old cookbooks (Looking at Cooking, by Mildred Swift) written by a lady who had a cooking show on our local tv station when I was a little girl (waaaay before celebrity tv cooks came into vogue).
Someone gave it to me as a wedding gift and, even though the cover came off and its pages are splattered from years of use, I still treasure it today.

Here is the recipe for "Easy-Does-It" Lemon Pie, along with some pictures I took of my little helper:

Are you sure you want to put this
in our pie, Grandmama?

1 Egg, beaten
1 Can (1-1/3 cups) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 Teaspoon grated Lemon Peel
1/2 Cup fresh Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Prepare graham cracker crust (see below) and chill.
(Or you can use a ready-made crust, if you'd prefer)

Combine remaining ingredients, stirring until well blended. Pour into chilled crust and chill for several hours before serving.
(Makes an 8-inch pie)

Graham Cracker Crust:
Mix one cup fine graham cracker crumbs with 1/8th cup butter or oleo, or whatever it takes to make the crumbs stick together. I think I used about a 1/4th cup in mine. Press evenly and firmly on bottom and sides of an 8-inch pie plate and chill well.

This vintage aluminum juicer was my grandmother's and
I love using it and sharing things like that with Avery; even
though she doesn't really comprehend it now, one day she will.

Tadaaaaa! -- All done!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Reflections of an Early Morning Riser ...

I've always been an early riser, but as I get older it seems that I don't need as much sleep. Most mornings I awaken between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m., and I love the peace and quiet and knowing that I have an hour or two just to myself. The picture of the sunrise above is one I took on just such a morning.

These days, my pre-dawn mornings are usually when I work on my blog or visit my favorite bloggers to see what's going on in their worlds. I love sitting at my computer and listening to the birds wake up and the soft tinkling of wind chimes outside my window when there's a breeze blowing.

Sometimes I'll tackle a chore I've been procrastinating on doing, like laundry, "swiffering," making out a grocery list, watering plants, or balancing my checkbook. I also plan my day and make lists of errands to run or phone calls to make. I can accomplish more in that hour or two before my husband wakes up than I can the rest of the day.

Other mornings, I just "piddle," which is what we call "dawdling" here in the South. I can't count the times my mama has called and asked what I'm doing, and I've said, "Oh, just piddling," ... and she knows exactly what I mean.

To "piddle," according to the dictionary, means "to spend time idly," and I have it down to an art. I don't think of it as spending my time "idly," though. Sometimes I may work on a decorating project ... or create one. Or organize a kitchen "junk drawer," or clean out the refrigerator. And some mornings I just walk around my house admiring some of the things I've collected over the years, recalling how and where I acquired them. I may arrange or rearrange a vignette on a sideboard or chest, or put an arrangement of flowers in a different vase to give it a totally new look. Of course, I'm probably the only one who notices the new look, but that's okay.

And as the new day breaks, I gaze out the windows to check the weather and enjoy seeing my flowers and plants that seem to have grown overnight. Life is good, and these early morning hours are a perfect time for reflection, and for counting my blessings and thanking God for them and my sweet family.

If you wake up earlier than usual one morning, try getting up instead of turning over and going back to sleep. I think you'll enjoy the solitude and luxury of some quality time just for yourself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Friendship Oak ...

One of the most awe-inspiring highlights of our recent trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast was visiting the "Friendship Oak." This majestic live oak tree (located on the front lawn of the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Long Beach, Mississippi) is over 500 years old. To put that into perspective, the Friendship Oak was a sapling when Columbus set sail for the New World. If only it could talk! Can you imagine the stories it could tell?

According to legend, those who step into its shadows must "remain friends throughout their lifetime."

Standing 50 feet tall, the tree's trunk is 5 feet 9 inches
in diameter, and its foliage covers 156 feet!

The average length of the main lateral limbs is 60-66 feet
from the trunk and its lateral roots go out 150 feet.

Its enormous limbs are supported by heavy cables and rest on blocks.

An almost reverent feeling washed over me as I stood in the shadows of this magnificent tree, and I hope and pray it will continue to thrive for many years to come.

Here are some of the other old "survivors" of Katrina.

A Tale of Two Cities ...

Old Town
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

When planning our recent trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, one of the places we were looking forward to visiting was Old Town Bay St. Louis. Prior to Katrina (as shown in the photo below), Old Town was home to more than 40 unique galleries, boutiques, and restaurants and was featured in the book The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.

Post Katrina Old Town was a different story, indeed:

I had no idea what to expect as far as the recovery process of Bay St. Louis, but I was saddened by what I saw. This poignant sign says a lot ...

There are several shops and art galleries that have reopened, but the majority of them are literally no longer there (as in, "blown away") or have been boarded up.

I took these two pictures of Main Street, looking toward the Gulf:

On a more positive note, Old Town has resumed its traditional "Second Saturday Art Walk," featuring extended shop hours and live entertainment. It was the first city event to reestablish itself after the storm and has remained an economic and psychological anchor for the community. Just twelve days after the storm, a small group of artists gathered at the foot of Main Street (flashlights in hand) and celebrated the survival and strength of the city's spirit.

The mayor of Bay St. Louis, Mr. Eddie Favre (yes, he's a distant cousin of Brett), sees a vibrant future ahead: “The people here have gone through so much. But that hasn’t taken our pride in our city, nor our ability and will to work. We’re going to bring this city back - better than ever.”

Note: The "before" photos shown above courtesy of the Mississippi Heritage Trust website.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi ...

In sharp contrast to the fate of Bay St. Louis is the story of the town of Ocean Springs. The beachfront was destroyed by Katrina, but the quaint shopping district with its charming galleries, art studios, boutiques, and restaurants was miraculously spared.

It reminds me of the stories of tornado victims who find a crystal vase without a scratch on it sitting amidst a pile of rubble. One shop owner said, "We didn't even have a limb down."

I hope you enjoyed my stories about our trip. I've created a slideshow of my photos which you'll find below, if you'd like to see them.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On the Road to Recovery ...

This past weekend my husband and I visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and although we live in central Mississippi, we had not been to the Coast since that fateful Monday, August 29, 2005, when Katrina wreaked havoc on its beaches, old majestic oaks, historical landmarks, grand beachfront homes, and countless businesses, including its lucrative tourism business.

Of course, we saw the news reports of the devastation left in Katrina's path, but until I saw it with my own eyes, the full extent of the destruction didn't really sink in. How can you comprehend the power of a storm of such magnitude that it ripped up concrete roads and sidewalks and leveled high rise buildings, houses, casinos, literally everything in its path, and carried tons of sand inland.

All weekend, I was trying to comprehend what it must have been like those days and weeks and months after the storm, and I truly cannot imagine the sense of desolation and helplessness the survivors must have felt when they returned to where their homes had once stood.

As I looked at countless empty concrete slabs surrounded by the twisted and broken trunks and branches of 100-year-old oaks still standing, it was also difficult to imagine the overwhelming work, not to mention the danger, involved in the clean up. And for the most part, there was no electricity, phones, or water available for weeks afterward.

Although I think the natural beauty of the Mississippi Gulf Coast was forever changed by Katrina, the clean up and recovery efforts during the past two and a half years are remarkable.

Up and down the coastline, new hotels, high-rise condo and apartment buildings, restaurants, and sumptuous casinos are back in business, with new construction going on everywhere you look.

Thousands of homes are being built ...

And the white sand beaches are clean and beautiful,
and once again filled with people having a good time.

Although a lot of what Katrina destroyed can never be replaced, like the majestic old oaks, no storm, no matter how powerful, can ever take away the spirit and determination of the people who call the Gulf Coast home. And as we drove along the beaches ... from the town of Ocean Springs through Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, Long Beach, and on to Bay Saint Louis ... three words came to mind which seem to embody the spirit of these amazing folks as they rebuild their lives, their homes, and their businesses. Those three words are Faith, Hope, and Charity, which are, indeed, alive and well on our beautiful Mississippi Coast.

I think this picture says it all ...

I have created a slideshow of photos from our trip which is posted below, and tomorrow I will post a couple of other stories related to "The Road to Recovery." I hope you will come back to visit again soon.