Friday, July 29, 2011

HOTPOCALYPSE

This is what The Mailman is calling our insufferable heat wave.  Hotpocalypse.  And since he's out walking in it every day...who am I to argue?  So...Hotpocalypse it is.  

It's HOT!  These are the kinds of Summers I remember from my childhood...days in the nineties...no respite at night...and no rain.  When I began composing this post, I thought about showing you the fried lawn...the singed Hostas...the flower beds in desperate need of weeding and dead-heading and trimming and watering.  But then I realized that you probably have plenty of that in your own yards.  So instead, I thought I would show you what's right in my world.  Believe it or not...there ARE some positives to a heatwave!  So...grab a glass of lemonade...sit back...and enjoy!




Apparently, Japanese Beetles don't like hot, dry weather either!  These are the same Hydrangeas I showed you here.  The blossoms have aged to a beautiful, soft chartreuse green...and most Summers, the beetles would have devoured them by now.  Along with the roses.  This year, I've seen only a handful of the nasty things...and I hope they continue to stay away!






Not ALL the flowers are languishing.  The little Prairie garden around our goldfish pond is actually doing quite well.  Here, Purple Cone-flower, Black-Eyed-Susan and Butterfly Weed flourish happily in the heat. 









And I have NEVER been able to grow eggplant, bell pepper and tomato plants like these.  Granted, it has taken some diligent watering on my part...but these heat-lovers are rewarding my efforts with...









...crisp, green peppers... 








...sweet, juicy tomatoes... 









...and beautiful baby eggplant.  Tonight, I'm trying a new recipe...roasted baby eggplant with tomato and Parmesan cheese.  Kinda makes me wish I hadn't whacked down all the basil...some Pesto would probably taste good with this. 










Our freezer is stocked with sweet corn...







...and blueberries.







Since the heat has me holed up inside, I've managed to complete a few things for my Etsy Shop... 






...and last, but not least...I'm trying to remember that not everyone is a heat-hater.










This morning, it rained.  And...as I sat out in the shelter of our garage with my thunderstorm-loving dog, Bonnie...I was thankful.  Thankful for the rain...for my little companion beside me...for the sturdy roof over our heads...and for the egg and sausage breakfast we shared.  Life is good...and a little bit of heat doesn't change that!

Thank you for visiting me today!  And remember...leave out a glass of iced tea for the mailman!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're in Scotland!

After a restful night on the Caledonian Sleeper...we disembarked...picked up our rental car...and headed out into the Scottish countryside.  To work the kinks out, we stopped for a round of golf at the course in Girvan.  This is a classic seaside links course...very close to the famous Turnberry (the site of Tom Watson's heartbreaking second-place finish in the 2009 British Open).  The big rock way-y-y out there in the water is Ailsa Craig.

Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  I am not a golfer.  I have (I believe) the athletic ability to be a golfer...but I do not have the temperament.  The game brings out some not-so-attractive elements in my personality...and since the sight of a grown woman swearing and stomping a golf ball into the ground is not something for public consumption, I usually decline to play.  That said...I DID play here...and enjoyed it!  True links golf is very different from what we're used to in the States.  Distance is not so important here, because without the lush fairways, the ball rolls...and rolls...and rolls.  I was able to keep up with The Mailman, which pleased me very much.  

I was playing quite well, when one errant shot headed toward another group of golfers.  I yelled "FORE!!!" as loudly as I could...and felt something go a little funny in my throat.  I thought I'd just strained my voice...but I was wrong.  Sense of foreboding.  More about this later. 




Our next stop was Culzean Castle...a stunning estate that was a favorite vacation destination for General Dwight Eisenhower after World War II.  









The castle was closing just as we arrived...phooey...but the gardens were open! 










Then, it was on to the beautiful town of Inveraray...








...and Claonairigh House, where we spent the next two nights.  Fiona (Fee) is a most gracious hostess...a triathlete and former nurse with a wonderful, lively family...who handled our confusion about fruit tea with aplomb.  (We put cream in ours...you don't want to do that.)







Lots of beautiful things to see in Argyll...like the old headstones in this churchyard cemetery... 
















...the Isle of Seil, where TM engaged a group of locals in some serious stone-skipping... 











...and one of Scotland's most photographed places...the Glenfinnan Monument.  If you visit this spot, you MUST climb up to the top of the tower!  (Claustrophobes, beware.)










Harry Potter and Hogworts Express fans will also recognize the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  You know, I have yet to see a Harry Potter movie! 








 Then, it was another round of golf at Traigh (pronounced Try)...a picturesque little course that we discovered on our 2007 trip.  The little white building is the clubhouse...and the first tee is roughly where you see the small group of people.  Another difference from American golf...NO golf carts...even on the fanciest courses.  In fact, you are considered something of a sissy if you use one.  And they play speed golf.  And the courses are hilly.  What a workout!


Phew!!! Are you tired yet?  Better get some sleep...our next stop is Skye!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Heart Scotland

Exactly one year ago today, The Mailman and I were in the Scottish Highlands.  Ever since I can remember, I'd dreamed of visiting The British Isles.  In my imagination, this was a magical place...a fairytale kingdom...wild and green...populated by kings and queens...with a castle around every corner. 

When I met The Mailman, I learned that he had spent a good portion of his military days on the north-east coast of Scotland...at the Navy base in Edzell.  We talked about it often, and I shared my dream with him.  I should have known better.  TM is one of those men who has a way of making dreams come true...and after we'd been married a few years, he began planning a trip to England and Scotland.  In the summer of 2007, my dream became a reality.  

I was terrified.  Aside from a trip to Canada, I'd never been out of the country before.  I came up with every excuse imaginable not to go.  The garden would die and our house would fall and/or burn down...we couldn't leave the dogs...we couldn't afford it...the plane would crash...and if it didn't crash the terrorists would blow it up.  The day before we left, I was an absolute sobbing, trembling basket case.  TM would have none of it...and somehow I managed to put on my big girl panties...swallow down my fear...and get on the plane.

And I fell in love.  I love everything about this place.  The green hills...the cool weather...the rain...and the gardens.  Oh my.  The gardens.  The people are some of the most extraordinary I have ever encountered...strong, resilient, knowledgeable and kind.  I am an American...through and through...but I feel completely at home here.  And I learned something.  Many times, there is something wonderful on the other side of fear.

Last summer, we flew across "the pond" once again...and I thought I would share some of my memories with you. 

After an overnight flight from O'Hare, we landed at London's Heathrow at about 8 o'clock in the morning on the 4th of July.  Fighting off jet-lag, we picked up our rental car and headed out to Wimbledon for the final day of tennis.  Since we were ticketless, we waited in the queue for grounds passes...grabbed some fish and chips once we were inside...and commenced people-watching.  After a pleasant conversation with a local couple (who thought I was Danish!)...we found seats in one of the show courts and tried to watch the men's final on the JumboTron.  I think this picture speaks for itself. 








Our first B&B was the beautiful Scotland Lodge Farm and the fragrance of English roses was just the thing to revive a tired-to-the-bone Yank.  













This is the stable on the grounds.  The owner's daughter is a professional event rider and some of these beautiful animals are show jumpers. 








This is a typical full English breakfast...fried egg, bacon (what we would call Canadian bacon), sausages, fried tomato and mushrooms, baked beans, juice and hot tea.  And of course, there's toast as well.  This hearty fare will see you through a day of power sight-seeing, believe me! 







No trip to this part of the English countryside would be complete without a visit to Stonehenge.  Just look at that sky! 












After seeing this on a PBS special, I knew I had to visit the stunning landscape garden at Stourhead in person.  It almost looks unreal, doesn't it?  You can walk completely around this lake and discover lots of beautiful ornamental buildings, grottoes and whatnots along the way. 

  









This is one of my favorite photos from the trip...taken at Great Chalfield Manor. Somehow, I think Rapunzel might be hiding up in one of those towers.











 

To me, this pretty doorway is quintessential English country.






Next, we headed into the world-famous Cotswolds.  This is a typical "turnpike"...on the way to our B&B.  Maneuvering a stick-shift-right-hand-drive car through these itty bitty roads was quite a challenge.  For The Mailman.  Just THINKING about driving here gave me hives!








 
We stayed at the Old Stones Bed and Breakfast...







...where they have a FABULOUS backyard garden...








...and a grass tennis court!  The property is an old stone quarry and the court sits right up against the old walls.  No...that isn't Helen Wills Moody...it's me!  I played quite a bit of tennis during my high school and college years...TM, too...and this was quite a treat for us.  Notice the bare feet!  Heaven! 





We visited Hidcote, another astounding manor house and garden...with big, fluffy perennial borders... 








...lots of clipped box and topiary... 






...a vegetable garden... 









...and a croquet lawn!  Here's TM, showing off his skill.  I learned croquet as a kid during a visit with my Illinois cousins...and wrangled a set out of my parents when we returned home.  This brought back some happy memories of Summer evenings at home in the backyard.  Do people play croquet anymore?





I'm queen of the lavender world!  The lavender fields are breathtaking...and I brought some home with me.










We usually eat twice a day when we travel...and a little market like this one is the perfect place to pick up a picnic supper. 







After three days in England, we returned our rental car and caught The Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow.  It's a great way to travel a long distance...bed, breakfast and transportation all in one...and you sleep right through it!  As you can see, I'm pretty well shattered.  Next stop...Scotland!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Garden

Happy Summer!  Is yours flying by as quickly as mine?  I'm afraid I haven't quite kept up with the pictures of my little perennial garden.  The "Stella D'Oro" and "Happy Returns" daylilies have come and gone (a little disappointing this year...probably time for a divide)...the Spirea has completed it's first flush of bloom...and some of the earlier-blooming plants are ready for a haircut!

This is the garden as it looks right now...with the Summer blooms taking center stage.  For a peek at how it looked earlier in the year, look here...here...and here.


I love to try different plant combinations.  My biggest challenge is getting my chosen companions to bloom at the same time.  Here's a pretty combo that actually works!  Blue Globe Thistle...red Bee Balm...and "Becky" Shasta Daisy make a patriotic centerpiece for the summer garden.  

See the dragonfly?  It's a sprinkler in disguise!  I found it at Home Depot several years ago.  It's solid copper...was only ten bucks...and is the PERFECT size to water this little patch.  My only regret is that I didn't get TWO! 





This is my favorite Daylily..."Gypsy Skirt."  Not only is she beautiful...but she comes from the garden where The Mailman and I were married!







I love aged copper in the garden.  This birdbath was a "retirement" gift from TM...special-delivered right to my work station on my last day! 

The purple blooming spikes are Laitris...or Blazing Star...unusual because they bloom from the top down...instead of from the bottom up.





This violet-purple climber is Clematis "Jackmanii"...happily growing on my copper obelisk.  

I'd admired these columns in garden catalogs...but they were extremely cost-prohibitive...even several years ago, when copper was still fairly reasonable.  Not a problem.  Armed with some copper tubing, a little bit of know-how and a bunch of creativity...my fearless hubbin created one just for me...complete with a fancy-schmancy toilet float finial!  














Here's the view from the garden gate.  I had to trim back the creeping phlox, as we were losing our walking space!







And here's the view from outside the fence.  We love summer suppers out on the patio...under the umbrella...so peaceful.  Just to the right...a glimpse of our water garden...which is TM's domain.  I should introduce you to our fish sometime!





And there you have it!  I had a lovely time...I hope you did, too!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Today, as we enjoy time with family and friends...as we swim and barbeque...as we delight in fireworks...let us pause to remember exactly what it is that we celebrate.  Our precious and hard-won freedom.  May God bless America...and may America bless God.

A Happy Independence Day to you and yours, my friends!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shrimp Scampi

I'm a lot like Forrest Gump's friend, Bubba.  I love shrimp.  Boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, sauteed  shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp salad...well...you get the idea.  Tonight, we had Shrimp Scampi.  This easy-peasy dish is a breeze to prepare...and it's absolutely delicious! 

SHRIMP SCAMPI                                                                       Serves 4 (or 2, at our house)

1 lb medium shrimp (peeled and de-veined)
2 Tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin), separated
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh garlic
1 1/2 cups white wine (I like Barefoot Chardonnay.)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Cooked pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet.  Add shrimp and cook, stirring, until tender and no longer translucent (this won't take long).

Remove shrimp from pan and keep warm.  Reduce heat slightly.  Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan.  Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes.  Do not allow garlic to brown as this will produce a slightly bitter flavor.  

When garlic is tender, add white wine and allow to boil and reduce by half.  Add Italian seasoning.

Reduce heat to low and SLOWLY add butter, one tablespoon at a time.  The butter should melt gently into the sauce, creating a creamy texture.  Be careful.  If the pan is too hot, the butter will separate. 

Add shrimp back into the sauce and stir in parsley.

Serve with fresh pasta and grated Parmesan cheese. 



This is delicious with a side of steamed broccoli...just nestle the broccoli up to the Scampi and let some of the yummy garlic-butter sauce slosh over it.

And...for dessert...how about some sweet cantaloupe chunks, with a sprinkling of sea salt? 

This makes a great summertime meal...and utilizes some of the delicious produce that's in season right now.  And for a shrimp-lover like me, it's da bomb!