Gather Together

The Mister has reminded me several times over the past week that it's not a good idea to marinate myself in the CNN coverage of world events. He's right, of course. The stress of reporting (and watching) in what is practically real time results in inaccuracies, repetition, and an onslaught of "authorities," some of whom have well-educated and well-researched opinions and some of whom don't. It's important to stay informed, and it's critical to remember that there's still a lot of goodness and beauty in the world, as well.  Personally, I'm looking forward to a quiet Thanksgiving and enjoying the last bits of fall around the T&C House.

fall decor

The Mister and I visited the local farmer's market the middle of September for gourds and pumpkins to decorate the front of the house. We added a couple of Jack O'Lanterns a week or so before Halloween, and now it's back to the simple, and mostly green, color scheme. Considering all the rain we've had, I'm surprised they haven't rotted away already.

gourds and pumpkins

I found the concrete (cement?) pumpkin planters at TJ Maxx a couple of years ago. I'm never really sure what to do with the lids.

fall decor

This imari bowl sits in the living room with a mixture of real gourds, cotton bolls, fake berries, real berries, and fake gourds.

Also, in the living room, I filled a wooden tray with a mixture of real and faux to bring some fall into this room. I didn't edit these photos, so I apologize for some of the glare and graininess.

fall decor

On the desk, I added these little fake pumpkins with some fruit from my parents' dogwood tree. When I first gathered those fruits they were red and slightly squishy. Eventually they dried out to these spiky little balls.

Bitter Orange potpourri

In the family room, I added a small pumpkin to my ever-present bowl of Agraria Bitter Orange potpourri alongside a framed vintage Thanksgiving postcard.

metallic pumpkins

In the dining room, silver, gold and white pumpkins mix it up with a tole tray and some dried oak leaves on the sideboard.

fall decor

Random pods, seeds, acorns and leaves make a good base for antlers and an old wooden canoe.

Thanksgiving table

This was our table last year, and I loved how simple it was as far as "flowers." As you can see, there aren't any. I raided the produce basket in the kitchen for clementines and pomegranates, cut some magnolia, picked up a few pinecones and brought in a pumpkin from the front porch. We did use a nice tablecloth, napkins, and china. I'm thinking this year, I may do something more casual.

Our menu is fairly simple, too.

dry rubbed turkey roasted on the grill
cornbread dressing with sausage and pecans
sweet potato souffle
broccoli casserole
mixed greens topped with coarsely chopped roasted Brussel sprouts & butternut squash
macaroni and cheese
cranberry sauce
Sister Schubert yeast rolls 

The Mister's apple pie
pumpkin pie with whipped cream

preschool pilgrim

We have a lot to be thankful for, and we're looking forward to the homecoming of the little pilgrim who made this--truly a self portrait of Middle at age three.

What are your Thanksgiving plans? 

Taste of Fall

Hello again! I've missed you all, and I'm happy to be back to Town and Country House. 

apple picking

Several weeks ago, the Mister and I took a day off and headed for the nearby mountains to do a little apple picking. For almost 20 years, it's been a family tradition to take a trip to Skytop Orchard in Flat Rock, North Carolina. For years, we carried our three kiddos in backpacks and baby carriers, and then as they grew we hauled them up and down the hills in wagons. Later, we tried to keep up with them as they darted through the rows of trees, looking for fruit. Before we knew it, their long legs loped alongside us and their strong arms carried the apple baskets for us.  Last year was the first year that all five of us weren't able to go together. It's bittersweet as children leave the nest, don't let anyone tell you differently.

orchard, skytop orchard, apple picking

Nevertheless, the Mister and I decided we'd like to go apple-picking, even in our "childless" state.

apple shed, skytop orchard

We were able to pick the last of the Honey Crisps along with Galas and Red Delicious. The earliest apples ripen toward the end of August, while the later varieties come in through September and October.

apple shed, skytop orchard

apple picking, honey crisps, apples, orchard

It was a breezy, low humidity day, and we practically had the place to ourselves.

apple picking, honey crisps, apples, orchard

After picking a couple of baskets full, we'd worked up a decent appetite and decided to try Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, just down from one of my favorite shops, The Wrinkled Egg.

The fragrant wood-fired barbecue smoke was pouring out of this folk art chimney topper, scenting the outdoor seating area with a mouthwatering aroma.

hubba hubba smokehouse

The container plantings were abundant and beautiful all around the patio.

container garden

The Mister went for the chopped pork plate with baked beans, corn salad, and a cheddar biscuit. I confess that I talked him into a side of deviled eggs, which we shared.

hubba hubba smokehouse, barbecue plate

I had the Grits and Greens bowl. Pimento cheese grits topped with collard greens, pulled pork, and (fried) shoestring onions. Good thing we don't eat like this everyday! Mercy!

grits and greens, hubba hubba smokehouse

We would definitely return to Hubba Hubba Smokehouse. In fact, a couple of weeks later (with Big and Little in tow) we decided on the spur of the moment to return to Flat Rock for a day. This time we headed to Connemara, home of Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and biographer Carl Sandburg.

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara

A National Park Service Historic Site, Connemara sits amid 264 acres in western North Carolina. There are miles of hiking trails along with a working dairy goat farm, begun by Sandburg's wife, Lilian "Paula" Steichen. Lilian was the younger sister of photographer Edward Steichen. He and Sandburg collaborated on several projects, including the blockbuster 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Family of Man. Steichen was director of photography at MoMA at the time, and is credited with establishing photography as an art form.

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara

Sandburg died in 1967 and in 1968, Lilian Steichen Sandburg and the couple's three daughters turned the house and its entire contents over to the National Park Service. It is a remarkable time capsule and contains more than 325,000 archived letters, manuscripts, maps, telegrams, and sound recordings. Sandburg's library included more than 12,000 volumes!

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara

One of Sandburg's typewriters in his study.

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara

The Sandburg house was built for the Memminger family in 1836.  Although the property and main house have had some updates and additions over the years, the house will undergo intense preservation in 2016-2017, meaning that its contents are being packed and stored this year. It is quite an undertaking to pack and label more than 300,000 objects!

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara, goats

When our children were young, the goat barns were a highlight of a visit to Connemara.

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara, goats

Each of these prized goats wears a collar with his or her name. They are well-tended, beautiful animals.

Carl Sandburg home, Connemara, goats

After a fun day in the mountains, baking something apple-y seemed like the right thing to do!

apple bread

Apple Bread with Cinnamon Brown Sugar Topping (Edna Lewis recipe with minor adjustments)

nonstick cooking spray
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 heaping cups of peeled and diced apples
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 small loaf pans or 1 12-cup Bundt pan.

Sift flour, cinnamon, soda and salt into a medium bowl. Transfer 3 Tbsp flour to pans and tilt to coat evenly. Place apples and another 2 Tbsp flour mixture in another medium bowl and toss lightly with chopped apples. In large bowl, combine 1 cup brown sugar, vegetable oil, 1 cup sugar, eggs, and 3 tsp vanilla. Using an electric mixer, beat until the batter is thick. Gradually add remaining flour mixture. Fold apples and chopped pecans into batter. Transfer to loaf pans.

Bake 1 hour or until cake tester comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan on rack.

Melt butter in heavy small saucepan. Whisk in remaining brown sugar, then milk. Whisk until smooth and add remaining 1 tsp of vanilla. Spoon topping over cake in pan and allow to stand about 15 minutes. Carefully turn loaves onto platters and pour remaining topping over. Let stand at least one hour before slicing.

Oh, Charleston

Oh, Charleston. Beautiful, historic Charleston. A city that restored herself after the unspeakable evils of slavery, after war, after earthquakes, after hurricanes.

Charleston restored herself first for her own citizens and, then remarkably, for the world. She became an international destination for historians, for architecture and culture buffs, for scholars, for gardeners, for foodies, for lovers.

I wrote about Charleston a few years ago, and it remains one of this blog's most popular posts. Charleston has been a retreat for the Mister and me as well as a place our children have loved to visit. 

The home of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston has even served as a place of healing for our family when Little had eye surgery this past fall. My heart breaks for Charleston.

And my heart breaks for the families and friends of my brothers and sisters who had met in what was probably the safest place they knew, their own church. I urge you to read each of their biographies. They ranged in age from 26 to 87. Each led a beautiful and full life of service to their God, their church, their state, their city, their neighbors, their families.

Each deserves to be remembered with hope, for the hope that was within each of them.

 As I scanned the news this morning, these AP images spoke to me of the hope that we cannot abandon, no matter how frayed humankind appears in this world at this time.

As I wrote in my last post, my heart hurts over several loved ones, yet I hope. I prefer the Spanish verb for hope, which is esperar; its translation eliminates the wishfulness often associated with hope. Rather Espero translates "I hope" to mean "I expect," or "I wait." And so, I hope. I wait expectantly.

Because as broken as I am, as we all are, we can have hope in the One who can mend, who can heal. Will this be accomplished over the whole earth in my lifetime? Probably not. Will it be accomplished? Most assuredly so. In the meantime, act with kindness, show grace, forgive, and hope.
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Consider the lilies

I haven't been a much of a blogger this month, I'm afraid. My intent for this blog was for it to always be positive and welcoming; an easy place for you to pop into for a few minutes once or twice a week. But June hasn't been an easy month. Close friends and family are facing illness, and answers and treatments are slow in coming. Other most loved ones who claim big pieces of my heart and life have become unknowable, strangers even. Meanwhile, the demands of work and the routine tasks of daily living clamor like usual. And while I'm complaining, let me just add, the heat.

Still, I get up each morning and walk, and my friends let me talk. Or not. They slow down when I want to take pictures, and they don't say, you haven't posted anything in weeks. They get it.

Today, I saw some lilies. I've probably passed right by them for two weeks, but today I really saw them, and I took a picture with my phone in the soft morning light of 6:30. And, at least three times at work today, I scrolled to that picture and looked at those yellow flowers, kind of scraggly, but still blooming, pressed hard between the fence and the sidewalk, doing their best to keep the weeds at bay. Day lilies. New day, new bloom.

Consider the lilies. I remembered it, and I looked it up. Luke 12:27-28.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you?
My physical wardrobe is of no concern; it is my soul that's been laid bare. Even so, by God's grace,
I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
 And so, like the lilies, I'm doing my best to hold up in the heat.

Stars and Stripes and Summertime

After the season of snow and ice ends, I begin to measure the days by what's blooming. Daffodils, forsythia, tulips, irises, azaleas, and peonies make their appearances and take their bows, welcoming increasingly warmer weather. For my children, summer begins when school ends. The Mister's summer starts when he brings home a giant bag of Cowboy Charcoal and uncovers his beloved Weber grill. The calendar insists that summer doesn't begin until the solstice in mid June, and the retailers report that summer begins with Memorial Day sales. When I was a kid, I thought that summer began when Mother let us go barefoot in the grass. Now, of course, I know that when the hydrangeas set their tiny but vivid lime green buds, summer is close at hand.

decorating with the flag

We had some April and May birthdays to celebrate with dear friends this past weekend, so I spent most of Saturday making the house look festive and ready for a summer of suppers on the deck, fun movie nights, and lazy weekend mornings (at least occasionally!).

I like decorating with the American flag, but I try to be very careful not to be in any way disrespectful. The quilted flag-and-star garland below the mantel was something the Mister and I purchased on our honeymoon at (the sadly now closed) Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. Dixville Notch is where the first ballots are cast for each Presidential election, and I guess my young(er) self thought the garland would be a fun reminder of that.

flags and hydrangeas

I bought a big Costco bouquet of hydrangea and sunflowers, which I mixed with some ferns and sticks from the yard and some parade flags to create the arrangements on the mantel.

patriotic flower arrangement

I try to look for older flags or those with a little wear whenever I go antiquing, but I have been known to dye flags in brewed tea to get the look I wanted. That's all I'm saying about that.

needlepoint red, white and blue

My eyes aren't really up to needlepointing much anymore, but I do love needlepointed pillows, especially. This little chair was made for my grandfather to sit in at his grandfather's funeral in about 1908. My grandfather was three at the time.

family room

Here's the family room, looking from the sitting room end of the kitchen. I think I need to work a bit on the book shelves; they're looking kind of cluttered.

patriotic decor

The sofa sports a little patriotic color as well. I found the striped cotton throw at TJ Maxx, and it is perfect for me to slip under when the kids have the ceiling fan on high and the AC on low.

presidential silhouette

Of course, a simple silhouette of the Father of Our Country makes for a patriotic touch, too.

patriotic place setting

I pulled out a few Americana-themed books for the chest in front of the sofa. If you enjoy collecting or just reading about patriotic antiques, I highly recommend Stars and Stripes.

patriotic decor

Our birthday dinner afforded us the opportunity for the first cook out of the year. My faithful Blue Willow dishes once again work into the color scheme. The gingham cutlery is from Target, purchased years ago. 

For the centerpiece I used a divided Coca-Cola crate that I bought this past January at Reninger's Antiques Market in Mount Dora, Florida. I think I paid $20.

patriotic place setting

Sunflowers from the aforementioned Costco bouquet, dime store parade flags, and a few sprigs of basil made a fragrant (but not sweet) centerpiece.

Coca Cola crate

Coca Cola crate

summer place setting

Coke vintage cooler

The square wooden plates/chargers are what we actually used for plates. They are my favorite dishes for steak or hamburger dinners. They are especially perfect when you are serving a large group and not everyone gets a seat at the table.

We had some drinks iced down in an old cooler on the deck. I think there might be a growler in there, too.

I took the above picture as an homage to Mad Men. (I know I really need to let it go. It's over.)

patriotic bunting

 We made sure the outside of the house looked welcoming, too. Even the side porch got a little bunting, and I popped a couple of small flags into the flowerbox.


Her Royal Highness Charlotte waited to royally greet our guests.

She's a bit of a Tory sympathizer, but we like her anyway.

She thinks summer starts when she gets her first Popsicle.
When does summer begin for you?

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