Falling into Place

Not unlike those of the mice and men of Sir Robert Burns, my “best laid schemes” did go awry this past week.  I had intended to adhere to a more regular writing schedule, but Middle was stricken with some flu-like malady early in the week, and I got completely off track.  Then my parents visited for the weekend, and sneaking away to work on my blog didn’t seem hospitable.  So, more than a week late, we now return to our regularly scheduled programming!IMG_2409
Glorious autumn returns to the northern hemisphere this Thursday, September 23!  Brisk mornings, dramatic sunsets, and vibrant foliage are soon to follow.  Here in the Carolinas, the orchards are full of apples for picking, and pumpkins are piled high alongside flats of pansies and golden chrysanthemums at the neighborhood garden center.  Every fall, I am humbled and renewed by the beauty and bounty of God’s creation at harvest.  Whether it’s a spectacular vista of fiery autumn color or a single yellow leaf on the brick sidewalk, I am inspired to bring some of this season indoors.   As a matter of fact, I have a few paintings that remind me of fall year round.
My favorite way to decorate for fall is to walk around the yard (and maybe the neighborhood!) and snip and clip branches of color and interesting twigs and seed pods, but, sadly, some of my family seem to be allergic to these things when they’re brought indoors.  So, years ago, I began shopping for the best “fake” or “faux,” if you prefer, leaves and branches and gourds I could find.  Florists usually have the best things, and they’re often marked down after Halloween!IMG_2437 In the front hall
Every year I add a little to my stash, and then as I go about decorating, I add a few real leaves, twigs, acorns, apples, and gourds to my arrangements.  It seems to work well for us.IMG_2432In the family room.  The Mister and I bought the canoes on a trip to The Balsams in New Hampshire.  I suspect they might have been made years ago by a young camper in the White Mountains.
I have a few fall decorating rules that I’ve invented over the years—they have no real basis in design.  They’re simply meant to keep me interested and to make my family happy. 
IMG_2428In the kitchen
Rule number one is No big pumpkins before October 1.  Please don’t misunderstand, I love pumpkins, but two months of pumpkins gets a little boring, and besides, the apples and pears deserve their time to shine!   IMG_2422 In the living room
Early in October, I’ll stop by the farmer’s market and pick up a few odd-shaped pumpkins, which I’ll then add to the perfect faux ones I saved from when we lived in Florida, where the shelf life of a real pumpkin is frighteningly short!   IMG_2434                    In the family room
Rule number two is No Halloween decorations before October 15.  Halloween is fun, and I have some terrific old decorations that I’ll show you later, but two weeks of Halloween is plenty for us.  Besides, once the decorations are up, then I can’t resist buying those fun-size candies, and then I can’t resist eating them.  (I have seriously thought about stringing the empty wrappers to make a Halloween garland, but it was just too depressing.)  On November 1, all the Halloween items are re-packed, and the fall decorations are freshened up a bit for Thanksgiving.  I’ll post about that, too.IMG_2421                               In the dining room
Rule number three is Our house shouldn’t look like a gift shop, which isn’t to say I haven’t bought things at gift shops as well as discount stores.  It’s just that these items need to be blended with other items, handmade or old containers, for example.         IMG_2435   In the family room
And, of course, although my status is one of mere wannabe decorator, I know that all the great designers insist that one must know the rules before one can break them.  So, here is my rule-breaking arrangement of obviously fake pumpkins on the sideboard in our dining room.  I’ll add to this arrangement as the season progresses; I really like the silvery tones in the dining room, especially in candlelight.
I hope to add a touch of fall to our front porch and deck this weekend.  Do you decorate for fall?  I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions!

We’ve got spirit, yes, we do!

We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?!
mason matthew riley
Every now and then, I get a little misty-eyed and swell-headed when I think about how blessed my family is to live in this place, where a sense of community and neighborliness are still evident almost every day.  The Mister and I are grateful to be living and raising children in a community of fund-raisers, of do-gooders, of volunteers, and, no matter whether one is motivated by a sense of civic pride, of noblesse oblige, of Christ-like service or by some combination of the three, the end result benefits everyone. 
raider joe
This week has offered the wonderful opportunity to see our high school kids come together in a thrilling fund-raising competition that will culminate tonight in The Big Game between GHS and long-time rival, J. L. Mann High School.
Called simply Spirit Week, this seven-day event banks on the friendly and fierce competition between two schools to raise money for charities, chosen by the student council of each school.  Local businesses get involved by contributing to silent auctions and by donating a percentage of sales to the schools.   Students plan car washes and bake sales, dodge ball tournaments, and other fun activities to raise money.  To make it even more fun, each school day is a “dress-up” day, and there are numerous events planned each night.  It. is. exhausting.  Yes, the downside is that academics are slighted this week, but the upside is that important lessons like teamwork and generosity are learned! 
Below are the Spirit Week events for our high school.  I am sure our rival has something quite similar.image
Here is an excerpt from a letter from our school’s student body president (she lives around the corner from us, so we’re pretty proud),
“There is one week in the school year that stands out above all others, one week that defines the tradition of GHS… one week that unites students, teachers, faculty, and community members, one that sets the tone for the rest of the year.  It is [our] Annual Spirit Week!  . . . We have the privilege to support Camp Spearhead and A Van for Tyler.  All the money raised during Spirit Week will be divided between these wonderful charities.
Located in the foothills of upstate SC, Camp Spearhead is a summer camp for children and adults with special needs.  Camp Spearhead has been serving our community for many years, and needs our help to fund and furnish their new facility, as well as for camper-ships.
Fourteen-year-old Tyler is a very special member of the GHS family.  Serving as the Honorary Motivation Coach for the Red Raider football team, Tyler has brittle bone disease. He has broken over 140 bones in his body, yet he possesses an indomitable spirit that is inspiring to all who meet him.  Tyler recently received an electric wheelchair that is very helpful, but the family car will not accommodate his chair.  We will use a portion of our Spirit Week funds to buy Tyler an accessible van for his wheelchair. . . .”
Last year, GHS raised $100,410; our rivals raised $93, 150! 
raiders take the field
Perhaps I’m simply uninformed, and Spirit Weeks are as common as ragweed allergies this time of year.  If that’s the case, I’d love to hear about your Spirit Week traditions.  If the Spirit Week concept is new to you, I’d encourage you to consider bringing it to your community because, seriously, no matter the score of the game tonight and no matter which school raises the most money, this time, everyone really does win!
Go Raiders!

Tiger Tailgate 101

Prerequisites: None required, however, students who have successfully completed Love of Tradition and College Football will be given priority registration.

Course requirements: Successful completion of the following units will ensure credit is earned for TT 101: Family and Friends Communication; Finger Food Prep and Safety; Navigation of Parking, including Numbered, Reserved, and Area Zones; Hydration and Sunscreen Application.   Course is team taught.  Average attendance: 75,000.  Be on time.

Seriously, what a perfect September day for Clemson’s opener against the Mean Green of North Texas State!  We are not (yet) season ticket holders, so we were so grateful to have four 40-yard line seats and the accompanying reserved parking pass given to us to enjoy by Lovely Girlfriend’s kind parents.  Son1’s roommate’s mom and I decided to tailgate together, in hopes of meeting some of our boys’ new friends.  Let’s just say that it was an entirely successful plan!  tailgate before set up

Me, Little, the Mister, Middle, Son1, Lovely, two “Darling” friends before we set up for the tailgate.  The West Zone of Death Valley is in the background!IMG_2373 - Copy  Lovely, Son1, and Great Roommate discuss their student tickets.IMG_2374 One of our three serving areas.  Chic-Fil-A nuggets, barbecue sliders, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, celery and carrots, apple slices, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, four-bean salsa, fresh tomato salsa, chips, deviled eggs, pimento cheese, mint brownies, walnut brownies, oatmeal cookies, and coolers of waters and soft drinks made up our menu.  We had no idea how many kids might show up, so we kept it pretty simple.IMG_2377 Little, Middle, and Great Roommate’s Little Brother, cool off under the tent.  The also had a great time sliding down the hill.IMG_2378 Great Roommate’s mom (on the right) catches up with an old friend.  As you can see, more students are stopping by to say hello and have a bite.

IMG_2375 At its peak, we think our tailgate had about 40 kids!  Very, very fun!tailgate c goodwin Tailgate  set-up of a cute friend from church!  Her boys are upperclassmen, and she has given me a world of great advice for the past several years!

tailgate lining up for players walk Fans begin to line-up for the Players’ Walk from the buses to the stadium.  Middle is, of course, in the thick of it!

tailgate players walk 2 Orange Crush!  The players look so handsome in their jackets and ties.tailgate players walk 1As you can see, quite a few folks line up to cheer them on to victory.IMG_2380 A few hours later, we are in our seats and ready for the “most exciting 25 seconds in college football!” when the Clemson Tigers touch Howard’s Rock and run down The Hill and onto the field!  It is an electrifying moment!IMG_2383The canon is fired; Tiger Rag is blaring; and fans are cheering wildly!IMG_2384 The view from our amazing seats, which came with cushions and backs, I might add!IMG_2385 Tiger Band at halftime, plays the “Tiger Rag,” the “song that shakes the Southland!”IMG_2387

With a few ticks left on the clock, Middle has made his way down to the wall.  He is determined to get quarterback Kyle Parker’s autograph after the game.  Parker is an amazing athlete who not only scored 20 touchdowns last season, he also—in the same academic year—hit 20 homeruns!  He has signed a multi-million dollar contract with the Colorado Rockies.  Folks around here are so proud of him, and we’re pretty happy he decided to play football another season, too.IMG_2390 Yet again, Middle is in the thick of it, after the game.  Did he get his autograph? Yes, he did.  Final score, Clemson 35, North Texas, 10.

Can’t wait to do it again!

Not so fast, Summer!

Hold on there, Summer!  Oh, I know Labor Day is the traditional end of summertime.  And yes, we’ve taken Son1 to college.  Middle is now a freshman in high school, and Little has finished her third week of Middle School, but still I’m not quite ready for fall.  For one thing, it’s officially summer until September 23rd.  In this part of the country, the calendar and the thermometer are in perfect agreement on that date.  Besides, the farm stands are still loaded with garden ripe tomatoes and local peaches!   So, dear readers, I plan to cook, serve, and enjoy two of my summer favorites for a few more weeks!  Following is a recipe for Tomato Pie that I cobbled together along with a recipe I adapted from Southern Living for Tomato Peach Salad.IMG_2331 Tomato Pie
four or five fist-sized garden ripe tomatoes that just yield to the touch
a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
a generous half cup of grated Parmesan
a scant half cup of Duke’s mayonnaise
a half cup of fresh basil, torn or chopped fine
a pie crust pastry (homemade or Pillsbury)
salt and pepper

Slice the tomatoes and place in a single layer on paper towels.  Salt and pepper generously and allow to drain for at least half an hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Gently place pie crust  in a lightly sprayed pie plate or tart pan.  Cover the bottom of the pie crust with the shredded mozzarella.  Next, layer the tomato slices and basil.  Mix together the parmesan and mayonnaise and spread on top.  (This works best by dropping dollops of the mayonnaise cheese mixture across the top and then spreading gently with a silicone spatula.)   Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a lovely golden color.  Allow to come to room temperature before slicing and serving. 

Tomato pie is a wonderful accompaniment to grilled steak, chicken, or fish.  It is also excellent as an entree with a leafy and lightly dressed green salad.
Tomato Peach Salad
four or five garden ripe tomatoes, sliced thickly and drained on paper towels
four ripe peaches, quartered and peeled (By the way, if a peach feels like a tennis ball, it is not ripe nor will it get ripe.  It will only get soft, which sadly is not the same.)
one-fourth cup broken pecan pieces, lightly toasted in the oven or browned on the stove top
two green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
one-fourth cup  balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
one-fourth cup crumbled feta cheese, optional

Whisk together brown sugar, vinegar, and olive oil.  Set aside.  Layer tomatoes in slices or half-slices on a platter or individual salad plates.  Coarsely chop peach quarters and scatter on tomato slices.  Sprinkle with green onion  and lightly drizzle with vinaigrette.  Top with toasted pecan pieces and feta crumbles.

The smoke and crunch of the toasted pecans are a nice note in this salad.  Although I like feta, I think it detracts a bit in this dish.  As with Tomato Pie, Tomato Peach Salad would be a great side salad for grilled fish or fowl.  We had it a few nights ago with dirty rice and a green salad, and it was mighty tasty.
So, yes, I will be ready for fall, but  today I am savoring summer.

So long, Summer.

Which do you enjoy more, attending a party or throwing one?  By nature, I'm a planner, so I've always enjoyed planning an event--thinking of a theme (not always necessary, but so southern), selecting invitations, creating a guest list, planning a menu, preparing the food, staging the tables and food, choosing music (Mr. T and C always comes through on this one for me), and on and on.  To me, even the cleaning up and the post mortem (with a glass of wine) are so much fun.  I find a lot of joy in anticipating, I'm always looking forward to something--it can be as simple as a cup of coffee or as extravagant as a vacation.   Mr. T and C, however, is more of an "in the moment" kind of man, and--because of that--I have learned so much from him, including enjoying someone else's party. 
Lakeside Cabin Makeover: A Serene Location
Two of my all-time favorite parties are annual events, and this past Saturday night, we attended one of them.

One thing we love about this party is that it is the same from year to year.  The invitations are rustic, depicting an empty rowboat resting on the bank of a lake.  The setting is a boathouse on Lake Summit in the mountains of North Carolina.  (If you’re a Camp Greystone girl, we’re only a couple of coves away.)

The food is simple and terrific. 

Before dinner we have pimiento cheese (made with garlic and toasted pecans) and plain crackers, the perfect vehicle for the amazing spread; cold green vegetable crudites (asparagus, cucumber spears, haricort verts) on a white platter with a garlicky dip; and heirloom tomato sandwiches on super thin asiago bread with Duke's mayonnaise.   This year, our hostess added grilled figs with a dollop of goat cheese.  Oh. my.  A small canoe is filled with juice boxes and waters for the children.  A small rowboat is filled to the brim with a vast assortment of adult beverages.

While the adults are feasting, the children enjoy the corkscrew slide or jumping into the lake via the second story rope swing.  The hosts always invite guests for a ride on their beautiful electric canopied boat.  Custom built by the Elco Company in New York, the boat is crafted of gorgeous wood, teak and mahoghany, and outfitted with a worn Persian rug and antique camp chairs.  Three beautiful camps, including the beloved Camp Greystone for Girls, are set on Lake Summit, and only 120 homes surround the lake.  It is blissfully peaceful.

At seven, we have a grilled sandwich invented by the host--a beef hotdog, wrapped with ground sirloin and served with a secret sauce on a bun specially made by a bakery for these sandwiches.  The host came up with the idea when he couldn't decide if he wanted a hotdog or a hamburger.  They are not gourmet but for this evening, they are perfect, and enjoyed by young and old.  I have seen ladies who ordinarily do not eat more than two celery sticks a week, clean their plates and lick their fingers.   I have seen boys and men (who shall remain nameless) eat two or three!  I’m told the record is seven, held by one of the host’s son’s fraternity brothers!  A couple of years ago, a twelve-year-old Middle brought one home in his pocket to enjoy later! It was, as the experts say, a “teachable moment.”

For dessert, a selection of brownies is offered--toffee, coffee, mint, raspberry, M and Ms, walnut, peanut butter, and brown sugar.  All the varieties are cut the size of postage stamps, so you can taste each without too much guilt.  The treats are served on beautiful copper trays lined with waxed brown paper.  The mint are always the first to go.  My favorite is the coffee-toffee combination. 
At eight o'clock, guests say their goodbyes and leave the cool of the mountain.   A delightful evening comes to a close, and I enjoyed every minute.  Thank goodness, there's always something to look forward to.

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