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?

Driveway by Morning, Birdcage by Night or Look, Ma, I'm in the Newspaper!

When I re-named and re-started this blog back in January, I wasn't really sure why I was doing it other than that I had previously enjoyed the camaraderie with other bloggers and readers. I also thought I might be able to generate a little income from blogging, if I were a little more serious (that is to say, smarter) in my attempt. One of the recommended build-your-blog steps I took was to set up a Facebook page for Town and Country House. Since I'm already writing a blog that thousands, hundreds, dozens of people all over the world are reading, you might be surprised to learn that only a few of my friends and family members knew that I write a blog. Weirdly, inviting Facebook friends to "like" Town and Country House was nerve-wracking for me. In fact, I specifically did not invite friends and acquaintances that I knew to be good writers or work in a field related to writing. Nevertheless, Facebook's algorithms brought my blog to the attention of at least one of my writer/editor friends, and now, look what's happened. 

Greenville Journal

I've been asked to write a "lifestyle" column once a month for The Greenville Journal.

So, blogging friends, I encourage you to stick with it. Maybe your analytics aren't giving you the numbers you want to see and maybe the comments aren't as frequent as you'd like, but don't give up. Honestly, you just never know the doors that may open.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,  to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20

Strawberry Salsa: A Walk in the Park

Sadly, I have never really been a runner. My knees rebelled at an early age, around 14, and by the time I was 30, they made a clicking sound with every step. (I can never sneak up on anyone, dang it.) The good news is that there's no real pain, just occasional stiffness in those now mid-century joints, and I'm able to walk, both literally and hopefully, to my heart's content. I don't take that privilege for granted. 

Liberty Bridge

I walk with two dear friends almost every weekday morning. We walk when it's dark, and we walk when it's cold. We think we're tough because unless it's below 18 degrees or raining hard, we walk. We walk for a scant hour, about three and a half miles. Our feet work hard to keep up with our mouths as we solve the world's problems, admonish one another to let some stuff go, commiserate, and encourage one another. 

Reedy River walk

We don't always get to walk on weekends, but about once a month, we meet on Saturday morning, changing our regular route to head to downtown Greenville. It's a beautiful walk through Cleveland Park along a bit of the Swamp Rabbit Trail and into Falls Park, crossing the Reedy River via the Liberty Bridge, with a view of the waterfalls.

Reedy River Falls

It's pretty quiet in the early morning, although plenty of dog walkers, runners, and other folks are about starting their day. All the coffee shops do a brisk business, and we always reward ourselves at the West End Starbucks. This past Saturday, we headed on up Main Street to the Saturday Market. It was busy with local vendors selling everything from salad greens and strawberries to cheese, bread, and sausage. Open from May through October, the Saturday Market is one of my favorite summertime treats.

Saturday Market

Fresh flowers, local honey, homemade cakes, herbs, and ornamental trees rounded out the offerings. I was sad that I only brought my coffee card. My walking buddy generously treated me to a pint of Beechwood Farms strawberries before we headed home.

Local strawberries

The berries were so fragrant; I knew I needed to do something with them right away, so I concocted my own recipe for strawberry salsa.

strawberry salsa

I looked up recipes online, but they were all so different, I decided to just make up my own version. That make-up-my-own-version hasn't always worked out for me, but this time it turned out rather well.

strawberry salsa and chips

Town and Country Strawberry Salsa

one pint ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
one-half pint grape tomatoes, washed and halved
five green onions, chopped whites and green parts
one-half red onion, diced
one-half red pepper, diced
4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar or Stevia

Mix all ingredients together and let sit in refrigerator overnight or for at least eight hours. Serve with tortilla or pita chips or as a condiment for chicken or pork.

We enjoyed the salsa the first night with chips, but the second night I served it as a relish for pork tenderloin medallions, and that combination earned two thumbs up from the whole gang.

Do you shop at your local farmers' market? Have you ever made your own salsa? Did you watch the Mad Men finale? (Sorry, I just can't believe that show is over.)

Hold that Tiger! Graduation Day

Yikes! I can't believe it's almost the middle of May and this is my first post of the month. It's been a busy month for us, highlighted by our oldest son's college graduation. Big broke the news last summer that he wouldn't be able to graduate in December as he'd originally planned unless he took a 22-hour course load this past fall. That didn't really seem feasible, especially considering most all of his classroom hours are matched by hours in labs. 

So way back in February, I began to scheme on the best way to celebrate this milestone. I wanted our plan to celebrate Big while accommodating the comfort of older grandparents with mobility issues and friends and family members, including siblings, who just wanted to hang out and have fun. I thought renting a lake house might be just the ticket. Thankfully, the Mister agreed, Big liked the idea, and the grandparents were game, too.

I searched the VRBO website for lakefront rentals near Clemson University, sleeping 12, and came up with this beautiful house on Lake Keowee. Although this view shows lots of steps down to the lake, the selling point was that the house had two master suites only one step up from the driveway. Part of the Cliffs Keowee Vineyard neighborhood, the house sits on a small cove with a stunning lake view.

I spent a good amount of nonworking time planning our meals and a few fun surprises for the weekend. Everyone planned to arrive Thursday evening, the graduation itself was Friday, leaving all day Saturday to relax before heading to our respective homes on Sunday morning.

In case you're wondering, I needed eight meals for at least 12 adults. The closest grocery store is not close. I took a page from the Boy Scout Handbook and decided I'd best Be Prepared!

I wanted the weekend to be festive and celebratory in spirit. School spirit calls for Clemson orange, of course. It is amazing how much  junk  paraphernalia one can accumulate during four five years of tailgating.

I started with grocery store flowers from Publix and the Fresh Market. The selection was especially good, probably because of Mother's Day.

Middle, our younger son, and himself a rising sophomore at Clemson, went to the lake with me about two hours ahead of everyone else, giving me enough time (and muscle) to load in groceries, set up tables, start dinner, and even assemble gift bags. Thanks, Middle! Meanwhile, Big stayed at home to welcome grandparents and to pick up Little and bakery treats. Thanks, Big!

I should've waited until the table was completely set before taking photos, but the clock was ticking! 

Middle helped me put together gift bags with sunscreen, playing cards, stadium cups, booster pins, Lindt orange chocolates and delicious Tiger Paw cookies.

My favorite neighborhood bakery made these delicious buttercream paws. I think sometimes it's money well spent to have that little extra something special.

Everyone arrived after a long day of travel, and I served a simple supper of baked spaghetti, green salad, and garlic bread. Easy peasy. After supper the Mister's sister and Big helped me assemble a couple of signature sandwiches for our pre-grad lunch. 

For breakfast the next morning, I served these tasty little mini casseroles with a fruit platter.

Here we are ready to load into three vans and head to Clemson, about an hour's drive away. This is when my stress level was at its peak as we weren't sure where we were going to park annnnnd we needed to meet up with some more family members annnnnnnd we hoped to all have a picnic lunch together, which was packed in my van along with chairs borrowed from my kindest friends.

Although we didn't get to park in the section where I'd hoped (It was both paved and shaded), we did manage to park in an area that offered plenty of shade from 11 am until 1 pm, when we headed into the coliseum for the ceremony. Here Middle and Little along with their beautiful Cousin check out the tailgate picnic offerings.

Although, it not visible in this picture, the paper boats were in Clemson colors of orange and purple. We had turkey and ham sandwiches with Havarti cheese, basil mayonnaise, stone ground mustard, and lettuce and tomato or turkey, ham, and salami sandwiches with provolone and spicy mustard, lettuce and tomato. We also had wild rice salad and chopped Mediterranean salad (both Ina Garten recipes and both excellent). I added a colorful napkin, striped straw, fork, handwipe, and Clemson mint.

And, of course, we had more of those Tiger Paw cookies. The primary goal was for everyone to enjoy being together and enjoy their lunch. The secondary goal was to not carry a lot of dirty serving dishes and storage containers back to the lake house. Having a "boxed lunch" definitely made that possible, and we only had one small bag of trash.

Clemson holds three graduation ceremonies--one at 9:30 am; one at 2:30 pm; and another at 6:30 pm. Big's was at 2:30 for both the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Science and the College of Education. Big's major was Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, so he fell kind of in the middle of the ceremony. Sadly, the photo on the jumbotron turned out better than the photo of Big actually receiving his diploma and crossing the stage.

Afterward, it was kind of a mob scene, and I thought this was a funny picture of the Mister and me trying to herd all 17 in our party and get some decent photos.                                                                                                         
Where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness,
Where the Tigers play,
Here the sons of dear old Clemson
Reign supreme alway.

Afterward, we all returned to the lake. Our graduate had requested a "Southern supper," so we had ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans, spinach salad, biscuits, and, for dessert, sweet potato cake, a gift from my dear friend and walking buddy, BK.

Saturday, we spent the day visiting, swimming, fishing, talking, and playing a rambunctious game of Pictionary. We also had two dear families make the trek out to visit, one by boat. All the Florida family members were excited to get a boat tour of a mountain lake.

To close, I'll share a fun graduation gift from a family friend. Big was more than pleased with this handsome leather and monogrammed Dopp kit. He was delighted when he opened it to discover it was full of "diplomas!" So clever!

Mother's Day? I celebrated that with a nap.

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