Archive for the ‘Living Simply’ Category

Grateful Praise #1: Queen Anne’s Lace

October 17, 2012

Bug walking tightrope is NOT a chigger.

I really enjoyed doing Thirty Days of Grateful Praise, and some of you seemed to fancy it as well.  So I’ve decided to make it a regular feature (called simply “Grateful Praise”), except this time, I’ll take it one day at the time. 🙂  I don’t find it difficult at all to find things I’m grateful for—-every single day, it seems, I see something ordinary with fresh eyes and recognize how blessed I am.

It’s been a wonderful year here at the Doublewide Ranch for Queen Anne’s Lace.  I’ve always loved this commonplace flower (which some unenlightened souls call a weed), but have taken particular notice this year of all the lovely forms it takes throughout its long growing season. It’s been a delightful distraction in my daily walk down the driveway to fetch the mail.  It’s pretty obvious from my pictures, I suppose,  why some call it “bird’s nest.”  Growing up, I heard folks call it “chigger weed” because they claimed it was chock-full of chiggers, but I think as long as you don’t loll about in a large field of Queen Anne’s Lace, you’ll be okay.

When looking for poems about Queen Anne’s Lace, I found a poem that wasn’t specifically about the flower, but I liked it so much that I decided to include it here.   It could almost be a poem about me, except for the “long after midnight” part.  I’m an “early-to-rise” girl, for certain, up at the crack of dawn. But the part about “walking up the walk Like a woman in a dream”(people used to call me a “dreamy” child and I don’t think they meant it as a compliment) and leaving the clover and Queen Anne’s Lace standing when mowing…well, I’m afraid that’s right on target. 🙂


Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight
Her key’s in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o’clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Like a woman in a dream.
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back in cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne’s lace!

Edna St. Vincent Millay


(29) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Happenstance Flowers

July 30, 2012

Zinnias, cosmos, garden phlox, morning glories, and even a little cleome that hasn’t bloomed yet

It’s probably pretty obvious that I love flowers.   So much so that I’m willing to endure the inevitable pain that comes from the bending, kneeling, pushing, pulling work that gardening requires.  However, because of that pain, I do tend to choose flowers and shrubs that are easy to grow and that require a minimum of upkeep—flowers that aren’t particular.   In other words, I like hardy, sturdy plants that take care of themselves, blooms that don’t expect to be coddled.  Here at the Doublewide Ranch, we expect plants to pull their own weight.

So I have a particular fondness for plants that self-sow, flowers that toss their seeds extravagantly to the wind—-botanical spendthrifts.  And so it is around our place.  I have pots and flowerboxes that I merely have to water and occasionally fertilize because the flowers perennially reseed themselves.  Every single one of the flowers in these pictures were accidental blossoms.  The zinnias in the top picture I did round up and corral into the bed on the right after they ran amok in the walkway.

This always seems miraculous to me, although I know it can be rationally and scientifically explained.  Doesn’t matter.  Sometimes it’s enough to just to revel in the wonder of it and to be thankful.  I am so grateful for my lovely, self-sowing, fortuitous, happenstance flowers.

Good ol’ reliable petunias—these self sow every year.

These cleome grew right in the middle of the path. We were happy to step around them.

(26) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Perfume Samples

July 27, 2012

My stash from a recent raid on the library magazine recycling pile. I find “O” magazine to be most likely to have perfume samples. Thanks, Oprah!

You’re probably not surprised when I tell you that I’m what they call a “low-maintenance woman.”   I do wear makeup, but only a little; my idea of a manicure is two minutes with nail clippers and a file; and my visits to beauty salons are pretty much an annual thing.

But every once in a while, I do have occasion to get gussied up, and when I do, I like to smell good.  Not that I usually smell bad (at least I don’t think I do), but sometimes I like to smell like something more than soap and water.  I like to wear perfume.  It’s a silly little thing, I guess, but it makes me feel pretty. Besides, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man likes it when I wear perfume (he calls it SmellWell).

Trouble is, I tend to like the more expensive stuff.  But forty-dollar bottles of Eau de Whatever are not in the Blue Ridge Blue Collar budget.  And that is why I am grateful for perfume samples.

I’m not picky, though I do favor Beautiful and Pleasures (or maybe it’s just the pictures of cute children and puppies).  It’s not as easy as it used to be to find the fragrant pages in magazines, but they’re still there, especially in holiday issues.  I look for them in the recycle magazine pile at the library, I look for them in waiting rooms, and I pick them up in the homes of friends.  I’ve gotten so I can sniff them out like one of those pigs that looks for truffles underground.

I like them, not only because they’re free, but because the scent you get from using them is light and subtle—barely there, really.  A couple of friends who have allergies and usually find perfume unpleasant say they can’t even tell when I’m wearing the sample stuff. Believe me, I know what is it to be stuck in an elevator with folks who apparently dumped half a bottle of cologne on their heads before they left the house.   They always seem completely unaware of the noxious, choking cloud of overpowering scent that emanates from their bodies.

So thank you, perfume companies for your samples.  I’ll confess that I never buy your product, but sometimes when a friend or stranger catches a whiff and tells me I smell good, I tell them what I’m wearing.  Just think of me as a walking advertisement.  Only I’m cheerful and happy to be smelling good—unlike that sullen, petulant model in your ad.

(25) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Google Street View

July 26, 2012

I traveled this Google Street View road in Virginia a couple of nights ago at midnight. It’s one of the prettiest I’ve been on.

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man is edging up on his sixty-first birthday, so we’ve started to talk about places we might like to live after retirement.  We’re just in the dreaming stage right now, but it’s been fun to wander about on some of the maps I ordered through AAA.

We’re starting now because this is a decision that we want to give plenty of thought to.  We’ve moved a lot in the twenty-five years we’ve been married, mostly to find better schools for our children, and we are weary of moving.  We want this to be the last time.  We jokingly refer to The Search for our Final Resting Place, but really, that’s what it is. We can’t seem to give up on the idea that we might finally find a place someday where we’ll fit in.  Like I said, we’re dreamers.

So I’ve been studying my maps and occasionally looking at houses online in the areas we’re interested in.  When I find a house I like, I enter its address on Google Earth and fly like a bird from Outer Space down to see it (I guess you’ll only know what I’m talking about if you use Google Earth—believe me, it’s cool!).  Even though I use (and love) paper maps and always will, I have become completely smitten (some might say obsessed) with Google Earth.   I get a little thrill every time I put in an address, then make the dizzying descent to Earth at lightning speed.  But even more, I love…no, I ADORE…Google Street View.

I’ve only know about it for a year, which is probably a good thing because I already spend more time than I should flying down virtual roads.  When we finally graduated from dial-up internet to the slowest DSL, one of the first things I did was to take a little trip with Google Street View.  I love how you can even tell what time of the year it was then by the wildflowers on the side of the road.  I knew it was August in the one above before I noticed the date on the screen.  Yesterday, I saw that it was early autumn when the Google mappers went through Hillsville, Virginia.  I also saw that Hillsville seems to have a nice library.   The one thing I don’t like about Google Street View is that they don’t often cover the back roads that we love so well, but that’s probably too much to ask.

Someday, of course, we hope to actually check out some of these places in something other than our virtual car.  I mean, you can’t pull over and take a hike or buy a jar of honey on Google Street View, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer something like that in the future.  On the other hand, our real car can’t fly over other vehicles in the road like our virtual Google car can.  I’ve always wanted to do that…and now I can.

(24) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Squash Casserole

July 25, 2012

All hail the Squash Casserole! Behold its cheesy goodness! (That dish was empty about half an hour after I took this photo)

Let us now praise the commonplace, the unpretentious, the lowly.  Let us praise the humble squash casserole.

Even the very name is plain and homely, almost self-deprecating—squash.  No pretense here.  Just plebian plentitude featuring the most ordinary ingredients from your garden, fridge, and cabinet—mostly yummy yellow things.  Squash, of course, lots of it.  And butter—half a stick!  (Real butter, please—not the fake stuff).   Cheddar cheese—don’t be stingy!

We almost live on the stuff this time of year.   We are overrun blessed with summer squash and can’t give it away fast enough.   But we don’t mind.  It is so, so good.

So let us now praise squash casserole.  Let us extol its vegetable virtues to the heavens, exalt its yummy yellowness to great heights. Let us give thanks for the delicious, delectable, delightful squash casserole.

(22) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Black Pepper

July 23, 2012

This should be both in your kitchen cabinet and in your first aid kit. Seriously.

Our local newspaper used to feature a “Chef of the Week,” with a Q & A feature where they asked the chef random questions like “What do you like to eat late at night when you get home from the restaurant?”  (I always loved it when they said something like “Cheetos” or “Cocoa Puffs.”)

One of the most frequent questions was “What is your favorite spice?” Most of the time, it was something ridiculously exotic, like…I dunno…salt distilled from the sweat of Tibetan yaks or something.  Seriously, some of the spices they named seemed about that outlandish.

That’s why I was so delighted when one of the chefs said, simply, “Black Pepper.”  I was delighted not only because it’s the most commonplace, everyday spice you could possibly name, but because it happens to be my favorite spice, too.

Here at my house we buy black pepper in the gargantuan economy-size containers.  I use it for almost everything I cook except desserts.  And if the recipe calls for a teaspoon, I make it a super-duper heaping one.  I do it not only because it tastes good, but because black pepper has real health benefits.  Studies have shown it to have both antibiotic and antioxidant effects in the human body.  And, hey, it’s cheap.  I can buy a colossal canister from the warehouse club for only a few dollars.

We buy it by the quart  not only for all those reasons, but because we’ll never, ever forget that twice it saved our bacon.  Yes, it really did.  Because the most important thing I can tell you about black pepper is that it stops bleeding.  On two separate occasions in the past few years, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I have had unfortunate encounters with well-sharpened household implements.  In his case, a razor-knife; in mine, an electric hedge trimmer.  If you like you can read about them here:  and

I won’t rehash the harrowing tales here, but I will tell you that both involved COPIOUS amounts of blood.  And in both cases, black pepper stopped the bleeding immediately.  Not only that, it really does have a significant antibiotic effect, as both of our very serious wounds healed with no infection.

I just hope nobody tells the pharmaceutical companies about how amazing it is.  They’ll buy up all the black pepper, put it in a capsule, call it some silly name, and charge us an arm and a leg for it.

(21) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: An Unexpected Phone Call from an Old Friend

July 22, 2012

Kevin gave me this concrete frog years ago. Mister Frog likes to play his guitar for the birds and gnomes. We’ve been through a lot together—Mister Frog and me. I love him dearly.

I don’t particularly like talking on the phone, but I’ve had to develop a tolerance since that’s the main way we keep in touch with old friends and family.  There’s email, too (which I suppose, being the tongue-tied sort, I prefer) but I do like the immediate response—the give and take—of a phone conversation.  Of course, we do visit each other from time to time, but time and/or money are often short.

My old friend Kevin called last week.  We’ve known each other for 34 years now.  I actually met him fleetingly when I was a teenager and he played a folk concert in our town.  I went up afterwards to tell him that I loved the way he sang the shaped-note hymn, Devotion.  It was a pleasant conversation, but I never dreamed we’d become close friends years later when he came as a North Carolina Artist-in-Residence to our small community near the Pamlico Sound. We had a mutual love of yard ornaments, with a particular penchant for anthropomorphized frogs, so spent many happy hours driving in the countryside there where yard ornaments adorned almost every yard.

It had been a while since we talked, so I was especially glad to hear from him.  We both love corny jokes, and he always manages to make me laugh. This time, he told me about his upcoming retirement from the library (he’s now a librarian), what was blooming at his house, and about the two young sisters who often bring him homemade cookies at the library.

It was lovely, and I hung up feeling happy.  I value all my friends, old and new, but a friendship that has stood the test of time and distance is special. I am grateful for friends, old and new and for happy phone calls from friends that come out of the blue, often just when you need them.

(10) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Just-Picked Vegetables for Supper

July 11, 2012

As plainly can be seen, our green beans are not green.

We planted three kinds of green beans in the garden this year, but only one of them was green.  Yes, not only are there purple green beans, but  yellow ones, too.  I relished the thought of how lovely the multi-hued beans would look in my bright blue serving bowl, but, alas, both the purple and the yellow beans turn green when cooked.  I was quite disappointed, but once I tasted their fresh buttery green goodness, I decided that it didn’t matter.  Besides, green is my favorite color anyway.

I am very grateful to be able to eat vegetables that only an hour before were basking in the afternoon sun.  Somehow, it always seems I can still taste in them the earth and the sun and the rain.  Yes, and maybe even the wind, too.

(8) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Dumbphone

July 9, 2012

Our Dumbphone

We got our first cell phone three years ago, apparently, amongst the last people in the U.S. to get one, or at least, it seemed that way.  We fought the idea for a long time thinking, for one thing, that we couldn’t afford it.  But after discovering no-contract phones, we realized that maybe, just maybe we could work one into our budget.  Plus, with our constant long trips back and forth to our kids’ colleges (many of which were in a 1982 Volvo 245), we realized that having a way to get in touch was almost essential, particularly since phone booths seem to have gone the way of 8-tracks and cassette-tape players.

Still, I hated the idea of a cell phone.  I don’t even like talking on a phone very much.  And Lord knows, I didn’t want to become one of those people who ignore the actual flesh-and-bones person standing before them because apparently whoever they’re talking to on their cell phone is FAR more important.  More than once, I’ve been in a bathroom stall and heard the person in the adjoining stall suddenly say something and thinking they were talking to me, responded, only to realize that they were talking on their cell phone.  I always feel like an idiot, but then I think, Wait, why should I feel like an idiot?  I mean, who has a cell phone conversation while sitting on the john in a public bathroom?

Anyway, we finally decided to take the plunge into the wireless world and have had numerous occasions to be very glad that we did. As any long-time reader of my blog knows, we’ve had a number of unexpected medical emergencies (and other emergencies that I haven’t written about), and I can tell you that being able to call friends and family from the hospital (or your car as you speed to the hospital) has been invaluable.

It’s only a Dumbphone, though.  I say “dumb phone” because, well, it’s not a Smartphone.  In fact, it is the most generic, rudimentary phone you can possibly buy.  Essentially, it makes phone calls.  It does have a little camera, but what’s the point when you can’t download the photos?   But it does make phone calls and it does that extremely well, and I can tell you that that is worth more than all the fancy apps and gadgets in the world when you’re sitting in a cold hospital waiting room, anxious and scared out of your mind and you just want to talk to someone who loves your sick or hurt dear one almost as much as you do.

(5) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Morning Glories

July 6, 2012

Okay, so I DID write this cautionary tale almost three years ago: A Morning Glory Warning Story.  And I still advise you, should you decide to plant them, to be ever vigilant for their tendency to get, well…a little out of hand. Nonetheless, I still adore, with all my heart, the magical morning glory.  Even the name is poetic and beautiful. Clearly, whoever named it must have loved it as much as I do.

I love everything about them—their heart-shaped leaves, their rich rainbow of colors, the way the vine reaches out and twines around whatever it can find, the way they re-seed so generously,  and, most of all, the way they seem to be illuminated from within. Radiant.  They are lovely little vessels of light.

Vessels of light. That’s a prayer I often pray—to be a vessel of the light of God.  To be filled with and reflect back His glory. I often fall short, but the morning glory doesn’t.  I am infinitely grateful for them.