Monday, March 26, 2012

When life gives you lemons

Yesterday my friend Anita brought me a bag of lemons from her tree here in Mesa. I have never seen such monstrous lemons in all my life.

You can't imagine, even from this picture, how huge they are. The one on the left is more the size of a grapefruit.

I have seen oversized grapefruit in Mesa this year also. They look like bowling balls.

So what is going on?

Native Arizonians say it's because it has been such a terribly dry year. The skins of the citrus fruits are all very thick, but once you peel the skins away, the meat of the fruit is more normal.

We were going to plant some citrus trees along the side of our house but we learned they need year-round maintenance with watering, or installing watering systems to operate during our six-month absence. We changed our minds after learning how willing people are to share their oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.

Okay, so what do you do with a big bag of lemons? Of course, you make lemonade. Or you squeeze the lemons and pour into ice cube trays for adding to drinks, or making an individual glass of lemonade. You can make a lemon cake, lemon poppy seed bread, lemon meringue pie, and so on. There are many possibilities.

They all involve too much work for me.

I simply cut them into eighths, or even in chunks, and plop them into a Ziploc bag, then freeze. We brought a bagful of whole lemons back to Minnesota last year and I did this after we arrived back. I used them right up until we left for Mesa again in the fall. I add a frozen chunk of lemon to ice water or lemon-lime soda.

So refreshing. A taste of Arizona all summer long.


I thought you might want to see the progress of our yellow Prickly Pear blooms before signing off and wishing you a good week ahead.

 Luscious yellow lemons. Lovely yellow blossoms.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

First blooms

It is spring in Mesa and the cactus are in bloom. Nothing out of the ordinary. It happens every year.

But this year our very own Prickly Pear cactus burst open with blooms and I felt like I had given birth.

When we moved in last year, our little yard was bereft of any landscaping at all. No plants, flowers, bushes or trees of any kind.

So we got busy and planted an agave plant, a Prickly Pear cactus, a barrel cactus, and a fourth plant whose species escapes me.  Prickly Pears bare beautiful flower blossoms of varying colors, but you usually see shades of pink or rose.

These are the first blossoms from my neighbor's Prickly Pear.
When we arrived back to our winter home this year, we noticed our baby Prickly Pear had doubled in size. We were excited to see our new plantings had survived and looked healthy, despite being totally ignored by our six-month absence.

What a remarkable plant these cacti are. If they can flourish in the desert with blistering sun and no rain, I guess we shouldn't have been so surprised that they made it through the summer in our front yard.

Then recently we started to notice buds. Closed up tight, but definitely buds. We wondered if this year our little Prickly Pear would actually blossom. And, if so, what color? We assumed pink but we didn't see the pinkish tinge at the tip of the bud, as in our neighbor's plant.

Then one day, I peeked out the window in the early morning and had to go running outside in my pajamas to double check.

Two blossoms!

I could hardly contain myself. And they were YELLOW

Though certainly not rare, we have not seen another Prickly Pear with yellow flowers anywhere in our park.

Passers-by have stopped to look so we think they agree that our little Prickly Pear is beautiful. And we're like proud new parents watching people admire our little baby plant.

Aren't life's little treasures just the best?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dust if you must

I don't know Mrs. Rose Milligan. I don't know where she's from and I don't know how old she is. But she wrote the following poem. I wish I had read it, and memorized it, years ago.
Dust if you must.
But wouldn’t it be better,
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed?
Ponder the difference between want and need.

Dust if you must.
But there is not much time
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
Music to hear, and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.
Dust if you must.
But the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes,the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come round again.
Dust if you must.
But bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go, and go you must,
You, yourself, will make more dust!
Okay, I'm not sure it would have actually changed anything.

But I would have blown it up to poster size and mounted it with permanent glue somewhere prominent in my house. Maybe even if a tiny bit rubbed off on me, it would be a good thing.

I was (am?) a compulsive house cleaner. I drove my little family of four c-r-a-z-y, wiping little finger smudges off every surface, re-making the beds when we were teaching our two little ones responsibility. You get the picture.

My house was spotless; perfect, actually. But I was always exhausted. I wish I had taken more time with my children, with my neighbors, family. I sometimes thought they were an interruption. They were anything but; they were treasures.

And did I permanently damage my children? I guess you would have to ask them.

Life is so short. I've been espeically aware of that recently.

I hope this inspires you today to do something wild, creative, contemplative, or even foolish. You won't be sorry.
Me? I need to go empty the dishwasher...
Just kidding!  I'm going out for a brisk walk. The dishwasher will still be there, and if I don't empty it, nobody will notice. Sure wish someone had told me that long ago. Or maybe they did, and I wasn't listening.

So here's to you, Mrs. Milligan.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Napkin tutorial

Our women's craft group had a luncheon tea today as many snowbirds begin planning their journeys home from Arizona for the season. Other groups in our park are having banquets, potlucks, and parties.

The luncheon table was so beautifully set for us.  At each place was the prettiest cloth napkin with a small paper box (also homemade)  filled with M&Ms and peanuts. It was so cleverly done and I'm going to attempt to describe how to make the napkins.

Start with two 14x14 pieces of cotton fabric in contrasting patterns and stitch them together. In this example, red gingham contrasted a teapot design.

Fold each corner into the middle, as illustrated.

Then gently flip it over so the folded corners are on the underside and you're looking at the smooth side.

Then repeat the process of folding toward the center as you did before. You'll now have a smaller piece.

Reach under and pull up one corner at a time to form a "petal." Pull each corner up only partway.

In this illustration, three petals have been pulled up
from underneath and one is still flat.

And then...VOILE!

You now have a fancy napkin that you can place on each plate,
or in our case, at each place.
Ours had a homemade little box in the middle filled with candy. You could use any kind of decoration, a fancy piece of chocolate, or even a teacup in the middle.  I bet you could imagine many different things to decorate the middle.

We were each given our napkin and candy box to keep as a gift.

I thought these napkins would be nice for a bridal or baby shower, or any kind of luncheon. There are so many bright and beautiful ginghams and cotton fabrics available, it would be fun to match them to the occasion.    ~~~ 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Memory lane

Today I'm baking oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. So I set my iPod to play songs of the 50s and 60s as I'm stirring the dough and putting cookie sheets in the oven.

I usually forget about this genre, so today I thought I'd listen to something I haven't played for awhile.

Oh, boy. A flood of memories with each song.

Isn't it funny how you can listen to a song from your teen days and be transported back in time with very specific memories? I think during that time your emotions are felt so acutely and they attach themselves to a song, either for the melody or the lyrics, and it stays with you. So hearing it again, you experience the same feelings - or at least, you remember the feelings.

Remember "Devil or Angel?"  Well, that was Mike's and my song.  Don't ask me why. I really don't remember. But my first date was with Mike. We went to the St. Paul Winter Carnival's torchlight parade and I had to be home by ten. I had just turned fourteen.

The St. Thomas Academy boys hung out at the local Strandy's bakery and restaurant, so we'd meet there after school. Mike was so handsome in his crisp St. Thomas uniform.

But I lost interest after awhile, and dated others. All the Everly Brothers songs spoke to me. "All I Have to Do is Dream" came along when a boy I had a crush on failed to so much as notice I existed. His name was John and I probably stalked him through my whole sophomore year.

Then when I was a junior, I met my first real love.  He was a year older and set to graduate; had enlisted in the US Army and was scheduled to leave for basic training shortly after graduation.  He had baby blue eyes, a curl in the middle of his forehead, and a sweet, irresistible face. He made my heart skip a beat. Make that several beats.

So when he was set to leave for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, we adopted the song, "Sealed With A Kiss."  The words were perfect, written just for us.

Though we gotta say goodbye for the summer,
Darling, I promise you this,
I'll send you all my love
Every day in a letter,
Sealed with a kiss.

Not all golden oldies were about boys. Songs like I'm Sorry, Tears On My Pillow, Silhouettes, Lonesome Town, all elicited emotions. But there were fun ones, too, like How Much Is that Doggie in the Window? and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight? and Who Put the Bop in the Bop-Shoo-Bob-Shoo-Bop (Who Put the Ram in the Rama Dama Ding-Dong)?

Then there were the dance tunes. The Twist, The Stroll, Bristol Stomp. We learned the dance moves from American Bandstand. Bob and Justine, Carmen Jiminez and her sister, Yvette. They taught us how.

Graduation, 1963
They were songs of innocent times.  Times when drugs were something you took if you were sick. Smoking a cigarette could get you expelled from school. Getting into trouble meant consequences. Hot-rodding through Tangletown, TP'ing a neighbor's tree or soaping Strandy's bakery window was about as much trouble as we dared do.

Most girls were Elvis fans.  I preferred Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, or the Platters. Perhaps that tells you how wild and crazy I really was(n't)... I did get into my share of trouble, though, but we won't go into that.

Burgers at Sandy's, malts at Porky's, after school at Scotstop, dancing with Doug at Kathy's party...

There goes my timer. My cookies are done and the iPod has stopped playing.  I guess it's time to tuck away my old memories for today.

But the best thing about memories? They'll still be there another day. Thanks for reminiscing with me.

And, please... help yourself to a cookie.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Honorary Red Hat

My  neighbor, Thelma, is one of those wonderful people you love to know.

She is one of those rare women who doesn't let one single moment of life pass her by. As I get to know her better here in Mesa, our winter home, she becomes more dear to me.

She is involved in anything and everything fun. From the park's Kitchen Band, to morning exercises in the pool, to card games, to participating in melodramas, to going to McDonald's in a clown costume after riding her golf cart in the Mardi Gras parade....  If there is fun involved, Thelma is in the middle of it.

Watching her makes me smile.  She balances out the introverted, reflective side of me. I always take life a bit too seriously for my own good.

Yesterday, I was her guest for lunch at a Red Hat Ladies' get-together.  She invited me a week ago as she thought it would be nice for me to get to know other women in our park. 

And so, for a day, I was an honorary member of the local Red Hats!

A global society, Red Hats International was founded in 1998 and is open to women who are age 50 and beyond. Its mission is to support and encourage women in their pursuit of fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment, and fitness. It strives to reshape the way women are viewed in today's culture.

Well, if there is fun involved, I can see why Thelma is part of this group.

A nicer group of women you would never meet. Warm and welcoming, it was an honor to be in their company. All wore stylish outfits of purple and elegant red hats.  While at lunch, a waiter came to our table and asked "Why are you all wearing red hats?"

Thelma replied, "Because we can do anything we want!"  He said, simply, "Oh."  But we could tell he didn't get it. He walked away looking rather perplexed. 

Too bad he wasn't the one to take our order. In true Red Hat style, one woman ordered breakfast of eggs and pancakes, and a glass of Chardonnay. Half of the group ordered wine, because a real Red Hatter pays no attention to the time of day for drinking wine.

The group bases its philosophy on Jenny Joseph's wonderful poem, Warning. The opening lines of the poem read:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
I do believe this particular group's main purpose is just getting together once a month as friends and enjoying each other's company. Going to lunch is their main activity. They do it well, and I was proud to join them.

The leader of the Red Hat group is referred to as the Queen.  Well, in this case, guess who is the Queen? 

       ....Yes, that would be Thelma.

Thelma made sure I had a red hat.

Every woman should have a Thelma in her life. I'm sure glad I do!