Friday, July 31, 2015

On the Homefront: Bugs (1982-2015)

Yesterday I had to put my wonderful old Appaloosa gelding down.  He was 33 years old, and since last fall his health had been declining.  He managed to get through the winter, but in early spring he had a badly abscessed foot that required much effort from both of us to heal.  Once again he rallied, and seemed to be doing well over the summer, but I noticed that he was having a harder time getting up when he laid down.  His back was rather long, and had been getting weaker over the years, but this year it seemed much worse.  A little over a week ago he got cast in his stall and cut himself up pretty badly.  HIs hind leg lameness also became worse, especially in the left hind leg, and it became even harder for him to lie down and get back up.  Last Sunday he had another episode where he struggled to get up, and yesterday the same thing happened, only much worse.  After over an hour, and with my help, he managed to get up once again, only to stumble and fall about 10 minutes later.  The vet had arrived by then and we had to make the decision to let him go, as once a horse can no longer get up it will deteriorate rapidly.  His will to survive was still so strong even at the end, but it would have been cruel to let him keep struggling like that, and so I had to say good-bye to this wonderful horse.

My Bugs was such an amazing boy.  I got him as the horse I could let anyone ride, and he did not let me down.  He was careful and considerate of novice riders, but would come alive for more advanced riders, full of energy and ready to move out.  He rarely spooked, and never with a rider aboard.  He was such a calm and laid-back fellow that it was a pleasure to just sit in the barn with him and watch him while he ate.  On occasions when I was feeling overly stressed I would sometimes do just that, and he never failed to bring me back to a calm state.  As he got older he needed more medical care, but never fussed about oral medications or injections.  He always seemed to know that I was only trying to help him, and he trusted me completely.  He dealt with pain stoically and had a remarkable ability to bounce back from so many ailments, from lameness to inflammatory bowel disease and even a couple of small tumors.

When he developed inflammatory bowel disease in 2003 I was told he would not live long, but he still managed to survive for twelve more years (most horses don't live much longer than two more years).  Unfortunately, there was not much we could do about his back issue except try to keep the pain and inflammation to a minimum with medication as it progressed.  Were it not for his back, he probably could have gone on for years.  I will miss my sweet boy, but I know it was his time, and he is together again with my old mare, his buddy from Colorado, both of them now pain free forever.

I will take next week off from blogging as I mourn my beloved Bugs, and will return the following week.

Foodie Fridays: Watermelon, Feta, and Kalamata Olive Salad


Emboldened by the success of my salad with strawberries last week, I decided to try another savory fruit-based salad recipe that intrigued me, namely Nigella Lawson's Watermelon, Feta, and Black Olive Salad.  This one was more problematic, as I have never really liked watermelon.  Nevertheless, I found the combination of ingredients so unique that I felt I had to give it a chance.  I have to say that I am glad I did!  This is now about the only way that I will eat watermelon.

Like strawberries, the sweetness of watermelon can be variable, but in this salad it doesn't really matter, as the other ingredients will enhance its flavor whether it is sweet or not.  Our local grocery stores carry pre-cut watermelon chunks, and I bought a quart-size container rather than a whole melon since I did not want to have leftover fruit after making the salad.  I am not fond of mint, so next time I think I will leave it out and possibly increase the basil instead.  I will also leave out the black pepper, as it often makes me choke and I did not notice that it enhanced the flavor of the dish at all.  This is a very quick, easy, refreshing salad that is perfect for the hot summer days we have been having lately, even for those of us who don't normally care for watermelon!

Watermelon, Feta, And Kalamata Olive Salad

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 limes
2-3 C. watermelon chunks (triangular-shaped if possible)
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled or cut into triangular chunks
1/2 bunch parsley
2 T. chopped fresh mint
2 T. julienned basil leaves
2 T. olive oil
1/3 C. Kalamata olives, halved and pitted
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the sliced onion in a small bowl and add the juice of the two limes. Set aside for 15-20 minutes until the onion becomes translucent and the lime juice turns pink.

Combine the watermelon and feta chunks in a large bowl.  Tear the parsley into small leaflets and add with the mint and basil.  Top with the onions and lime juice.  Add the oil and olives and toss the mixture gently until the salad is thoroughly mixed.  Grind on some black pepper and serve.  Serves 4.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: New Favorite Products for Dogs

So deceptively innocent-looking!

Getting a new dog always takes some adjustment time, and the arrival of Maddie in our household is no exception.  While she is a very sweet and loving girl, she is also completely untrained.  We are working on her issues, and I have found a few new products that make this transition time a little bit easier on all of us.  One of my favorite finds was very inexpensive and came from our local Walmart:

This ceramic pet bowl is wide, shallow, and hefty, which means it is unlikely to tip over.  It also has a slightly curved edge inside that makes it easier for dogs to get at the food (I have bought far too many dog bowls over the years that are so tall, narrow, and/or sharply angled inside that my dogs had a hard time eating out of them).  Unfortunately, this bowl is no longer available online, but your local store may still have some.  They are relatively inexpensive (less than $10, probably closer to $8 as I recall) and come in two sizes (for my 30- and 45-pound dogs I got the larger size with the 7-inch diameter and 2.5-inch height).  There were also four different color choices (white, blue, orange, and taupe), so if you are lucky you may even be able to find one in a favorite color!

From Affordable Pet Supply

To keep Maddie occupied requires a lot of toys!  If I really need her to stay quietly in one place, the best option I have found is a treat called the Himalayan Dog Chew.  They are not cheap (normally $8 each for the medium size at our local pet store, but I got mine on sale for $6 each) but dogs love them and you can make them last longer by limiting the amount of time your dogs get to chew on them.  They are made of yak milk, of all things, and are very hard, but a young and determined dog can finish one off in a few days if allowed.  That is way too much cheese, so it really is best to supervise and restrict chewing time!  I am thinking of ordering another chew option from this company called Ruff Roots.  They really are root tubers and they do not shatter like bones or wood, but break down into soft fibers.  These toys are supposedly extremely durable and great for keeping teeth clean, so I think they are worth a try.

One other item that is invaluable with an unreliably housebroken dog is a pet gate or barrier, and by far the best I have found is the Richell USA Elite 6 Panel Convertible Pet Gate (they were slightly less expensive on Amazon, but were out of stock, so I got mine online from Walmart for a little over $200).  There are so many options for configuring this gate, and the panels are easily added or removed to vary the size (you can even buy extra panels!).  The barrier is sturdy but not overly heavy, and the gate section is very easy to use.  My husband thought the locking mechanism for the gate was not dog-proof enough, so I added a little bungee cord to help hold it shut more securely.  There is also no way to attach the gate to a wall, but I read a comment from one customer who just used small hooks and eyes that worked perfectly for this purpose.  Otherwise I have never found a pet gate that is so versatile and easy to use like this one, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who needs to keep dogs away from certain areas.

I am sure that some day Maddie will mature into the perfect dog just like Ruby did, but until then a few gadgets that make life easier are greatly appreciated!

Such a perfect pup!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Cawley Beverage Station

As far as I am concerned, the galvanized steel Cawley Beverage Station ($101) from Birch Lane is pure genius!  There are three sections for storing all of your party beverages.  The basin on top can be filled with ice for beer and soft drinks, the wine rack in the middle holds six bottles, and the shelf at the bottom can hold mixers and/or liquor bottles.  Complete the station with the matching ice bucket ($24.99) and serving tray ($25), and your party time beverage service is practically worry-free.  For a slightly higher price, the basin, ice bucket, and tray also come in a lovely copper finish, so you can choose the finish that suits your décor and party on in style!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Chicken, Queso Fresco, and Strawberry Salad

Earlier in the summer, ads for Wendy's Strawberry Fields Chicken Salad were everywhere.  One of my favorite bloggers at Olla-Podrida even posted her version of this summery salad.  I checked out the Wendy's website and found that the ingredients were fairly simple and accessible, so I decided to try making my own variation.  I am not a big fan of fruits in savory dishes, but, surprisingly, the strawberries were excellent in the salad.  In fact, I would even say I prefer them to tomatoes, which is something I never would have dreamed would be the case!

Fresh strawberries are often very tart, so much so that sometimes the only way to make them edible is by macerating them in sugar first.  Their tartness makes them perfect for this salad, though, as the balsamic dressing has just enough sweetness to complement the berries.  I left out the bacon in my salad, but bacon lovers may prefer to leave it in.  Try making your own version of this salad and see what you think -- you may never go back to tomatoes again!

Chicken, Queso Fresco, and Strawberry Salad

Salad greens (I used baby butter lettuce)
2 T. balsamic vinaigrette*
1/2 C. diced chicken
2 T. crumbled queso fresco**
1-2 T. chopped pecans (or roasted sunflower seeds or pepitas)
5-6 medium strawberries, quartered

Place the salad greens in a shallow bowl.  Toss with 1 T. of the dressing.  Layer on the remaining ingredients, top with the remaining dressing, and serve.  Serves 1.

*I used Marzetti Simply Dressed Light Balsamic Vinaigrette

**The original salad is made with blue cheese, which you can substitute if you like.  Feta, goat cheese, or even fresh mozzarella would likely also work.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Organization Art

From Things Organized Neatly

I am one of those people who suffers from a slight case of OCD.  Not enough to render me dysfunctional, but enough to make me uncomfortable in the presence of disorder and chaos (and I live with a dedicated hoarder, so you can just imagine my pain!).  Recently I discovered the wonderful world of organization art, which is truly a delight for someone like me (I had to change the name of this category slightly, because if you try to Google the original name, trust me, you will end up seeing some images you will fervently wish you could un-see!).

Photographer Emily Blincoe has compiled a collection of works based on objects she has meticulously arranged in a visually pleasing way.  All of the objects are everyday items easily found around the house, but her arrangements have elevated them to artistic status.  Take a look at some of her works, and if you too suffer from mild OCD be prepared to bask in a feeling of blissful calm:

Another example of organization art can be found in a book by Ursus Wehrli called The Art of Cleanup: Life Made Neat and Tidy (2013).  This work is a collection of before and after images showing disorder rearranged into various degrees of order, as shown in the examples below (I really am going to have to buy his book):

If you just can't get enough of organization art, check out the archives from the blog Things Organized Neatly, curated by Austin Radcliffe, who has been quoted as saying "Precision is beauty".  Amen to that!

From Things Organized Neatly

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Pumpkin Mugs

Believe it or not, fall and even Halloween items are beginning to make an appearance in catalogs and online shopping sites.  On the one hand, I find it hard to even think about autumnal matters in the middle of a sweltering summer day, but then again if they help me to forget about our seemingly endless heat wave maybe I'm all for it!  I can't quite bring my self to consider Halloween décor just yet, but I have to say that I am really coveting these simple and lovely Pumpkin Mugs ($48 for a set of four) from Pottery Barn.  The time will eventually come when I will once again be craving hot beverages, and a cup of steaming tea or apple cider would be especially tasty in one of these mugs!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On the Homefront: Summer in the Garden

A luxuriant Lantana camara 'Miss Huff' in full bloom.  This shrub
was developed and introduced by our local plant nursery,
Goodness Grows.

This has been an unusually lush summer because of all the rain we had over the winter and spring.  I have even been inspired to put in more planting beds in an effort to spruce up the yard.  Our new dog Maddie has tried to help with the digging, and I have to keep explaining to her that random holes all over the lawn were not what I had in mind!  I started a new border with half a dozen blueberry plants, and I replaced a dead Cleyera at a corner of the house with a forsythia bush.  A new variety of crape myrtle replaced a Japanese maple that succumbed to a late spring frost.

Crape myrtle 'Black Diamond Crimson Red'
(from All Things Plants)

I have high hopes for this striking shrub with its almost black foliage and vivid red flowers.  I bought mine at Lowe's earlier in the year.  While mine will probably not flower this year, I noticed that some of the larger ones at Lowe's are beginning to bloom and the flower color is spectacular.  If my plant survives the winter I may put in a few more next year.

Our little shrub won't be flowering this year, but I am pleased with
the way it has adapted to the transplant (it even has some new
leaf growth).

Recently, a trip to our local nursery for a craft beer festival led to the purchase of a few more new plants, including a new variety of Vitex, a couple of vibrant scarlet-red daylilies, and a flowering quince (Chaenomeles sp.).

Vitex agnus-castus 'Shoal Creek'
(from Goodness Grows)

Vitex, also known as chaste tree, is a hardy shrub with lovely lavender blue flowers that are especially attractive to our local bumblebees.  The variety I got, called 'Shoal Creek', is fairly new and was developed by the nursery, so it should be well adapted to conditions in our yard.

Our newly planted Vitex (and you can see a few of the new
blueberry plants in the background).

Daylily 'Chicago Apache'
(from Monrovia)

In an earlier post I mentioned a couple of beautiful red daylily varieties I saw at a show in Athens.  The daylilies we found at the nursery, called 'Chicago Apache', were very close in color to those varieties, so we had to get them!

Daylily 'Chicago Apache' flowering vigorously in our yard!

Actual unretouched photo of one of the flowers (the colors
practically glow!).

Flowering quince 'Superba Fusion'
(from Almost Eden)

I bought a variety of red-flowering quince called 'Fusion' to complement another flowering quince I planted when we first moved to Georgia over ten years ago.  Since this is also a relatively new variety, it is certainly not the same as the first one, but hopefully the flower color will be similar.

It will be a while before my little flowering quince produces blossoms,
 but I will be satisfied if it manages to survive the winter.

In addition to abundant flora this year, our yard has been filled with visiting wild fauna as well.  A pair of cardinals nested in one of the Loropetalum shrubs on the west side of our house, and successfully fledged a pair of babies.  A couple of months ago a bird species I had never seen before, the Great Crested Flycatcher (new addition to my life list!), decided to take up residence in our back yard.  I would never have known had they not decided to attack their reflections in our French door windows every afternoon for several weeks!  Fortunately, no one was hurt, the windows survived, and they eventually gave up the attack.

Great Crested Flycatcher
(from Wikimedia Commons)

Our property is completely fenced, and I am doing my best to block off gaps at the bottom of the fence to keep out nine-banded armadillos, since they are even worse than Maddie when it comes to digging holes in the yard.  Armadillos are not native to this area, but over the years have managed to work their way farther and farther north.  They can carry the leprosy bacteria that also affects humans, so it is best not to handle them (a recent increase in the number of leprosy cases in Florida has been partially attributed to contact with armadillos).  The other day Maddie still managed to find a half-grown armadillo in our yard who was small enough to squeeze through a tiny fence opening.  The two of us chased it off and I filled in the little hole it went through.  Hopefully Maddie terrified it enough that it will not come back!

Nine-banded armadillo mother and baby
(from Arkive)

Our yard has not been neglected by herps.  Black and reticulated king snakes have made an appearance, but both species are nonvenomous and relatively nonaggressive, especially the black snakes, so I welcome them as they control rodent populations.  Toads are abundant at night right now, much to the delight of our dogs Ruby and Maddie, who love to goad them into jumping and will play at that game for hours if I let them (I don't!).  A tiny little frog was hopping through the grass recently, and I think it was a species of chorus frog:

I have seen my favorite visitor, the Eastern box turtle, on many occasions this year, including a tiny baby.  Recently several adults have been making their way across our yard, including this handsome fellow:

We are now suffering through the height of a typical Georgia midsummer, with all of its excessive heat and humidity.  The only bearable time of day is the predawn hours when I walk my dogs, but at least the garden seems to be loving this weather!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Grilled Beet, Sauerkraut, and Swiss Reuben Sandwich

Back before I developed my allergy to red meat, one of my favorite deli lunch options was the Reuben Sandwich.   I always chose to substitute deli mustard for Thousand Island Dressing, as I found this spread too cloyingly sweet.  When I became allergic to red meats, I would request a Turkey Reuben (sometimes called a Rachel Sandwich) instead.  I still asked for mustard, but without the fatty beef this version was sometimes a bit dry-tasting.  Recently I found a recipe for a Beet, Sauerkraut, and Swiss Reuben.  Out of curiosity, I decided to try it.  The recipe included ingredients for making a homemade version of Thousand Island Dressing.  Rather than just substituting mustard again, I decided to make the dressing with honey mustard instead of catsup.  This mustard sauce was the perfect spread for the sandwich, adding richness but a lot less sweetness (I may have to try it on the Turkey Reuben some day).  The sandwich is really tasty, and I finally feel I've found a red meat-free version of the Reuben that is almost as good as the original!

Grilled Beet, Sauerkraut, and Swiss Reuben Sandwich

1 T. mayonnaise
1 tsp. honey mustard
1/2 tsp.sweet pickle relish
2 slices rye bread
3-4 slices Swiss cheese
4-5 unsalted cooked beet slices
1/4 C. sauerkraut
1/2 T. butter

Combine the first three ingredients in a small bowl.  Place the bread on a plate.  Spread the mustard sauce evenly on both slices.  Top one piece with half of the cheese, all of the beet slices in one layer, the sauerkraut, and the rest of the cheese.  Finish with the other slice of bread and butter the top.  Move the sandwich to the center of the plate.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat.  Pick up the plate, hold the heated pan over the plate, and flip so that the sandwich is in the center of the pan.  Butter the top slice of bread.  Return the pan to the heat and grill the sandwich 3-4 minutes per side, until the cheese melts and the bread is golden brown.  Return to the plate and serve.  Serves 1.

Note: I used Silver Floss Bavarian Style Sauerkraut, which is slightly sweet and flavored with caraway seeds.  I used seeded rye bread because I like caraway seeds, but any type of rye bread will work.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery and Other Stories"

Lately I have been listening to an audiobook version of Shirley Jackson's short story anthology called The Lottery and Other Stories (1949).  Jackson is best known for the title story as well as the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959).  The latter was the inspiration for the movie classic "The Haunting" (1963) starring Julie Harris.  Although Shirley Jackson is often considered a horror writer, her works are much more subtle than the typical horror story, and in this collection most of the works are more quirky than terrifying.  In fact, I am not sure I would classify most of these tales as horror fiction.  Some are even rather funny, which I was not at all expecting, and all of the stories are so unique and well written that you cannot stop listening!

Until now the only work by Jackson I had read was her novel We Have Always Lived in a Castle (1962).  I was in high school at the time and found the book to be rather strange and vaguely disturbing.  I did not like it and consequently did not read any more of her works.  However, I am truly enjoying her short stories, perhaps because I am much older now and can better appreciate her unusual and somehow slightly off-kilter view of life in these tales.  If you are looking for stories of the supernatural, this collection is not for you.  In fact, most of the stories tend to be about the everyday lives of seemingly ordinary people who end up in odd predicaments that develop so gradually you are never certain exactly how they got into these situations.  For the most part these tales are not at all scary, and I would recommend this collection even to those who are not fans of horror fiction.  Both the book and the CD versions are available on Amazon.  You can read one of the more comedic short stories from the collection, entitled "Charles", here.  If you have about 30 minutes to spare and are truly fascinated by the author's work, listen to a reading of "The Lottery" on YouTube:

And for those who are hard-core fans, there is a 6-hour reading of the novel The Haunting of Hill House on YouTube as well:

Shirley Jackson is a truly unique writer, and I may just have to seek out and read more of her quirky fiction!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Trio of Modcloth Treasures

Sometimes the simplest things are the most delightful, like this trio of treasures from Modcloth.  If you are a tea drinker, start your morning off with a mug full of tea brewed in the winsome Deep Tea Diver Infuser ($14.99) shown above.

Chances are you will be the only person in town serving your wine with the help of a rhinoceros if you own the Servin' Safari Bottle Pourer, which is on sale at 70% off for an incredible $3.99!

Should you have any leftover wine, you can store the bottle topped with the adorable Cats Enough For Now Wine Stopper ($11.99).

Why settle for the merely mundane when you can add a little quirky charm to your day!