Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas at the Beach

I don't have much time to wax poetic about my short visit with friends who were renting a house on Folly Beach near Charleston.  Aside from the warmth of their hospitality, the highlight for me was a Christmas Eve walk on the beach under a bright moon and starry sky. Miss Chef was definitely missed, but this morning I realized the upside of this whole separated holiday--I get two Christmases!

We also took a couple of walks on Christmas morning, so I'll just share a few photos and hope everyone who reads this had a holiday full of love, laughter and light.

For Miss Chef!

Even the taggers are hippies here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Momma, Please Come Home

Can't you see she's torturing me?  Again?

Pleeeease??  I promise not to eat your chocolate for at least a day.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

For Miss Chef

With all my focus on preparing—both logistically and emotionally—for Christmas on my own, I never stopped to think that I first have a weekend without my sweetie!  Someone asked me at work the other day what I had planned for the weekend and I kind of stared at her uncomprehendingly.

But don’t worry, I haven’t spent all day playing Angry Birds!


Though my 3-star Advent Calendar streak lives on…

No, I actually rose early today and headed off to the farmers’ market all by my lonesome.


I ran into Chef Luca—no picture of him, since he looked very tired.  He said he’d gone to bed around 1 am, and risen before sunrise to get to the Matthews market before coming here.  He seemed very concerned about my being alone for Christmas, but was mollified when I told him I had plans to get together with friends.

I didn’t spend long there, since I didn’t have much cash in my pocket.  I bought everything from one vendor, a new one for us, from Lincolnton—Clearview Farms.  That’s where I ran into Luca; he had ordered Cornish hens from them.  I also stopped off at the Bosky Acres booth to chat with Matt and pass on a message to Michele.  One of the volunteers from the Matthews market stopped by while I was there, to buy some cheese.  (I can’t remember her name, she’s the tall, really young one who set up the online schedule for Pauline.)

As I left the market with empty pockets, I realized I had bought only protein.  I finished off the last of my casserole last night, so I wanted some chicken leg quarters to cook tonight.



Oh, but I did have just enough money left over for a little breakfast treat from Nova bakery, of course!



Thankfully the rain and clouds have left for the moment, and we are enjoying bright, sunny weather.  I went outside to re-count the garlic sprouts.


Still only 13.

Rosie stayed outside while I was at the market, and has been content to stay out there pretty much all day.  It’s great weather for a sunbath.



Every once in a while, though, there’s something worth getting up for…like when the dachshunds got loose next door.


Or when the FedEx man came—he needed barking at.  I was happy to be able to meet him at the door and wish him a Merry Christmas.  Then of course I had to see what else you ordered!


Really?  At least they look fresh this time!

So, you see, I’m keeping busy enough.  Your stocking is looking a bit plumper than when you left.



There are a couple more gifts by the tree…



…which continues to add a cheerful beauty to the living room.



I’ve even laid a fire in the hearth for tonight, with a little kindling helpfully provided by the big tree out back.  We’ll see if I can manage to get it lit without your help!



Still, I’m looking forward just as much to your return as I am to Christmas itself.  And so, I suspect, is Rosie.


“Save me…please!”

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Spirit

I’ve been having an unusually hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year.  Perhaps I’m not feeling it because Miss Chef will not be here—she wasn’t able to travel at Thanksgiving, so will be with her family on Christmas, leaving me and Rosie to wassail the yule (or something).  The weather was not helping either, wandering around in the 60s under low-slung gray clouds.  Bah, humbug.  And of course recent tragic events—both local and distant—certainly put a further damper on any Christmas cheer*.

However, Miss Chef and I had made plans earlier this week to go to Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens to see the lights.  This is the third year I’ve been (I think), but Miss Chef always had to work on those evenings.  December is not a forgiving month for the chef’s schedule, and even though she’s not technically working at the restaurant any more, she is still lending a hand here and there—plus it’s finals week at school.  Which is all to say that after a busy week with not much time together, I was looking forward to this evening for the two of us.

*I don’t wish to gloss over or make light of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, but the airwaves--and our minds--are already so over-saturated that I really don’t feel I have anything meaningful to add. Allow me to offer you this bit of escape.

The botanical gardens are only about 15 minutes’ drive from us, though probably a good 30-minute drive from uptown Charlotte.  The long, winding entry road is also decorated as you drive in, but as I was driving, I didn’t have the chance to take pictures.

The walk from the parking lot to the main entrance building is worth a stop and shot, though.


Unfortunately, all the photos I took were with my phone, since I neglected to make sure Miss Chef made her camera available for me.  (Notice how I didn’t blame her for leaving it on her desk at school?  Isn’t that understanding of me?)

I was a bit surprised to see a short line at the door, but it gave me a moment to take this photo and wonder if this is a noun or a verb…



The main pavilion is designed  to recall gracious Old South plantation-style architecture.  I’m sure any southern belle would appreciate the opportunity to decorate her home with a tree like this.


It must be at least 15 feet tall, and is entirely composed of orchids and tropical greenery.  Sorry I cropped off the top; it was hard to get the whole thing in the frame!  Also, it was hard to get a picture without someone in front of it.  This will be the background for more than one family Christmas card, judging from some of the picture-taking I witnessed.

Beyond this atrium with the tree is an open, round room with a piano magically playing by itself.  It’s a new generation of player piano, controlled electronically.  I caught the last few seconds of one of the pieces of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite to share with you:


Miss Chef had already procured us a cup of spiced cider and one of hot cocoa, so we were ready to move on outside.  We first went to a small garden lit all in white, with an enormous tree behind it dangling blue snowflakes.  There was even special lighting to give the illusion of falling snow.

No, that’s not my voice.


We wandered on through an arbor draped with wisteria created from green and purple lights, open areas guarded by tin soldier forms, and pathways lined with daffodils, sunflowers and others created from lights. 

I’m not a big fan of bottle trees, but they take on a whole different aspect when they’re all lit up!



The pièce de résistance of the whole garden is a long promenade along a narrow channel of water, ending in a towering fountain of water.  Naturally, it’s difficult to get a good picture without a tripod, but I did my best (with a little post-production help from the computer).



Here’s a picture of the fountain and the two trees behind it—palms disguised as evergreens!  I really like the seagull sculpture, too.



We wound up our visit with a turn through the orchid conservatory—which has a lot more than just orchids.  For instance, if anyone offers you a Madagascar palm tree, you might think twice before accepting.



There were no lights in here, though other seasonal decorations abounded.



My favorite part of the conservatory has to be the wall of orchids, complete with miniature waterfall.



None of my other indoor shots turned out very well, so I’ll leave you with this of the outside of the conservatory.


Including a browse through the gift shop, we spent nearly two hours there, but it didn’t seem like a very long visit.  Maybe next time we’ll spring for the horse-drawn carriage ride and see what other sights the gardens have to offer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Minutiae

Sunday evening, as I lay draped on our oversized armchair, my nose buried in a book, Miss Chef commented that I hadn’t posted on my blog lately.  “I know,” I replied, “But I’m not sure what to write about.” 

This afternoon at work, as I sat drowsing at my desk, I popped into my email and noticed that Bossy Betty had dropped off this comment on my last post:

BB comment 

Being an English teacher, BB has a knack for not just asking a question, but creating a writing assignment.  I thought I’d take her up on it--indeed, what have I been doing since Thanksgiving?

Answer: stuff.  All that stuff that happens while you’re busy making other plans.

Friday after Thanksgiving, not only did we get our tree, but we got it up and decorated.  (Please excuse the quality of my photos; they’re all from my phone.)



Oh, but it gets more exciting!  That Sunday, I drove an hour for goat poop.  As our disastrous garden this past summer attested, it was high time I put something back into the soil, and I could think of no finer dirt food than goat manure—especially since we happen to be friends with a goat farmer.  Mom even joined me for the hour’s drive out to Waxhaw, which is a a long time to be driven around for the pleasure of seeing your daughter shovel…stuff.

But I have to tell you, these goat farmers sure are gracious about providing poop.  They had already pulled up their wheel loader with a bucket full of the composted stuff, so there was no stink to contaminate my car.  And Mr. Goat Lady himself (aka Matt) did most of the shoveling into the double-bags I’d assembled.  When they were as full as they could stand, Mrs. Goat Lady (aka Michele) offered an extra feed bag to get every last bit of goodness for the garden.  Mom enjoyed chatting with her while we shoveled, and then Michele and Matt gave us a brief tour of the facility.

Unfortunately, I left my phone in the car, so the only picture I have of the whole experience is this:


Hey, that’s about 200 pounds of fertilizer!  Goat poop is dense.  (Oh, and did I mention…?  Their last name is Lamb.  Bazinga!)

Don’t worry—we did also offer some real entertainment to the folks, including dinner out at our favorite restaurant (Passion8 Bistro), and an evening at The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged).  Then Monday it was back to reality, as Miss Chef and I headed back to work and my parents headed back home.

After all that excitement, I was looking forward Monday evening to a quiet, empty house after five days of company.  Just me and the dog, since Miss Chef teaches Monday nights.  However, as Rosie and I greeted each other at the door after a long day apart, I heard an odd sound in the vicinity of the guest bathroom.  “Did somebody leave the water running?” I said to Rosie.  She didn’t answer.  Which made it all that much easier to hear the carpet go squish as I walked into the small hallway.

What Rosie wasn’t telling me was that the water heater had blown a connector and was spraying water at the furnace.  The furnace didn’t seem to care, and was letting the water splatter on the walls, run down to the floor and ooze on through into the hallway.

I will not go into the details of the panicked call to Miss Chef, the two hours of running the carpet cleaner to suck the water up, the multiple visits from the plumber, the evening showers chez a good friend…nor the gulps we took as we heard the cost of repairs.

No, I’ll just tell you we have a brand-new same-as-cash financing agreement to go along with our new tankless water heater.

Here’s where the old, 40-gallon tank sat (and spewed)—on the right wall you can see the control panel for the new system.



And here’s the new, exterior system (with water barrel and A/C unit for size comparison):


The main benefit of one of these is that you’ll never run out of hot water—it’s heated on demand.  That also means it’s more efficient, as you don’t have 40 gallons of water being kept up to temperature 24/7.  Surprisingly, the energy savings is not great enough to make up the additional cost of a tankless heater.  But since our original tank installation had not been up to code, the cost of the repairs was almost half the cost of this new system.  So we bit the bullet and went tankless.  (Also, this system means almost zero chance of your water heater springing a leak and flooding out your house.  But how often does that happen, right?)

So that, my dears, is what I have been up to—that, and catching up on laundry.  But as I struggle to get my focus back onto the upcoming holidays, let me leave you with some prettier pictures, to go with my new background theme.

A couple closeups of the tree…including the lovely ornament I won from Yabu back in September…





…a poor picture, with poor lighting, of the charming wreath my mother made, complete with foliage and berries from our invasive nandina plants….



…and a parting shot of our lights on the outside of the house.  Miss Chef decided if we were going to put lights on the house, we were going to do it right, so we have more than we’ve ever had before.  She’s still talking about getting on the roof to add something to the center peak, but thankfully she’s a bit overscheduled for the moment and probably won’t get to it…until she reads this post and decides to prove me wrong!


Bonus: if you look closely, you can just see Rosie silhouetted on the lawn.  She’s not having any major accidents during the day (knock wood!!!), but still has some minor issues in the evening.  I guess we’re kind of maintaining at this point, though I don’t think the red-clover treats are really working.