Monday, March 29, 2010

Seville's Holy Week - Semana Santa

As Christians around the world mark the last few days of Lent, the Spanish town of Seville draws crowds of up to one million to witness the centuries old processions of Semana Santa. I've never been to Spain, but would love to see the Holy Week celebrations in Seville. During these eight days, 57 brotherhoods/fraternities process to the Cathedral of Seville carrying floats (two or more per brotherhood) representing the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

The brotherhoods go back as far as the 14th century and are generally connected to a parish or church and leave from there on their pilgrimage to the Cathedral. There are more than 60 processions in total, with many different routes, often through narrow streets with tight turns. Much practice is needed to successfully maneuver the giant floats which are adorned with flowers, fabric - and even candles - that sway and flicker as the float moves.

Some of the floats date to the 17th century and all are enormously heavy - many weighing more than two tons. They are carried through the streets of Seville on the backs of costaleros who are beneath the floats, hidden from sight. The processions may take up to eight hours and each costalero bears about 100+ pounds while shuffling along in the dark.

On Good Friday the processions begin at midnight and continue throughout the night with large crowds following. The Holy Week processions are so important that apartments overlooking the routes rent and sell for a premium.

So here's hoping I'll be in Seville next year - maybe I'll see you there. And, if you've attended the Semana Santa, I'd love to hear all about it!

For more photographs and a look behind the scenes, visit Spain on Line or Explore Seville or, our usual standby for info, Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Have Books Turned Your Brain?

"She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." ~ Louisa May Alcott

If you're feeling like Alcott's subject, here are some alternative uses for your books. Of course, I'm not recommending re-purposing the books you love, but these are great uses for the many unloved, never-to-be-read-again books that appear at book sales, estate sales, the back of your guest room closet, etc.

I saw the first idea a few days ago at GardenDesigns + More. This is a lovely blog that you'll enjoy exploring - whether you have a garden or just love great design. Isn't this a wonderful idea for recycling old books?

Or how about this work titled Altered Books by book artist Sally Cole.

Or this adorable Book Lady/Chicken I saw recently at a local book shop (McIntyre's Fine Books - more about it later in the week). Her dress is made of book pages and is the latest in haute couture for the reading crowd!

Or these stunning works from Su Blackwell? Check out her website for more examples of her work and her current exhibitions, including one in New York right now!

It's difficult to choose between her Alice (above, complete with rabbit hole) and the birds below . . .

And what about the work of the amazing Brian Dettmer - see what he does with whole sets of encyclopedias?

Check out his website for galleries that carry his work. If there is one near you, you'll want to drop by!

So these are just a few ideas to consider before taking those old books to Goodwill.

Happy book hunting and reading, or cutting . . .

Friday, March 26, 2010

Serendipitous Friday!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Friday is the most promising day of the week.

Okay, so I borrowed a bit of that from Jane Austen, but don't you think it's true? Weekends are great, of course, but Friday holds the promise of the weekend - relaxing Friday night knowing you can sleep in the next day or perhaps starting the weekend a few hours early - that seems more rewarding than Saturday itself . . . The odd thing about this is that I don't even have a regular job now, I'm not committed to a five-day routine, but I still look forward to weekends and wake up on Fridays feeling a bit excited about what might be in store. And today turned out to be a great day - a mid-morning change of plans led to:

Lunch and tea with my husband at a fun cafe:

Some beautiful spring blooms spotted while I was out and about. The tree-lined drive at the top of this post is stunning in real life, unfortunately this house is on a busy road and it was difficult to get a good picture - this one was taken from the sun roof! As for the flowering shrub below, I can't think of its name - it's been driving me crazy all afternoon. If you can identify it, please help! I'd love to have this in my garden . . .

And finally a detour this afternoon led to the discovery of a book sale for a nearby library. We love book sales and this one was great - lots and lots of well-organized books at ridiculously low prices. Here's our stash (yes, they provided shopping bags and building-to-car umbrella service!).

So now I'm ending the day with my new (old) books and one of these:

And, I'm not thinking about the things that were left undone because of these last-minute diversions. After all, what's the point of a play-day if you're going to feel guilty later?

I hope your weekend contains a bit of serendipitous fun!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brown-Edged Wafers: Yum!

Would you prefer a cookie that's: 1) foolproof, 2) easy to make, 3) a cookie classic, 4) so delicious everyone wants the recipe, or 5) A and C? No need to fret over the answer because Brown-Edged Wafers are all of the above! This simple, buttery cookie is certain to become a favorite. The cookies are crunchy and pretty - perfect to accompany fresh fruit or ice cream (or both . . . so many possibilities). Feel free to ignore the holey texture of my batch; I was interrupted while creaming the butter and sugar and resumed the process an hour later - usually they texture is finer . . . really.

You might remember the store-bought version (from Nabisco, I think). These are so much better. Plus, a friend told me those were actually called 'Brown Edge Cookies' so perhaps the people at Nabisco were embarrassed at their grammar mistake and decided to halt production (although the folks at Reynolds don't seem to notice their mistake with 'Wax Paper' - I mean if the paper was made of wax as the name implies it wouldn't work very well . . . but, enough about my pet grammar peeves).

Here's the recipe:

Brown-Edged Wafers

Heat oven to 350.

1 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites (unbeaten)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Cream butter. Add sugar, beating until fluffy. Add egg whites, one at a time, blending well. Stir in flour. Stir in vanilla, if using.

Drop by teaspoon (I use a small scoop - it's easy and precise) on ungreased cookie sheet, at least two inches apart. Bake until edges are brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool one minute on sheet then remove to cooling rack (don't cool completely on baking sheet as they will crumble).

Yield: 2 dozen unless you eat lots of batter!

I hope you'll try these this weekend - I'm off to make a pot of tea and have one now!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Join me in Botswana, Ma (or Ra, as the case may be)

Okay, we're talking about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - if you've read the books you know I really mean Mma and not Ma, but since watching the great television adaptation I just think of it as Ma. And who hasn't read at least one of the books? For a while they were a staple of every book club and always on the best seller lists. And there are lots of them, so if you get hooked on authors or series (as I often do!), Alexander McCall Smith is a great choice for you.

If you don't subscribe to HBO or have access to BBC programming, you possibly missed the fabulous TV version - but it's available on DVD, so add it to your must-watch list! It's one of the best adaptations I've seen on the big or small screen. Jill Scott is perfect as Mma Ramotswe - yes, I said perfect!

And as you expect from the BBC, the production is first-rate. The cast and locales are exactly as you imagine when you read the novels - right down to the ubiquitous bush tea! But, not to worry if you haven't read the books - they aren't a pre-requisite for enjoying the show. And, the series has two advantages over the books: a great soundtrack and cheery and clever animated titles. Airside designed beautiful opening / closing titles that reflect the action and characters in each episode. Click here for their website or here to see the titles complete with music.

So, if you're looking for a good book or show - check out the No. 1 Ladies. If you're a fan of the books or television series, I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday's Garden: Double, Ruffle, Old!

What's going on in the garden this week? Lots of daffodils and for some reason, I never get tired of them. I also can't remember which ones are planted where, so it's always a bit of a surprise when they open. This ruffly is a fave:

As are these that were blowing in the wind this afternoon (yes, it sounds nice, but it makes the photographers job a bit tough).

Here's what I wanted to show you, though - these are doubles. That's right, two blooms on each one!

And finally, here's a picture of a nest that I hoped was something unique. Boy was I wrong! It's a squirrel's nest (apologies to squirrel lovers) - and an old one at that . . . What this tree needs is gentrification, perhaps replace this nest with a cardinal's nest - then I'll have a nice photo to share!

Hope your week is off to a nice start!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why is this vine so sad?

Can a vine be sad? I don't know, but this one is weeping . . .

Yesterday my husband and I spent the day in nearby Winston-Salem - it's about an hour away and a great place for a one-day getaway (or staycation, in 2009 parlance!). There are several antique shops that we like to investigate, including the one where we bought our giant pickle crock. No luck this time, however (although that could also be interpreted as lucky). We stopped at Old Salem and while walking through the town saw this vine.

On closer inspection, you'll see what we saw - it's weeping! Many vines 'weep' when pruned, especially this time of year. I'm not sure if this vine was pruned yesterday or the day before, but it was certainly 'bleeding sap' (as old gardening books say).

The vine itself was very pretty - bare and twisted and intricately surrounding the fence. But when the drops of sap caught the sunlight, it was positively sparkling. The sap from some vines is an irritant while the sap from grape vines is used in cosmetics (in French it's called les vignes pleurent - doesn't that sound nicer than grape vine sap?). Companies like Caudalie use many parts of the grape plant, including the seeds and sap, in products that tone, firm, and cleanse. So, if you have vines to prune this Spring, watch for the oozing sap . . . you might even check your favorite garden book or website beforehand to see if the sap is harmful or beneficial - it could keep you from weeping!

The End ~~

Friday, March 19, 2010

Peter Piper Picked a Pile of Pitas . . . freshly baked, of course!

Do you like pita bread? I'm guessing you said yes, because who doesn't like it? The next question is a bit trickier . . . have you ever baked pita bread? No? It's so easy . . . since first trying this recipe last week, I've baked it twice. Yum!

I saw this recipe several months ago at The Fresh Loaf and am glad I finally baked it. It's the easiest yeast bread I've ever made and a great recipe to try if you are new to baking. And if you have kids I think they will like this because you put the dough in the oven as flat circles and in five minutes it's puffed into the two-sided pita we know and love. To be honest, I rather like watching this myself . . .

You can get the full recipe here at The Fresh Loaf, plus there are step-by-step photos and lots of good info. (FYI - I used half wheat flour and half regular and loved the results!) While taking pictures of my pitas in the bread basket, I was reminded of the Operation game - remember the bread basket? It turns out this game is still pretty popular and has its own Wikipedia page.

I learned quite a few things about Operation today - first, the original 1965 version featured a smoking doctor on the box. This is now prized by collectors. Look at the doctor - isn't he scary?

Second, Operation-themed costumes are pretty popular - that's something to keep in mind next October. Finally, there are websites that show you how to turn the Operation board into other games. I'm not including links to those because if you're that kind of Mr. Fix-it person you'll know where to find these instructions . . . and if you're not, I don't want to be responsible for injuries when you re-wire the board. (It's not fun when your nose lights up!)

Hope you have a great weekend - with or without pita in your bread basket.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Put your little grey cells to work on this mystery . . .

Three years ago at an auction of items belonging to Agatha Christie, one lucky lady paid $150 (100 British pounds) for an old leather trunk. The trunk bears the initials CMM, which the new owner now knows are those of Christie's mother - Clara Margaret Miller. Wouldn't you love to own an item like this from the estate of Dame Agatha? Perhaps she traveled with it on the Orient Express or kept manuscripts for new novels in it while on working on digs in Iraq with her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan . . . or, oh! the possibilities are endless.

The owner of the trunk must be a patient person - the trunk was locked and, though she suspected something was inside, she did not force it open until recently. Could you stand to wait three years? When it was opened it revealed another mystery - a locked strongbox.

And when it was opened, it revealed true treasure, and not just the 'valuable to a fan' kind of treasure. But, the treasure of legends - gold, silver, diamonds!

The box contained 50 gold coins and the jewelry seen above. The ring is thought to be Christie's mother's engagement ring. What a marvelous surprise! And for those of us who think all the great antiques have been discovered - here's proof we're wrong. So, find an auction near you and look for hidden treasure . . .

Click here to read the entire story or click here for details on visiting Agatha Christie's home, Greenway, seen above (including the mural painted by an American GI during WWII).

As for me, I'm off to look for treasure of a smaller kind . . . my well-read copy of 4:50 from Paddington.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The March Star

Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat --
You must have walked --
How out of breath you are!

Emily Dickinson captured my thoughts exactly with her whimsical poem about March! I am so glad March finally came and I was looking for it for weeks . . .

And, when it came, it brought blooms for our Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).

For the first time in several years the blooms were not damaged by late ice or frost - and so they are perfectly white and really lovely in the stark winter landscape.

If you're looking for a small ornamental tree (zones 4-9), consider this graceful early bloomer. It's easy to grow and, according to a neighbor, easy to propagate . . . I'll be trying this myself in a few weeks and will let you know!

In the meantime, I'm off to read Emily's poem in its entirety (click here).

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Lost Weekend: Boots, Blackmail, & Drugs!

Well, I'm back from an unexpected hiatus - at least back for a short post. A few days ago I woke up with a horrible cold - not the normal kind of cold (shall we say common cold) that lets you get on with your normal life even though you're not feeling your best. No, this was a flu-like cold that just zapped all my energy, made my head feel hot and heavy, and left me feeling quite sorry for myself. You know how it is, if you're really sick you just deal with it, but when you're just a little sick it can really bring out your mopey side - or maybe that's just me . . .

So, in the end I took OTC medicine that contains a large dose of pseudoephedrine and while it relieved the stuffy-hot-head, three days of it really made me feel jittery and strange - which is where the blackmail comes in. I had this weird dream - twice - where this relative of a friend of a friend was an evil blackmailer. She was known as the Wedding Blackmailer because she recorded wedding guests making snarky comments about the bride/groom/wedding/reception and then make them pay large sums to keep quiet. Isn't that bizarre?

But, here was the good thing about the weekend:

I had just found this great bath foam at Target - it's from Boots, the British drug store. I didn't even know Target carried Boots - perhaps I should check out their cosmetic section more often. This is the best bubble bath; it's scented with Bergamot, Sage, and Lavender . . . heavenly! A hot tub filled with this is just the thing for a tiresome cold. Especially when combined with a great magazine:

Luckily the latest issue of BBC Homes and Antiques arrived last week! So there's always a bright spot - and perhaps the bright spot here is that even though I fell asleep in the tub, I didn't slide under the water . . . that might have resulted in a longer hiatus!

Check back tomorrow for something less self-indulgent ~ cough, cough. Hope your week is off to a great start!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Alice Fever Spreads to J Peterman

Have you seen the new Alice in Wonderland movie? Whether you plan to or not, you might enjoy browsing through the new J. Peterman catalog.

It features an Alice-themed tea table on the cover - just a bit of cheery March Madness! And, as always, the catalog is an interesting read - and if you're in the market for WWII cotton Army drawers or a flirty dress from the '40s or '50s, you'll find it here. Here's my favorite item:

These are very similar to Dansko clogs (which I love on days when I'm on my feet for hours!), but have this great floral pattern and wooden soles. Here's my dilemma: would I wear these almost every day during the spring and summer or would they be relegated to the back of the closet because in real life they are more clown/housefrau than in the catalog? Because I don't think there will be any middle ground with these . . .

Click here to check out the J. Peterman catalog - and feel free to offer comments about the clogs!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I wouldn't blame The Dish for running away with this Spoon!

Who wouldn't want to steal away with this charming Georgian sterling spoon? It's a coffee spoon with a perfect little 'B' monogrammed on the back. It's one of a pair purchased on eBay several years ago.

It's difficult to see from the photo, but the bowl is quite worn from years of use.

It's a sweet 5 3/8" - just right for a small cup of tea or coffee.

The hallmarks tell us it was made in London in 1825 - just imagine, someone could have used this spoon to stir tea while reading about Thomas Jefferson's death in the newspaper! And now it's used to stir my tea . . .

Collectors often overlook spoons because they're so plentiful. But, sometimes they're also so delightful and usually quite affordable - especially if monogrammed. If you're interested in learning more about English sterling, consider purchasing a copy of Jackson's Hallmarks - it's a lifesaver when you're antiquing (online or in real life!).

Thanks for stopping by and meeting my little spoon! What things have you collected that brighten your day?
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