Monday, December 28, 2009

Mom's Famous Cheeseballs -- jcarolek

Christmas Eve, after midnight Mass, as I was packing up my guitar, preparing to return home, one of my fellow choir members approached me.  In her hand she carried a decoratively wrapped package... something in cellophane, tied with a Christmas ribbon.  She presented it to me, informing me that this was not just any cheese ball, but her "mother's FAMOUS cheese ball."  Well, of course, I thanked her for her gift and assured her I looked forward to tasting it.

On my way home from church I pondered the notion of Hilary's mother's FAMOUS cheese balls.  I wondered really how famous they were.  I mean, I suppose I've heard others use that expression similarly over the years, and never thought twice about it.  But this night I DID think twice about it and wondered how many people had tasted those cheese balls, how many approving tasters did it take to constitute FAMOUS?

And then my mind traveled to the dishes for which my own mother is famous.  The first that came to mind was my favorite dish as a youngster.  Spaghetti.  Now, as an adult, I have no idea how I became such a fan of spaghetti, considering my mother's recipe for the sauce was most decidedly NOT Italian. I don't know where she found the recipe I knew as spaghetti sauce, but I DO know we, my siblings and I, took over cooking when I was about 14 and we quickly changed the recipe.  The basis for her spaghetti sauce was Campbell's Tomato Soup.  Seriously.  I'm still a huge fan of spaghetti, but in my sauce recipe, I use tomato sauce... Still, I suppose Mom's FAMOUS spaghetti sauce was just that....FAMOUS...or, at least "memorable."

Another famous recipe I associate with my mother is her meatloaf.  She made meatloaf that I really liked.  The ground beef, no doubt stretched with bread crumbs as far as a person could stretch such a thing, always held a couple of hard boiled eggs, hidden within the loaf.  When we cut a slice of meatloaf, the slice of boiled egg in the center of the meat was always very appealing to me.  I was never served meatloaf like this at any of my friends' houses.  When I grew up and married, my husband went on record that boiled eggs did not belong in a meatloaf.  I grew accustomed to the hard-boiled-eggless meatloaf, and, for the next 17 years, that is how I prepared it.

Another of Mom's famous recipes was referred to as "Mom's Mess."  As I remember it, this recipe basically called for all leftovers in the fridge that were not growing mold, cooking them all together in a large frying pan.  The flavors were always a little different, but I always liked it.  My own family was not raised on such exotic fare as Mom's Mess.  No, they needed to have official meals, documented in a cookbook, or at least a meal the other kids at school would recognize by name.... they just don't know what they were missing.

When I arrived home from church on Christmas Eve, I placed Hilary's mother's FAMOUS cheese ball in my fridge, to be enjoyed later.

Christmas day I traveled to my sister's and we shared a wonderful meal with her.  It was lasagna, though, I would guess, not her famous lasagna.  We spent the night and the next day traveled to eat brunch with Mom and my brother and his a restaurant...Mom's new version of FAMOUS... we always eat at this diner when we are visiting her.  She no longer cooks any of her famous meals for us.  Finally, that evening we traveled to Dad's for another family get-together and meal.  There we were treated to my stepmother's FAMOUS standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, peas and mushrooms, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy.... and for dessert, her even MORE famous, trifle... YUMMY!!

The over-eating now behind me by at least a day, I decided to cook an old stand-by for dinner tonight. In a nostalgic mood, I decided a hearty meatloaf, with baked potato and gravy was what I wanted.  Now, out of the non-hard-boiled-egg meatloaf requirement marriage for over ten years, I took great pleasure in hiding the two boiled eggs in the meat.  Inspired further by my friend's mother's meatloaf recipe, one that is traditional in the Czech Republic, I added a hotdog, cut in thirds, also burying them in the ground beef.  I did not have the dill pickles she also stuffs in her meatloaf, so, mine went into the oven, pregnant only with the hotdog and the boiled eggs.  The meal was just what I was after.

And tonight, as my midnight snack, I think I will take a taste of that famous cheese ball that got me thinking and remembering those famous recipes of my own childhood.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A lovely Tree -- jcarolek

I played and sang at "midnight Mass" last night.  Now, unlike the years when I was raising my children, "midnight" is actually 9:00 PM.  By midnight, everyone is back home, completing their Christmas celebrations in their own personal traditional ways.  So it was that I showed up at the church at 8:00 PM with the idea I would have a few minutes to tune my guitar before the pre-Mass Christmas carols began at 8:30.  To my surprise, the church was dark, and locked, permitting entry to nobody who did not hold a key.  I thought this strange.  Yes, I understand the earlier Mass had ended and those who would be returning for the midnight Mass had taken their opportunity to get a meal, locking up when they left the church.  Still, on Christmas, I somehow thought it odd to find the doors locked.

I spent the 15 minutes I had to wait for a key-holder to arrive, chatting with our pianist, who had actually shown up an HOUR before I did, with the expectation of being able to set up his recording equipment to record the music.  We had a nice, if cold, chat while we waited.  Then it was the usual mad dash to get ready for the start of the caroling and we were underway.

The music was lovely, the service was lovely, and the tree was lovely.  The tree, probably 12 feet tall, stood in its annual spot in a place between the alter and the choir.  It struck me that this lovely tree, adorned with silver decorations and lit with white lights, was lacking a certain community feel it had always had in the years I was raising my children.  I wondered about what had happened to that community tradition that had always presented a most gloriously adorned Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.

Back in those days, the late '80's and the '90's, the last Sunday of Advent a pot-luck, Christmas tree decorating, caroling, prayer session was held each year.  Families of the parish would bring with them a home-made ornament with which to adorn the tree. Those attending this evening of preparation would decorate the walls of the church with the Christmas wreaths, prepare the little packets that would be handed out just before New Year's with which the parishioners would bless their homes, and set the food up for the feast we'd enjoy when the decorating and other preparations were complete.  And the choir would lead caroling after a short prayer session.  At the end of the evening, we'd leave the church, bellies full, hearts happy, and the community Christmas tree attesting to the hundreds of personal traditions that made our community tradition.

It has been three years since I actually was able to participate in Christmas Mass at our church, having been traveling each of those three years.  So, I was surprised when I saw the very lovely tree, "decorated" in a very aesthetically pleasing manner... but missing that hodge-podge, that confused jumble of tiny-to-huge, hand-made ornaments, to which I had come accustomed.  I suppose all things change.  I suppose people have other things to do on that final Sunday of Advent.  I suppose it IS just a tree, after all.  And it really WAS a lovely tree.  I just miss that other one.... those nearly 20 years of other ones....

Merry Christmas to all who happen by my post today. May your Christmas be filled with laughter, music, good food.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just an Old Saucepan -- jcarolek

I was in California last week, wrapping up a too short vacation.  Somehow the time always flies too quickly when I am away from the normal work grind and this time was no different.  I had a lot of good, home cooked food, cooked by someone other than myself, and that is ALWAYS a plus!

My last night there, my friend's mother cooked dinner for everyone and we sat around the table, as always, enjoying the food and the stories of days gone by.  One thing I find particularly enjoyable is the amount of time we spend sitting around that round table in the kitchen, savoring 'comfort food' and just talking.  

That night one of the stories was about the old saucepan she had used in preparing dinner.  She explained that it was a hand-me-down from her now deceased daughter-in-law, her eldest son's wife.  The story involved her son using the saucepan to cook something, though I don't recall what, and  managing to burn whatever it was, beyond recognition.  His wife decided the saucepan was ruined and was going to throw it out.  But my friend's mother resurrected it, confident she could return it to functionality.

Sure enough, with a little elbow grease and determination, she returned the saucepan to a usable state.  She showed me the bottom of the pan, the copper bottom which is forever marked with the black from the flames of the gas burner. "See," she said, "Brandy had a gas stove."  

Later that night, when we were sharing a last cup of tea before heading to bed, I saw that saucepan in the dish rack air drying and something occurred to me.  To me, the saucepan looks like a million others -- nondescript, well-used, showing its age while continuing to serve.  When she looks at that saucepan she sees much more.  She sees a story of a favorite daughter-in-law and a story of her son, and the memory of all that was, that day in the now becoming distant past.  To her, that saucepan is every bit as cherished as the photos of those loved ones years ago that fill the walls around the table.

And I suspect the food that is cooked in pans that are so cherished cannot help but taste delicious.  Certainly, the food she serves me always is.  

Yes, the vacation was far too short, too few opportunities to play and sing, too little time to see everyone, too little time for stories.  I look forward to the next opportunity to share time and stories, and eat good food with good people. And I look at old saucepans a little differently.





Saturday, November 14, 2009

California Jam -- jcarolek

The trip here was perfect. There were no typical travel snafus and the day that started in Gloucester, Virginia ended in the the wee hours of the next morning in the Yosemite area.  I've spent most of my time here simply resting, eating well, and enjoying nature and the good company of friends.  

We spent one afternoon getting my friend's mother's sewing machine working again.  We had a grand time in the process, laughing and joking, and just as we finished up, the light on the front porch popped on, alerting us to a visitor arriving.  We caught this photo of the visitor, before encouraging him to seek other lodgings.


Yesterday we drove to Sacramento for a jam session with more friends.  It was an interesting one.  There were about twenty of us there, of various backgrounds and native tongues. And we played and sang a variety of music.  One of the more interesting aspects of this particular jam session/party was the inclusion of one of the host's family members from eastern Europe.  He was not physically at the party, but joined us via the modern conveniences of Skype.

Now this guy, Pete, is a talented violinist.  He, in fact, had the opportunity of visiting here in the US a couple of years ago and jamming with this musical "family" in person.  So he, now joining us through the laptop perched on the mantle of the fireplace, recognized the violin I was attempting to tune -- the one that needed two of the pegs to be "chalked" so they would quit slipping.  I had discovered the slipping pegs while I was here last July, when I first examined the instrument.  So, on the way to Sacramento, we'd picked up some chalk and in a few quick minutes, the violin was tuned and holding a tune.  And with that the playing began.

There were at least four guitars, a keyboard, an accordion and the violin, as well as the voices, young and old, melding together to create yet another musical memory.  I suppose it is true that music is the universal language, but it is also true that when a group of amateur musicians come together to play, there is a certain amount of verbal exchange that occurs.  I mean, as we are all playing the familiar songs of those from other cultures, it  is necessary for us to know the chords to play.  So, a call for chord might go up in English, and the answer returned in Spanish or Czech, or English.  Nevertheless, we figured it out.  And we had a good time. 

We played from around three in the afternoon to nearly midnight, breaking only for food -- a wonderful spread of Mexican food.  Finally, because we still had a three hour return trip ahead of us, we wrapped up the instruments and said our goodbye's until next time.  We arrived back in the Yosemite area just before 3 AM and spent another hour or so unwinding, before drifting off to bed.


Today was spent mostly sleeping and keeping warm.  It has turned pretty cold here, especially at night.  Nevertheless, I was able to get a few pictures of the beautiful nature here.  I have another few days in this corner of paradise before returning to Virginia.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Hickory Dickory Dock -- jcarolek

I had this idea that I would spend a little more time on the blogs in their final days. But, as I have found to be more and more the case of late, the daily thrill of living has interfered with the opportunity to spend endless hours glued to the computer, reading and laughing at other bloggers' antics. No, as sure as the spring was filled with hours of planting of things to bloom later and the summer was filled with of hours casting for fish, so the autumn has been filled with hours of hickory nut collecting.

Each day as I run down the stairs from my office at the end of my "real work" day, grab my nut-collecting bag and head off into the woods on my version of the great Easter egg hunt, I think, "tonight, when it is dark and I cannot pick up nuts, I will post on the blogs."

And then, when night falls, I find myself processing the nuts collected and packing shipments of nuts to go out in the mail the next day. The hickory nut sales have been surprisingly good, considering I refuse to participate in the "let's undercut everyone else's price" form of eBay competition. No, I know the price I need to get for my product, and that's how I price mine. And, the day before yesterday when I tallied my shipped orders, discovering I had sold to 30 customers for a total of 160 pounds already, I was shocked!

So tonight, as I was processing the latest trailer full of nuts collected (not ALL from today, of course) I realized the time has all but run out for eBay blogging.

Only two posts in October 2009..... well, so, let's make it three, and then, as they say in the movies, "that's all she wrote."

For me the blogs were certainly fun. I met some amazing people here. I even met some of them in person when I happened to be traveling in their neck of the woods on business travel. And these people have enriched my life. No question there. I never really enjoyed the drama aspects of the blogs, but that was the beauty of the blogs... like a smorgasbord, I could take healthy helpings of those things I enjoyed, and maybe a taste of something new, but I could say, "no thanks" to things that did not appeal to me.

I have copied the posts I was interested in retaining into my new blog on blogspot ( and the rest, well, eBay can keep in their archives of "wisdom pearls" (that's that very large circular file that is labeled "jcarolek"). I can almost FEEL the server that has housed my zillions of posts for over more than three years, breathing a sigh of relief, as it anticipates the jcarolek load being lifted.

And there you have it. August slipped by, followed rapidly by September and before I knew it, October had all but vanished into the autumn air..... and here I've been, just enjoying the heck out of hickory nut pickin'.

I'm heading to CA for a couple of weeks next week and my hickory nut sales have paid for my trip.... but.....................

hickory dickory dock
the mouse ran up the clock
the clock struck one
the mouse ran down
hickory dickory dock....

My time here is done... I have enjoyed it...
And there are still so many nuts............

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Been Busy Hickory Nut Pickin' -- jcarolek

It's been an interesting hickory nut season so far this year. My trees are producing abundantly (I call them "my trees" though I neither planted them, nor cultivated them -- still, they are on my property and by that virtue, I have inherited them... they are mine). All I have to do is take a walk through my woods at least once per day, a walk that generally lasts at least two hours, but on weekends can stretch into five or six hours.

OK, I over simplify my part. Yes, I have to hunt the nuts as I walk. I have to stoop and pick each one up from the ground where it has recently fallen. I have to shuck off the thick hull and toss the nut in its shell into my double WalMart bag that is ALWAYS in my hand when I am outside this time of year.

When my bag is too heavy to carry, I return to the house and either return with a fresh double bagger, or set about the next stage of hickory nut preparation. I bathe every nut and examine each to ensure I retain only those nuts that are not either undeveloped or already consumed by worms. It's a fact that "organically grown" hickory nuts will have a certain percentage that have been inhabited and consumed by the hickory nut worm. Since I sell the hickory nuts on eBay, my preference is to eliminate those less than perfect nuts from my inventory. And after their bath, the hickory nuts enjoy congregating in mesh sacks where I place them, allowing them to air dry while awaiting shipment.

I started my walks this year about a month ago. I imagine I have another month yet to go. And already I have collected at least 500 lbs of hickory nuts, 400 lbs of which were fit for sale. My eBay room is lined with mesh sacks of these large, beautiful nuts.

I have sold about 60 lbs so far this year. When I put up my first listing on eBay in September, there were only maybe three of us selling the whole nuts. Others were selling the nut meats. My first listings sold within hours of being listed, and sold for my Buy-It-Now prices. I shipped immediately, received positive feedback and listed more nuts, listing daily as I collected daily. Then, all of a sudden, there were 15 listings from multiple sellers.

This year I have observed a behavior different from my last excursion down hickory nut sales in 2007. This year I have observed a willingness of other sellers to take the "easy" way out. I was looking at another seller's listing, and all of a sudden it struck me. Her photo was MY photo. Not my entire photo, since I have my id watermarked on the photo. No, she had taken only the center of my photo and displayed it as her own. She was successful in selling her first listing of hickory nuts... the one using my photo. I did notice that she did decide against using my photo for her subsequent listings, opting, instead, to take photos of her actual product... which looked significantly different from mine and which did not sell. I decided to get more creative with MY photos....

I also noticed sellers literally copying each other's verbiage in their listings. I don't mind being a mentor for a new seller, but for goodness sake, would it be so hard to write your own story? Promote your own product? I made it harder to copy mine... I know this will come as a huge surprise to anyone who has made it this far in my tale, but, I added verbiage to my listing... making it more verbose... most of the copiers want to copy short listings... easier to disguise as one's own.

The hickory nut marketplace is getting larger on eBay, now sporting more than three dozen listings on any given day. There are those who sell the nuts in the hulls and those who sell them without the hulls.; those who wash the nuts and those who don't; those who offer free shipping and those who try to lure the buyers in with a 99 cent starting bid, and charge more than 10 times that amount in shipping.

Naturally, eBay sellers will try to entice the buyers with lowest price, best product and outstanding service. But in the past month I have watched as the hickory nut sellers have competed so intensely to hit that lowest price mark, they have literally made their product and the work involved in getting their product to market, worthless. It is sad to watch. I still have my hickory nuts listed and will continue to list them. But I refuse to engage in the "undercut the next guy" game. I have determined what my hickory nuts, in all their glory are worth, and I continue to list them at those prices. I work hard to take good photos to market my hickory nuts, and of course, I am committed to exceptional customer service. And I continue to make sales, albeit not as many as others, perhaps, but, I suppose when they have sold out of their hickory nuts, I will still have plenty to sell....

None of the concerns above will change the fact that walking through my beautiful Virginia hickory woods every day is rejuvenating to both body and mind. I enjoy the company of my three outdoor critters (two cats and a dog) who accompany me every step of the way, each and every day. And when I put my head on the pillow at night, I sleep hard, thoroughly exhausted from my favorite autumn pastime. I've been a little busy lately....walking in the woods collecting hickory nuts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dad taught us to dance -- jcarolek

When I was a very little girl, maybe three years old, I have memories of dancing. Dancing with my doll, dancing with my sister and brothers. Mostly I recall our "dancing" to be sort of "ring around the rosie -ish" but in my teeny tiny mind, I was dancing. Time passed and I outgrew the circle dance that so delighted me as a preschooler. It wasn't until we moved to England, when I was 10, that I recall dancing again.

We never had a television, and instead, amused ourselves with records and books. On occasion, Dad would move all of the living room furniture out of the way, put records on the turntable and we'd dance. All of us, the six kids and Dad. I don't really ever recall Mom dancing with us, but probably she did and I am just not remembering. I know Dad taught us how to waltz (ever so useful in the disco's of the early 70's LOL) I have never forgotten how to waltz, though I probably can count on one hand the times I have actually "waltzed" in public.

One night I recall Dad showing how to dance the "modern way." Now, I don't mind telling you, it looked a little funny to me seeing Dad do his rendition of the 70's dance hall. His arms were flailing and his legs were going every which way. And Jeannie, my sister, did not indicate that Dad's version of the modern dance was anything less than accurate. And she was 12 or 13 at the time. She would have KNOWN, because she WAS out there at the discos, dancing with the other kids of Cheltenham. No, I was convinced that Dad was correct and so, copied his "style" -- we all did, my brothers and me. I really cannot recall whether Jeannie did, but, then again, I was too preoccupied with polishing my own dancing skills to concern myself with hers.

When we returned to the States, I was in the eighth grade. One of the very cool perks of being in Jr High, as we called it then, was the "teen club." Now I don't recall whether this was an every Friday night thing, or once or twice a month, but I do know it was fun. I looked forward to going to teen club, where many of the kids danced, but where those who prefered could go play games, basketball, etc. I vividly recall the night I finally had the courage to get out on the dance floor with the other kids. I decided Dad had been right, that the kids were dancing, more or less as he he taught us. And so, with a reasonable amount of confidence, I joined the pulsating throng of kids and before long my arms were flailing and my feet were moving in all sorts of strange directions.

All was going well for the first few minutes. All of a sudden, my friend Chris Macey, who himself was no prize, with a mouth full of metal braces, and a skinny gawky appearance, started to laugh. I looked to see what was so funny. Part of Chris's charm was his laugh. He threw his head back and I swear his mouth opened wider than any I've ever seen, except perhaps that guy on the commercial with the flip-top head. Anyway, Chris had his head thrown back, mouth open a mile, and was laughing for all he was worth.... AT ME!

"What's so funny?" I asked. He seriously sounded like he was going to choke to death, he was laughing so hard.

"What are you doing?" he finally got out.

"What do you mean, what am I doing? I'm dancing!"

Well, he laughed even harder at that. It seems that simply flailing the arms and having the feet going at all kinds of cock-eyed directions did not actually constitute "dancing." I laughed it off, and blamed it on my father having taught me wrong (couldn't POSSIBLY be that I just was a klutz and dancing should be left to more graceful souls). I found I was suddenly thirsty, and headed for the punch bowl. After that, I moseyed out of the cafeteria (aka dance hall) and down to one of the rooms where the geeks were playing chess. Chess, I could handle.

So, for the remainder of my teen club weeks, months, and years, I mostly played chess. I figured I'd leave dancing to those who would not embarrass themselves. To this day, I still evoke roars of laughter when I dance... ask my brother Dan... he was laughing at me when I was dancing at my son's wedding last October.

What brought on this little trip through the dance halls of yesteryear? I was driving to Northern VA today, as I will be working here this week. I had the radio on to pass the time on the three hour drive, and a song came on that immediately made me feel like Pavlov's dog. The song was "Playing in a Travlin' Band." And it was all I could do to keep on driving. For every nerve of my totally klutzy self screamed at me "Dance, Dance!" Ahh, yes, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is SO weak! I managed to continue on my journey, satisfying my spirit's urge to dance with a little rhythmic finger thumping on the steering wheel. And Chris Macey's flip-top head, and his outrageously contagious laugh, jumped forward 38 years and dragged me back into that teen club when I was 13 years old.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Just a little nutty -- jcarolek

Two years ago I test marketed an item that was abundant in my yard that fall. Hickory nuts. All day and all night I heard the nuts falling from the trees and crashing down on unsuspecting decks, cars and the occasional passerby. I wondered whether anyone sold these hard-shelled nuts on eBay. A quick look assured me that, indeed, they do. So, I decided to start collecting and selling my collection.

When I started, in late September of 2007, I had no idea that by the end of the season, some two months later,

Friday, September 25, 2009

At the end of the rainbow -- jcarolek

I returned home from my out of town training yesterday. As always, it was good to be home. It really doesn't matter whether I am traveling for training, work or pleasure, returning home to sleep in my own bed is truly a reward.

Though I'd been gone only three and a half days, as I find so often, things were noticeably different upon my return. Yes, the grass needs cutting again (I think it grows double time when I am not here to glare at it daily), but that's not what really struck me as my broken car rolled down the driveway to the garage. What struck me was the tobacco.

I had decided to try growing some

Monday, September 21, 2009

And me without a camera -- jcarolek

Tonight I drove to MD for work. I'll be here the rest of the week, and my schedule will be very full. I intentionally left my camera at home -- didn't need the temptation to go wandering around and taking photos -- must stay on task, blah, blah, blah.

So, mine was about a three hour drive and right at about the 1 1/2 hour mark, I had a thought about deer. My thought was, I really hope I get off this particular road before it turns completely dark and the deer start jumping. I'm always

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Changing Seasons -- jcarolek

Seems the seasons are changing. I can feel the coolness in the air and the hickory nuts are, once again, bombarding me when I venture out in the woods. I collected a sackful today, the first of many, I am sure.

As I walked, I thought about these things that are so familiar and yet are forever

Monday, August 31, 2009

Just a Barrel of Monkeys -- jcarolek

I'm a real Facebook know nothing. Seriously, I just DON'T get the whole point of it, or the allure of it. But there's that little niggling thing called "peer pressure." You know what I'm talking about. Since everyone ELSE is so in love with this Facebook thing, I suppose I SHOULD try to wrap my little pea brain around it...(I'd honestly rather be fishing, but I digress).

So, I dunno, maybe two months ago I signed up with this here Facebook and I was "on my way..." I've always been an extremely geographically challenged individual and Facebook offered me yet another opportunity to be "challenged." I did figure out how to fill out the information I wanted to share with others, and was successful in loading a photo,

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Twists and Turns -- jcarolek

We took the little boat out late yesterday afternoon. We were going to fish, but we were going to explore a little. Rather than heading out to the more open part of the pond, we decided to see how far we could get into the marshy area through which the little creek runs that feeds the pond. When the dam broke three years ago and most of the water drained from the pond, the beavers moved their operation from one side of my property to the other, to the trickling creek. In almost no time, there was water on the side of my property where until then there had been just marshy land. Now that the water is back in the pond, I have water on three sides of my property, literally making my parcel a peninsula. It was this newer beaver dammed area that we paddled into, gently, carefully, following the twists and turns to get around the numerous varieties of vegetation and fallen trees, etc.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Three Years Later and Now Without a Face -- jcarolek

It's hard to believe I have been "blogging" for three years. I looked at the left menu on my blog page and was amazed at the list of months, years worth of blogs. It isn't as if I haven't deleted any, either. I've deleted plenty.... Still, I rather like keeping the majority of the entries I have made over the years, because I find it interesting to look back

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another lovely day -- jcarolek

The weather was delightful today and we took advantage of it to take the little boat out for an afternoon of fishing. We have only been catching small fish so far this summer, but last night, fishing from the pier, I caught something big. I got him all the way to the pier before he broke my line. It was pretty dark, but I saw him, his size anyway, and it was a pretty big guy. Still, it got away and that was OK. It was the end of the evening anyway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We had fun on Saturday, Ted -- jcarolek

Dad turned 75 last week and Saturday we had a birthday celebration for him -- an excuse to get together, to laugh, to eat, to talk and to sing. Truthfully, any excuse will do, a 75th birthday is a pretty good reason to have a little fun, I think.

Monday, August 10, 2009

More fun with copperheads -- jcarole

She was hot on my heels as I headed down the path to the pond. It had been a few days since we'd made our way through the woods to do a little fishing and she was not about to miss the opportunity for a freshly caught treat. About half way down the path we came upon a fallen tree. Well, I thought about taking the time to go back to the house, get the chain saw, and clear the path....but I wanted to go fishing. So, I took a photo of the tree and then took a detour around,

Monday, July 27, 2009

Time is Flying so Fast These Days -- jcarolek

I spent the first week, the week of required work that took me to the Los Angeles area, bemoaning the fact that the temperatures never rose above 72...from the 4th of July through the 11th. It was too chilly for this east coast native to enjoy the hotel's outdoor swimming pool. I wanted to be able to swim, to relax at the end of the hard, long workday, but I was NOT interested in catching a cold in the process! Nevertheless, I had fun visiting with friends for supper one night and taking in Redondo Beach another.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Worms -- jcarolek

This past weekend was a most enjoyable one for me. We had a little get together here at the house. My daughter, her husband and his parents, who were visiting from France (their first visit to the US), Dad, my step mother, and my sister joined us for a cookout Saturday. Jenn, Benoit and the parents arrived Friday night, after touring Williamsburg,VA. They spent the night and in the morning, after breakfast, headed down to the pond to do a little fishing.

"Do you have worms?" I asked as they prepared

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reflections -- jcarolek

Another year has passed.

Today makes 26 years since I gave birth to my youngest child. June 16, 1983 in Tallahassee, FL was hot and muggy...that summer had not officially begun was irrelevant to my reality of carrying an extra 18 pounds while chasing a two year old around. I was hot and uncomfortable and I was ready already! And so, in the early morning hours that day, I was happy to know I was on my way, she was on her way...after nine months of complete togetherness, we would finally meet.

She's all grown up now, as is her brother, two years her senior. They are both living their lives in relative happiness, or certainly, in the pursuit thereof. These days I no longer sweat out the summers in the heat and humidity of Florida, having traded that locale for the less hot, less humid summers of Virginia.

There's more time to get things done, with the kids grown and all, and yet, I find I am never caught up. All winter I plan for that day when I will be able to get outside and take care of all of those "important" cleaning the roof and cleaning out the gutters, repairing the deck post, and the back porch screen.... And here it is, easily two months since that glorious day presented itself and I still have not completed these tasks. We did at least start on the roof last weekend and the gutters this weekend.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The unfamiliar face of an old friend -- jcarolek

Last week, as we were heading out from church, on our way to catch a quick lunch before returning to play and sing for a wedding, my friend and I stopped to chat briefly with a woman, in her mid fifties, wearing a bright red dress and looking great, full of energy and in great humor. I was noticing her new hairstyle, short and sassy and her obvious success at weight loss since I'd last seen her a few months ago.

Just as I was about to greet her, my friend, stuck out her

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Of Course, It was Mother's Day -- jcarolek

Last Sunday I shared a lovely meal at a local restaurant with my children and their spouses, and a friend. My daughter presented me with a bouquet of flowers, fresh from her garden, and my son and daughter-in-law, gave me their framed portrait, the first since their October 2008 wedding. The occasion, of course, was Mother's Day, and as always, the best gift they gave me was their time.

We told old stories,

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In three word sentences -- jcarolek

Last weekend, before leaving Chicago where I had been on business travel, I had the opportunity to meet an incredibly interesting woman. In her mid-eighties and widowed, she made it clear she was thrilled to see us, my friend for the first time in thirty years, and me, for the first time ever. She welcomed us into her home, ordering a pizza which we shared as we visited.

It didn't take long for me to feel completely comfortable, and soon we were covering topics from her husband, whom I'd never met, to her great grandson who'd made her quite a sporting Easter bonnet out of newspaper. To be perfectly honest, this young haberdasher's work was far better

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thirty Years Later -- jcarolek

Chicago hot dogs.... I've heard the hype for years. I've never before been to the windy city, so I could only imagine these renowned street vendor fare. Last night I took a walk with a friend who spent his teen to young man years here. He had not been back to Chicago in thirty years, and he marveled at what he remembered and what he did not. We went to the place recommended by the hotel doorman. It was interesting. The walk itself was delightful. The hot dog wasn't bad, but it wasn't "to die for." Still, we took loads of pictures of Chicago at night and the balmy night air was a welcome change from the earlier morning rain-snow mix.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nice drive -- jcarolek

Monday was travel day. First stop was at my daughter's place to drop off the dog for the week. Our Virginia morning was beautiful and the trip promised to be a lovely one.

I don't recall ever traveling to West Virginia before, and that was quite a treat. How delightful was the scenery, with April temperatures unseasonably warm, reaching the 90's and forcing the leaves on the trees out into their summer fullness.

Ohio was boring, in comparison. It had it's pretty places, but it lacked that "WOW" of the Virginia and West Virginia elevations. Still, as sun set, a stop at the rest area afforded an opportunity for a few shots...sunsets are always intriguing to me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bookends -- jcarolek

I've known them for several years now. They go together -- white haired, slim build, neatly dressed, and always cheerful. Their smiles and greetings routinely catch me off guard, jolting me into a happy mood and smiling in return.

As I watched them today, he leaning in to tell her something, she laughing in that genuine "you tickle my funny bone," laugh and patting his shoulder in gentle admonition of his humorous communication, it occurred to me I was looking at a

Monday, March 16, 2009

Comfortable Gray Rainy Days -- jcarolek

All weekend it was raining. The skies were gray and the temperatures too cold to enjoy the outdoors anyway. I was recuperating from surgery and thinking about how, in another time, I would have felt trapped, claustrophobic. And yet, this weekend I did not. We spent our time lazing around, eating delicious soup and bread, and just being comfortable.

Today was another work day, but since I am able to work from the house, it was more of the same...gray and chilly outdoors, warm and comfortable

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Belated Birthday Greetings -- jcarolek

Yesterday we took a drive. The cold weather had finally surrendered to the promise of spring and exploration seemed inviting once again. I'd located some local properties that looked charming but forgotten and we set out to explore.

Our first stop was an old house, advertised as "needs TLC," which we both agreed was a gross understatement of reality. The house was built in 1890 and probably once had significant land associated with it. Today it stands on a little over an acre and the overgrowth is slowly reclaiming the structure, growing up through the cement steps at the back door and over the front porch entry. We parked the car, grabbed the camera, and set about the exploration.

Though the back door was unlocked,

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A storyteller's impact -- jcarolek

Paul Harvey passed away this past week. When I heard the news, I was immediately taken back more than twenty years. I used to catch Paul Harvey's "the rest of the story" during my lunch break, or on my drive home from work. Most of the time I found these little nuggets interesting, made more so by his delivery, to be sure, but part of it was truly that he told stories about people and things about which I simply did not know... he educated, in just a short couple of minutes storytelling time.

The story which had the greatest impact on me was one he told about a young aspiring actress, a teenager, a dancer, a talented youngster who was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis. She was, in fact, bedridden with her affliction. She was so crippled she was unable to walk for a year. And she agreed to subject herself to an experimental treatment,

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Little Boy Grown -- jcarolek

Today was a magical day for my nephew. He and his fiancee married in a lovely ceremony held in their favorite place....Walt Disney World. There was nothing Mickey Mouse about the ceremony. Well, OK, after the ceremony I did notice my nephew sporting a top hat with Mickey Mouse ears, but the ceremony itself was very traditional in format, though the vows this young couple exchanged were more their own and exchanged without prompting from the minister.
It was a well attended affair, considering none of the bride or groom's family is from the Orlando, FL area. We all traveled a fair distance to witness the event. I sat at the back with the video camera, capturing the soloists, the guy in the kilt playing the bagpipe, the friends and family in attendance, the groom and his groomsmen as they made their way down the aisle to the alter where they turned, awaiting the arrival of the bridesmaids and finally the bride, beautiful in her fairy tale wedding dress.

As I zoomed in on the young couple, I saw his smile,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Funny how memories are triggered -- jcarolek

I was just perusing the blogs, enjoying the passenger seat on my way down to my nephew's wedding in Orlando, FL. I caught the post encouraging all to join in and keep the soul train going, and I was immediately brought back to my youth... 15 years old, to be exact. We had no TV and I can honestly say that babysitting was my favorite part-time job... once the kids were asleep, I could turn on the TV (everyone else had one) and watch.

One job I had was babysitting six boys... all brothers

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Water and Printers -- jcarolek

We finally have water back in the pond. September 6, 2006, in response to tropical storm Ernesto, the dam that contained the trickle of Cow Creek, that formed the more that 100 year old "mill pond," failed and the water, well about 70 acres out of her 78 acres, flushed out and left us with a marshy field.

The "Pond Association" on which I serve as secretary, spent the next two and a half years getting the dam rebuilt... a very expense and arduous task. There were times when I thought we'd never see water again. And I dreamed of the day I would be able to send out the announcement that we, once again, had water in the pond.

Well, today was the day. The water has been back for a few weeks now, but today was the day I had to mail out the announcement for the next General Membership Meeting, the highlight of which will be the rehashing of the pain and eventual triumph of getting that dam rebuilt.

Monday, February 9, 2009

No, idiot, that doesn't make any sense! -- jcarolek

"OK, go"
"What did he say?"
"I think he said, 'barrel'"
"No, idiot, that doesn't make any sense! I think he's saying, "baron", yeah play it again."
"SEE! 'baron!'"

It was through exercises such as this that we, my siblings and I, transcribed many, many songs in the '60's and early '70's. While one of us held the paper and pencil, another manned the record player. The others were the helpers...helping us determine the words the vocalist was singing. The scribe recorded the agreed upon translation. And so it was that we learned the words of the stories these singers were telling. Sure, in the earlier years, we were working with the records of our parents, Kingston Trio, Brothers Four, Peter, Paul and Mary, Burl Ives and such, but as we progressed to capturing the lyrics of OUR preferred bands, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce and such, well the words seemed a little harder to understand.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sitting at the Headmistress's Table -- jcarolek

"Bangers and smash" was one of my favorite meals served in school when I lived in England.  A major fan of potatoes of any variety or preparation, I found the British school menu quite palatable.  I attended two schools in the three years I lived there, and the one thing they had in common was the school lunch fare. 

At ten years old, new in a "strange" land and worried I would give my country a black eye, should I misbehave, I was eager to blend in.  Within a couple of months, other students had stopped asking me if I was American, and had started asking me where I was from.  My American accent was being overrun by my interpretation of the local British

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Sewing Machine -- jcarolek

Perseverance. I learned perseverance from an old Singer sewing machine.

I believe I was in 9th grade the year my sister received a sewing machine for Christmas. I'm not sure whether she'd asked for it, or whether is was one of those gifts that Dad and Mom just decided was what we "really" would like, instead of the silly wish list items we'd documented in that annual ritual. Nevertheless, under the tree was a Kenmore sewing machine. As I recall, on the card, "Santa" had suggested that Jeannie might consider sharing her gift with her mother and younger sister (me).

Mom had an old Singer sewing machine...

Monday, January 26, 2009

What is a box? -- jcarolek

We moved to England when I was 10. "We" included Mom and Dad, my sister, one year my senior, my four younger brothers and our pet monkey, Chico. The plane ride over was, of course, an exciting one for us. All humans rode in the passenger section of the plane, and poor little Chico rode in the cargo section. When we arrived in London, we traveled by bus to Cheltenham, to the hotel where we'd stay while we awaited the delivery of our household goods and our move into our house on Griffiths Ave.

Staying in the hotel was a lot of fun, I admit, but getting into the house was more fun. The moving van arrived loaded with gigantic wooden crates from which our belongings

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Possum in a Bucket -- jcarolek

Last night we went out into the garage to take a look at the wiring of the satellite. We'd been working inside all evening and I'd heard no odd sounds coming from the garage, but almost as soon as we stepped out there, I noticed my dog was trying to squeeze herself through the lower shelf of the shoe rack and under the three-step stair leading from the kitchen into the garage. The cats were watching with cautious interest, not venturing near Killian nor the steps.

Realizing there was clearly something of interest under those steps, we got the flashlight and tried to see... sure enough, reflecting the flashlight's beam back were those eyes... the distinctive eyes of the opossum. It was not the largest, but certainly not the smallest of these critters that has made its way onto my property, only to be rudely "escorted off" by Killian. But usually these guys stay outside. Finding its way into the garage and under the steps seemed pretty brazen to me, considering three animals live in that garage.

Nevertheless, Killian was making herself into a pretzel trying to get to the critter and I decided to try to help the confused animal out by opening a "get away"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Months Ago and Across the Pond -- jcarolek

Two months ago I wrote a post in which I reminisced about some sweet treats we used to enjoy as children when I lived in England. I couldn't recall exactly what they were called, but my "charades" memory taunted me with "sounds like Java Orange Cakes." Of course, in my memory, these were actually cookies, but I digress. So, I posted, having been reminded of these tasty delights by some candy a friend had sent me.

kiriyamabattleroyale read my post and she commented, letting me know that these "cakes" from my memory really do still exist and are called Jaffa Cakes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No, it wasn't what I'd expected -- jcarolek

In early December I was very much looking forward to an adventure. I'd never driven across the US and I had the opportunity, time and inclination to do so. So it was that, after a final, rushed week in Kansas for work, I flew out to CA where I met up with my friend who was to join me in this adventure.

Before we could leave, we had to pack our load. We were bringing a fair amount of product I'd secured out in CA, back to VA. All we needed was a little good weather to accommodate our packing and we'd be on our way. Genuinely ignorant of CA's diverse weather, I was a little surprised when my friend cautioned me that flights in and out of Fresno

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Driving Diversity -- jcarolek

It's been nearly a month since I left home for work travel and then on to CA for personal "fun travel." We are on the way home now, delayed by the weather for several weeks in CA. It has been, to say the least, an interesting end to 2008 and beginning to 2009.

The road back to VA has offered us many additional weather challenges, and I am thankful that I am able to actually work from pretty much anywhere on the road. We have seen more accidents on this single trip than on any trip we can recall. Yesterday alone, as we made our way through unbelievably icy Texas, we saw at least eight accidents, cars totally spun off the road on the slick icy patches. More of the same today through Louisiana and Mississippi, though this time torrential downpours with standing water on the roads is the culprit. Just a few minutes ago I thought we'd be delayed dealing with an accident ourselves, as a lightweight pickup truck spun out on standing water, and very nearly spun into us. Thank goodness I am the passenger, as I doubt I would have been as successful in getting past the spinning truck. I don't know what happened behind us, as it is really too dark and visibility too limited to determine, but one thing is for certain, we suddenly had no traffic behind us. I hope the driver and the other drivers in the vehicles around him fared well.

I guess when I said I was looking forward to an adventure, I should have been more clear on my definition of adventure. Still, I really cannot complain. I have had a lot of fun, both in CA and on the road back to VA. One thing is clear to me. This is a trip we will have to repeat in better weather, and when we have more time.

A lot of our driving has been at night, out of necessity, since we got such a delayed start, so I have been able to take only limited pictures. Still, I do have some that will forever trigger memories of this road trip.

Joshua Trees at Sunrise in CA

Arizona morning

Arizona Afternoon....

Wheelsicles in Texas