Neptune Festival

When I was in high school and college, going to the beach was a must-do summertime activity.  I could wear a bathing suit in public and I was single.  I think that says all you need to know, right?

It’s been a long time since either of those things were true, but my love affair with the ocean has continued throughout the years.  The difference is that I can now afford to get a room overlooking the ocean and we go either early in the spring or after Labor Day to avoid both the heat and the crowds.

This was the first time in three years that we were able to go to Virginia Beach and we planned our October visit so we could see the results of the Neptune Festival which included an invitational sand sculpture contest.

They put all the contestants under a big tent for the first time, which meant the sculptures would last past the weekend of the contest and we were able to enjoy them without the crowds of the actual event.  I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you.

Kachina was made by Meredith Corson and Dan Doubleday in Florida and got a 2nd Place in the Doubles division.

The detail of this just blew me away.  He is climbing out of a hole.

All four sides were filled with entrancing and amazing details.

Notice the people to give yourself a sense of the scale of the sculptures.

Big_catch_joo_heng_tan_from Singapore
Big Catch was crafted by Joo Heng Tan from Singapore – look at the teeth on the fish!

Karen Fralich from Canada – Did I mention these are all made out of SAND?

Kids enjoyed the sculptures outside the tent.  These were made by local schools.

More school work

Makes you feel like a slacker, don’t they?  That was okay with me – doing absolutely nothing was exactly the reason I came to the beach.

Other than visiting the sand sculptures, I sat on our balcony and watched the ocean or sat on the boardwalk and watched the ocean or walked out on the sand and watched the ocean.  Within hours, I could feel the tension leaving my body and my mind.

Are you an ocean junkie?

To see all the results, you can visit their Web site:





It’s the little things that make you happy

It seems like we all spend an inordinate amount of time working toward the big events in life only to be disappointed when they don’t live up to the hype.  Think about the time you spent getting ready for the big dance and how often that turned out to be a major downer.  Christmas with all the preparation, buying presents and wrapping and planning for every little thing was often just a giant let down.  And that doesn’t even count the disappointment most of us feel when we open our own presents.

What I have realized over the years is that the unexpected small things are the ones that give me real flashes of joy.  I had no expectations so the event had nothing to prove.

Last week, I was grocery shopping with my husband.  As wives everywhere can attest, this is more likely to be stressful than joyful since they either wander off or keep saying things like “Are we done yet?  Are we really having that again?”

On this occasion, I was already in the check out line when he wandered over with a box in his hand and said, “Why don’t we buy this?”

“This” was the newest “As seen on TV” gimmick – little pans that let you turn a taco into a freestanding shell to hold salad without frying!  I absolutely never order anything off those commercials but I had secretly lusted after the little pans.  Guess what?  They work exactly as advertised!

taco_pan2   taco_shells_pushed_in
Single pan and all four pans with the taco pressed down inside

The pictures show a single pan and the set with tacos inserted.  I didn’t want to lift them into the 400F oven one at a time, so I turned over a cooling rack and put them in two at a time.  The feet on the rack face up so they won’t snag the oven rack.


Eight minutes later they came out perfectly browned.  I didn’t bother waiting for them to cool but used hot mitts to dump them out and fill them up.  I keep homemade cooked Mexican style chicken in the freezer.  I chopped up some lettuce and added cheese, spicy corn & chile from Trader Joe’s and salsa.


If you are one of those people who likes pre-eaten beans, you could put those in, too.  Or add olives, guacamole or sour cream on top.

   taco salad_done
One of life’s little pleasures

I’m not ashamed to admit that we each had two both nights.  We are trying to think up other things to put inside – like scrambled eggs with the extras of your choice such as mushrooms, peppers or fried onions.

This was a lot of pleasure for just $11!

More paintings Grandma-style


This was where my grandparents lived when I was a little girl.  It was an old-fashioned apartment building with only two units on each floor.  There was dark brown linoleum in the halls and on the stairs.  It overlooked Byrd Park.  That’s the edge of the lake you can see on the right.

Grandma watched me a lot until I was almost 4 because my mother would work with my father as his bookkeeper.  That’s when I first learned to watch soap operas!  Many years later, it was one of the activities we still had in common and when I worked near her apartment as a married woman, I would go over there for lunch and we would watch soaps together.

One of my clearest memories of this building was Halloween the year I was dressed as an angel.  Just getting over there in my big cardboard wings was a production.  Then I had to climb the stairs.  I must have been about 5 years old but it was an adventure.  I was allowed to knock on all the apartment doors. 

Halloween wasn’t the big deal it is today and the old lady across the hall had no idea anyone would come to her door.  She gave me a whole box of Bridge Mix.  For you young people, that was chocolate covered nuts and raisins that ladies would put out in a pretty dish when folks came over to play cards.

A sunny day in late fall

I love the shadows in this little fall landscape and the little animals she tucked here and there.  She probably looked out her window to the park to sketch it.

Some pictures she drew looking at postcards.  Her oldest son collected stamps and he often bought box lots of postcards to salvage the stamps.  Of course, many of them were the same and he had no use for them.  When I was about 10, he gave me a huge box of postcards, most from the early 1900’s.  Many were simply addressed with a name, city and state. Hard to believe they were delivered, isn’t it? One of these days, I’ll share some of those with you.

Mount Vernon

I’m pretty sure this came from a postcard or magazine.  I don’t think she ever visited Mount Vernon.  If she did, it was years before she started embroidering.  My grandfather stopped driving in the early 1950’s.

Natural Bridge

This is my favorite of the ones I have at home.  I love how dimensional the hole in the rock looks.  It hangs at the foot of my stairs so I see it as I come down.  It never gets old to me.

Thanks for looking and taking this little walk down memory lane with me.  I promise to come back to the 21st century next time!

Thread painting – Grandma style

Thread painting is a phrase used by modern day quilters to describe the heavy use of thread, usually by machine, on the surface to create the look of painted strokes.

My grandmother, Mollie Harowitz, wasn’t a quilter and never heard of thread painting.  I never saw her use a sewing machine.  She did all her work by hand, most of it after she developed arthritis in her fifties.

Fall colors

Mollie did all her work with embroidery thread.  In those days, that usually meant silk thread.  The pieces glow as if they were lit from within.

She had no lessons that I ever heard of.  She would just take a piece of fabric and sketch a picture on it with a pencil.  Then she filled in the whole thing with stitches. The tree picture above is fairly typical of her early work.  Most of the stitches are simply short straight lines, often overlapping neighboring stitches.

Boats at Newport News

She didn’t pay a lot of attention to perspective and apparently never gave much consideration to how a work would be framed.  In the harbor picture above, you can see that her initials are cut off on the side.

Grandma got better at shading things as she did more work.  You can see the depth in the grass in the foreground and the darker threads on the shady side of the trees.  She even began to show the shadows on the ground.

Coming up the drive

I don’t know where you would be standing to get a view like this of a house and the driveway.  It’s almost as if she were seeing it from an airplane.  She worked hard to put details in this picture but they are often out of scale with the yellow flowers (French knots) as big as the heads of the people coming up the driveway.  Yet the whole thing fairly throbs with life. 

My parents had these pictures and many more hanging in their house.  For reasons I will never understand, almost all of them were put into elaborate old frames, carved and gilded to within an inch of their lives.  The mats were bright blue, red or green and dwarfed the subtle beauty of the embroidery.

I ended up taking most of them home.  The first thing I did was have them re-matted in organic neutrals and framed with a plain dark wood.  I have trimmed all that off the photographs so you can just enjoy her work.  I hoped my children would fall in love with them once they saw them reframed but no such luck.

Skating on the river

The background fabric was blue in this picture which gives the sky a wholly different look with the dull blue peeking out amidst the wisps of snowy clouds.  She did a better job with the people.  Instead of just dark smudges, they are clearly wearing different clothes and you can see them moving on the ice.  It looks like there are several people in the background riding sleds down to the water.  Each part of the picture contains other little details.

More next time!

Garden in August

Despite weeks of temps in the 90s and above, some plants managed to make it through the summer.  The best is my pair of Peegee Hydrangeas.  I bought the shrubs as little sticks from a mail order place for only 99 cents!  Honestly, when they came, I thought it was a joke – a skinny twig the length of a pencil with a couple little roots on the bottom.

The two Peegee Hydrangeas

When they first open, the blooms are green and they whiten as they mature

Sensational, aren’t they?  And you really want something this showy to brighten the garden at the end of the growing season.  These are in the front garden next to the driveway.   They made babies three years ago that are now happily growing at my son’s house.

Right below them is this miniature shrub which insists on growing out the top no matter how often I prune it.  It is surrounded by drought-tolerant sedum and creeping thyme.

My stab at xeriscaping

Two kinds of lavender nestle in front of the hydrangea.  I had never seen the fern-leafed one before

At the other end, I have roses that looked spectacular around Mother’s Day.  Now they are just trying to make it through the heat like the rest of us.  The real surprise is the pale blue butterfly bush.  I spotted it last fall, a tiny spray of blue in the midst of my Black-eyed Susans.  I dug out all the Susans this spring to give this little volunteer room to grow and, oh boy, did it ever.  If I don’t move it, the roses will be smothered.  This is especially annoying since my husband told me to move it last spring…..

A gift from the birds, I assume.  I didn’t plant it.

Double white althea, also known as sweet bush

This showy dinner plate Hibiscus is perched on a scrawny little plant

The new camera does a much better job taking pictures of white flowers.  You can really see the detail.  I have lots of hibiscus in different colors but the weather was so hot, they were fading by noon most days.  Disappointing when each bloom is only open for a day.

Maybe you remember my post on the new garden last spring –  I had such high hopes.  The grass got taller and the artemisia looks okay, but the rest just managed to hold on through the summer.  Sigh.

Disappointing new garden

Silver mound artemisia

This artemisia is at the other side of the yard.  It is about 6 years old and gets cut way back first thing in the spring.  I guess its roots were strong enough to cope with the hot dry summer.

Honestly, I did go out with the camera to show you how sad the garden looks but apparently, I wasn’t capable of taking the pictures of the really bad places.  These pictures did cheer me up.  There were more bright spots than I thought!

I hope you will be getting just the right amount of rain where you are.  Just 60 miles from us, they got terrible flooding last night while I was doing my happy dance.

It’s raining rabbits!

Okay, it isn’t really but that was a cute way to get the rain and the rabbits in a short headline, right?

It’s been raining since I got up this morning and I couldn’t be happier.  A slow, steady rain, with little breaks to give the earth a chance to absorb and no vicious winds or lightning.

Of course, it’s too late to do much for this year’s garden.  Remember when I started out all full of enthusiasm in May?  There wasn’t enough rain then and most of the annuals never got much bigger than they were when I brought them home.  I do water, but it is never my aim to replace Mother Nature.  I walk around with my hose in hand rather than leaving the sprinkler on for the hours it would take to deeply water all over my yard.

We didn’t get any figs in the spring but we have a bumper crop this fall.  I haven’t gotten used to this variety which stays green even after it ripens.  Makes it hard to beat the insects and birds to the fruit.

Lovely plump figs, apparently enough for everyone

Fascinating or gross?  I couldn’t decide

Soaker hoses were my dream but with tiered planter boxes and lots of pots, we couldn’t figure out how to make them work for most of the garden. The heat defeated me, too. It got so hot so fast, I retreated into the house like the little weenie I am.

Not that I am really complaining.  This is just a hobby for me and my livelihood doesn’t depend on the crop.  It was the farmers I really felt bad for.  The corn crop around here was nearly non-existent.

I heard there were some fresh bean plants back here

But I can’t find them, can you?

And then there were the rabbits.  There are three of them for sure.  Sometimes they play tag on the lawn and I can see them from the window.  I was outside taking pictures of the sad remains of the garden this week and they obligingly played frozen statues for me.

I think they were looking for the new bean seedlings. Hopefully, I have outsmarted them.  I planted the new seeds in tall pots AND put the pots on top of other containers full of mulch.  So far, so good!

I mentioned my camera problems in an earlier post.  My sister brought me two of her old DSLR cameras to try.  These photos were taken with the Olympus.  It comes with an assortment of complex and enormous lenses.   I was at least 20 feet away from each of these rabbits and the pictures are as clear as if we were sitting next to each other.  However, the idea that I would be comfortable walking around with 10+ pounds of camera slung around my neck is another thing altogether.

You looking at ME?

As a journalism major, I took photography in college in 1968.  I tell you the year to give you a sense of time.  I needed a single lens reflex camera (SLR) for my class.  I worked in a department store at the time for about $1.25 per hour.  That made my take home pay for a part time job somewhere between $25-35 a week. 

So when I came home with a camera that cost $114, I thought my father would have a stroke.  He walked around for a week saying “A hundred and fourteen dollars!”  Always in that same amazed tone.  It became our family’s benchmark for something really expensive.  Except it wasn’t.  Not even then.  Not for a camera with extra lenses and a carrying case.

I didn’t price the two cameras my sister brought, but I know enough about what they cost to want to let the armed guard carry the camera when I am not actually taking pictures with it.  Yes, I turned into my father and am appalled at the price some things have gotten to be.

The next thing you know I will be talking about walking to school in the snow and how we used to buy a loaf of bread for a quarter.

Does old equal valuable?

A woman on a list I belong to came across a ratty old quilt.  She asked the group what she should do with it as it was too far gone to repair.

I just want to make some observations about quilts, old and new.  We all make them for different reasons.  For myself, I enjoy the process.  Some of them I have given as gifts, some I have sold, many I have used and enjoyed.  Only a couple have any sentimental value.

Here’s where you can gasp in horror – I threw out the first original quilt I designed and made.  I loved it at the time, of course, but the fabric was inferior and one of the pieces began to rot right through within a couple years.  After giving it house room for more than two decades, I got rid of it last fall after my mother died.

The conjunction of those two things is not an accident.  As I may have mentioned before, my mother’s 3400 sq foot house was crammed with THINGS.  She thought all of them were worth saving.  Heck, she thought most of them were worth money. She was wrong.  Something is worth money only if someone else is willing to pay for it.

If you are a person who finds sentiment in everything, for whom every old plate or quilt has a story to tell, that’s great.  Keep those things.  Enjoy them.  Use them.  Or box them up and become a hoarder.

But please, don’t try to make other people feel bad if they do not feel that same connection.  Not all of us do and I say, thank goodness for that.  We have to live in whatever space we have.  Keeping everything is just impossible unless you want to walk sideways through the piles.

In my opinion, keep the things that mean something to YOU.  If the original maker of that quilt didn’t care enough to leave it to a family member or if there was no one in the family who cared or even if there was no family left, the sentiment is already gone.  Without knowing the story, you aren’t holding onto their history.  You’re just making things up.

Here is the next part that will make people mad at me.  You can’t keep everything connected to a person you love, much less all the other old stuff that will cross your path.   Keep the brooch she wore every Sunday or the ring she got for her 25th anniversary, but get rid of the dime store earrings she bought on a whim or the whole collection of inexpensive watches, bought to match every outfit. 

Keep something you will use or wear or hang on the wall.  If you are going to keep it in a box in your attic, you might as well save a step and send it to the Salvation Army right now.  If you don’t, your children will.