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Homer Simpson’s a pretty wacky guy, but you have to say he’s right on the money in his effusing about pie.

I decided to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but wanted something a little different than the same ole, same ole. So I perused my collection of recipes (the size of which would have you thinking I was cooking/baking 3 meals daily every day of the week. Hah! Not quite.) I decided to make this yummy pie called “Paradise Pumpkin Pie.” You’ll get why in a second.

All the ingredients gathered to make the process go efficiently and smoothly.

I know this probably looks fine, but to me, it was kind of raggedy. It’s been a while since I made a pie crust, and I felt like I’d lost my magic touch (said the perfectionist.) This was a basic all-butter crust.

Now here’s what drew me to this pie and why they call it a “Paradise” Pumpkin Pie. This is the Paradise layer – a smooth mixture of cream cheese, an egg, some sugar, and vanilla. In essence, a layer of cheesecake to go under the pumpkin. Yum, right? Wait …

Don’t you love mixing up the pumpkin and all those spices? The smell alone is so delicious!

So here’s the pie right out of the oven. Not at all what the recipe photo looked like, and I admit I saw this problem as a potential right away – that the cheesecake layer could easily permeate the upper pumpkin layer. So I ever-so-carefully ladled – not poured – the pumpkin on top, doing my best not to disturb the Paradise layer. However, the result was a bit more like some kind of algae-blooming pie!

And here in the cooled slice, you can see the problem – exactly what I anticipated is what happened. The pie, instead of looking like a standard pumpkin pie with a surprise layer viewed when cut,  showed where the cheesecake layer had pushed up when the pumpkin was ladled over.

That said, the pie was delicious – the seasoning excellent, and the filling super creamy. Would I make this again? Sure. But now I’ll think of it as an “Almost Paradise Pumpkin Pie.” Then again, so many recipes, so little time.

p.s. After I put this post together, I realized I had actually made this pie – and posted about it – once before! Not only that, but it came out just fine 5 years ago. (A sure sign of a weary mind, but hey – now you can see what it should look like!) Check here for the recipe and an earlier version.

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`Tis the season, and while you – or friends and family – are thinking of purchasing cards to send, it’s my season to give you some options!

Consider these two adorable Frenchies who have made it up to the kitchen table to have themselves a small feast of Christmas cookies. Anyone who has dogs – or cats – understands the possibility of coming into the kitchen and finding just such a scene. Have a counter surfer in your house? This is just a variation on a theme!

You can find these and other holiday cards on my website, as well as charming blank notecards that would make great gifts. Please shop!

 

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It’s time! For those of you old-fashioned folk who still love to write out and send Christmas or holiday cards, please check out these Frenchie darlings ready to travel miles with nothing but your love and a stamp.

Featuring my own artwork, this card is called “Toasty Warm”, because who wouldn’t be with those little sweaters and pom-pom knitted caps? You can order my Toasty Warm French Bulldog holiday cards through my website, and send something adorable to your friends and loved ones.

As is the case with many things nowadays, the art of hand writing cards and notes seems to have fallen out of favor with some in favor of the speed of the internet. And here’s where I disagree – there is nothing like opening your mailbox and discovering a bona fide greeting card – be it for Christmas, the holidays, or some other occasion – written out just to you. It has always been special and, in my opinion, will always be special. (As a parallel note, by the way, Kindle sales have fallen and sales of real, 3-dimensional books for children are on the upswing.)

There is something about the smile you feel when holding a card in your hands, displaying it on the mantle, and looking at it whenever you feel like it, that can’t be replaced by the digital. So check out all my French Bulldog holiday cards, and discover what you would like to send!

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While waiting for needed input on a number of projects yesterday, I decided to take the walk I’d been putting off. It was sunny and crisp, and even in mid-afternoon, with the shorter days, the light was angling through the trees and casting long shadows.

Ornamental grasses flanking a walkway sport their furry blooms. Many trees in the area have lost the majority of their leaves.

Long shadows are cast by an already lowering sun.
In the background, a sparkling river moseys south.

Something new for me when I moved to this side of the state was the concept of rural delivery. The postal carrier does not bring mail to the mailbox by your front door, but instead leaves it in mailboxes which stand alone or in groups at the edge of properties and driveways. Certainly makes sense considering how much of this area is farmland!

My town was initially established in the mid 18th century, a mill town on the river, but was not officially incorporated with its current name until 1925. It went through many names, among them Burnt Mills after the grist mill was destroyed by fire in 1769. Many older buildings grace the town, this one (I’m estimating late 1800’s) is converted to a barber shop and residence.

Trees along the riverbank holding on to the last of their leaves.

Looking north, the Delaware is a sea of calm. Whether due to rain or the extended warmth of much of the fall season, there were not many of the brilliant oranges and reds to be found among the trees this year. Instead, the green leaves seemed to fade to dull yellows and browns.

A group of Canada geese swim, relax, and feed at the edge of the riverbank.

An oak leaf on the textured concrete bridge path looks both crisp and leathery. It’s shadow seems to have another life altogether, something insectile.

A train once connected Phillipsburg about 1/2 hour north of my town all the way south to Lambertville, paralleling the river. The tracks were recently cleared and maintained to allow a train to travel several miles for fun trips for passengers at an annual event. The mournful whistle of the steam engine could be heard for two days, and then on occasion afterward.

Walking with my camera always opens my eyes to my surroundings, and causes me to be very grateful to live where I do – an older, established community with a long history, and where people still are gracious and kind.

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That’s not what we usually see, is it? More often we find articles about engendering the love of reading in kids.

So I was pretty impressed to find in the September 2017 issue of Family Circle an article about the importance of reading for pleasure. I assume that many of you reading this blog, as writers, are already immersed in a regular reading habit, but this short article with “how-to” tips addresses how we, as women, are pulled in so many directions that we often let reading slide. And it’s true; an inordinate involvement with our phones, TV, internet – not to mention the real-life issues of our families and work – can leave us feeling we have no time to read.

But a Yale linguistics professor, Kenneth Pugh, mentions the importance of reading for pleasure as highly important for our emotional health as well as strengthening our creativity. Tips on how to get back into reading include never leaving home without a book; literally penciling in time in our daily schedule for reading; swapping a chunk of our TV addiction for reading time; keeping a book on our nightstand, etc.

For anyone not sure of how to get back into reading, the article suggested as number one – your local librarian. Librarians are a fantastic source of knowledge of the books on their shelves and with a few questions, can have you in a book you love in no time. A good local bookseller can do the same. In addition, they recommended the New York Times Best Seller list, Goodreads.com, or 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge. What I loved most about seeing this article is that Family Circle is a magazine with a huge circulation of about 17, 560 readers that reaches a very mainstream audience.

Reading – and reading for pleasure – is important. I find myself concerned about all these moms glued to their phones. What kind of inspiration is that for their children? I’m hoping that a family-oriented magazine like this one will inspire more than a few women to reconsider their habits and pick up a book – for themselves, and also to read to their kids.

 

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Two words.

Tomatoes. Corn. (Well, lots more, really.)

This is the season – every summer fruit and vegetable growing in the Garden State is at its peak, and super delicious. I may be doing my food shopping this weekend, but I will not be picking up any produce at the supermarket. That I will get at one of the local farmstands, several of which are within a few miles of where I live.

New Jersey gets a bad rap. The first thing that many people see when they arrive in NJ is a massive array of oil refineries in Elizabeth and nearby areas. Visitors come from New York or the Newark airport, and sadly, this dirty, smoke-spewing sight is sometimes all they ever get to see.

But they don’t call us the Garden State for nothing! Right about now there are stands by the side of the road packed with fresh, delicious produce of every kind imaginable. Sometimes it’s from a farm; sometimes it’s just a local gardener sharing his or her backyard bounty.

Always accompanying these unattended and smaller stands is a lock box for you to put your money in. We’re all on the honor system out here – to put in the right amount and not take the contents. That’s another reason why my part of the state is so wonderful. That actually exists.

My guess is I’ll stop by Phillips Farm in Holland Township, which is looked over 24/7 by the Jersey Fresh guy, pictured here. Looking for fresh and delicious? Pass on by the refineries; drive across the state aways; take a scenic backroad, and that’s where you’ll find it. I’m already thinking tomato sandwich.

 

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We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes. As if a small amount of a delicious cheese would really push our cholesterol seriously over the edge. Or that we don’t deserve an occasional taste of the sublime.

My friend and I were enjoying a petite celebration in Frenchtown today. After a wonderful meal at Pulp, a vegetarian restaurant and juice bar known for its cleanly grown food and fabulous smoothies, I’d wanted to make two stops, one at Minette’s, a chocolatier, for a gift, and Olive with A Twist, a store that specializes in the most vast array of oils you could imagine, specialty cheeses and other delights. Minette’s was closed for vacation, so we moved on to our next stop. The sandwich board out front advertised “Watermelon Balsamic” and “Coconut Gouda”.  An unusual combination to be sure, but how bad could it be?

The shop owner happily shaved us each a sample and I was immediately in love. The coconut was bright but subtle, and the gouda smooth and a tad on the sweet side. Did I – do I – really need a cheese high in fat and at a price that made me gasp to myself and momentarily think of starving children in the world? Before I backed down, I requested between 1/4 and 1/2 pound.

I reminded myself that life is short and to be enjoyed, and small treats here and there are good for the soul. Besides, I would hate to think, in my final moments on earth, “Why didn’t I buy some of that coconut gouda?”

The moral of the story? Be good to yourself. You deserve it.

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Some time ago – can it really be back in 2014 I wrote that post? – I featured the last home I lived in, a beautiful stone farmhouse, the oldest part of which was 1724. The bulk of the house was built in 1810, and then the homeowner who lovingly restored the property added a modern kitchen and bath about 40 or so years ago. I’d promised to share the house I’d lived in prior to that, an 1870 home, technically Victorian I guess, but not of the gingerbread style as the community was more farm oriented than fancy.

As mentioned in that earlier post, all my life after college, including where I live now, has been in homes or apartment buildings from 1810 – 1920. I have enjoyed 9′ ceilings as my standard, deep porches on all the homes, stunning hardwood floors, and more “wildlife” than modern homes allow by sheer dint of better mechanics, technology and sealing. It was usually a small price to pay.

Above you see the first house I lived in when I moved to the western side of New Jersey in a tiny rural town called Pattenburg, once a center of basket-making and peach growing. These were all taken to market on the trains that ran the (still active) tracks at the far back of my property. The land itself was 1/2 acre and an absolute marvel to this girl who’d been living in an (albeit huge) apartment. The property was on the narrow side and quite deep with 14 deciduous trees, and I sure got my exercise raking each fall and mowing.

There you see an aging apple tree which was a major attraction in the fall. It was not unusual to look outside and see deer, rabbits, and groundhogs all together enjoying what had fallen to the ground. As the ancient tree had not been well-cared for, the apples were not really edible or pie-worthy, but few went wasted. At the right, the ubiquitous outhouse, an often-rescued fixture on every property on Main Street.

And this is Main Street, photographed from the road in front of my house. When I first moved here, people were always talking about “downtown”. Needless to say, I was curious as to where that might be, so I asked. I was told,  “You’re standing in it!” This was a far different life than I had ever known, for sure.

Every time I was out walking the dogs total strangers driving by would wave at me. At first, taken a bit aback, my hand would flail lightly at my side reaching in an upward direction. I’d never lived anywhere where strangers just waved at you. But it didn’t take me long to catch on – people were just downright friendly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have landed here.

The backyard in snow. And this only shows a portion of it. There’s another third of the land beyond that farthest point you can see. Plus this doesn’t give a hint of the lush blossoming of endless perennial plants, shrubs and trees that were on this property. I have so many photos of the flowers all about – small areas of blossoming beauty – that I’d be here for days just trying to find and scan photos of the riot of color that abounded in spring and summer.

I don’t have a lot of photographs of the interior of the house. It had original hardwood – walnut, I believe – floors and stairs. The kitchen’s wide planks had already been painted, so  once settled in, I gave it a new high-gloss paint job. Out the kitchen door was a patio.

Another photo in the kitchen. Here was my old girl, Chloe, then nearing 15 years – the most lovable, trustworthy and phenomenally stubborn dog one could ever hope to own. (Yes, she’s on the drop cloth.) Behind her was a complete wall of original wood cabinets and drawers, any kitchen-lover’s dream. The original wainscoting was also intact, unpainted. Throughout the house there were chair rails with beautifully coordinated colonial colors and petite flowered wallpaper above the rail. There were also closed-over fireplaces in the living and dining rooms and the master bedroom. Again, just as well for one with no knowledge of building or watching over fires.

And here’s what qualified our little stretch of maybe 24 houses and an old red schoolhouse as a downtown – we had a church and an antique store which was once Pattenburg’s general store. I was soon surprised at how many people visited the shop filled with antiques and collectibles. It turns out the owner had cleverly gotten her store listed on an “antiques trail” where people would drive about following a map for fabulous finds in and around the county.

The house at Christmas, my tree in the dining room at right, not visible in this photo. I decorated the garland with white lights, gold bows and small pink roses to complement the house. It always looked wonderful. At the holidays, our little Main Street was all aglow, looking for all it was worth like a slice of another time with beautifully lit houses, and neighbors happier still, all of us waving at one another, wishing each a warm Merry Christmas. Life was good.

p.s. For another insight into this country life, take a peek at this post about the train trestle at the far end of Main Street.

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One of the fascinating things about childhood is that as we grow older our perspectives on it change. What were once annoying practices foisted upon us now make perfect sense. Where once we had wishes for things far more grand and perhaps expensive than we could afford now seem so unnecessary. Just like our parents told us. Thing is, parental advice just wasn’t always all that much fun; we were kids after all. We weren’t interested in having values instilled in us; it seemed tedious.

Yet here we are, ever so many years later, reflecting on the pearls of wisdom that our parents were thanklessly sharing with us. Okay, maybe they weren’t all pearls of wisdom, but plenty of them were great guidelines, both large and small, for managing life along the way.

Below I’ve listed just a few of the things my parents taught me, and there is at least one humorous, heartwarming, life-changing, and/or scary – but always memorable – story to go with each. Undoubtedly, you have your own list you can make up quite different from mine. Especially if your parents have passed over, you might be surprised in making that list how much of what you like about yourself actually came from what they were teaching you all along. Life is funny that way.

So here’s to all the parents who caught a lot of crap, patiently waited out hysterics, bit their lip when they wanted to scream, and resisted rolling their eyes as they explained something to us for the 19th time. And here’s to all the parents who went about their lives day by day, totally unaware that their children were watching and soaking up ways to manage some of the simplest things that would stand them in good stead for a lifetime.

My list:

  • Simple is good
  • Keep the house cool by following the sun to adjust the blinds/shades
  • You don’t have to have a lot of money to have a good time
  • You can never have too many flowers
  • Eat fresh
  • Bugs aren’t really all that scary when it comes right down to it
  • Budget your money
  • Make your bed every day
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Going away to college helps you grow up

 

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This crystal ball of melting ice is somehow enchanting. Perhaps it is its simple beauty or perhaps because it holds the paradox of fire and ice.

iceball-newyears2

Especially now, at the edge of a New Year, I am put in a reflective mood when I watch a tea light shimmer and dance within. I am not one to make resolutions, but I do think back on the year past, where I’ve been, how things have changed, how things have not. What I hope for.

I do believe our past has created who we are, but paradoxically, that we can also change this instant. It may be a challenge, or if we get our minds in the right place, it may be simpler than we could ever imagine. Sometimes we have to want something enough – or not want something enough – to change.  How wonderful to have a dream, a vision, to guide us. We can create that. How wonderful to acknowledge that light that grows from within where we always know who and what we truly are and can be.

As another New Year dawns upon us, I encourage you to find your light and shine brightly. If we all glow together, surely this will be a better world for each and every one of us.

Happy New Year.

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FoggyMorning

Nature XXVII, Autumn

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

~ By Emily Dickinson

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It’s always a bit of a surprise when the clock turns back to “regular” time and it starts getting dark earlier. We know it’s coming and why, but it’s never fails to be an adjustment. It seems the most clear demarcation of the end of all things blooming and the deepest step towards winter.

walknov5-tracksriver2

I was determined to give my camera and myself a little exercise Sunday, but was not prepared for the sun already setting lower at 2:30 in the afternoon. The sky was alternately blustery grey, bright blue, or streaked with layered clouds. You can see the Delaware River in the background as I walked parallel to it heading north. The tracks once connected all of the river towns on the Jersey side, and I hear rumors from time to time of their being restored.

walknov5-garagedoors2

It’s funny how you can pass the same thing so many times and yet not truly notice it. These old doors belong to a 2-story stone garage. What’s interesting is the structure is completely made of stone and mortar except for over the doors, where it appears to be made of odd, stone-like shapes of brick. It’s most unusual and makes me wonder what purpose this was once used for. The space is big enough to have housed at least one horse stall, but it seems more suited as a garage. The style of stonework is really quite old.

walknov5-garagedoorhinge2

Lately I find myself noticing all kinds of textures. The worn paint and the rusted hinges enchanted me. I think I could have taken dozens of photographs of just the front of this structure, maybe even of the doors themselves.

walknov5-garagefront2

The front, looking up. I love the stone windowsill and the wooden lintel. Someone has been keeping up with the concrete repair around the stone and brickwork.

walknov5-delaware2

The sky was such a changing mix of things, but the river seemed moody and sullen. No lovers tarried on the bridge this afternoon.

walknov5-leafandtrees2

Skies looked brighter in the east. A few lone hangers-on from some type of shrub waved in the breeze. Orange leaves drifted down, speckling a surprisingly still verdant lawn.

walknov5-picketfencew

The sun cast long shadows as I continued to walk. So many beautiful old trees in this area, not cut or abolished as you see in so many of the newly developed tracts. Here trees have their place and are appreciated for their beauty, their shade, and for the part they play in creating a place people like for its coziness and charm. I could walk – and take photographs – all day.

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