Gardening…again

Last year, I tried my hand at a very small garden and had lots of success, so this year, I’ve decided to do it again. Before, I had tomatoes, sweet corn, and sunflowers, so I’m going to see if lightning will strike twice. As I said last year, I’m no gardener. I have no idea what I’m doing. But dang it…it’s fun!

We are planting corn this year on the side of the house, and it will be visible (a little) from the street once it gets tall. I’m not sure how much grain growing is allowed in the neighborhood, but I guess we will find out! I will let everyone know if we receive some sort of written notice. My husband is lucky, because I really wanted to plant it out front. I think corn stalks are beautiful, but he put his foot down on that. I learned last year that I had planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to pollinate them by hand. We still had corn to eat, but it was a chore making sure they were all pollinated. Therefore, this year, I’m planting them in clusters, so they can pollinate each other. Nature’s way is best, so planting them closer together is the way to go. I learned from the past. I was actually surprised the corn grew last year, and I was doubly surprised when it actually produced ears of corn!

The tomato plants are going into the ground near where they were last year, because our knockout roses are in the same area. I believe our tomatoes survived last year, simply because of the knockout roses. The roses attracted braconid wasps, which in turn, killed the tomato grubs that tried to invade the garden. I had no idea about that when we planted the tomatoes, but I noticed a tomato grub with little eggs all over his back and looked it up. They were the eggs of the wasp, and they killed the tomato grubs. Thank you, braconids! Therefore, we are going to put our tomatoes near some roses again.

If you’ve never had a garden of any type, you might find it therapeutic. Last summer, when I woke up every day, I would walk outside and water our garden. And sometimes, I would water them in the evening too. We had tomatoes galore! But it was also a way for me to relax. Sure, I can sit by the pool during the summer and relax. And I can spend time with friends and family, but there was something about the quiet solitude of tending the plants that was good for my psyche. My mother had died the December before, and I truly believe gardening helped me with that. My parents both loved tomatoes and sunflowers. I knew they would have been pleased with what I was doing. Nobody loved a tomato sandwich more than my daddy, and I was able to enjoy them all summer long last year. Store-bought tomatoes just don’t cut it, so I grew my own! We hope to have the same this year…good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!

So today, instead of doing all the things I should be doing, I will be doing what I want to do. I will have my hands in the dirt. OK, mostly it will be a trowel in the dirt. But I will have it in the dirt, transferring my seedling plants from the little clear cups into the ground. I discovered last year that birds and moles ate most of the seeds I planted, so I had more luck when I transplanted seedlings for corn and sunflowers. Tomato plants will go into the ground near the roses, and we will see if lightning strikes twice.

I’ve had terrible laryngitis for the better part of the week, so having something quiet to do will be perfect for me today. I haven’t felt much like doing anything, but today, it is on!

 

 

 

 

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Today Is Mother’s Birthday

My mother was a little firecracker of a woman. She really was little. She claimed to be five feet tall, and maybe she was…with the right shoes. In her final years, she was probably more along the lines of 4’10”. But she had a big heart and a big sense of humor.

Lots of my friends have lost parents. They know what it’s like. It’s life-changing. I have a friend who recently lost her mother, and then her daddy passed away a month later. Heartbreaking.

My daddy died in 2006…pancreatic cancer. My mother passed away in December. Her 79th birthday is today, September 3, but she didn’t make it this far.

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Mother on her 75th birthday, in 2014, with my daughter and my nephew.

Here’s the deal: Mother would not want us to sit around crying about her. She would be thrilled to think we have laughed and told funny stories about her since she passed. She had a great sense of humor that got better with age, and nobody could make her laugh like my brother could. She died on the morning of December 30, and that evening, I met my brother and some of his friends for dinner/drinks. She would love to know the restaurant’s owner, a family friend, had a cup of Bailey’s and coffee at a seat for her.

Interesting that my mother’s birthday coincides with Labor Day, the first weekend of college football season. She loved college football. Actually, she loved watching most sports…baseball, basketball, track, etc. College football was her favorite, though.

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Mother and I used to watch football games “together.” She lived about 400 miles from me, but we would call each other and talk during football games. Everybody knows I don’t actually watch Alabama games till after the fact (I record them), because I think I’m bad luck, but sometimes, Mother would call me after an exciting play and tell me to turn on the TV and watch the replay. Often, she “watched” Bama games with her friend, Nell, via telephone, as well.

This will be my first football season without her. Unfortunately, she missed Alabama winning the National Championship in overtime last year. She would have loved the game-winning touchdown pass. (See that here.) She likely would have watched it a hundred times since, if she’d been here to see it. In fact, she probably wouldn’t read the rest of this blog post, because she would still be watching the video…repeatedly. She would have loved that Alabama won on Elvis’s birthday too, since she was a big Elvis fan.

She’d have had a big smile on her face throughout that Alabama/Louisville game Saturday night.

When mother was in the hospital in her final days, she requested I put bowl games on the television in her room. I remember her waking up at some point and saying, “Isn’t there a football game on?” No matter how bad the bowl game was, she wanted that on instead of anything else. She wasn’t actively watching the games, but she liked them as her background noise. That’s how much she loved football.

She also enjoyed reading the Bible. She wasn’t much of a churchgoer, but she read the Bible daily. After she passed, I found little notes with Bible verses in her room, in the kitchen, in the living room, and on the back porch. A sweet lady named Lois stayed with Mother during the day. Lois knows the Bible, so she and Mother would read the Bible and discuss it. Many times, we thanked God for Lois, and I know Mother did. They enjoyed each other’s company. We all love Lois.

Never one to make a big deal about her own birthday, she would say, “Every day should be celebrated.” And she was right. She was usually right about most things. Lots of people went to Mother for advice or simply to talk. I’ve had countless people tell me what a good listener she was. I’m proud of that. She was always a good listener for me and gave great advice. She was a wise woman. I wrote a blog at Mother’s Day about things she had taught me. You can see it here. I sure miss her…every single day.

Mother loved her family, football, sunflowers, homegrown tomatoes, pound cake (made by our friend, Jane), friends, and she just loved to sit and chat. That’s what I miss most…just sitting and chatting with her. In fact, just yesterday, I wanted to call her to tell her about some folks getting married.

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A big sunflower I cut in my backyard this weekend. It’s our centerpiece for Mother’s birthday.

We ordered a new flower arrangement for her grave over the weekend. Today, in honor of her birthday, I’ll make a tomato sandwich with a tomato from my garden for lunch. She and Daddy used to grow tomatoes every summer…sometimes successfully. She would never believe I grew tomato plants this summer that produced lots of healthy, delicious tomatoes. I’ll cut some of the sunflowers (her favorite and Daddy’s favorite too) from the garden for the table’s centerpiece, and we’ll have some birthday cake with Bailey’s and coffee. And we’ll watch the Florida State/Virginia Tech football game. Florida State was her second favorite team. If she were here, we would talk and laugh.

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My Favorite Mother’s Day Gifts

Mother’s Day is May 13…just around the corner.

This year, I will celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother, but I will not be celebrating it as a daughter. I lost my mother in December. If she were here, she would say, “Don’t get me a gift. I should give my children a gift, because y’all make me so happy to be a mother.”

Of course, we sent her something every year, if we weren’t with her. One year, I didn’t see her or talk to her till late in the day. She wasn’t happy with me, and rightfully so. But I did arrive that evening, gift in hand. I’d had a bad day that day, but I didn’t want to burden her with my problems on Mother’s Day, so I just took the heat. I learned my wicked “stinkeye” from her, you know.

This year, we will make a toast to my mother at brunch, and I will tell my daughter some stories about her. That’s how we celebrate Mother’s Day…brunch.

I won’t be sending my mother a gift this year, but maybe I’ll receive a gift (or two) from my family. If you need to get a gift for someone who doesn’t drop hints, here are some of my ideas (hint, hint):

SKYLIGHT FRAME According to their website, the Skylight Frame is a digital touch screen 10″ photo frame that displays your digital photos and can be updated remotely via email. It promises “clarity, color, and brilliance.” Part of the setup process is connecting it to Wi-Fi. From what I understand, each frame has its own email address, so you can update the photos anytime from anywhere. Sounds like the perfect way to display new photos in your own home or at Grandma’s. Priced at $159, I think it is a great gift (hint, hint). You can get more information and purchase the Skylight Framehere.

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FRESH FLOWERS I know it sounds cliché, but I love fresh flowers in my house. I think most women do. I love walking into my house and seeing fresh flowers, even if I was the one who picked them, ordered them, or purchased them. They don’t have to be the most expensive flowers, you know. If you have some lovely flowers in your yard (we have some beautiful roses), make up your own bouquet and present them to Mom.  There are lots of awesome places to get beautiful flowers. My personal favorite in Charlotte is The Blossom Shop, simply because they have never failed me. Everything they’ve ever done is beautiful. You can see their website here. You can also pick up fresh flowers at most grocery stores and make up your own arrangement.

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BAKED BY MELISSA MINI CUPCAKES I wrote about these recently, but I’m adding them here again, because they really are some of my current favorite things on earth. My friend, Amy, sent me some for my 50th birthday last May, and I think about them every day. In fact, I placed an order for my “family” (myself) earlier today. They are delightful little bite-size treats and come in lots of flavors. Personally, I love the package called the O.G. (Original Greats). You can’t go wrong with this. To see what they offer and place an order, click here.product-the-og-25-pack_1_

SEND A MEAL This is a website from which you can send a voucher to any recipient…on Mother’s Day, that would be your mom. Mom spends a lot of time keeping the family fed, so give her a break on a day of her choosing. Prices vary, but it’s worth a look. I’ve looked through their website many times, and every time, I find something else that looks fantastic. One friend told me she had ordered from them, and the food was fabulous. They have a vast array of offerings including pasta, pork, chicken, beef, meatloaf, and more! They even have meals for special diets like Diabetic meals and Gluten Free meals. Check out their website here.

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US NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER This is a great, fun place lots of people forget we have in Charlotte. For an adventurous mom, a gift of adventure at the Whitewater Center would be a great gift. One year, for my birthday, a friend gave me a Canopy Tour at the Whitewater Center, and it was an incredible time! Guides take participants through a series of ziplines and platforms around the Whitewater Center. There are lots of other activities at the Whitewater Center, as well. Check out their website herehttps://usnwc.org/.

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BY D GRACE OF GOD PRODUCTS While watching CBS Sunday Morning, I saw a story that I had seen before but forgotten. It’s the story of a man who received an unsolicited Facebook message from someone in Liberia. Believing it to be a scam, the recipient proposed that the sender take some photos of the living conditions in his area. After receiving some photos from him, he realized the man in Liberia needed a better camera. He mailed him a camera with which to take photos, thinking he’d never hear from him again. But he did. The story is a touching one, and worth a readhere. The two men are now in business together, selling photos of Liberia and more. You can purchase their productshere. When you give Mom her gift, tell her the story behind it, and she will be thrilled to be a part of it.png_book_1024x1024.png

Whatever you choose to do for your mother, remember…you only have one mother. After mine passed away, a friend said to me, “I cannot imagine losing my mother. I don’t have any other family.” I said, “You have your husband!” She said, “I can get another husband. I can’t get another mother!” Of course, we laughed.

Spend some time with your mother and do something thoughtful for her this Mother’s Day. These were some suggestions, but every mother is different. Do something she will like.

God bless mamas.

XOXO,

Kelly

Quick and Easy Brunch

Anyone who knows me will quickly tell you I am no Martha Stewart. I like to cook, but I’m no chef. I don’t have the attention span for recipes with too many ingredients, and I tend to be a “squirrel chaser,” i.e. I’m easily distracted.

Every now and then, though, I like to invite some friends over for a brunch. Sure, I could get it catered, but it’s a great opportunity for me to try my hand at some recipes.

As always, the key for me is the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid. When I start trying to get too extravagant, I lose control of the situation. I learned a long time ago that it’s best for me not to make it too elaborate.

I plan to host a brunch in my home later this month…a lovely, spring brunch. In the past, I’ve used plain glass or even clear plastic plates, but this year, I’m doing something different.

In the early 1940s, my maternal grandmother got her first set of Franciscan Desert Rose dinnerware. If you’re not familiar with it, the first Desert Rose dinnerware was produced in California in 1941, and it became the largest selling and longest running dinnerware pattern ever. Jacqueline Kennedy purchased some for use in the White House. In 1979, the company was sold to Wedgewood in England, and all production was moved to England in 1984. According to cedarhillfarmhouse.com, production was moved to other countries in 2000, but the entire pattern was discontinued in 2013.

It’s not a “fancy” pattern, and it was never expensive, but it’s pretty.

Over the years, my grandmother grew her collection and eventually gave it to my mother. I added to my mother’s collection over the years. When my mother died in December, I brought the Desert Rose to my house. My husband took one look at the boxes and wondered aloud what I was going to do with them. I still haven’t figured out where to keep them, but I plan to use them this spring for a brunch.

There are lots of things to consider when planning a brunch at home, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here is what I make notes on:

*Dinnerware (Desert Rose), where to place food, what to serve, when to prepare food, what beverages to serve, music, seating arrangements, flower arrangements, and party favors.*

The brunch I will be hosting is for a school committee, and the date and time have already been decided, so that decision is off my plate.

The dinnerware/flatware/linens question is the first one you should decide, simply because you can build around that. I have some light green cloth napkins I plan to use, because they will coordinate nicely with the Desert Rose dinnerware. I plan to have all the food served buffet-style from my dining room table, so I’ve selected a table pad and a tablecloth that will work with the dinnerware.

As for flatware, I have collected several sets of stainless flatware from eBay for great prices, so I have place settings for 40 and serving pieces too. eBay is a great resource for collecting.

Music is easy too…we have DirecTV, which offers a myriad of music channels. Usually, for brunch functions, I find a jazz station to provide a light musical background.

For me, deciding on a menu for a brunch is far easier than picking a menu for lunch or dinner. I love the Hungry Girl cookbooks, because she offers low-calorie, healthy recipes for just about anything, and she has some awesome breakfast/brunch options.

For this particular spring brunch, I plan to have this menu:

FRESH FRUIT BOWL: (cut up strawberries and stir in blueberries the night before)

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HUNGRY GIRL CRAMMED WITH CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS from page 38 of Hungry Girl Clean and Obsessed (baked the night before and warmed before the brunch)

HUNGRY GIRL BANANA BREAD BONANZA MUFFINS from page 41 of Hungry Girl Clean and Obsessed (baked the night before and warmed before the brunch)

HUNGRY GIRL VEGGIE-LICIOUS BREAKFAST BAKE (recipe can be found here), assembled ahead of time and bake the day of the brunch

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Veggie-licious Breakfast Bake photo from http://www.hungry-girl.com

MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER’S SOUR CREAM POUND CAKE I could give you the recipe, but I’d have to kill you. That will have to remain within the family.

For beverages, I will serve coffee, water, and orange juice…easy enough. If it weren’t for a school committee, I’d also offer Prosecco.

It’s an easy-to-assemble menu. I will display the muffins on a Desert Rose platter. The Breakfast Bake will be in a Pyrex dish, and the fruit will be in a large bowl. All those foods will be on the dining room table, and I will arrange beverages on the kitchen island. I will grab coffee the morning of the brunch at Panera, and they will provide all the cream and sugar/sweetener. I will have water and juice in two pitchers.

If possible, I always recommend fresh flowers. I love having fresh flowers in the house all the time, but I get an extra arrangement when entertaining…one for the dining room table with the food, and one for the kitchen counter.

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As for seating, the group will be small enough for me to have everyone in the kitchen and keeping room off the kitchen. There is a loveseat and a chair-and-a-half, so that is seating for four people. There are four chairs at my kitchen table, and two taller chairs at the kitchen island bar, for a total of  ten. We have eight dining room chairs we can bring in as needed.

The kitchen/keeping room combo is a perfect place for everyone to congregate, visit with each other, and discuss any committee business.

When the fun is over, it’s always nice to send something home with your guests…a small token that shows you were happy to have them in your home…a party favor. In a previous post, I sang the praises of Miss Shelley’s Southern Jams and Jellies. For this particular event, I plan to have 2-oz jars of Fire Island Peach Jam and/or Apple Pecan Pie Preserves with blue ribbons around the top, because the school colors are blue and white. Everyone will love these! To see what Miss Shelley’s Southern Jams and Jellies has to offer, click here.

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Photo courtesy of Miss Shelley’s Southern Jams and Jellies Facebook page

So, if you are planning a small brunch at home that you don’t plan to have catered, this is the easy way to do it…keep it simple!

*If you like Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please invite your friends to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.*

Happy Hosting!

Kelly

***All Hungry Girl photos courtesy of hungry-girl.com or her books.***

Sunflowers

Sunflowers look like happy faces. The young ones all face the same direction…toward the sun (to read why, click here). It’s not sunflower season, but pictures of them can sure brighten a dreary, winter day. They were my daddy’s favorite flower and by default, they became my mother’s favorite too. Bees love them too. Big fields of them cause people to stop on the sides of highways for photos. Because they were my parents’ favorite, they became my favorite too.

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This month is my parents’ 57th wedding anniversary (February 18), but they aren’t here to celebrate. That’s why sunflowers are featured in the Facebook cover photo. I took that picture last summer when my friend, Meg, and I drove up to Flat Rock to see our friend, Linda, perform the role of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. We stopped right on the side of the highway and took a bunch of photos.IMG_8684

Mother died December 30. It wasn’t really expected, but not entirely unexpected either. She had been in failing health for some time, but I didn’t see it coming. We talked every day, and even before Thanksgiving, she started saying, “Always remember I love you.” I thought she was just being sentimental, but in reality, she knew she was dying. Denial was strong for me. Looking back, I should have known, but I didn’t.  She mothered me for 50 years, and she was “Mama” to anyone who needed her. Fortunately, I was with her when she passed. There was no doubt she knew I loved her, and I knew she loved me. That’s all that matters.

FullSizeRender-27When my daddy died in October 2006, we had time to prepare and time to have those long, meaningful conversations. He had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in February of that year, so we knew. We spent lots of time reminiscing with him and making jokes, because if we didn’t laugh, we would cry. He helped us get out of jams our whole lives, but we couldn’t get him out of this jam. Since our daughter was not quite three, she wasn’t enrolled in real school yet, so our little family moved down to our little condo on the bay near my parents’ house in Alabama for the last couple months of his life. We are grateful for that time together.

My husband and I got married in August of 2000, and the next spring, I planted sunflowers all over our backyard, half expecting them to survive. Surprisingly, those sunflowers grew to be the biggest I’ve ever seen! The blooms were way bigger than my head, and I have a big head. Some of the stalks were thicker than my arm, and lots of them grew to be ten feet tall…or more! When it was time, I stood on a step stool and still had trouble reaching some of the blooms to cut them.

Mother and Daddy were proud. Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, but I had worked hard fertilizing them, staking them, and watering them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have cell phone cameras then. I did take some pictures, and they’re in the house somewhere, but I have no idea where. After that year, I never planted sunflowers again; I developed a fear that I would stick my hands in the soil and pull out a snake.

This spring, however, I plan to honor my parents by planting OUR favorites, sunflowers, in my backyard again. I’m going to overcome my fear of snakes and plant those flowers so Mother and Daddy can look down and smile.

If you want to grow your own, they’re pretty hardy flowers. You can order seeds here. There are probably more varieties than you know. The year I had all my sunflowers, I planted the seeds in trays and transferred them when they were a few inches tall, but I’ve heard people say it’s just as easy to grow them straight from the soil.

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I think the sunflowers Meg and I ran across were just west of Shelby on the south side of Highway 74. Another friend, Carolyn, tells me there is a big field of sunflowers on Hallsboro Road near Hallsboro, NC.

***Read about other sunflower fields at the bottom of the page.***

So this summer, when you see a field of sunflowers on the side of the road, I hope you’ll stop and take pictures. I’ll stop at every sunflower field I see, and I’ll be thinking of Mother and Daddy.

If you know of any sunflower fields anywhere in the US, please share the location in the comments. And please remember to invite your friends to follow Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things on Facebook.

In the meantime, keep facing the sun…

 

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Sunflower field locations 

ALABAMA

*According to Country Living’s website, there has been a sunflower field in Autauga County, Alabama, in 2016, at the intersection of Highway 14 and Highway 33. Click here to go to their website and see an aerial video (by Alabama Aerial Photography) of the field. It’s incredible! I’m hoping it’s an annual planting.

*In Summerdale, Alabama, Alligator Alley has had a field in years past. This is located in Baldwin County, about 30 miles north of Gulf Shores, AL. It’s a small field, but easily accessible to visitors of Alligator Alley. Learn more about Alligator Alley here.

*I’ve seen photos of a sunflower field at Cornfield County Farms, just north of Montgomery, Alabama, in Elmore County. See more about that here.

GEORGIA

*The Anderson’s Sunflowers are located on Shiloh Road, in Cumming, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. You can see their Facebook page here.

NORTH CAROLINA:

*The previously mentioned flowers on Highway 74, west of Shelby; and the field in Hallsboro.

*Visit The Biltmore in Asheville between July and September, and you can see their sunflowers by the road to Antler Hill Village. See more about that here.

PENNSYLVANIA

*According to Heraldmailmedia.com, there has been an annual field in Marion, Pennsylvania, at Lesher’s Poultry Farm. Read more about that here.

SOUTH CAROLINA

*The Draper Wildlife Management area in Western York County, SC. Click here for more info. I visited this one with my friend, Jenn, and our girls a few years ago. When we went, they were smaller sunflowers, but beautiful, nonetheless.

VIRGINIA

*Burnside Farms in Haymarket, Virginia, hosts the Summer of Sunflowers. You can find out more about that here.

SUNFLOWER FESTIVALS

*There are sunflower festivals all over the world! Maybe my friend, Mary Ann, will road trip with me to a Sunflower Festival this summer. To find more info about those, click here. 

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