It’s All About The Choices We Make

I had a choice yesterday:

Go to a party with my girlfriend to hang out with her cool, young friends who like to laugh and drink. 

OR 

Stay home and get yard work done.

I chose the latter because we had been away on vacation for 2 weeks, got home less than 24 hours before I would have gone to the party and the yard was a mess… weeds everywhere, overgrown grass, plants in need of staking.  Additionally, in our absence, PECO finally showed up and trim the tree limbs they had tagged as interfering with the wires along our road.  I say finally because they notified us in April 2011 that they would cut the wood and leave it for us to do with as we pleased.  Since we have a wood burning fire place I was completely stoked (pun intended).

Charlie decided he wanted to stack the pieces of the trees PECO left for us along side the rest of our wood pile.  I took Emma to a friend’s house and when I got home, Charlie already had the little wagon-thingy hooked up to the back of the mower.  He had one of his truck ramps resting on the back of the wagon.  I thought that was weird, but then I looked a the hunks of wood.  (If a director had been filming me in a movie my reaction would have been the slo-mo pivotal moment of the whole picture.)  I turned my head and my jaw dropped at the size of the pieces of wood PECO left for us.  NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

So in 90° heat and 100% humidity, we rolled these behemoths up the ramp and into the wagon.  Then, drove them over to our wood pile and together, we lifted and stacked each one until Charlie is ready to RENT A WOOD SPLITTER this autumn so we can actually burn them in the fireplace.   “Rent a wood splitter” is in all caps and bold print because Charlie thinks he is going to split them using an ax as he has in the past.  I am putting a stop to that shit this time.  My argument is that smart people worked really hard to invent machinery to do this kind of stuff for you.  It doesn’t mean you’re lazy.  It means you are paying homage to said smart people.  Why insult them by ignoring their inventions, right?

Mother. Fucker.

It may be time to switch to a propane fireplace.

The "smaller" pieces are the size of his torso!

And so I learned my lesson today.  As I sit here writing this, every muscle in my body is aching.  I realize I should have chosen to go to the party.  I’m sure it was fabulous.  I’m sure I would have had the time of my life.  I’m sure it would have given me months of material to write about.

What the hell is wrong with me?

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Southern Exposure

I want to have a party here…

Or here…

Or even here…

But most of all here

The problem with fulfilling my desire to do so, however, is two-fold.

1) These gardens are located in Charleston, SC and I live in Pennsylvania.

2) They are all private residences and I had to take pictures of them through wrought iron gates.

It know it would be very hot the day of my imaginary party.  Near 90°F.  But there would be a gentle breeze coming off Charleston harbor.  I would start the party around two in the afternoon.  I would not sweat at all.  Neither would my guests.  We would simply glisten.  The air would smell of Carolina roses.

I know what I would serve while hosting my imaginary party in any of these gardens: Cucumber-mint tea sandwiches, goat cheese and watercress tea sandwiches, sun-dried tomato and basil tea sandwiches, kalamata olive tapenade with warmed pita wedges and cantaloupe & honeydew salad with prosciutto and shaved parmesan cheese.  I would serve the sandwiches on oblong silver platters lined with bright white doilies.  The tapenade and melon salad would be presented in sturdy, chilled white ceramic bowls.  My guests would carry their selections on the delicate, gold-lined china with dainty flower patterns and scalloped edges that you just know is inside the magnificent dwellings adjacent to these gardens.  The lemonade and traditional mojitos I would offer would be kept cold in smooth, chilled glass pitchers whose handles have a little flippy design at the end.  Either of these liquids would be poured into the slender, but weighty, mismatched collins-style tumblers that I would line up on the outdoor buffet table.

I know what I would wear while hosting my imaginary party in any of these gardens:  A strapless, below the knee flowy lilac sundress with a big floppy white hat and maybe even white gloves.  My shoes would be pretty, but practical – probably a neutral summery wedge.

I know the music I would select to play while hosting my imaginary party in any of these gardens:  Big Band and Jazz (think Cole Porter, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Glenn Miller) with their saxophones and trumpets and rhythm sections intermixed with the more modern, mellow compositions of James Taylor, Van Morrison, Jason Mraz and Tim McGraw with their guitars and pianos and seducing lyrics.  Of course, the volume would not be too loud.  Just enough to notice during pauses in conversation (note, these would not be awkward silenced, just pauses of contentment).

It would all be very Gatsby-esque.  We would talk about books and travel and good food.  We would drink in the pleasure of spending the afternoon with one another.  We would laugh heartily.  We would all agree I am the best party thrower ever.

*Sigh*

General George Washington, Party Animal

Ok, so we all know about our first President and how valiant he was and how forward-thinking he was and the wooden teeth and blah, blah, blah.  Plenty has been written about all that stuff by people way smarter than me.  Go read their blogs/books/scholarly articles for that.

What you never read about though, is that Georgie-boy could throw down.

Hard.

Charlie & Emma and I are on vaca and drove down the east coast to South Carolina for a little R & R.  Since Charlie is way into anything related to American History (he teaches the subject for heaven’s sake) and I am way into going somewhere I’ve never been before, we decided to lay over in Virginia and visit Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s stately manor.  We figured it would break up the drive to the beach nicely and fulfill both our interests at the same time.  Emma came along for the ride because she didn’t have a choice (see my previous post I Can Tell You What’s NOT A Party).

George inherited a modest farm-house from his half-brother, Lawrence, in 1754 and swiftly got to work pimping the thing out.  First, he raised the roof and then added on a butt-load of rooms for visitors – 9 guest rooms were figured into the floor plan.  That’s a lot of entertaining!

Nice.

The two-story estate sits atop the Potomac River.  The sweeping views of the water itself and the grounds surrounding the colonial mansion-farm are GORGEOUS.  The perfect setting for a soirée.


You could totally get down 
with this as your backdrop.

The General’s first order (I imagine from Martha) was to get the house ready for all the parties they would be hosting.  He was a frugal man, but wanted the place to look as though it was very expensive (I’m like that to).  So I was fascinated to learn that the entire outside of the home is simply made of pine that has been planed and painted.  As the paint was drying they would throw sand on it.  It’s a process called ‘Rustication’ and makes the wood look as if it were made of expensive stone.  Ingenious.  I feel a certain kinship with him knowing he made sure everything was aesthetically appealing before he invited friends over (I’m like that too).

Pre-Revolutionary Shabby Chic. 

Fooled me.  
Well played, George. Well played.

With the expansion of the house was completed, Mr. President opened Mt. Vernon to visitors and entertained 677 guests that first year alone.   In order to have such lavish parties nearly every day of the year, he had a Clerk (a.k.a., Party Planner) to keep records and prepare for all happenings on the property.  With this man and Martha organizing the sleeping arrangements, the maintenance of the home, the menu planning and prep work, George (well, his slaves) caught a million-and-a-half fish from the Potomac, slaughtered countless pigs and prepared for months planting, harvesting and storing crops.  It was quite an operation and is amazingly impressive to learn how they did it without electricity or refrigeration.

Smokehouse.
Storehouse.

I'll never complain about my kitchen equipment ever again.
Where meals were made presentable.
No animals were harmed in the taking of this picture.

And speaking of refrigeration, George recognized the importance of a cold drink during hot Virginian summers.  So much so that he had an ice house erected just a few hundred yards from the main kitchen in order to keep his guests comfortable.  During winter months, he (well, his slaves) would chisel and axe ice from the Potomac and haul it up to the icehouse to stack it in layers in the well-type brick structure dug into the ground.  (I don’t know how deep it is.  I missed that part when the tour guide talked about it because I got excited when I realized I could tie this trip into a post about parties and started thinking about how to do that and that I needed to take a lot more pictures.)  Of course, they couldn’t use river water to actually put into a drink.  Instead they would fill buckets with ice and sit pitchers on top of it to chill the beverages.  They were civilized after all.

George & G.Love like cold beverages.

It's deep I'm sure.

Records show that most visitors knew their place and stayed anywhere from 2-6 days.  Apparently, though the Humphries were assholes and stayed 13 months!!  Can you even imagine?  Martha must have been way more polite than I as I would have sooner set the damn house on fire than let those squatters crash for that long.

So, my fellow internet users (I would say Americans, but people outside of the country read this too), if you ever get the chance to see how the first American President partied, do yourself a favor and go to Mt. Vernon.  The place is beautiful and you can learn a lot about how our forefathers celebrated with their friends.  And I just love that he is still entertaining us all today despite the fact that he died 213 years ago.  That’s one hell of a great host.

I Couldn’t Have Said It Any Better Myself

A few weeks ago I was lounging in the chaise on my deck wondering what I could possibly write about for my next post.  I have a some half-written posts on the back burner, but just wasn’t “feeling” them yet.  I didn’t get to ponder the topic for too long though because Emma and her girlfriend (who was staying the weekend) sauntered up to me asking if I would take them to St. Peter’s Village to hang out for a while.  It’s about a half hour from our house, but the weather was perfect and we had nothing else going on… so why not?  We put on our trail shoes, packed some waters, piled into the car and set out to spend some time in the great outdoors.

St. Peter’s Village is a teeny little, magical area in Southeastern Pennsylvania that is the ideal melding of nature and small business entrepreneurialship.  Don’t blink or you might miss it though.  And what a shame that would be.

The village’s big attraction is the enormous boulders and rushing water located behind the stores on the main road.  Despite the fact that some of the rocks have grafitti on them (most of it is actually very artsy), you just can’t help but to smile while you climb/jump/crawl across them.  On hot summer weekends you’ll find the crowd gathered at the swimming hole.  Personally, I don’t get in though because the water has been absolutely frigid every time I’ve gone to the village and one would have to be pretty desperate to cool off to get in it.  (Well, that and I have an irrational fear of water I can’t see the bottom of – I just KNOW Jaws or the Loch Ness Monster or Godzilla are hiding down there and will eat me alive if I get in!)

Is that Nessie under the miniscule waterfall?

Weather doesn’t get any better than it was that Sunday.  Temps in the high 70s, the sky so blue it didn’t even seem real, the sweet smell of the earth pungent in the air.  We hopped, skipped and jumped over the rocks to get down to where the water pooled.  The girls were having a blast messing around on the rocks and swimming.  I was having a blast watching them.  I panned the scene and observed what was going on with all of the other visitors as well.  It was such a perfect day; everyone was happy.  Little kids giggled as they slicked down the natural rock sliding board, dogs leapt off rock ledges after frisbees only to plunge into the deep aquatic pockets below and, at the rope swing, there was a line-up of anyone adventurous enough to brave the icy water.

Perched on an collosal boulder, surrounded by strangers and warmed by the sunshine, it struck me how rare and perfect this afternoon was.  That no matter the amount negative “news” spewed every day into our living rooms, no matter how heartless people can sometimes be to us, no matter the myriad of reasons we may want to stay down after being dealt a blow we think we cannot possibly bear – here we were – unconcerned with all the shit in the world and simply having fun.  Simply building memories with our babies or nourishing our own souls.  Simply living in the moment and enjoying it to the fullest.

Maybe it wasn’t the sunshine warmimg me after all.

Maybe it was my faith being restored in humanity.

I smirked at the realization that I was in the middle of one hell of a great party.  Sure, most of these people didn’t know each other or me, and I didn’t know any of them, but we were all there together with a common goal.  To make the most of an absolutely spectacular day.  Mission accomplished, my friends.

I sat there for a long time feeling drunk with the contentment of being human.

Finally, the girls’ skin had turned a lovely shade of blue and they were ready to get the ice cream I had promised them at the little bakery up along the road.  I kissed my 13-year-old daughter on the cheek (who begrudgingly accepted it in front of her friend) and we started to ascend back to the village.  As we were climbing I looked down at one point to make sure my footing was secure on a rock.  I swear on the life of Emma, this is what I saw:

 012

I couldn't have said it any better myself.

With their chocolate chip cookie dough secured, I convinced the girls to stroll a little further down the road.  The outside terrace of the Inn at St. Peter’s Village was quietly bustling with patrons enjoying the day.  James Taylor’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight billowed dreamily from the speakers and I longed to sit with a glass of wine on the edge of that veranda watching the party on the rocks below.  But it is NOT cool to drive someone else’s kid home after even just one glass of wine.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to plan another trip there very soon.

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 034

 039

I lingered on the sidewalk for a few seconds longer than I probably should have fantasizing about sipping wine on that iron-gated deck and people watching and being further seduced by JT’s lyrics.  I’m sure I looked like a weirdo or stalker or something, but  I couldn’t help myself.  It was like being in a really happy dream that is too good to wake from.  But social mores got the better of me and, reluctantly, I turned slowly and gathered the girls to head back to the car.

Steering my black Camry past the shops and back to reality, my life’s philosophy was reaffirmed.  I love life and want to soak in these types of moments.  Cherishing the ones that stop me in my tracks and appreciating the others that don’t.  To make the most of them all.  I truly hope everyone has a place like St. Peter’s Village just for themselves.  Somewhere that leaves you satiated and fulfilled.  Somewhere that has a quiet solitude, but can house a really great celebration at the same time.  A party for your soul, if you will.  Places like these are rare, but when you do find them there is no doubt how truly special they are.

P.S. – Sometimes REALLY special things happen at St. Peter’s Village.  For instance, the last time I was there a photo shoot was in progress.  I had to hide in the bushes to get a picture as to not be obvious, but here’s what the photographer looked like:

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Bless his little heart. He has NO idea how happy he made me!

When Life Hands You Lemons…

It is sweltering in the Northeastern section of America right now.  I’m talking, melt-your-face-off, apply-deodorant-to-your-inner-thighs-to-keep-them-from-sticking-together, not-even-the-Sahara-animals-can-stand-this-shit kind of heat.  I don’t usually comment on the weather because:

1) It’s boring

2) What the hell am I going to do about it?

3) ‘Captain Obvious’ is not a good title for me.

But …this is bullshit.

In order to combat the depression of not being able to venture out-of-doors for more than 30 seconds, the other day I got a hankering for something that would keep me in touch with summer, but not cause me to walk on the sun that has seemingly landed on Pennsylvania.  Hmmmm, maybe … a fresh summer melon salad?  Yes, that’s just the thing that would remind me of the days where I could actually step outside and let the sun kiss my face without dissolving in a pool of sweat.  Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon, that’s all.  Maybe I’d get crazy and throw in a little fresh mint to shake things up, but I’m a firm believer in the KISS rule when it comes to food.  You know, Keep It Simple Silly.  Nature’s perfection doesn’t need anything too fancy.

I prefer to go to a local roadside stand or at least a farmers market for really fresh fruits and veggies, but I was kind of in a rush so I ended up at Wegman’s instead.  They are respectable, after all.  I paid an ungodly amount of money for the 3 fruits, but didn’t care because I was eager to get them home and slice ’em up.

Once home, I got out my knives and cutting boards and started in on the cantaloupe because it smelled divine through the skin.  Smelled like summer.  Sure enough, it was as sweet as candy.  I cubed it and tossed it in a bowl.  Next up, the honeydew.  Hmmmm, it was a little crunchier than I would have like it to have been, but it wasn’t the worst I’ve ever had either.  I guess that’s the risk you take with food you can’t see inside of.  Oh well, into the bowl it went too.  And finally, I speared the watermelon.

(Insert sound of trombone here: Waa-Waa.)

Pink.  It was pink inside.  Not crimson red like we have all been conditioned to expect from a July watermelon.  My lower lip quivered and my brow furrowed.  THIS was not going to alleviate my summer cabin fever AT ALL!  I held out hope anyway and cut a little sliver off for a taste.

Eh.

It wasn’t completely flavorless, but it wasn’t the sugary, crunchy deliciousness I was craving either.  I was at a cross-roads.  Add it to the salad and suffer through it or toss it in the trash and scour the internet for full proof watermelon choosing techniques?  Why, God, why??

DSC_0393
And then, all of a sudden, for no reason what-so-ever, brilliance struck.  (And brilliance doesn’t strike me often because, well, let’s face it – I’m kind of a dumb-ass.  I’m very good at following rules, but coming up with ideas is not my forté.)  I looked at my pink watermelon and thought it would pair perfectly with some ice an a little vodka.  Screw the summer melon salad!  I got to work cutting the watermelon into large chunks for the blender.

By the way, if you don’t have a Ninja blender, get one!  It’s bad-ass.

 DSC_0415

The Ninja.  Kicking ass and taking names.

I tossed the roughly chopped blush-colored meat of the melon into my handy-dandy appliance, plugged it in, hit start and my space shuttle of a blender whirled that shit down in no time.  Now here’s the tricky part.  I didn’t want the pulp in the drink, so I strained it.  I lovingly, painstakingly strained 18 cups of watermelon extract using a rubber spatula and a very small mesh strainer into a beautiful glass pitcher.  It took me a long ass time to do it (like 45 minutes), but it was SOOOO worth it.

After chilling the elixir for a few hours I decided it was finally time to reap the rewards of my hard work.  About 9 cups of ice went into the freshly cleaned blender.  To that, I added 2 cups of Esmé vodka (from my beloved Total Wine – if you don’t know about TW, see my previous post, She Had Me At Hello), 6 cups of the watermelon juice, the juice from half a lime and approximately 1/4 cup sugar.

 DSC_0400

With great anticipation, I poured it into a martini glass and added a sprig of mint for extra summery-ness.  I lifted the glass to my lips and let the concoction bathe my tongue.

Oh

My

God

Where have you been all my life, watermelon martini?  Why did I ever mess around with those other summery drinks of my past?  Last year it was Sweet Tea Vodka, the year before cucumber-mango mojitos.  But in the words of Prince, “nothing  compares to you”.  Oh how could I ever have even pretended there was another before you??  I know better now, my love, I will never forsake you again.

 DSC_0416

Perfection in a glass. 

So whether you are willing to prepare this for a full-fledged summer party or you just want to avoid the heat and sit in your climate-controlled living room with the one you love sipping the most refreshing cocktail of all time, treat yourself and take the time to make this liquid perfection at some point before the weather turns to chilly nights and thoughts of Halloween parties.

It is my gift to you.  You’re welcome. 

 Because 1 picture just isn't enough...DSC_0418