Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pastries & Pilgrims

Since Monday, we have been staying in a small apartment in the midst of downtown Plymouth, MA. It's quite a quaint, pretty little New England town, and we were all thrilled when we arrived at the location of our week long stay.

The first day was enjoyable, though rather drizzly and wet, with overcast iron gray skies. In the morning we went out running about the park and beach, (I need not bore you with the details of that delightful huffing experience) and spent the rest of the day reading and lazing, at least in my case, others actually worked. Later that evening we went out again because everyone was filled with a severe case of cabin-fever. Thus, walking a few blocks down the road, we found ourselves in my favorite kind of town scenery.

Downtown Plymouth is very pretty. There are stores and bakeries and shops on either side of the brick walkways that bring cheery delight to the onlooker. We perused and window-shopped our way down the sidewalk until we came to a health food store. We being who we are (and Camille being who she is) we made an immediate detour into the comfy interior of the store. While Camille, Alex, and Berklee oohed and aahed over the old-fashioned ginger beer and carab chip bars, I went through the stand of hand-made soaps and smelled the delicious fragrances that wafted up from them. The lavender one especially caught my eye.

I love lavender.

I adore lavender. The smell brings such peace and stillness; it's just lovely.

Alright, back to my story....

For a few days proceeding this walk, I had been in a delicious need for a beautiful used bookstore. Benjamin, my supremely kindred-hearted brother shared my desire. Thus, while the others were taking their time in the health food store, we decided to go on ahead and scout out a bookstore. Surely downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts would have something to curb our literary appetite?

It did. Farther down the brick sidewalk we came upon it. The shelves of dusty old hardback editions filled our hearts with warm happiness. We perused quietly for many minutes before we heard the door open, and the rest of the troop came in.
To cut a long story short, I came out with a beautiful little hard-backed edition of one of my favorite children's books (complete with full-color illustrations. Lucky me!). Alex came out beaming, with a five volume set of John Ruskin's Modern Painters in his arms, which he got for a steal. Benjamin, thanks to my watchful eye, came out with a small, hard-backed edition of a collection of short, out-of-print essays by G.K. Chesterton. Aren't I a good sister?

The joys of our purchases lasted for a few days. But no joys, however blissful, can stand against three long, consecutive days of iron gray clouds, rain, and a small house with nine people squashed into it. And so, yesterday we found ourselves walking listlessly about the house, yearning for a day of sunshine, an escape, an adventure.... ANYTHING to break up the monotonous boredom of cabin-fever mixed with persistent rain.

So after dinner that evening, we all decided to go to a lovely little local bakery, Blue Blinds Bakery, to enjoy some scrumptious treats and live music. Mama, Daddy, and I were the first to leave. We took a stroll down to the ocean to see Plymouth Rock, then wound our way back up to the main street and to the bakery. Taking our coffees and giant cranberry biscotti to a corner table, we experienced the happy comfort of quiet familial conversation. I love my Mama and Daddy.

Soon the rest arrived, and I got to make the rounds of ordered sweets and pick off of everyone else's. Oh the joys of family! The cinnamon rolls were, hands down, the best. There are few things in this beautiful world so scrumptious as an excellent, hot cinnamon roll. Loverly!

We enjoyed a wonderful evening of fellowship with all the kind, generous folks at the bakery. It was a pleasure that I was not expecting, but very thankful for. God is very, very good. We went home that night with our former boredom and cabin fever gone, good memories to take with us, and a giant bag of bakery yummies in our arms.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Children's Hour

The Children's Hour
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, o blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Perfectly Painful Pilates

Unlike my beautiful, slender sister Camille, I have a hard time fitting exercise into my daily routine. It's not that I don't think it's important.... it's not that I don't think I need it. (HA!) It's just that it slips my mind..... constantly. I will awake, have my morning devotions, jump in the shower, and it's only by the time that I have suds in my hair and am through the second verse of "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'!" that I suddenly think, "Wait! I didn't exercise! Oh, darn!" My conscience squirms like a dying fish for a few painful moments, then I wipe the thought from my mind and go on. Because honestly, who in their right mind wants to exercise by the time they're half-way through their shower? Thus, day after day departs, and no physical exertion is achieved.

Camille, on the other hand, treadmills and does exercise videos quite faithfully. But I have another problem here. Through the years of trial and error, I have come to discover that I abhor exercise videos. You memorize them, know them back and front, they enter your mind, you walk around humming the background music until your brain is ready to explode with it, visions of people's face expressions haunt you in your dreams! Plus, you have no one to correct you when you are doing something wrong. Now if you have a mirror you can do better.... but who wants to exercise in front of a mirror? (Dear God, save us from such horror!) So, I have firmly (though subconsciously of course) exneéd videos from my options.

What about treadmills you may ask? Well, they particularly are most definitely out of the question. The name ''treadmill'' is code for ''Slow Death of Aching Boredom". No matter how hard you try to ease the crushing weight of tedious monotony with some music, or a book, the reality of that wicked, cackling clock before your eyes is always there, just calling for you to glance at it one more time and realize that you are only a few seconds farther along than you were the last time you glanced. In a word the treading mill is - Impossible!

Now, what most people do not know, is that Camille feels the same way I do. But she, unlike me, does not allow her personal vendetta against treadmills and exercise videos to get in the way of her journey along the very painful climb to fitness.

One day at about supper time a few weeks ago, she came down the stairs in her exercise clothes. I was standing over the stove, and, looking up briefly, took a quick double take. "Where are you going?" I asked.

"Oh, to a Pilates class."

This was news! I dug further -


"At a place called Simply Pilates. I looked it up, and they have a class tonight at 5:30."

Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky!

And so, that evening Camille skipped out on dinner and went to exercise instead. (Inconceivable!) And while she was inevitably pouring sweat and building muscle, I was pouring myself a glass of apple cider and eating muffins. Oh, how ironic life is! For Camille, you see, actually did something about her monotonous exercise life. I had never even considered taking classes somewhere! She came home a few hours later, drenched in sweat. I looked up from my book. "How was it?"

"Oh! Excruciating!" she panted.

"What? Pilates excruciating?" I asked with an incredulous eyebrow.

She laughed. "Oh, please don't make me laugh!" she said pathetically. "It hurts too much!"

Thus for several days to come I was to hear moans whenever Camille lifted her arms, got up from a chair, walked anywhere, and especially when she laughed for any reason whatever. "Oh, I'm so sore!" was a very frequent comment heard from her lips.

Now, as someone who has only experienced Pilates from a TV screen, I had a hard time believing that it could be that painful. I was used to Pilates videos done by women who were not all that more fit than I, and who spoke in very calm, somewhat annoying baby voices. I was intrigued, to say the least, and my curiosity would allow for only one solution - I must go and experience this Excruciating Pilates Class for myself.

And thus, exactly one week since Camille's first venture, she and I found ourselves on the opposite sidewalk from where the Simply Pilates building stood. We had a few minutes to kill since our brothers had dropped us off early, so we spent our time milling through some cute shops. Italian music drifted to us from an open courtyard pizzeria as we walked and talked. Our conversation consisted mainly of my trying to explain the complex road system of Nashville to her (that is another blog entirely!), but both of our minds were really focused upon the exercise to come. We were excited. It's not every day that you get to experience an Excruciating Pilates Class!

The time finally came, and we crossed the street and entered the blue building. It was everything a Pilates place should be - clean, quiet, small, quaint, with honey-colored wooden floors and slow fans. We sat down on the bench in the front after signing in and waited for our turn to come. The class that was currently going concluded within a few moments, and we went behind some soft vanilla partition hangers to where the machines were. The sight filled me with apprehension.

Who's ever heard of Pilates on machines?

Camille walked confidently up to one and took her place. I, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing, wondered which end of the thing I was supposed to be at. Camille looked at me with a bursting smile on her face; it was obvious that she was trying to conceal her laughter at my confused state.

"You sit there, Gretchen." she said, practically choking.

I gave her a look, and took my place. The class ensued. There were only three of us students and the instructor. He asked us what we especially wanted to work on. I said arms, Camille said back, and the other woman said abs. Between all of our requests we pretty much covered everything anyone could possibly want to work on.

We started out with some wonderful, enjoyable stretches. I thought, "Psh! This isn't all that bad!" And then the instructor said something about moving the tension springs for arm exercises.

"One red and one yellow is easy, one red and one blue is medium, and two reds is hard."

So, what did you think I did? I confidently (and without much thought, really) put my tension bands on two reds. I could feel Camille's eyes on me. I looked over at her, and she, with a still bursting smile on her face, put hers on the same thing. Of course I could not suffer alone! The instructor quite deservedly chuckled at our naivety, and we laid down and began the exercise. I didn't think it was all that bad for the first two or three reps, but when I began to sweat like crazy by the sixth rep, I knew something was wrong. I had never sweat that fast before in any exercise, ever. But I wasn't going to give up yet. By the second exercise I was grunting and was sure that my face looked like a sunburned tomato. Finally, when my distress was at its height, the very wise instructor put both mine and Camille's resistance springs on easy.

And, what do you think? We still couldn't do the exercise. Let's just say that I have no muscle in my triceps whatsoever.

That was the beginning of a very fun, and very eye-opening Pilates workout. We had a great time, and both enjoyed ourselves immensely. It's amazing what a difference exercising with live people, in a quiet, clean environment can do to your opinion on the enjoyability of it!

My abs have never been sorer in my life. I now follow sneezes with the word "Ow!", which is something I'm sure Solomon never considered when he wrote the famous words, "There is nothing new under the sun." But, though sore, I am greatly looking forward to my next Pilates class!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Old Sweetheart of Mine

An Old Sweetheart of Mine

by James Whitcomb Riley

As one who cons at evening o'er an album all alone,
And muses on the faces of the friends that he has known,
So I turn the leaves of fancy till, in shadowy design,
I find the smiling features of an old sweetheart of mine.

The lamplight seems to glimmer with a flicker of surprise,
As I turn it low to rest me of the dazzle in my eyes,
And light my pipe in silence, save a sigh that seems to yoke
Its fate with my tobacco and to vanish with the smoke.

'Tis a fragrant retrospection -- for the loving thoughts that start
Into being are like perfume from the blossom of the heart;
And to dream the old dreams over is a luxury divine --
When my truant fancy wanders with that old sweetheart of mine.

Though I hear, beneath my study, like a fluttering of wings,
The voices of my children, and the mother as she sings,
I feel no twinge of conscience to deny me any theme
When Care has cast her anchor in the harbor of a dream.

In fact, to speak in earnest, I believe it adds a charm
To spice the good a trifle with a little dust of harm --
For I find an extra flavor in Memory's mellow wine
That makes me drink the deeper to that old sweetheart of mine.

A face of lily-beauty, with a form of airy grace,
Floats out of my tobacco as the genii from the vase;
And I thrill beneath the glances of a pair of azure eyes
As glowing as the summer and as tender as the skies.

I can see the pink sunbonnet and the little checkered dress
She wore when first I kissed her and she answered the caress
With the written declaration that, as surely as the vine
Grew round the stump,
she loved me -- that old sweet heart of mine.

And again I feel the pressure of her slender little hand,
As we used to talk together of the future we had planned --
When I should be a poet, and with nothing else to do
But write the tender verses that she set the music to:

When we should live together in a cozy little cot
Hid in a nest of roses, with a fairy garden-spot,
Where the vines were ever fruited, and the weather ever fine,
And the birds were ever singing for that old sweetheart of mine:

When I should be her lover forever and a day,
And she my faithful sweetheart till the golden hair was gray;
And we should be so happy that when either's lips were dumb
They would not smile in Heaven till the other's kiss had come.

But, ah! my dream is broken by a step upon the stair,
And the door is softly opened, and -- my wife is standing there;
Yet with eagerness and rapture all my visions I resign

To greet the living presence of that old sweetheart of mine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yummy Comforts

When my sister and her husband traveled back from their honeymoon, they came bearing gifts (to our great joy). They gave me and Camille two handy, cute little cookbooks that they had found in one of the gift shops at the Biltmore Mansion. Mine is a book of bread pudding and dessert recipes (they know me so well!). Camille's book contains recipes that are sweetened solely with honey, maple syrup, or sorghum - definitely the perfect cookbook for her.

The recipe below is from the 'Honey' section of her book. I made it the other day when I was feeling domestic.... and hungry. It was amazing! So, if you have time, and feel inclined, try out this yummy honey loaf.


Honey-Nut Loaf Bread
(Quick Bread)

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup honey
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbs. butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped nuts

In a large mixing bowl sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl beat egg and honey with milk and vanilla. Stir in melted butter. Gradually stir liquid mixture into flour mixture. Fold in nuts. Place dough in a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Bake in 350 F. oven 35-40 minutes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Problem of Salad

I close the laptop screen and inwardly scream, "Gretchen, you lazy bum, get up and do something productive!" (I have found that such thoughts are the fruit of Summer drowsiness)
I look at the clock, and my horizons suddenly brighten. It is 11:15 - the perfect time to eat lunch! I get up from my chair and practically skip into the kitchen. "Camille! Come fix lunch with me and eat!" I shout with my head in the refrigerator.
Camille, with her head in the computer screen (doing something very productive, like writing her new blog) calls back, "I'll be there in a minute. I want to finish this first!"
"Oh," I think to myself, "Camille doesn't know what really matters in life. Poor girl. Poor, poor girl."
Despite myself, I had been affected by Camille's daily afternoon salad routine, and thus the spinach leaves are out in a jiffy. The following five to ten minutes are filled by a discussion like the following -
Gretchen - "Do we have any avocados?"

Camille - "Yeah. They should be in the bowl on the counter."
Gretchen - "Oh, I see them now."

A moment passes -
Gretchen - "Do you want avocado on yours?"
Camille - "Yes."
Gretchen - "Do you want me to make yours?"
Camille - "No."
Gretchen - "Why not?"
Camille - "I want it to be small."

........ WELL!!
Gretchen - "Alright. I'm leaving the stuff out for you."
Camille (very tranquil) - "Okay."

A few moments pass -
Gretchen - "The boiled egg is kind of blue, but it's still good. Do you want some?"
Camille - "Yeah, that's fine."

Gretchen - "Do you want cranberries and almonds on yours?"
Camille - "Uh-huh."

As I continue my preparations, sounds of typing float from the Den. Poor Camille. I sprinkle feta cheese crumbles on the top of my salad. It looks amazing! I inwardly pat myself on the back - "Good job, Gretchen! You can make yourself a salad with no help! This is a great day!"
I poke my head into the refrigerator and proceed to knock jugs and cartons around, searching.

My muffled voice comes to Camille from the kitchen.
"Are we out of Briana's Bleu Cheese Dressing?"
The bomb has fallen. My hopes are dashed..... Without the dressing my salad is NOTHING!! MEANS NOTHING!! IS NOTHING!!! WHY!!!!!!
I shut the refrigerator - my heart in my shoes. "Camille?" I call plaintively... weakly, "What am I going to do?"
"There are other dressings in there."
No! She doesn't understand! What are Ranch, Thousand Island, or Italian to Briana's Bleu Cheese Dressing? What?
Camille calls again, "There is a recipe for Bleu Cheese Dressing in the Healthy Cookbook in the cabinet."
....It's not Briana's, but maybe I am saved.
Ten minutes later, I have a small bowl of ''salad dressing'' before me. It consists of - 1 C. plain yogurt, 1/2 C. buttermilk, 1/2 C. bleu cheese crumbles. I whisk, taste, and wrinkle my nose in disgust. I take it to Camille.
"Does this taste anything like bleu cheese dressing to you?" I ask her.
She tastes, and grimaces. "No! Not a bit!"
The dressing goes down the garbage disposal. The fruit flies are beginning to gather.... I am running out of time.... my salad is waiting.... WHAT AM I GOING TO DO??? If i was Camille I would put some hummus, or cream cheese spread on top to make the salad palatable, or just go with nothing at all. But am I Camille? NO! I will not stoop to such tactics! What is my last resort?
I sigh and open the fridge. It meets my eye................ Ranch. It calls to me in an eerie voice of salad dressing, "I am your last resort... do you want crunchy, dressing-less salad? Of course not! HA!" A wicked laugh drifts from the bottle, but there is no other choice........ I drizzle the creamy white stuff over my once beautiful, fresh salad, and sit down at the kitchen table to eat my previous glory.
Camille walks into the kitchen, "Will you read my new blog after lun...." She stops, staring at the filthy, attacked, mangled counter. "You didn't make mine?"


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Happy Days At Home

I'm finding it slightly difficult to find subjects for my blogs. I really have nothing too spectacular to write about at the moment, but the poor Pocket Peridot is so empty and forlorn that I am determined to freshen its front page with something.... anything new. So, to whom it may concern, I'm going to write about................ well, actually, I don't know what I'm going to write about!

We've been at home for just a bit less than a week now, and, believe it or not, I've actually worked out a rhythm of day to day life. I do try and practice all the time that I need to on my violin and guitar - plus get my bookwork done; however, I usually end up getting the latter finished, and not the two former - and that's not even mentioning writing and drawing. Bleh! Between the lack of hours in the day, and my lack of self-discipline, I don't know how I can succeed in getting everything done. Ach! I'm hoping that there are at least a few people who feel the same way.
My little brother Jeremiah and I have been doing all our bookwork together of late. It is so much more enjoyable to work at something alongside another person . To his chagrin, he has still not achieved finishing a math lesson before me. Ha! Now just wait, because I said that, I'll eat his dust on Monday, and my lesson will be so hair-pullingly frustrating that I'll end it in tears. But wait! No tears can be shed over math while my cousin 'David Riley - Math Genius' is under the roof!

End of 'David Riley - Math Genius' Commercial -

Scene #1 - Pretty blonde girl drives away from high-school in sporty car - voice-over begins as she pulls out of parking lot - "Thanks 'David Riley - Math Genius', for giving me the math education I've always dreamed of!

Scene #2 - Young man in graduation cap and gown smiles into camera - "Thanks 'David Riley - Math Genius', for helping me through my darkest hours!"

Scene #3 - Show rich business man talking to employees and making important life decisions - voice-over begins as he stops for a moment, smiles, and picks up a picturesque family photo of his wife and children - "Thanks 'David Riley - Math Genius', for showing me what really matters in life!"

Enough of my rambling! I bet I will get absolutely NO comment on this post. Thus I shall feel completely forlorn, and think, "Why do I keep up this stupid blog anyway? No one (except Camille - good, faithful Camille) even cares that its floating in cyberspace!"
Ha! Now, if you're reading this, you'll feel an inner tug to write something interesting in my comment box. Haha!!!! I have caught you!!!!!

Well, I'm going to bed. Goodnight!

Gretchen Emily