altitude affects attitude

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Fall-Foliage-ForecastI remember when I first moved to the North Carolina mountains in my freshman year of college and my first trip to Asheville. Not only was I exposed to my first taste of true southern hospitality, but I recall coming across a sign on the local highway that simply read … Asheville, where altitude affects attitude. I couldn’t think of a better way to express what I was feeling. I had just entered a stressful time in my life – “college isn’t suppose to be easy” – quoted my mom and dad. But not only that, it was the first time I was away from home, friends and everything that I knew. I felt completely out-of-sorts.

When I arrived in North Carolina, it was at the tail-end of a terribly hot summer. It’s one of those summers where the days are muggy and the only way you know it’s night – is that it’s dark – because goodness knows the temperatures aren’t any cooler. The dorms we all lived in had NO air conditioning. Not exactly something that a NY/Florida girl wants to contemplate, but we made the best of things – especially by retreating to use the library’s “free AC” and other local hang-outs that offered a cooler setting.

AshevilleIt was on one of those unbearably hot weekends that my friends and I decided to set out for Asheville. The 45 minute drive wasn’t something that was going to deter us from our ultimate goal of finding cooler surroundings and the fair city (then town) of Asheville did not disappoint us. What we found was a welcoming town that had, as a panoramic backdrop, the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina – was running through my head. We opted to explore the downtown area first which was nothing like it is now. Just a few old shops amid a “ghost town” thanks to the local mall and shopping supercenter. But, it still had its charm. We found a pizza shop that catered to the local college students (cheap prices) and then decided to head up to Blue Ridge Parkway.

Fall_017I can clearly remember that day since from that point on, I was ruined for any other place of scenic beauty. I had grown up not far from the beach – and when you fight the sand fleas, snakes, bugs and getting yelled at for tracking sand in the house for several years – it kinda looses its appeal. This new scenic landscape, however – had captured my heart. The area was just beginning to bloom with fall colors and it was at that moment in time that my love affair began. When not studying, I spent the rest of my free time on the local hiking trails – exploring all the Blue Ridge had to offer.

fall-leavesThe “old gal” Asheville has grown up a lot since then (as have I) and has turned into a thriving and booming city, but it’s still the place I go …when my attitude needs a little adjusting and the fall colors call to me.

– J.B.

s’more to love

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favor-collageWhen I was looking for wedding favors, I came across a multitude of different ideas. Dove salt and pepper shakers, personalized picture frames, mini mixed drinks, even seedlings of the couples favorite plants. I had no idea there were some many different things to choose from when it came to favors. I also remember that my mom had mentioned to me that she had been to several weddings earlier in the year and had wound up taking home an assortment of little chachkies that were initially on the kitchen counter, then bathroom counter and eventually wound up in the trash – when they were in the way.

There were several things that I wanted my guests to take away from our wedding day – good memories, a smile on their face – but the last thing I wanted was for them to take home something that I had meticulously picked out or fretted over – only to have it stashed in a drawer or thrown away on the next trash day. I also wanted something that I could easily put together myself without a lot of fuss or muss.

My solution – something they could eat! I began scouring the internet for ideas and settled on something that felt season specific and even a little fun. My good friend had even mentioned to me that her two girls loved these AND there would be no cooking and very low assembly time on my part. S’mores!

smores-inspirationShe and her girls were right – they were easy to put together, packaged for portability and could be used right away. No worry over these being forgotten somewhere or that they would be treated as leftover trinkets found weeks (or months) later to be sheepishly thrown away. Honestly, until right before my wedding I hadn’t even tried s’mores, but I had it on good authority (kids under 12 are great for that) that they tasted really good. The girls (and their dad) had also offered to “take off my hands” any that were left over after the wedding. They’re such good kids!

12-unique-wedding-favorsUnfortunately, neither I nor our photographer managed to capture one on film before the wedding was over, so I’ve taken liberties with a picture on the left because it’s really close to what we had on our big day. My tag read simply S’more love for you – with our thanks!

Oh, and in case you’re curious, I did actually try and love s’mores. Many thanks to my two young wedding favor connoisseurs …Kelly and Ashley!

– J.B.

i live my life by lists

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notebook-on-woodI have a confession of sorts –

Hi, my name is J.B. Laudenbacher and I’m a list maker.

Whether it’s grocery shopping, packing for a trip or cleaning the house – a list must be created. I started this in college as a way to remember all the things I needed to get done for a class… and it sort of blossomed later in life to include just about everything I do. As you can imagine, I was COMPLETELY overjoyed when I discovered those great little sticky notes in college and I’m probably the major reason why they’re still in business. My desk at work and my studio at home are filled with sticky notes. I have a few rules that apply to others when they come across my sticky notes and lists – don’t ever move them, don’t add anything to them (a different handwriting will confuse me) and don’t EVER throw them away – I’d say that one might be my top priority. I can’t tell you how many times I thought that I had finished everything on my list, only to realize I hadn’t and..oops it was already in the trash, AARGH! As you also imagine, I’ve now fallen in love with the electronic version for my desktop – but I’m still a pencil and paper kinda gal at heart.

Having lived the majority of my life by lists, you can also imagine that I am completely enamored by the notion of a bucket list. We all have one, whether you call it a bucket list or not – formally written down or not. It’s those few (or many) things that we really want to be able to say we’ve done in our lifetime. I’m also not sure why we can become obsessed with making lists of favorite things to do, but not following through on actually DOING them. My theory on bucket lists is that they’re only good if you actually attempt to do some of the things you’ve listed!

So as you can imagine, it was going to be inevitable that I would feed my need for a list. To that end, I’ve created a to-do or bucket list for fall that I’d thought I would share – in no particular order.

collage_fall

  • Have a bonfire and make s’mores
  • Take a hike during the height of the leaf season and bring a camera
  • Read a scary story or go “ghost hunting”
  • Make caramel apples, apple pie and apple turnovers
  • Go on a hayride and picnic with friends
  • Wear a comfy sweatshirt and go to a football game
  • Try a new soup/stew or chili recipe
  • Visit the farmers market to pick out a pumpkin to carve
  • Learn how to can vegetables for the winter
  • Make pumpkin bread to share with others
  • Read a good book on the deck while avoiding getting hit by acorns
  • Go for a walk in the brisk fall air with “Red” and Olive.
  • Go apple picking in the mountains and drink hot chocolate on the ride home
 

– J.B.

 
 
 

cool weather + college football

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index“Red” and I can feel it in the air – things are beginning to look a lot like the first day of college football season! We’re like kids right before Christmas – excited and giddy about the prospects of a new season. It’s also amazing how things change around our house during this time of year. Need to go grocery shopping? – remember to get something for during the game. Having a few friends over for the game on Saturday? –  make sure to break out the crock pot and start gathering ingredients for my Pumpkin Chili. Need to get the car inspected, dog needs walking, mail a package or other routine things done around the house? – make sure you ask the most important question first – when does the game start? – because, things will need to come to a complete halt once it does.

Don’t misunderstand, “Red” and I are not fanatics. We don’t scream or cry when things don’t go right for our teams (maybe a little tear once in a while, but nothing major). However, we do enjoy watching college football. We both feel it holds the last vestiges for how the game should really be played. I guess in one sense, we are purists of a sort. We like to watch with the knowledge that hopefully no one has received any “pay” for playing and are instead participating simply for the love of the game. We know that things have changed drastically over the past few years, but we still hold out hope each time the fall rolls around that this will be a good year for all.

– J.B.

Pumpkin (yes, pumpkin) Chili

chiliI absolutely LOVE this recipe. It’s been a “fall staple” during college football season and Halloween parties in our house for at least three years. The pumpkin puree adds very little flavor and instead, serves to really thicken this dish – it’s the pumpkin spice that adds a wonderful flavor! I’ve taken liberties along the way to change the quantities of ingredients – basically it depends on who’s coming for dinner. For those with sensitive stomachs, I either reduce some of the cayenne pepper or take it out altogether. Some will snub their noses at the idea of pumpkin in chili, that is until they try it for the first time – then they’re hooked! This sweet-spicy recipe will work great in a crock pot, freezes well and makes the house smell wonderful while cooking.

What’s in it:
1 pound lean ground beef (I’ve used ground turkey as well)
1/2 large Vidalia or sweet onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 cans of beans, drained and rinsed (black, kidney or combo)
2 cups tomato juice (I use whatever is on sale, but try to find V-8)
14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, no salt added (don’t drain)
1 can pumpkin puree (make sure NOT to use pumpkin pie filling)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon of chili powder, or to taste
1/4 cup of sugar (I use Splenda)
dash of cayenne pepper (can omit)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
black pepper to taste
 
Stove top instructions: In a large pot over medium heat, cook beef until brown; drain. Stir in onion and bell pepper and cook 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Stir in beans, tomato juice, diced tomatoes and pumpkin puree. Season with pumpkin pie spice, chili powder and sugar. Simmer 1 hour stirring periodically.
 
Crock-pot Instructions: In a large pot over medium heat, cook beef until brown; drain. Stir in onion and bell pepper and cook 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Transfer to crock pot.  Add in beans, tomato juice, diced tomatoes and pumpkin puree. Season with pumpkin pie spice, chili powder and sugar. Simmer on low for 6 hours or high for 4 hours. Make sure to check periodically and stir.
 
Serve with shredded cheese, oyster crackers, sour cream or your favorite chili topping.
Makes 8 servings.
 

a “squirrel” can make you laugh

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weddingBeing a self-described lover of fall, pretty much explains why “Red” and I were married during the month of October. I thought what better time of year than one that is completely alive with color, has air cooled by light northern breezes and contains promises of… college football – yep, you read that right and I bet you didn’t see that one coming?! “Red” and I were college football fans long before we ever met. He, a Ohio State fan and me, a Florida fan. Not exactly a match made in football heaven, but as is true with every good marriage compromise and understanding one another is a must. We also learned that laughter is a great foundation for our marriage. I imagine that we’ll be one of “those” couples that will sit around the old-folks-home making snide little comments about the other residents, making rude noises and laughing at inappropriate times. I also plan to try to keep “Red” on his toes for a long time to come – hiding dentures or turning down hearing aids will probably lead to a snicker and/or snort of laughter every once in a while. “Red” made the determination early on in our relationship that we were compatible in every way, including our warped senses of humor. He told friends from the beginning that – “if we’re both laughing when you walk up to us, watch out – more than likely we’re laughing at you.”

Eastern_Grey_Squirrel_in_St_James's_Park,_London_-_Nov_2006_edit“Red” is also the kind a guy that can make you laugh during even the most serious of moments. Take our wedding day. He knew that things had been tense all day as the preparations for our late afternoon, smallish outdoor event progressed. He knew that I was stressed because the decorating had taken a little longer than expected and had shortened the time I had to get ready. I had promised myself one thing – I would NOT be late to my own wedding. I tried my best to “relax and enjoy” just like everyone kept telling me, but to no avail. By the time I had reached the preacher and had turned to face my future husband, he could clearly see that I was on the brink of tears – and “Red” being himself, during the middle of the preacher’s opening speech about coming together to witness this event – simply smiled and whispered the word “squirrel” to me. At the moment, my focus changed, tears dried up and I snorted slightly – much to my future mother-in-laws chagrin. To this day, when “Red” sees that things are getting a little too serious, he knows that only a “squirrel” can make me laugh.

Love ya “Red”, from your squirrel.

– J.B.

a little charcoal won’t kill ya…

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grilling_toolsI have numerous fond memories involving my father grilling out during the summer months in our backyard in NY. Some may scoff at his way of lighting a grill – but I tell you, it always worked. We had a little cast iron hibachi grill, some charcoal and … a little jar of gasoline. I will say that the charcoal NEVER failed to light and I’m sure by the time we were ready to stick the hot dogs, hamburgers or whatever on the grill – most of the gas had burned off (I think?). It also didn’t matter if it was a nice evening or raining – grilling out was just as fun. It was a time to sit around and talk with family and friends. No stress of the day weighing you down, just the joys of good food and great company.

girls-roastIt also amazes me how certain scents can bring back memories of those lazy summer nights –  the smell of chlorine on a towel once you got out of the pool, the scent of Sea & Ski suntan lotion and fresh cut grass are just a few that come to my mind – but the one that does my soul good is the smell of the grill right before my favorite part of the evening occurred – roasting marshmallows with my dad. I would always add some dried leaves to the coals to get them going again. And, who cared that every once in a while you got your marshmallow a little too close to the hot coals and got a little charcoal on it. Mom always said, “…don’t worry, a little charcoal won’t kill ya!”

Here’s to the last of the warm summer nights, lightning bugs and the fun of roasting marshmallows.

– J.B.

i brake for junk!

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pickerOver the past few months I’ve discovered my passion for picking — junk. Re-purposed junk, new junk, old junk. I can’t seem to get enough. I’ve found myself trolling through antique stores, yard sales, thrift stores – but my current illicit love affair is with an antique mall not far from my home in the heart of Dixie. They’re situated inside an old mill and have 80,000+ sq feet of J.U.N.K. I love this place and all the ideas that I get when “Red” and I visit. So far, we’ve gone twice. Once – just so we could get a “lay of the land” and have a better idea of what was in store for us and the second time was to actually crack open our wallets and buy some really cool stuff. A good pair of walking shoes and about four hours are needed for your first trip. They have a little of everything – man cave items, shabby chic stuff for the gals, re-purposed things and your straight out-of-the-attic (or basement) treasures. A little bit of everything to feed the habit.

suitcases

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door-knobs

Who knows – perhaps those old suitcases can find a new life as an end table, or old metal signs can be made into 3D art or a few door knobs hung on an old rubber stamp rack look great as a display!

When walking through this vintage junk paradise, I also love to people watch. I love to see young kids ask their parents about the things that they’ve never seen before. I also love to see those of us reaching middle age have our faces light up (mine included) when they come across something familiar from their childhood and the memories come flooding back. There’s something to be said for picking through others discarded items and finding a way to breathe life back into them.

I guess you could say what’s old is new again in the world of being a junking gypsy!

– J.B.

falling for fall

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vw-bugAs you’ll soon see, my absolute favorite time of year is fall. Some feel that it’s a time of sadness, when things begin to hibernate for the upcoming winter months. Me, I feel it’s a time of year when nature is in her full glory. I remember learning in grade school all about why the leaves change color and remember being utterly fascinated with the idea that the leaves are actually brilliantly colored, but muted by their “green coats” of chlorophyll during spring and summer. I remember day dreaming about how the leaves just wait until the right moment to reveal their brightly colored inner beauty. I think this is why I choose October when “Red” asked me to marry him. I always wanted a simple, no-fuss wedding outdoors off-set by mother natures beautiful fall color palette.

PencilBouquet2Fall also brings about cooler nights, schools bells, ghosts and goblins and remembering why we’re thankful. One of my favorite quotes about the joys of fall is from the movie You’ve Got Mail – “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” -Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) For me, that quote conjures great memories about going back to school each fall. Of course when I was in grade school in New York – school began after Labor Day and we walked the short half mile or so to and from school each day. I use to love my walks home – searching for the perfect fall leaf to show my mom and dad.

apples-in-the-tree-2Other fond childhood memories surround our trips to go apple picking in up state N.Y. and the annual elementary school trip to the pumpkin patch. Mom recently reminded me that I always managed to come home with the oddest shaped pumpkin. I told her it’s because I knew no one else would pick it and it deserved to be a jack-o-lantern just like the others.

Yep, I’ve always been a sucker for fall!

– J.B.

traveling in style

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camping-in-styleAs I approach adulthood – oh, heck who am I kidding, I’m pulling it along behind me – I really have begun to have a yearning to hit the open road in style. With no address to speak of – just imagine all the junk mail that will never find me and “Red”!

I remember as a kid growing up in Florida seeing a bumper sticker that read – “Retired: no clock, no deadlines, no stress!” At my young age, I couldn’t begin to understand why someone who had retired didn’t have the need for an alarm clock. However, (a number of) years later I can definitely appreciate the “no alarm clock” mentality of retirement. I know not having a set time to get up has its appeal, but when I retire – I still want a reason to get up each day. I figure when the time is right, “Red” and I will sell the homestead, pack up our artistic talents, our four legged “kids” and hit the art show circuit. That way, we have a reason to get up and a reason to see the country – going from one art show to the next selling our handmade “chachkies”!

For now – alarm clock free weekends will have to do.

– J.B.

my love affair with turquoise

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vintage-carOne of my favorite childhood memories is that of playing with my moms turquoise and silver jewelry. I remember hearing the story of how she and my dad had very little money, but how much they loved to travel by car.

They had friends who had relocated west – so west they traveled to Arizona several times in the first years of their marriage. Mom always talked about how dad was a good driver on those trips, but she was also very fond of telling how they nearly missed hitting a cow that had wandered into the middle of the road when dad wanted to “test” how fast his car would go – and how good the brakes worked.

She also loved talking about how they stopped just outside of an Indian reservation where they found a Native American man making turquoise and silver jewelry on the side of the road. Now, keep in mind this was the mid 1950’s so for my dad to buy three exquisite pieces of handmade silver jewelry (earrings, bracelet and ring) for around $60 was a VERY expensive prospect. But, mom loved the color turquoise and dad was head-over-heels in love with mom. And, so began my inherited love affair with the color turquoise.

– J.B.