Friday, August 28, 2009

Pasta and Pesto

My husband and I recently took a trip to Maine. It was my first time there, and I loved it. We stayed in Portland, an old town right on the Atlantic Ocean. The old downtown area right by the water embraces its historical charm, and its wood-and-brick buildings hold funky shops and trendy eateries.

On our first day there, we ate at the cutest little Italian restaurant called Paciarino. Inside it was furnished simply, its brick walls painted a buttery yellow. The best part was these hanging lights over the bar with shades made of metal colanders! Aren't they cute?

Our food was good, too.

They started us out with hunks of crusty bread accompanied by three types of tomato sauce for dipping. I think one was tuna sauce, one regular and one spicy.

Then we got our pasta, which is their specialty. All the pasta there is handmade and fresh. I had pesto ravioli, and it was yummy.

I love pesto, and I think I'll have to try making this at home. Do you have a good homemade pasta recipe?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Colorful Crape Myrtles

In the dry heat of Texas, nothing says “summer beauty” like crape myrtles.

Deep in the suburbs of Dallas, where the relentless sun bakes nearly every plant to death, beautiful gardens are not naturally abundant. When other states enjoy pleasant summer days, we have scorching heat. When blossoms of every kind flourish in the northern states, we stick with bushes and bermuda. On the Fourth of July, we sweat through a quick morning parade and then rush back to our air-conditioned homes.

Amid this sultry sea of grass and pavement, one reliable bloomer is the crape myrtle. Its bold spots of color provide bright highlights in an otherwise drab palette of red-brick buildings and faded green lawns. In fact, the plant has become so popular here that in 1997, it was named the official state shrub of Texas!

The crape myrtle, which comes in sizes from 3 to 15 feet tall, is one of the few flowering trees that both survives and thrives in the humid South, making it an ideal addition to many yards. In the spring, their barren twigs burst forth in green, followed by heavy bunches of vibrant purple, lavender, magenta, red, white and pink. In the fall, their flower clusters yield round seeds. In mature specimens, peeling bark showcases beautiful trunks that add interest in a dying landscape.

Crape myrtles are hardy as well as graceful, and they hold forth all summer long in one of the longest blooming seasons of any flowering tree. They prefer hot, sunny climates such as Texas, California and the Carolinas. The young trees need plenty of water, but once they are established, crape myrtles are fairly drought-tolerant and need little heavy pruning.

Most early crape myrtles in the United States originated from Lagerstroemia indica, a native of China and Korea. Since then, growers have developed hundreds of new cultivars of every type. It obtained its common name of “crape myrtle” due to the petals’ resemblance to crinkly crepe fabric.

First introduced to the United States around 1790 by French botanist Andre Michaux in Charleston, S.C., the deciduous plant is now a common ornamental shrub as far north as Massachusetts and in other warm climates throughout the world. It grows well along highways, in city landscaping and in residential yards. Inexpensive and versatile, it can be trained into a single trunk or left to grow with multiple trunks.

The Caroline Crape Myrtle Home Page states: “Their stunning summer color has made crape myrtles a hallmark plant of the South since 1800. Magnificent specimens grace historic neighborhoods of fine southern cities and stand as enduring symbols marking forgotten home sites in rural areas.”

With such flashy beauty and easy reliability, it’s no wonder the crape myrtle has grown to be such a beloved staple in Southern yards today.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"B" Is for Betsy and Books

"When the day came for school to open, Betsy was up bright and early. She had new brown oxfords to wear."

Seeing my kids go back to school this week reminded me of some of my favorite children's books by Carolyn Haywood. This dear old library book, above, is in our collection at home and sports the cutest black-and-white illustrations drawn by Haywood herself.

When I was young, I enjoyed reading about Betsy and her little sister, Star, her friends Ellen and Billy, her sweet teacher Miss Grey and their kindly policeman Mr. Kilpatrick. The Betsy stories, full of silly mix-ups and childhood friendships, are simple and earnest, and all their little adventures end happily despite a few scrapes here and there.

Born in 1898, Haywood was a writer and painter who created dozens of popular children's stories beginning in 1939. But her most well-known books are the " 'B' Is for Betsy" series, whose large type and simple plots are just right for beginning readers. Even today, her books are still in print and continue to appeal to young children and their parents.

I love old books, especially children's books, and especially those by women writers. The old stories show warmth, innocence and old-fashioned values that are hard to find in many books today. I think Haywood must have been a remarkable woman; she lived to be 92 and kept writing books into her '80s!

To find out more about Carolyn Haywood, visit

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The First Day of School

Monday was the first day of school here in Dallas, and it is always a big deal at our house.

Although our three kids were less than enthusiastic about returning to the "daily grind," I have to say that my husband and I were quite happy to send the children off on their new adventures with new teachers and new classrooms. And though the kids said the first day of school was "boring," I know they enjoyed seeing their old friends again.

Personally, I don't know why my kids aren't excited to go back to school.

I have happy memories of heading back to school with new leather school shoes, new clothes and new plastic lunchboxes. When I was older, I agonized over what to wear on the first day, and I'd walk to school with a head full of anticipation and my arms full of new Pee Chee folders. It was always so fun to see who had grown taller, who was new, and who had changed the most over the summer.

OK, I wasn't your typical kid; I liked school -- the freshly sharpened, pointy pencils that smelled like wood, the clean, white paper, and new textbooks to read. I remember blackboards and squeaky chalk and the smell of that purple ink on the ditto machine handouts. Nowadays my kids' schools are astonishingly high-tech, with laptops, computerized whiteboards and multimedia projectors. Going in a classroom now makes me feel ancient.

But my kids still have new shoes, new folders and those butterflies in their little stomachs.

And now, decades later, it's still one of my favorite days of the year.

Happy Back-to-School Day!!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


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