Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The PERFECT Planner (and link to free downloads)


My Favorite Holiday approaches: New Year's Day.

On New Year's Day I get out the new wall calendar, my weekly planner and a ton of colored pens and get to work dreaming, planning, making lists, setting goals, celebrating accomplishments from the past year and making resolutions.

And every year I attempt to find the perfect planner.

Does The PERFECT Planner exist?

For a week now I have scoured the internet, and found many good planners. Many expensive planners. Elaborate systems for people with a lot of time on their hands to get crafty. That is not me.


Here are a few I like.
Bold Blossoms Do It All Softcover Weekly Planner
By  Orange Circle Studios 
I have used this planner for years, and it is nearly perfect.
FEATURES I LOVE:
  • The days of the week displayed in vertical columns with plenty of space to write in appointments by time of day.
  • Lots of shopping/to-do list pages at the BACK that can be torn out. In 2015 they changed the format and it was a lot harder to use. 
  • The planning column and notes in the weekly view.
  • Stickers: Fun (See image right)
  • The POCKET on the cover. So useful to stash things in a hurry.
  • The elastic closure. Protects the pages and keeps it neat in my purse.
ON THE DOWNSIDE:
  • Monthly tabs would be wonderful.
  • The size is a bit too large for most purses. 
  • I'm not crazy about the cover images. 
  • I wish the days of the week also had lines and hours of the day
  • I wish they would return to the vertical format shopping list with better perforations

Another great planner

Wendy Bentley Exuberance Softcover Weekly Planner
By  Wells Street by LANG
FEATURES I LOVE:
  • Perforated tear off shopping lists on the outer edge of each page - kind of good and bad. I would prefer them at the back.
  • Space for notes in weekly view
  • Stickers (see image on right)
  • Nice looking covers
  • Storage Pocket on inside of cover
ON THE DOWNSIDE:
  • Horizontal format for days, not as much room to write
  • NO elastic closure!
  • No monthly tabs
  • Cover is lighter weight material

Another one I am considering:

Safavid Large Hardcover Weekly Planner
By  Hartley Marks Publishers
FEATURES I LOVE:
  • Vertical column days WITH HOURS!
  • Gorgeous cover choices
  • Hardbound with magnetic closure
  • Ribbon bookmarks
  • Removable address book
  • Inner "momento pouch"
  • Note column on weekly view
ON THE DOWNSIDE:
  • No tear off shopping lists. I really use these for a lot of things - sometimes even lists, but mostly to give people information.
  • No stickers. Ah well, can't have everything.
  • No monthly tabs

What I might try this year:

Tools4Wisdom Planner 2016 Calendar 4-in-1: Daily Weekly Monthly Yearly Organizer - Purpose Driven Goals Planning Book - Personal Life Progress Journal Notebook
FEATURES I LOVE:
  • Vertical column days with hours and goal setting
  • Many extra goal setting worksheets: like a life coach in a planner, emphasis on purpose driven living and transformation, not just setting appointments!
  • Monthly tabs
ON THE DOWNSIDE:
  • It's too big to carry it with me. This would have to be just a desk planner.
  • It looks like a basic spiral notebook - might be flimsy, no closures
  • I don't like any of the covers.

FREE DOWNLOAD!

If you love the goal setting features of this product, I discovered that for a limited time you can download these for FREE on their website. I did, and have spent a few hours really digging into my goals for the year. VERY USEFUL!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ric Rac Rummy, a Card Game for Family Gatherings, version of Contract Rummy

This challenging card game was an important part of extended family gatherings (on my Norwegian side) when I was a kid.

We called it Ric Rac Rummy, but I can't find any reference to that name anywhere. For the sake of someone else on this planet desperately searching for this game from their childhood, here it is!

I did find a card game nearly identical in "Official Rules of Card Games" by The United States Playing Card Company, known as Contract Rummy among many other names, popular for large gatherings.

This game works best if you have many players AND at least a couple hours to spend together. I remember epic games with aunties and cousins crowded around our fully extended dining table.

To help us keep track of the hands, as each hand becomes progressively demanding, my aunties created these little booklets from cut strips of paper. I found one of these booklets in a back drawer. Treasure!

For Thanks-Birth-O-Ween, I wanted to introduce it to my kids. Would they like it?
They loved it.

RIC RAC RUMMY


CARDS REQUIRED:
for 4-5 people, use a double deck WITH jokers as wild cards.
(with 5 players you might want to use a triple for the last few rounds)
for 6-9 players use a triple deck etc...
OTHER WILD CARDS -- the group may choose to use 2s as wild cards also.

Deal 12 cards to each player (for the first few hands)
Place rest of deck in center of table and flip the top card over to begin the discard pile.
Player to the left of dealer may choose this card or draw from the top of the deck.

TURNS:
Player draws the top discard or draws from the top of the deck.
At that point, the player may "go down" if they can.
If they have already "gone down" they may then play on other people's cards on the table.
If they have not gone down, discard one card and end the turn.

HOW TO "GO DOWN"

Each hand has different requirements. The first hand, for example, calls for 2 sets of 3.

SET: Three cards of any suit that are the same rank, such as 3 Queens or 3 sixes.
RUN: Three or more cards in the SAME SUIT in sequential order, such as 8, 9, 10, J, all in Diamonds.
ACES: can be played as a "one" = A, 2,3,4 OR can be played "high" = J,Q, K, A, but cannot be wrapped around -- such as K, A, 2, 3.

To go down, the player must have ALL the sets and/or runs called for in that round (No partial going down), and ONLY those sets or runs called for.  They may not place additional sets or runs on the table. They may add to those sets or runs however, for example, if they place a run of four hearts: 6,7,8,9  -- they may then add to it with a 5 or a 10 of hearts.

After a player has gone down, they may then play cards from their hand to other player's sets or runs on the table. Unlike Rummikub, they may not split or re-arrange those sets or runs to create new ones. They can however, replace wild cards with the cards they are representing, and according to your interpretation of the rules, the wild card can be used elsewhere in that run only OR you could decide to extend that rule to be able to use those freed wild cards elsewhere on the table.

TO GO OUT: The last card played out of a players hand must be a discard. You cannot go out by simply going down. You must have a discard.

BUYING: Keeps things interesting. After a player discards and BEFORE the next player draws to begin their play, any player may call out "I'LL BUY THAT!" meaning they want the card that has just been discarded.
The players are then given the opportunity to assert their rights for that card, beginning with the player whose turn is next and progressing around the table. If no one with higher rank in playing order wants that discard, the buyer takes the discard AND two more cards from the top of the deck.
If the person whose turn is next wants that card, they draw it normally. They do not have to buy it.

Each player may BUY up to three times per round.
The group may decide to allow four BUYS in the last few rounds.

BUYING becomes essential in order to have enough cards to go out later in the game.


ALL THE ROUNDS

First Round:
Two Sets of Three,
deal 12, each player may buy up to three times.

Second Round:
1 Run of Four
1 Set of Three

Third Round:
2 Runs of Four
Fifth Round: 
One Run of Seven,
One set of Three

Fourth Round:
3 Sets of Three

Fifth Round:
1 Run of Seven
1 Set of Three

Sixth Round:
2 Runs of Four
1 Set of Three

Seventh Round:
3 Runs of Four

Eighth Round:
1 Run of Ten
1 Set of Three
Deal 14 cards
(At any point, if you determine there are not enough cards for players involved,
add one additional deck of cards. Players may also decide to allow up to four buys per round)

Ninth Round:
1 Run of Five
3 Sets of Three
Deal 14 cards

Tenth Round:
3 Runs of Five
Deal 15 cards

SCORING: Play continues until someone goes out by playing the last card from their hand as a discard.
Players then count the cards remaining in their hand as negative points. Cards on the table are not counted.
Numbered cards may be counted their face value OR you may choose to count them all as five points. You decide.
Face cards are ten points.
Aces are fifteen points.
Jokers are twenty points.
If 2s are wild, they are also twenty points.

Lowest score wins!

If you are glad to find this game, let me know! Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Decorating for Thanksbirthoween

It's a mixed up holiday of our own invention, so the opportunity to be creative was terrific.
(For an explanation of Thanksbirthoween, see my earlier post)
Budget -- basically frugal.
I played with grapevines, leaves and pine cones.
Using what was at hand or free in nature. 
The Birthday gifts were wrapped with shipping paper and leftover wallpaper found at a thrift store. 
Odd bits of ribbons, yarns, jute string and even fabric found in thrift shops added more color.
The most difficult thing I took on was mismatched dinner plates salad plates and cloth napkins. 
Mismatching has become very popular, and I love it, but when you look at a lovely image all put together it seems so easy.
This was not quite perfect, but still fun.

I discovered several things:

Keep to a very narrow color palette, including specific tones in that palette.

The shapes of dishes matter. Some of my dishes were more bowl shaped at the sides, and these don't work as well as those with a slight well and a defined, flat rim.

I discovered that creating individual settings was easy, but making the whole thing look right was much trickier.

And mixing modern designs with antique designs adds a layer of complexity. Some of my favorite individual settings just did not work together.

I have been collecting colorful water glasses for years. These helped tie it together.

I hate tall fussy floral arrangements in the middle of a dining table. I much prefer to see the people I am enjoying dinner with! Four delicious Comice pears and five simple candles was perfect for our centerpiece. And we ate the pears the next day ;)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pumpkin Eaters

I love photographs of front doorways beautifully decorated for fall, and many times I have tried to create a welcoming entry for our home. But Oregon has other ideas.

Cornstalks mold in the soaking rain, and then the wind breaks and shreds them all over the yard.
Fall arrangements fill up with wind driven soggy leaves and decay overnight. It's just more maintenance. What is pretty for half a day ends up a black slimy mess all over the porch.

So this year, I just set out a lot of pumpkins. They don't seem to mind the wind and rain. Ah, even this has its problems.
We saw the jay start it two weeks ago. What could we do? He has all the time in the world.
This morning as I snapped photos of our saboteur, he suddenly flew away. Had I scared him?
No. Cue the other miscreant.
As soon as the chipmunk scurries away, the jay comes back. So much for my fall decorating.
Back and forth they go.
The Blue Jay
And the chipmunk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thanks-Birth-o-Ween

We are so glad that our two daughters are forming their adult lives, fully engaged in careers and
committed to their own social circles and of course, their husbands and extended families.

This is a great comfort.

But occasionally we need to consecrate time together.

I have seen that major holidays can be a point of contest in other families, so we avoid having any expectations. One day is the same as all the rest to us! We don't want a day of celebration to become a torment of guilt, or worse, a mad dash from one party to the next in an anxious attempt to please everyone.

So we have started making up our own traditions.

It started when our youngest went off to college in another state. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, and though she had fun with her new friends, it just was not the same for her as Halloween on the farm, with the darkening Oregon skies, the wind whipped birch tree casting amber leaves like enchantments, the rain soaked fields of pumpkins.

So when she came home on Thanksgiving break, we would often have a little Halloween as well. Why not?

A few years later, we found that including our new sons-in-law, five of us had birthdays in October and November.

And also with their marriages, Thanksgiving got complicated, as should be expected!

So we invented Thanks-Birth-o-Ween. This will be our third, and I am unreasonably excited about it.

This year we will celebrate the weekend before Thanksgiving. It will be a day of feasting and games and presents. There will be pumpkins, hot cider and walks in the rain.

For now, it's time to decorate! (To be continued)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Reliable Sedum "Autumn Joy"

If I had to choose just two plants for my garden forever, I would pick Lavender and Sedum "Autumn Joy".
Practically indestructible, this perennial is perfect for the haphazard attention I pay to my garden.

Here's a few reasons I love this plant:

Hardiness:
  • Cold hardy 
  • Deer Resistant 
  • Highly drought tolerant
  • Easy to grow
  • Full to sun to part shade
  • Easily propagated by rooting cuttings
  • Bugs and slugs don't seem to bother it

Benefits: 
  • Attractive green to blue green foliage 
  • Slow to mature flower heads have interest even when immature, gradually deepening in color through the summer into fall.
  • Good cut flower
  • Attracts bees and butterflies
  • Dried flower stalks may be of some interest in winter
  • Combines well with other plants in the border.

Drawbacks:
  • May get spindly if grown in deep shade
  • Needs division every 2-3 years
  • Large clumps may need some support. I often tuck a few large rocks around the edges, or use farm artifacts like the end of an old pitchfork.
  • Spent stalks may become unsightly after a freeze and need removal. New growth will appear at the base soon.
Spring into fall photos below.

Spring into Early Summer

Flower Heads Form Mid Summer

First Blush of Color, August

September Color Varies from Pale Pink to Red
Sedum, Hydrangea, Purple Perennial Aster, Anemone, Bay Laurel
Sedum, Lavender, Thai Basil, Fennel (flowers and leaves) Bay Laurel
I put a few stems in one year and they rooted. It's been happy in this copper bowl for years.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Whirling Butterflies" Gaura

I have been told that nicknames are often a sign of affection.
This playful meadow flower has several, including Wandflower, Bee Blossom or Whirling Butterflies.

Here are some reasons to plant this easy perennial in your garden:
Gaura with zinnias and Limelight Hydrangea
  • Long lasting blooming season starting in spring or mid summer, going into fall (trimming may encourage longer blooming)
  • Drought hardy once established
  • Cold hardy 
  • Self Sewing
  • Many blossoms
  • Attracts bees, butterflies and humming birds
  • May be evergreen in some climates
  • Lovely cut flower
  • Deer Resistant
  • Easy to grow
And here are a few cautions:
  • A long taproot makes this very difficult to transplant. New seedlings should be moved while small. 
  • May tend to take up much more room than you planned on, especially if you let the new seedlings spread out.
  • Needs adequate drainage

 I bought one gallon of white Gaura two years ago, and was so enchanted I bought a pink variety the following year. 

The first two years my white Gaura kept its neat habit, sending sprays of dancing blossoms from its mound of foliage. The third year however, the original clump was overwhelmed by another plant and it was just kept too wet.

Gaura does not like to be soggy.

Fortunately the parent plant had put out at least a dozen volunteers.  By mid summer they more than doubled the space originally inhabited by the first plant,
and by late August they were a happy sprawl.

Just more pictures...


Pink variety with burgundy tipped foliage, second year plant, before blooming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Containers, Landscape and Arrangements: Euonymus fortunei

It's ubiquitous, this shrub that I can never remember the name of. It's been in our front yard forever, and I had a love-hate relationship with it until I figured out how to keep it looking lovely. And then I discovered some magic.

I often see Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ or another variety pruned severely into hedges in formal landscapes, but that's not my style. My rambling garden resists artificial shapes.


This vining shrub seems to grow year round, and I have found by keeping it low to the ground it relaxes, putting up wonderful spires that just beg to be included in bouquets.


Trimming it back twice a year is all I ever do for it, and it never complains. When all my annuals die in early winter, I pull rooted stems from the Euonymus to fill in some of the empty places, and gradually many of my deep shade containers are filling up with these starts.

I love how it combines with other brilliantly colored foliage plants, or sets off flowers in a vase.

Just more pictures...



 "Profusion" Zinnia from Park Seed (2 colors), Russian Sage, Smoke Tree and Euonymus fortunei

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Zucchini Smoothie

I drank a zucchini and it was delicious.

It stands to reason; Raw zucchini has practically no flavor of its own, so why wouldn't it work in fruit smoothies?

I've long been a fan of putting large portions of baby spinach or deep green kale in my smoothies, and have won over many skeptics.

The zucchini actually added a thick and creamy element that I enjoyed.

Here is my basic template for smoothies:
  • About 2-3 cups fresh fruit (or partially thawed frozen) cut into chunks if needed (see list below)
  • About 1-3 cups zucchini, remove core and seeds, cut in chunks, leave peel on if tender -- OR About 1-3 cups baby spinach or other favorite raw greens that have a mild flavor
Puree this in the blender, then add:
  • About 1-3 cups frozen fruit (I partially thaw it if I'm using mostly frozen fruit)
I often add:
  • A scoop of plain yogurt, preferably Greek (about 1/3 cup)
  • TB wheat germ
  • One medium zucchini + fruit
    = 6 1/2 cups
  • TB ground flax seed 
If the blender is struggling because it is too thick, I add:
  • fruit juice or water
Do a taste test. Not sweet enough? I add a little orange juice concentrate or fruit preserves. Too bland? Try just a little frozen lemonade or lime juice or something else with a citric acid kick!

In this batch I used:
  • One medium zucchini (about 1 pound) some peel removed, core and seeds removed
  • One peach, peeled and pit removed
  • One apricot with skin, pit removed
  • Fresh blueberries 1-2 cups
  • One frozen banana (no peel of course!)
  • 12 whole frozen strawberries
  • 1 TB apricot preserves