Spring has sprung!

It is finally here. Warmer weather, storms and showers, green sprouts and flowers — you can’t help but feel energized and renewed!

I seem to be more aware of spring’s arrival this year as I watch the season transform our neighborhood. There are azaleas of every color and wisteria hanging from the trees! Even the clover and wildflowers in the grass of our backyard makes me smile.

Wildflower sounds better than weed.

Wildflower sounds better than weed.

When we bought our home in November, most of the plants were in hibernation. We had no idea what type of flora our home had, if any. Luckily, we did have some beautiful fall leaves.

Our front yard in November.

I didn’t even mind all the raking!

Our first Christmas in the new home was made even more special by the pine cones and sprig of holly I gathered from our yard to decorate. We have several lovely holly bushes that I think are beautiful. The red berries are festive in winter, but the rest of the year you still get to enjoy the rich green leaves!

Our second discovery came towards the end of winter — two giant bushes of pink camellias right under our main window!

Camellias in January.

Camellias in January.

I adore camellias! After that, I couldn’t wait for spring to arrive so I could see what else our yard had in store. Well, the wait is finally over! Turns out that we have four bushes of white double azaleas in the side yard. 🙂

White double azaleas in April.

White double azaleas in April.

I have  just fallen in love with these sweet, little flowers. How is it possible that I have lived in the South for 16 years and never knew about double azaleas? All you ever see are the big ones!

We also have a pink Indian Hawthorne bush next to the front steps.

Pink Indian Hawthorne.

Pink Indian Hawthorne.

I have to admit, I had this wiry little bush marked for demolition in the summer — he looked so sad in the fall when we bought the house. Now, I think I will keep him around!

But the biggest surprise of all has been my miracle bulbs.

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At Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s family, right after we bought the house, I was given a very sweet gift by a family member: five lily bulbs taken from their beautiful garden.

In all the hustle and bustle of settling in to the house, I have to admit that my little grocery bag of bulbs was put in a garden bench and forgotten! We didn’t remember them until LAST WEEKEND! Four months out of the ground with no water or sunlight, and wouldn’t you know that they were still alive, growing right through the plastic bag.

So, I planted them in a hurry, and look how they have persevered!

I believe they are Trumpet Lilies.

I believe they are Trumpet Lilies.

I wish I had taken a before picture … they were such sad, blanched, starving little things. Just one week and a good rain storm later, and they are not only alive, but thriving. It is truly amazing!

To me, that is the real wonder of spring. Yes, it is dazzling when color blooms so suddenly from dead leaves and dormant branches, but the real beauty of this fireworks display is the very simple realization that no matter what, life always finds a way.

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Caramel Apple Chunk Cake

Some recipes carry memories better than others. From the taste and smell to all the little steps and directions, this Caramel Apple Chunk Cake recipe reminds me of time spent in the kitchen with my mother — and learning how to make caramel roses.

As I scooted around in my own kitchen this Easter, listening to music and hoping my cake would turn out, I could see the story of this recipe making another loop. This time, it was just me cutting the apples and sifting the flour. I worked alone but confidently through the directions, with no second guessing or uncertainty.

Even so, as I softened the caramels and rolled them out into petals I could see my mother’s hands, beautiful and strong, showing me how to do it that very first time. I felt connected to her and grateful that she had taken the time to make those memories with me, because the most wonderful gift you can give to your children is your time.

I will always have that day and carry that piece of her with me. And it makes my heart so happy to think that in 10 years or so the story will come full circle, and I will be teaching my own daughter (or son) how to make caramel roses.

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ShinyHappyPeebles

Caramel Apple Chunk Cake

Let me begin by saying that this is a decadent and rich cake — a destroyer of diets! However, in my own curvy opinion, it doesn’t hurt to indulge in some homemade goodness once in a while. 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 and ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 and ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 tart apples
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup whipping cream

1) Preheat oven to 350º and make sure the rack is in the center of the oven.

2) Peel and cut the apples into ½ inch chunks. You should get about 3 and ½ cups of apples.

3) Generously grease a 12 cup sponge cake pan. Coat with flour, tapping out any excess. I like to use a Bundt pan that I inherited from my grandmother. I love the shape and the weight of it!

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Just think of all the cakes this baby has seen!

4) In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.

5) In a separate large bowl, combine the vegetable oil, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat until thick and smooth — about 3 minutes.

6) Add orange juice to the large bowl, followed by the sifted dry ingredients. Mix completely.

7) Toss the apples and chopped pecans in 1 tablespoon of flour, then add into the batter.

The batter will be very thick.

The batter will be very thick.

8) Transfer the cake batter to your pan and smooth out the top. Cook about 1 hour. Let cool 5 minutes before glazing.

9) To make the glaze, mix the butter, brown sugar, and whipping cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil – about three minutes. This is honestly the best part of the whole, darn cake!

You could put this stuff on Wonderbread and it would taste like heaven!

You could put this on cardboard and it would taste like heaven!

10) Drizzle the glaze onto cake after it cools, reapplying as it drips down. Best served warm!

Caramel Apple Chunk Cake

Caramel Apple Chunk Cake

The caramel roses are just a garnish, so if you don’t have the time or the patience, the cake will still taste fabulous without them!

Caramel Roses:

I use the individually wrapped Kraft Caramels, the same kind I use to make Caramel Apples at Halloween.

1) Unwrap one caramel and knead it between your fingers and palms until it gets soft. Roll the softened caramel into a small ball.

2) Coat the ball lightly in granulated sugar and use a rolling pin to shape it into a petal. Press the petal in the sugar and set aside. It usually takes 4-5 caramels to make enough petals to create a rose.

3) Jelly roll one petal into a spiral to create the center of your rose. Wrap the other petals around the center, pinching at the bottom to secure them. Adjust and open the petals as needed.

4) Use a knife to cut off the excess at the bottom and create a flat surface for placing the flowers on and/or around the cake.

5) Chill them before adding to the cake — and make sure to add them at the last minute or they will literally wilt!

Caramel Roses

Caramel Roses

Little Reminders

It is Thursday, and I have seen my husband maybe four hours this week. For the next five weeks or so, our work schedules will run opposite, Monday through Thursday. It’s tough.

And it is a reminder that relationships take work.

I am technically still a newly wed. Our one-year wedding anniversary is in two weeks! Still, I like to think I have gained some wisdom from our four years together, and that I have learned lessons from the long and successful relationships around me.

People change every day, with every experience and interaction. In a year, you will be a different person. Your core values may be the same, but the color and flavor of your world will be different. Your perspective will be different.

We can’t just expect our relationships (friendships included) to tag along, bending and reshaping on their own to fit us as we change. Even the most solid couple can veer off course and grow apart without mutual commitment, without work.

A sweet text or e-mail during the day. A handwritten note pinned to the refrigerator. Picking up the slack with household chores. Making your partner’s favorite meal. Hugging just a little bit longer when you get home. These are small acts, but they are so important.

The big things are important, too. Respect. Commitment. Compromise. Fighting fair. Being honest about needs and fears, expectations and disappointments. Navigating life’s challenges as a team. These are the headings for your journey – your true north.

However, as this week has reminded me, the little things are the small course corrections that can keep you going in the right direction. Especially when things are tough.

Taking Heart

It seems that my last post was a little prophetic. Work has indeed been crazy, and I haven’t posted anything in days. Boy, what a week! I have accomplished so much, received affirmation on my work, and interacted with great new people, but I have also been challenged by the late nights, the big projects on my plate, and some personal disappointments.

I will admit, proudly, to wearing rose-colored glasses. In my chest beats the soft, squishy heart of an idealist! I see so much good in the work that I do and in the place that I work. It is disheartening to be reminded that my good intentions (and expectations) are not shared by everyone, everywhere. We live in an imperfect world.

Disheartening. To cause to lose spirit or morale. To make a person lose confidence, hope and energy.

As we get older, it is so easy to be disheartened. Our spirits, not just our bodies, become stiff and inflexible. When we fall or fail (or are failed by others), we are slow to trust again, to get back up and jump back in. How do we avoid becoming cynical?

Some people would say, let the world harden you. I’m not one of those people. I believe that we are made stronger by compassion, by our empathy for other human beings, and that true resilience means weathering the storm without losing your capacity to be inspired and surprised by life.

So, what’s the take-away here? Be elastic in your judgements, and in your self-righteousness, because no one is perfect and change is gradual. Don’t be disheartened. Take heart in knowing that every day of your life is a ripple that changes the world just a little.

I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds
of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.
Small acts of kindness and love.

Gandalf, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I love this quote, even if it’s not original Tolkien. 😛 And I promise to post fun, craftsy, light-hearted things this weekend!