Thursday, October 27, 2011

Food and Wine Festival 2011: Round Four

Yikes. It has been almost a whole week since I did my most recent spin through Food and Wine Fest, and I still haven't taken a few minutes to sit down here and record it! And it was *very* much worth sharing. Oh, yes, it was. The crowds were the heaviest I had seen so far for this year's Food & Wine Fest--probably because the weather was ridiculously gorgeous. There were a ton of locals there (easily identified by our long sleeves and jeans in the low-70s air). I hit the World Showcase, hung a hard left, and landed in...

Grilled Ribeye Taco with Chipotle Pepper Sauce and Scallion on a Flour Tortilla. L A Cetto Petite Sirah.

The flavors were wonderful. It carried a little warmth, but that was to be expected with the Chipotle Pepper Sauce, and the steak was cooked very nicely--not at all tough or dry, and almost no fat. The one complaint I had was that the scallion was left whole. This made for some messy eating, since when the tip of it ended up in a bite, the whole thing just pulled out of the taco in one piece. They should have chopped it up to avoid Chipotle Pepper Sauce sunning down your chin. The wine was not one that I would likely enjoy on its own, but with the food, it was perfect. It was more earthy than fruity, but it was very light, and didn't leave a heavy lingering aftertaste at all, but it had enough "oomph" to stand up to the bold flavors of the taco. After wiping my chin and hands off, I set sail for...

Lettuce Wrap with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw.

This is a carryover from last year's Festival, but it was--and remains--one of my favorite dishes. The roast pork is perfectly seasoned and shredded. The kimchi slaw and the sauce they topped it with add just a little kick, but the lettuce cools it right down: perfect balance of flavors. There is just no way I could pass this one up. I love to find quiet little spots to eat. It gives me a break from the crowd chaos & allows me a little space to take the photos I want. (You wouldn't believe how many smart aleck remarks I get from passersby, as if it should matter to anyone that I choose to photograph details I enjoy. But I digress.) I decided to backtrack a bit at this point in the direction of...

Griddled Greek Cheese with Pistachios and Honey.

This may have been one of my least favorite selections so far this year. It wasn't *bad*. It was just...a lot of cheese. It was about the consistency of melted mozzarella, but there was easily enough for four people there. And it made me wicked thirsty. The honey helped to temper it a little bit, but I would have pushed people out of the way to get to the water fountain, I think, if I'd had to. I decided I needed to set out for my next stop, so I could get a bottle of water. Off to...

Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise.

This. was. heaven. On a teeny tiny little bun. The slider may very well end up being my favorite new dish this year. The pork was delicious. The pineapple chutney complemented it perfectly. The mayo wasn't that spicy but it didn't need to be. The bun was soft (but not in danger of being soggy). I find it slightly ironic that pork is probably my least favorite meat, and yet, the two best things I've had this year have been pork! I had just enough room left for dessert, so it was time to beat feet for...

Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Baileys Ganache.

This is a Food and Wine Fest standard. I've had it before. If they keep bringing it back, I am sure I will have it again. Really, how can you go wrong with warm chocolate cake? (Except for when you try to photograph it on a wall painted white. Even in the shade, the photo was still all blown out, no matter what I tried. Oh well. It was time to enjoy the cake. So I put away my camera for the day & grabbed my fork.)

Round Five will hopefully be this coming Saturday. According to the current forecast, it's supposed to be rainy in the first part of the day, so I may delay if the afternoon forecast looks a little less soggy. Time is running out and I still have a list of things I want to try. Good thing I will be spending quite a bit of time at WDW next week!


I Sing in the Car: October 27, 2011

Every time "I'll Be There for You," by the Rembrandts, plays on the radio, I will think of the show Friends, without fail. (I can even picture many of the scenes that showed during the opening credits as I sing along!) (No, I am still not over the fact that that show has ended.) This morning, it came on the radio as I drove into work. As I sang along...

No one could ever know me, 
No one could ever see me 
Since you're the only one who knows 
What it's like to be me 
Someone to face the day with, 
Make it through all the rest with 
Someone I'll always laugh with 
Even at my worst, I'm best with you...

I couldn't help getting a different set of images in my head...


Monday, October 24, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: October 24, 2011

Monday: Out to dinner with a friend.
Tuesday: Sloppy Joes.
Wednesday: Grilled chicken wraps.
Thursday: (new recipe!) Stuffed Peppers.
Friday: (new recipe!) Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole.
Saturday: Food & Wine Fest: Round Five.
Sunday: Leftovers?

Notes from last week's menu: The menu worked just fine...until Sunday, when we didn't have any leftovers left! We decided we felt like some Linguine with Clam Sauce, so we just added what we needed to Sunday's grocery list.

The logo at the top will link you to more menu plans!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gram's hands

For all the photos that I have amassed, one that I don't have is of my Gram's hands. I wish I'd had the foresight to know how important it would be to capture tiny details back then, when the opportunity still existed. Time is a cruel teacher though. We are often granted the wisdom of a lesson only after some chances have passed, and while we can carry this knowledge forward with us, hopefully using what we've learned, we cannot apply these lessons retroactively.

It has been ten years since my sweet Gram moved from this world to the next. A whole decade without this wonderful lady, whom I loved dearly.

One of the characteristics I loved most about her was her hands. By the time I knew my Gram, she was no longer a young woman. Her hands were wrinkled. There were age spots. Their youth had long since given way to the slightly gnarled look of years gone by.Those hands had worked hard: as a housewife and in the gardens, raising babies (and then grandbabies) and growing vegetation alike. But I will swear to you, to this day, that those hands were pure magic.

They rolled out the most delicious pie crust ever to grace taste buds, fingertips pressing the dough into the dish, leaving barely visible concave ovals behind: the symbols of love expressed in feeding her family.

They could make any green thing grow--and grow abundantly! Flowers blossomed. Vegetables flourished. Fruit trees produced until their branches hung low to the ground. And those same fingers could coax life back into wilted leaves or what appeared to be a dead, dry stick.

Those hands harvested the fruits of the garden and turned them into meals, into canned goods, into jams.

They took the walls of a house and made them into the warmth of home. Flowers were arranged and seasonal decorations came out of slightly dusty boxes year after year. And they tirelessly cleaned and tidied in the wake of a thriving family.

They worked hard, scrubbing laundry and hanging it out to dry, no matter the weather. They ironed. They mended. They folded. They hung up.

Those hands rested with questioning concern on warm foreheads, stroked the feverish heads of children, rubbed the backs of the brokenhearted. Somehow, they were always as warm or as cool as they needed to be. And they always *always* brought comfort.

When I was a small girl--and a not-so-small girl--I would sit beside Gram on the couch to watch tv or to visit. She would take my hand in hers. She would pat my hand or squeeze it, in a gentle but firm one-two-three pattern (I love you), and I would respond in turn. I remember how, despite their labors and the abuse of years, those hands were never too tired, and they were never dry or rough. Though her knuckles showed the bony appearance of age, the undersides of her fingers were rounded, plump and soft.

When I miss my Gram, her hands often spring to mind. I can bring their memory to the surface of my thoughts, but I always think "If I had a photo of them to look at and remember..." It wouldn't bring her back, but I would have that visual reminder, one I could share that would bring my words to life in color. You just don't realize the powerful treasure that some pixels printed on paper can be...


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Want Wednesday: October 19, 2011

**The chance of me *ever* spending $84 on this Velvet Plush Pumpkin Trio is less than zero, but if someone is giving them away? I Want them. ;-)

**I Want these adorable Halloween Plaid Appetizer Plates purely because they are adorable and I am in a Halloween frame of mind.

**I Want this Trick or Treat Dishtowel to brighten up my kitchen!

**And I Want this Halloween Owl Dishtowel simply because how cute is he?? I have *no* owls in my Halloween decorations.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Food and Wine Festival 2011: Round Three

This past weekend was *so* much nicer, weather-wise, than the one before it. It was nearly perfect. (If it had been about five to seven degrees cooler, it would have been absolutely perfect!) It was warm, slightly cloudy, breezy, and the crowds were only moderate, which is always a pleasant surprise on a Food and Wine Fest weekend! T came with me for this round and we started off in...

Xinjiang Barbecue Chicken Stick.

This was really tasty. The chicken was very moist. The flavors were more honey and soy, with a hint of "something vaguely warm," as opposed to what one might typically expect with "barbecue," but this was by no means a bad thing! And really, how can you go wrong with food on a stick? Right? We finally departed our quiet shady bench in China for...

Golabki. Kilebasa and Potato Pierogie with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream.

We took our plates and found a quiet bench in Italy (talk about defying the laws of international travel!) where we could eat. These are not "new and exciting taste adventures." These are tried an true old favorites that must be savored and enjoyed! The golabki (stuffed cabbage, for those of you who, like my bother, declare that if you can't say or spell it, you aren't eating it) was good, but a little greasy (not inedible, just noticeable, and may have just been this batch, as I don't recall this being an issue in the past). We were comparing and contrasting with the stuffed cabbage recipe we do at home in the CrockPot. This one has a bit more bacon taste to it. The kielbasa and pierogie were pretty much what you would expect, if you've had them before. the caramelized onions always surprise me with their sweetness! And with that, it was time to try something new in...

Coq au Vin sur Gratin de Macaroni. Merlot, Chateau de Beauregard-Ducourt, Bordeaux.

All that is a really fancy way of saying "red wine braised chicken with mushrooms and onions, and macaroni gratin." It wasn't much to look at (especially with so pretentious a name!) but it had really nice flavors. The red wine sauce was not overpowering and the serving size was generous. I am not typically a red wine person, but this one wasn't bad. It started out a bit dry and earthy, but at the end there was just a hint of a "plummy, jammy" taste left lingering. I won't even pretend to know what wine the meat was braised in, but the dish and the wine I picked worked well together. After that, I was kind of full, so we wandered over to the other side, and rode Living With the Land and Test Track. When I had a little more room, we made our way to...

Fisherman's Pie.

This is some kind of yummy. It's sort of like a Shepherd's Pie, only instead of ground beef and gravy, there were bay scallops and bits of lobster in lobster bisque, in with the vegetables. And it was all topped off by a layer of mashed potatoes and some melted Irish Cheddar. I am not usually a huge fan of lobster--it's a little rich for me and the texture isn't my favorite--but it was so good in this dish! We ended up sharing it, because the portion is a little large if you have eaten in multiple countries and still want to have some dessert in...

Apple Strudel with Karamel and Vanilla Sauce. Selbach JH Riesling QbA.

This is another returning favorite, but how can you pass up apples and caramel and vanilla? Ok, maybe *you* can, but *I* cannot. This strudel is so light and the flavors are so made to be enjoyed together. And since I went with the Spatlese back on Round One, I *had* to get a Riesling this time. It was super light and a little crisp, with just enough sweetness to go with dessert, but not so much that it became sickeningly sweet. I kept trying to decide what flavors I was detecting in it--peach? green apple? melon?--but either my tatse buds were on slap-happy overload or it was some combination of the three. I never could determine which it was.

We headed for the car, tummies full and content. And if the extended forecast holds, it will be in the SEVENTIES for Round Four. I cannot *wait*!!


Menu Plan Monday: October 17, 2011

Monday: Ham steaks, mashed potatoes, corn and a salad.
Tuesday: Pumpkin Chili.
Wednesday: BLTs.
Thursday: Marinated chicken in the CrockPot, some noodles and peas on the side.
Friday: Fish sandwiches.
Saturday: Food & Wine Fest: Round Four.
Sunday: Leftovers?

Notes from last week's menu: We stuck to the plan, to the letter! Birthday dinner was at Macaroni Grill. Subs came from the Publix Deli. And the whole week of meals was delicious! T is an especially big fan of the Tortellini Florentine Soup. He raves about it and I always feel a little guilty accepting his praise because it really is ridiculously easy to make. This time, instead of chicken, we browned some ground sausage instead. *So* very yummy!

The logo at the top will link you to more menu plans!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

12784 days.

I was listening to the radio one morning on the way into work. The DJ said he didn't want to be in his twenties again, because he looks back, and all he sees is young and stupid and who wants to relive that?

Now that I am officially smack in the middle of my thirties, I feel like enough of this decade has gone by for me to say it's been one of the best I've had so far. It always strikes me how resistant people are to turning thirty. When I look back, though, it hasn't bothered me. I had a great childhood, no question about it. I remember those days often and fondly. But after childhood comes the teens. I don't know *anyone* who is interested in revisiting those awkward, uncomfortable and often difficult years. Even though my teen years were far from awful, I truly don't miss them.

Where it seems people get hung up is on their twenties though. So many lament the loss of their twenties, speak wistfully of rewinding time, even refuse to acknowledge a year higher than 29. I look at my twenties as some of the most challenging years of my life. "Young and stupid" does not even scratch the surface of my twenties. There were a lot of growing pains. A lot of scars accrued. A lot of questions that either had no answers or, worse, had answers I'd rather not know. There were hard lessons, and expectations that led to disappointment. All signs pointed to "Life is unfair." Upon turning thirty, I have never once looked back at the previous decade longingly. The fact is, I would rather shut the door on most of it, keeping only what I have learned and what those lessons have made me.

Thirty has been good to me. Each year of this decade has been better than the one that preceded it...and not because anything was lacking. It's all just gotten better with each additional birthday candle, even when I am convinced it couldn't possibly be better than it is.

In my twenties, I was more worried about who I wasn't. In my thirties, I'm concerned with who I *am*. I am no longer focused on the ways in which I believe I fall short, the mental images of my future that haven't played out the way I had planned, and all the ways in which I am not good enough--whether that voice was my own or that of someone who claimed to care about me. I look in the mirror with clearer eyes. I see someone I *like*--maybe not everyday, but most days--and on the days that I don't, I am no longer afraid to hold that gaze and decide how to make myself better, not because I believe I am a failure, but because I finally see my own worth. And I am worth improving on this person, making her someone I can look in the eye and smile. I no longer accept being mistreated or derided or squashed until I feel inadequate. I am capable of forgiveness, but I have learned that forgiveness must be desired, and if it is not, I have to forgive for my own sake and simply walk away quietly, because I deserve not to carry that baggage with me, weighing heavily on my heart and stealing my joy. There simply is no room in my thirties for the joy-stealers and those who mean emotional harm. In my thirties, I am strong enough to walk away when I need to, and humble enough to admit when I am wrong.

More than once yesterday, I was asked, with a wink, "How old are you now? 29?" and my answer was a steady "I'm 35." I am not afraid to own that number. I am proud of the person I am now, that I wasn't ten years ago, proud of what I have survived and that it didn't beat me. Life is too precious to wish the years away or wish I didn't reach a particular number, when far too many people are denied that gift. Perhaps it's cheesy or cliche to say that. So be it. All I know is that I would rather have the additional days, adding up to a bigger number, than to *not* have it.

No, thirty-five does not scare me. I am at the center of the best years of my life and I want nothing more than to embrace it, and see where we go from here.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Sing in the Car: October 11, 2011

Nope, not a playlist this time. Instead, some lyrics I especially love that played on my way into work this morning. Lyrics I sing along with every time I hear them. 

Just ask him how he made it 
He'll tell you faith and sweat 
And the heart of a faithful woman 
Who never let him forget 

Be a best friend, tell the truth 
And overuse "I love you" 
Go to work, do your best 
Don't outsmart your common sense 
Never let your prayin' knees get lazy 
And love like crazy 

Always treat your woman like a lady 
Never get to old to call her baby 
Never let your prayin' knees get lazy 
And love like crazy
(from "Love Like Crazy," Lee Brice)

So much is made of "grand romantic gestures," and while they are momentarily nice, I would trade them all for "regular everyday love" like this. The kind of love that is real. The kind of advice that forms the building blocks of a solid relationship. The kind of love that greets you in the morning, giving you a grateful heart, and will welcome you home at the end of the day into the comfortable warmth of its reliability.

You know, the kind of love I count as a blessing in my life every single day. So, I sing along and I smile.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Food and Wine Festival 2011: Round Two

Round Two was, shall we say, something on the soggy side. I had stalked the weekend forecast for over a week, so I was fully prepared for a washout. I checked the weather Saturday morning, and it claimed there would be a break in the rain between noon and two. It was raining pretty hard (read: sideways) when I arrived, so I parked and chilled out in my car for a while, waiting on the rain to lessen. I watched people get out of their cars and head out bravely...only to return within ten minutes, get back into their vehicles and drive away. I had a good stash of magazines in my car, nowhere pressing I needed to be, and the urge for some more yummy food.

I waited about an hour and the sky seemed lighter, so I popped on my poncho (I got it at Disney about four years ago for around $8 when a surprise rain storm caught me off guard--I would say I got my $8 usage out of it, though, and I will need to replace it soon, since the snaps have come apart, but it's served me well on multiple occasions in the parks and one rainy day at Fenway, covering not just me but also Nichole!) and headed out into the drizzle, making a direct line for...

Cheddar Cheese Soup.

I figured soup was a great way to start this wet windy trip. (Don't be deceived by the sunny photos of the booth and menu; I took those all on my first round, and good thing, because no way would I have taken out my camera in this weather!) I covered the top of my soup with my hand, so it wouldn't get watered down with rainwater, and made my way to France. There is a tunnel separating some shops there where I knew I could eat in relative comfort, out of the elements, and my camera wouldn't get rained on. The soup was a great idea. It was warm (though no longer hot by the time I reached my destination). It was cheesy without being stringy or goopy. There were chunks of potato, some pieces of bacon, and a hit of black pepper. Warmed me up nicely.

Tucked my camera safely back into its plastic bag, stowed it in my backpack, got the backpack under the poncho with me, pulled up my hood, and marched back out into the rain, headed for...

Pastel de Nata.

I had *no* idea what I was getting into, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised! The cast member handed me my dish with a second plate inverted over the top to protect my food. This time I made my way to the Fez House in the Morocco pavilion. I knew I would find a quiet, mostly dry spot to photograph and eat. The only way I can describe this dish is that it was sort of like a breakfast pastry. The outside of it was definitely a flaky dough, like a danish. The inside was a lighter, fluffier version of a cheese danish. It was definitely made of egg, but it could have been egg and cheese. But here is the catch: it wasn't savory. It was sweet! There was a sweet crust of caramelized sugar on the top! There is no way I am doing this dish justice. It was like nothing I have ever tasted before. I would eat it again though!

And then, it was back out in's almost stopped raining! I don't even need my hood now! Off to...

Pork Kakuni.

Every year, the Japan booth does sushi. (I've been told it's pretty "basic and lightweight" as sushi goes too.) This time there was something additional on the menu and I was determined to try it! Again, no idea what I was getting myself into, but how do you know if you don't just try sometimes, right? This. was. delicious. It was this super tender, super juicy pork that had been marinated in teriyaki (at least that's my guess) and either braised or slow-cooked. It just melted apart, not the least bit dry. And they squirted just a bit of wasabi over the top, which gave it just a hint of warmth without making your eyes water and your nose run. I scurried off under the overhang in the Japan pavilion to eat, and it's a good thing I did, because about halfway through my rather generous portion of pork, the skies opened up again.

So much for a ninety-minute window. I hunkered back down under my poncho hood and had to clamp it close around me because the wind was whipping and I was pretty soaked from just above my knees down by the time I arrived in...


I decided to head inside the Mexico pavilion to eat, even though I knew the lighting would be dim for getting a photo. The flan, I assumed, would taste good--how can you go wrong with vanilla and caramel??--but having never had flan before, I was unprepared for the consistency. It was a lot more dense and heavy than the custard I am used to. And the serving was about the size of a deck and a half of cards. It was rich and also chilled, and I was feeling like a drowned cat, stuffed into a box with about a hundred other drowned cats. It's probably not fair of me to say I found the flan less than enjoyable solely on its own merit, but I was full and wet and ready to head home, so this was probably my least favorite thing I've tried so far this year. The third of it that I ate before pitching it into the garbage.

The rain came down in sheets and the wind made my poncho flap so hard, the snaps finally disconnected from the plastic. My shoes had water squishing out of them by the time I reached my car. I could have wrung the water out of my jeans. The best idea I had: leaving dry yoga pants and shoes in the car. I slithered out of my wet attire (I was perfectly dry from thigh to neck) and was cozy dry for my drive home. Here's hoping Round Three is a little weather-ish. ;-)


Menu Plan Monday: October 10, 2011

Monday: Sausage burgers.
Tuesday: Roasted chicken, wild rice and broccoli.
Wednesday: Going out for my birthday.
Thursday: Chipotle Chicken Quesadillas.
Friday: Subs.
Saturday: Food & Wine Fest: Round Three.
Sunday: Tortellini Florentine Soup.

Notes from last week's menu: We stayed on track, but had to add in a dinner for Sunday as we had already finished up all our leftovers from earlier in the week. we ended up having steak with some mashed potatoes and a salad. The Hashbrown Casserole was very tasty and fairly simple to make, as long as you have the patience to wait an hour or so for dinner, once it gets into the oven.

The logo at the top will link you to more menu plans!


Friday, October 7, 2011

The House that Built Me: The Yard

It's that time of year when I start aching to be outdoors more. Here in the tropical Sunshine State, I experience the phenomenon of "Reverse Hibernation." Everyone know that bears and people who live in climates with the traditional four seasons spend their Winters sealed in their snug dens. Down here, it's the (six-month) Summer that traps us indoors, windows closed, shades drawn, in an attempt to escape the majority of the extreme and uncomfortable weather. Last weekend though, we had a cool front (read: it was 80) and since then, the air has taken on a different feel. The temperatures have rebounded back to the upper 80s, but the air is no longer weighty and oppressive. I can feel it trying to become beautiful again and that makes me hungry for its arrival, so I can fling open my windows and play out in the sunshine without melting into a messy puddle of goo.

I started thinking about the yard at Gram's and Gramp's house. I spent my fair share of time outside as a child, and their yard was the ideal place to be.

There was the perfect combination of open, sunny space and big old shade trees.

The grass was as soft and cool as satin on bare Summer feet. The yard filled with deliciously crunchy Autumn leaves and delightful drifts of snow to climb during the Winter. There were lovingly tended flowerbeds and fantastic places to hide.

All manner of rocks, perfect for climbing, sitting on, leaping off and one perfectly flat rock, covered with lichens, that made a great place for watching puffy clouds form shapes on lazy afternoons, especially when it was sun-warmed.

It seemed each area of the yard had its own personality, constructed by its unique inhabitants. The front yard had a blue spruce, with its silvery sharp needles; two white birch trees, which remain my favorite trees to this day; an ash tree at the corner of the driveway; and two tall evergreens, standing like sentinels on guard in front of the house. The south side of the yard had several ash trees along the property line, an enormous rhododendron bush,

and two snowball bushes that were in perfect view, across the driveway, from the windows over the kitchen sink.

The immediate backyard, which lay between the house and the orchard,

had the garage; some forsythia; a crotchety old Red Delicious apple tree that Gramp threatened on more than one occasion; some lilac bushes; two stately evergreens; a Tamarack tree, with the tiniest, softest needles ever, like stroking kitten fur; two maple trees (one came down after Hurricane Gloria came through, the year I was in fourth grade); a beech tree that my brother abused regularly with a yellow plastic wiffle ball bat; and this creepy burned-out old stump from a tree that had been struck by lightning long before I had been born. The north side of the yard had a line of evergreens--different from the other varieties--separating our yard from the neighbor's, and this wonderful Japanese red maple that was a fiery rich red, and rivaled those white birches for the position of being my favorite.

The flowerbeds changed their fashion statement from season to season, and year to year. Gram loved roses and daffodils, tulips and chrysanthemums. There were bluebells and violets and snowdrops and black-eyed Susans. Tiger lilies and johnny-jump-ups and potted geraniums. The yard laughed and sang for joy, color popping everywhere, under her experienced eye and her green thumb. Everywhere you looked, flowers greeted you cheerfully, except in the cold of Winter.

I couldn't get enough of being out in the yard. There were games to play and imaginary adventures to weave. I reveled in the change of seasons, even before I could appreciate that some places didn't know their wonder.

All Summer long, I would chafe to get out of the house, early as Gram would release me, running my bare feet through the dew-drenched lawn. I would hot-foot across the driveway in the heat of the midday, cooling my feet in the grass on the other side. I would lie back on its plush green and stare up at the blue sky. My brother and I would improvise a game of "volleyball", over Gram's clothesline--more fun when a sheet blew in the Summer breeze between us, until Gram would chase us away from her clean laundry, and then we would drive her equally crazy playing dodge ball off the side of the house. (How we never broke a window, I'll never know.)

With Autumn came waiting at the foot of the driveway for the school bus, under the fire of the foliage.

The lawn turned beige, the Summer flowers gave way to their more hardy cousins, and I gleefully shuffled through the yard, upsetting the piles of leaves my grandparents had spent the better part of their days raking--you remember all those trees I described, right?--for the purpose of my delight and pleasure of course! (Ha. They just exchanged a glance up in Heaven over that one. I know it.)

There was nothing better than the brisk wind to rosy my cheeks, as I whirled around the yard, invigorated after the chill drove away the lazy heat of Summer. To this day, I will seek out whatever minuscule pile of dry leaves that may exist, purely to relive that satisfying crunch under my shoes.

Autumn marched into Winter, out in the yard. Some years, the yard stayed sullen and brown, alternating between frozen hard and a muddy mess when dreary rains chose to fall from lead grey skies. But the best years brought a yard glittering with snowfall.

I knew all the places the drifts would be deepest. On snow days, on weekends, in the sparse minutes of remaining daylight after school, Gram would fruitlessly attempt to keep me inside the warmth of the house, but I would insist on bundling up anyway, clomping out into the dazzling snow glare to tumble down snow banks and run in slow-motion as I broke through the crust into the powder beneath. The sharp air would steal away my breath and make my eyes water, but still I would leave my foot trail all around the yard, only coming in when I could no longer feel my extremities, my red face smarting from the shock of the heated kitchen. And then I would press my face eagerly to the window, watching the Christmas lights glow on the backyard evergreens and waiting for the next snowfall to provide me with a fresh canvas.

And then it would be Spring again. Tiny grey-green buds on the branches of the trees. Slivers of grass pressing out of the matted brown. Before I knew it, overnight it seemed, there would be green everywhere again.

The freedom of running through the yard wearing only a light layer made me feel like a colt freed from its stall. I would shout to my brother from the opposite end of the yard. The first whine of a lawnmower would carry on the breeze. Chasing hummingbirds and butterflies from blossom to blossom. Spotting the first fat bumblebee. The whole world appeared to be alive from the vantage point of Gram's yard. And it would all begin again. I knew no season that wasn't perfect for being out in that yard.

The backyard saw a screened gazebo, perfect for Summer lunches. It hosted family reunions and dried loads of laundry with the outdoor freshness that only sunshine and breeze can truly achieve. It was the place for play and for chores. We would shell sweet peas and grill hamburgers. We would rake and shovel and stay out of the way of the grown-ups mowing. We played alone, we played together, we argued, as only siblings can, and then the yard was big enough to cool off separately, until it was time for some new game. That yard knew wiffle balls and tennis balls and plastic playground balls. It endured our feet and our bikes and the flop of our young bodies onto the ground. It was, quite frankly, the best yard I've ever seen.


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