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September 2008

August 2008

Today at Z Recommends

I have a post up today at Z Recommends, one of my favorite blogs. Taking Better Photographs of Kids is my review of Me Ra Koh's two photography instruction DVDs. Please check out my review and tell me what you think. Have you seen her DVDs? Did they help you as much as they helped me? I don't think I'd be nearly as far along in my photography without Outside the Green Box. I'm also saving my pennies for one of Me Ra's wonderful workshops, hopefully sometime next year.


Nie Nie Day - a last-minute auction

UPDATE: The auction has closed. Deborah has the winning bid at $50! Thank you Deborah and God bless. Please email me confirmation of your donation along with your address to springtreeroad@yahoo.com and I will send the photo.

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I'm so late, but I'm going to try this anyway.

If you haven't heard, Stephanie, who writes the Nie Nie Dialogues, was in an airplane crash with her husband. The pilot did not survive (God bless him and his family), but Stephanie and Christian are in the hospital in very bad condition. Design Mom is hosting an auction today to help pay for the family's medical bills and living expensive. I have only just read Design Mom's post about the auction and would like to put one of my prints up for auction.


Here are the rules:

-Bidding starts at $10.
-Bidding will end at 10pm EST on Sunday, August 31st.
-I will ship anywhere in the world.
-To bid, leave a comment, but please only comment if you wish to bid.
-Please only bid in whole US dollar amounts.
-The winner can donate directly to the fund through paypal and email me the paypal confirmation at springtreeroad@yahoo.com so I will know you've donated and then I will mail the photo.

Here's what's up for auction:


One 8x10 print of this photo, titled orange.

orange 8x10

Even if you don't wish to bid, please do me a favor and tell your friends about the auction - there are links to a huge variety of things to bid on at Design Mom, so check it out. Thanks!


I love a rainy day

Well, I couldn't think of anything really good to do today. Didn't feel like unpacking. So I asked V if she wanted to go for a drive and she said yes. So we drove to Erwin, Tennessee, a small town about half an hour from here. More on that another day.

On the way, everything looked lush and green from all the rain we've been getting yesterday and today, and the clouds hung so low it looked as if you could touch them. If only they'd been pink, I might have eaten some to see if they tasted like cotton candy.

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I'm very much looking forward to seeing what these mountains look like this fall.

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On the way back, I decided to drive up a hill that I was hoping would lead to the top of a mountain. It did not. It was just a dead end, though there are several houses up there. I couldn't see most of them from the very narrow road. Or maybe I was too busy keeping my eyes on that very narrow road. I wonder about the lives of the people who live there in such privacy. One house had some lovely chickens, each dressed in multi-shades of beautiful browns, roaming free in the front yard, fat and sassy. Another house was a single-wide with lots of stuff in the yard, but across the street they had a beautiful garden and what looked like a man-made pond with a statue of a child in the center and a thousand lilypads.

On the way home, I had to take an exit so that I could stop and take a picture of these mountains.

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My measly pictures do not do it justice. I thought about cloning out the wires on this one below, but then I saw the birds sitting on the top wire and I just couldn't do it.

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Tomorrow is Thursday (I have to keep reminding myself - sometimes I lose track of days). Then comes Friday - after R gets home from work, we are driving down to Georgia to visit with some family. Should be fun. V always has a good time being adored by everyone, that's for sure.


A tour of the yard, with ladybug

Today it drizzled all day, was a dull gray color, and seemed kind of chilly even though it wasn't. I ate chili mac for lunch and it hit the spot. We stayed inside all day. But yesterday, we were out in the yard, roaming around and seeing what we could see.

In this tree, my favorite, there's a bird's nest. It fell out of the tree last week and I put it in the crook of these branches. I'm guessing no birds will use it now, but some animal might get something out of it. I really, really wish I knew what kind of tree this is. I have searched online but so far have not figured it out.

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The same tree has a horrible wound and a sturdy hook that we have hung our bird feeder from.

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Again, the same tree. It has one of these cocoon things. I don't like it. There are two bigger ones in another tree. R said he saw wasps flying in and out of it one day. I don't like that. Bugs with stingers freak me out. Ok, most bugs freak me out.

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There are these things. I have no idea what they are, but I think they're pretty. Plus, you know, bokeh. I love the bokeh.

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There are two rocks in the back yard - one big and one smaller. The big rock has this hole in it. I don't really know what it was intended for originally, but I like to think that this is where the clothesline was.The back yard is the only flat part of the property, so this makes sense to me. Plus, it's the back yard, which is where I'd hang my laundry if I were to do so. Sometimes I wish I could. My grandmother did it and I miss the wooden clothespins and the smell of sun-dried sheets.

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When we moved in, just over a month ago, this had been chopped down to the ground. Now it's about half as tall as the house. It's trying to suffocate this poor...

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...spindly rosebush. I want that plant above gone. There are several around so I don't think anyone will miss it. Certainly not the poor rosebush. I know nothing about roses, have no idea if I should do something to this bush or when. Like prune it and whatnot. It was also chopped down to the ground when we moved in, but now is almost as tall as the other plant.

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This is a sad mess of hostas and ivy, which are in the middle "island" of our "circular driveway." The driveway is just awful. It's on a hill and has loose gravel to slide on, giant rocks to maneuver, and deep pits to attempt to avoid in vain. I feel like I'm taking V and my lives in my hands every time I drive down it, though it's really not quite that bad. I'm just being dramatic. Driving up it isn't bad at all, thankfully. Anyway, I'm not a fan of ivy because it just takes over everything and I feel bad for the poor hostas, though I realize I am not the person to solve this problem. All I can think of is that 10,000 snakes probably live there. I'm not a fan of the snakes either. If I think about them too long, I'll have bad dreams tonight. Not fun.

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I have no idea what this plant is. It kind of looks grape-like to me. Except that it's trying to take over a medium-sized cedar tree. Parasite!

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And lastly, there's a sweet little ladybug in the yard that always seems to be there when I go out. She carries a spraybottle so she can water any leaves and plants she feels might be a bit parched.

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Tomorrow's Wednesday. I have no idea what I'm going to do with my Wednesday. What are you going to do with your Wednesday? I need some fresh ideas...


My corner

I have to mention that today the clouds over the mountains were astoundingly beautiful and that the color of the sky was a fantastic blue. When I see such things, I am so very happy we moved here. It's just gorgeous.

R took V out for a while and I spent my time unpacking a few more boxes. There are still many boxes left to unpack and I am not at all sure how all of this stuff is going to fit in this tiny house. In fact, I'm sure it won't fit. Some of it is going to the storage space we rented, some of it is going to Goodwill, and some of it is getting tossed. It has been this way at every place we've lived. At least we'll keep our best and most favorite things, I suppose.

I was thinking today about the corner I had as a kid.

When I was 7 or 8 my parents divorced and we lived at my grandparents' for a while. It was during this time that I laid claim to my corner.

Even with three bedrooms, my grandparents' house wasn't very big, so I didn't have my own room - other than a small, unused area between the sofa,the wall, and the tv. Actually, I'm remembering now that it wasn't unused - it had a magazine rack that my grandmother moved for me so that I could have the space to myself. Since I had mine, my little brother claimed his behind the chair on the other side of the tv. His was more private, which I envied, but mine was bigger.

In my corner, I would keep whatever I held precious at the time, usually hiding it under the sofa. The things I kept there were almost always small enough to fit in a pencil box. For a long time, I had every newspaper and magazine clipping about Raiders of the Lost Ark that I could scrounge. And my Star Wars bubblegum trading cards. I had almost 300 of those.

On the wall I taped up posters, usually pictures of Shaun Cassidy from Tiger Beat. I remember my mom getting me an iron-on of Shaun and ironing it to a t-shirt for me. Too thrilled with myself, I ran outside and was immediately set upon by the neighborhood kids, who made fun of me for wearing a Shaun Cassidy shirt. They started pulling at it and soon Shaun's face was all stretched out so that he had a little piggy nose, which just made them laugh harder. I ran inside and pulled down all my posters and swore that I hated Shaun Cassidy, that he was stupid. I sat in my corner and cried.

I also put stickers on the wall, which must've driven my grandparents crazy. Garbage Pail Kids. Horrors. What was I thinking?! It took them years to get those stickers off; they were stuck good. But I'm glad they indulged me. I guess they understood that everyone needs a little space to call her own.

Above my corner there were shelves hung on the wall, mostly holding framed family photos or a card sent in the mail, but also a few other things that I loved playing with when I was allowed. This was one of them. There was also a clock - the dial looked like a captain's steering wheel and the base lit up, playing music and sending fish swimming in a circle. I wonder where that clock is now. I think my side also held the Rolls Royce model car with radio that my grandfather had. On my brother's side were more pictures, a green Depression glass candy dish, a common milk glass vase, and a model of a covered wagon. I always wished the covered wagon had been on my side, especially whenever I was reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Eventually we moved out to our own townhouse, but I kept my corner for several more years, until I didn't need it anymore. As I've said before, I would love to be able to thank my grandparents for the care they took of me when I was a kid. Now, as we're unpacking and I'm setting up V's space to call her own, I am so happy to be able to give that space to her. She's just fallen asleep in her own bed for the first time ever. I can hear the sound machine, playing rain. The house is dark and peaceful and happy.


Feeling synthy

Have you heard of photosynth? I had, off and on, though I didn't know much about it. I still don't know that much about it - I just jumped in and started using it. It went live yesterday and they kept having to shut it down due to all the traffic. I think it's awesome! I took some pictures of my cat sleeping on V's new bed yesterday and ended up with a decent photosynth (for my first try). I couldn't get behind her because the bed is up against the wall, but take a look and let me know what you think. I was way too excited to do any post-processing on the photos, so some of them are a tad dark. But I think it's supercool technology and I can't wait to see what else I can do.

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Mine's all right, but this one is amazing!


Take my picture

Today we had to go to the grocery store and get some salad fixings. I took my camera because there's this neighborhood nearby that I wanted to explore, so I had the camera around my neck when this dude pulled up next to me at a red light and started revving his engine to get my attention.

When I looked over, he waved and nodded his head in greeting. I gave a little half-hearted wave back and that's when he noticed my camera. "Take my picture!" he yelled, and opened his arms wide to pose. I quickly pulled the lens cap off and aimed. That's when he started protesting and got all shy, but I snapped the shutter and here he is.

Take my picture


Brown and blue (sofa pictures for Julia)

V and I have been unpacking a bit today and I have only just started pulling together the living room. Let these pictures give you the impression that I have my stuff together - that'd be cool. Yeah.

I don't.

That's why you're only seeing bits and pieces. And also because I was too lazy to change my camera lens.

I have no idea if brown and blue are on their way out, but I love these colors together.

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I got this chair at Target. I love this chair. It's small, it fits the room, and it's pretty without being too pretty. At least I think so - because the flowers are large and not all frilly and pink. Right? R will appreciate that.

I think.

He's a little worried about the flower chair (he hasn't seen it in person yet - he's on his way home now).

I worry about dirty kid feet on my beautiful chair. Oh how I worry!

And here's a lamp. I got this lamp at a farmer's market in 1999 or 2000. It's by Autonomy Design. I couldn't find anything out about them online. Maybe they don't exist anymore. Anyway, I still love it. It gives off a nice homey glow at night.

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V can't keep her hands off this lamp (surely that'll stop in a few days). In this picture, I had just told her that the lamp was not a toy and she was saying, "Yes! The lamp IS a toy!" Of course as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I felt like somebody's mother. Which of course I am.

But still.

The sofa. Got that one at Sam's Club. We needed an affordable sleeper sofa, in case anyone ever decides to come stay with us. Hopefully they will. The sofa is affordable and looks nice. The shipping was insanely expensive, they were almost 3 hours late delivering it (a local company, not Sam's), and one of the guys left a box cutter in the yard for my almost-3-yo to find. V saying, "What's this mama?!" with a box cutter in her hand just about stopped my heart. Of course he didn't mean to leave it. Ok, moving on...

I love the feet on this sofa. These are my kind of sofa feet.

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So, what do you think? It's fun being an adult with grown up furniture. Now I just need a rug (anyone with any suggestions on what color/pattern rug, please let me know. Brown/blue? Something else? I'm so clueless! I can't do jute or anything like that - I'm terribly allergic.) and some curtains, and I'd like some of those picture ledge shelf thingies like I see in the Pottery Barn catalog.

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By the time I get done with this place, it'll be time to move!


Making saft, pt. 2

hang the fruit to drain

After draining the saft for two hours, it was ready to be reheated and sugared. I poured it into a medium saucepan with two cups of sugar and heated it on medium-low heat until the sugar was dissolved. That took about five minutes or so.

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In the meantime, I washed my jars, and I had a total of 4 pots on my stove. For this recipe, I'm not sure that it was necessary for me to keep the jars very hot because, even once I dissolved the sugar, the berry mixture was not that hot. If you were canning jam, you would definitely want to have your jars in very hot water until time to put the jam in the jars so that the jars wouldn't break from the change in temperature. But I did it anyway, just for the practice of handling very hot jars.

Ok, so I had 4 pots going - one had the saft with the sugar dissolving, one was a big stockpot of water getting ready to boil for processing the cans, one had 4 jars being heated, and the last one had the bands for the jars which should not be heated as hot as the glass jars. The lids sat at room temperature. It took me about half an hour to figure out that, there being two parts to the lid, the flat part that sits on top of the jar is called the "lid" and the part that screws on to the jar is called the "band." Don't ask me why I was so confused, but I was, so I thought I'd pass that little tidbit on in case I'm not the only confused person out there.

Once the sugar was dissolved, I took the jars out of their hot water bath with my jar lifter and set them on a dishtowel. That part was a little awkward for me, but I got the hang of it eventually. I used the wide-mouthed funnel and a ladle to pour the saft into each jar. You have to fill the jar so that there is 1/4-inch room at the top, so it has to be pretty full.

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There was not enough to fill a fourth jar all the way, so I just used it right away. Of course I wanted to know what it tasted like so I wasn't exactly disappointed. If for some reason you think that you will use all the saft in the two weeks after you make it, you don't need to process your jars it at all.

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Next comes the processing! You are supposed to have a rack for the bottom of your canning pot, but I don't. You could also use a cake-cooling rack. I don't have one of those either. So I used a dishrag. Not the easiest thing to use, but it kept the jars off the bottom of the pot so they didn't get too hot or clunk around and break.

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I let the 3 jars process for 10 minutes and made a small pitcher of saft from the fourth.

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It's one part saft and 4 parts water. One small jar doesn't make a lot, about 32 ounces. It was just right for two adults and one kid for dinner. 

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After 10 minutes, I used my jar lifter to take the jars out of their bath and set them back on the dishtowel.

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They should sit there undisturbed overnight to cool.

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The next day, you should check to make sure that the seals took - all mine did. When you press down on the center of the lid it should not move; that's how you know it's sealed. If it isn't sealed, you can either process it again or just use it within two weeks.

So, what would I do differently? For one thing, I'd double the recipe and probably use bigger jars. I would use 5-6 pounds of fruit and just a bit less sugar. I know it's supposed to be sweet - and I like sweet things more than I should - I'd just like it a little less sweet. But not much. The most important thing is that next time I will not use plums. Don't get me wrong - this is good stuff, just as I made it. It's very light and refreshing. And the plums were very inexpensive. But the reason I wanted to make it with plums was to revisit my favorite childhood drink, and regular black plums from the grocery store do not make the cut. They're not tart or flavorful enough. If, one day, I can figure out what kind of tree my grandmother had and have one in my own yard, then I will make it with those plums and nothing else. But, while it smelled exactly like her plum juice when it was cooking, the final product didn't taste like it. Next time, I will try mainly strawberries, but also blueberries and whatever else is available. I might even try just strawberry and kiwi for fun.

I'm already planning to make it again soon. It's such a nice, light fruity drink. I really want to make enough jars to put away for the winter. Next year I might buy larger jars at the beginning of the summer, but this year we'll just have it as the occasional treat - which I think will make it extra special. I'd also like to try it with sparkling water - would be delicious!

This recipe would be a great first canning experience for an adult or older kid. You don't have to stress out about how hot you keep your jars, you don't use so much fruit that it would be a total waste of money if the jars didn't seal - you could easily drink it all in a couple of weeks. Also you don't have to worry about things like getting the bubbles out before you seal it or adding pectins, etc. After making saft just the one time, I feel like I could make jam successfully and am planning to do so next summer.

I hope you've enjoyed these posts (here's part 1, if you missed it). If you make saft - let me know! I'd love to hear what you think.

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Saft
I got not quite 4 cups from this recipe, but it might be different if you used all berries. I used 2 pounds of plums and not quite 1 pound of blueberries and blackberries.

2.5 lbs. fresh ripe berries
2 cups water
1.5-2 cups sugar

Combine the berries and water in a large stockpot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Line a large bowl with a clean pillowcase and pour the berries into the pillowcase. Be prepared not to ever use the pillowcase for anything else again!

Tie the pillowcase to a broomhandle suspended between two chairs over your large bowl. Let the berries drain for 1-2 hours. Do not squeeze the bag or the mixture will become cloudy.

Meanwhile prepare your canning water by bringing a large pot (at least 8 qt.) filled 3/4 of the way with water to a simmer. Wash your jars/bottles and lids and keep them in a hot water bath - hotter for the jars, not so hot for the bands, lids at room temp.

Transfer strained juice to a medium saucepan. Add your sugar and stir to dissolve over medium-low heat for about five minutes. Skim any froth or scum off the top.

Using a wide-mouthed funnel and a ladle, fill clean, hot jars with saft to 1/4 inch from the top. Add lids and bands - don't screw the bands on supertight, just tight. Place the filled and capped jars in the hot water bath using a jar lifter, making sure they are completely submerged. Bring the water back to a boil, if necessary, and then start your processing time - 10 minutes. Remove the jars and let cool overnight.

To serve, mix one part saft with 4 parts water.


Setting up

We got this great piece of furniture from Wal-Mart. Wal. Mart. It's part of their new Canopy line. It is a very well-made console (my grandmama would've called it a buffet) and the dark wood of it makes me feel like a grown up. Now if they'd just get their bookshelves back in stock, we could unpack our books.

The dishes and glasses are going inside so that the few cabinets we have can hold food. The bottom drawer will house V's silverware and sippy cups, so she can get them for herself.

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All the boxes from the kitchen are empty. Now on to the rest of the house...


Making saft, pt. 1

For years now, I have wanted to try to make the plum juice my grandmother used to make but just hadn't done it. Not only did I not have her "recipe" (she didn't have a recipe either, she just made it), I'd never canned anything before and it intimidated me. When I wrote the post about it back in June, I remembered an article I'd saved from Martha Stewart Living years ago that was all about saft, a sweetened berry juice concentrate often enjoyed in Sweden and other places. I couldn't find the article in my files and I couldn't find it on her site, but I did find someone else who had made Martha's recipe. So yesterday, since my cold was on its way out, I decided I'd try my hand at it.

Saft is normally made from berries, but I wanted to make it with plums. The only problem I saw with that is that I don't have the same kind of plums that my grandmother had. She had some sort of plum tree in her back yard and she took some from the neighbor's tree too. The plums were not something you'd want to eat - too tart - but they made great juice. The plums you buy at the grocery store are decidedly less tart. I also would have loved to be able to go to a farm or farmer's market to get my fruit, but I wasn't patient enough for that. So V and I went to the grocery store and got two pounds of plums and then enough blackberries and blueberries to equal 3 pounds.

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Out of that, I rinsed 10 blackberries to give to V. She loves blackberries! I figured the blackberries and blueberries might be a little stronger than the plums and would add to the taste. They sure are pretty!

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I put them in a medium saucepan with two cups of water and simmered for 30 minutes. Here they are at the beginning...

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...and here they are after 30 minutes. Cooking, they smelled exactly like my grandmother's plum juice. Let me tell you, I was psyched!

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I had to buy a few extra supplies to make the saft. I bought a pillowcase to drain the fruit, some canning jars, and some tools (they all came together, but some of them I didn't need for this project) to help with the canning - like a can lifter. I don't have a canning pot - I just used my soup pot. I also don't have a rack to put in the bottom of my big pot, so I used a washrag. It was the best I could do. Anyway, I'm getting way ahead of myself, more on all this in part 2.

After 30 minutes, I poured the berry mixture into a bowl that I had lined with the pillowcase. I put a towel on the floor (why white? don't ask me. i'm still sick-ish and my brain is fuzzy.) in case I spilled and because the fruit would be hot so it seemed like the thing to do.

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Then I tied the pillowcase to a broom handle suspended across two chairs. This drains all the goodness into the bowl. Don't squeeze the pillowcase!! It'll make your juice cloudy. It sat like this for two hours.

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I really enjoyed making the saft and will post part 2 in a day or two. In that post, I'll show you how I canned it, tell you how it tastes, and tell you what I'll do differently next time.


Sunset

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I need to read up on how to take sunset photos, but my book is still in a box.

I'm working tonight, as usual, but when I saw the sunset outside my window, I had to go take a picture of it. It's mighty vibrant.

I have a had a cold all week long. I got it from my hubby, who got it from one of his new coworkers. It only took him a few days to get over it, but my upper respiratory system isn't as hearty as his. My voice is raspy and it feels like there's a boulder in my chest. When I walk a ways, I have to stop and catch my breath.

I'm hoping that I'll be closer to my usual self tomorrow. Now, it's back to work for me. I hope everyone who reads this has a lovely evening and a happy Friday!


Jonesborough, TN

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With this post, I'm participating in the Hooked on Houses blog party. Go check out all the great house tours today!


Jonesborough is a town that I have only barely scratched the surface of, both in person and researching online. It's full of history and lousy with ghosts. It's small, quaint, beautiful.

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I can't yet get my head around Jonesborough. I already can't wait to go back and walk around.

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The details on the houses are amazing.

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There are a few bed and breakfasts in town. One of them has this little shop behind it. Darling.

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I was reading on one of the Jonesborough websites about the new sign ordinance. Signs can't be too tall or too big because they want to prevent "visual clutter." Love it.

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Look at the pretty purple at The Wedding Loft.

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I couldn't find any definite information on this building/business, but I'll keep looking. It seems that it is or used to be a toy store - and you can see the dollhouses in the window.

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Everywhere I drove, I kept thinking - this looks like a great place to live. This looks like home. Or what my idea of home should be.

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What do you think? Do you live in a lovely town? Could you handle living in a town of less than 5,000 people? As my grandmama would say, I think I might could...

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When you're done here, please go check out all the rest of the houses on the tour.

You can also check out my other small town excursions.