Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adventures in Home Improvement

our house in 2010

We have done a lot to our house since we moved in seventeen years ago.  (Seventeen years?  I had to count them, and that just does not seem possible!  Where did that chunk of lifetime go?)  

Our house was built around 1902 and, as best as we can tell, we are only the third family to live in it.  The stability of long ownership prevented a lot of “muddling” over the years, but there have still been improvements and repairs needed.  Like a complete tear-off of five layers of roof – including the original wood shakes from the turn of the century; rewiring the attic; putting a darkroom in the basement (that was before widespread use of digital!); ripping out carpet; taking off wallpaper from every room of the house – including some scary, thorny pink roses the previous owner hung in our bedroom in the 1940s when she was a girl; adding central air conditioning; slightly reconfiguring the kitchen so that the refrigerator is actually in the kitchen; stripping woodwork; painting; etc.; and that’s just on the inside!  

new dining room light
We have slowed down in recent years, until lately.  Recently, we discovered a fabulous independent electrician, so we had him repair some wiring and replace two outside lights and three indoor fixtures.  Nothing fancy, just some nice fixtures from Lowe’s, but they are pretty, they work, and they provide good light.  None of the three fixtures we replaced could meet all of those criteria.  

In addition to lighting improvements, there’s the little bathroom.  There is a tiny, narrow bathroom in what used to be an apartment in our house.  We were told the room was added during the Depression to house a family member who was down and out.  When we bought the house, it came with a very nice young woman as a tenant in the apartment.  After about a year, she moved.  I think the change from a quiet, elderly landlady to a raucous family with two young children was too much for her.  She confessed that she had taken to using earplugs to sleep.  Anyway, when she moved, we reclaimed the apartment as an office and second family room.  The bathroom was always awkward, with a funky half-sized tub shower half under a window.  When the bathroom developed a leak, we decided to finally tackle the larger issue and reconfigure the whole thing.  I wrote back in August about this never-ending bathroom remodel (which is almost finished!) which necessitated the removal of the ceiling in the butler’s pantry.  

That poor ceiling.  When we moved into our house, the butler’s pantry ceiling had been lowered to about 7 ½ feet.  It rested on top of the cabinets.  Hmm, must be a reason, we thought.  Falling plaster, pipes, something.  Nope.  So we ripped it out and raised it about sixteen inches to match the height of the kitchen ceiling.  Now, with our bathroom remodel, the pipes extend below the floor above, so the ceiling had to be dropped again, but not as much as before.  Replacing the ceiling has not been on the top of the repair list, as the husband has focused his limited spare time on the bathroom itself.  Then two weeks before Christmas, the wonderful electrician introduced us to an equally wonderful independent carpenter, so voila!  In a matter of a few days, we had a new, albeit unfinished, ceiling in the butler’s pantry.  (It is amazing how much better and faster professionals can do this work!)  Unfortunately, he could not mud the corners where the ceiling meets the walls because we have wallpaper on the walls.  That has to be removed before mudding or it won’t be coming off.  (I’m really sad to lose the wallpaper; it’s a simple chicken wire pattern in taupe and cream.  Can’t find a match online.  Oh well.)  

But before removing wallpaper, we needed to prime the ceiling.  That’s where I come in.  Yesterday, I felt motivated.  With only one slight disaster, the ceiling got a coat of Kilz.  Yay!

(Here's evidence of the minor disaster.  I stepped down the wrong way off the stepstool, hit the edge of the paint pan, which flipped up and splashed paint on my leg and the cabinet.  This is oil-based paint, mind you, so I had to run down to the basement to get some paint thinner for a quick cabinet clean-up.  What a mess!)

cute Con-tact paper from Target
Then my daughter and I took everything out of the cabinets to clean out all the plaster bits, wood slivers and even a few nails that had fallen into the cabinets when the old ceiling was torn down.  We washed everything and replaced the shelf paper with a cute green and white print.  Gorgeous!  

Of course, when we remove the wallpaper and the final mudding is done, there will be some additional mess, but I hope to seal the cabinets off to prevent seepage of dust and paper bits.  We’ll see.  At least it looks great for now.

clean, organized, and a ceiling to boot!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Brrrr! It's Chili!

"I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili." -- Kit Carson's last words (according to Wikiquote).

I'm not sure I'd want chili for my last meal, but I do love a good bowl of chili, especially with a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese on top and some hot, crispy cornbread on the side.  It's hard to beat on a cold night.

I usually make chili the way my mother makes it, which is to say, with dried kidney beans and no recipe.  Just throw in chili powder until the color looks right.  But just for you, I've figured out the proportions and written down the recipe.  

There are lots of good chili recipes out there with different bean combinations, different meats, more vegetables, but this is a good, basic chili that is always popular.

This recipe is for a flavorful, but mild, chili.  You can add more chili powder and cayenne if you want more heat.  In any case, I recommend tasting the chili part way through cooking to adjust the seasoning.  Chili powders vary in their spiciness.  And, yes, using dried beans takes more time than using canned beans, but there is no comparison in the quality of the chili.  It really is worth the extra time.  

With some Martha White skillet cornbread on the side!

Sweet Posy Dreams Mild Chili

1 pound dried kidney beans
1 – 1 ½ pounds ground chuck
1 large onion, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 tablespoons chili powder (add more for spicier taste)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder (more for spicier)
Water to fill the tomato can (28 oz.)  2 ½ times

Sort the kidney beans, removing bad beans.  Rinse the beans thoroughly in cool water.  (I put the beans in the pot, cover with water and swirl the beans around to wash, then drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.)  Place beans in a heavy stock pot and cover with about 2 inches of water.  Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and cover beans.  Let sit about an hour.

While beans are soaking, break up ground chuck in a non-stick skillet.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add onion and brown meat until completely cooked. 

Drain beans in colander and return to stock pot.  Using a slotted spoon to allow fat to drain, spoon meat and onion mixture into beans.

Open canned tomatoes and drain juice from can into the stockpot.  Cut up tomatoes, removing the cores, and add to pot.  (You can use diced tomatoes rather than whole if you want to skip this step, but I like the whole tomatoes because they are softer and cook down better than diced canned tomatoes.)  Use the tomato can to add water to the beans.

Add chili powder and cayenne.  Stir to combine.  Bring to a near boil, reduce heat, and simmer with lid askew on pot to allow steam to escape.  Simmer about 2 hours, or until beans are tender, stirring occasionally.  It’s hard to overcook the chili as it gets better the longer the flavors are allowed to meld. 

Printable recipe

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"How to Murder Your Wife"

“How to Murder Your Wife” is one of my all-time favorite movies.  My son gave me a new DVD of the movie for Christmas, and I am looking forward to watching it again soon.  

The movie came out in 1965, so it’s not very politically correct these days, but I just love it.  It’s not my usual kind of movie – it’s more slapsticky than I usually like, and I can take or leave Jack Lemmon, but I still love this movie.  

Jack Lemmon is well cast as the high-strung cartoonist Stanley Ford, and Virna Lisi is drop-dead gorgeous, but also likable, as his Italian wife.  But for me, the real stars are the co-stars – Terry-Thomas as Charles, Ford’s butler; Claire Trevor as Edna Lampson; and the always funny Mary Wickes as a secretary.  

The hands-down funniest character, though, is Harold Lampson, Ford’s attorney, brilliantly and hilariously played by Eddie Mayehoff.  He absolutely cracks me up.  Several lines of his dialogue have become catchphrases in our family – “I do carry a lot of life insurance” and “that broken down money pit of a house in Scarsdale.”  Even though we don’t live in Scarsdale, you’d be amazed how often that last line is appropriate for people who live in a 105-year-old house!

If you've never seen "How to Murder Your Wife," check it out.  Everyone could use a laugh as we head into the depths of winter.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Early Christmas Present

Two of the four stars -- even the backs are pretty!

My lovely friend, Cat, from Miss Marple Makes, made these fabulous clay stars.  I ordered them from her Etsy shop on December 11 and have been anxiously waiting for them to arrive.  They had to make their way to Middle America all the way from Wales.  And today they came!  Aren't they wonderful?  I am so excited that they arrived in time for Christmas -- an early gift for me!

I hope everyone's holidays are filled with unexpected joys.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Toffee

I realized the other day that I hadn't made any goodies for Christmas that contained chocolate, and chocolate is one of my primary food groups.  I had decided to skip the fudge this year as I'm the only one in my family who eats it.  Still, I needed something with chocolate, so I made a chocolate-topped toffee.

A friend gave me this recipe a number of years ago.  She said it came from Betty Crocker.  It's quite easy to make, just involves a lot of stirring.  Also, you need to work quickly once you put the warm butter/sugar mixture in the pan.  If you are too slow putting on the chocolate chips, they will not melt.  If that happens, and you are using a glass pan, you can run it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to help melt the chips.  I used Hershey's dark chocolate chips this year, which turned out extra yummy!

from Betty Crocker

1 cup chopped pecans
¾ cup brown sugar (packed)
½ cup butter
½ cup chocolate chips

Butter a 9x9 or 8x8 square pan.  Spread pecans in pan.

Heat sugar and brown sugar to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil over medium heat for 7 minutes, stirring constantly.  Immediately spread mixture evenly over nuts in pan. 

Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot mixture and cover with a baking sheet so the heat will melt the chips.  Spread the chocolate evenly over candy mixture. 

While hot, cut into squares.  Chill until firm.  Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


We had tough time finding a Christmas tree this year.  On Sunday we drove sixty miles to the tree farm we discovered last year near the Wisconsin border.  The tree farm is 350 acres.  There had to be a tree that was just perfect, but if there was, we didn’t find it.  We trudged for hours.  Too short, bad color, bad shape, too gappy.  It wasn’t just us, either.  We kept seeing the same people wandering around, treeless.  

As we were beginning to wear down, heading into yet another field, we met a man and his son leaving that area empty-handed.   “Any good trees back there?” my husband asked.  “No,” said the man.  “We’re heading across the road.”  There was another, newer area there.  Well, by this time, we were beat.  The fun had begun to wear off, and my son said he didn’t care anymore, we should just get a tree.  So we went into the area forsaken by the man and his son and found a fir that was tall, had good color and shape but, like so many of the trees at the farm, had grown too closely to another tree and had a kind of baldish area on one side.  No problem, we thought, we’ll just put that side in the back.

At 1:25 Monday morning, Alfie gave a sharp bark and rushed to our bedroom door.  “It’s all right, Alfie,” I murmured.  “Go back to sleep.”  Within seconds, our daughter had rushed to our door.  “Did you hear that crash?” she asked as she turned on our light.  My bleary eyes opened to the glare of the light as the realization hit.  Oh no.  My husband, daughter, and I headed downstairs and, sure enough, the Christmas tree – all nine feet of it – lay on its side on the living room floor.  Water was running across the floorboards to pool by the baseboard.  Broken ornaments littered the rug.  An Old World pocketwatch was shattered, a fabulous pink flamingo wearing a Santa hat was reduced to only a head and neck, several ornaments lost feet, and a number of other glass ornaments were just shards.  

Almost two hours later, the tree was righted, the water was mopped, the glass was cleaned up, and the tree was anchored via fishing line to a nail hastily driven into the window woodwork.  My husband says the baldish area made the tree weighted too heavily to the front, and that’s why it fell over.  That, combined with the heavier ornament count on the front, was enough to do it in.  So now, the tree is leaning drunkenly backward toward the window, but it’s only noticeable from the side.  And, really, who cares?

Luckily, the lights still work and we only lost a relatively small number of ornaments.  The fact that much of the tree hit the living room rug surely helped avert a larger disaster.  We’ve learned an important lesson.  Steer clear of misshapen trees and hedge your bets with some fishing line.

the tree who lived

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Cookies - Fourth Batch

Butter cookies -- you can't beat 'em.  These butter cookies are classics for Christmas, but are also good year round cut into other shapes.  When I make them during other times of the year, I don't decorate with any sugar or sprinkles, and I add 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds to the dough.  This recipe is so simple and so yummy.  I like to roll my dough pretty thick and pull the cookies out of the oven before they brown on the edges, but I'm notorious for my uneven dough, so some of the cookies always get more browned than I prefer.  No matter, they're still tasty!

This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking.

Rich Roll Cookies

The Joy of Cooking (1975)
by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker

1 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups sifted flour
½ teaspoon salt

Cream together butter and sugar.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Sift together flour and salt and add to the butter mixture.

Chill dough 3 to 4 hours before rolling.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out dough to about ¼ inch thick on a floured board (use as little flour as possible, but do not let the dough stick).  Cut into shapes.  Bake on a greased cookie sheet 7-8 minutes or until slightly colored.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Cookies - Third Batch

My husband requested these cream cheese-walnut cookies when he saw them pictured in a Martha Stewart Holiday Cookie magazine.  I had never made them before.  They are quite good, but do have a distinct cream cheese flavor.  We like the taste, so it works for us.  In fact, my husband liked them so much, he ate three before I could get them in the freezer!

I halved the recipe, which made 22 cookies.  I had trouble getting the walnuts to stick to the dough log after removing it from the freezer.  I only left it in the freezer for 30 minutes.  If you freeze it longer, you may need to let it warm up before rolling in walnuts.

Cream Cheese-Walnut Cookies

From Holiday Cookies by Martha Stewart

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups walnuts (1 ½ cups should be coarsely chopped and 1 cup should be finely chopped)

Sift together flour and salt; set aside.

Cream butter and cream cheese at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in sugar and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour and mix until just combined.  Mix in walnuts.

Transfer dough to work surface.  Divide in half; shape each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap each log in parchment paper and freeze about 30 minutes, or up to two weeks.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Roll each log in ½ cup chopped walnuts.  Slice into ¼-inch thick rounds.  Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake cookies, rotating halfway through, until golden around the edges, about 18-20 minutes.  Let cool on wire racks.

Printable recipe
(Thanks to Angie of, for telling me how to link a printable recipe!)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pom Pom Garland Deluxe!

A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a pom pom wonderland.  Some of you know about my obsession with pom poms.  My pom pom garland is finally finished and hanging on the stairs.  It's a little funky and homespun, but I am thrilled with it.  All my pom pom dreams are fulfilled.

We balanced the garland by making the Currier and Ives children prints that hang on the stair wall into reindeer.  (I love these prints.  They used to hang on the stairs at my in-laws' house.  They are just about my favorite thing.)  Some years, the prints sport bows; one year each child wore a construction paper Santa hat.  This year, my daughter made antlers and felt noses.  I got the idea from Country Living.  They showed the noses and antlers drawn onto picture glass with dry erase markers.  I like our version better since the antlers can extend onto the frames.  Pretty cute, huh?

Cute in a mutant way!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fairy Lights

The winter wonderland is now indoors.  We are finally looking a teeny bit like Christmas inside our house.  Today my daughter and I brought the white lights look that we have outside to the inside.  I've always like tulle and lights as an easy way to get a little sparkle around windows.  Here are her windows outlined in white lights (white wires, too) and white tulle.  Subtle, yet lovely.

the moody view

the well lit view.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Retro Casserole

Here's a great casserole recipe from the 1970s.  My mother has made this for years.  It is an old-school comfort food for a cold night.  I made this last night, then was talking to my mom this evening and found out she had made the same dish today!

You can adjust the ingredients to suit your tastes and pantry.  For example, I always omit the mushrooms and sometimes the celery.  I really like the zip added by green olives, so I am generous with those.

When you first add the noodles to the tomatoes, you will not be sure this is going to work since there doesn't seem to be enough liquid.  It will.  You can see the pre-simmered and post-simmered versions in the pictures below.  Let me just add, however, it is almost impossible to get an attractive picture of a casserole.  So don't be put off by the pictures.  It's quite tasty!

Ground Beef Casserole

1 ½ - 2 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup diced celery
½ cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
2 cans (28 oz. size) tomatoes
½ cup sliced olives, green or black
½ small can sliced water chestnuts
1 small can mushroom pieces (optional)
1 – 1 ½ cups cubed sharp cheddar cheese
6 oz. egg noodles, uncooked
½ - ¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Break apart the ground beef in a skillet, season with salt and pepper and brown until fully cooked.  Drain off fat.  Add celery and onion and cook until tender.  (You can cook the onion and celery at the same time you brown the meat to save time, but they will absorb more fat.) 

Put tomatoes in large saucepan.  (I use whole canned tomatoes and cut them up and core them before adding to pan.)  Add beef, olives, mushrooms and water chestnuts.  Simmer on low heat while you cube up the cheese.  Add the cubed cheese and noodles.  Simmer over low heat about 15 minutes, or until noodles are tender.

Transfer to casserole dish.  Cover with shredded cheese.  Bake at 325 degrees about 30 minutes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Not to Complete an Assignment

When I have a complex assignment to complete, in this case an analysis of a survey for a consulting firm in Japan, I get a lot of other great things accomplished.  For example, yesterday afternoon, instead of working on my project, which will when completed result in an actual paycheck, I cleaned my refrigerator from top to bottom.  I removed every item, every shelf, every drawer.  It is now a thing of beauty, cleanliness, and organization.  Unfortunately, it does not come with a paycheck.  Back to the grindstone!

So clean!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Cookies - Second Batch

Finished the second batch of Christmas cookies!  These candy cane cookies are my son's particular favorites.  The recipe comes from A Cookbook by Sunset House Auxiliary Toledo, Ohio.

Candy Cane Cookies

½ cup margarine, softened
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour, sifted
¾ -1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter, margarine and sugar.  Add egg, almond extract and vanilla.
Sift together flour and salt, and add to creamed mixture.
Divide dough into halves.  Blend red food coloring into one half of dough.  Roll one teaspoon of each color dough into a strip about 4 inches long.  Place strips side by side; press lightly together and twist like rope. 
Place on lightly greased (I spray lightly with cooking spray) cookie sheet and curve one end to form handle of cane.  Bake about 9 minutes.  Cool on wire racks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Cookies - First Batch

The first batch of Christmas cookies are baked and in the freezer!  In my last post, I talked about my family's tree cutting tradition.  Well, we also have cookie traditions.  Everyone has his or her favorite Christmas cookies, and I am expected to bake all of them every year.  I usually throw in something different each year, too, just to spice things up.

The first cookie on my list this year is the Italian Wedding Cookie.  You may know these as Mexican Wedding Cookies, Swedish Wedding Cookies, or even Hawaiian Wedding Cookies depending on where you are from and your own background.  In our family, they are definitely Italian.  I got this recipe from my Italian-American mother-in-law.  Despite the widespread popularity of this cookie, I had never had these until the first Christmas I spent with my in-laws.  Mmmm, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  I had to make them myself.

The first time I made these cookies, I knew I'd done something wrong.  While my mother-in-law's cookies were little bites of powdered goodness, mine were hard little rocks.  Turns out I had both underworked and overworked the dough. What?  It's true.  I'll tell you the secret.  You want to be sure to beat the dough until it actually is, well, dough.  I had not beaten mine enough, so it was still kind of shaggy and crumbly.  And that was when the overworking came in.  I had to really squeeze the dough into those little balls to make them hold together.  If you beat the dough sufficiently, however, you can form the balls very lightly -- just pinch off the dough and gently roll with your palms.  Once you know the secret, the cookies turn out perfectly every time!

Italian Wedding Cookies

½ cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup ground pecans
powdered sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. 
Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until soft. 
Add flour and pecans; mix well, until dough forms. 
Form dough into small balls, about ¾ inch.
Bake 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately roll in powdered sugar.  Let cookies cool and roll in powdered sugar again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Tree Traditions

Are you a traditionalist or a game changer at Christmas time?  Growing up, I was in a family of game changers.  The year before I was born, my mother put fiberglass “angel hair” on the Christmas tree.  She had a toddler at the time.  I’m pretty sure that would be against all kinds of safety rules today but, surprisingly, my brother managed to survive it without any lasting damage.  Later, we were the ultimate 1960s family with a silver aluminum tree centered in front of the bow picture window of our 1960s ranch house.  The tree was hung with red Shiny Brite ornaments and illuminated by the requisite rotating color wheel.  I loved that tree!  In the 1970s, after my father retired from the army and we settled down on eleven hilltop acres in Tennessee, my parents often bought live Christmas trees.  And I mean ones to plant in the yard after Christmas.  This meant we couldn’t leave the lights burning on the tree for too long at a time as my parents worried about damaging the tree.  It also necessitated a huge washtub to hold the root ball, which was covered by a white sheet.  By the time my parents moved into a condo, there was a row of gorgeous, two-story-tall white pines along the property line.  It was so amazing to see those giant pines and remember that they were once our Christmas trees.  In addition, we seldom decorated the tree the same way.  One year we covered the tree with silk poinsettias and red ribbons, some years there was shiny tinsel garland, one year I made a garland of ribbon chains.  Even the location changed.  The tree was usually placed in the family room, but sometimes the living room. 


Now I am in a family of hard-core traditionalists.  Even moving the tree to the other side of the living room causes an outcry.  There has been some flexibility on garlands, but the ornaments are always the same (although the collection increases in size every year).  The most longstanding tree tradition in my family, though, is also the best.  We always go to a tree farm and cut down our own tree.  In 1993, when our son (the youngest) was not quite two, we made our first trek to a tree farm.  We had moved from the city to one of the more remote collar counties outside Chicago.  Our friends from the city thought it would be fun for all of us and our little toddlers to cut our own trees.  We had a blast and a tradition was born.  Our friends, on the other hand, had a miserable time and went back to tree lots the following year.


When we moved to our current house, about fifteen years ago, we searched around for the perfect tree farm, and we found it.  It was about 35 miles away and had the absolute best cider donuts you can imagine.  Oh my god, a hot cake donut dusted with cinnamon sugar after a cold tramp around the fields is heaven!  And we always tramp.  We never take the hayride, the wagon, or any other mode of transportation.  Sadly, our favorite tree farm closed in 2009.  Last year, we found a new place.  It is a little further away, and there are no donuts (sigh), but dogs are welcome and, get this, there are reindeer and even a live camel.  I still have more than a week to wait, but I’m really looking forward to heading out to the tree farm.  I just hope it snows.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Winter Coat for the Garden

Our Midwestern weather has been so goofy lately.  A couple of days ago, I noticed that my daffodils are starting to come up and the daylilies are making new growth, yet snow showers and a low around 22 degrees are predicted for tonight.  While the sun was shining this morning, I figured it was a good time to use the Halloween straw to mulch the flower beds for winter.  I replanted a few bulbs that had already heaved, cleaned up some stray leaves, and went at it with my bale of straw.  I tend to worry over things like this though.  Is it too early?  Should I wait for the ground to freeze?  What if those daffodil tips get frozen?  But then I realized, hey, it's just a couple of flower beds.  It's not life and death, right?  Well, maybe for the daffodils . . . .