John Deere and Fish

My dad — my parents live in Manchester, Tennessee — is retired from John Deere, but that’s only given him more time with tractors, not less. He and my mom are serious antiques collectors, and while she heads for the linens and Depression glass, he can spot a rare tractor part or tool from a mile away. Also: Actual tractors. At least the wrenches and oil cans and other portable items he collects are easier to store and organize.  He does a great job of documentation and has an impressive library of tractor advertisements, manuals, giveaways and other tractor-related paper goods. He even led a workshop on “Industrial John Deere: In the Beginning” at the recent Gathering of the Green conference in Davenport, Iowa. My dad also likes fish. Not to catch or to eat, but to stock the pond at his tree farm/nursery. The fish eat the algae and pretty much keep the ecological system going strong, although I think my dad likes to talk to them them while he’s mowing. Just as long as they don’t talk back …

Learning

The thing about hanging out with other people is that you can learn from them. And learning is good — something about keeping your brain cells strong, I think. Take, for instance, this arrangement of seashells and dried grasses. A friend of mine who loves to collect shells at the beach put some of her best ones in this clear large-mouthed glass vase and used the shells to anchor a couple of bunches of grass she bought at a craft store. Result? Simple, easy and inexpensive with a definite wow factor. She just sort of threw this together while I sat and watched, amazed. The main requirement is a clear vase or container that’s wide enough for your shells. And if you don’t have any shells, you can buy them in bulk at most craft stores — although I bet you’ve got a forgotten box of them tucked away in the garage from your most recent vacation when you found these lovely shells on the beach and dragged them home because you knew you could do something with them. Well, you were right! See, you can learn tons of things from your favorite people. Such as my 23-month-old grandson, Capt. Adorable. Every day I spend with him is a learning experience — from repurposing toy boxes into comfy reading chairs to innovative uses for mashed potatoes (clay, glue, finger paint, hair gel). Read more lessons the Captain has taught me in my weekly newspaper column at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100305/ARTICLES/3055005.

Art

Okay, here’s a puzzle to get your brain going this rainy Monday morning. A friend of mine and her husband recently went to a paint-it-yourself studio and had a wonderful time. My friend claims that neither she nor her husband are artistic but they had so much fun learning how to create these paintings. Here’s the puzzle: Can you guess which one my friend did and which one her husband did? She says that everybody who knows them can instantly identify the correct paintings, but I’m not so sure it’s immediately apparent who did which. Here are some clues: My friend is a pharmacist and businesswoman whose style can best be described as casual and relaxed. Does that help? Also, one of these paintings is titled “Plain Simple” and the other “Extreme Normal.” No prizes — just the satisfaction of knowing you’re intuitive and smart. Good job!

Soaps

Okay, I’ve given up spa pedicures, learned to shop clearance racks first and cut my coffee-shop habit in half. Are you satisfied now, you stupid Financial Crisis??? On the other hand, there’s no need to be pound-wise and penny-foolish and drop all luxuries. After all, a girl needs a little indulgent pampering in her life. And for my hard-earned money, it’s amazing how a $3 bar of soap can make you forget that you really should clean the toilets and change the litter box today. I love scented soaps, especially handmade herbal ones. I promise you that a bar of richly fragrant homemade soap is one treat you do not need to forgo. Like the lovely Bee and Flower Chinese soaps you can find in import and Oriental shops for $2-$3. Rose and sandalwood are my favorite scents, and I think I’m as intrigued with the Chinese packaging as I am with the soap itself. You can find handmade soaps everywhere — that’s part of the hunt. I picked up this bar of organic coffee soap at Keens Beans coffee shop and roasters in Pensacola, Fla., http://www.keensbeans.com. The label says the soap will moisturize, protect, provide antioxidants, exfoliate, help with fine wrinkles and neutralize strong kitchen odors on your hands — I just like that it smells like espresso. Scented soaps make great gifts, too. Older Daughter — Capt. Adorable’s mommy — brought me wonderful Soaps by Jan soap and lotion as a thank-you for babysitting when she and my son-in-law spent a recent weekend in Chattanooga, Tennessee, http://site.soapsbyjan.com. One of the best things about Soaps by Jan is the creative scent mixtures: Check out 1969 Patchouli Lime, Peppermint Sage and Crone’s Garden with 12 homegrown herbs. These are a bit more expensive — $4.75 a bar — but definitely worth it.

Jewelry Part 1

I don’t mean to brag here or anything, but I pretty much have the most creative and talented daughters ever. Ever.

Pair No.4 -- classic brown and black for fall

Pair No.4 -- classic brown and black for fall

Older Daughter is a wonderful dancer and can construct the most incredible costume  you ever saw out of the most mundane fabric and a random pile of assorted beads. Younger Daughter is equally skilled at making earrings. She is one of those people who has an eye for color and texture and she puts together the most gorgeous creations. Every time I wear her designs, people ask me where I’ve been shopping. She just made some new ones and I told her I’d be honored to put them up in the blogosphere for worldwide admiration. So here you go. Each pair is $15 including postage — I’ll just wrap them up and mail them to you in a first-class envelope if that’s OK. E-mail me at cathylwood@gmail.com and I’ll send you payment info. All earrings are sterling-silver findings and most of the beads are glass. She can do special orders, too. And because I can’t figure out how to do all these pics in one post, be sure to check out Jewelry Part 2. Click on any pic to enlarge it.

Pair No. 1 -- classic black and white

Pair No. 1 -- classic black and white

Pair No. 2 -- Beautiful blues and greens

Pair No. 2 -- Beautiful blues and greens

Pair No. 3 -- a fun mix of color, shape and size

Pair No. 3 -- a fun mix of color, shape and size

Spring Gardens

Spring gardensThere is nothing like a gorgeous spring day in Spring landscapingAlabama, especially if you can enjoy it in a backyard such as this one. My friend Evelyn and her husband love digging in the dirt — and it shows. They created this backyard paradise from scratch, and it’s the perfect spot for some peaceful reading and bird-watching — two of Evelyn’s favorite pastimes. (She is one of the few people I know who gets excited about seeing things such as a broad-billed hummingbird, which is why I love her so much.) There’s also a lovely screened-in porch perfect for relaxing. In fact, I think I need to go over to Evelyn’s house right now for a dose of stress-free garden serenity. Y’all come, too!