Monday, May 28, 2012

Poppies For Remembrance

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD  (1872-1918)
Canadian Army   

I recall memorizing this poem when, I believe, I was in Junior High school.  I know it seems a strange choice of poems for a young girl to memorize, but I just found it very moving, somehow.  As an adult, it now has even more meaning when we observe Memorial Day every year.

I found the story behind the writing of this poem very moving, as well.  John McCrae was a poet and physician from Ontario, Canada.  In 1915, he was serving as a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade during the terrible battle of the Ypres.  On May 2, 1915, a young friend and former student, Alexis Helmer, of Ottawa, was killed by a shell burst.  Lt. Helmer was buried later that day in the small cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station.  In the absence of a chaplain, McCrae performed the funeral ceremony himself.

The next day, May 3, 1915, McCrae was sitting on the back of an ambulance, when he was moved to write this famous poem.  He noted how the wild poppies grew around the graves of those who had died at Ypres, and he wrote down these fifteen lines in a notebook.  He then gave the notebook to a fellow soldier, Sergent Major Cyril Allison, who later convinced McCrae to send it in for publication.  "In Flanders Fields" was first published by London-based magazine, Punch, on December 8, 1915.

The poem's references to the red poppies resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming such a recognized symbol for soldiers who have died in battle.

Flanders Field American Cemetery, containing the graves of 368 Americans, is located in Waregem, Belgium.  It is the smallest of eight permanent American cemeteries commemorating World War I in Europe.

Thanks for visiting House at Forest Manor.

May God Bless Our Military Men and Women and Our Nation


Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Memorial Day Tribute Table

I'm doing a reprise of my Memorial Day post from last year.  I'll be linking this to Seasonal Sundays, hosted by the Tablescaper.

I am so very grateful to all of our military men and women serving around the world for this country and for all of us who call America home.  I also feel that I owe such a debt of gratitude to the members of our family who have served and sacrificed over the years.  Here's the post I wrote last year for Memorial Day, with the addition of one family member, Paul King.  I published this after Memorial Day last year.

Originally published June 2, 2011: 
I didn't do a Memorial Day table last week because we had a wedding anniversary, and I had already planned to do a table for that.  We did, however, recognize and celebrate Memorial Day on Sunday and Monday.  Our son was home from College on Sunday, so we grilled steaks for dinner and enjoyed his visit.  He is working on campus this summer and next school year, so he left to go back to school Sunday night.

It was so wonderful to see all the American flags displayed everywhere this past week.  With everything our nation has been through in the past ten years, seeing that flag flying proudly means more to me, personally, than it ever has.  We are truly a blessed nation.  I set a patriotic table this week because I enjoy doing tablescapes as a creative outlet for myself, and I enjoy sharing with other bloggers online who have similar interests.  But I also wanted to do a tribute to the members of our family who have served this nation in the armed forces.  This table and this post are in honor of, and in memory of, those who are still with us, and those who have passed on.

In Memory of Staff Sergeant James (Jim) Henry McGee

Jim was my maternal great-uncle whom I never knew, as he died 16 years before I was born.  My mother was only three years old when he was killed.  During those war years, his story was not so different from the stories of many, many other families.  But to our family, it is understandably, unique and very personal.  Jim was the oldest of three sons, all of whom signed up for military service in World War II.  My maternal grandfather was the youngest of the sons.  He stayed stateside at Fort Warren, Wyoming, and was eventually discharged due to a medical condition.  The middle brother, Richard, served in France, but of the three, Jim was the one who never made it home.  He was killed in action near Anzio, Italy.  The letter his commanding officer sent to his family stated he was killed when the vehicle in which he was riding ran over an enemy mine.  He was buried in an American military cemetery in Italy.

Jim was one of the three first Americans to enter the Kasserine Pass in North Africa, and was awarded the Silver Star and the Shoulder Cord for conspicuous bravery in action there.  But at age 25, all of his dreams and plans for the future were abruptly ended.  I often think of all the things he never got to do in life; what good experiences might he have missed out on?  I was always told growing up that he was engaged to be married to a young woman in our community, but he never got the opportunity to marry and have a family.  But because of him, and many others just like him, we have had that opportunity; and we have been able to enjoy so many of the things life offers in a country that remains free because of the sacrifice of so many.  I'm sure that having a son of my own makes me appreciate his ultimate sacrifice even more.  Jim's name is on the Roll of Honor on the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington, and every time we visit the battleship, I make a point to pay my respects to him at this special memorial.

      In Memory of Richard Lee McGee

My great uncle Richard served honorably in the U.S. Army during World War II, seeing action in northern France, Belgium, and northern Luxembourg, and with the third army under General George Patton in the Rhineland.  For his services he received the combat infantryman's badge, the Purple Heart, and two Bronze Stars.  After the war was over, he was restless, and could never seem to settle back in to the community where he grew up.  He moved around, but returned home periodically for visits.  He died in a VA hospital in Florida, and was buried at Biloxi National Cemetery in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Our Uncle Steve in Vietnam 

My husband's uncle Steve served in the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War.  He served on a river patrol boat in South Vietnam, where he saw active combat.  After the war, he came back home to finish his college degree, then went on to teach school and get married.  He has led a very full life.  He is such a good-hearted person, with a sense of humor always at the ready.  He took a class in Switzerland learning to repair clocks and watches, which he has done for many years now.  He also hikes, cycles, is an avid reader, and is very active in his church.  He has visited places all over the world, and is always interested in learning something new.  I believe he learned in Vietnam just how precious (and uncertain) life really is.  He has an eternally youthful spirit and we really enjoy spending time with him.

Steve set up a website online dedicated to the men who served in his river division in Vietnam, and to help them contact one another and re-connect.  They all met some years ago for a re-union.  I was really touched by his words on the Home Page of this website..."I can't really say how much the Vietnam experience changed my life, but as I get older I realize how precious are the people with whom I had the privilege to serve.  God bless every individual who heard the call to duty and served in Vietnam and especially to the ones who did not return." 

Paul King

Paul is a relative of my father, and he currently lives in Arkansas in the town where my paternal grandfather was born and grew up.  Paul joined the U.S. Marine Corps. after he graduated from high school in 1944.  He first saw action in Iwo Jima in February 1945; he later fought in the battle of Okinawa.  Paul was on a ship alongside the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay in September 1945 and witnessed the official Japanese surrender.    

        Our Great-Uncle James

James is my paternal great-uncle, and he served in three of our nation's wars -- WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  He is 84 years old, and today is still physically active and works in a fishing and tackle shop in the Florida coastal town where he lives.  He, too, has seen much of the world, and he is a kind and lovable person.  He is one of our very favorites of my Dad's family members.  Above is a picture taken in 2003 of James (on the left) with my Dad some years ago.

Other members of our family who were in the military but did not serve in a major conflict or war are my Uncle Johnny and my husband's father, Bill.  To all these people, we owe a great debt of thanks for serving in our nation's armed forces.  And lest we forget, there are many thousands of unknown soldiers buried in military cemeteries around the world.  They belonged to families once too and left an empty chair at someone's table.  I believe they belong to all of us now, because they made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Thank you for your visit, and I hope you have a good Memorial Day weekend.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Kitchen Update for Met Monday

Hi everyone -- hope you all enjoyed this beautiful weekend weather!  I'm joining Susan this week at Between Naps on the Porch for Metamorphosis Monday.

More progress was made on our kitchen re-model this week, so I thought I'd share some pictures with you.  Our contractors were able to put in four good days of work this week with some nice results by the end of the weekend.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, all the backsplash tile was put up.  Our 40-year old outlets were replaced with fresh, white outlets.  We gained an extra outlet in the process, which will certainly come in handy.  In addition, two new switches were added for new under cabinet lighting on either side of the work area.  All switches and outlets received new, white covers.  It all looks so fresh and clean.  :)  Also, our new under cabinet lights were installed.

Our new stove was delivered on Tuesday, and was put into place today.  It will have to be pulled out again next weekend in order for Tim to do a few more things, but in the meantime, I can try out my new stove, and we can have some home-cooked meals this week.  Tim did lots of painting yesterday and today.  All the cabinet faces and sides have at least one coat of paint, the soffit was painted, and the molding and trim work on that side of the kitchen have been painted.  Good news -- we love the new cabinet color.  I definitely think Sherwin Williams Dover White is a winner!

Here are the latest pictures.  Things are still in a bit of a mess, and the lighting wasn't the best, but you can get an idea of what things will look like.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mosaic Monday

I'm joining the other bloggers for Mosaic Monday, hosted by Mary at Little Red House.  My mosaic this week is a combination of pictures from Tulip Grove Plantation in Nashville, Tennessee.  My husband and I were there in April of last year to attend the wedding of his first cousin.  The wedding reception was held in this beautiful, old, antebellum home; the wedding ceremony was held in the nearby Hermitage Chapel.

Tulip Grove was built for Andrew Jackson Donelson, the nephew of President Andrew Jackson.  You can see more pictures of Tulip Grove HERE.  You can also read more about Tulip Grove and Andrew Jackson's Home, The Hermitage, at this website.

Thanks for visiting my blog; I always appreciate your comments, and I read every one of them.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May Note Card Party

I'm looking forward to joining Vee at A Haven for Vee for her monthly Note Card Party.  This month, I've chosen to use some pictures of churches for my note cards, since I have a lot of them in my previous blog posts.

I love to look at and photograph churches.  I find it so interesting that in the United States, as well as other countries around the world, the churches in each geographical region have their own special architecture.

For my note cards, I chose to use churches from my home state of North Carolina.  The first church is Home Moravian Church in Old Salem, North Carolina.  You can read about Old Salem HERE.  I like this picture because it was taken at the time of evening known as the "blue hour."

The next two churches are located in Highlands, North Carolina, and you'll find them HERE.  The first church is The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation.

Below is the Presbyterian church in Highlands.  I love the dark green trim around the windows and the scrolled hinges on the front doors.

The last church is St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church, located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.  You can see it HERE in the post I wrote about Jan Karon's Mitford series.

Which note card is your favorite?  Do you prefer wooden, brick, or stone churches?  If you're like me, I think they're all beautiful.

I hope you'll take time to stop by A Haven For Vee to see the other pretty note cards for this month.  Thanks for stopping by; I always enjoy your visits and comments!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating Mothers

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, Ann.  Thank you for being a wonderful mom always!

My mom's senior high school picture.

Mom at her birthday dinner with the family in 2011.

Happy Mother's Day to my mother-in-law, and thank you for raising such a wonderful son and teaching him to be a great husband and father.  Thanks for everything you do for all of us!

My mother-in-law and father-in-law

My mother-in-law, Diane, standing.  Seated to her right, is another special mother in our family --  my husband's paternal grandmother, Kathryn, who celebrated her 95th birthday this February.  His maternal grandmother died when he was still in college.

On Mother's Day, I always think of my grandmothers.  Both have passed away now, but they were such an important part of my life.  I was so fortunate to have both grandmothers for a good part of my life.

Below is my maternal grandmother (and grandfather) when I was about ten years old.

And this is my paternal grandmother, with my sister and I at Easter.  Aren't our hair bands just the height of fashion?  :)

Happy Mother's Day to my sister, whose sweet daughter just graduated with honors from college last weekend.

This is my sister and I at the beach when our children were very young.  That's me on the left with the dark hair, and my sis is on the right.

I've been so blessed to be a mother.  This was our first "child."

We practiced with Bonnie and then were so fortunate to have our son.

Happy Mother's Day to all my sister bloggers; I hope you had a wonderful day!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Been One of Those Weeks

Hi everyone!  I'm having one of those kind of weeks.  Can anyone out there relate?

First of all, I won't be doing a Mother's Day tablescape since our dining room and kitchen table are piled high with -- clutter.  The dining room table is in some semblance of order.  At least things are neatly stacked on it, and the boxes lining the walls in the room are neatly stacked.  However, the kitchen table is filled with a hodgepodge of this and that; and our little buddy, R2D2, otherwise known as the shop vac, is still in the kitchen floor.  Other than that, why, everything looks just great.  Can you tell I'm slightly frustrated?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bringing New Life To Old Photos

I have a different kind of metamorphosis to share today.  It's not a room renovation or a landscaping improvement.  It's a photo metamorphosis -- and a tutorial.  I want to share some things I've learned about editing pictures using Picasa.  These editing techniques can be used on your new photos taken with a digital camera, or on older photos taken on film.  For those of you who read my blog, you know I'm not a professional photographer.  But I enjoy making my photos look as good as possible for my blog posts.

Blog Land is full of really talented photographers.  I'm constantly amazed and impressed with the quality of pictures I see in your blogs.  But for those few people out there (like me) who often need to improve the look of their pictures, you might find something helpful in this post.

Mr. Forest Manor and I took a class in Adobe Photoshop Elements, and there are a lot of things one can do with Photoshop.  The watermarking feature is really efficient and easy to use, and the other editing features are very professional and varied.  For instance, you can remove people from pictures (ex-spouses for example) and you can move people around in a picture.  You can smooth out lines on people's faces and whiten teeth.  These are not things I need to do often (if ever), but you can see how professional photographers might use these tools a lot.

When we signed up for this class, I had been using Picasa for about a year; it was familiar and I was comfortable with it.  I predominantly used Picasa for storage and transferring pictures to my blog posts.  I rarely used the editing features.  The Photoshop class we took actually helped me to make better use of the Picasa editing features.

If you already know how to do all these things, you won't need to read this and be bored by my explanations.  And if any of you know a better way to do these edits in Picasa, I welcome suggestions. :)

In this post, I'm focusing on the editing I did on some photos of our trip to Ireland in 1999.  You can see more pictures from Ireland HERE and HERE.  These pictures were taken on film, and they're 13 years old.  The first thing I did was to scan the pictures to our computer using Picasa.  Then I watermarked them in Photoshop.  Picasa and Photoshop Elements will work together on the computer, which is helpful if you have both applications.

As you can see below, some of my pictures have faded over the years, and some of them look dull because of that all-important factor in photography -- light.  We had very little sunshine during the time I was in Ireland, which made a lot of the pictures look dull and dark.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Everything just seems to have a gray, dull cast to it, doesn't it?  Even the grass, which is famously green in Ireland, looks blah.  And the sky -- well, it just disappears into the background.  Now here's the same photo after I enriched the overall colors and added some blue-gray to the washed-out sky. 

A professional photographer could still find ways to improve this picture, but to my eyes, it looks so much better.  I like to say it's been brought back to life.  The colors are richer; and even though you can still tell the picture was taken on a cloudy day, we do have a distinguishable skyline now.  In addition, the grass is a true green, and if you look closely, all the other colors stand out more.  The gray of the church steeple is more pronounced, the red building in the background on the left looks more "alive, and even the black pops more than in the unedited picture.

This is the process I used to make these pictures look better.  Here's how your Picasa basic tool menu appears...

Before I took the Photoshop class, the only tools I ever used were the Crop, Straighten, and Auto Contrast features.  It's great to know what else is available on Picasa editing.  I brightened the above photo by using the Boost feature in the tool menu.  To get to the Boost feature from the basic menu, click on the paintbrush with the blue square on the top, far right.  When you click there, this menu opens --

This menu offers twelve tools for editing your pictures.  Of these twelve applications, I've used Boost, Soften, Vignette, and Museum Matte.  All are good tools, depending on the effects you want in your pictures.  If you hover your mouse over the Boost icon (top row, far left), you'll get a message that says "Bring out colors and increase contrast," and that's exactly what it does.  When you click on the Boost button, this screen appears...

...and the colors in your picture will almost pop off the screen (the photo you're editing will be beside this screen on the right).  At this point, you can adjust the color brightness, or boost, by using the slider button under the word "Strength".  Once you get the colors and contrast like you want them, just click on apply.  At this point I usually go to the main toolbar and save. This just saves your edit.  What I like about this is that you can go back anytime and Undo Save, after which you can Undo Boost or whatever edit process you've performed.  I've used the "Undo" key many times while I'm trying to get exactly the look I want in my pictures.

The next improvement I made was to add some sky color.  You can add color to your washed-out sky by using the Graduated Tint feature.  Once again, you start at the basic tools menu, but this time you'll choose the plain paintbrush, third button from the left, top of the screen.

You'll see the Graduated Tint button in the bottom right corner.  Click on that and the following screen appears --

Now click in the multi-colored box beneath "Pick Color".  Then this screen appears, with what looks like a honeycomb of color samples --

There will be a little eye-dropper icon in these color samples and you move the eye-dropper over the color you want and click.  For this picture I chose the gray at the end (far right) of the top row of hexagonal color blocks.  I placed the eye-dropper over the gray block, clicked and this screen appeared --

You can see the small circle to the left of the multi-colored box is now gray to designate the color you've selected.  Then click and drag the cross-hair, as depicted in the center of this photo, up into the sky area of your photo.

Let go of the mouse button, and you've got color in your sky.  I had to practice moving the cross-hair and clicking in different parts of the sky until I learned to achieve a natural look.  I also wanted to show this menu screen one more time... order to point out the two slider buttons, "Feather" and "Shade."  The Feather button is nice to use once you've selected your sky color and have used the click-and-drag process with the cross-hair to apply that color where you want it in the sky.  You can slide the Feather button to the right to distribute your sky color and give it a subtle, "feathered" effect.  The "Shade" slider button can lighten or darken the color you've chosen for your sky.

This was really a challenging post to do, so I hope it's not too confusing to follow.  I tried to make the steps and examples as clear as possible.  These editing features really are easy to use because you can practice and play around with a photo, and if you don't like the way the edit looks, you can just press the "Undo" button, and you're back to your original picture.

Here are some more before and afters where I used the Boost feature to make my photos pop and the Graduated Tint feature to improve those bland, colorless skies.

As you can see, the Boost feature even brings out the subtle colors in the old stone of these churches.  It takes them from flat and dull to looking more alive and interesting.  My favorite pictures that I've worked on so far are the pictures from our trip to England in 1999.  I'll be doing a post about the trip at some later date, but here are a couple of before and afters to finish this post.

This is probably one of the most photographed cottages in England -- Anne Hathaway's Cottage just outside of Stratford on Avon.

If you have Picasa installed on your computer, I urge you to try some of these applications.  You have nothing to lose, and you might discover that even a good picture can be made to look better.  Do you have a favorite editing tool, and do you prefer to use Picasa, Photoshop, or another kind of software?

Thanks for visiting my blog; your visits and comments really do make my day!  I'm joining Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for Metamorphosis Monday.  I hope you have a great week.

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