Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is it or is it not wintertime?

 I am beginning to feel a bit weather obsessed considering earlier this week saw temperatures around 68 degrees and today, there are snow flurries. My seasonal mindset is truly being messed with!

I consider, no actually plan on, January and most of February to be hibernation months; time to snuggle under my duvet and read a good book, knit soft wooly items and warm my hands on hot cups of tea. I do not want to be compelled to catch some sun outside or consider extra errand running because the roads aren't snowy. I am perfectly happy hunkered down and taking some extra vitamin D.

So today, in honor of the return of proper chilly winter weather I made soup. This recipe I originally got from my friend Trish, but I am always tinkering with ingredients and now it is a bit different. Enjoy!

                                    Hamburger Soup
1-lb. ground beef, browned in skillet & drain off grease
 In a 6 QT. soup pot-saute in olive oil until soft, about 3-5 minutes
2 large onions, sliced
3 stalks of celery, chopped or 1 zucchini, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Add to the vegetables:
2-14.5 oz.cans low sodium beef broth
2 cups water
2-28 oz. cans of peeled whole tomatoes, slice & dice, add all juice
Season generously with oregano and black pepper

Once the soup is simmering:
Add in the meat & 1-1/2  cups uncooked elbow macaroni
Cook 30 minutes uncovered, over medium heat for mild bubbling, so the pasta cooks
Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Makes about 8 generous bowls
For a quicker put together SKIP the onions,broth & water. Do saute the celery &garlic, then  
Substitute 3-10.5 oz. cans of Campbell's French Onion soup with 2 cans of water for each soup can
Follow on with the recipe as written

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rock stacking and other distractions

You can be going through life, blithely wasting time or doing the serious stuff and then stumble to a point when you realize you have aged, possibly a lot. Normally I go through my day using a brain that speaks to me in my twenty-something voice. It's only when the physical body disappoints or one goes looking for a small item from the past that no longer commonly exists, realization dawns, times have changed ...

Big changes we expect, stuff like technological interfaces with our lives and popular music, but it's the minutiae we overlooked back when and then consequently don't expect to have vanished today. It surprises us and personalizes the loss, eliminating a bit of our own history. Certainly each generation feels a similar tug of the "good ol' days" for this very reason.

Take round glass marbles for instance, you used to be able to buy them anywhere, today it involves a serious shopping search. Certainly nothing is too hard to find online, but I wanted them NOW! Marbles no longer linger in little net bags in the toy departments of the usual discount stores. Oh, the days of Woolworth's 5 & dime! I finally located some in the silk flower/craft area at the dollar store. Subsequently feeling somewhat regretful of the dozens I threw away, after bruising my instep on stray marbles abandoned on the floor by my children. I guess it can be said we are all "losing our marbles!"

Hotel keys... Yes, I know the key cards are wonderfully convenient but the last time I stayed at a local historic lodge, the desk staff offered for sale, the old metal room key and fob at checkout. I purchased the huge brass key for a couple bucks and I am pleased to own that bit of memorabilia. My children will never know the worrisome responsibility of keeping track of a room key to avoid the expensive replacement charge. Pity, since many amusing family legends grew from the earnest searching for mislaid keys. Today, a few minutes at the concierge desk and a new key card is in your hand stress free.
Does every home still own a dictionary, no not on the computer, but an actual book copy? A hefty tome where you look up words by hand, exercising the side of your brain that retains the ABC song. I think we are losing valuable skills to the ease of Spell Check. More and more often I am seeing dictionaries at garage and estate sales. I have to admit I am very pleased with my one dollar purchase of a 1983 copy of Webster's Unabridged, a full 2,289 pages including 16 outdated color map pages. We have fondly dubbed this reference "the big Dic," for obvious reasons. Viva Scrabble challenges!

Well, today has been a rock stacking day; meaning little accomplished but thoughtful towers were erected albeit temporarily, as a distraction from mundane chores.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Enjoy the read

I guess if I talk about writing I should provide a short sample for public consumption, so here is an excerpt from a recent piece: 

     Morfman shoved the door of the El Agave restaurant open with his free arm. A white plastic bag containing chicken nachos was swinging back and forth, cutting into his hand. Rushing up the street he felt an odd, prickling sense of someone too close, yet glancing over his shoulder he saw little out of the ordinary. Quickly turning down a side street, he felt better moving among the shadows of his poorly lit neighborhood.

    “Kid, he’s gonna see us if I take the turn,” Ancho said as he braked, looking in the rear view mirror at the  young passenger.

     “Do it or you’ll lose him!” the skinny, dark haired girl said peering over the seat to watch the man’s progress.

     Slowly edging the cab around the corner Ancho watched this intense kid focus on the man with the bag of food. “Watcha doin’ followin’ this guy anyway?” he muttered as he inched along the dark street.

     “None of your business...” she snarled, suddenly throwing open the back door of the cab, stumbling as she launched herself from the vehicle into the street. No one took her seriously, not even if it was their job to listen, she thought. Vaguely, in the darkening distance she could still make out the swaying white food bag. She moved quickly, sneakers soundless, disguising her progress from shadow to shadow.

     Morfman could see his building and quickened his pace; edgy that’s what he felt. Maybe it was just hunger, but he could feel his anxiety rising and sweat was clinging to his forehead. He was almost at a jog when he ducked around the closest corner, deciding to double back and wait.

     Ancho couldn’t believe this kid, jumping a fare! Grabbing his keys out of the ignition, he slammed the cab door and followed the kid. Pounding heavily on the pavement he thought he saw her ahead crouched next to a building. Out of breath, pushing himself, car keys held tight in his sweating palm, he lurched ahead another fifty feet. He practically fell upon her and she screamed; punching and kicking at him as he tried to grab her shoulders. His car keys fell to the sidewalk as the toe of her red converse hit his groin.

     Morfman heard screaming, his stomach seized. Not again, he knew that kid had tracked him down. Relentless she was, amazing her determination to claim him, very creepy actually. He left the food and took off at a run; angling away from the commotion on the corner. Spotting an abandoned cab, he yanked the door open, jammed his pocket knife into the ignition and the engine roared to life. Throwing it in reverse, he careened over the curb, onto the main road and hit the gas.

     Ancho rolled on the sidewalk as the kid calmly walked away from the crowd. He watched her stomp that guy’s bag of Mexican food to mush. Disgusted he crawled to his knees, snatched up his keys and saw his cab was gone.

Well, that's the snippet of a short story. Feel free to leave comments or suggestions. Today, it is snowing and in the teens for temperatures, thus I am fueling the creative fires.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I think it is important to find a center and live your life around it. That being said, I have found center points are not that difficult to create, the challenge lies in artfully adjusting the rest of life to conform around your chosen center.

Midlife seems to be a time when all previous life center points scream for readjustment. No longer are children a viable focus, especially since I want them to develop their independence and self-sufficiency. In my situation a career disappeared and in it's place a part time job became the creative adjustment to working around my kids' needs. Now with children grown, I am a different person searching for a new center point and career that will fill the rest of my lifetime with meaningful work.

Remembering who I was before children gives me clues to my interests, but I am not sure looking to the past would be helpful or even relevant now. Midlife seems akin to reentering adolescence, only with a lot more experiential smarts on board. No less frustrating a phase though; I have traveled a bit, volunteered, graduated from community college, increased my environmental consciousness, gardened, crafted and journaled, yet I still cannot figure out a compelling path for my talents...

Walking my dogs and writing seem the most satisfying activities recently, so perhaps these shall be strategic elements in my cosmic toolbox, along with my new year's index card reminder to simplify and create. I have but paper, words, philosophy and my feet to burst forth a new creature! Should be interesting, to say the least.

Philosophical Moment:
Grow roots deep where you are & you shall bloom.
(I've got roots, am working on the flower part!)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Weather on my mind

These last few days have certainly been odd weather-wise, 60's and sunny for January! I live in the Midwest which is famous for its extremely changeable weather but this kind of temperature spike brings global warming into my front yard. The spring bulbs, particularly the hyacinths have started to poke their little green noses through the protective leafy mulch. That would be fine if this could actually be considered a Spring; a day later, today in fact, we have freezing rain. I spent this morning transferring mulch from the compost rings to re-cover these little troopers in hopes of preserving them for actual springtime. I realize my puny efforts are probably in vain, but I hate the thought of another flowerless Spring. A few years back many buds were frosted, resulting in no lilacs and magnolias, nor apples and only a few undamaged daffodils and hyacinths. Mother Nature will have her way though, regardless of any of our human efforts.

Cold and wet as it is outside, I am happy inside working on finishing old projects. This shawl has been in the works for at least a year now and I am probably on my final ball of Boku yarn by Plymouth, color #2. The shawl has false cables with some yarn over lacy accents and was a very satisfying project when I didn't know how to cable knit. The pattern is from Plymouth Yarn Design, the Cabled Shawl #1197. The colors are just the cheery bit of warmth I enjoy, covering my knees as I knit this up.

Tea and hot chocolate drinking have commenced in earnest, as we snug down for a chilly evening.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"More like guidelines really..."

A new year always takes me about a week to get used to...  To get a feel for things to come and a sense of my place in all of it. I stopped doing resolutions years ago because I rarely fulfilled those lofty declarations of intent and then had to resolve, said resolution disappointment. Nowadays, I shoot for annual guidelines as a means to focus my intentions in a certain direction. A few trigger words to carry around on an index card in my wallet this new year are the winning concepts:  simplify and create. Yep, I'm pulling out all the stops and applying both those words to everything I do. My goals are to streamline the messy spots and brighten things up with some colorful ingenuity.

I have been intent on tidying up the yarn stash, mostly by using some of the older yarn in projects. This winter I am quite inspired and seem to be a speedier knitter since my knitting tour of Iceland. It appears that some cosmic knitting juju has been transferred. Anyway, I did some sewing of project bags for yarn and knitting needles, killing two birds with one stone, as this also decreases the fabric stash of fat quarters! I gifted a half dozen bags at Christmas, so this new bag is for me. A newly started hat project will soon be in residence. Week one of simplify and create seems to have been a fledgling success.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Averting the Fiscal Cliff

Well, I guess we didn't plunge over the cliff, but I had been thinking all day about how I could save more pennies just in case. I didn't really come up with any more ideas other than eating our favorite Lentil and Rice dish more often (recipe to follow). We have already implemented some thrifty "reduce, reuse and recycle" ideas:

1.) Tear up an old sheet, tee shirt or some cotton muslin into 6''x6'' squares, then buy the 51 oz. carton of Great Value fabric softener from Wmart  and a spray bottle. Give 4-6 sprays on the fabric square and toss into the clothes dryer, instead of those expensive dryer sheets. It works just as well and the carton of fabric softener lasts at least a year. If the fabric squares get too blue or stiff just run them through the washer with your clothes, then reuse. They last forever or at least until you lose them.

2.)Those net bags around onions & oranges work great as pan scrubbers and don't rust like steel wool pads. I tie them in a knot or scrunch one net bag up inside another for an easier grip.When they wear out, just cut up and toss away guilt free, since they were trash for years until I realized how useful they were.

Lentil and Rice Dish
1c. rice (cooked the usual way)
1/2 c. brown lentils, rinsed. Put in small saucepot with enough water to cover about an inch over them. Simmer 15-20 minutes until soft. Drain off excess water.
*Combine hot rice and lentils. Wonderful additions to this basic recipe are sauteed onions and shrimp or going completely vegetarian using peppers, mushrooms and onions. Creative options abound. We season it on our plates with either Italian salad dressing or soy sauce. Recipe doubles easily for a huge amount.

Finally, I could not resist a thrifty fashion tip for the household pooches. Buy one (Wmart) bandanna for about a dollar and cut it in half for two darling doggie scarves, like those modeled by Emma and Wendy.

Happy New Year!! Hoping that 2013 will be fruitful and fun... The dogs hope for lots of walks.