Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Day "God Jul"

Our Yule log ablaze 2016
I am hoping everyone's Christmas holiday was comfortable and filled with the joys of the season. As I have mentioned previously, I tend to have a different holiday celebration every year depending upon the pressures that daily life imposes. This was the first year my daughters were elsewhere for Christmas eve, celebrating with the families of their partners, so I had a quiet evening of knitting and movies. My son & I shared a homemade gourmet pizza and some wine on this rainy/foggy night.

Our family celebration started as a Christmas day "hobbit" brunch. My son prepares a maple sausage based dish containing potatoes, onions, spinach, mushrooms and peppers all cooked together after the sausage is browned. Yummy topped with an egg or solo on the plate. I made some cranberry-oatmeal muffins and we sipped mimosas. Later, when everyone arrived we added another course we call a  "groaning" cheese board of brie, havarti with dill, a leek & morel jack and a smoky gouda. Finally, there was the yule log cake, a bûche de noël, made in our neighborhood grocer's bakery. I hadn't been able to find a yule cake previously, so I wasn't aware that it is essentially a jelly roll with log imitating frosting. Our charming cake was topped with frosting pine cones and had red velvet cake with a spiral of vanilla frosting inside. I had always thought these cakes were a German tradition, but upon researching Wikipedia found they are also popular in France and Great Britain.

This got me thinking about the Yule Log tradition overall, and here in the U.S. I distinctly remember the televised burning yule log that played all day at my grandmother's Connecticut home Christmas day. See here, an article about the start of that tradition on the East Coast http://www.ibtimes.com/yule-log-live-stream-2016-tv-info-netflix-online-options-holiday-tradition-2464912  It was a visual, as well as audio representation of a blazing hearth, sometimes accompanied by holiday music, for those of us without a actual fireplace. I found it very comforting, and still have a YouTube video bookmarked on my lap top when I need to enjoy a crackling fireplace.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Holiday Improv

I have to admit I am not a traditionalist for the Christmas season. Having spent a decade and a half working for a national/international shipping company, the onslaught of packages and then the associated shopping and decorating does not fill me with a sense of joy. There are a lot of folks working very hard at this time of year and the added burden of traditions & family expectations create a season based more on endurance and stamina, than joy or magic. From all those years of working over 12 hrs. a day insuring gifts arrived on time for everyone else, I had to implement many short-cuts to my own holiday preparations simply to survive the season. Luckily, my kids were flexible and now that they are grown, we share many fond memories of some of those quirky holidays.

Here are a few hints that may help the harried pull off a satisfying holiday season. First, seriously consider what is important to you. I discovered I was doing Christmas chores that I thought I should be doing, but that my family really didn't feel were that important.

Consider the Christmas tree... I love the smell of a fresh fir tree, but I was the only person decorating, lighting and undecorating this tree. An intensive series of jobs, given that for many years I had collected European ornaments; combine the ornament  unwrapping and then the ritualized hanging of these lovely things, then re-wrapping and storing, and that adds up to a significant amount of time. While the kids liked a fully decorated tree, no one complained when we did a few years of the Paper Tree, see here: http://dustoffurthinkin.blogspot.com/2015/12/lull-between-holidays.html and here http://dustoffurthinkin.blogspot.com/2014/12/oh-christmas-tree.html. So this year, I have simplified again, deciding the lovely twinkle lights are what I really enjoy about a holiday tree. We now have a shiny 7' aluminum pole with 150 lights, with a tip top star secured in a tree stand and wrapped in my mother's old tree skirt. I don't have to water it, I can recycle it if I don't want to use it again, storage is easy and I really think this is a more environmentally conscious choice than even a fake tree made of plastic from China.

I place a few of our favorite decorations around the living room and consider my holiday decorating done. With everyone having different obligations at Christmas, easy decorating relieves a little of the stress that can be felt during the season. Finally, I never cook a Christmas eve meal, we go out for Asian food or cook a frozen lasagna. We have a Christmas morning-to-afternoon brunch with hash & eggs, which has blossomed into a very generous meal of whatever brunch-y goodies friends & family bring to share.  Happy relaxed holidays to all!



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Catchin' Up

Wow, it has been a while since I last posted, and so many things in the world have changed. I occupy such a tiny space in the global scheme, so I am trying to not worry excessively by revisiting the concept of "circle of influence and circle of control." Basically, I can influence my community and work within that realm to better the world, but truly the only circle I can control is myself and the events within my home. Simple. I did what I could to influence society outside my community by voting, but my candidate did not become the President-elect. Admittedly, I am concerned about the future, but there is little or nothing my influence will effect, so I am actively pursuing improvements to my tiny world.

I am substitute teaching per diem in my local school district. While I had hoped for a full-time job with benefits post college, none were offered. I was very discouraged for a time, but the upside of this position is that I can determine my own schedule, work at different schools and teach different grades. In retrospect, I am not certain an office job would have been a good fit for me anyway, since I enjoy variety, but oh, the health insurance would have been greatly appreciated.

A few days before Thanksgiving, I was looking out my kitchen window and saw a cluster of blooms on one of my lilac bushes! Remember, this is NOVEMBER, and we haven't even had a hard frost yet. Not that I doubt climate change, but the plants and environment are certainly demonstrating oddities that cannot be explained any other way. It was 80 for a few days a couple weeks ago, then rainy and 40's within 48 hours of the heat. This week's high was 65F/18C, but the temps have dropped to 45F/7C and there may be snow on Saturday. I continue to be concerned about the environment and have done many things garden-wise, and conservation-wise to lessen my family's impact: rain barrels, LED lightbulbs, insulation, recycling, composting & mulching, trying to purchase food and merchandise responsibly, and minimizing waste. Tiny steps yes, but within my circle of control.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lacilee Possible Bags

The knitting retreat craft sale went well! We sold a bunch of bags and got some terrific exposure. I am the creative manufacturer and Val handles the social media/marketing. Sewing has been a wonderful stress buster and I am truly enjoying the progress my micro business has made. The Etsy site is up, see here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LacileePossibleBags?ref=hdr_shop_menu and the twitter feed has some pix of the last fabric purchase, see https://twitter.com/LacileeBags

The drawstring project bags are fun and versatile, perfect for a small to medium-size knitting project. I also have a zippered clutch for notions or whatever, and finally, a tote called the Lee Bag. In 1969 my mom, sewed this linen tote (rt.) and did all the beautiful crewel embroidery; I have inherited this gorgeous bag and made a simple pattern from it.

My totes are in cotton duck with muslin lining, there is also a 8"x6" pocket inside. The perfect knitting while walking bag! I try to find interesting or retro fabric and the finished bags have been popular. See my version below.
 




My job hunt may end up concluding with the couple of part-time substitute teaching jobs I have accepted. I would have never guessed that sewing would be a skill that would be my relaxation solution during this job search, and bonus, I am getting sales/marketing experience as well.While it seems employers want specialists with oodles of experience, my jack-of-all-trades versatility has served me well, even though it is apparently underappreciated in this job market. So, I am going to use my talents to stay interested and curious in my little slice of life. My ego is a little bruised, but as I see it, I have all the opportunity I want to create and learn. I'm sure this episode will be a blessing in disguise when my future is revealed. Life usually works out that way...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interim

It is obvious from the last few posts that I am filling some of my time with creative writing. Actually, I signed up for an adult ed class at the local community college. I was missing homework! All those years of school have really left a mark. Anyway, the class is fun, as well as challenging... like, I do not usually write poetry.  My little rhyming Goldenrod poem was well received at class and I was also tickled that I could format the type into a butterfly shape. That little picture interpretation simply makes me smile.

I am still sewing possible bags ( http://dustoffurthinkin.blogspot.com/2016/06/possible-bags.html ) and I have about 100 completed for a knitting retreat craft table in St. Louis this weekend. My daughter is coming along to help set up. We have enjoyed planning out some of the details for this new undertaking. Since I am still only intermittently interviewing for jobs, I decided to create a micro-craft business for myself. It at least gives me working goals and structured activity during the week. If this jobless situation is a clue to retirement, I will need to have an interesting activity plan in place to cope.

I am not a person to sit down and wait, or play hours of computer games, and I got rid of my TV in 2008, so I keep busy doing useful stuff. Volunteering, reading and knitting are all on my schedule, along with walking the dogs. The garden is winding down now, so currently, I am painting one wall of my kitchen... when I get bored with sewing. A couple years ago, I had Handyman Todd install an orange pendant lamp near the stove. It was going to be my "little sun" in the winter months. I decided I loved the color idea, so now I am painting the "hob" area around the stove orange. I've only got the primer up and  a second coat is probably needed, but I like it lots, especially with the orange light reflecting on my copper strainer. It will look terrific once I get the Tangerine Dream color (see paint chip at right) painted on. I am painting the cabinet unit under the kettle as well, so the whole corner, including ceiling section will have the same glow. Moving forward one corner at a time!

Slant Rhyme



Goldenrod

 Six feet of weed, whose yellow blooms sway
Amongst buzzing bees on a sunny day.
At night, moths flutter and dip
Around flowers, where bees have sipped.
Late summer perfume of nectar sweet
   Draws a melee of insects; bearing thousands of pollen-tipped feet.
Bugs frantic amidst flowers of gold,
To harvest sustenance before it is cold.
Autumn brings chill to the air
Hinting of death, so nature prepares
Cache of golden bounty, blessing the aware.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11


Today is a day of remembrance, imbued with both sadness and loss. The beginning of fear, that we are not safe in the world, and that enemies can attack unenlisted citizens in the heart of our homeland.

My thoughts are with the survivors, as well as the families & friends of those who died.

My sewing basket




Aging forty years in my possession, my old sewing basket is a companionable resource. Its faded, nearly colorless stripes decorate an octagonal shape that has almost reverted to the natural browns and tans of the fine strands of grass from which it was woven. Its nubbly exterior draws my fingertips to rub along the channels of weaving, massaging my fingerprints into the grass. Small, and firm enough to be an offering bowl, it is comfortably held in one hand with thumb resting beneath the sturdy stalk of a knob; a feature which seems to gather together the entire geometry of the basket into a central point, allowing the snug lid to be removed.

Inside, the scent of bayberries and wood smoke mingle with the amber spiciness of the woven grasses. Shielded from sunlight, the basket interior shows the brilliant scarlet and green stripe circles erased from the outside. An edge of the lid is sewn with black thread, reattaching several rows of weaving separated by wear, but allows a few frayed bits of grass, loosened by breakage, to be folded underneath the rim of the basket lid.

This woven container holds the tools of repair for other weavings:  thread, needles, a tarnished thimble, scissors, and two darning eggs scratched by thousands of needle pricks. A few buttons, marking chalk, a bead bracelet, and a plastic blue owl Cracker Jack charm all nestle beneath larger items. A pale green huswife, an “Austen-esk” portable sewing kit, embroidered with silk ribbon flowers lays atop this assortment, accessible for rips and tears away from home.

The basket jingles with the sound of tools that affect the intimacy of repair; stitching whole those tiny damages from life. My sewing basket also holds memories, ephemeral bits, secrets and associations. It was the small basket purchased on an embarrassed retreat after grinding my knees into an icy sidewalk one winter in Boston. An unnecessary item, just an excuse to escape my public clumsiness, initially filled with useless junk before transforming into a cherished memento and a regularly used tool. Bits of my history mingle with needles and thread, lingering inside an ageless interior, brightly colored and protected.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Harvest yum

Well, the oldest spaghetti squash has been harvested and eaten. It was a tasty vegetarian meal until I topped it with Parmesan cheese. I never combine this squash with pasta sauce simply because it does not replace the deliciousness of pasta. On its own, spaghetti squash has a unique flavor and texture and pretending it is pasta-like does this vegetable a disservice, often causing dislike of this squash among the deceived. So be honest and own the fact spaghetti squash is good just as it is!

I had been put off by being served this lied about squash myself, but decided to give it another try when I found out it could be cooked in the microwave. Hard-skinned squashes are always a pain to hack open and then bake in the oven, so I was game to try the microwave option. Basic instructions: wash the squash, poke the squash all over with a knife, then microwave 8-12 minutes. My squash was smaller than the ones usually found in the grocery store, so I only cooked it for 7 minutes. Then let it cool for 10-15 minutes, so you can handle it while cutting it in half lengthwise. It gets very HOT!

While I am microwaving and then cooling the squash, I am cooking the rest of the vegetables I will add the spaghetti squash into... Like sauteed onions, zucchini, eggplant, carrot and peppers. It is really personal choice from here, although keeping textures similar might be a palatability consideration. I don't happen to enjoy hard lumps, nor mush so do what you want. A point of pride though is that 50% of the veg came from our garden, squash, peppers and eggplant. I leave the salt & peppering to individual taste at the table and just shred up some Parmesan for topping. Again, any topping or no topping works too. This is a free-form recipe as well, eyeball amounts or use what you have, creativity is a plus.

Here's a Trixie update: I have trained her to a carpet square while we eat and to an old knitted shawl at the foot my bed. Of course in her mind any knitted, crocheted or woolen item on the bed is fair game. Too cute! While I am not thrilled that her foot is on my pillow, it is a legitimate mistake on her part and I am letting it slide. Oh, and her sleepy, little face is making my heart explode from the cuteness! Awww...


Monday, September 5, 2016

Autumn approaches

Oh, bliss... we had a couple of days that were cooler with nighttime temperatures around 62F/17C. I used the attic fan to draw that fresh, chilled air into the house. While AC is a valued necessity in the Midwest, the scent of "real" air is something to be appreciated. Autumn is slowly creeping in, the yard has a settled, and established look, although my garden design skills verge on simply random growth containment. For whatever reason every plant I add to the garden grows well beyond the size parameters given on the tag, even my weeds. I have a few weeds in the lilac border that are 10' tall! I left them thinking they were bee friendly Goldenrod, but they aren't and now I am fascinated with their incredible diameters. Anyway, with the cool weather and the changing angle of the sun, a few maple leaves have fallen and some of the vegetable foliage is dying back.

The squash and gourds are fully ripened. Here are a pair of spaghetti squash ready to be picked, and I have a couple of fist-sized ones I hope will mature before the first frost. We made an arbor for them as well, so the vines wouldn't grow onto the lawn. We planted two seedlings, one at each end of the arbor, so the plants grew over the top, met in the middle and grew down the other side. I didn't have to lift a single vine off the lawn
to mow!

The bees are going nuts gathering nectar and these few cool nights have seemingly made them frantic workers. My Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is mostly done blooming, both the Veronica (Speedwell) and Blue Agastache are fading, but the Blue Mist Spirea (Caryopteris)is bursting with blooms! My plan to have a seasonal cycling of favorite bee flowers is actually working! I am thrilled to see a few more European Honeybees, but this year they are definitely in the minority. I have had tons of local Missouri bees, carpenter bees, Mason bees and even Squash bees among the other buzzing pollinators. The bee hum is audible walking by this plant! Of course, this spirea was only supposed to be 24-36" tall and 24" wide, this is it's second year in the garden and it is easily 5' x 5'. I was told it wasn't going to get big and that it wasn't reliably winter hardy, so I planted it next to a big rock for winter warmth and hoped for the best. Currently, this woody shrub is overgrowing my roses! I am thinking it will be easier to move the roses next Spring.

I am also excited about the several Monarch Butterfly caterpillars I have found on the multiple clumps of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) growing throughout the garden. Right above the caterpillar is a seed pod which dries and opens up to loose "milkweed-like" floating seeds. In a few years my garden will be probably be overrun, but I am pleased that a few Monarchs have found them to be a useful substitute for actual milkweed plants. The brilliant orange flowers are gone, but the pods and the bushy, 2-3' dark green foliage are striking and the seed fluff is attractive point of interest in the garden.

The marigolds, zinnias and St. John's Wort are still blooming so shall get some late season pix for the next post. I am feeling energized about the season change and am looking forward to a productive Fall.