To Alex -

To Alex...who is far away in person, but never far from my heart. I miss you. Enjoy these snippets of everyday family life here in the states.

Friday, December 31, 2010

No picture...

Because I was too shocked to think about fetching my camera. Earlier this year I had joined the One Small Change community and one of my earliest changes was to compost year-round instead of only when it's warm. I've been very faithful to that change and while some might say I've been a fanatic, I prefer to think I'm just being responsible. Anyway, last night, as I was preparing a stir-fry with some vegetables from my freezer, I tossed some cauliflower into the pan, but then decided I didn't like the look of it. I thought it might have gone bad somehow so I started picking it out and placing it into the composting bucket that always sits on the kitchen counter. It was bothering me that I was going to toss the vegetables so I took a taste of another piece from the pan, decided it was good after all and dumped the cauliflower back into the pan. Yeah, except I had already used the bucket for other scraps and it all got dumped into the pan. Now, before you go, 'ewwww,' I have to tell  you that I wash the bucket every time it's emptied so there aren't any nasty, smelly things in there, but still, my beautiful stir-fry was now full of the scraps from making dinner, a whole bunch of pistachio shells and the rinds from tangerines. It took just a moment to realize what I had done and then I laughed. I laughed because really, how ridiculous was it that I had dumped the whole bucket in the pan without even giving it a thought? And let me tell you, I was ever so grateful that I had emptied the bucket just before making dinner or else there would have been coffee grounds in there as well. Now that would have been an 'ewww' experience. Lesson learned? I guess it would be to keep the compost bucket far away from my dinner. It was delicious, by the way. I just picked out all the scraps and kept going. ~grins~

Happy New Year and may you find wonder in the year and humor in the moments.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back at it.

So, I say that I've learned a lot from all of you, and I have. I've learned things I didn't know I needed to know, and I say that's wonderful. It's crazy easy to get lost in blogland as I click from one post to another, follow the occasional comment, browse what this or that blogger finds interesting, and before I even realize it I'm off on a site with information I didn't even know existed let alone having ever given a thought to. That said, I'm also fascinated by the commonality of the sites I end up on. For instance, I met Shannon a year ago and joined her for the Reduce Clutter, Create Space, and though I love the feeling of not being owned by my stuff, I eventually got sidetracked by other pursuits and stopped purging. Baaad me. A couple months ago I met Pamela via a comment she left on one of my posts. More recently, I was browsing her site and clicked on a couple links for Minimalist bloggers and was floored by how little stuff they can live with. Mind you, I'm not going to pare down my clothes to 33 items (I don't think) or join them in their 100 things challenge, but it did get me back to thinking about the amount of stuff still in my house. I'm feeling renewed to continue purging and relieving myself of more of the accumulated stuff. And I'm feeling more ready to let go of some of the sentimental items, but I'm still worried about regret when I get rid of something that belonged to, say, my great grandparents. Man, that's my family's history! I'm trying something different for a while to see if I can really let this stuff go. This morning, I tackled a drawer in my kitchen that was full of useful items and hand-me-down cooking tools that are in perfectly good condition, but I just don't use them. I emptied the drawer, put a new liner down and slowly put back just the items I really and truly use. Things that didn't make it back into the drawer: Candy Thermometer - you know when the last time was that I used this? Like, never. I have never made candy, but I might. My dad's ice pick, which has a nice wood handle and the pick side slips into a convenient matching wood handle. Cool, but I don't use it. My grandmother's sieve and funnel. A cake tester - really? Skewers, a basting brush, extra tongs, pie server, large serving spoons and meat forks (notice the plural), and many more things that I can't remember just now. I didn't toss them. I put them into a clear tote and put them on a shelf in the basement - right next to the tote labeled 'extra glasses and coffee cups' and right where I can see it every time I go downstairs. I'm doing the one year rule - if I don't use anything in there for a year, then, well, then I have to decide if I really want to get rid of everything. I suspect the items that belonged to my family will still not be tossed, but I'll bet I get rid of a cake tester and the multiple serving spoons and meat forks. Actually, I'll bet those get put into a garage sale next summer because I just know I don't need that many. Anyway, this is what the drawer looks like now and it contains only the items that I use on a regular basis. I know it's odd, but it makes me happy to look at this drawer.

Next up? The cupboard underneath this drawer. It's full of useful items like an oversized baking pan that hasn't fit in my oven since the day I bought this place nearly 8 years ago. I used it extensively before I moved here, but I've learned to function quite well without it. Why is it still in there?

So, friends, what's on your agenda for the coming year?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Just a quick post...

in case you still need something quick to bake. A couple things. First, I happened to stop into Penzey's the other night to browse the herbs and spices. I love Penzey's for their variety and the fact that there are jars of every herb and spice available so you can smell each one. I fell in love with the Vietnamese Cinnamon and had to bring some home to try. It's an amazingly pungent cinnamon, oh my.

Second, I was browsing my holiday recipes last night and I ran across an old favorite for cinnamon nuts. It's a delicious recipe, but the amount of sugar called for always bothered me. I just happened to have a jug of maple syrup sitting on the kitchen counter and since I had just bought a new cinnamon, I thought, "why not?" Why not, indeed. I've already made my second batch.
Cinnamon Almonds

2 cups raw almonds (or pecan or walnuts or whatever you have)
1 T maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon (2 teaspoons if using regular cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss almonds with maple syrup until coated. Mix cinnamon, clove and nutmeg together and sprinkle over almonds. Mix well. Place nuts on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, stirring every 10 to prevent burning.

'Tis the holiday season so you must share keeping them all to yourself.  See you back here next week. May you find peace and joy in your holiday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Handmade Holidays

I'm pretty happy with what I've made this year for the holidays. When I look at the stack of handmade gifts it's pretty impressive, at least, it is to me. Here are the last of the projects I completed. The journal covers were hinted at in the post of my grandson where he is sitting in the window sewing. The littles each embroidered their handprints and I quilted them into the covers. My intent is that the journals will be used by the kids and their dad together, and then sent back and forth in the mail. I'm thinking that Dad will complete a page, send it to the child who then completes a page and sends it back to Daddy, etc., but it doesn't have to be writing. (Thanks Shannon) It can be pictures, collages, painting, found objects, really, anything they want. I made individual journals so Daddy can write personalized information to each child and they can feel more connected to each other.

It would be awesome if the journaling were about the everyday happenings in their lives while apart. See, I have a journal from 1865 that was written by one of my relatives and I love reading about what he was doing on a particular day and then trying to figure out where he went in town. He wrote about the everyday, whether he was working in the sugar shack, or went to a party, or how much he paid for a pair of pants, or the weather. He wrote about making fur mittens and selling them to make a little extra money. Simple, daily life that I find so fascinating and I'm hoping these journals turn into the same thing, that someday, someone will read these and get an idea of what life was like for these people who will be half a world apart for a time. Wouldn't that be awesome?
Hey, I made my first bound booklets for the inside. Have you ever looked at the bindings in books and tried to figure out how the heck they did that? No? Well, I did and I just knew it was some complicated process that would either frustrate me or make me buy fancy, expensive binding equipment. Nope, crazy easy and I found many, many posts online about how to do this. You need a needle, and some thread, and although the online posts tell you to punch holes using an awl, I didn't have one so I used a hammer and nail. Doesn't sound very difficult or expensive does it? I'm just tickled by the results.
Pockets were necessary on the inside to hold the signatures in place. (I learned that's what the bound pages are called) I only put a few pages (5 folded) inside because I didn't want it to seem overwhelming that a whole journal needed to be filled. This way, when one of the signatures gets full, I can take it out and replace it with another of the same size. When the journal is really complete (when Daddy is home for good), I'll bind all the signatures together to make a book for each child.  I think it's a brilliant idea and I can hardly wait to give these to my son.

The last project I finished was these cute little hats that were made up in less than an hour...aand I learned to make a blind hem using my presser foot. The process seemed complicated while reading about it, but when I actually sat down and did it step by step, well, it was sort of like magic because even though I couldn't puzzle out how it was working, it was working. Cool! So many new techniques this year, I wonder what next year will hold for me?
Happy holidays to you and I hope you're ready because it's here, ready or not.

P.S. I'm thrilled that the days will now start getting longer. So thrilled...

Monday, December 13, 2010


Knitters - want a quick and beautiful pattern that does double or even triple duty? Please check out this post by the lovely and talented Jewleigh. She's an amazingly gifted knitter who has just designed her first pattern. Is this not beautiful? I think this would be a beautiful gift for the holidays.
I stole this photo right from her post but I'm pretty sure she won't mind.

Jewleigh began knitting only a couple years ago and immediately surpassed me in talent and knowledge. She knits socks, which I haven't, and sweaters, which I haven't, and now she's designing patterns? Which, of course, I haven't. Amazing. You can also find her on Ravelry.

Please, go take a peak at some of the amazing work she has done.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Making a list...

checking it twice, gonna find out...

And checking items off my list. I actually made several gifts earlier this year like these and these, and though I have a few more to make, I'm getting very close to being complete. It feels good, but I think it feels best that I let go of the frantic Christmas a few years back. Many of my gifts are now handmade and straight from the heart, and I've cut back on the number of gifts I give. That came after much soul searching and realizing that I was only one of many who gave gifts to my family members and there was just too much 'stuff' for the recipients to keep track of and take care of after the holidays.

Another change I made is to make name tags for each of my kids' and grandkids' gifts instead of buying an ornament. This will be my third year of doing this and I've just finished up this year's tags. Tah dah! 
My intent is for each of the handmade tags to be hung on their trees in subsequent years and I'm hoping they have fun looking back at the year each was given.

While the idea for this year's tags came from the purl bee from way back, I saw an opportunity to use up some of the felt, beads and sequins in my stash. Stash busters are the best even though I barely put a dent in the sequin supplies. Why don't they offer just little bits of colors instead of whole bottles? I'm not sure about you, but there is no way I would take the time to sew a whole bottle of sequins on anything at one time. By the way, I sewed jump rings onto the back instead of making my loops out of thread. This way, an ornament hook can be slipped onto the jump ring to hang. Just a thought.

Now, back to that list...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

That sewing project.

Yes, well, I was so engrossed with the telling of my latest adventure with a Little that I completely forgot to post this picture of the sewing project I was working on. It's a gift for my niece. She and her brother are in the middle of the pack as far as gifting goes. They're not young enough to get in on the fun projects I make for the Littles and they're still living at home so they don't qualify for the family gifts I give to my siblings and their spouses. They've never complained, but I suspect they didn't exactly appreciate things like the family market bags or the homemade wash cloths and scrubbies, however my niece is very appreciative of the biscotti I bake for gifting every year. But still, for the last couple years I've been making them something special for Christmas Eve. Last year I made her Cashmere mittens from a thrifted sweater...they felt (haha, pun) delicious. This year, as I was perusing blogland, I ran across the tutorial for this make-up bag and I thought it would be perfect for Miss K.  I sort of love it and now I want one for myself.
Sometimes I can't believe how I'm intimidated by new techniques, but when I actually try them they turn out to be the simplest thing to do. I quilted the fabric for this. First time. Now, all of you quilters out there might scoff and think I'm being a pansy, but I truly didn't know how to quilt and I was afraid to try. What was I thinking? It's not like the sewing police were going to swoop in and haul me off to jail. It's just a simple 1" grid that I chalked off and machine stitched. Oh my, it made such a difference in the look, and the quilted fabric is just sturdy enough to help this bag hold it's shape. I suspect this pattern might have been created by a quilter (now I know it is) because there are a fair number of hand-sewing steps and the inside seams are bound off, which is good because it makes for a very professional looking bag. I like the hand-sewing. It quiets my mind and I feel like a little more love goes into each project. Will she appreciate all that work? Probably not yet, because she doesn't sew, but someday, if she takes up handcrafts, she will surely understand how much love went into her gift. Until then, I know and I'm happy to put a little piece of my heart into her gifts.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just the two of us.

A weekend spent with Sir S (or any of the littles) rates high on my list of favorite things to do. This night it was just the two of us goofing around, walking around downtown, sharing a light dinner, visiting the theatre, talking and enjoying our time together. Oh, and I noticed something very cool about him as he was walking in front of me. This boy has a very suave style of walking, sort of a loose, languid gait. I grinned.
I've made scrapbooks for each of the kids over the years that they love to look at. Some of the pages are serious and some are just plain zany, but after seeing how their pages come to life with the pictures, all three of them have begun to look critically at their surroundings and they now point out 'good pictures'. He told me this tree would make a great picture in his book. I think so too, darlin'.
We purposefully walked out of our way to this coffee shop because a movie is being shot here tomorrow. It's supposed to be a car chase, robbery and gun fight, and the windows of this cafĂ© are going to be 'shot out'. We thought it might be really cool to be here when they shoot the scene except that the gun fight is happening sometime between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. and that seemed a bit long to be standing around in 30° temperatures. Brrrr...good call. I think we'll sleep in and then make waffles instead.
The theatre before all the guests arrived and like most kids, he was fascinated with how the seats work. I remember that fascination.
Peter Pan - what a great show for Sir S with the Indians and pirates and Lost Boys. He tried so hard to puzzle out how the sets worked and the tricks the actors used, and he had an 'aha' moment when he realized that the father and Captain Hook were the same man. He never did realize that Peter Pan was played by a girl until he was getting her autograph at the end. As we walked away he said, "that's a girl!" Later, on our walk back to the car he told me a secret about his feelings for Wendy, but he swore me to secrecy on that one so I can't share it with you. ~grins~

And suddenly, this boy can eat! We had dinner just before the show and during the intermission he announced that he was starving so we stopped for another meal on the way home. Wow, this is new because this boy is known for not eating. It was late, but he asked if I would work on my sewing project once we got home so he could play Legos. He. Loves. Legos! Oh my, of course I did as he asked and we finally stumbled to bed about 12:30 - that's the luxury of staying with Grandma.

He didn't sleep in like I thought he would. In fact, the moment he woke he came padding back into my sewing room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he asked to play Legos again. Have I mentioned how much he love Legos? And no matter how carefully one tries to tiptoe through knights and horses and alligators and other miscellaneous pieces covering the floor on one's way to the ironing board, those little pieces hurt! Ouch!

It was a peaceful, easy morning in which he softly exclaimed, "it's so quiet." I asked if he wanted me to turn on the radio, but he shook his head no. "I like it," he said. "I never get quiet at home because K is always fighting with me and M never. stops. talking." I grinned, I get that, I really do. And we continued our tasks in the quiet, this middle child and I. Later, we ate and returned to the sewing room to work on a project for his dad. Daddy will be spending a great deal of time away from the family in the next two years and everyone is feeling the loss. We're proud of him, but his presence will be painfully missed and I was searching for a way for each of the kids to connect with Daddy on their own. I'll show you more when all of them are complete, but here is S diligently working on his.
Daddy's gonna love these gifts from all of you.

May you always seek and find bits of quiet to refresh your soul.

Edited to add: I should clarify, the Littles that I speak of are my grandchildren. My oldest son is their father, my middle son is living in Taiwan and my youngest son still lives in this city.