Monday, November 30, 2015

Finish Line!

We did it! I won't pretend that I'm not relieved that this is the last NaBloPoMo for this year, but I'm also glad that I did it. The experience has taught me several things.

Thing the first: I should not just wait until the muse strikes and a fully-developed post springs forth from my mind, fingers, and keyboard. What has worked for me this month is to write drafts (even if they're just snippets or a few lines!) about anything that sounds even remotely interesting and develop and refine these drafts later if the idea still seems worth writing about.

Thing the second: take photos of everything! I may not have even a fragment of a good idea rattling around in my brain, but a photo might help me conjure one up. Prior to this month, I've mainly written first and taken photos to fit the post later, but doing it the other way around has worked at least as well, and maybe even better for me.

Reading daily posts from many friends has been a great pleasure, learning more about them while they generously shared the happy and sad, ordinary and extraordinary aspects of their lives. Thank you to everyone who took their valuable time to read and/or comment here, especially because so many of you were busy writing your own daily posts.

To celebrate finishing NaBloPoMo, I've also finally finished my latest Hitchhiker. This may be my favorite one so far, but I think I say that with each one. I love the yarn, so I kept knitting to 53 points, and will enjoy snuggling in it while I enjoy the many good memories that it holds. I'll be using the time I gain from not posting daily to cast on a few non-Hitchhiker Christmas gifts!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Supper

(But it was actually Thursday.)

I started cooking Thanksgiving dinner when we moved into this house 26 years ago. The house has a huge dining room, so we bought a 12-foot table to fill it. We're about an hour away from both of our families, so it was great fun to have everyone filling all the chairs around the table.

Things changed over the years, as things always do. Family members have passed away, moved away, divorced, started working at soulless, greedy stores that are open on Thanksgiving, and bought their own dining room tables where they want to serve their own Thanksgiving dinners. That's okay -- that's life.

Even though the people around the table have changed somewhat, my Thanksgiving menu hasn't changed much in 26 years. These are the tried and true things that work for us, and if something's not broken, I don't mess with it. One of my favorite things to make (and eat!) is homemade crescent rolls. I don't honestly remember how or why I started making them, but they are a family favorite, and far, far better than the kind from the tube. Justin especially loves them, and I look forward to seeing him enjoy every one of the six or eight that he usually eats. Seeing people enjoy what I've cooked, baked, and prepared for them always puts a smile on my face.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Sky

"Be happy for this moment.
This moment is your life"
        ~ Omar Khayyám

Friday, November 27, 2015

Amaryllis Cam(aryllis) - Week Three

Scarlet, Minerva, and Sakura - Week Three
Scarlet, Minerva, and Sakura - Week Three
Just like most other siblings, these three continue to grow at their own pace, each in their own way. Scarlet focuses her energy on growing her  flower stalk, with only one tiny bent-over leaf. Minerva is working on some impressive leaves, with a decent flower stalk just beginning to appear. Sakura hasn't changed much in three weeks, but that's okay. Maybe she's just the shy, retiring type. I have offered her a sunnier, warmer spot, so maybe that will jump start her growth a bit.

What is really the most surprising thing is that we have temperatures approaching
 60 degrees so I can take amaryllis outside at the end of November!

Scarlet, Minerva, and Sakura - Week Two

Scarlet and Sakura - Week One

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all who are celebrating a very Happy Thanksgiving, 
and a very Happy Thursday to those that aren't!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Quilt Squares II

Today is finally the day for the second installment of Quilt Squares for Christmas! I've been waiting several days for enough light to take photos as I want to show these beautiful squares at their best.

These were all made by John's oldest sister, sil1. She is probably the most creative person I know, and expresses this in sewing (drapes and slipcovers!), embroidery, knitting, gardening, making elderberry cordial, cataloging and growing heirloom apples from seed, in her career as a family practice physician, and the way she lives her life. Not only is she incredibly creative, she also has the patience, persistence, and craftsmanship to carry out her ideas. She is the person I look to when I start whining about not having enough time for everything. She knows the value of time, rarely wastes any on pursuits that aren't fulfilling, is a person that makes reasoned and thoughtful choices, and isn't afraid to express her opinion. I first met her when we sat next to each other in our Great Books class in high school, and was a little bit in awe even then!

In 1993, we decided that we would also make quilt squares for birthdays in addition to Christmas. These are birthday gifts to me in 1994 and 1995. I had never heard the poem "Interior" by Sir John Squires, but if the shoe fits ... and it does.

I and myself swore enmity. Alack,
Myself has tied my hands behind my back.
Yielding, I know there is no excuse in them --
I was accomplice to the stratagem.

The one on the right is a beautiful crazy quilt square. We went to a quilt show about a month before my birthday where I admired the embroidery and textures of the crazy quilts, so I was lucky to be gifted with one of my own.

The ocean and starfish square on the left was inspired when our families spent a week at the shore together in 1993. I love the shaded ocean strips, applique, and embroidery.

On the right is a gorgeous cathedral window square. I've never made one myself, but it looks technically difficult and fiddly, and I admire all the perfectly matched points. I really love this one.

This is an imaginative square from Christmas 1995. You probably can't tell, but Merry Christmas and the stars are embroidered in gold, and the planets are well-represented in their fabric versions. I think Jupiter might be from the fabric sil1 used to make a shirt for her husband and matching dress for herself when they got married, and I think I recognize Mars as a leftover from the cushion covers she made for their living room.

If I had to pick a favorite square, it would most likely be this amazing knitting basket from my birthday in 1993. I don't know what the technique is called but it's three different layers, cut and embroidered to show different parts of each layer. It's kind of like trapunto, but isn't padded with batting. The addition of some real knitting on the needles makes it even more special.

See why I'm in awe?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ten on Tuesday - Let Us Be Thankful

I'm so sure that today's Ten on Tuesday topic is going to be 10 Things I'm Thankful For that I'm going to take a chance and write it ahead of time on Saturday. *

* To avoid repetition, Carole has tweaked the topic just a bit to 10 Things I'm Thankful For Right Now. I'm so grateful for some of the big things that they have to remain on the list year after year. I'm also thankful that what I wrote on Saturday still works (with only a few minor revisions) on Tuesday!  

I'm thankful for games like Scrabble, Mahjong, and St. Petersburg that I can play online because my husband won't play games due to some childhood trauma involving tears and being hit on the head with a Monopoly board.

1.   My Family - A wonderful husband, two terrific sons, a loving and accepting extended family - I couldn't ask for a more wonderful bunch of people.

2.   A roof over my head and a comfortable home - I am so grateful that we have been able to afford a house, as it's something not to be taken for granted. It takes a lot of maintenance and I've been known to complain about the increasing property taxes, but I'm also glad we have the ability to pay those.

3.   Enough money for a comfortable life - This one is huge and I'm thankful every day.

4.   The ability to read - I'm thankful that Mrs. Neusch taught me to read in first grade, that my mother always supported my reading habit by not telling me to go outside and play too often when I was immersed in a book, that I have access to some great libraries, and that I can find out almost anything I'm curious about by reading.

5.   The ability to knit - I'm thankful that my grandmother taught me how to knit, my mother reinforced it and helped me when I got stuck, that I can buy yarn even when I don't need it, and I can show people how much I care by knitting for them.

6.   Health - Overall I'm in good health, and so is much of my family. We've had some years where this hasn't been the case, so we try to take care of ourselves and I don't take good health for granted.

7.   Access to health care - We have health insurance, and while it has a very high deductible, we can afford it and it is insurance. I hope we never meet the deductible because that would mean someone is quite ill, but it is comforting knowing that insurance and access to health care is there if we need it.

8.   Ironing - This one comes with a caveat. I'm not especially thankful for ironing, but I am thankful that I finally quit procrastinating and spent all of Sunday afternoon working on a mountain of ironing. What I'm really thankful for is that it's all done!

9.  Tea - It's a small thing compared to my family and a comfortable home, but I really am gratified that somebody thousands of years ago thought to put some tea leaves in hot water. It wakes me up in the morning, warms me when I'm chilly, and calms me when I'm feeling stressed.

10.  I am thankful that my list this year is remarkably similar to last year's; I am so incredibly lucky to have this much good fortune on an ongoing basis.

I'm also thankful for everyone that takes the time to read my ramblings. Thank you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hmm ... That's Interesting.

I've seen some interesting things over the past several weeks ...

Proper use of semicolons is a good thing;
omitting periods is not.

This sign makes me cringe every time I walk past it.

 Some things should not be pumpkin flavored.

 Some things should not be emblazoned with odd renditions of Chewbacca.
(I was so amused/apalled at how bad Chewbacca looked that I didn't even notice
 the ugly Darth Vader until I uploaded the photo.)

My humble opinion is that poinsettias should be left alone to show their
 natural beauty and not be "Color Splashed".
(At least they aren't also sprinkled with glitter.)

I wonder if Kohl's sells many of these fluorescent green men's dress socks?
 (Not to my husband!)

There are lots of interesting things in the world, especially if you are
 looking everywhere and taking pictures of everything like crazy,
desperately hoping to come up with a NaBloPoMo post!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Supper

Today was the day to make cranberry orange relish for Thanksgiving. I'm really the only one that likes it, but since I'm the cook, it's on the menu. I like it tart and more orangey, so I use less sugar and more oranges. Sometimes I add a little orange oil, but that's another benefit of being the cook; you get to make things just the way you like them.

While I was chopping cranberries in the food processor, it dawned on me that this would also be the perfect time to make one of my favorite recipes, Nantucket Cranberry Pie. Laurie Colwin wrote two absolutely excellent cookbooks, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. I hesitate to call them cookbooks because they are really collections of wonderful essays about food along with some chatty recipes. She wrote articles for Gourmet in addition to some good fiction before her untimely death when she was just 48.

"People who feel they must make a real dessert are often looking for something simple and wonderful, two words often felt to be mutually exclusive. I like a cake that takes about four seconds to put together and gives an ambrosial result. Fortunately there are such cakes, and you usually get them at the homes of others. You then purloin the recipe (since you have taken care to acquire generous friends) and serve it to other friends, who then serve it to others. This is the way in which nations are unified and relationships made solid.

My candidate for an easy spectacular dessert is something called Nantucket Cranberry Pie, which is not a pie, but a cake, and was served to me in the country by my friend Ann Gold, who lives on a dairy farm and got this recipe from her mother, who can no longer remember where it came from. It is a Gold family staple, and the buck stops there.

In an effort to find the true roots of this cake I looked into Yankee Cooking by Imogen Walcott, a classic tome that contains everything anyone needs to know about New England cooking. There in the index was Cape Cod Cranberry Pie, but this turned out to be a real live pie, whereas Nantucket Cranberry Pie is a cake. Furthermore, it is a snap, and, last but not least, it is truly good.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

1. Chop enough cranberries to make 2 cups and enough walnuts to make 1/2 cup.

2. In the bottom of a 10-inch pie plate or springform pan, place chopped cranberries, chopped walnuts, and 1/2 cup sugar.

3. Mix 2 eggs, 3/4 cup melted butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Stir till smooth.

4. Pour over cranberry-walnut mixture and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

There is something about the tartness of the cranberries and the smooth, sweet, buttery taste of the cake that is irresistible. This cake is so easy a child could do it, and if you happen to have a child or two lying around, I suggest you set them to work for your next dinner party."

I usually rough chop the cranberries with a knife when I make this, but this time I used the food processor so they are chopped pretty finely. I also folded the cranberries into the batter just because I felt like it (cook's prerogative again!) and left out the walnuts because I didn't have any. It's always delicious, no matter how I've made it. I'm not exactly sure what we're having for Sunday supper, but there will be cake Nantucket Cranberry Pie!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Amaryllis Cam(aryllis) - Week Two

My amaryllis have been clamoring for a group photo shoot, so here they are in week two.

Scarlet, Minerva, and Sakura - Week Two

You might notice an addition to the bunch. I was shopping at my least favorite big box store when I spied a display of hundreds of packaged amaryllis. The bulbs had red tissue paper crammed down on top of them with the whole package then tightly wrapped in clear plastic. When I examined them more closely I could see that at least half of the bulbs had started growing and were struggling to escape their tissue paper and plastic prisons. I could only bring one rescue amaryllis home, so Minerva (that was really the name on her tag!) now lives here.

The original two seemed a little put out that they didn't yet have names, so I'm pleased to introduce Scarlet and Sakura (the Japanese pink flowering cherry and also an anime character with pink hair). I know one is red and the other pink, but I wasn't paying attention when I planted them so they may be misnamed. They haven't yet objected.

Scarlet and Sakura - Week One

My husband has questioned whether we have room to adopt any more amaryllis from the orphanage soulless big box store, but I have pointed out that our empty nest is now occupied by living things that don't talk back, argue with each other, or need financial support. :-)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's Almost Like Christmas!

As much as I complained about the lack of rain, high temperatures, and how pitiful the garden was last summer, it turns out that there were some very good things happening underground. I decided that it was time to dig up the turnips and carrots before they froze in the ground, and had a lot of fun yanking up vegetables, never knowing what I was going to get. I knew there were going to some big surprises when I had to get the shovel to dig out some of them. It was almost like Christmas!

We only planted half a row of turnips, but got a decent number of decent turnips from those few plants. There were enough to fill a half-bushel basket. The carrots were the real stars. I ended up with a heavy bushel basket of some really delightful carrots.

It took me most of the afternoon to trim the vegetables, scrub them three times, and then find refrigerator space for all of them, but it was well worth it.

Here are the winners in the weirdest carrot category. They'll have to be cut apart when I use them to really clean them completely, but I wanted to document the multiple carrot families and odd carrot claw.

While we grew plenty of normal-sized carrots, several of them were huge. These are the winners of the biggest carrot prizes, with the largest nine inches long and ten inches in diameter.

This one is my favorite. It didn't meet its soul mate and get married like Margene's coupled carrots, but is more like some sort of Siamese twin carrot. I have no idea how one carrot grew perfectly twisted like this, but it pleases me so much that I may never want to eat it.

Since we will need to eat lots and lots of turnips and carrots, I started with carrot souffle for dinner. It's really just an excuse to eat something that tastes like pie but you can feel virtuous about because it's a vegetable.

We have so many turnips and carrots that I offered some to my neighbor. She said thanks, but no thanks. She didn't realize they were so ... dirty. All I could do was smile and wait until I was back in the kitchen before I started to laugh. As we approach Thanksgiving, I hope all of your carrots and turnips are both plentiful and clean!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hang on to your hat ...

I knew E.B. White as the author of Charlotte's Web and coauthor of The Elements of Style, but have only recently learned that he was so much more. He was also a prolific writer of essays and letters. One of his eloquent letters has been making the rounds lately, and I've been thinking about it quite a bit since Friday. Here is his reply to Mr. Nadeau, a stranger who wrote to him in 1973, wondering if the future of the human race was as bleak as it seemed.
Dear Mr. Nadeau:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
E. B. White
It is really incredible to me that Mr. White's words - honest and unflinching, yet hopeful - are still so meaningful and relevant 42 years after he wrote them. It often seems that we live in the worst of times, yet there were many preceding us who felt the same way. The human race has indeed made a queer mess of life on this planet, in so many horrible, hateful, and ruinous ways, but I hope that the upright and compassionate among us (and I know there are many) will help the seeds of goodness and love to sprout.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ten on Tuesday - Wanna Hang Out?

Today's Ten On Tuesday topic is 10 Places You Hang Out. I don't envision myself as hanging out much, but let's see what I can come up with.

  1. In the kitchen. I like my kitchen, which is a good thing, because I spend quite a bit of time there. 
  2. In bed. Possibly an odd hang out, but about 30% of my life is spent there.
  3. In "my" chair. This is the love seat in the living room, with plenty of room for knitting, reading, and my laptop. It also has a good view of the TV, for when I'm hanging out with Netflix. I can even balance a cup of tea here.
  4. On the internet. I should hang out here less often, but I can always think of one more thing I have to check out - a new-to-me yarn on Ravelry, scientific studies on the effect of cinnamon on prostaglandins, or the broadcast rate and days to germination of winter wheat.
  5. In the yard. Recently, I've been hanging out here for at least one day each weekend, raking leaves and/or wrestling the leaf vacuum around the yard.
  6. At the library. A good place to hang out. I wish I could add "At the bookstore", but sadly, we no longer have a bookstore within a reasonable driving distance.
  7. On my porch. This is a spring and summer hang out - knitting, reading, and watching people.
  8. In the garden. All the cool kids hang out in my garden during the spring and summer. (Not really, but I like to tell myself that's the case.) I'll be hanging out there later this week, pulling carrots and turnips.
  9. In the cemetery. I've been walking every day, and our cemetery has a fairly steep hill, so I often walk there for some added cardio effort. A different place to hang out, but it's really just a well-landscaped, quiet park, with some lovely artistic stone carving, and lots of deer.
  10. The Loopy Ewe. I only get to visit here once (or twice if I'm really lucky) a year, but I'd really love to hang out at their Knit Night on Thursdays!
We don't have a Starbucks, a good tea shop, a local book or yarn store, but "my" chair provides a pretty good substitute for all of these, so that's why it's my favorite place to be.

Where can you be found hanging out?

Monday, November 16, 2015


Justin went to afternoon kindergarten, so that meant we got to spend the morning together. One of the things we did almost every day was watch Zoboomafoo (a PBS wildlife show for children) together. When the opening theme song came on, he would sneakily turn the volume all the way up while I pretended to not notice what he was doing. Then he would start lemur-leaping around the house, demanding that I join in. After we watched the show, he would often want to play predator/prey. This was a game he invented where I was always the prey (a grazing gazelle, an unaware zebra, a sweet little rabbit) and he was always the predator (amazingly fast cheetah, powerful lion, stealthy fox). His ongoing interest in animals started at a young age and was all-encompassing. Ah, good times.

Last week Justin messaged me on facebook with this news; Zoboomafoo had died. While this is sad, he lived a good, long life at the Duke Lemur Center. I missed Lemurpalooza in September, but this is a place I would love to visit someday, especially with Justin, my favorite predator.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Supper

While browsing through my recipe box, looking for inspiration on what to make for Sunday supper, I came across some interesting recipes. They're both unique and special, so I'm going to share them with you.

The first one is from Justin for Peanut and Apple Muffin Cake
1/2 cups of sugar
2/2 cups of peanuts and peanut butter
4 or 5 sliced up apples
1 blueberry muffin without the foil

After that you put it in a blender and blend it for 1 minute. No, wait, don't do that.

And, tada!

And put the whip cream on.

This recipe for Ice Cream Sugar Pie comes from Ryan.
Reading from the bottom, Non-meltable candy, vanilla, milk, ice cream.

There don't seem to be any preparation instructions, but I'm sure you can figure out how to put this delicious pie together.

I only wish I had more wonderful recipes from Chef Justin and Chef Ryan.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Amaryllis Cam(aryllis) - Week One

It's tough to find enough light to take photos at this time of year, so I took my amaryllis out for a short walk and a bit of fresh air. One is red and the other pink, but I forget which one is which, so I'll have to name them later. I hope the show-off on the left is encouraging the one on the right to grow a bit faster.

Having these two bulbs, along with three others that I'll replant in another month to hopefully rebloom later this winter isn't keeping me from wanting still more amaryllis bulbs from the White Flower Farm catalog. Let's see if I can resist...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Some Sad Knitting

While I was looking for quilt squares in my cedar chest, I came upon these.

My mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in December of 2000, and after radiation, chemotherapy, and a heart-wrenching and painful struggle, died in January of 2002.

I clearly remember when she first told me about it; all I could think to do was knit for her. So I did. I had some sort of vague, irrational idea that if I could knit her chemo caps to keep her warm and comfortable after she lost her hair, then everything would be okay. I was so focused on this that I knit these in two days, without patterns, and out of some unsuitable cotton that I had on hand. She did lose her hair, and wore these, but they didn't make everything okay.

All I can remember about the funeral is sobbing to my sister afterwards about another chemo cap that I had made Mom out of Chinchilla. It was also unsuitable yarn for a hat (rayon chenille, dry clean only), but so soft, and it was Mom's favorite. I was afraid it had gotten lost, but it turned out that my sister had it. That was fine; I just couldn't bear to think about these last fragile connections with my mother disappearing.

After almost 14 years I mainly recall the happy memories, but finding these in the cedar chest did make me a bit teary-eyed. It's good to remember the sadness occasionally as it makes the happy times in our lives even sweeter.

Some Sad Knitting

While I was looking for quilt squares in my cedar chest, I came upon these.

My mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in December of 2000, and after radiation, chemotherapy, and a heart-wrenching and painful struggle, died in January of 2002.

I clearly remember when she first told me about it; all I could think to do was knit for her. So I did. I had some sort of vague, irrational idea that if I could knit her chemo caps to keep her warm and comfortable after she lost her hair, then everything would be okay. I was so focused on this that I knit these in two days, without patterns, and out of some unsuitable cotton that I had on hand. She did lose her hair, and wore these, but they didn't make everything okay.

All I can remember about the funeral is sobbing to my sister afterwards about another chemo cap that I had made Mom out of Chinchilla. It was also unsuitable yarn for a hat (rayon chenille, dry clean only), but so soft, and it was Mom's favorite. I was afraid it had gotten lost, but it turned out that my sister had it. That was fine; I just couldn't bear to think about these last fragile connections with my mother disappearing.

After almost 14 years I mainly recall the happy memories, but finding these in the cedar chest did make me a bit teary-eyed. It's good to remember the sadness occasionally as it makes the happy times in our lives even sweeter.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quilt Squares for Christmas

Several years ago (actually, more than 20!) my sister-in-law and I were talking about Christmas gifts. The conversation ran the gamut from the difficulties we had in giving presents that the recipient would really enjoy and/or find useful, how much we hated wasting money on buying things just to give something, and how much we wanted to inject some creativity and fun into gift giving. Out of that conversation came a great idea - Quilt Squares for Christmas.

We decided that four of us -- my two sisters-in-law, my mother-in-law, and I -- would make and exchange quilt squares as our gifts to each other. The only rule was that they would be 12 inch squares; beyond that we could do anything. The idea was that after many years had passed, we would each have enough squares to put together into a quilt, full of memories, creativity, and love.

I have more than 40 squares, but haven't (yet) sewn them together into a quilt top. There are plenty of reasons excuses -- I'm not sure how to best arrange them; I don't know what color sashing to use, and the biggest reason of all -- I'm not a quilter. Today (and maybe some other days during November that I'm out of ideas) I'll share some of the squares.

The one on the left is from my mil the first year we did squares. I don't think any of us remembered to sign our squares the first time, but you can see sil2's initials on the pieced square on the right.

These are both from my mil, who does quilt. I think Drunkard's Path is on the left, and
 Dresden Plate on the right. She made us a log cabin quilt out of the same blue fabric in 1992.

The embroidered redwork is from my mil and the Christmas tree is
 appliqued and embroidered from sil1.

This is a unique and Christmasy square from my mil. I remember
 my kids being entranced by the lift-up flap.

The second year we did this, I got clever and decided that if I was making squares for three people, it was really no problem to make an extra square for myself. These are my 1993 and 1994 squares.

You can see that I was lucky enough to marry into a creative and talented family!
More later...