Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My trusty sidekick

A creative mess is better than tidy idleness.

I don't remember my first sewing machine. I learned to sew in Intermediate School when I was about 12. I've no doubt my Dad was thoroughly excited for two reasons. First, my eagerness to use my new talent would save us money. Two, I became creative, and my Dad was all about being creative. He could look at anything and figure out how to make it himself, then go home and do just that. From then on I sewed almost all of my clothes, plus most of my sister's and my Mum's clothes as well. Skirts, pants, blouses, jumpsuits, ballgowns. All I needed was a few hours on a Saturday to churn out whatever new lovely I needed for a hot date that night or church the next day. I remember sewing couch cushion covers, piped all around, when Dad got it in his head that he could re-upholster an old couch.
At some point I acquired a snazzy Elna, which I loved and took with me when I moved to Wellington and then back home again after my Dad died. Due to voltage differences, it stayed in New Zealand when I moved here in December 1979, but the first thing Jeff and I bought after we got married was an inexpensive sewing machine. I sewed for a drill team in Huntington Beach that first year and made dress samples for a friend in the fabric business after that, so I felt justified in upgrading to my trusty Viking a couple of years later. It cost $475, which was a small fortune at the time, but I was earning money on it and, once again, sewing all of our clothes on it. I made Jeff a brown, wool suit shortly afterwards.

Here it is, almost thirty years later, almost none the worse for wear. It did lose its zipper foot sometime back, a victim of one child or another, so I have to hand-sew all my zippers. Not a big sacrifice, because I avoid zippers like the plague anyway, and they actually look better when they're sewn by hand. I suppose I could buy a new zipper foot, but that would be too easy.

The machine got a real workout when the kids were little, I even sewed the girls' underwear. I never attempted boy's underwear, for obvious reasons. Then, when they were all teenagers, it lay idle for months at a time, except for making prom dresses and curtains and the occasional bit of mending. Since Kenzie was born, the old Viking has seen a resurgence in activity. That girl loves her dresses and skirts, so it's been fun to get creative again.

This is the result of my break from work. Nine baby blankets, a music bag, a shopping bag, and (not pictured) a cover for my doumbek.
What's a doumbek, you ask?
That's my drum. It is a very special doumbek because it has a tambourine inside.

My big push for 2010 is to be creative with all of the fabric and yarn and doodads that are in my so-called sewing room. Somebody asked me, why don't you just give it away? Well, I suppose I could, but I'm needing a challenge. This will do until I can figure out the bigger one.

An unexpected precipitation

Carl Reiner, the actor, once said, "A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water."
It snowed unexpectedly yesterday.
Commuters took hours to get home.
Even the weather forecasters were caught by surprise.
In less than an hour, everything was covered in a white blanket of powdery snow.
The view from our back window was suddenly picturesque, instead of grey and bedraggled.

It snows rarely enough around here that I forgot the eerie glow that the snow reflects at night.

I took this photo a few seconds later with the flash.

I stayed in the house all day, except for a quick trip out to the shed to look for my car's chains. Jeff and Jon had been eagerly anticipating their outing to see Avatar last night. Sadly, it took Jeff three hours to get home and their plans fizzled. They have rescheduled for when Jon and Jenny get back from their trip to Utah.
I kind of missed the excitement that a snowfall brought to the house when kids were young. All the bundling up in boots and gloves and jackets and hats. Holding mugs of hot chocolate to warm the hands when they dragged back in. Melted snow puddles on the floor. Blasts of cold air as they enter and leave the house. Piles of wet clothes to wash. Runny noses and red cheeks. Frozen toes and fingers. Footprints all around the garden.
To tell the truth, I was a little bored.
There, that's twice I've used the word in the last week.
Must be time to get back to work.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

High fashion...

...for lounging in front of the woodstove on a cold winter night in Oregon.
Black stretchy pyjamas.
(They're slimming you know.)
Green knitted-by-me prayer shawl.
Pink fuzzy socks gifted to me by piano students.
Playing on Jeff's laptop and waiting for Tom Selleck in Jesse Stone: Thin Ice.
Wake me in April, would you please?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hummer

Jeff and I had a quiet Christmas day. We slept in, ate leftovers, thought about going to the movies but by then it was too late to catch a matinee. I refuse to pay $10 each to see a movie. We puddled around on our computers and took a nap. Getting, frankly, a little bored.
Then I got the brilliant idea to take Jenny and the boys to see a light show that I had heard about at a house in Amity, about 20 miles from us. It is apparently fantastic, with 20 minutes of lights synchronized to music, mostly Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which plays on your car radio. I told Jeff to copy down the directions and address while I took a shower and off we went. We drove around for almost two hours and couldn't find the house. No one at the general store in Amity had heard of it and yet they have their own website. Strange, we thought. Even if Jeff had copied down the directions or the address wrong, surely he wouldn't have gotten both of them wrong, and it looked so straightforward. The gas tank was almost on empty so we gave up and came home.
Jeff fell asleep and Thomy wanted no more part of Christmas lights.
So we dropped them off at home and drove up to the ritzy housing development in town where they have a whole street of decorated houses. The best part is in the cul-de-sac, although it was mighty cold once you got out of the protection of the street.
Without the flash you get a better idea of the magical effect.

I made a video so that you can see more of the street. When I played it back I realized I was humming. Jeff is sweet and laughs at my humming. It bothers some people. My sister and I were driving in her car a few years ago and I was humming, as usual. She said, "Do you always do that?" in a slightly testy tone of voice. Yes, I do. I don't know when it started, or why I do it. I usually hum the last tune I heard, which, in my life, changes frequently. Sometimes, when I have to learn a difficult tune for my music therapy groups, I have to practise the song 20 or 30 times. Like "I can Sing a Rainbow," which has a key change halfway through. I hummed and sang that one for weeks before I could get it out of my head. And even now it creeps back in sporadically. I hum a lot when I'm at the grocery store. Once in a while I catch someone else humming. We just smile at each other and walk on. As Adrian Monk would say, "It's a blessing.......and a curse."

I can't even figure out what song I was humming, it must have been on the radio before we got out of the car. The trouble is, sometimes I sing notes in my head instead of out loud, so you don't get a good sense of the melody, only random snatches of the tune. If you can decipher it, let me know and I'll make it worth your while.

Oh yeah. We checked the directions when we finally arrived home. Jeff got both the directions and the address wrong. What are the odds of that? Maybe we'll try again tonight.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas joy, with photos, hopefully, fixed

Christmas Eve was pretty riotous at our house. Jon had to work later in the evening so our time was limited. The meat wasn't "falling off the bone" yet when he and his family arrived, so we opened presents first. My policy has always been that we read the story of Christ's birth before we open presents. This has been met with various degrees of enthusiasm over the years, depending on the ages of the children. This year, I had about 20% cooperation, but after announcing that there would NOT be any presents unless we read about the real meaning of Christmas, things improved somewhat.

Daniel faded fast. The excitement of it also being his birthday celebration proved to be a little too much.
We gave the older grandchildren money for designated classes this year, in an effort to not contribute to their piles of stuff. Here is Thomy opening his envelope. He will take art classes in January. He has incredible fine motor skills, which Jonnie attributes to playing video games. He also has a lot of patience and is painstaking in his colouring and art work, so I think the classes will open his eyes to new ideas.

Daniel got money for basketball or science class, depending on what is offered when the new Park and Rec schedule comes out. Kenzie gets a month of horse riding lessons.

Everyone got cozy fleece pyjama pants from Nana and Papa.

Natalie, showing off her new pants, hairband and purse. The girl has impeccable fashion sense, don't you think?

Let the feast begin. Roast beef with mashed potatoes and corn and peas and killer rolls. Sparkling grape juice. My rolls have been less than marvelous lately but these were divine. Maybe it was all the butter I slathered them with before I rolled them into crescents.
Last Christmas I bought a box of Christmas crackers at Costco. Crackers are an integral part of the Christmas celebration in England, so they bring back sweet memories for me. We've had them a few times with our family, but they weren't always easy to find and even then were expensive. A cracker, if you don't know, consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in pretty foil paper. Inside is a party hat, a prize, and a joke or saying, kind of like a fortune cookie. When you pull it with a partner, it splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a small bang which is ever so thrilling! The bang is from the effect of friction on a chemically impregnated card strip. Crackers were invented in England in 1847 by a sweet (candy) maker as a promotional gimmick. Thank you Wikipedia.

Chris got the prize he had coveted, a mini tape measure. These were high-quality crackers. Daniel got a metal yo-yo.

Jon and Jenny look less than thrilled with their cracker experience.

Note the quality silver party hats.
If you can get past Bethany's fearsome face.

Jeff, eating his peas and corn. I think that was all he ate.
Jonnie, expounding on the evils of monoculture, specifically potatoes in this instance. Luckily, I had prepared yellow potatoes that were organically grown by Farmer Brown, rather than the ubiquitous russet.
Natalie, at the end of the day and with chocolate face, riding her and Joshie's new rocking horse.

A Happy Christmas to all my friends and readers.
I hope your day is (or was) as merry as mine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cuteness, Re-Thunked

If you like the thought of cute little kittens and puppies and bunnies and hamsters and various other furry-big-eyed-thingies but don't want the work and messes that come with the job, check out Cute Overload, new to my blog list. My friend Roberta sent me the link. She never reads my blog, but thank you anyway, Roberta.
Not that I'm bitter or anything.
I had copied a couple of their photos to give you a small taste of the cuteness, but my son the blog police (and everything else) ever-so-politely reminded me that it is illegal to do so. So you'll have to click on the link in the blog list to look at them. It's worth taking a look just for their commentaries on the pictures. I'm seriously considering investing in their calendar; they have photos on every day of the month. It's available on Amazon and is eligible for free shipping.
Cute Overload ought to be paying me!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fearful Symmetry

I have spent almost 54 years not thinking about persimmons.

That's strange, you think to yourself, I think about persimmons quite often.
Forgive me for saying that you are full of:

A few weeks ago there was a lot of buzz on the Prepare Now Yahoo group about an order of persimmons that was coming to town. I resisted ordering because, don't you know, I have never tasted a persimmon and ergo find it hard to get excited about ordering a 20 pound box of them.
Nevertheless, I must have been pondering the subject in my subconscious because some nights later I had a very vivid dream about the magical fruit. I can still recall the texture of the skin as I peeled the fruit and the smoothness of the inner flesh as I sliced it. The taste was divine, sweet and creamy without being cloying at all.
I awoke in the midst of the dream and thought to myself that perhaps (!) I might actually like persimmons. If you know me at all, you know that I am somewhat of a picky eater. Certain things will never cross my lips because of their smell. I have tried, darn it, to eat salad ingredients but they just taste like grass. Suffice it to say that I am not an adventurous eater. I have attributed that sad state to the fact that I am a bit of a super-taster, which, for you doubters, is an actual scientific state of being. Really. It is.

The persimmon tree species diospyros belongs to the ebony wood family. Diospyros means "the fruit of the Gods" in ancient Greek. Persimmons are high in nutrients but eating too many unripe fruit can cause bezoars that require surgery in most cases. What is a bezoar, you ask? Think hairballs in cats. Same kind of mass in the digestive tract. Yummy! Moral of the story, make sure your persimmons are ripe before you ingest.

So, on with the persimmon story.
Last Saturday my friend Barb and I decided to walk at the local university's track, which is close to her house. It is one of those nice soft tracks and my legs have been hurting lately so we thought we'd give me a break. It was a cold, damp, morning, but we had a great time catching up on all our news and NOT talking about persimmons.
As I was leaving to return home she gave me...


Friday, December 18, 2009

What Nana did today

Walk with Barb. Check.
Get mammogram. Check.
Get blood drawn. Check.
Pick up beef from Janine's freezer and give her some pumpkin bread. Check.
Make Kenzie's Christmas dress. Check.

You can't tell, but the fabric has pink and white polka dots and glitter all over it. Two of Kenzie's favourite things.

P.S. If you click on the photos you can get a nice close-up of the fabric. It's rather pretty and Kenzie has been nagging me for quite a long time to make something for her out of it. I have a new thing in my head, that I should use up the resources I've been accumulating before I buy new stuff. One down, a gazillion to go!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My own personal elf

Guilty Pleasures, Added Upon

Annie wrote in her blog about her enjoyment of drinking hot chocolate this time of year. She melts a minty candy cane in hers to flavour it.
She comes by the habit honestly. Her Nana has long been famous for her hot chocolate habit. Or Milo, as she drinks in New Zealand. All year long. Only one cup a day, she claims, but we all know better!
I am partial to a steaming cup of cocoa in the winter. My guilty pleasure is a splash of flavoured coffee creamer. Yum. The flavour of the moment is "CoffeeHouse Inspirations Caramel Macchiato."
It even SOUNDS sinful.

THAT was not an easy photo to take.
No flash, left-handed, while pouring.
Hence the ever-so-slight blurriness.

What is your guilty pleasure?
And don't try telling me you don't have one!

P.S. This post got me thinking about some defining hot chocolate moments throughout the years at our house. When Jeff and I were first married and had no money at all, one of our big treats was a cup of hot chocolate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating on top. It was blissfully delicious. Then we went through a cinnamon-sprinkled-on-top stage. The kids, of course, loved mini-marshmallows the best. Then Costco, in our more affluent years, started selling the Swiss Miss (or maybe it was Nestles) packets of flavoured hot chocolate mix. Raspberry, caramel, hazelnut, French vanilla. I love to heat up a big pot of milk when we have a crowd in the house, adding bits of this and bits of that until I arrive at chocolate Nirvana. It is such a comforting drink, nothing beats it for me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Coconut gluten-free heaven

When Kenzie was visiting last week, I made Bethany some coconut macaroons. They are gluten free and very delicious. With a slight modification, I made a small dairy-free batch for Joshie.
Ambrosia Macaroons
1/2 c unsalted butter
3/4 c sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
3 eggs
24 oz sweetened flaked coconut
melted white or dark chocolate
Beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add zest and eggs. Mix in coconut. I used my hands at this stage to mix it more thoroughly. Form balls with hands and flatten on a Silpat or well-greased cookie sheets. You can place them close together because they don't spread. Bake at 325F for 20-25 minutes until golden on the bottoms and browned in spots. Cool on sheets and drizle with melted chocolate, using a fork. I used lemon zest with a bit of juice instead of orange zest and drizzled them with white chocolate.
I substituted condensed coconut cream for butter and drizzled them with dairy-free dark chocolate to make Joshie's cookies.
We all liked them, even the gluten eaters!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"To Do" lists

Kenzie came to stay for a couple of days this week.
We read together, watched
Night at the Museum, Battle of the Smithsonian, which is as funny as the first, and made snickerdoodles. On the last day we made a "to do" list and got most of the way through it, except for Make paper airplanes, which was Kenzie's idea.
She is notoriously scatter-brained, so I thought the concept of a list might resonate with her, because she loves to write messages and love notes on pretty paper. Dear Nana, I love you. I hope you are not sick like I am. Love Kenzie. (This note was embellished with googly eyes and a yellow feather.) The list was quite long, so she decided to divide the tasks into two separate lists, one for work and one for fun.

Work list.
Finish Christmas decorations.
Put away Christmas boxes.
Mail packages to Annie and Charlie.
Clean kitchen.
Clean table.
Put rug back in living room.

(I broke a large water globe the night before, while setting Kenzie's bed up on the couch, and it had created a correspondingly large mess.)

Fun list.
Make snickerdoodles.
Make paper airplanes.
Make cards.

The list idea worked very well, especially for me.
I forgot how motivating a list can be.
And did you notice I figured out how to change my font colour?
I have also started downloading my photos onto the blog using Picasa, which is infinitely more efficient.
Ha! Take that, you 21st century, you!

Kenzie is 9

Our (not so) little McKenzie was nine on Saturday. Jonnie had worked Friday night so Jeff and I picked up Jenny and the boys.

They were ready and waiting for us, eager for the festivities. These three love a good party. I am often sad that I can't better communicate with Jenny because I hear from those who know that she is a very fun person.
The four grandsons revel in each others' company and their enthusiasm is hard to dampen. They are like bouncy little puppies, but I managed to get them to sit still for a few moments while they kept saying"cheese" and waiting for me to figure out my camera's settings.

Kenzie loved this jewelry box from Jon and Jenny.

I think that the part Thomy and Jeff like best about parties is when they get to play with the new toys.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas is a'comin'...

...and the goose is getting fat,
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you!

In the good old days when the kids were young and we dragged Jeff out every year to cut our own Christmas tree, we sang this and other memorable Christmas carols all the way home. Jeff was inevitably grumpy because he hated cutting the tree, so we had to be careful not to push the merriment too far. It was always a fine line that we trod.
As Jonnie got big and manly enough to wield a saw, I would take the kids out while Jeff was at work and we did the dirty deed without his cantankerous presence. Then we just had to deal with "putting the tree in the tree stand," a whole other onerous chore.
Then I found a nice little tree farm close to home that cut the tree for you after you tromped around in the mud and chose it. The trees were not magnificent, but we tolerated them because the season became more peaceful and they were cheap. I will not mention certain children of mine who accused us of copping out. For a couple of years, I got away with doing it on my own. Then the remaining children insisted on being included and Jeff even tagged along.
About three years ago, our neighbours gave us their artificial, pre-lit tree because it was too big for their living room. Jeff has been in Christmas tree heaven ever since. This year, Jonnie lugged it down from the high shelf in the shed because Jeff had knee surgery the week before. On Monday night, Jeff set up the tree, carefully arranging the branches to his satisfaction.

It really is a pretty tree.

I have a thing for beautiful boxes. This one stores some of our bird ornaments.

I see that it is now Friday.
Today, I shall finish decorating for Christmas.

Menopausal Marauders

Last Friday was the annual World's Largest Christmas Bazaar in Portland.
I've been attending, with various and sundry friends and relatives, for a few years. Memory being what it is these days, I couldn't tell you how many years, but I do know that at my first bazaar I bought the balloon guys that hang in the rec room. So I'm thinking maybe eight or ten years ago.

Kind of freaky aren't they? That corner is a cobweb magnet. I should've remembered before I took the photo. Or at least climbed on a chair and dusted it. But they fitted my adventurous hot-air-balloon-chasing lifestyle of the day. And my rec room decor. So home they came, from the World's Largest Christmas Bazaar. Which will be referred to hence as TWLCB.
Six friends, including Bethany, joined me on the expedition. Intrepid souls one and all. I mean, I take these things seriously, no wimps allowed on my shopping excursions.
We spent four hours wandering the two cavernous spaces of the Expo Centre, spending our cash on such delights as creamy fudge and telescoping Santas. The fudge was one slice for $8 or 4 slices for $12. What is a fudge lover to do? Hitting the bargains at the Avon booth, hoping for some magical anti-wrinkle cream. Contemplating buying $220 Z-coil shoes so that I can spend more time meandering the corridors of capitalism without leg pain. I may still visit the store and spend the money, although my doctor questions the validity of their claims. She actually CHUCKLED at the thought of springs in the heels. Bouncy gait. But it feels so good!
We were supposed to meet at one o'clock to go home, but Karen and I decided we needed another hour. Somehow Bethany didn't get the message and sat in the foyer for almost an hour, thinking that we had gone home without her. For some reason, I didn't hear any of her calls to my cell phone. So sad. I felt like a terrible mother.
On the way home we stopped for Thai food, in spite of my protestations. I despise Thai food. I had orange chicken. Much yummier.
But a slight detour brought us to this adorable cottage.

I couldn't resist the juxtaposition of these photos.

Hot women, one and all.
Who could not resist making rowdy comments about the aforementioned detour.

Yes, Lori may look all sweet and innocent, but let me tell you, she has a sublime comment for every occasion.
And Karen, driver extraordinaire, who blamed my navigating for the detour.
And many other things.

On the way home, a final note of irony. This was before the sheer numbers of his infidelity had come to light.

Poor Tiger.