Monday, December 30, 2013

Feels Like Forever. . .

. . . since I've had a chance to sit and write a blog post.  So, so much going on in preparation for the Christmas holidays--it's really not just one holiday when you have the get-together with your own children, the get-together with your parents and sibling and his family, the get-together with your in-laws young and old, the Christmas Choral service at church the Sunday before Christmas (DD2 and I were part of the choir), the Christmas Eve service at church, the Christmas Day service at church (in which the choir also sang and I managed to be one of the descanting group of sopranos who sang the 'high g' without killing it.  Yay me!!). . .

Add to that an ice storm that knocked power out for three days; three days in which I was trying to finish my Christmas baking (nope, didn't happen--oven uses too much 'juice' to run off the generator), Christmas gift sewing (ended up being by hand and taking way longer than planned), and preparations for a trip to SC to see DS1 and his family.  We almost didn't make it on our road trip to see him, as we couldn't very well leave the house sitter/animal caretaker (DH's 17yo nephew) in charge of the generator and a bunch of animals he was unfamiliar with (city boy).  So we didn't know for sure if our trip was a go until about 30 hours before we were supposed to leave, when the power actually did come back on.

All the gifts (other than the baked ones) did get finished in time, the power came on just before midnight on Christmas Eve, and I even managed to knit an entire sock--adult sized--in about twelve hours on the ride down to SC so that K3 got a pair of them for Christmas instead of just one!  (Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of them for my files. . . )

Anyway, January is right around the corner, and I have so many posts I'd like to do in the coming year.  God willing and the power stays on, I won't have such a long absence from blogging any more.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Zero Degrees, and I Feel Fine!

For the first time in a long time, I am warm!  Which is kind of ironic since the thermometer read exactly zero degrees this morning when I went out to do chores.

But I am much warmer at zero, when things are good and frozen, the air is clear and dry, than I am at say thirty or forty when it's cloudy and damp outside.  Damp does not like me.  Or, should I say, I do not like damp.  Chills me to the bone.

Zero, however, I tend to like.  Zero, I can be out in for hours, and feel nice and toasty, with a smile on my face.

Of course, my insulated bibs and coat help, as do the thick socks and clunky cold-weather boots, fur-lined hat, and gloves that make my hands look like they might maybe belong to Mickey Mouse (as in, round, rather than long and tapered like my fingers actually are).

Here are a few pictures I took this morning at the horse farm while I was outdoors.

view to the west as the sun was not quite over the tree line to the east

zero degrees and I feel fine
(just not smiling because taking a selfie at zero degrees with your glove off in order to push the camera button is no laughing matter!)

Yes, you are seeing that right.  I did post a picture of myself.  Hoping that my cold weather gear and my bright yellow sunglasses make me unrecognizable, so not in violation of my 'no identifiable pictures of my family' rule.  LOL.

Bring on the cold, especially when the coldest days tend to be the clearest ones, where the sun shines the brightest.  We can all use a good dose of Vitamin D straight from the source. I just have to absorb it through my face, which is the only thing uncovered in these temperatures!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bit By Bit

That is how I decided to approach the holidays this year: bit by bit.  For the past several years (okay, maybe more than several, since I can't think back to when I wasn't stressed by the upcoming Christmas hoopla/family obligations) I have not had holiday spirit.  Oh, I've looked forward to celebrating Jesus' birth, so maybe I had the right holiday spirit, just not the one that society considers spirit.  Most of my relatives sure don't seem to think so.

Anyway, I have not looked forward to the purchasing of gifts to give, the decorating, the sending of cards, the baking, the mandatory appearances at family gatherings with my parents and sibling as well as DH's siblings and mother, in a long, long time.  Which is sad, because when my children were little, we did a lot of baking and decorating together, and it was fun times.  Somewhere between the youngest one hitting first grade and the eldest graduating from high school (they are 8 grades apart), I lost the joyful anticipation of Christmas.  It was not joy, it was not fun, it was work.  More stuff to try to get done when I was all ready so overloaded.  Or, at least, I felt so very overloaded.  Like I had to measure up to someone else's standard of spirit, and I just couldn't hit that mark.

So, when Thanksgiving rolled around this year, and DD1 asked me when I was going to decorate for Christmas, I put her off, saying "Well, Advent hasn't even started yet.  So definitely not until then."

She accepted this.  She's been going to church since she was two days old.  She knows that the first Sunday of Advent is the true start to the holiday season.  That Advent is the beginning of the Christmas preparation, not the unlocking of the store doors at the start of the first Black Friday sale.

But it got me to thinking.  Instead of dragging everything out in one fell swoop and spending an entire day unpacking our holiday decor, then placing it around the house, then putting away the storage boxes and bags, why not do it a little at a time?  Kind of like an Advent calendar, where you open one door each day of Advent, until on Christmas morning all the doors are opened.  Why couldn't I decorate bit by bit, throughout Advent, until all my decorations were in place on Christmas?

I made a list of the things I decorate with (I confess, I made the list while sitting in the maple tree on the last day of firearm deer season, LOL).  Amazingly, it came out to roughly 25 items, which is how many days there are in Advent.  What a coincidence!

Suddenly, Christmas didn't seem quite so oppressive.  Didn't seem like such a Herculean task ahead of me.  I could do this!

And so I have.  First came the small, plain trees.  One is a wooden pine tree that DD1 painted in youth group many years ago.  The other is a beeswax candle molded in the shape of a spruce tree.  Both are less than nine inches tall.  Both happen to fit very nicely on the entertainment center, at the bottom left corner of the TV.  It was such a little thing, placing those two trees in the living room by the TV, but it made the house feel more cheery.  I had begun decorating for Christmas.

Day by day, I have set out or hung on the walls other little things: a plastic canvas angel with a banner reading "PEACE" that my grandmother made for me decades ago, the rustic wooden snowman faces--bearing the names of DH and myself and each of our children--that hang from a ribbon and was a gift from an aunt and uncle after DD2 was born, the paper Christmas tree made from old Christmas card fronts by one of the kids so long ago none of us really remember who made it in what grade, the stained glass angel that holds a votive candle that was a gift from one of my students back when I taught 5th & 6th grade Sunday School, the gold "present" that is a music box and was another gift from a former Sunday School student, the small red bows that tie to the spindles of the banister for the stairs going to our second floor, the wreath that is hung on the front door by a golden deer bracket that fits over top of the door, the fake pine garland over the doorway between the dining room and living room. . .

All little things, but in their insignificance lies their charm:  it is just one little thing to put out today, taking no more than five minutes of my time.  Not Herculean at all.  And as the days go by and their numbers grow, I find that I am enjoying this holiday season more than I have in years.  Each item, taken by itself, has meaning to me.  I think about how I came to own each item, who made it or gave it to me, and how much each of those people have touched my life.

Bit by bit.  Really, isn't that the way we get through everything in life?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Breadmaking Oops

Yesterday, I was having what I am beginning to refer to as 'menopause brain'.  It's kind of like a record with a scratch in it:  everything goes along like normal, then suddenly there is a moment of "what was that?!?" where the needle hit the scratch and skipped a little.

For me, it happened while I was making bread for the coming week.  I got out all the ingredients, the mixing bowl, the measuring cups and spoons.  I began measuring ingredients and adding them to the mixing bowl.  I stirred them all together.  I began kneading the bread.

At which point, something about the feel of the bread under my palms just wasn't right.  It registered in my brain:  Did I add the yeast?

Suddenly, I doubted myself.  I ran through a mental replay of what I had measured and added to the bowl just minutes before.  I couldn't remember measuring the yeast.

To double check, I looked at the teaspoon, which is the one used only for measuring yeast (all the other ingredients are in tablespoons or cups).  I could not see any little yeasts on the teaspoon.  Usually, a few stick to it after I dump it over the mixing bowl.

Hmm.  Too late now.  Can't add the yeast after all the flour has been worked in to take up the moisture.

I finished kneading the dough and set it to rise as usual.  Then, just to be safe, I mixed up a second batch, making sure to put in the yeast.

An hour later, it was quite clear that I definitely had not  put yeast in the first batch of dough.  It sat sullenly in it's bowl, not any larger than it had been when I first put it there.  The second batch had doubled, filling it's bowl (both bowls are the same size, I have two Pyrex bowls specifically for rising dough in).

I went ahead and treated the second batch of dough as normal--punching it down and shaping into loaves, then setting it aside in loaf pans for a second rise.  Once risen again, I baked those two loaves.

The first batch of dough I determined I would experiment with rather than call it a complete loss and feed to the chickens.  I took out my two largest cookie sheets and greased them.  Then I divided the unleavened dough in half, and rolled each piece into a thin rectangle roughly the size of the cookie sheets.

One dough rectangle I brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.  The other, I brushed with melted butter and sprinkled freshly grated Parmesan over top.  Then I baked them at 425 degrees for roughly 20 minutes.  I say roughly because I started with ten minutes, then didn't think they looked done enough and added a few more minutes to the timer.  This happened a few times, so I lost track of the exact cooking time.  Plus, my ovens are a bit out of whack, not keeping a constant temperature all the time and through the entire oven, so some edges got burnt.

Anyway, they came out edible.  Not great, and not exactly like crackers (which was what I was attempting), but definitely edible.  I think they would be good dipped in hummus like pita bread.

butter & Parmesan

olive oil & sea salt

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Yesterday after work, I spent the afternoon doing some sewing.  I worked up a couple of Christmas gifts: the his n' hers aprons I was planning for DS1 and K2.

His is a pretty plain apron pattern, cut straight and with straps that tie behind the neck and at the waist.  Hers is a more feminine pattern, with gathered skirt, bodice that is cut to fit over the bosom; and a tie that goes over the head, then through a pair of casings in the arm area, and out to tie around the waist.

I love how the aprons turned out, and really hope that they like them too.

In fact, I like them so much that I went ahead and sewed up an apron for DD1 also, out of a zigzag fabric I had bought last summer after she admired it while we were fabric shopping for something else.

It is hard to see the colors in the photo of the finished apron.  The fabric itself is purple, black, light blue, and white.

DD2 caught me in the act of making the camo ones, and judging by the way she enthused over them, I suspect she would like an apron also.  I know that I'm all ready thinking of sewing myself a new one (the last apron I made myself is now about 14 years old and looking pretty well worn). 

And maybe DS2 would like an apron. . . he does like to cook and since leaving the college dorm for off-campus housing tends to be the house cook no matter whom his housemates are. They all seem to figure out that his cooking is better and more filling than fast food and have offered to cover his share of the grocery bill if he will cook dinner for everyone in the house several nights a week.

This may turn out to be the Christmas of The Aprons, LOL.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


The other day, I happened to be working outside (cleaning out the chicken coop and rebedding it for winter, if you must know), when I spotted sundogs in the sky.

For those who have never heard the term 'sundog', it is a small rainbow on one side of the sun or another, sometimes both, usually seen on a fairly clear day, and created by sunlight shining through ice crystals in the atmosphere.  The scientific name is parhelion.

I have a thing about sundogs.  I always get excited when I spot them, and I have seen them at all times of the year, not just during the colder months.  Sometimes they are brighter than others.  Sometimes there is an accompanying ring around the sun, with a sun dog at equal distances to the left and right of the sun.

Always, I never have a camera with me, usually because most of the time I have seen them, I have been driving.

Actually, this time I was driving too.  But I was driving the tractor (loader bucket full of chicken litter and headed for the compost pile near the garden), and I was able to park it and run to the house for the camera.

Finally armed with a camera, I proceeded to attempt to get a picture of the phenomena.  No matter which setting I tried, the camera was not able to get the colors of the sundogs as sharply as my eyes did (and even more sharply when I wore sunglasses, perhaps I should have tried putting them over the camera lens, LOL).  But I did get a couple of pictures where they at least show up, even if the colors are washed out.

This picture is the best one, you can clearly see both sundogs, and part of the ring around the sun.

Have I said yet, on this blog, how much I love working outside and observing nature?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gifts In Progress

Now that deer season is over (well, the part that I most actively take part in, anyway--it's back to bow season now with about a week of 'late antlerless' firearm around Christmas time), my focus turns to working in earnest on handmade Christmas presents.  I've actually been working on them since October, but not as high priority, more as free time kind of things.  This week, however, that all changes.  Gift creation time becomes much higher on the activities list.

So far, I've finished two creations for K3: a knit stuffed horse and a pair of socks.  Her socks I made from yarn I had leftover after making my yellow/green/blue socks pictured in my post Still Knitting.

I have also knit up a few dishcloths to give to a friend.

Plus, there is a variety of jams and some pints of maple syrup in my cellar that will be given as gifts too.

In the works currently:
  • a batch of homemade vanilla is finishing aging, ready to be bottled this weekend
  • packaging of calendula and black-eyed susan seeds from my flowerbeds
  • a jar of homemade taco seasoning mix (will season 8 pounds of meat; in other words, 8 taco dinners)
  • a dishcloth with a snowflake on it

Soon to be started:
  • aprons for K2 (pink camo), DS1 (regular camo) and maybe a small one for K3 if I have big enough camo scraps from making her mommy and daddy's aprons
  • 'bowl holders' for at least 3 people on my list, maybe more (if you don't know what they are, google it.  Saw these at a craft show two weeks ago and thought what an awesome idea) 
  • quilted casserole tote for my mom
  • socks for K2 and if time, more socks for K3 using the leftover yarn from K2's socks
  • knit camo hat for DH (he actually requested I knit him something!!)
  • a knitted, stuffed horse for my 2yo niece
  • crocheted 'scrubbies' of nylon net to give with the dishcloths

I also plan to do some edibles closer to the time they will actually be given:
  • peanut brittle
  • toffee
  • fudge
  • buckeyes
As you can see, there is lots for me to create in the next 22 days!