Saturday 30 November 2013

Christmas Again and Reading On

Municipal Christmas lights have been hung, stars in one town, giant candles in another and snowflakes in yet another.  I find the sight of them cheering as I drive through and I suppose that has something to do with the excitement as a child I felt when seeing anything to do with Christmas preparations.  These reactions to childhood experiences  linger so long even into older age, apparently.  A friend works in a home for elderly women suffering dementia.  She said when some of the ladies hear it is Christmas coming they become agitated and upset that they don't have their baking done or presents bought and wrapped.  How deep in the female psyche it must reach that even in senility some women feel the need (and burden) to be making Christmas preparations.  No doubt like stories can be told about women around the world in other cultures feeling similarly about religious or family traditions. It reminds me of an old saying..."men may work from sun to sun, but women's work is never done."
 What is on my night table this week...The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon.
I am enjoying reading this book...good characters and parts of the novel are very suspenseful; however some sections seem a little overlong to me so I get a bit bored and skip over them.  Perhaps there could have been more editing to keep the story a little tighter. Maybe that is just me and the feeling I always have about my reading....too many books, not enough time! 

Friday 29 November 2013

Embroidered Felt Birds and BLack Friday Bargains

Here are embroidered felt birds I made for last Christmas.  It was the first time I had used felt and was very surprised by how easy it was to embroider . Overall this was a good project; each one worked up quickly and I could use my own creativity to use whatever embroidery stitches I felt like.  My inspiration for the patterns came from the site Badbirds which is a great one to check out as they offer lots of free patterns.  I like the rather whimsical aspect their birds seem to have too.  Of course, it is always fun to work on something for Christmas whatever it may be.
I have plans to work on similar decorations this month.  Besides my embroidered mitten which is being worked on cotton, I would like to use felt again and this time make stars and another motif.  Still thinking....
Did you get out to the stores today?  My grandson asked me this morning if Black Friday meant it was a bad thing and it wasn't easy explaining the financial concept that sums up a day that can take a business from being in the red to being safely in the black all the while selling their merchandise at deep discounts. 
There is something very satisfying about buying what you want at a bargain though (for those of us on the other side of the counter). 
Hope your day was a bargain.   

Thursday 28 November 2013

Mindfully Thankful and Cranberry Sauce Recipe

What was on my bedside table this week....
Just finished this novel and it is the first I have read by this author, Kristina Ohlsson. It is a mystery and set in Sweden and is an excellent 'read', especially if you like the new Nordic 'Noir' genre that seems to be very popular these days.  In this particular novel, apparently the first in a series, it is the wonderful portrayal of various characters that do the job of pulling you in, so to speak.  I will be seeking out Kristina's future work that's for sure.
Meanwhile, I must say a big Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.  I have enjoyed so many wonderful American movies, both funny and touching, revolving around the  thanksgiving tradition of family and friends coming together to celebrate over good food and fun.  We have our Thanksgiving in October and turkey dinners are the usual fare, too.  I am including my recipe for cranberry sauce as I do like it better than the tinned version.  It always reminds me of that very funny Thanksgiving episode of Mad About You where the father-in-law is disappointed that the cranberry sauce is not from a can-he says he likes the sound the hunk of sauce makes when it comes out of the can in one lump. Thunk!!
Here is the one I use, but you do not have to use port, substitute more juice and water instead.
half a cup of port (I use Taylor Fladgate), a third a cup of orange juice, 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, half to three quarters cup sugar (I use Truvia), orange zest.  Combine port and orange juice and bring to a boil, add cranberries, zest and sugar; simmer till the cranberries pop and it all softens into a jammy kind of mixture, about 15 to 20 minutes.  This keeps very well in the fridge and is delicious with all sorts of dinners. 
Our storm is past; today is one of those picture postcard days...brilliant sunshine and blue sky highlighting all the pure white snow now covering everything.  Just gorgeous.  Feeling thankful and I hope there are things to be thankful for in your life too. 

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Snow, Sewing and Simmering Oatmeal

What is in my hoop this week.
This is a closeup of a Christmas tree decoration I am making for my grandson.  It is a mitten shape and I am embroidering several small pictures in it...a boy rolling a snowball, a snowman, the deer, a pair of mittens in the corner with his initials, and some holly.  The other side has a large primitive style tree with a sign reading "Feed the Birds."  I coloured it with coloured pencils and I will use backstitch for most of the outlining.

 We woke to our world completely winter seems suddenly.  We usually get our snow in slow increments a cm or two at a time.  However we got 20 cm overnight with a forecast for 15 - 20 more today.  I just took this photo from the front door and the best thing I can say is it sure looks Christmasy. 
It was the kind of morning that called for oatmeal for breakfast.  I make my own version using large flake oats.  Here is my recipe...1 cup oats, 2 cups water, a pinch of salt, half tsp. sugar, a handful raisins or craisins, a handful almonds.  Sometimes I cut up an apple and include it too so it is a posher kind of oatmeal.  Of course, you don't have to add any of this if you like your oatmeal plainer.  I usually simmer it for 10-15 minutes ( as long as it takes Hubby to walk with the dogs down the lane to get the paper), stirring often and serve it with a little milk and brown sugar. 
Hope you have lots to smile about in your day today.

Monday 25 November 2013

Here Rex, Come Murphy

I wanted you to see how good our two dogs have life here in the country.  They have the prime seat right in front of the wood stove in the kitchen, which you might think...mistakenly, would be too warm for them, but nooo.  These dogs are special.  The German Shepherd, Rex, was a rescue dog from the humane society.  He had originally been trained as a guard dog and didn't work out, was not adopted because he had some aggression towards men (probably to do with his training).  He has worked out so well for us, and we have been able to give him the kind of home he needed.  Lots of land, a 4 acre enclosed area amid 100 acres and just the two of us, no children living here. He used to pace a lot at night when we first got him but now is quite settled and only barks when he hears an unusual noise.  We feel quite secure knowing he is with us and he has gradually come to accept and seek our pats and praise.
Murphy, the black Labrador, was gotten from Kijiji and unlike Rex, was in a loving home.  However, the family were in a tiny townhouse with two toddlers and two small dogs already.  Murphy was proving very quickly to be too much dog for even two ardent dog lovers.  They were so pleased when they realized the home we could give her and we have sent them follow-up photos to reassure them about her care.  She is rather bossy around the house, loves playing ball, and soaks up all the petting we are willing to give her.  She also shares our bed at night with both of us twisted like pretzels trying to accommodate her poses...usually across the bed instead of up and down.
I think our story goes to show that there is a home out there for every dog, it is a matter of connecting the two. 
We watched with great interest the recent episode of The Nature of Things on CBC called A Dog's Life.  I was surprised to learn how little dogs have been studied; many creatures...pigeons, apes, elephants, etc. have all been studied much more than the animal that actually lives with so many of us. Another interesting fact is that dogs are not colour blind like I had always heard.  They see things with about the same tints as a person with red-green colour blindness would see.
While our dogs are not treated to pedicures, wear costumes or have jeweled collars, I think they lead a pretty good life.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Cancer and Christmas

"If you think we are winning the war on cancer, think again."  This is what a fellow stitcher in one of my classes said the other day.  She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had started radiation treatments.  What  made her make that statement was the shock she was feeling upon seeing the sheer numbers of women lined up for the treatments.  So many, in fact, that she felt she was not at all singled out to have cancer and certainly couldn't expect  any special sympathy as a result.  It gives you pause, doesn't it?  Here was a woman, a retired physical education teacher, very slim, non-smoker, ate sensibly all her life; she might well have thought it was unfair that she got cancer. I thought it was unfair.  But I guess, fairness doesn't enter into the equation, now does it? 
I just can't believe for all the money we throw at cancer research, we still haven't cracked the code.  The headway made seems to be more to do with drugs and therapies rather than finding whatever it is at the molecular level that sets it all spinning.
 I guess, on a brighter note, any of those therapies my friend might want is at her disposal all at no cost to her thanks to our Canadian healthcare system. So far, fingers crossed she is doing very well.
Sorry to be talking about something dire on a Sunday morning.  Just wanted to get it off my chest.
I wore my scarf on Friday, the one on needles at the start of my blog.  It is very warm and I really do like the cheery red and pink.
Yes, we have our snow and today it is very cold and suddenly winter.  The weeks are passing with lightning speed.  The countdown to Christmas has begun here and already everything is Christmasy in the stores.  They don't waste any time, do they, changing the seasons. 
  I wanted to show you my lone male cardinal looking for seeds in the back garden; he is a welcome sight amid all the grayness at this time of year.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Afghans for She and He

I guess it is a function of both aging and cold weather but the afghans are now out and in use in the living room in the evenings when we are watching television.  So there we sit, hubby and I, on either end of the sofa with our feet elevated, wrapped in wool.  Mine is the pinkish one.  I saw the pattern in a Mary Maxim catalogue and copied it.  I found the wool in a local wool shop in Kanata called Yarn Forward, a most scary store for those of us who only have to see wool and our fingers start to twitch.  It is James C. Brett Marble wool and knits up beautifully with gorgeous heathery colour tones.  I chose the pinks and gray/greens and it is machine washable, an important feature with snacking and dogs around.
I put a lot more work and effort into hubby's.  I knit it in squares, each with 40 or 41 stitches depending on the pattern.  I tried to use as many patterns as I could work out with just k and p and manage to knit while watch t.v. at the same time.  I guess that is rather lazy of me and I do feel a little bit guilty about not sitting down and trying to work out really challenging patterns that would give a more varied and beautiful look.  That being said, I used Lion Brand Irish wool for his  and it is a heather brown colour which he likes very much and he has commented on how warming that particular wool is.   I also stitched a small message for him in one of the squares just to personalize it a little. 
Yesterday I dug through my Christmas craft box just to see what I had on hand.  I was very tempted to head straight to Michaels with my 40% off coupon and just browse, but I'm proud of myself for resisting and checking out what I needed first.  Last year, I made some tree ornaments out of felt...mostly owls and birds that I embellished with embroidery.  It was a wonderful project that I enjoyed working on very much and I look forward to doing something similar this year.  The internet has proven to be an awesome resource for ideas and inspiration when it comes to hand made Christmas decorations. 
We are bracing for our first real snowfall of the season...just 2 cm to begin around noon.  I don't mind the white stuff at all, in fact, love the  winter season but there is one thing I dislike intensely and that is having to drive in it.  That is only time I wish I could take taxis or hire a driver to get me about.

Friday 22 November 2013

Saving Birds and Remembering

I wanted to show you this view from my living room bow window taken yesterday.  There are 2 cm of snow forecast for tomorrow and this is probably the last sight of the lawn till next spring.  Those foil twirly things (I'm not sure of their name) hanging in front of each pane are there to prevent the birds from bumping into the windows.  Last year I tried hanging old cd's on strings but keeping them in place was a problem and also they were very noisy banging around when there was any wind.  I spied these in the dollar store for $2 each and realized their potential; I now have a summer season done and they worked perfectly. They are very light so make little noise and best of all... not one bird lost from banging into a window.
If I told you the following...I was 12 years old and my friend and I had gone into the drug store on our way home after school.  There was an old fashioned hard ice cream counter there and she got a chocolate cone and I decided on a strawberry one.  We'd just gotten in our first licks when a man rushed into the store and shouted to everyone the most shocking news.  President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Everyone seemed stunned.  You know what?  We didn't believe him and all the rest of the walk home  we discussed if such a thing was even possible; no we firmly decided what with all those police for protection and how much President Kennedy was loved (certainly by us Canadians) so what that man had said couldn't be true just some form of hoax or misunderstanding.  It wasn't till I arrived home to find my mother in front of the t.v. crying that I knew; it was true.  Amazingly, horribly true.
So here we are all these years past that truly innocent time, when such an act was simple unbelievable. 
Cicero said the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.  And we are still remembering we should.

Thursday 21 November 2013

New Gadgets and Nutritious Smoothies

I started enjoying smoothie type concoctions last year.  I realized how many nutrients could be packed into one small glass and how filling it could feel.  The mixture above is my favourite...spinach, walnuts, blueberries, strawberries and a few frozen grapes for sweetness.  I sometimes add agave syrup if I don't have grapes.  I found the agave syrup at Costco and a little of it goes a long way. I sometimes add a banana, or a carrot, oranges, an apple-really whatever I have available. I usually make a batch and freeze single servings. Unfortunately I don't always feel like eating something like this.  Sometimes it has to be bacon and eggs to satisfy but that's okay sometimes too.
I've been making my smoothies in the old Oster blender; it works still though about a decade old, just takes a long time to get through a batch and it had a hard time tackling anything frozen so things had to be fresh or thawed.  Hubby decided we should have a new one, and what about the most powerful while we are at it.  Hence the Ninja professional model now sitting proudly on my kitchen counter and looking ultra modern in my rather dated kitchen.  It has multiple functions, can quickly dispatch a large amount of food in nanoseconds and even has a special lock for securing its 'feet' to the counter so it won't move about while doing it's business.  However, the blades look somewhat lethal so I'm going to have to be so careful with the handling and cleaning...

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Peace and Plenty

This is a small cross stitch design I worked a couple of years ago.  I don't remember whose design it is but I know the threads were Weeks and had a soft hue to the colours.  Sewing the aida cloth to the regular cotton was a challenge for me and I remember having to resew by hand several of the corners to get them to lie flat.
I love the wish ...peace and plenty.  It sums up in two words all that we really could want or expect in our lives.  My generation was especially lucky in one very important noteworthy way.  As Canadians in my age group, we represent one of the few generations in the world that have not had to go fight in a war; for instance while I was strolling around a university campus in my late teens, my American counterparts were embroiled in the Vietnam war.  It is sad to think that all of the following generations have had continual involvement in one 'conflict' or another around the globe. 
I often think about how most of us do not qualify for any of the big awards in life...never get a Nobel prize, an Oscar, or hit the jackpot in a lottery.  But there are many rewards we get every day and we all deserve and qualify for them.  They may be small but are still worthy of our gratitude.  I'm thinking of things like that great cup of coffee, holding our grandchildren, enjoying a wonderful meal, hearing a song that makes us stop and listen...these kinds of things we all have, no matter who we are. 
I wish you wherever you are peace and plenty.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

A Bargain and Honest Obsessions

This little worked piece was resting on a high shelf behind a large paint-by-number kit at one of the local value village stores.  It is framed in  heavy black wood and looks rather old.  Of course I had to buy it...considering the subject- a woman embroidering or perhaps doing cross stitch, and I loved the dark champagne colour of the thread, and at the price of $1.99, it was a bargain.  I know nothing about the pattern which is quaint and sweet. 
I have always loved cloth and threads and I'm one of those people who likes to run my hands over fabric bolts in the sewing store.  I also note how clothes look and any special collars, belts, buttons or bows.  This love also includes wool.  There is something about the sight of yarn, embroidery floss and bolts of fabric that make we want to start working with it.  Working with each and all of them has always played a big part in my life, not only to help pass time, but for pure enjoyment.
I used to think my love of clothes was a rather shallow trait.  That changed years ago when I read a book about the history of fibre and cloth and women's role in working with it.  Needles were invented about 40,000 years ago; up till the invention of sewing machines in the 1840's all sewing was hand done and more often than not, by the female members of any household. Women have such a long rich history of working with cloth and fibres; we come by our love of threads, whether we are looping, knitting, weaving, or sewing them, etc.,  naturally. Therefore, I know now it is not shallow of me to love nice clothes; I come by the enjoyment honestly.
One of the reasons I loved Downton Abbey was getting to see all the beautiful clothes the 'upstairs' family members wore...the women's dresses, in particular, were so lovely and often showed exquisite fabrics and intricate sewing and details.  I read an interview with the actor playing ladies' maid, Anna, who said they were in awe and so envious of the actors playing the  Lord's daughters because of the beautiful clothes they got to wear for their roles, as opposed to her in her black maid's uniform. 

Monday 18 November 2013

The Gift of Time and Homemade Pea Soup

When I walked outside this morning the ground was littered with broken branches and tree bits.  During the night, we had endured high winds from the same system that brought tornadoes to the U.S. Midwest. It looked like these winds had wrestled with the trees and the trees had definitely lost; though I must say that many of the trees on this property are very old and it is common to often find branches littering the land but nothing like the sight this morning.  Fortunately, we certainly didn't have anything close to the kind of devastation a tornado can cause but it is a reminder of how vulnerable we are to weather patterns that bring with them severe conditions. 

This is the short window of time between two seasons; one day it is more like autumn, the next definitely wintery.  These seasonal changes show us how time passing makes its own marks on the earth. There will soon be no mistaking winter because it will bring a deep blanket of snow to our area.  I like to think there is a message for me to know too as I watch another winter creeping in and that is that I am being given a gift... the gift of more time and what a privilege that is!

Yesterday was a slow and gloomy Sunday.  It was the perfect day for a simmering pot of soup.  I had left over ham and decided to use it to make a pot of my old fashioned split pea soup with dumplings. 
Here is the recipe:

2 cups yellow split peas,1 diced onion, as much leftover ham as you have, about 6 cups of water to start.  Simmer this gently for 3 hours adding more water if it gets too thick.  Then add any vegetables you like; I add 3 diced carrots and 1 diced potato.  For the dumplings I mixed together 2 cups of flour, 3 tsp. baking powder, a pinch of parsley and 1 tsp. salt; then I cut in one third cup butter, and then added enough water...just less than a cup, to make a soft dough.  Drop by tablespoons into the soup; cover tightly and let cook for 15 minutes. 

Sometimes this soup will scorch a little on the bottom while the dumplings are cooking; don't scrape or stir the soup, just ladle gently from the top into bowls and leave the scorched bits be!

Saturday 16 November 2013

Bible Gardens and Pleasing the Eye

Last bouquet from the garden.  You can see  I had to add some sedum, a true and sturdy autumn plant, to fill it out.  I consider flowers little miracles, so pleasing to my eye and enjoy watching them grow very much.  I have a small greenhouse attached to the side of the barn and it is there I begin the early seed planting about March month.  Usually I use seeds I buy at Walmart and have varied success with sprouting; sometimes nothing germinates at all while others reward my efforts and behave quite well and give me my cents worth.  This year I think I will break down and purchase seeds from some of the beautiful catalogues I receive in the mail.  I do look through them, like my cook books, and day dream about future plantings.  Like most hobbies in my life, I am a complete novice and still learning as I go.
I've had various ideas for gardens...recreating my grandmother's flower garden which would include geraniums, sweet Williams, nasturtiums, forget me nots, pansies and the like.  Or perhaps, a Bible garden...what flowers grew in Bible times and are mentioned; lilies, crocuses and roses come to mind.  Think I will need a bit of research on that one.  A friend of mine had a landscape artist come and plan her garden for her.  Though beautiful, it quickly became too overwhelming for her to manage on her own and she wound up changing around a lot of the choices to far fewer plants and those that could grow without loads of weeding and care.  One aspect of that garden I did admire was waist high beds with strawberry plants which meant no deep bending; that can be so hard on the back at my age.
Almost finished my scarf...hopefully before the snow flies.  Added to my granny squares last night and today I'm heading to my sewing machine to put in a couple of hours on some projects I have in the works for quilting.  I will share those efforts with you soon.
  Hope there is something pleasing to your eye in your day today.

Friday 15 November 2013

Granny Squares in Jewel Tones

What is it about yarn that makes us want to get out the needles and begin knitting or crocheting...
I recently decided to return to the old fashioned granny squares that I learned to crochet as a teenager and always enjoy working.  I checked out some images of afghans online just to help me with the colour plan and decided to work on bright, jewel toned colours.  I thought it would help liven things up especially now with the autumn season closing and the days getting shorter and darker.  We are very quickly moving to the shortest day of our year here in this climate...December 21.  By 5 p.m. it is quite dark which can make it seem kind of gloomy and I can certainly sympathize with people who suffer with more sadness or depression at this time of year.  Fortunately I don't feel like that and even enjoy bundling up, wearing sweaters, and hunkering down for the longer winter nights.
Here are my first samples and I find they are looking quite cheery and work up quickly while I watch t.v.  I plan on edging them with the brown before stitching together.  Not sure yet what I will do with the finished afghan, perhaps pass along to someone in the family. 
Friday night...I have been retired 5 years now and Fridays still give me a lift.  How embedded in the spirit must it be to look forward to the weekend.  Tonight hubby and I are watching The Hobbit; have had it in the PVR waiting for the right time. 

Thursday 14 November 2013

A Girl Named Lionel and Relationship Rot

I have suffered with insomnia for a number of decades and reading in the middle of the night is how  I usually get through it.  I average a book a week chosen these days from a reading list I've compiled and picked up at one of the many libraries run by the Ottawa Public Library Board.  I enjoyed reading this book very much.  Lionel Shriver is best known for her Orange Prize winning We Need to Talk About Kevin which has also made it to the big screen.  So Much For That was a finalist for the National Book Award and deservedly so.  It is mentioned as somewhat a criticism of the medical system but I loved the characters and empathized with the main couple who we get to know very well.  Their struggle as a couple is very representative of what happens to long lasting relationships.
Again I ask myself why are relationships so difficult?  What happens between that wonderful, heady beginning of a relationship when everything that person says, does, thinks is important to you and the time when you can no longer look at them fully and have to continually squelch  sarcastic remarks to everything they say.  Okay, I know I'm overstating it but you know what I mean.  A friend of mine said, when I put this question to her, oh it's hard because life happens and there's the dog to be fed and the garbage to put out and the kids to bed and jobs to get to day in and day out...
And maybe that is all the answer there is. 
Meanwhile I am working away on my newest project, crochet this time; a granny square afghan photos of which I will share tomorrow.
And by the way I hope you have things that get you through, too.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Cake Loving Dogs

                                             What happened to this cake??     

  Here is the cake I made for my husband's birthday last summer.  It is an awesome recipe if you do not mind starting with a cake mix.  I found it and is called the Best Chocolate Cake.  I made the mistake of displaying it, unguarded, in the dining room.  I returned to find our German Shepherd, Rex, leaned up on his fore paws chomping into my cake.  He loved the recipe too apparently.  I know chocolate is not supposed to be good for dogs, but he certainly didn't seem to suffer any ill effects; more likely his ears from the screech I let out when I saw him.  Hubby didn't mind at all and very happily enjoyed the rest of his cake.

Yes, how we love our pets and it is so true the loyalty they give us.  I always enjoy entering the house because of the happy greeting they give me every single time, whether I am gone five minutes or five hours, it is always the same.  I am positive no human has ever been as happy to see me as those dogs are.

I filled my bird feeders this morning which I do once a week.  I am using mostly sunflower seeds and I am very pleased by the array of birds this attracts. These days, chickadees, juncos, bluejays, white breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and one chipmunk who looks like a little vacuum filling his cheek pouches are all at the feeders, usually together.  A flock of robins combed the front lawn yesterday and are gone today; no doubt moving south seeking warmer temperatures and who can blame them.  It got down to minus 11c last night and the ground is rock hard this morning.

I almost have my scarf finished.  I have been watching a season of The Walking Dead on Netflix and The Good Wife on pvr all the while knitting.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Perfection, Pumpkins and Perseverance

I should tell you right away that if you want to see perfection or professional results, mine is not the site for you.  I read that the Amish women make a small mistake deliberately in their quilts just to show that only God can be perfect.  No problem here.  I quite often have to ravel back knitting or undo my sewing...unsewing as I call it, which I hate doing.  When I was younger, more than one project was abandoned if I  couldn't get it as good as I thought it should be.  Now I am kinder to myself and try to see each project to an end.  For some reason, there is always a point in every project where my self doubt overwhelms me and I think I should abandon whatever is in my hand at the time.  Learning to persevere in spite of imperfections has not been easy for me. 
This is the wonderful design from +Crabapple Hill Studios called Autumn's Bounty which I worked in September.  I made a boo boo when copying the lettering unto my fabric.  I moved the words too far to the right; I only noticed this when it was done.  To compensate for the imbalance I had to add an extra sprig of leaves on the right side.  More work for myself but I loved the hanging in the end and have just taken it down.  This piece is coloured with crayons and set with the heat of an iron. The stitching is mostly backstitch with a little stem stitch.  I loved working on it and especially like the little bird sitting on the pumpkin stem.  Aren't pumpkins just the happiest looking things.