Sunday, December 27, 2009

Last of the Christmas Trees

This post is especially for my grand-nephew, who at age two has discovered the magic of Christmas trees. I want to share mine with him and love the idea of being able to do so through the inventions of digital photography and the Internet. This is such wonderful fun!

This is the last of the little trees, sometimes known in the past as "little, little tree", but the one in the sewing room may actually be smaller. Called last because it was the last to be decorated, and the only one not actually ready by Christmas Day.

A new picture of the crane tree after a friend found one crane that sat perfectly on the top. In Japan, I believe that the cranes symbolize peace, while in the United States, I have heard that Japanese-Americans see them as symbolizing courage and patience.

Finally, a picture of the tree in my office. The ornaments are ones that I made by hand about twenty years ago, which makes them vintage ornaments now. The angel on the top was a a package topper that may very well be forty to fifty years old.

Come to think of it, the tree itself is about twenty years old now, so that makes it vintage.

I love each and every tree for their special symbolism; for the history that each one has and for the way that they have brought Christmas to me this year, even though I can not go out to find Christmas at church. I am grateful for the way that my Mama loved Christmas, for the many ornaments and decorations that were hers and for the friends who have made Christmas decorating a community effort at my house. For the friends who have brought me food and flowers, too, I am grateful. Finally, for that little boy in Arizona who is learning the customs and wonder of Christmas, I am most especially grateful.

Blessings and a joyous and prosperous New Year to you all--through every day of it until we come full circle and are celebrating our Christmas again.

More Christmas Around My House

Here is the Christmas cactus on Christmas Day. I was so happy to see that more than a month after it began blooming, and even with frost advisories, it was looking happy and pretty Christmas afternoon.

These roses were blooming on Christmas Day.

The last of the big red roses, which I brought in on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve Day a dear friend stopped by with these beautiful flowers.

The flowers added to the colors of Christmas and also reminded me of the legend that says that at the moment of Christ's birth all the flowers bloomed. That same legend says that the animals spoke and the birds sang. I love these legends.

A blessed third day of Christmas. I am so grateful for this beautiful and peaceful time of year and for the memories I have of my family and Christmases past.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas All Over My House

It was a quiet Christmas at my house this year, with the sound of music for the season coming from my favorite classical radio station. Now I will have to find some tapes and cd's to continue the festal sounds through the season. Too many goodies were made or received as gifts and consumed. (Yes, I do have a freezer and sometimes, it seems, I forget to use it!)

All over the house decorations have come out. First and foremost are the tree and creche in the living room.

The next picture is of the large creche in the living room.

Next is the angel tree in my room.

The small creche, which is over sixty years old now, sits next to the angel tree.

Mr Papa Bear looks on from his usual vantage point with frizzly bear in his lap.

Next is a small tree on Mama's dresser in the room that is still evolving into a sewing space. Amidst the clutter, Christmas has come to this room. Last year this little tree held no decorations. Here it is with its own array.

In addition, hidden away in a bureau drawer in a box that had once held canning jars, I found a collection of vintage (maybe actually antique) candles and ceramic figurines that had been Mama's. What fun to unwrap them after decades of being stored away and arrange them now!

And here along the top of the high bureau are more candles.

The crane tree, a custom I began last year, is set up in the dining room, with a small nativity, a gift from a dear friend several years ago.

There is one more little tree, here in my office, but the sun was shining brilliantly behind it and the picture did not turn out. More to come.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rejoice Sunday

I started this post on Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, time for the rose vestments and the rose candle. (This color is not pink but is more of a rose mauve. I have actually found what looks like the perfect shade on line in a ribbon that I may buy next year.)

Anyway here are my thoughts as of Sunday--it's been a crazy week and I am only four days behind, after all.

Some years Christmas sneaks up on me and seems like it almost takes forever to arrive. Other years, it seems as though Fall has barely started and wham, bam it is Thanksgiving and Christmas is coming so fast that it takes my breath away.

This year has been one of the latter years, perhaps because I have begun to reactivate a business that I loved twenty years ago, but that without the Internet was doomed before it was even begun. So with all the business activities, the Christmas preparations have been swept to the background. A few weeks ago
I thought I might even forgo decorating this year.

Two weeks ago my dear friend, who is also my housekeeper, took the big tree out of the box from the front hall closet where it lives most of the year. Last Monday another dear friend brought out the boxes with all the decorations and the bags with the little trees. On Wednesday another friend "fluffed" the branches on the big tree and put on the garlands. She (the tree, that is) is beginning to look like she is getting dressed for the party.

Another tree sits in my office, waiting. This year there may be ornaments. There were none last year for this little tree. Still another tree, with a plastic bag of paper cranes, sits in the dining room waiting for me to make a space and then begin the meticulous task of placing the little paper birds with their beautiful symbolism of peace. (I am tempted to glue them in place for next year. Would that be cheating?)

The tree that goes in my bedroom never did get put away last year. This season, when Christmas is over, it will be put away. There is nothing quite so forlorn as a barren Christmas tree lying on its side during summer heat waves.)

Two more little trees will find their places, one in the master bedroom sewing room. (AKA, "the big room"). The dolls and bears who occupy that space need their holiday too. The other still has to have a spot designated for it, but I will find one.

The house is also beginning to smell like Christmas. Chocolate and spice fill the kitchen air and I am having fun baking, albeit it is a smaller and simplified menu of choices from what I used to do.

Gingersnaps, cappuccino flats, sweet curry and cardamon icebox cookies and some scrumptious cheese slices that would have been even better with dry sherry (Amontillado, or Harvey's Bristol Cream, come to mind here.)

The only smell missing is that of fresh pine. One or two of my patchouli sachets with their rosemary and cloves can make it smell woodsy too.

Christmas is coming and it will be lovely. I am grateful for the traditions, for the artificial trees, which I would once have scorned and for the goodies. Most of all I am so grateful for all the friends, their patience and kindness in sharing with me and making Christmas possible.

While all of this preparation overshadows Advent, the truth is that I couldn't do it anyway, since I need the help of friends to make it happen. Preparing for Christmas is truly a work in progress all through Advent. The goal is to have everything in place by Christmas Eve and then relax and enjoy it for two weeks before beginning to dismantle it so that it is all put away by Candlemas. (Even that tree that didn't get put away last year.)

Pictures need to be taken too and an inventory of where everything is put away. It will be a busy time!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December and it is Cold

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the most beautiful Marian feasts of the year. Lovely chant, lovely music and so appropriate to Advent, which I think of as Mary's time.

We are having unusually cold weather here in California, the kind of weather that reminds us that our houses are shells--granted, shells with furnaces. This makes them difficult and expensive to heat. Still the photos on the various newscasts of snow in various parts of the Bay Area are beautiful.

I will be glad to see it warm a bit and to get ready for Christmas. Some more cooking and baking are scheduled. Some wrapping of presents, if I can remember where they are, and some general tidying of the house. I have a calendar full of visits planned with friends, so I am looking forward to the next few weeks.

The goodies which I posted Saturday were as good as they looked. I am so grateful to everyone who came to my Open House days over the weekend. It is good to see people and to have a positive cash flow!

I am grateful for the good furnace, for the good space heaters and for all the good knitted goodies that I wrap myself up in to keep warm. Will be even more grateful when the low is a little higher and the rain comes. Apparently, we are doing well for the snow pack in the mountains, forty-two inches already at one of the ski resorts. Hurray! With sufficient snow and rain, we will have a summer garden in due season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Goodies for the Feast of St Nicholas

Chocolate Stout Cake made up as mini-cupcakes. I finally made the recipe that I found on the King Arthur Flour website last spring. The Guiness stands out in the raw batter. (I always have to taste the dough or batter--before the eggs are added.) After baking the stout disappears and simply acts as a subtle underscore or amplifier for the chocolate. A very moist cupcake. Yummy. three dozen minis and nine full sized cupcakes. I will definitely make this again. This recipe and the beer batter bread make it more than worthwhile to give Guiness "housespace" as my great-grandmother used to say. (Drinking it is good too, but I can't really do that because of the neurological problems that I already have.)

Above, a Christmas tray full of cappachino flats awaits visitors for St. Nicholas Day. This is a fairly standard recipe for these delicious cookies, but I have ramped up the chocolate by adding about 1 T of dark Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa powder. Very, very good and they don't need the extra dipping in chocolate, although that would make them look prettier.

It was a lot of work, but I had fun. I hope that it will entice folks to come to my little Open House--something that the big box stores definitely won't be offering. But then I can't compete with them in so many, many other ways.

We are having some very cold weather, unseasonably so for so early in the year and I am worrying about how the plants will fair and my heating bill. The gas and electric are the one thing that we don't know the cost of until after we have used them and I have wondered for years what it would take to change this system.

I am grateful tonight that I have a warm house and a warm electric blanket. Grateful for the goodies, which I have enjoyed making and will enjoy sharing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Garden for Advent

On this Wednesday of the first week in Advent I still have the perfume of roses in my house. This is so amazing to me. I don't think that it has ever happened before, although at least two friends have told me at different times in years past that they have had roses blooming at Christmas.

First is the Christmas cactus continuing its joyous bloom.

Next are the roses

A friend brought these flowers from her garden (also in my neighborhood) last week

I found the combination of orange and lavender in this arrangement absolutely stunning. Not colors that I would have combined if I had been consciously thinking of a palette to play or design with, but they work amazingly well.

Much to be grateful for on this wintry day. The light at this time of year has a wanness and poignancy as the year wanes. Soon though, the days will lengthen, the light will return and the flowers of Spring will come back. All part of the waiting and expectation of Advent. Christ, Our Lord, will come into our weary hearts to remind us of His eternal light and joy. The light of day will come, too, following the celebration of His coming. Much, indeed, to be grateful for. I just have to remember it!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Beginnings, Advent 2009

Yesterday was the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of one of my most favorite liturgical seasons. I love the music for the season, the sense of growing expectation as Christmas nears and the sign of waiting. I also believe this is one of the few places in the Church's year when she recognizes the contribution of the feminine. Mary's yes, as much as her virginity and her motherhood are so vital Christian life.

Sometimes we say a wild, passionate yes to what we believe that God calls us to do when we are young and have no idea where that will take us. The road less traveled by sometimes, the hidden way some others. (St Therese of Lisieux did not not live long enough to see where her yes to the hidden way--her phrase--of the cloister would take her. She would be astonished, I think, to know how she is revered and I wonder if any of her writings contain any meditations on Mary.)

Sometimes that yes takes us into marriage that endures and is celebrated for decades.through all the trials of family life. Many of us have just given thanks for Thanksgiving and along with the turkey and leftovers have looked around at our families and given thanks for them. Expectation has been in the air on Thanksgiving too.

Yesterday was Stir-up Sunday. Time to get out the big yellow bowl and stir up the pudding or the fruitcake. This year, I will do that in memory only. Time to reminisce about the Christmas baking of yore. (One year I baked eighteen kinds of Christmas cookies, including two kinds of miniature fruitcakes. They were all delicious and I think I am still carrying some of them around on a body that is weary of carrying that weight.) There will be some goodies, but not nearly so many.

Time to get out the Advent wreath and the blue volume of the Liturgy of the Hours and to see what treasures it holds. Time to update my Advent lens on Squidoo and my Keep Advent group on Facebook.

I heard recently of an idea that I really like for an outdoor Advent wreath. Three purple balls and one rose one are hung in sequence on an evergreen wreath on the door. Next year, perhaps, I will do that or else make poufy ribbon bows for I have the wreath stored away in the garage.

I wish you a happy, holy Advent, time of expectation. May joy be at the end for all of us when we come to Christmas Eve.

I am grateful tonight for manifold blessings and for this season of waiting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fall Activities

Today was crisp and clear after a day of rain yesterday. The sky was blue as blue and the leaves, sparser on the trees now after the storm, ran the gamut of yellows, oranges, and reds that make Fall such an outstanding season of light and color.

It is cold enough to think of a cozy fire, of baking and cooking slow steaming things like pot roasts and soups. My activities were more prosaic, setting up shop for my small business. Here are pictures.

The picture above shows my I Keep Advent banner. (Other banner designs are on the rack behind it.) My cards, the peace design that I have written about, designs for Christmas, and all occasion blank notes with many, many flower images comprise the offerings here along with a basket of lovely cards from my friend and colleague, Fe Langdon.

Above one of my hand knitted shoulder shawls, that can also be worn as a head scarf is draped on a wig stand. Two more are in plastic bags next to it. The yarns are soft, hand painted natural fibers.

More banners in the photo above, this time with the peace design on top of the stack and two baskets, one holding peace buttons and gift tag sized cards, the other holding sachets sit on another small table. It is fitting to display the peace design, which I made in honor of Papa with the sachets for herbal crafts were part of the business that he helped me with when he was alive.

Next, in the photo above are a selection of the hand made boxes that I began making last summer. They are fun to make. Some are printed with the same designs that I am using on other items; some are fabric over paper. I love making them almost as much as I love to knit, although arthritis and post-polio syndrome are slowing down my hands. (Some days I feel as though I live on Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen--well and of course, chocolate.)

Finally on the kitchen counter, I have arranged a display of my Mary Kay products. I was disappointed with the picture though, because I had the brilliant idea to use my Pampered Chef cooling rack to display some of the items and it works really well.

I am grateful for how pretty my things look all nicely displayed, for the customers who do find me from time to time and for my dear friend who came and swept all the leaves away and neatened and tidied the front walk way and the patio so that all would be ready for people to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fall for Sure

It was 59 degrees inside my house when I got up this morning. The electric blanket had quit doing the job--for some reason the newer blankets take their cue from the ambient temperature of the air above them rather than from the control setting. Probably will have to break down and learn to use that other technology that I insisted to my late father that we had to have when we put in the "new" furnace--eleven years ago. That is the programmable thermostat. The one year I used it though, I hated it. It came on way too early, went off too early in the evening and I had to keep remembering to reset it anyway in between, just as I do now. Still it did keep the furnace from coming on at night and blowing 60 degree air at me.

It is time to bake bread and make soup--warm the kitchen with the cooking projects and be comforted by "hot cooked food"--an expression of Papa's that I love. I do wish that I had a winter garden and hope to have one next year.

Rain is on the horizon, but this is the fourth week in a row that we have had that forecast and we haven't had much more than enough drizzle to dampen the ground. We would give thanks for a good soaking rain or three or four.

The sun is definitely at a lower angle these days and I find myself counting the days until the winter solstice and then the light will come again. It is a good time for drawing in and being grateful for home and hearth--which I surely am.

Very hard to believe that next week is already Thanksgiving. (Sorry about the typos that I just corrected.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day, 2009

Today I think of all of those who served and are serving. Family members going back to the Union Army in the Civil War, coming forward through WWI and WWII who included my Grandpa and Papa. Many friends too, have served and are still serving. Today is the day that we think of you and thank you.

I no longer wear my patriotism on my sleeve as I did when I was a child. Although red, white and blue is still one of my favorite color combinations of all time. Still if I could, I would be flying my flag today--it is one of those things that I can't quite manage from my wheelchair.

I think of this as one of the November Feasts, feasts of remembrance that make the whole month of November special. I look forward to it every year. It precedes Advent and then Christmas. Maybe it is part of the reason that I love the Fall so much.

This Veteran's Day is tinged with special sadness, both because we are still at war, eight long years, longer than any of the others in our history and because of the events last week at Fort Hood.

At the same time there was a very special segment on the news last night about therapy dogs coming to the aid of veterans who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a lovely sight indeed to see the dogs with their people and hear the testimonies. This is a good use of our tax dollars indeed. Dogs have a special way of knowing when they are really needed and devotion to their people that is both comforting and healing.

I am grateful for all those who have served and are serving and say a special prayer for the safety of those still in harm's way that they may come home safely to their families and friends.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What is Blooming in Garden Now

Now is November, 2009. We have had a string of sunny days, although today is cloudy--it is supposed to drizzle. It is colder today, too, but yesterday I had the opportunity to stick my nose out and observe what is blooming.

The first and most stunning thing is the Christmas cactus--two months early! It has apparently liked its spot on the garden shelf and it has been watered, perhaps a bit too much. So here it is in all its glory

I have written about the pineapple sage--nature's hummingbird feeder--in previous posts. I can't get around to the back to photograph the huge plant, which is the mother of all the smaller ones. But here is one of the smaller ones in the front patio

Thanks to my friend, K, who has been keeping my yard in lovely order I also have a collection of oxalis plants to compliment my principle one, the shamrock from St. Patrick's day some years ago. The one that is blooming now is purple with pink flowers. I apologize for the blurriness of the photo. This comes from talking and taking pictures at the same time

Finally, there are roses blooming! I may have roses for Thanksgiving--much as I had tomatoes last year.

The roses do deserve more attention than they have received this year. Perhaps next year will be better. More rain will lead to a better garden. So I wish the drizzle would be rain.

I am grateful for these blooming plants which quietly persevere even when I give them minimal attention. Grateful too for a nice warm place on this winterish Fall day. Hard to believe that the year has gone so fast and is nearly over.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints, 2009

Today is the Feast of All Saints in the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of commemorating them one by one, today we think of all the saints in the aggregate. Somewhere, I think in my Catholic childhood, I received the idea that this feast was also about those not in the calendar, all the household saints, our ancestors whose lives were lived privately. I remember as the Litany of the Saints was chanted adding silently, "All ye holy Grandmothers and Grandfathers, Great-Aunts and Great-Uncles and ancestors in any way." Now I think of my parents, too, for they have gone on. In fact, we have been without them for too long.

Tomorrow, on All Souls, I will pray for their souls. I think this is called hedging my bets, something that Catholic tradition makes room for in other ways too.

Today, with the sun shining in and the bread baked, the smell of patchouli mixed with cloves and rosemary filling the air and reminding me of incense, I prefer to think of them as saints.

My parents taught me my prayers when I was so young that I don't remember a time that I did not know them. I do remember my Mama lifting me up so that I could dip my fingers in the holy water font as we entered the church to "make a visit". This also always included lighting a candle--real flames and real matches, no electric or battery operated votive lights then. The church was always dark and mysterious and had that smell of left over incense and candles burning--the potpourri I have been working with today is very evocative of that.

Most of the saints made it to heaven by simply doing that daily work of keeping themselves alive for as long as they could. Without all the medical and media rigmarole that we possess some of them had good enough genes--and luck--to make it into their 90's. Other dropped where they stood doing the housework on a Monday after attending Mass on Sunday, a massive stroke or an embolism or something else that they may not have recognized taking them instantly out of the mundane and into the sacred. (I think of heaven as the sacred and afterlife as the culmination of this one.)

The ancestors that I have traced did not, for the most part, die in hospitals, but at home. There were some exceptions. My father remembered that he was four years old when he was taken to the hospital and watched his maternal grandfather being wheeled down the hall on a gurney. He never came back. (Later, my family history research yielded up this man's death certificate and the information that he had died of stomach cancer.) His youngest daughter, my father's aunt told s the story of how her father led the family to church every Saturday afternoon for confession. They where Irish. One Saturday, instead of going to the Irish church they detoured to the German one. There they were told to go to their own church. Which they did. I am sure this same man led this same procession on Sunday to Mass.

They all "kept the Faith". Confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday, fish on Friday. Rosaries at wake services, Gregorian Chant, the Dies Irae, and all the other lovely music of the annual cycle. And when there lives were completed they were laid to rest with the Requiem Mass.

I remember them with joy and thanksgiving, grateful for their lives on this earth and all that they passed on to me, my cultural heritage as well as my DNA. I am grateful for them, every single one and hope that they are all rejoicing in heaven. Today I rejoice in the beauty of the sunshine streaming in my window on this glorious Sunday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Household Blessings

Today it was 62 in the house when I got up around 8:00 am. That is a bit crisp for this old lady, so I set the thermostat to 67 and let the house warm a bit. Both the easy to use thermostat and the furnace itself, which got major parts last year at this time are household blessings.

After several hours of work at the computer--mostly putting up things on Etsy and Zazzle, tasks made possible by the fact that the darling DSL actually deigned to work, I switched to working on making the products themselves. First lavender was stuffed into bags and its lovely fragrance filled my dining room. Then I filled Booklover's sachets and made another small batch of this lovely potpourri that I derived from Gerard's herbal. I actually have one or two small packets of it that I made twenty years ago that still smell good. The fragrance of this is almost overwhelming though, overpowering the lavender and filling the house. Even though it is all put away now, I can still smell it and it is making me think of Christmas.

Then the UPS man brought two boxes for my Mary Kay business and I happily delved into them and set up a box to ship out. The fact that this came during the afternoon allowed me to play in the sunshine that by now was streaming into the house and warming the dining room. I was, and am, grateful.

Finally, I made a quick dinner from sloppy joe mix that my sister made and froze for me when she visited a month ago. I do believe that food in the freezer is one of the greatest blessings of all--quick fixes on busy days. I watched the news, grateful that I do not have to commute so the problems with the Bay Bridge do not afflict me; grateful that I can work at home.

Now I just need to learn better marketing skills, or networking skills to find customers and I will be able to increase the things that I am grateful for!

No pictures tonight, but maybe tomorrow. Good health and blessings to you all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

First Loaf

One of the benefits of computer technology is the availability of lists or groups set up via email. Our neighborhood has such a list and fairly frequently it is a means of exchange or recycling as people clean house or garage or closets. About a month ago someone decided to pass on a bread machine that she no longer had time to use. I was the first one who emailed her so it came to me. I call this winning the neighborhood list lottery and I think it is great fun. The bread machine is pictured below.

A few weeks later another friend, whom I knew had a bread machine, looked at it and said that it was exactly like the one that she had and would I like her recipe? I was so grateful, for I wasn't looking forward to experimenting until I got it right. (I knew I would eat the experiments, anyway so as not waste them, but I really hoped for bread.) My friend then asked a few days later if I would like a packet of the dry ingredients that she uses for her recipe. She makes up ten packets at a time and freezes them. I will be doing this I think. So I now had a bread machine and packet of ingredients to make bread. (This story is beginning to remind me of Stone Soup, one of my favorite childhood books.)

Today, with help from another friend, because I could not possibly lift that machine, the machine was set up and the bread ingredients placed into it and the settings buttons pushed. Thump, thump, thump it began mixing (kneading). Through several hours as we worked on projects the machine clunked on and off, beeped, kneaded and then began to bake. A lovely odor wafted into the dining room. At last, bread! After the cooling phase completed itself I took out a lovely rounded loaf of bread and cut and ate the first slice. Delicious! Here is the picture of the bread.

While the machine thumps through its kneading phase, it rocks back and forth a little on the old typing table that it is sitting on. At one point I looked at it, lights on, rocking and thumping and exclaimed to my friend, "It looks like R2D2!" She agreed and we laughed.

I am so grateful tonight to neighbors and friends; to a community who helped me bake bread--for another friend with the same machine was also involved in this and gave me a slice of bread she baked. I know that I will not need to be hungry for good bread again. I can make it now in the bread machine or, using the beer batter recipe, in the oven and have good, wholesome food that I have prepared myself.

Gratitude and happiness fill my heart. Thank you to all who helped with this.
(And one of these days, I will remember to proofread before I hit publish.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beautiful, Beautiful Produce

In the last two weeks, I have lost track of time. Somewhere an entire week of October has simply disappeared. I don't know how I did this. First my friend whom I invited to add her cards to my holiday boutique emailed to ask if I was still doing this. Oh, oh, I thought, isn't that next week? Quick look at the calendar---this week. Scurry, scurry to get it done.

Then I was sure that I was due for my monthly Planet Organics delivery next Friday. While I was having lunch with a friend and enjoying the sunshine streaming in the front door (enjoy it now, its going away soon), the young man who delivers for Planet Organics came up my ramp. Turns out if you don't place a specific order they deliver a minimum container of assorted seasonal produce--very much like the Community Supported Agriculture boxes. The contents are mostly displayed in this picture.

It is so beautiful. There is chard on the bottom that doesn't show and carrots that I set aside and forgot to add. I will prep most of it tomorrow by cooking it and freezing it to eat over the next two weeks. It is a major blessing to have such fine food. Maybe it will keep my brain working better so that I won't be quite so forgetful. (A kind of new memory chip implant--vitamins and minerals from nature.)

Here are the fruits--the box is always a mix of fruit and vegetables, local and organically grown.

I love the size of the fruits, smaller than much of what comes from the supermarket and therefore better scaled to one serving for one person--especially one who is aging and not very active. My late father used to say that the most expensive food we buy is the food we throw out. Maybe the really most expensive is the food that we eat so that we won't feel guilty about throwing it out and it lands on us and we haul it around. I am still fighting with the weight problem. Perhaps more organic fruits and veggies will give me a step toward wining.

It was a serendipitous day. I am so grateful.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Morning Has Broken

I woke up this morning at first light as the dawn edged around the curtains and daylight crept into my house from the high windows in the living room that run down the whole side of the house. The light reaches all the way across to the hallway outside my bedroom. At this time of the year I also still have a few of the shades up a little from the summer pattern of letting air in although the windows are now locked down for the coming winter.

The words, "Morning has broken like the first morning" sang in my head as I watched the light grow stronger and I thought "what a nice way to wake up." For years I have had the luxury of waking with the light rather than to the sound of an alarm, but this is the first time in many months that my mind has turned to the words of this song/hymn.

First a hymn, it became a popular song in the seventies sung by Cat Stevens. I looked for the words on the net and found that I had long been conflating the first and last verses, so that what I was singing in my head was, "Morning has broken like the first morning.....God's recreation of the new day."

I loved the song and was surprised, some years after its time on the charts, to see the verses included in the Liturgy of the Hours. That is when I discovered that it is a hymn. God's recreation (re-creation) of the new day is an image I have been fond of ever since. This morning as I waited for the light to fill my house so that I could rise without needing to turn on a light, I pondered its meaning. I should have written this post immediately, because much of what I was thinking has been dissipated by the cares of the day--fighting with a bad Internet connection that is making life miserable, washing dishes and paperwork.

Still the gist of what I was thinking was on the relationship of recreation to re-creation. Prayer, worship, sharing meals with others, gardening, laughter and making things with our hands and minds seems to me to be in the nature of re-creation. We use ourselves in the ways that the Creator intended and are connected to Creation, completing a cycle each day so that we may rest and begin anew the next day.

Recreation, on the other hand, the passive entertainment that passes for recreation in our overly technological world, disconnects us from ourselves, from our true purpose in life, from meaning and of course, ultimately from our Creator. It may contribute to keeping us from resting and from being productive in truly human ways.

As I looked for a link on the Internet to the text for Morning Has Broken--which I found here --I discovered that there is a Christmas carol set to the same tune. It can be found here

It is a carol that I hope to come back to as Christmas arrives. The tune it seems is Celtic.

I wish you true recreation--re-creating--tomorrow and the next day and the days hereafter and good rest this night.

I am grateful for that light this morning and for the thoughts it gave me as well as the beautiful day that it gave me as well. I will be even more grateful if and when my DSL finally works as it is supposed to!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday in October

The weather has taken a winterish turn. Overcast and damp, it could be any time of day and much more deeply into winter than it is on this second October Sunday. We are waiting the arrival of a storm. While we are desperately in need of rain, we aren't in need of the wind that is supposed to accompany it. This is always a little scary. The first goodly storm of the season tends to run off since the earth is hard packed and dry from all the baking summer sun. In addition, the power lines are dusty and the rain seems to have the effect of causing this dust to turn to muck and the power lines to short. I hope that we will get the good effects and the bad will be minimized. May the trees stand tall and the power stay on.

Time to remember where I put my long underwear shirts after no longer needing them for the year back in June. Time to hand wash all the hand knitted things that I should have washed by now when the weather was warmer! (I am a champion procrastinator.)

Good weather for baking though and for soup. I will use up all those cans and boxes of soup. (It feels almost as strange to say boxes as it does to pour the soup out of them, but that is a definite advance in technology! No more can openers. No more depending on power to open the cans, either, come to think of it. My hands will no longer work a hand opener.)

Yesterday I made a small batch of booklover's sachets. I love the smell of the patchouli, rosemary and cloves mixed together. So yummy. And no calories. (I should invent a chocolate and vanilla potpourri, but that would make me want to bake.)

Pictures to take, that should have been taken yesterday--when the light was better. Natural light is always better.

Still, it is Sunday. Time to relax and pray, give thanks and count my blessings. I am grateful today that the hot weather is behind us and that when I look at my Etsy shop I see that some of my items have been viewed many times. I wonder, what to do to convert the views to clicks?

Prayers for all my family and friends--and viewers and readers. May your day be truly blessed. (That underlined for was originally a typo--I thought for and typed to. Guess I shouldn't blog on only one cup of coffee. Yes, proofreading would help too.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Coming Back from Vacation

I have had company for the last week. A delightful visit from my sister and her husband from Toledo, Ohio via Phoenix, Arizona where they visited their son, daughter-in-law and grandson in time for their grandson's second birthday. My sixty-second birthday was celebrated Wednesday.

It has been lovely to have this time away from routine, to eat with family and friends and to play Scrabble and watch movies. (I laugh that I may have the greatest shrink wrapped collection of video tapes on the planet. One of those tapes, Tea with Mussolini came out of its wrap yesterday and my sister and I enjoyed watching it together.

We watched several other movies and that gave me practice in finally using the DVD/VCR unit that I bought a year and half ago, but hadn't mastered using! Now I must watch more movies so that I don't forget how to do it.

My sister and I cleared a chest of drawers and she moved it to its new spot in the sewing room, aka Master Bedroom, which I hope I will finally have rearranged between now and Christmas. That will be the completion of a two-year project.

I need to get back to work and hope that the last heat wave of 2009 hit us last weekend. The computer and I both seem to like cooler weather better than hot.

The Fall is really here with crisp mornings, sunny afternoons and the pineapple sage in full bloom outside the kitchen window. My sister and I both love looking at the hummingbird as she feeds on that blooming plant.

More to come, I hope now that summer and vacation are behind me.

I am so grateful for my family and for their visit and praying for safety for travelers as they return home.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Civility and Incivility

The news has been filled with incidents of incivility this week. To a certain extent, I think this is media hype. Someone is rude and gets more notice than he/she would get for ordinary, courteous behavior. Media hype, in other words.

Still there is a general lack of courtesy alive in the land and an over-sized measure of entitlement that seems to go with it. I think we all need to calm down and back up a bit.

Aristotle posited the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," hundreds of years ago. How different would our social discourse be if we were to follow it, even at this late date?

Instead of name calling, which has become our political way, if we were to take time and listen, then make our points of disagreement politely, would we make more progress on finding middle ground in our law-making? The problems that face us are huge and won't be solved by inflamed emotions and inflamed rhetoric.

I think this applies just as much to liberals not name-calling conservatives as it does the other way around. We should not hate our elected officials; it is unbecoming a democracy for its citizens to behave this way. On a practical level it leads to gridlock and the work that needs to be done, cannot be done.

I am grateful to live in a democracy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tasks That Didn't Exist When I Was Young

Maybe I am just getting old and grumpy, or maybe it is just beginning to show a bit more. Yesterday, as I shredded paper and washed plastic bags I thought of tasks that didn't exist when I was growing up.


There wasn't so much packaging for starters. If you needed to buy a pencil, you went to the store and bought a pencil. (I still remember buying my artist's blue pencils for calligraphy layout as singles. Several sizes of leads, but one of each. Not packs. I still have the pencils.) If you needed screws or nuts or nails, you went to the hardware store and bought what you needed out of bins. There were no blister packs and the sacks that they came home in were made of paper, easily burnable in the coal furnace in the basement.

True, crayons came in sets in boxes, but the boxes had no other packaging, not even a sticker to keep them closed. Nobody would have swiped one crayon.

Plastic bags hadn't been invented yet. Our mothers made our sandwiches for us to take for lunch and slipped them into wax paper sandwich bags. Milk was delivered in glass bottles and the bottles, washed, were put back in the milk box on the back porch so the milk man could take them when he brought the new full ones.

We rarely drank soda, but when we did, it came home in glass bottles that had a deposit on them, so we took them back to the store. Sometimes, in the summer, kids collected bottles in the their red wagons to take back to the store to earn money for the ice cream man or some other small kid expense. The newspapers were tied up in bundles because sooner or later there would be a paper drive by the Boy Scouts to earn money for the troop. This was a vestige of paper drives during the war years when nothing was wasted.

Washing everything before it is recycled.

Obvious. There wasn't so much stuff; we threw out the trash and we didn't wash it first.

Sorting the recycling.

How many hours have I spent doing this in the last twenty years? I am so grateful to be able to read newspapers and magazines online now so that everything that I read doesn't have to be handled so many times before it clears the house.

Shredding paper

This one didn't exist a few decades ago either. The noise made from the shredder is about as pleasant as a leaf blower. One small good note of the recession is that at least there isn't as much junk mail this year as in the preceding years. I can at last catch up with all the paper shredding. Didn't even own a shredder until two years ago. After spending time sorting the recyclable parts (envelopes and such) from the shreddable parts of the junk mail, I find that I then spend about as much time cleaning the stuck paper bits out of the shredder so that I can feed it some more, as I do actually feeding paper through it. Definitely not time well spent.

Washing plastic bags to use them again.

This was one that I used to refuse to do. Yesterday, after cleaning three kitchen drawers, I found that I had the equivalent of a box full of zipper type plastic bags. All gently used since the really gunky ones had made it to the trash. So along with the dishes, I am washing the bags. (That will mean fewer boxes cluttering the pantry and fewer boxes to break up to recycle. Maybe there is more method to this than I thought.)

I have found that the easiest way to do this and to ensure that they will dry is to put soapy water in the bag, close the bag, shake and squish. Transfer the soapy water to the next bag or the dishpan to be used to wash the next thing and turn the bag inside out. Rinse it. When it has dried, turn it right side out again and dry the outside. Store open so that it will be easier to use the next time.

How much water, energy (to heat the water as well as our own energy) and dish soap does it take to reclaim the plastic bags and rinse out the recyclables? How much time do we spend doing these seemingly useless, less than productive tasks?

Still, I am grateful that I am getting things cleaned up. Even more grateful for the visit of my sister and brother-in-law that I am anticipating in two weeks. (The motivator for the clean-up.) Grateful too for the beautiful fall weather that we are having and the energy it gives me to do the clean-up.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Vegetable Delight

My dear friend L brought this scrumptious vegetable gallette over for a taste testing this morning--late enough to be lunch.

Tomatoes, roasted red pepper and provolone blended together to provide the filling. The flaky pastry melted on my tongue. Altogether marvelous.

When she called, I was just about to test a buckwheat oatmeal muffin for doneness. They were perfect so I took them out of the oven.

I have always been fearless about fiddling with recipes--sort of a master fiddler--in this respect. The original recipe called for butter, but I have been eating too much butter recently, so substituted canola oil. Where the original recipe called for white flour ("all purpose"), I long ago substituted whole wheat. Half the whole wheat gave way to buckwheat and it all came together nicely. Forgot to take a picture though. They're not really all that photogenic.

I must ask my friend if the pastry could be made with whole wheat flour. Probably wouldn't be as pretty though.

I am grateful for this yummy food brought by a friend. Grateful too, for the weather. Fall is definitely in the air today. I do love Fall and am glad to have survived summer. It is hard to believe that the last few months went by so quickly.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Knitting Project Completed and Books Read

For the last two weeks I have been preoccupied with turning some beautiful purple yarn that I found in my stash into a garment, ad libitum, that is without a pattern. Here it is

I found that it was great fun to figure out how to count out and tie off the stitches that would become the hood and then bind off the two sides, pick up the hood stitches and knit them. After this picture was taken I sewed the top of the hood together and added "I-cord" to the corners where the hood and body of the shawl intersect so that it will be easy to keep it anchored when I wear it next winter.

Last week, one evening was almost cold enough to wear it; two nights later I kept myself awake reading Murder with Puffins, while the fans ran and blew enough cool air into the house to bring the temperature down enough to sleep. ("Changeable as the weather", that is the kind of summer we have had.)

I indulged in reading the next China Bayles mystery that the library lady brought me, Spanish Dagger and am now reading the next one, Nightshade. I have one more to go, Wormwood and then I think I will have to go back and read the first one over again and the rest in sequence. Like the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, I think I can read these over and over.

Except that I am being prodded and pep-talked by a very persuasive and persistent young woman from twenty-five hundred miles away to "finish your book, Aunt Maggie". Niece Jenny, who lives in Toledo. I said, "Which one." I have almost as many unfinished projects as I have clutter in my house--and yes, they are almost certainly related.

Well, tomorrow is another day and it is late now. I am grateful that I found that pretty yarn and I think I will be even more grateful when the cold weather comes in December. Grateful, too for this mild summer. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to write that I am grateful for finishing one of those manuscripts. One of these days.

My apologies for the coding errors in the first post of this; I have edited it, which may be against blogging etiquette, but it seems better to fix it than leave it in an incomprehensible state. (Shouldn't blog when I am falling asleep!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Journeys Taken

Fifty years ago today, on August 17, 1959 my family arrived in the Bay Area in our 1955 Chevy Bel Air, a green and white two-door sedan with a fully loaded car top carrier and an equally loaded trunk. (Ah, the capacity of that trunk! ) We had spent the night in Virginia City, Nevada, an historic silver mining town. I remember a Polar Bear mounted in a glass case--something that was rather shocking then and would be utterly appalling, if not actually illegal, now. The beauty of the creature still haunts me.

Papa knew that we would make it to our destination that day, so he allowed time for
lingering and being on vacation as it were. We had spent the last nine days driving across the country from Toledo, Ohio. Across the Midwest plains states, bypassing Chicago--Papa did not like city traffic, (Much later I realized that he had actually lived in Chicago for a short time when he was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Station to fill out his contracted term with the Navy after the war in the Pacific ended.)

Through Iowa with its, "Iowa has more pigs than people" highway signs, we stayed overnight in Nebraska at a Motor Inn, a wonderful place that had been built in the 1920's. With its two bedrooms, spacious bathroom, front entry hall that would easily have doubled as a sitting room if it had had furniture, and tiny kitchen ("kitchenette") we could have spent a week there--if there had been something to do!

Our journey took us to Wyoming and I remember eating lunch in a town called Laramie and marveling at the splendor of the mountains. "Purple mountains majesties" became real to me that day. Onwards to Utah, with even grander scenery we stayed over on the fourteenth of August. The next day, the fifteenth, was the Feast of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation, so Papa inquired of the cashier at the restaurant where we ate supper and then we found the church we would go to in the morning and checked the schedule for morning Mass.

Very bright and early the next morning we arrived at an empty parking lot and watched sunrise in the Rocky mountains, wondering where the people were who should be attending Mass. Only after we had been sitting there for a bit, did our parents realize that the time zones had changed and we were an hour ahead of everybody! We went back to our motel and gathered our things together so that we would be ready to leave after Mass. We could not eat breakfast, of course, because we wanted to receive Communion and the laws of fasting still held in 1959.

I remember seeing sisters in the congregation with the great white headdresses that would later show up on tv in Sally Field's "the Flying Nun". Daughters of Charity, perhaps? Mass was quick and breakfast eaten and we were on our way again, marveling still at the deep drop and glorious mountains that we drove through. That night was spent in Elko, Nevada, I believe and then two days later we were home, although we did not call it that yet.

It was the essence of the great American Road Trip. I may still have the AAA "Triptik" somewhere in the house. It changed our families lives, of course, for we became Californians and our parents lived out there lives here, as I very well may, in this house that I still live in.

I am grateful for these memories and for my family today. Grateful too for the Bay Areas's natural air conditioning, that I love!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blue Vegetables

In the last year of my late mother's life she frequently said, "Oh, I wish someone would invent a new vegetable." Shortly after her death, the explosion in exotic and rare vegetables took place. I even have a large book, written in the 1980's devoted to these specialty vegetables that now days, thanks to Farmer's Markets, gourmet cooking shows and "foodie" blogs are no longer exotic or rare.

I thought of Mama when I saw that the purple cauliflower that I wrote about a week ago turns blue when it is cooked. My friend, who showed it to me right after she bought it, shared a generous bag of it with me.

Here is a picture

And another

Smells and tastes just like cauliflower. I am tempted to make a bleu cheese sauce and something with blue corn meal to complete the blue motif, or is it a blue food conceit?

All of this adds up to a new definition of playing with my food. I confess to a fascination with it. Find a wine with a blue label, make something with blue icing for dessert and have a blue food party. (Lemon cupcakes with blueberry frosting, a recipe that I found a few months ago and haven't tried yet.) Would anybody come or would they think it too weird? (I promise not to dye the chicken blue--but what could the entree be to keep with the theme?)

I could make the invitations blue (a digitally enhanced blue rose maybe) and ask the guests to wear something blue.

Now all I need is a clean house and a sous chef and I would be all set.

Seriously, I am grateful for this blue vegetable, even more grateful for my friend who shares her food finds with me. The weather is beautiful today--I feared that it would be hot and it is not, so I am grateful for that too. Always grateful for things that remind me of my Mama as well.

A blessed Sunday and day after the Feast of the Assumption. May all your vegetables taste yummy and delight you, whether they are blue or not. (And one of these days, I may learn to proofread before I hit post!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Random Thoughts

The days have been flying by. Too many books, too little time! I have thirteen books from the library and I think that I am about half way through them. Novels are the majority. I have read A Dilly of a Death, another China Bayles mystery by Susan Wittig Albert, who has become one of my most favorite authors. Then I was engrossed in Interred With Their Bones, a complex story that spanned several centuries and was primarily a modern day action thriller/mystery. Following these books were several that are the reading equivalent of eating popcorn.

This week the weather has been gorgeous with even a little rain on Thursday. Just enough to smell good and give us a dramatic sky, it was not enough to water the plants. Now we are due for a heat wave. I will be glad when that is over. July and August are two of my least favorite months. Followed by January. If I could hibernate during those three months, I think that I would!

This week I made the rye/onion variation of the beer batter bread. This is so good! I am thinking about trying for a whole wheat and cinnamon, raisin variation. I'm not sure how this will go with the beer, though. Report to follow if I do it.

I was struck by the news this week of the two young women journalists returning home from Korea. It was touching to see them reunited with their families.

At the same time, I was struck by the fact that I did not see a single allusion to Hiroshima on Thursday, August 6, the anniversary of that awful event. Are we starting to forget? We never should. The danger is still so great.

Finally, I have been meaning all week to share this marvelous vegetable that a friend showed me from the Farmer's Market, a purple cauliflower.

I need to ask her if it cooked purple and if it tasted any different for being such a fabulous color.

I am grateful for this length of cooler days, even as I go into heat wave mode again and I am grateful that Fall is coming.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Feast of St. Ann

One of my favorite days in the calendar, one that I anticipate is this day the Feast of St. Ann. In the traditional calendar, St. Ann was honored alone. In the modernized calendar, St. Joachim has been added. This is appropriate, I think, especially in a culture when fathers are all too often relegated to roles as sit-com dads or comedy movie bumblers. Fathers, and thus grandfathers are as important as mothers and grandmothers.

I have an especial love for the images of St. Ann with the little girl, her daughter, Mary at her knee, a book open. This is an image of a woman who is clearly literate, passing on her knowledge to her daughter. She would also have taught spinning and weaving and the other domestic arts to this daughter who was destined to play such a powerful role in "salvation history", a term I put in quotes because it was part of the catechism instruction that I received as a child (also at my mother's knee--and my father's) and that I have not heard used recently.

There was, I believe, a seamless integration of the activities, what I believe today we might call "roles"--of St Ann and St Joachim as they went about their daily lives. Today the closest that many of us come to physical labor is picking up and adjusting the keyboard and the mouse and then typing as we sit down to our computers. To exercise our bodies we go for a run or to the gym.

In an earlier, pre-industrial, pre-modern society, the muscles were used everyday for everyday tasks. Spinning, weaving, sweeping, carpentry. (This raises the question, that I don't believe I have ever heard an answer to--St Joseph was a carpenter, what did St Joachim do?)

I miss hearing the lovely chants for this feast and should go poking around on the internet to see if I can find them. I am grateful for the childhood spent learning these devotions and the traditions of Catholicism, and for the time, too brief in retrospect, that I spent singing in a chant choir when I was a young woman. Grateful, too that that chant choir is still well and singing in Palo Alto.

Today is a lovely day with cloud cover still at almost 9:30. I can remember so many times that we sang in a heat wave, an evening Mass. As the sun set the cooling ocean breeze would blow in the chapel windows and doors and by the time that the last note had been sung, the last candle blown out and the last program collected, we would shiver slightly as we walked across the lawn to the house were we would have refreshments to continue the celebration of the feast.

I am grateful for these memories too and wish you a happy and blessed St Ann's Day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Catching Up

I've been using the hot days of the last week to do some catching up. Sorting and actually shredding paper is one of the most boring task sets in the universe. Be sure not to mix the-goes-in-the-shredder-pile up with the goes-in-the-recycle pile. There is a sense of accomplishment when it is done that almost makes up for the time.

I have chores in every room of the house--grateful that it isn't a bigger house! Oh yes, I am. Too much paper, too many books, too little time. Never thought I would reach the point of too many books, but I have. I am glad for the public library and the Special Outreach Services Program that brings books to me. Fewer books would have come into the house if I had known about this earlier.

The sewing room, newly painted in the summer of 2007, may emerge this summer. That would be wonderful. The living room might be visible again before my family comes to visit. it has been a default sorting space and knitting accumulation space, with its own accumulation of books. I should take before and after pictures. Then this could become a decluttering blog!

Some of this blends with Using What We Have. A storage bin was cleared to put my new store of herbal products and supplies away where they would not make me sneeze. I was very pleased to consolidate and use a bin I had rather than buy yet another bin to stack into the clutter. More of that to come.

Reading books that are old friends that I haven't read in a decade is another example of using what I have when the library books run out. Last week I unraveled a shoulder shawl that I had knit two years ago that had not worked out quite right. In the meantime I found two more skeins of the yarn, a deep, luxurious purple color of a somewhat bulky wool yarn. I got it from someone on the Internet and had it put away. It is now two skeins away from becoming a new, warm triangle shawl for me to use come cold weather. (As hot as it was last week, it is hard to believe that it will ever be cold again. Of course, it will!) There is already a hat made from this yarn, just have to sew up the side.

This is the summer for finishing lots of small projects and then finding space to store them properly so that they can be used. It is fun to put the things from one season away and take out those for the next season. Much for fun than just letting it all clutter in bags stuck around the place.

So even though it is sometimes only one object at a time and it seems mortally slow, I am catching up. I am grateful for the return of the cool weather--it is in the 50's outside as I write this and 67 in my office. The pictures of the fog surging through the Golden Gate that are shown on the weather forecasts are some of the most beautiful that I ever see in summer. Sometimes, as I remember to take a deep breath, I am simply grateful to be alive.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Using What We Have

A friend emailed me recently that she was cleaning out her fridge and freezer prior to going on a long trip. She plans to disconnect the unit and leave it open while she is gone. She indicated that she was diligently working her way through the groceries that she had on hand rather than buying more and that this was a discipline, since what she had to eat wasn't necessarily what she wanted to eat.

This is a uniquely American dilemna, I think. (And is dilemna spelled with an n as I think that it is, or two m's as the Google spellchecker is telling me? I don't think I have ever seen the two m version and I can't find my old spelling dictionary anywhere around the computer.) I digress.

Americans are blessed with such an abundance of food as well as the refrigerators, cupboards and pantries to store it in, that we can easily overbuy from any reasonable or responsible supply.

My current refrigerator is smaller than my old one, but it still has far more food within it than I can expect to consume in a week. Perhaps more than I can consume in two weeks. The freezer is also full. I have not used all of the pesto that I made with so much love last Fall, and I must do so. It would be a shame to see that go to waste. There is no ice cream in the freezer--partly because I no longer eat anything with soy in it and partly because there simply isn't room for ice cream.

A round plate with fruit, very pretty, resides on the kitchen counter. What possessed me to order so much? Of course, when I order online, I don't see how many that will be. Still, one organic apricot went moldy and so did one lemon. It hasn't even been hot. Better to have bought less or shared more with a friend who visited for lunch on Friday.

I am considering using what I have as a challenge to clean out the kitchen. What can I have that is delicious and nutritious? What will be merely delicious? How unbalanced will my diet be if I try this experiment? I will run out of milk and definitely need to buy that.

Another challenge would then be to buy only what I need and will truly use within a defined period. The period should be defined by how long things will keep and the need should be based on a standard of nutrition that begins with protein grams, adds carbohydrates, adds calcium, adds fat and then includes fiber. (Vitamins and minerals will come primarily from supplements as they do now.)

If I were to devise this challenge and stick to it, how much money would I save? But that is probably not the whole point. The principal point is to cut down on waste and recognize that while so many people in the world go hungry, I am an American who can watch cooking shows, and be tempted to make food that is really beyond the necessary (I saw a segment this afternoon where someone put corn stuffing into meatloaf); an American who can eat anything at anytime from anywhere in the world and who can decide that I am bored with what I have on hand and order out from an array of restaurants that deliver the cuisine of the world to my door. (Limited by my budget, of course.)

All of that is good and I like it. Still, I am wondering how I will fare if I give myself this challenge. No ordering anything except milk until I have used up what I have. (I'll let you know.)

I am grateful for my kitchen and its pantry and a goodly array of supplies. For the pesto and one dozen lemon cupcakes in the freezer, I am also grateful. For the kale from a friend's garden, for the community of sharing that is my neighborhood with all of its gardens and fruit trees. For the community of sharing that is the Internet, too. (I wouldn't have the overstocked dilemna without the Internet.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oops, zucchini and onion correction

Sigh! I have done it again. The picture of the red onions in my last post seems to have lost the zucchinis.

Here is the correct picture.

The zucchinis were indeed the best that I have ever had.

Here is the link to the Pinconning Cheese company
The website is a marvelous thing. So many kinds of cheese. So many kinds of sausage. I think this is probably the same shop Grandpa went to since it has been in business since 1948 and it is close to Bay City and Saginaw. I hope that when cooler weather comes in Fall I can check this one out.

In the meantime a friend emailed me that she is going to the Milk Pail, a local (Mountain View) wonderful place for all things dairy, plus produce, tomorrow. So I will have cheese to go with my beer bread. Several years ago my sister discovered Iveta Gourmet Scone mixes at the Milk Pail when she visited and they have an interesting story. Another family owned business, Iveta began in Chicago and moved to Santa Cruz. All of their mixes are formulated so that only one ingredient is needed--heavy cream. Delicious and simple. (But it did lead to my keeping cream on hand for awhile and that isn't really in the diet now.) Here is their link They ship.

I don't see the pumpkin mix listed now. It would be too bad if they have discontinued it.

The lemon cupcakes turned out well and are even better made with sour cream than they are with yogurt. Half are now in the freezer so that I won't simply eat them all at once. (Nice for breakfast, though!)

I am grateful for all of these goodies and the kindness of friends which makes it all possible.

Summer's Bounty

Last night I was grateful to PBS for producing and airing A Capitol Fourth. The fireworks each year with the Capitol Mall are so splendid. I would have been happier with a bit more patriotic music and less of the pop culture glitz, but I suppose that is me. It is good to remember what the Fourth of July is really all about and I can't help wishing that they would give us a little more history and maybe even read the Declaration of Independence aloud.

The celebration of the Fourth is part of the bounty of summer. More is in the photos below.

The first picture is of red spring onions from a neighbor's garden with zucchini from Planet Organics. The second is apricots, peaches and plucots, again from Planet Organics. Planet Organics is a family owned grocery delivery business in the Bay Area. I have gotten some amazing things from them recently.

Last Thursday evening it was finally cool enough in the house and I found the time to make Whole Wheat Beer Batter Bread, one of the recipes that I posted about two or so Sundays ago. It is fabulous. So good, that delicious does not do it justice. Simply fabulous. It wants a slice of Havarti with Dill or of a good cheddar--extra sharp, preferably.

That reminds me of the cheese my Grandpa would send us each Christmas when we still lived in Toledo. The cheese came from Pinconning, Michigan. I must look for it again here on the Internet.

More lemon cupcakes are in my Sunday schedule. Gratitude for the Fourth of July and for the opportunities to cook and bake is also a part of my day, this beautiful day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


As I was washing dishes the other day and generally puttering around my kitchen, I heard the train go by. I live three blocks over from a major expressway bordered by train tracks on the far side. The sound of trains has been with me all of my life.

Commute trains, Amtrak trains and freight trains punctuate the day and night. Now with the windows open for the summer I hear the early and late trains more than I do during the colder months. The length of the trains suggest whether they are passenger or freight, with the longer trains that I assume are hauling freight going through at night.

In Toledo, when I was growing up, we lived a similar distance from trains and I remember all too well the pictures from Life magazine of Anne Frank and the concentration camps. For a brief time in my childhood, probably when I was nine or ten, the sounds of trains scared me. I lay in my bed at night fearful, imagining what it had been like to be pushed into a boxcar traveling in the dark without water or food or a place to go to the bathroom. I had a vivid imagination and for a time the trains were not comforting.

When we moved to California my parents again bought a house that was near trains. In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school my family took the Vista Dome train to Chicago from Oakland. This was an elegant train with its dining car, private compartment and second story for viewing the country as it rolled by. I remember sitting in the dining car with a linen table cloth and heavy silver flatware waiting for our dinner with the train stopped blocking a crossing. People were backed up, probably wishing that darned train would get moving.

We pulled into Chicago on the Fourth of July, passing through miles of stock yards and slums such as I had never seen before. (I would see them again from the Dan Ryan expressway years later when I lived in that city.) It was sobering to see a city so different from the areas where I had lived. Then we made a mad dash across town to another train station where we had a long, long wait for the "milk train" that would take us to Toledo where we were visiting family and friends.

We sat it out in the station until eleven pm and finally boarded the next train. I remember taking an escalator in the second station, one of the few times in my life that I ever did that. Escalators are scary things to people on crutches, as I was then, and require some very precise co-ordination of person, crutches and moving stairs to get on and off. Getting off is definitely trickier than getting on if my memory serves me correctly. With Papa behind me, I felt confident to try it, but was not really happy with it.

We had studied geography freshman year and I remember being very excited and waking up my long-suffering younger sister with my excitement that we were passing through the Gary, Indiana, noted primarily for its smokestacks. She still remembers this and has full rights to give me a hard time about it even after all these years. (Nearly half a century.)

When we arrived in Toledo in the wee hours of the morning we were met by the very dear friend, a tall, handsome Irish American with a fine voice and wonderful sense of humor who had been Papa's work colleague before we moved. Some years later, Uncle Ed, as we called him, would become my sister's father-in-law and "boppa" to her son and daughter. I remember his intelligence, humor, kindness and friendship to our family as though he truly had been my uncle. Along with my parents and his own wife, he is sorely missed by our family.

Finally, as a graduate student in Chicago, I lived three blocks west of the El. The stairs up to it were so daunting to me that I never did ride that train. The city traffic noise in Chicago was so great that I don't remember a distinct sound of trains such I experience now or knew as a child in Toledo.

Sometimes I think that I would like to move away from trains, but it isn't likely to happen. Sometimes I think that taking the Vista Dome across the country again would be a fun adventure. Adventures are mostly in my mind though, now that I am definitely aging and I think that I will keep them vicarious through memory and film. (Great train scenes from film would be another post! One that I saw last night was in an old Sherlock Holmes with Holmes and Watson and Holmes older brother catching up with the bad guys on the "boat train.")

I am grateful for my memories of trains and grateful for the relatively cool part of this day that will become quite hot later.

It is hard to believe that the Fourth of July is right around the corner and that Christmas is now less than six months away! (Arggh!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer is Here

After an almost heat wave that didn't quite materialize I am back to sitting with a blanket wrapped around me. It is officially the first day of summer (or will be in three hours).

I celebrated by baking a Garvey's Irish Brown Bread. This is a mix that requires the addition of just one ingredient--buttermilk. It is delicious and quick. I will make it a pantry staple from now on. The mix came to me from Planet Organics. They are delivering once a month on a Friday, because that is my delivery day. The produce is beautiful. I also cooked zucchini this afternoon. They were so beautiful that I should have grabbed my camera and taken their portrait, but the space in the kitchen is a little confined and too cluttered. They were actually delicious raw too.

A neighbor, who has a prolific garden, has been supplying me with kale and salad greens. It is one of those amazing facts of life to watch a pile of kale that has filled a large skillet to overflowing shrink to a small bunch in the cooking. I keep wanting to cook it with bacon and onions, but bacon isn't one of the things that I normally have on hand.

The kale would also be good with sausages, which reminds me of summer meals of potato salad and sausages brought from Wisconsin or Milwaukee by friends as each went home for a summer visit to his respective family and came back with a carry-on filled with sausages--enough to feed fifteen to twenty people gathered to feast after singing Vespers on a Sunday evening in Palo Alto thirty or so years ago. Beer, of course, was the beverage of choice to go with the sausages.

A six pack of Guinness resides in my kitchen at the moment. One bottle, along with 2 oz of water will combine with other ingredients to make a loaf of whole wheat beer bread, the recipe I cited two weeks ago. Some more of it will be used to make the chocolate beer cake that I also cited. Since that will require opening more than one bottle, and since I no longer drink alcohol, I want to time it so that the leftover can go into the pot of whatever I am cooking at the time. (I have no aversion to alcohol, but prefer not to drink alone. Anyway, sausages, kale and onions with beer would be good. (Maybe should go back to Planet Organics and peruse the sausage offerings.)

I am intrigued by the growth of a company such as Planet Organics, the farmers markets and the CSA movement. Community Supported Agriculture brings the farm to the urban dweller though subscription boxes of produce while providing capital to the cash strapped farm. I love this and I also love the Farmer's Markets.

I am grateful for the lovely cool weather this weekend and the chance to catch up cooking, which I do not do on hot days! I am also grateful for this lovely food in my pantry and fridge and for the Internet, which gives me a constant supply of new recipes and sources for a plethora of fine ingredients.

Happy Father's Day tomorrow to you all. (And again if I could just learn to proofread before I post, what I write might make more sense! Sorry to anyone who read the uncorrected version.)

Friday, June 12, 2009


I have been thinking of my father a great deal this week. It has been a busy week, so I have not posted as I had planned. Monday was the tenth anniversary of Papa's death. (That is the official date, although he actually died on June 6; he was kept breathing on life support.) Yesterday, the eleventh of June was the corresponding tenth anniversary of his funeral, a Gregorian Requiem, as he had always wished it would be, sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Athanasius Church, the Church where he and Mama were among the forty or fifty founding couples who built the parish from its beginnng in 1959.

Ironically, yesterday the Senate of the United States passed a much belated law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco. It is ironic to me because my father died from emphysema, a smoker's disease. Up to 1985, when he quit smoking, every picture of Papa that we have showed him with a cigarette in his hand. He smoked his last cigarette on June 6, (D-Day), 1985 and made a mark on his bathroom wall (now painted over.) Fourteen years later he collapsed and was revived by the paramedics only to have a massive heart attack in the emergency room from which he was again resuscitated, but never regained consciousness. I found it ironic then that he died on the anniversary of D-Day and of the day when he had quit smoking.

He called emphysema, "an old man's disease, an old veteran's disease", and told me about how his becoming hooked on cigarettes was linked to his service in the war. After one incident of combat, he said, someone offered him a cigarette and the combined adrenaline rush from combat and the nicotine caused him to become addicted as he had not been before.

I remember in my childhood in Toledo once when I was ten or eleven years old coming upon his cigarette in the ashtray on a table in the living room where he had left it while we ate lunch in the kitchen. It was nearly burned down and I could not resist taking a puff. The hot smoke and disgusting taste of the thing made me cough and I had to go into the bathroom and close the door so that I could cough and recover and not admit to stealing a drag on the cigarette. I couldn't comprehend why he smoked. It was just so yucky. (Years later I would become a smoker myself and I quite some months before Papa did.)

So I am very glad that the FDA will finally regulate tobacco. I have often wondered if he had quit sooner, would we have enjoyed his company, his intellect, his wit, his grace and charm and his joy and pride in us longer? He would, I am sure, take great pride in his grandchildren who in the past decade have become accomplished adults. He would be charmed and chuckle over the antics of his first great-grandchild, my grand-nephew whose first haircut pictures arrived in my inbox this week and made me laugh.

Often when I load new pictures from my digital camera unto the computer, I think of my father, wistfully for he was a skilled photographer himself and also a computer programmer. He did not live long enough to see the advent of the scanner, printers or digital camera into this house, but I am sure that he would so enjoy them. The prints I have made from old family photos adorn my shelves. I made them within the first year after he died as my own grief gave way to mourning and the mourning was turned into remembrance through the work of documenting our family history and printing out these pictures. He would have been amazed by the quality of the prints and enjoyed having his family around him again, as I do.

I wish the technology could have come sooner, that the Internet could have come sooner. I know he would be so pleased to see me re-inventing the little business that he helped me with and watched over in the eighties as I learned to garden and make potpourri. (Although he would be glad to know that I am no longer growing what seemed to be bizillions of seedlings all over the dining room.)

Tonight I watched an episode of NCSI, a program that he never saw, but that I think he would enjoy. I miss sharing these things with him. The books that I read, the television programs that I watch have less savor without someone, Papa in particular, to share them with.

Cooking is harder too, now than when he was alive ten years ago. Part of that, of course, is that I am ten years older now and physical tasks are not so easy as they were then. (That is relative, too, of course.) Lacking someone to share my "creations" with makes the task harder too and scaling back from cooking for two to cooking for one is a challenge as well.

Papa rarely talked about his time in the Navy or the war as my sister and I were growing up, but it was a seminal part of his life, if for no other reasons than that it took him away for three years and it solidified his occasional social practice of smoking an occasional cigarette into an addiction that ultimately took his life. Before it did that, it also robbed him of robust vigor that would have been his.

Two months ago when friends cleaned out my garage they found the following artifacts that were part of Papa's Navy Service tucked away in a drawer.

The first I call an insignia, but I am truly not sure what it is. The second is a pocket Morse code "cheater". I assume that this is from the time that he spent in Navy Officer Training at Princeton in the Fall of 1943. The last is the emblem from his cap.

Finally, here is his official portrait in his uniform, which I have also posted on the Squidoo lens that I have done about him--Fred is Peace, that is in the links to the right.

I am grateful for the life of my father, for my memories of him and I hope that the time will come when fewer people smoke and no one any longer dies from smoking related illnesses.