Monday, January 30, 2012

winter doldrums

  I added this picture to make me happier - taken last spring

I'm admitting it.  The past week or so I have hardly picked up my camera.  The weather outside seems to have gotten to my inside with a resulting 'blah' - uninspired.  With our serious lack of snow this winter, I found myself missing its magic.  Missing the feeling of staying safe and warm inside with plenty of beautiful projects to keep me occupied while the snow glints happily outside.  It's felt more like the whole world has been bathed in ice salt - gray and dirty.  Add to that a few crazy days of high temperatures and thoughts of 'spring around the corner' are coming earlier than they should to tantalize and tease for what looks to be still months of winter.

This morning, Sophie, over at The Joy of Farming, reminded me {challenged would probably be a better word} that there is still beauty to be found.  My eyes haven't been open to it, which of course is a bit ironic since this blog is meant to celebrate beauty.  Perhaps it's that I'm having trouble seeing beauty in my visual world, but I know I have found it in other places.  I wish there were a better way to share those things over a blog, but a little list will have to do.

~ singing.  I'm not a wonderful singer, but I still love to sing.  Friday was a joyful day for me because I spent most of the day knitting while singing along to some of my favorite music {in this case that happened to be the soundtracks to Once and Wicked ... I'm always curious - what does this make you think of me?}

~ books.  especially books about farming.  specifically urban farming.  OK.  specifically this book: The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal.  I read Novella's book Farm City last winter and her story was one of the many inspiring farmer stories that has pushed me into pursuing this crazy farming dream.  She joined with a fellow, female urban farmer to write this book.  It is excellent and full of great ideas that are specific to farming in an urban environment - stuff I haven't seen anywhere else.  Love.  Of course this adds to the "is it spring yet?" fever, but I've always been good with my imagination so let the fever burn.  And a complete side note: Alice Waters also write a recommendation for this book, featured on the back cover - either Alice puts her name on pretty much everything, or she and I have very similar taste in good books ...

~ music.  Listen to this.  Brad and Abby Hopkins are family friends of ours {Brad married Grady and I} and this is a selection of songs that he and his oldest daughter performed together at a small concert.  First, I love to see a dad and daughter playing and singing together.  It's something that I hope will happen in our family someday too!  Second, the choice of songs is exactly what I needed today to make me see the brighter side of things.  If you need a little pick-me-up today, I think this is just what you're looking for.

What's helping you look on the bright side today?

Friday, January 27, 2012

starting in again

... with books and knitting.  Sounds about right, doesn't it?

Glad to have my computer back and be blog-minded again.  I'll be seeing you back here next week.

Happy weekend, friends!

Friday, January 20, 2012

the age of technology

Sigh.  This old computer of mine has started to make funny/worrying noises when I try to do too much on it.  It's space is also getting maxed-out by all of these large photo images I'm storing on it ... so I may have to be out of touch for a bit while we work on getting it backed up and off to the Geniuses at the Apple store.  I'll spare you the boring details, but hopefully it will be resolved soon and there will be more thoughts and more pictures.

Happy weekend, friends!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

embracing the dream

This post is coming one day late.  I thought about it off and on all day yesterday - Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he did for this country and, really, for our world.

This day and the fact that I just watched The Help have sent me tripping back down memory lane.  Of course, my memory doesn't go back to the 60's but it does go back to Mississippi - to Jackson, to Mendenhall.  Jackson brings back memories of the youth group mission trips I went on as a young teen and Mendenhall in my more recent, collegiate past.

As I watch The Help with Grady, I was taken back to the tours I went on in Jackson and the distinct difference in quality of life there still is on one side of the tracks compared to the other.  "People still live in those run-down homes pictured in the movie," I remarked.  So much healing has already taken place, but many of the scars are still evident; and there is healing still to be done. 

Mendenhall is a small town outside of Jackson.  It is the childhood home of Dr. John Perkins.  This man began in many ways where Martin Luther King left off.  His biographies tell difficult stories of life in Mississippi before, but mostly after Civil Rights.  He suffered great wrong but by God's grace and strength he forgives and presses on, pursuing the vision, the dream.  Although he was not educated past early elementary school, he has been awarded a number of honorary doctorates for his work in community-building and reconciliation - his first doctorate awarded to him by my alma mater, where I was privileged to hear him speak.

His hometown still struggles both with poverty and with racial divides.  The school we volunteered at, the church we worshiped in, the neighborhood we stayed in, they were real world reminders of how "de facto" has, in places, taken the place of "de jure."  I studied sociology - the many potential reasons for what happens and why in society.  The 'why' is important, but what I think of now is simply that it is.  And then I think of what can be.

The dream, the beloved community, is a journey.  It is one that I take with purpose and with eyes and heart open.


"I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." ~ MLK

Of course, I needn't have gone all the way to Mississippi to see people divided, to see people healing.  That's simply the place I was when I first saw it.  In our nation, Dr. King's dream is becoming our reality.  Over remarkably few years (but still too many), the perspective has changed.  And yet I still dream:

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

Friday, January 13, 2012

hello, snow

Finally some real snow!  This is my 7th winter (I think) in the great Midwest and the total lack of snow and even lack of extreme cold this year has been rather confusing to me.  This snowfall came almost as a relief!

It also makes me glad that neither I nor my husband will be driving in this snow.  Grady probably isn't as happy about that because he loves to intentionally make the car slide - I don't love this and don't love driving in the snow at all.  It's not that I don't know how.  My first snow driving lesson was with Grady in a parking lot where I would drive forward, start to take a turn, and he would pull the emergency brake to make me slide and I'd have to recover from it.  It would have been fun except that it just makes me nervous.

But, here in the city I can just walk on the snow or take a bus or train!  The rest of the time, I will admire the whitewashed world while it lasts.  The beauty of it could have only been enhanced if the snow had come at a better time and forced Grady to work from home.  Sigh.  One can always hope for a grown-up "snow day"!

And ... completely unrelated to snow ... rendered duck fat!  So easy to make.  I just cut the fat and most of the skin off the carcass, cut it into small strips or pieces and put it in a dish in the oven, set at 225, for a few hours.  Now I have beautiful, clean fat for making delicious potatoes, among other things!  Thank you, duck.

I think today might call for some knitting ... knitting while curled up warm, gazing at the world out my window.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

around the house

The Christmas decorations have come down and been stowed in their box until next year.  I kept some of the strings of lights up because I love the way that they glow.  At least until the end of winter, they make me feel a little warmer on dark nights.

Around the house we (well, mostly Grady) have been attempting to refinish the walls in our kitchen.  For whatever reason, perhaps because these walls are likely 100 years old, the plaster has some crazy ridges and grooves in it, which make for a rather unappealing surface to look at.  Inspired by Apartment Therapy, we're doing what we can to fix the 'bones' of our home.  Soon we'll be on to painting ... if I can ever pick out a color!

I've also been doing some cooking.  And last night was a first for both of us: duck.

We've eaten duck before but neither of us had cooked one.  I must say I was a little proud of myself for successfully cutting it up into pieces and cooking it rather well, although we could have used more guidance on seasoning.

Duck is on the menu because we're working on diversifying the types of meat that we eat - up next, organ meat.  The great thing about duck is that you can use every last scrap of it in the kitchen and I was guided in my work by this book I just picked up at the library - Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen.  Why have I never heard of this woman?!  This book is amazing and has lots of pretty pictures and practical descriptions.  It tells you how to cook but also how to forage, how to keep chickens, how to culture dairy products and much more, all the while telling stories of life on a homestead in Ireland.  It's a beautiful thing.

So today, hopefully, I will be taking what we didn't eat last night and rendering the fat, making 'cracklings' out of the skin, and cooking up a broth using the carcass on which there is enough extra meat to make lunch out of, oh and maybe I will figure out something special for the liver ... we'll see.

I think it's important to use the whole animal as often as possible, not just because it's economical but because that animal died so we could eat and I'd like to honor that by making as much use out of its life as possible instead of just taking what I want and leaving the rest.  Thankfully, there is something delicious to be made out of every part!

Monday, January 9, 2012

the Christmas Knitting post

I was holding off on this post for a little while because I failed to get pictures of the final pieces actually being worn by many of the recipients.  My hope was that my siblings would rally to my blogging cause and take the pictures I needed but that didn't happen.  So, we will have to make due with the pictures that I do have!

My ambitious goal this Christmas was to knit one item for each of my siblings - have I mentioned that there are 5 of them?  I picked out the yarns and mostly decided on patterns {or at least general ideas} back in early October and then began work.  I am happy to report that I completed all projects plus one and a half {although one was still being finished Christmas morning!}.  The extra "one" was for my mom and the "and a half" was the hat I started for my dad and then ran out of yarn.

Special thanks to my grandma who taught me how to knit.  I saved wrapping these gifts until the very last minute so that I could show them to her Christmas Eve.

Calvin's Hat: Family Ribbed Hats by Joelle Hoverson

Kelsey's Fingerless Gloves:
Golden Eyelet Cable Mitts by Cathleen Campbell

A Scarf for Jon: simple seed stitch

For Jess, a cowl: Greyhaven by Robin Ulrich

Christian's Fingerless Gloves (I have no completed picture!):
modified  Treads, a tipless gloves pattern by Victoria Anne Baker

Last-minute hat for Mom (I made it in about 2.5 hours in the car to this Christmas gathering):
The Sweetie Pie Hat from the purl bee

I enjoyed the knitting on all of these projects although some were certainly harder than others (not a sign of who I love more!).  To find the patterns or to see my pattern notes, you can find me on Ravelry.  phew! 

Now to decide what I will knit for me ... suggestions?

Friday, January 6, 2012

a moment to savor


Last night we enjoyed a 'date night' that consisted of take-out Thai/sushi, a glass of wine, and some piano and guitar playing.  We stayed up later than we should have listening, playing and singing together {Red Hot Chili Peppers on this occasion with a little Regina Spektor ... don't ask our selections to make sense}.  These are nights that I love.  And while I didn't marry this man for his musical talent, it has brought joy and peace to my life throughout our relationship.

Music has been a constant in my life since - well, probably since I was in the womb.  As a child I would often sit next to our living room speakers {especially during the Children's Classic Music hour on Saturdays!} and imagine stories and images from what I was hearing - traveling deep into a world of sound and color. 

My dad loves "classical" music and when we were older would attempt to make us name composers of pieces we were listening to - I was only ever right if it was Aaron Copeland or I simply guessed well.  While listening at home together, he would sometimes act as a passionate conductor for the parts of the music he loved.  I'm sure we thought it was funny but now it's all I can do to stop myself from doing the same to a piece I love.

I want to participate in the music.  I took piano lessons through my childhood; I sang in choir at school (we all did, it was a small school where everyone participated in everything); I acted in musicals (see previous note).  But in the greater scheme of things, I'm not exactly talented in these areas - competent though.

Then I met this man.

He loves music too.

While it seems that every girl would love a guy who can play guitar and sing, my Grady didn't wear his talent on his sleeve.  In quiet, peaceful times he would simply play.  Over our long-distance engagement, music was the best means of comfort and on more than one occasion I fell asleep in front of my computer listening to him sing - maybe hymns or a beautiful love song.

Now when we have a quiet evening together I may rest {and imagine} while he plays Debussy on our piano or I will sing to a song we both love.  My singing isn't always beautiful but, for me, the moment always is.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

attempting to balance

I thought I would continue writing about Christmas crafts today but SouleMama has led my heart in a different direction.  You can read her full post here (and I would encourage you to do so!) but what caught my attention was this paragraph:

I spent the rest of that summer reeling with delight, really, at the new revelation. My "No, thank you!" responses to similar opportunities carried with them an internal tickle - a giddy feeling of freedom. Because sometimes, saying NO is just as liberating and freeing as saying YES.  Because in the space of letting go of the expectation I had of myself - one I'd carried around my entire life - of who I thought I should be, of what I thought I should do - I found the room, the freedom, and the deep comfort to just be myself. To embrace the quietness of me.  [emphasis added]

As I started writing in her 'comments' I realized I have a few thoughts on this idea, as follows ...

In my college theater group we often used the phrase "Consider saying 'no.'"  
In a world where everything is always moving and going and going and we accept a great many responsibilities, we find ourselves saying 'yes' more out of habit than out of true acceptance.  We take on what we think we should  rather than what we will - and sometimes we don't even think, we just do.

Of course there are things to which you need to say 'yes' but you'd rather say 'no' and that's where the balancing act begins - but it is a balancing act with 'no' as a real option on the other side.

We also used a concept we called 'macaroni.'  The word itself has a strange origin but you use it to say, "stop" or "I'm out."  It was a signal to those in the scene or room with you that you could not continue, often because you felt unsafe either emotionally or physically.  Sometimes in acting (and in life) you need to abandon ship and 'macaroni' lets you leave without questions - well ... without questions in the theater world, in the 'real' world people may still ask questions.

Again,  there are things that you commit yourself to without the option of abandoning ship - your spouse, your children, your faith.  The strength and stamina to maintain these commitments, especially in difficult times is still truly a virtue but there is also a time and a place for macaroni.

Between these two concepts of 'no' I think I have been able to strengthen my resolve to do what I love and also what needs to be done and to let go of the things that are not important.  My 'yes' is more firmly 'yes!' and my 'no' more freeing-ly 'no.'  Because when you have the ability to decline, to accept is more valuable than if it were done by compulsion.  And often to decline one thing is to accept another. 

Carpe diem - seize the day.  Make intentional, thoughtful and passionate choices.  To act with intention you must think first; to make a choice you must consider 'yes' and 'no'; when you act on choices that you have considered, you can embrace the consequences and live fully.

Today I am reminded again to stop and consider.  I don't always succeed in maintaining stasis but I try to remember what it is that I'm striving for.  Here's to a day (a year!) of intentional choices, friends.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

little gifts

So much knitting was done over the last month, even down to Christmas morning!  Yet that's not what I'll share today - knitting post forthcoming.  For a few more simple gifts this season, I headed to the kitchen where I made cookies for Grady's coworkers and in addition ...

Homemade Vanilla

It's really quite easy, so long as you're over 21.  I used a ratio of 3 vanilla beans to 1 cup of vodka.  Split the beans down the middle (I also cut mine to get them to fit) and put them in a jar with vodka.  Store in a dark place and shake every so often.  In a few weeks you get homemade vanilla!  Apparently when you start running out of vanilla, you can just add more vodka, as long as you keep the beans in the jar of course.

This gift hasn't actually been given yet, but I plan to put it in a pretty jar before giving.  The pictures were taken the day I made it - it's now much darker and almost at the point of being ready.  Next year, I'll start it before December!

Home-canned Pears

Not much to this one {aside from the fact that I canned my own pears!!!! hehe}.  Just come dressed up jars that we gave along with some delicious, hard goat cheese to family who graciously hosted us in their home for a few days.


Ooh!  One last one that I'll add although we didn't exactly wrap it up and present it ...
Homemade Eggnog

Yes!  It was so delicious and totally worth it.  No additives or emulsifying agents or high fructose corn syrup in this glass!  Just fresh eggs, milk, and a whole lot of whipped heavy cream {plus just a bit of dark rum - enough for flavoring - seriously}.

This is the only picture I have and it doesn't do it justice.  Believe me that it was thick, creamy and delicious.  We used the Cook's Illustrated Best Holiday Eggnog recipe that we got from their Best Holiday Recipes book/magazine.  Highly recommended!

Mmmm yes.  Holidays were meant to be delicious!

Monday, January 2, 2012


Welcome, New Year.  I didn't consider your coming as much as I would have wished but now that you're here, I am grateful.  Of course, you are really only a day among days - light followed by dark followed by light and on and on.  Still there is a difference now in the light and in the air.  Our hearts have made a new beginning and set our hopes in the days that are coming.