Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hot Tea Month: January

Hot tea month is any month of the year, as far as I'm concerned. But someone, somewhere decided that January is officially hot tea month. It is a good month for sitting down with a cup of tea. A little cake alongside never hurt. And some good books to peruse while sipping. 

I used some of the blueberries I froze last summer for this oh, so tender and not-too-sweet Lemon Blueberry Cake, and glazed it with a lemon and icing sugar mixture. Scrumptious!

Lemon Blueberry Coffeecake

1 1/2 cups flour (the recipe suggested all-purpose, I used 100% whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups blueberries

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, (can use mixer, but I did it by hand), cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.

Stir in yogurt and lemon zest. 

Stir in dry ingredients just until mostly mixed.

Gently stir in blueberries (I used frozen berries and mixed them in frozen - they are less likely to turn the batter blue that way.)

Lightly grease an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched in centre.

Cool for 5 minutes, then turn out of pan onto a serving plate. Drizzle with lemon glaze (1 cup icing sugar stirred with lemon juice until of desired consistency).

 Enjoy the last days of January!

Linking to Mosaic Monday at the Little Red House.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Woodsy Ramble

Two weeks ago we went for a walk in a foot of snow. There was no trace of snow today in the woods. This time we hiked up alongside Nile Creek, about 20 minutes north on the highway. 

The hike was rugged, muddy, a bit drizzly, but oh, so beautiful. Refreshment for the soul. Rushing water, moss dripping from branches, lush ferns and invigorating woodsy smells.

I'm linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Mary of the Little Red House. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flower Necklace Tutorial

Pearls are a favorite of mine. I've had this long (artificial) pearl bead necklace for a very long time. I wear it when it's in style and it lounges in my jewelry collection when it's not. Inspired by Anthropologie, I added a simple silk flower to the necklace.

Here's what you'll need:

bead necklace, really, any length that pleases you
1- 10 inch square of fabric, I used silk duppioni
3-5 small beads, I used fresh water pearl beads
needle, thread
fray check, if desired
scrap paper and a pencil to sketch your flower

1.  Draw out on paper, then cut from fabric; or cut free hand, four flowers. The two larger ones are about 3 1/2 inches at their widest point, and the smaller ones are 2 3/4 inches wide. 

2.  Apply fray check to the edges, if desired, to prevent fraying.

3.  Thread your needle and pinch the center of one large flower, taking a few stitches to secure the pleats. 
4.  Add the second large flower on top, again taking a few pleats to add dimension to the flower. 

The photo shows the two large flower pieces stacked together.

5.  Add the smaller flower pieces in the same way, pleating and stitching. The flower petals will be very free-form, this is the look you want.

When you have all four petals in place, you'll see the dimension, particularly if you hold it sideways as shown above.

6.  Stitch the beads you've chosen into the center of the flower. I used seed pearl beads in keeping with the monochromatic look I was after, but colored beads or even small buttons would work equally well.

7.  Finally, stitch the flower to your necklace with a couple of stitches that wrap the thread between two beads. Fasten off securely and enjoy wearing your new creation!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sunshine and Oranges

The late afternoon sun slants across the dining room table. I grab my camera to capture the moment. Each day is noticeably, if infinitesimally longer than the last. Earth turns on her axis as she has done for millennia past.

These sunny moments make January easier. It's a month that seems to drag on in the northern hemisphere, made longer by incessant, gray rain or unending snow. It's a month in which time seems to hang, suspended between the celebration of Christ's birth extending into the New Year and the anticipation of spring. 

I prowl around the house in the evenings after daily tasks are accomplished. What to do? In order to sleep well, I must leave my studies alone after dinner. There are projects to finish and others to begin but I'm reluctant to engage in them. How to overcome this lassitude? 

* take up the wool and the needles for "just a row" and soon the rhythm of the needles captures and results in a pleasant evening of accomplishment

* a cup of tea and an easy book

* a night-time walk along our safe and quiet streets 

* a short project - something that can be completed in less than an hour or two, like baking muffins, cutting out an article of clothing, gathering the supplies for a craft

* reading blogs

* and before bed, a final round about the house to tidy the cushions on the couch, unload the dishwasher, straighten books on the coffee table  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So Proud of my Sister

My sister Darlene and I are just 13 months apart in age. I was the older, bossier sister. I'm still older, hopefully not so bossy. This photo of the two of us was taken in June 2009, in Bratislava, Slovakia. Walking around Europe together (along with our mother) was fun, and just the right sort of exercise we enjoy. None of us are into sports or athletics.

Shortly after returning home, my sister's second son, Colin, was diagnosed with cancer. He fought valiantly and by Christmas we all rejoiced - the stem cell transplant seemed to have worked. However, the cancer returned in a vicious form and sweet Colin died in July, 2010. The months since have been difficult for his parents, Darlene and Neil, for his widow Melissa with two children, for his siblings, and for his extended family

 I nearly fell off my chair when my sister told me that she has taken on the challenge of biking 200 kilometers this summer to raise funds for cancer research. Given our athletic habits, this is a real feat. She's training regularly. Her husband and family are rooting for her. It's amazing what love can do. I'm so proud of her. 

Here's a link to Darlene's personal page where you can see a photo of her with Colin. I love you, my sister.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sewing Projects

Although I'll dabble in almost any craft, I always return to sewing. My trusty machine is 28 years old this month. She's tired and has spent a little time in the repair shop in the last few years. But she continues to whir happily and I'm content. I dread the day when I have to replace her. 

This weekend I sewed up curtains for the living room. They are the most economical fabric available - canvas drop cloths from Home Depot. I didn't want to invest hundreds of dollars in fabric at this point, and I wanted something neutral with texture. This is it. Two of them were up over New Year's when my parents were here. My dad asked, "are they supposed to be wrinkled?" Well, yes, they are, if only because pressing them removes only a fraction of the wrinkles. I like to think they add to the texture. 

They are still not hemmed, but I'm waiting for the fabric to hang out a little before doing that. In the meantime, they close in the living room, making a cozy nest for these January evenings.

The desire for some fresh color led me to make a raft of new cushion covers. I used what fabric I had on hand and I'm pleased. Reducing the stash is a good thing.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Mary at the Little Red House.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Memento of the Past

This past fall, my mother-in-law gave to me the small carved bird pictured above,  saying that she remembered always perched on her mother's windowsill.

When Tim, my husband, saw it, he too remembered the little bird from his grandmother's home at the farm in remote northern British Columbia.

Her name was Irma and she died when Tim was 13. Recently my MIL wrote and self-published a book about her family history. Through her words and memories I'm getting to know a little bit more about the woman who first owned the little bird. And I'm pleased that it's now in my care. 

On another note, I'd like to introduce a new friend to the blogging community. Dawna writes from Alberta where she and her family live on a farm and run a Bed and Breakfast. Dawna and I are connected through family. My nephew Colin who passed away in July was married to her niece Melissa. I'm sure that we met at the wedding 7 or more years ago, and reconnected through the sorrow of Colin's illness and death.

Dawna's new blog is That Country Place and I know she'd love a warm welcome. Her header alone will cheer up any winter blues (or grays).

A Hint of Spring

Smoke curls from the chimneys.
Sullen gray sky.
White-covered ground, or soggy bare brown.

Anticipating the January doldrums, I planted, in mid-December, several pots of paper white narcissus.  

Now, faint, intoxicating scent drifts through the air. So sweet, so evocative of warmer, sunnier days to come. The magic of creation - such beauty contained in dull bulbs. Hope. 

Just a clarification - in my last post I gave in to a bit of silliness. I am not really hoping for a castle/house exchange. But I wouldn't turn one down, either.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Telling Secrets

Greet, of Belgian Pearls writes a decorating blog from Belgium. A recent post was all about castles and triggered a fancy daydream I cherished as a child.

My mother told me once that a far-distant relative of her family served the royal family of Holland as a lady-in-waiting and went to England with William of Orange when he assumed the English throne. That's all I know, but it fed my imagination for years. 

I imagined that perhaps this lady-in-waiting had done some particularly brave service for the royal family, but was never acknowledged, and looking through the records, the royal family wanted to contact her descendants to honour her. (If this story sounds eerily familiar to the biblical book of Esther, I deny any resemblance, real or imagined. ahem)

Of course, accepting the honour would mean traveling to England and being invited to stay at one of the royal family's castles for a week or so.

Since growing up a little, my daydream evolved into desiring the free reign of a castle or chateau for about a week. Fully furnished, but without those pesky tourists (of which I'm one) and the freedom to explore at will, being able to say lightly, "welcome to my castle."

I'd like to trail down a staircase, explore the dark cellar recesses, wander through the kitchens and servants' quarters, climb to the tower, pour over books in the library, and in short, feel like a chatêlaine. 

Really, almost any castle would do, whether small (like Ludwig's in Bavaria), or grandiose like Versailles.

An island in Italy would be nice. I think most of all what I want is the sense of history, to absorb the life that was lived in that place. I don't want to go back, I know I'm romanticizing medieval and renaissance life, but hey, who says dreams have to be rational?

So, if you know anyone wanting to trade a week in a European château for a week in a modest home in one of the most beautiful parts of the world - my contact information is on the right sidebar.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Snowy Walk

About the time we headed for bed on Saturday night I heard hail on the skylight in the bathroom. Curious I peeked out the window to see hail pelting down. By morning we awoke to a snowy white world. When Tim shoveled the driveway he said that the texture varied in the levels of snow - with some of it hard pellets. 

What better place to enjoy the snow than outside (since the temperatures were hovering just around freezing)? Boots and gloves donned we drove to Englishman River Regional Park, just below the falls we visited a week ago.

The road to the parking lot led down a steep incline for about a mile and we gave nothing more than a fleeting thought to driving back up. 

The trail meandered along the riverbank, where snow-laden branches brushed our heads. Blue sky beckoned above and melted the snow high in the trees, causing it to fall like rain on our heads.

Crunching footsteps. Gurgling dark water. Stark beauty of skeletal trees highlighted by white. Sunlight filtering through the forest.

 Scenes like this swell my heart. So much beauty to absorb. God's creation offers much to soothe the soul. 

Two unsuccessful runs up the hill and we put on chains. They didn't help much. Our progress was painfully slow as Tim rocked the car, tires spinning. Little by little until we were stopped short of the crest of the hill. Both chains (very lightweight) snapped, rendering them useless. Tim pushed and I drove the short distance to the top of the hill. A little adventure to end our walk. 

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A Look Back

Looking back over the creations that came from my sewing/craft studio this past year provides a way for me to see into the future by answering questions like - what did I enjoy most? how would I like to improve? what can I leave behind?

Many things this year have crowded out time for being creative. And this year will be similar. But by the end of 2011 I'll have finished my degree (Lord willing) and will think about what's next. Actually, I'm already thinking about it and it scares me sometimes. 

But when I wish that I had more time for making gifts, sewing clothes, and just creating for the sake of my soul, I remember that there are seasons in life and that "there will be time." I was inspired by Rebecca Sower to make this mosaic. Her thoughts on creativity are worth exploring. 

I'm linking this to Mosaic Monday at the Little Red House

Thursday, January 06, 2011

What Removing a Wall Accomplishes

Hammering and nailing, tearing down, ripping up - the renovations have been going on here for many months. They're not over yet, but we've reached a stage where the results are visible and, in my mind, beautiful. 

Above are two before pictures showing the wall that we removed. The staircase is altered as well. Here's a link to a picture showing the re-do. 

In reality, the entire wall was not removed, just the upper portion. Two arched door openings were removed and squared off. Now the kitchen is full of light, the dining room feels connected and when I'm in the kitchen I don't feel like I'm in an enclosed space, away from the action. The enclosed valance needs painting yet. Tim installed the pot lights and a light tube in the kitchen which provide wonderful light. He'll install under counter lighting when we do the cabinetry.

Here's a view from the breakfast nook. Before. Note the bit of red wall to the left, and the putting green on the floor. 

Tim tells me that I'm going to miss that green carpet one day, but I don't believe him. Not. at. all. The ledge on the left here is a temporary fix until we commence work on the kitchen cabinets. You'll notice we left the dropped valance around the kitchen perimeter. We debated about removing it but that would have increased the work tremendously. And we've been told that it defines the kitchen quite nicely.

The new dining room. The glass-paneled doors were removed. I took these pictures quickly one day while the sun was shining and didn't bother to make everything "picture perfect." But I'm pretty sure that all bloggers have messes in their homes once in awhile. 

Next is baseboard and finishing up some painting. After that, we'll tackle the kitchen cabinets and countertops. 

For me, changing the floor has made a huge difference. I walk through the rooms smiling. The dark green was almost oppressive, and there was so much of it! For now, I don't even want an area rug in the living room. Nope, give me wide open spaces!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Very Little Crafting

Few Christmas presents were made this year. But I did manage a scarf for each of my daughters - and instead of making three identical scarves, each one is different. The above scarf is a knitted cowl. My knitting skills are elementary, at best, and so this simple knitted-in-the-round cowl was something within my ability. I used a chunky acrylic yarn since I'm highly sensitive to wools.

The infinity scarves I've seen intrigued me and I made one of those out of an "unknown fibres" fabric from Fabricland. It's some sort of man-made fabric, maybe with a bit of rayon. It stretches widthwise but not lengthwise. I thought the multi-colors would go with a variety of tops.

This teal velvety scarf is lined with silk and I love its rich color and feel. 

And for our brand-new granddaughter, I made something to add a little pink to the pretty nursery her mother and father created. 

I already have a list of things I want to create in 2011. I'd really, really like to diminish my fabric stash. The pillow was made using nothing but what I had on hand and I'd like to do more of that - using up what's already here. 

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sunny Winter Days

Mornings are frosty around here lately. But the upside of cooler than normal temperatures is clear sunny skies. This is the view from our breakfast nook. I could sit and look at the mountain all day. 

We had a wonderful weekend together. Now everyone is at home, back to regular routines. Towels and sheets have been laundered and folded. Beds are remade, the floors vacuumed. Christmas decorations have been boxed up and the tree and greenery await their trip to the garden waste center. 

While the family was here over the weekend, I asked my son, with his more powerful camera, to take another photo, zeroing in on the mountain itself  (Mount Arrowsmith). Isn't it gorgeous? Breathtaking. I'm enjoying these sunny days for I know they won't go on forever. In fact, snow is predicted for tomorrow. And that has its own beauty. 

For me, it's back to studying. My current courses are Medieval History II, Political Science (to fulfill a social science credit), Business French, and I'm finishing up a Literature of the Canadian West. I aim to finish this degree this year. I'm so looking forward to that accomplishment.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Winter in the Woods

The house has been full this past weekend. Our three children, their spouses, my parents and one sweet little granddaughter filled our home and our hearts. 

On Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we all put on warm coats, gloves and hats and headed to Englishman River Falls, about 15 minutes away. 

Hard rime lined the canyon of the falls and nearby trees. Ice-covered puddles tempted walkers to smash through with feet or rocks. Green moss softened trees and rocks. Sun filtered down to the forest floor and lifting our faces we felt its faint warmth.

 The stroller fared well and Adria slept through her first walk in the woods. Across the bridge, down along the trail, across another bridge and back up to the parking lot. Refreshed and invigorated we headed home, cobwebs cleared from our heads.

Mary, at the Little Red House is hosting Mosaic Monday once again. Her mosaic today is a beautiful 2011 calendar filled with breathtaking photos. 

Of Spare Rooms and House Guests

  If you've ever read L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables , you'll remember the importance of the spare room. It was a long-...