Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When I Just HAVE to Decorate

Included in the furniture left in our other house to make it look "lived-in" is our dining room table, chairs and china cabinet. The dining room here is thus totally empty. It's great for playing chasing games with the Little Miss, but looks bare the rest of the time. 

Last week I did a little painting and needed the step ladder. In a whimsical moment I decorated the step ladder after I was finished with it. I hadn't intended to leave it, but it fills a corner nicely, and allows for a little space on which to place a few plants. And you'll notice my Christmas cactus is blooming - why I don't know. It bloomed nicely at the end of November and now here it is with beautiful blossoms again. I don't mind.

My painting project was the kitchen/eating area. Formerly yellow, it's now the same grey as our house in Parksville. We bought a LOT of paint and didn't use it all up there, so this cost nothing.  The shelves here are sparse for now. All in good time.

A pretty bouquet of tulips is so cheery and welcome. I bought them as tight buds and within a few days they are full, growing paler as they mature. Soon they will droop, but be beautiful still. 

A cold front has moved in along with a nipping wind. I'm glad for warming cups of tea and pink flowers to cheer up what could be a dreary day, should I focus on the weather.

What's cheery in your day?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Never Too Late

These days, I'm thinking about creativity, purpose, and the roadblocks to living a creative life of purpose. On my last post I asked what intimidated you. Thank you for responding so honestly. It seems that many, if not all, of us have something that we long to do, but because of various reasons, don't. 

"It's never too late to be who you might have been."

George Eliot is accredited with the above words. They speak to me of the ongoing nature of human development. As long as God grants us breath and clear minds, we can be learning, exploring, challenging expectations, and growing. Becoming. 

I made the above collage because I was thinking about our visit to France five years ago (and wishing we could go again.) Vincent Van Gogh painted his heart out. Others designed and built the Pont du Gard, the Palais des Papes, and the hall in the Conciergerie. Others garden, creating beauty for themselves and passersby.

Living a life that honors God and serves humanity can be done in so many ways. As I get older I am becoming more and more aware of the vast diversity of human experience and possibility. I want to embrace that, and let go of the things that intimidate me. 

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What Intimidates You?

I was called in to teach yesterday. One block was a photography class. The students had projects to work on and I was there just for supervision. So, I spent a lot of time wandering around the classroom, which happened to be held in the art room. My camera was in my purse and since the students were working on photography editing and shooting, I snapped a few shots myself.

In high school I yearned to take art, but never did. I was always intimidated by the "artistic" students - those who I thought grew up drawing realistically from the time they could hold a pencil. I envied them. Creating visual art on canvas and on paper is something I've recently dared to attempt. I love the idea of being able to be free with colours, shapes and textures - mixed media is what appeals to me. 

I was surprised at how intimidated I felt in that art room yesterday. All the old anxieties about not being good enough to even try came to the fore. And yet I longed to pick up those pastels and start making my own marks. And I will. 

What intimidates you? Is there something you've always longed to attempt but haven't? Why not?

Today was Nana day. The sun shone and I took the Little Miss out into the yard. She looks so tiny wandering around on the uneven ground. Tumbles didn't deter her one bit, she just picked herself up and barreled on. She played with rocks (tried to eat them), a dandelion (tried to eat it), and these dry sticks that I collected. Exploring was fun, but exhausting. She went down for a nap soon after.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Shirts

We went shirt-shopping this past weekend. It was a success: we came home with two business shirts for my husband - not a small feat considering how particular he is.

While Tim is in the changing room --

salesman: Here's another one. Do you think he'll like it?

me: No, he thinks those kind of shirts look like tea towels.

salesman: oh. 

Salesman walks off and then I notice, he's wearing that very shirt. 


Sunday, February 19, 2012

February Afternoon on the Beach

The wind bites hard as I step onto the beach. I stop, pull up my hood and Tim offers to do the snaps for me. We walk, head down into the wind. Waves rush upon the shore in a loose meringue, then deflate and retreat. My heels dig deep into the loose sand and I think virtuously of what a good workout this is. 

A tangle of bull kelp, bleached yellow, lies forsaken under a driftwood log. One red arbutus stick waits lonely on the wet sand until the next high tide when it will again be carried off to float elsewhere. A tug boat chugs through the choppy water, the sound of its engine lost in the rush of waves and wind. Sere, faded grasses scratch against each other above the beach. I would stop and check their bases for any hint of green renewal, but I'm too cold. I pick up sea glass, white and green, smoothed by the tumbling water. 

Home again for tea and chocolate. The scent of chicken roasting in the oven dispels any lingering trace of chill. I am replete with contentment.

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

The wind bites hard as I step onto the beach. I stop, pull up my hood and Tim offers to do the snaps for me. We walk, head down into the wind. Waves rush upon the shore in a loose meringue, then deflate and retreat. My heels dig deep into the loose sand and I think virtuously of what a good workout this is. 

A tangle of bull kelp, bleached yellow, lies forsaken under a driftwood log. One red arbutus stick waits lonely on the wet sand until the next high tide when it will again be carried off to float elsewhere. A tug boat chugs through the choppy water, the sound of its engine lost in the rush of waves and wind. Sere, faded grasses scratch against each other above the beach. I would stop and check their bases for any hint of green renewal, but I'm too cold. I pick up sea glass, white and green, smoothed by the tumbling water. 

Home again for tea and chocolate. The scent of chicken roasting in the oven dispels any lingering trace of chill. I am replete with contentment.

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Fill-ins

1.  Finally, I cleared away the stack of papers on my desk. I've always disliked filing.

2.  Chewing each mouthful 10 times, as suggested by a nutritionist on television sure takes some getting used to.

3.  My Dad says: I hate being bored. (And at 77, he keeps himself very busy with all kinds of projects.)

4.  "Bekus" is my favorite nickname for breakfast - a leftover from our youngest child's efforts at learning to talk.

5.  It took a long time, but I'm starting to sew my own clothes again.

6.  Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, though I wouldn't have it any other way.

7.  And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to watching a movie at home with my husband, tomorrow my plans include a very important date with our eldest daughter and some time with our granddaughter, and on Sunday, I want to attend church, go for a long walk, read a book, and watch "Monarch of the Glen."

Friday Fill-ins

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Fireside Dinner

Instead of bringing flowers home at the end of the day, Tim surprised me with roses at breakfast. He kept them in the garage overnight. Lovely, deep red ones.

I've not taken many (or any) photos of our home since the move. That's because most of our big pieces of furniture - dining room table and chairs, couch, loveseat, china cabinet, piano, bookcases, etc. are still in Parksville, making the house there look more attractive to buyers. That hasn't worked yet, but we're praying that it will soon. For now, we have a small couch, one easy chair, our kitchen table and chairs and a few end tables and our bed, plus a few odds and ends. Functional, but a bit sparse.

So last night, we lit a fire and some candles, spread a blanket on the carpet, and enjoyed a meal of homemade tapas. It was different. It was fun. 

One tapa was Quinoa Pepper Verrines. Verrine is a French word, and in this sense means a glass, or food in a glass dish. I found the recipe here on Tartelette's blog. Because I had no avocado, I made a roasted red pepper cream to top it off. 

Sizzling oven baked shrimp was another course, along with stuffed mushrooms, roasted asparagus wrapped in Tuscan ham, and Patatas Bravas - roasted potato slices dipped in a spicy tomato sauce. The Patatas Bravas recipe came from a Fine Cooking magazine, but the recipe is also on their website. Just click the link above.

To finish it off I made Lemon Meringue Cups - lemon meringue pie without the crust, baked in custard cups. Clicking the link will take you to my recipe blog. 

Tim is always willing to try new dishes, which is a good thing since I love to try new foods. Or serve familiar foods in different ways. This was great for conversation, unhurried and fun.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a sweet holiday - not just because of the chocolates and treats, but because it's a day to express love. However, I think it's been overtaken by consumerism and marketing. Advertisements suggesting that love is shown by a new piece of expensive jewelry or by Roses + Expensive Dinner + Chocolates + you-fill-in-the-blank can only raise expectations and lead to disappointments. 

Managing expectations is a hard task.

On the one hand, I know that my husband loves me dearly, is unfailingly loyal, works hard, is fun to be with and I need nothing. Valentine's Day sales are simply an effort to part us from more of our money.

On the other hand, marketers tell me that I deserve this, that, or the other thing and that bauble or experience will confirm his love for me. And what woman doesn't enjoy a little extra-special attention?

What I know to be true wars with the "diva me." I know who will win now. We'll have a very nice candlelight dinner here at home which I'll make, he'll likely bring me flowers, and we'll have a wonderful time. But it wasn't always so. When we were younger I expected a lot more. Putting so many expectations on one day leads unfailingly to disappointment. I've learned his style over the years and he's adjusted to mine. I'm so glad he's my Valentine.

One thing my mother always did on Valentine's Day was to bake heart-shaped cookies. I did that today. I'll give some to our children - because I love each one of them, too. For me, Valentine's Day isn't just about romantic love. It's about friendship, parental love - all love, really. 

The recipe I used is one from my mother-in-law, who got it from her mother. My husband's grandfather was Swedish and these cookies, faintly almond-flavored, with a meringue topping, were his favourites. You can find the recipe for Morkakor, Grandpa's Cookies, here.

I wish all of my readers a very happy Valentine's Day - may you know that you are loved.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cozy Sunday, Mosaic Monday

Drizzle. Grey. Those two words sum up the weather this weekend. So we were very happy to be invited to a brunch at our eldest daughter and son-in-law's home on Sunday after early church. Seven of us (including the Little Miss and her parents) gathered together in person and our youngest daughter and her husband joined us from Rome via Skype for a few fun moments. 

Yellow daffodils shone brightly as we munched on huevos rancheros, bacon, English muffins, cinnamon buns and berry smoothies. It was the perfect way to spend a drizzly February afternoon.

I hope your weekend was equally fine. Joining with Mary of the Little Red House for Mosaic Monday. 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

On A Thursday Morning in February

Grey. Misty. A fine rain. A day for just made for ducks. 

Tiny rain droplets bead on this duck's feathers, reminding me of the saying, "like water off a duck's back." I was glad he ventured close because ...

although I taught school Tuesday and Wednesday, and will be teaching on Friday, today I played with our Little Miss. She loves the ducks, watches intently, and then jabbers away in gleeful baby-speak.

On our way home we stopped to look at a magnolia tree, its buds swelling with promise. 

And this bush, getting ready to bud, too. It was a good thing we took our walk when we did, early in the morning, for rain set in and the rest of the day we read stories, climbed stairs, chased a purple ball, and sang songs. 

What made your day fine?

Monday, February 06, 2012

"Je t'aime" Pillow Tutorial

While unpacking my fabric into my sewing room, I was inspired to use up some bits of French General fabric I have. This little pillow was the result. Designing pillow covers to fit the season is one way to add a little (but not too much) seasonal decor. 

This sweet pillow sends a message of love on Valentine's Day or any day.  Here's what you need to make it:

Fabric for front and back: (I used an oatmeal linen)
 1 piece 12 1/2" x 10"
 2 pieces 10" x 10"
Fabric for contrast 1 and 2: (I used fabrics from French General's Maison de Garance)
 2 strips 10" x 2 1/2"
 2 strips 10" x 1"
Quilt batting (I used Warm and Natural)
 1 piece 17 x 10"
5 buttons
embroidery floss (I used DMC 815)
thread, needle, sewing machine, pins, measuring tape
pillow insert, 17 x 10 (approximately)

1.  Begin by transferring the design to what will be the front of your pillow. I wrote it freehand, lightly, in pencil, but have included a photo at the bottom that you can enlarge and transfer, if you like.

2.  Using a whipped chain stitch, embroider the letters. For the dots above the "j" and the "i" I did a free hand satin stitch. Here is a link to a tutorial for the whipped chain stitch. I used the same 2-strand floss to do both the chain stitching and the whipped stitch over it. I like the corded effect of this stitch.

3.  To the edges of the embroidered front, with wrong sides together, using a 1/4" seam allowance, sew the 1" contrast strips to each 10 inch side. Press. Sew the 2 1/2 " contrast strips to the first strip, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Press.

4. Layer the quilt batting against the back of the front. Here you can see the batting folded back to show the back of the embroidery. 

5. Stitch 5 buttons below the stitching, through the front linen and the quilt batting. Set aside while you complete the back of the pillow.

6.  Hem one 10" side of each back panel by turning under 1/4 inch, and pressing, then turning again. Stitch. Press. You will be creating an envelope style opening in which to insert the pillow form.

7.  Stitch the layers together. On the bottom is the quilt batting, then the front embroidered piece, one back piece and then the second back piece. The two back pieces will overlap. The hemmed sides are in the center of the pillow. The above photo shows the layers staggered. Make sure to align everything neatly, and pin the layers together before stitching a 1/2 inch seam, all the way around the pillow.

8.  Trim any jagged edges, cut the corners at an angle and zigzag around the edge to finish the seam. Turn pillow right side out through the opening left by the overlapping back sections. Press lightly. Insert a pillow form. 

Et voilĂ , enjoy your pillow! 

Here is the handwriting I used. Print this on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper. Of course, you could write I love you in any language - or another sentiment.

There are more Valentine's Day-inspired tutorials over at Pink Chalk Fabrics.   

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Watching for Spring

Signs of spring are everywhere. It's hard to imagine so much of Europe covered with snow while here I see snowdrops nodding their heads under shrubs, daffodils and tulips thrusting pointed leaves through brown soil, and shoots of Siberian Iris standing four inches tall in their pots. Today, while eating lunch two robins flew across the yard and perched in the skeletal branches of the plum tree. 

Last night I lit candles and enjoyed their glow against the pale pink tulips I brought home from the market. Beauty feeds the soul.

"Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."

Anne Frank

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

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Moving Upstairs

Have you ever moved back into a home you previously vacated? Did you find it uncomfortable or weird? I am in the process of reconciling the person who used to live here with the person I now am. You can see that the first thing I carried upstairs was my vase of tulips. 

Although only two years have passed and I'm thrilled to be back in this town, I'm discovering that I can't just shrug back into wearing this house with the same ease as when I left it. I'm sure it will just take time. I do know that I will be doing some more painting (not my favourite pastime, but so worth the effort.) I really like the palette I chose for our home up island - grey and blue tones throughout.  

I stand in the kitchen, an object in my hand, and I think, "now where do I put this?" After two days here, I'm starting to move towards a cupboard automatically, finding what I need without a lot of thought. I'll be comfortable here pretty soon.

What with moving upstairs (we were in the basement suite for a month until our upstairs tenants moved out), this week has flown by. Or maybe stepped by. I wear a pedometer and on Tuesday, counted over 15,000 steps, the vast majority of which were up and down the stairs, carrying items. The next morning my eyes went wide when put my feet onto the floor and stood up. My calves screamed! I feel like I've climbed a very tall mountain. They are better today, but I'm still doing stairs gingerly. It's so ridiculous that it's laughable.

So, continuing on with the meme from materfamilias... Part One is in the preceding post.

Here are the questions she asked:

1. What was your favourite film last year and why?

I'm stymied. I have watched films. Both at home and at the movie theatre. But I can barely remember any of them. What does that tell you about how meaningful they were to me? The only one that stands out is Schindler's List. I know it's old, but I had never seen it. I read so much about the Holocaust, the Nuremburg Trials, stories of escape and survival when I was younger that I just didn't think I could face the movie. However, my husband wanted to watch it, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did. One person can make a difference.

2. If money were no object, where would you spend your next vacation? and why?

This one is easy. France. I want to practice the language I've studied for so long. I'd rent a house somewhere in the countryside, preferably somewhere central like the Loire Valley, and settle there for a month or two, taking trips to other sites, like Paris, Normandy, Arles, Auvers-sur-Oise, Alsace-Lorraine and more. Maybe two months wouldn't be enough.

3. Describe the earliest meal you can remember enjoying.

When I was growing up my mother baked buns every Saturday. They were the lightest, most delectable things, faintly speckled on top. Saturday supper always included fresh buns and soup - usually borscht (but a version without beets) that started with a meaty bone and simmered long hours on the stove. My mother still makes buns and borscht and I still love them.

4. If you were dividing domestic chores with a new roommate, which ones would you try to claim?

Cooking and decorating. I'll do the dishes if he/she cleans the bathrooms.

5. Do you play a musical instrument? If so, which one?

When I arrived home from school as a child, my first task was to change from my school clothes to my play clothes. One day, during Grade Two, my mother told me not to change. I immediately thought, "oh no, I have to go to the dentist." But no, it was my first day of piano lessons. I studied for many years, achieving the Royal Conservatory of Toronto's Grade 8. I studied further, but took no more exams, because I didn't enjoy the theory. I've played for church, for weddings, for graduations, but always with fear and trembling. I'm not a natural performer. But I love to play for myself. It's a great way to release emotional tension of all sorts.

6. When you're bothered by prolonged muscle or joint soreness that's interfering with your workout plans, do you visit a General Physician, a Chiropractor, a Physiotherapist, or a Massage Therapist?

Physiotherapist. Yes. They do wonders, but I've found that different therapists treat differently. It's important to find one that treats effectively.

7. What activities do you hope will sustain you throughout your 80s and 90s?

The same things I enjoy doing now. Physically: walking, Pilates, gardening, resistance exercises. Mentally: reading, cooking, handwork, writing. Emotionally: spending time with those I love, prayer, volunteering somewhere, laughing every day.

8. What was the first important car in your life?

My parents owned a white and turquoise 1956 Pontiac for many years. I remember rattling around in the back seat with my sister and later, with my brother. I remember my first glimpse of my baby brother - my father drove to the hospital to pick them up and took my sister and me along. We were all dressed up. We girls waited in the car (this was 50 years ago). My mother looked so beautiful holding my brother wrapped in a lacy white blanket. My father was very proud as he drove us all home in that car.

9. What was the most significant course you ever took?

Hmmm. I feel like I've been taking courses all my life. But two early courses stand out. Grade 8 French. I could hardly wait to begin. Miss Lamoureux inspired my continuing love for this language. Grade 12 History. Our teacher (whom I can envision and not name) had a way of tying the present to the past in a way that made the subject come alive.

10. If you had the resources, which elementary or high school classmate would you try to track down, and why?

Jimmy Bepple. Cute, with dark curly hair. I had a crush on him starting in Grade Three. It continued until Grade Six. He gave me a Valentine that I kept for years. 

11. Which chef would you like to have come to your house to prepare a meal for your guests -- or, alternatively, give you a cooking lesson in that chef's professional kitchen?

Laura Calder. I really like her unpretentious style. And she cooks French food. 

Congratulations if you've read this far. Here's the rest of the meme. 

The rules are:
1. Post these rules
2. You must post 11 random things about yourself
3. Answer the questions set for you in their post
4. Create 11 new questions for the people you tag to answer
5. Go to their blog and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. No stuff in the tagging section about you are tagged if you are reading this. You legitimately have to tag people! 

I'm going to be rebellious and not tag anyone, nor come up with questions for you to answer. Instead, I'm going upstairs (gingerly) to make some sense out of the boxes and boxes of fabric and sewing supplies.

Thank you, materfamilias for tagging me. I've enjoyed thinking about my answers. My daughter in Italy told me this morning that she enjoyed reading my random thoughts and wanted to know more. So, Bella, here's more!

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-...