Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Attempt at Rug Making

Some of you might remember that a few months ago I treated myself to a class on how to make floor rugs from your old scraps of fabric. These are also called toothbrush rugs, because you use a small plastic stick with a hole in it that looks like a toothbrush handle to make them. At the time it seemed like such a good idea- and a great way to use up all those old, fading scraps in my fabric bin. And how economical! Anyway, it turned out to be more than I bargained for, and definitely no bargain.

First, learning to do this turned out to be even harder than I thought. We were told to read the pattern before taking the class, which I did, but I couldn't seem to grasp even the basic fundamentals of joining strips of fabric together in a weave-like fashion. It was mildly satisfying that only one of the eight women in my class was able to get the hang of it, and the one who did find it easy had a background in knitting and crochet. The instructor, a gruff woman who travels the country in an RV going around to quilt shops teaching this class, kept insisting it was easy. She would espouse its easiness between reprimanding her small dog which was wearing a sequined dress. Yes, really. She kept asking us "Isn't this easy?" and I wanted to say, "No, making clothes and quilting is easy, but this is really hard!" But I was really thankful when, after mentioning that I am dyslexic, the instructor saw that I really couldn't get the hang of it and helped me out by doing the first several rows of my rug for me. Without her doing those base rows, there is no way that I would have ever been able to finish it. After purchasing the pattern, materials, and putting out money for a four hour class, I quickly saw the rug as false economy- you could buy one for less than I spent learning to make it. You would have to make several rugs in order to get your money out of this experience. I had really hoped that I would not only become good at making these rugs, but really enjoy it as well. Unfortunately, after making just one of these, I know that scrap rug making isn't for me. At its worst, it was hard. At its best, it was redundant. But at least I finished what I started:

It's not pretty, but it's pretty useful!

Around the Home: I've never been one of those ladies who are so good at couponing that I can display a bounty of brand-name goods and announce that I paid some ridiculous price for them, like less than a dollar. Although I make some good deals here and there, we never seem to use the things that are on triple sale and would be virtually free, if only we used them. That 's why I felt like SUCH the smart shopper this weekend when I scored 3 free boxes of tissue, a free sour cream, and a can of soup for 9 cents. That just never happens.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes

Every good and perfect gift is from above...(James 1:17) 

Turkeys at the Landis Valley Museum, PA.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Notes Between the Stacks

  • Last evening found me in an unusual place, one of those big-box book stores that I almost never visit for several reasons. First, as a librarian, I can pretty much read everything in that store for free. Secondly, many items I really want to read aren't in that store, and finally, I can never find things in those huge stores that don't seem to place things in any logical order. But having procured a 25% off-any-item coupon that my thrifty heart just could not let go to waste, there I was fully confused and lost between aisles of books that were shelved in no particular order and tables of novelty gifts in time for Christmas. The cookbooks were next to business books which were across from a table of literary classics, and I started to wonder if the marketing strategy of mass confusion was intended to make someone wonder around as much as possible so they will encounter lots of other items to buy in addition to whatever they came for. I was looking for a certain popular reference book on the nutritional values of food that I really want to own, but that meant scouring tons of tables with book displays since publishers pay hefty prices for book stores to display their books on a table instead of shelved. This does no favors for the person who is actually looking for a specific book. Although it was amusing to see some things I would have never imagined (such as the Grow Your Own Crop Circle! kit) I couldn't help but admit a fondness for books that are organized and placed together in a meaningful way, such as alphabetically. Amazingly, I found the book only to have my attention diverted by the Christian book display. What I found interesting about the display is how closely it followed the trends of secular books. For instance, someone publishes a book which turns out to be a runaway Best Seller. Of course, the publisher wants more of this, so they immediately set on republishing the book in three other formats: There will be a "More Secrets of the Original Bestseller" book, and then an interactive Journal, and then a condensed version such as "Bestseller in a Minute for Busy People." Finally, just when you think they can't squeeze anymore out of a single book, they come up with a special "Gift Edition" with a fancy cover. And then, if people are still gullible enough to be buying this over-merchandised title, then they can get the page-a-day calender. It all seems a bit disingenuous and, well, greedy. Perhaps I am expecting too much from Christian publishing houses, since they are also in the money making business. I just wish that faith didn't have to be diluted by merchandising and cheapened this way.
  • My cousin told me the best encouraging story today about how God unexpectedly met her needs. First, she was told that she needed $500 for some much needed work on her home. As she was wondering how she was going to come up with that sum since losing her job, an item she had at a consignment shop sold and they called her to have her come in and get her share, $500. Then, she was at the market buying roll butter, and as the man behind the counter was weighing it, they got to talking about the economy. She was telling the man how the company that she had been working for part time closed with only a day's notice, and how concerned she was for a woman she had worked with, a young single mother with a baby. My cousin E. did not even mention her own concerns about being without work. Well, the circumstances worked on this man's heart because he gave her a pound of butter and would not take E's money, explaining that as a Christian, he wants to help people when he can. E was terribly embarrassed and told him that she did not tell him this in order to get something for free. He put her money back in her hand. She left with tears in her eyes and took this act of receiving as a lesson in humility. After that she went to the drug store and the song playing over the speakers in there said "I am watching you from above and taking care of you". All I could say was WOW.
  • In other inspiring news, some of you might remember that I'm excited about supporting a mission group called "Little Loaves and Fishes" (LLF) who are praying about an overseas trip early next year to bring comfort and joy and medical care to babies and small children in the many orphanages that exist in this world. Hope Anne is selling some cute and gently used items on her blog (mostly children's clothing) as she tries to raise money for this blessed venture, so won't you have a peak? Of course, donations are accepted, too.
  • Finally, Beth is having a giveaway and the prize must be the greatest invention I've ever seen: Ground chocolate that you can make into a hot beverage like coffee. But it's not coffee, its chocolate. It all sounds so delicious, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Traditions

One can't help but notice that the word "tradition" seems to come up frequently during this time of year. After hearing the word about ten times in five minutes this morning while listening to a cooking show on the radio, it got me thinking about all of the family traditions that we, frankly, haven't started yet. And what a tradition is, and what it should be, and what it should not.

The Mister and I are the "young marrieds" of our family, so we aren't exactly on the forefront of starting family traditions. And the slightly longer-marrieds among us are far too busy caring for young children to even think about such things, and I don't blame them one bit. Although the traditions I heard about this morning had more to do with food rather than family rituals, it's not easy to separate the two. I will forever associate baked apples full of raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar with breakfast on Christmas morning, a special treat. But what it really got me thinking about are the traditions, rituals, and habits that have been passed down through generations. A strong work ethic, compassion for God's creation, and a love of books are some of the traditions handed down in our family that are far more valuable to me than any apple.

Here is what I think good traditions do best. They nurture, they bring people together, they diminish differences and highlight commonalities. And they should have a beauty all of their own. It sounds like a tall order until you actually measure some of your favorite traditions against this criteria, and then you delightfully find that they measure up every time. I am saddened by those who seemingly toss traditions aside decrying them to be no longer "relevant" for today. There is such a thing as a timeless tradition. And there are many new things that are developed "for today" that may be relevant, but certainly won't prove timeless. Yes, I try to be a defender of good rituals, and an admonish-er of the worthless ones because I believe tradition has value. It has been said that traditions are the "We always" of a family. We always take a walk at the park on Sunday afternoons.

But what do you do when, within a family or group, there are disagreements over the value of certain traditions?

We always do it this way.
We're not doing it that way anymore.
Why not?
Because we're doing something new and we only did it that way because...
But it was that way for so long and it was fine. If you want to change something, let's get rid of x, y and z...
Oh no, that has to stay.

Dissent is never an easy pill to swallow, but somehow, we get through.

One summer before we were married, the Mister and I were in Tennessee visiting his aunt and uncle. We were attending a public event in the Baptist-heavy south, and stumbled on an acappella hymn sing being led by a beautifully harmonized quartet of four men. They called their singing "new-found tradition" and I found this fascinating, since I had only ever thought of this type of singing as an enduring tradition. But in that instant, I found comfort in another new idea- that you can also rediscover and revitalize lost traditions. And it also made me grateful for those who stand firm in maintaining the traditions that nurture, fulfill, and draw us closer. The ones that have nourished us from the beginning and continue to provide a sense of security and a feeling of we always that draw us closer together.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thankful Thoughts

It's been a busy end-of-the harvest season here, but our hands are slowly finding moments of rest. Our garden has been pulled and tilled under, the wood stove is burning with warmth, and Christmas suddenly seems like a real possibility instead of some distant date. We're so grateful for all that the milder temperatures have allowed us to accomplish (until today since we are now being pounded by rain and wind). Although not a cold weather person by any stretch of the imagination, I do value the rest that this time of year gives us and look forward to the nights spent in warmth catching up on reading, stitching, and letter writing. Even in the darkest months of the year I need to remind myself that there is much to be thankful for. And that leads me to the notebook. A friend gave me this beautiful autumn-themed notebook that has a fatal flaw- it's too pretty to be written in! I had thought of using it as a journal to record things that I am thankful for, but couldn't bring myself to actually write in that pristine pad. So today I am hopping on the thankfulness band wagon and listing some here, instead.

  • For all the hysteria of flu season, we have experienced none of that illness and remain in good health. This is a double blessing because in this month of late season construction we need all of our stamina and energy to finish some important projects besides something drastic happens. Like snow.
  • That God is in control. No man, no government, nothing can challenge Him. What a relief! We can't control everything, and I'm glad. Who has the time?
  • That I don't have to judge. Isn't that the most freeing thought, to know that we do not need to monitor and judge what other people are doing? Only God is judge, so he has relieved us from exercising our imperfect ability to do that. 
  • Family and friends. What would I do with out you? This includes my handy and patient husband.
  • A table full of warm, nutritious food and people to share it with.
  • The people in our Bible study group, who share their wisdom, caring, and even provide comic relief.
  • Our jobs. For all of the midweek griping that they sometimes induce, they are a gift that enables us to help others while providing for our needs. And since I have a few family members who are completely without work right now, I am extra thankful for this one. We've been so blessed.
  • The future. Lord willing, it's wide open and full of endless possibilities and opportunities that can't be predicted. And full of hope.

And please feel free to add your own!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Early Morning Autumn Blessings

Being more of a night owl than an early bird, there are quite a few things that I never get to see, such as, oh, say, the sunrise. It's not that I don't like to get up early, it's really more that I just can't. Even after having gone through several phases where I desperately wanted to be an early riser, and would set the clock for some optimistic time only to hit the snooze button so many times that I would inevitably get up even later than if the experiment had not been tried at all! Early mornings are just not how I'm programmed.

The Mister, on the other hand, is a natural early riser. He bounds out of bed with big plans in his head and taunts me with the phrase "Time to milk the cows!"
We don't have cows, and I'm SO grateful for that. Unless we could get them used to a midnight milking, we will never be a dairy family. You are more likely to find me at midnight with a book in hand or even a spatula, because I am lively after dark. It always seems a bit inconvenient

But since we've changed the clocks back, and the early morning light is suddenly filtering through our windows at a time that makes it seem later than it actually is, I've had the opportunity to not exactly get up with the roosters, but wake up early and see some rare autumn morning blessings. For instance, I was startled to see this lone (and thawing) dandelion puff standing prominently against some early morning patchy frost. It was the only one left, and maybe the last one for the year.

And then there was the early morning moon which was setting on one side as the sun came up on the other. I only see the moon at night, so this was a novelty. Such a lovely blue sky, too.

This is another fall treat cooling on the window. By the way, you may notice the pole in the foreground of this picture, which is an interesting topic in itself. We have many Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and these poles are scattered around their property and have some religious significance. I believe it's called an eruv and it is a symbolic fence that allows observant Jews to carry things on the Sabbath. We didn't know what it was when we first moved here, and actually used to use it to tether our dog when we were working outside! (We don't do that any more.)

Pumpkin Pecan Pie
1 cup pumpkin
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup chopped pecans
3 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Beat together with mixer. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 for 50 minutes, until middle is set.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On the Telephone

Here is my confession. I dislike telephones. No, not just mobile ones, all of them. This is a terrible affliction to have in modern society. Really, it would be more acceptable to most people if I were to adopt some odd and suspect behavior such as pipe-smoking rather than publicly admit to telephone rejection. This is, after all, a day and age when people not only carry phones with them at all times, but are mighty close to having them implanted into their heads. And had you known me during my teen years, that is exactly the fate you would have predicted for me- a cranial phone implant. But somewhere along the line, I lost it. That is, I lost the pleasurable sensation of lengthy phone calls and the curiosity that makes one rush to the phone when it rings. It just flew out the window one day and never came back. The invention of e-mail (of which I was a late adapter) may have played a role in this loss. Or it may be that since I routinely spend about 15 hours of the week helping to answer the phone at the library, I'm just too tired to deal with a ringing phone in my own home. Really, since I have often answered our home phone by saying "Reference desk, can I help you?" much to the startled surprise of the caller, this may be a viable theory.

It's practically a social disease in itself to dislike phones. Family and friends who do not have e-mail are more likely to receive a hand written letter from me, but in these busy days, they sometimes don't hear from me at all. Yes, it's is regrettable and sad. People are somewhat mystified when I don't freely rattle off my cell phone number so they can
interrupt call me anytime.
"You do have one, don't you?"
"Well yes, it's just that I don't use it regularly, it's just for emergencies."
They look at me uncomprehendingly. Once a year I check the voice mail on it and delete ancient messages left from strangers who mistakenly called my phone and left a message in my abyss of unchecked voice mails. More people dialing the wrong number call that phone than people calling intentionally. This is a phenomena that extends to our home phone too, where voice mail messages hang in limbo for days until the Mister asks if I have checked for them lately. My husband then spends ten minutes or so collecting messages which he than relays to me, somewhat aware that I would rather bury my head in the sand than call anyone back.
"You really need to try to remember to check for messages" he told me during the time of his grandfather's sickness. And during that time, I did. If it's important, it's easy to remember, but when that phone rings these days it's rarely important. Case in point:

First, it only rings when I'm doing something delicate, like trying to precariously place a liquid pie in the oven. Then, if I can get to the ringing phone in time, it's almost never a call from friends or family. It is almost always a call from someone seeking donations or an automated political message. In the past two days I have received automated calls from both former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Steve Forbes. We would have rather they came for a visit. ;-)

Once, I lobbied the Mister to get rid of the phone. That went nowhere, and rightly so. That disruptive ring isn't always pleasant, but it's necessary.

At the root of my disdain for the telephone, I can only account for it by my preference for quiet, concentration, and the written word just slightly more than instant communication. Don't get me wrong, the phone has its purpose. But it will never replace the e-mails that brighten my day, or cards in the mail that get taped to the wall, or the undisturbed quiet of a Sunday afternoon. Somehow, these things ring louder.

In the Kitchen: The stories I had heard about making crackers always sounded intimidating. Then, I found a homemade cracker recipe that looked fool proof. With optimistic visions of filling up the cracker tin, I set out to mix up my own batch. Well, the first batch of dough came out so poorly it was discarded. The second batch was fine, but the process of cutting these paper thin pieces of dough and then transferring them to a baking sheet was excruciating. So what I ended up with were these oddly shaped cookie-like things that sort of taste like crackers. File these under "R" for rustic.

Around the Home: I'm really loving lock and lock storage containers after receiving some as a gift. In fact, everything in my pantry that is not in a tin or canister is getting transferred to these containers. They are transparent and so high quality. As always, shop around for the best price.

PS: It turns out that saffron is used not in the making of the noodles, but a pinch or two is added when cooking the noodles along with the browned butter you usually put on them, to give them just a little bit of an interesting flavor. And this is purely a regional Pennsylvania thing, which explains why there is a whole lot of people who have never heard of this.


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