Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Returning from memory lane...

Wondering where I've been? I took a trip with my kids back to the home I grew up in. My littlest had never visited there, although he sees my mom and dad often. They always come to us. I was glad I made the journey. It was combined with my twentieth high school reunion which is mind blowing.... let me tell you. Part of me feels like there's no way that I'm that old, while another part of me insists that it's surely been longer.We had such a nice visit with my parents. My kids romped all through the backyard I grew up in. These woods shaped my life. My mom, dad, and I all grinned at each other as we watched them explore and play their imaginary games. It was so familiar. This creek was the back drop for many a play staged in the woods with my sisters and me. We had elaborate imaginary worlds filled with characters living on "the frontier." We often enacted scenes from "The Boxcar Children" or "Little House on the Prairie." This particular morning was not the first time that children have played in the creek in their pajamas. I think I heard the water sigh with content.

As for those friends from high school? Almost all of them I had not seen in twenty years. When I left, I never really came back except for occasional visits to my parents. I was as nervous as a cat, but deserve a badge of courage. I almost turned around and went home before walking in the door. I questioned myself at the last minute. Would everyone think my marriage was failing because I came without my husband? Why did I want to see these people, most of whom, I had lost contact with? The answers eluded me as I drove there.

I certainly wasn't going to prove anything. My conversation starter would be that I stay at home with my 3 and 6 year old, that I like to sew, and garden, and run in the woods. There's no segue way there for my career and educational success which I've chosen to put on the back burner. I wondered just what I would share with all of these people from my past. It was a strange thing to be inundated with so many emotions which were rooted from twenty years ago. Click. I was as awkward and nervous as I'd felt as a teen, clinging to my shaky self esteem.

What I discovered was that for the most part, everyone else is twenty years down the road too. Just like me, they've had their share of struggles, joys, mundane moments, and life changing events. The people that I was really close to then, I still felt a strong sense of connection. It was just incredibly gratifying. I even made some connections with people that I had never really talked with in high school. We shared about our gardens and talked about our kids.

I always try to push myself outside my comfort zone. It is so easy to safely stay in one's own box. Some days I manage that leap more successfully than others. Often, my anxiety is clearly apparent to any passerby. I'm not saying I handle each challenge gracefully. I can tell you though, that I'm so happy I made this trip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Will the rain ever let up?

We in the southeastern United States have been seeing rain for more than a week without much of a break. It's led to deaths and plenty of destruction. For us, it's meant lost work and too many days inside.... both of which are hard on our family in this teeny tiny little house. This is the time of year when we are exploring for mushrooms along the trail, picking up the first turning leaves, and enjoying the last of what our garden has to give us. Instead, yesterday, I decided to "save" some of our basil from the constant rain. Plus, my little guy was sick so it was a good indoor activity... pesto makin' time.

Most years I wait until October and have to cut all the basil plants at the base to keep them from the first frost. It' not that I'm a last minute girl, but when making pesto, you can be lazy. Basil doesn't get too ripe like a tomato or fruit. Nor does it get too tough like a bean. It's generally pretty darn forgiving, so in terms of "putting food by", pesto has always been my tried and true.

Thirteen years ago, my friend Marilyn taught me how to make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. We've been doing it ever since. We have 8-10 plants every year so that we can have pesto until the next summer's bounty. Easy peasy.... if you have a food processor. This is what you throw in until it tastes right:

garlic cloves
olive oil
pine nuts or walnuts
sea salt and black pepper
little bit of lemon juice

I grate my parm from a huge block with the processor and set that aside. Then I process the garlic cloves with the olive oil until they are minced very fine. I add nuts. I process and add oil as needed. Then I start adding in basil leaves, stripping them from the stalks in huge piles. (Think production.) The stalks will be too tough, but of course, everything else about a basil plant tastes great. Don't get too freaked out as long as it's clean and free of bugs and dirt.... but, even then... you aren't going to die. When I've got what looks like good consistency in oil and basil, I add in sea salt and black pepper to taste. I use a little bit of lemon juice to help keep the basil nice and green. At the very end I add the cheese. I've found that it can be very easy to add more cheese than is really tasteful or necessary if you start with it at the front end. (This may be because I'm a total cheese addict. One year, I used yellow miso instead, when I was not doing dairy.)

I think this is one of the most amazing food "activities" you can do with kids. There are no eggs and kids are great strippers of basil off the stalk. They have so much fun. Plus, they can push the button on the processor again and again. It's loads of fun and a natural activity for following directions. There is something for kids about following the instruction to turn an appliance "on" and "off" that feels like huge responsibility to them. Because the processor blade is enclosed and the appliance can't be turned on unless the lid is locked in place, it's nice and safe for even really young guys. Perfect, if you ask me. Pesto. Entertainment. From the garden. Summer flav in the winter. Does it get better? Well, now, if the rain would let up...

Monday, September 21, 2009

A little weekend getaway...

... does a mama good. I didn't realize how very refreshed I would feel. No kids and none of life's responsibilities for a day and a half. It was really just incredibly relaxing. I felt very fortunate to be invited to a sewing weekend with some girl friends. We ate amazing food... beet salad, roasted butternut and goat cheese pasta, carrot cake, roasted vege quiche, apple turnovers. Then there was the wine, the sewing, and the laughter. Good soul filling stuff. I forgot my camera and didn't get a single picture, but that was kind of nice too.

An added bonus was learning new and different things from other women who love to sew. One friend further inspired me with her log cabin quilt squares. (That is still on my list of to do's.) Another awed me with her ability to sew knits into elegant clothing. (Some day I'll give that a whirl.)

It was hard for us to quit sewing, actually. At midnight, two of us were learning from another how to make a cute little zipper pouch. Here's mine in the pictures. Really fun stuff. It was probably my favorite project from the whole weekend. So sweet and functional... I want to make more! The tutorial is at Skip to My Lou.

I've always wanted to go on a sewing getaway with friends. This one was filled with so much goodness. Really, I think the very best part was the camaraderie of such a great bunch of women. No nastiness or weirdness, just relaxing, positive, and productive. Exactly what I needed. Amazing. And now, back to the real world.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It's a tote!
No... it's a squished up piece of fabric.
See, the button in the middle? I was messing around trying to come up with a bag that could be folded and stored as an extra. In the end, I think I decided that the bag's so nice it could be used for every day, not just hidden in some one's purse or car as an extra. Anyone care to weigh in? I'm whipping some up for a craft sale in November. I'd love to hear people's opinions....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How can it be Tuesday, already?

We needed a slow weekend around here. And that's just what it was. Now suddenly the week is flying by again. It felt really nice to spend the bulk of last weekend with my husband and kids... some fishing, some hiking, some sewing, some hanging out, some weeding in the garden. More and more in the past year I have noticed that we do that. We have settled into a steady rhythm that is very comfortable. There was a time when I needed a whole day to escape from young kids, but now I find myself wanting to do more and more just the four of us. Maybe it takes six years (since the birth of our first) for everything to come together.

This is a little stuff sack that I made this weekend for my daughter out of fabric that she chose. She wanted something to hold her buttons which are the rewards she's received at school. (What's not to love about a teacher who gives buttons for rewards?!) It is truly fascinating how my daughter covets these buttons, looking at them, arranging them, lovingly storing them away. She "recorded" them on a cut out of her hand. Twenty buttons with room to add more, all carefully kept in her monkey sack.

This is a quilt that she and I finished. She chose the fabrics and then sat at the machine. She sewed the strips up, working the fabric under the foot as I pressed the peddle to control the speed. We were quite the team and she was so excited to sew on my machine. She asked me to quilt it with hearts, flowers, and swirls in hot pink thread. Yes, she's an average six year old girl, I've come to accept.

I hand sewed the binding for her when she lost patience with this part of the process. It totally warmed my heart to walk out the next morning to find her doll's bed all set up with the pillow and quilt that we made along with a doll quilt underneath made for her by a dear friend. (This sweet doll bed came from friends whose daughter is now sixteen. That sixteen year old also made it up for her dolls and stuffed animals when she was a little girl.)
It's kind of hard to explain, but I don't think my daughter could have expressed her gratitude any more deeply. Watching her play with the things that we've made together because she requested it... well, it's just such a reminder that I'm living the kind of life I want to live.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Soft spot for sock monkeys

I've got one... a soft spot for sock monkeys. I'm not exactly sure why because I don't specifically remember having one, but they were a part of my generation. Really though, what's not to love about a monkey?

So, I've made some more and they're in my shop. I downsized and made some sets with Crayola colored pencils too. It keeps the roll a little less pricey. Now, before you read the next paragraph I'll warn you that I have a serious bias. (Told you, I'm full of opinions.)

This is my sales pitch for the German made Faber-Castell. They're really just phenomenal for the $6 price difference. The pencil lead is thick and flows over the page. The colors blend. The triangular grip encourages proper hand position for young ones. They really are an artist's dream; I want to grab them up and start drawing. My guess is they last a lot longer too. They're made from wood that is from the company's own reforestation project. Do I sound like a Faber Castell rep? I could be, but I'm not. I really just love their products and I've noticed that my daughter intuits the differences in quality art supplies when she uses them. It's not like I stand over her and tell her which one I think is better. She just gravitates again and again to the higher quality art supplies. Even if you're going to make a roll of your own, consider purchasing these.

So there you go... sock monkeys and my favorite colored pencils. A nice combination for anyone. Should I ask Faber Castell for a commission on my sales?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I shouldn't have...

... but I did. I just get itchy to cut and piece fabric sometimes. I like the repetitiveness of it, and how it all comes together. Yes, the difference between meditation and addiction can be a mighty fine line sometimes.

Chinese stacked coins quilt top. For more inspiration, visit the Flicker group here. If you're brand new to quilting and want to give this design a try, there's a wonderful tutorial I found here on the right side of her blog.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

There is something...

... about feeling happy. Just because. Not because life is necessarily perfect or without it's problems. There is something truly remarkable about feeling content. Yes, it is fleeting, like every other transitory moment or emotion in life. But are ya with me? There is just something spectacular about smiling and feeling happy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

First Friday of September

We're camping this weekend and so excited about it. This is the first time we've gone since the second one came along. Ahem... he's three now. I love Autumn in Western North Carolina, and it's felt so much that way this week. Cooler temperatures and a subtle shifting of colors all around; it's difficult to come inside and focus on what should be getting done. Definitely a spectacular time to be trying out the family tent. I'm looking forward to sleeping out under the stars, drinking wine with friends, and lettting the kids romp. Hope that you all have a wonderful, long weekend as well. See you next week!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Making the best of what we got!

These tomatoes are pretty much the prize from our garden. All of the other heirlooms blighted, beside for our sungold cherries. It's difficult to complain. Last year it was so dry that we never saw a tomato reach this size. Everything just sizzled up in the sun. This year, our produce was doing laps in their own swimming pool. Go figure.

We were lucky enough to have a friend share some of her tomatoes grown in her greenhouse. They were superb and so unbelievably sweet; I couldn't believe we were eating tomatoes. We ate them plain, with basil and mozzarella, and then we tried the Backseat Gourmet's recipe for panzanella. So quick and easy, and quite a hit with my family. This is Cheryl's picture of her recipe below. ( She's a much better food photographer than I am. Actually, she's also an amazing quilter, so go check that out too.)

It definitely feels like we're trying to hang on to the last vestiges of summer as we gobble down tomatoes and basil. Soon, I need to get busy making pesto. We freeze it in cubes and eat on it all winter, pretending we have summer in our mouths.