Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pinterest: Caution, Addictive

I've stumbled upon a new sight that is fun to browse through called Pinterest.  I don't completly understand it, but you can "pin" items from various places online to your virtual "bulletin board".  For instance, suppose I was trying to pick out a new quilt pattern.  As I found them at various sites I could pin the pictures to my board and then view them all together.  They link to the original site.  Others can also view your boards and can comment or "like" your pin or even "repin" it.  Right now I can browse, but you have to sign up to use all the functions and to sign up you need to be invited AND apparently there is a waiting list to sign up.  I don't know why there is a limit on members.  That seems sort of counterproductive to business, but I don't pretend to understand the business of Internet sights anyway.  Try it out and see what you think.  As always, if anyone has any comments, good or bad about it or can shed some light on the workings of the whole thing, please share!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book #1: I Will See You In Heaven

Well, I finally finished my first book of 2012.  It's really a short book that I should have read in an afternoon, but nonetheless, I've broken the ice on my book reading.  This book is by Friar Jack Wintz and theorizes on whether our pets will join us in heaven.  I know, not the best topic, but my husband thought it might give me comfort since I've commented often that I wish Seamus could be with us forever.  The picture on the cover alone is delightful.  And the theology was comforting as well as sound, at least in my opinion.

It's worth the read if you are a pet lover who has questioned this topic for yourself.  And apparently there are enough people interested in this that they are able to mass market the title. 

One down, five to go.  I really hope I can reestablish reading as a regular habit.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pillow #3

I made one more pillow.  This time I had to buy some filling but other than that, it's all scraps, even the covered button came from my mother's button box.  The back is made of the same fabric as the covered button.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where IS the Sun?

I don't follow weather statistics all that closely but I bet we have had less days of sun this winter than in any recent past winter.  I can tolerate the cold (to an extent) and the occasional snow is actually rather pretty but I miss the sun.  Today is a bit brighter, but we still have significant cloud cover.  At first it looked like the sun would shine brightly, but in just a short time those blasted clouds moved in again.  Sorry, just needed to vent.  Maybe there's an Indian sun dance?  Anyone?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Rabbit Hole

When my husband travels I try to catch up on movies or TV shows that he doesn't care for.  He does the same.  We will both watch a wide range of movies with each other, although we reserve the right to sleep through some shows that are so NOT in our interest range.  And we reserve the right to an occasional "no thank you".  He uses his on "Dancing With the Stars".  I use mine for the worst or foulest of the shoot 'em up or sci fi movies.  Although I have sat through "The Walking Dead" this past season.

Anyway, last night I watched "The Rabbit Hole" with Nicole Kidman.  I had been ignoring this choice in my Netflix cue becuase the subject matter seemed so depressing.  It's about a couple who tragicly lost their 4 year old boy in an accident and how they both dealt with their grief.  I found it so well done that it should be included in classes on grief counseling.  It showed that there are good ways and not so good ways to deal with grief, that each person does it differently, that it never completely goes away, but does get better over time and that in the end you get through it just by doing the next thing, walking through life and sharing with those around you.  It's perhaps the most underratted movie I've watched in a long time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My First Pillows

I had been wanting to try a few new techniques and I thought son #1 could use some pillows for his way too old and saggy sofa.  So I put those two things together and came up with this:
The green pillow is made from a burlap sack that pistachios came in.  I had two other similar sacks from basmati rice, but the ink on those ran so badly that the design was indistinguishable.  I was a little disappointed in that because I'm sure son #1 remembers the many meals made with that type of rice.  The blue pillow is made with small scraps and leftovers from my recent quilting projects.  They're stuffed with the filling from an old bed pillow (washed, of course).  The only things I bought for this were the cording to make the piping (that turned out to be so much easier than I anticipated) and some green thread for the topstiching on the green pillow. 

I love to "repurpose" stuff and I see a lot of potential here.  2011 was the year of the pillowcase and 2012 might be the year of the throw pillow.  I need to get better at hiding the stitching when I put the piping on and that crazy quilt technique is not as easy as it seems like it should be.  I found myself "stitched into a corner" more than once.  This offers a nice small project in between the quilts or when my block of time is too small for the next quilting step.

Now I need to find a box big enough to fit these for the trip to son #1.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

British TV

My husband and I have been watching several British TV shows lately.  I'm struck by the difference in the art form of acting from what we see in this country.  I wonder if actors have the type of celebrity status that we afford them here.  I so appreciate how normal the actors on these shows look.  They don't have perfect, bright white teeth.  They don't all look perpetually young and they aren't all a size 2.  It adds an authenticity to their acting that can't be achieved by make up and costumes.  Faces -real faces - tell such stories in themselves.  I think this is why I'm attracted to sketches of faces, particularly old faces.  I have an Indian chief and an old German potter hanging in my home.  Both faces are deeply lined and wrinkled and I feel like the depiction of those faces speak volumes.

I will say that I have noticed a few actors in this country who I feel have interesting faces.  I don't think any of them would be called "pretty or handsome" yet their looks lend believability to their characters.  One is Morgan Freeman.  His face seems to get more and more interesting as the years go by.  Another is Frances Sternhagen.  I was reminded of both of these actors while watching The Dolphin Tale recently.

Wouldn't it be nice if acting could be see for the art that it is apart from physical appearance?  I'm sure there are a lot of people who can act but who weren't blessed with perfect hair or skin or body.  We don't seem to hold other artists to this standard as strictly as actors.  There are singers whose looks are less then perfect, although most of them DO get their teeth fixed for those close ups.  I don't think this will change anytime soon so I'll have to go on getting my fill of regular looking, but well performed acting from the BBC.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter Fruits and Vegetables

No, this isn't about acorn squash and yams.  I've mentioned before that I have trouble maintaining an adequate amount of vegetables in the colder months because I have no desire for a cold salad when the weather is so cold outside.  And I also mentioned my re-discovery of cooked greens to help with that.  And that's all good, but I've come across a few other ways to get fruits and vegetables into my diet when all I really want is something hot and fattening.

Vegetables:  I mentioned greens and I can expand that to point out that spinach is a great green.  You can buy it in a bag already cleaned (supposedly - you can decide how much additional prep you want to provide).  It steams quickly or it can be added raw to things like eggs, pizza, pasta or casseroles.  One caution - if you are trying to determine amount, a six ounce bag which is the size commonly found in the bagged salad section will cook down to two medium sized portions.  Soup is also a good medium for vegetables.  I used to avoid making soup because I made SO much and was sick of it by the end, but now I take out a smaller pot and I don't try to add tons to things.  I do though have a lot of "pieces" to the amount of broth since often a lot of broth just sits in the bottom of the bowl and travels down the drain at the end.  For soups I've been using a combination of fresh and frozen vegetables.  A lot of frozen vegetables come with resealable bags so you can just take out the amount you want and put the rest back in the freezer.

Fruits:  These are a little easier for me in the winter, but still not the first thing I'm attracted to when the weather is cold.  It helps if I leave a couple of pieces on the counter to warm up before I eat them. I also usually put fruit in my oatmeal and of course there temperature is no issue.  Oddly, though buying fruit already cut up in those little cups helps too.  The fruit is still cold when I eat it, but I haven't had to handle the cold fruit in order to prepare it and somehow that makes it better to me.  But, my biggest discovery this winter has been baked apples!  They only take four minutes in the microwave and provide a nice warm treat at the end of a meal or as a snack.  I core the apple with my nifty apple corer that I found in the back of my kitchen utensil drawer.  Then I fill the middle with a teaspoon or so of brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon.  It doesn't take much sugar and I think it goes for a good cause.  Then I put one of those plastic splatter covers over it and microwave it for four minutes.  I've noticed that there is a big difference in apple variety.  So far I've tried Fuji and Gala.  The Fuji were a lot creamier in final texture.  On my next trip to the grocery store I'm going to buy a few other varieties and experiment.

While diet is about food choices, other aspects have to be considered - like mental perceptions and the particular context of the meal (warm or cold weather, living alone or feeding many, how much you tolerate leftovers).  Sometimes it helps to change the way the food is consumed as much as what food is consumed.  I guess that's the psychology of dieting.  Hmm....sounds like a good topic for someone's thesis.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2011 Summary Quilt

I decided to make a wall hanging for my quilting room with a block for each quilt I made during my first year of quilting.  It was fun to make something small for a change and it gave me a chance to practice some techniques.  I still have a long way to go on just about all aspects of quilting.  First some pictures (from the person who isn't a picture taker!)
Each block represents one of the quilts I completed in 2011.  There is also fabric from the table runner I made for son #1.  The label at the bottom says, "The quilts of 2011".  I'm going to hang it on my wall as soon as I get some of these cool hangers recommended by Leah Day.
Leah has been my inspiration to try free motion quilting and I used this piece as my first attempt at stippling.  In general I was pleased with the result, although if I could do it again I would have used a different color thread.  I'm not sure what color, perhaps the blue/green variegated thread I used on the 3D quilt.  I also would have made the stitch that holds the binding on narrower.  I wanted more practice putting the binding on this way and I can tell that I need to work on turning the corners.  The stippling was easier than I anticipated.  I had some trouble going over the non-traditional fabrics in the quilt - the knits from the tee-shirt quilt and the fabric from the cuddle quilt.  It was a lot of fun.  And the more you relax, the easier it is.  I forgot to put my stitch length to 0 as recommended but actually I think on my machine keeping the stitch length on the standard setting gave me slightly better stitches.

I actually did a form of free motion quilting on the 3D quilt trying to make a seaweed like design and ocean waves.  I like the result on this piece better.  I have another quilt top ready to baste and quilt and it will at least in part have stippling.  I will need to adjust my sewing tables to handle the weight of a large quilt better.  I noticed that when this piece was mostly hanging to the back of the machine it became difficult to manage the fabric and that would be even more pronounced in a large quilt.

My quilt list for this year has eight quilts on it!  I'm not sure I'll get those all done but I don't have to worry about running out of ideas for awhile.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year's Resolution

I don't usually make New Year's Resolutions, but there is a small thing that I would like to change in my life.  Keeping track in this blog has helped for other things, so maybe it will help with this.  I would like to read more.  I've gone through phases when I've been a pretty consistant reader and then others when I can hardly get through a book.  And that's where I am now.  So, I would like to read six books in 2012.  I know that's not many, but I believe in realistic, attainable goals.  The first three that I want to read are:  two dog books that I got for Christmas and an e-book written by my nephew.  I've already started the e-book, so maybe tis is cheating, but trust me, I need all the help I can get.

So, I'll post after each complete book, maybe even with my "review" of the story.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm Not a Picture Taker

I like blog posts with pictures and I've come to really admire the people who post frequently with pictures.  Often they are simple things like how to bake brownies or make a certain craft project. It's many times harder to make brownies when you have to take a picture of each and every step and ingredient or to picture each step in a sewing project.  So, I've come to appreciate their dedication and effort to provide that level of interest in their blog.

I like to have pictures of my family, but I've never been much of a picture taker.  I used to be and if you look in my poorly organized photo albums you will see many, many pictures of son #1, slightly less of son #2 and many fewer of son #3.  What you won't see are many pictures of me during those years because I was always the one behind the camera.  But that's not why I don't care to take pictures these days and consequently don't post many pictures.  I began to feel that while I was watching through the viewfinder of a camera I couldn't participate in what was happening.  I was always looking for a good picture or trying to document an event on film and what I wanted to be doing was participating in the event.  I wanted to SEE my children graduate not just take a picture of it.  I want to MAKE the brownies, not take a picture of making the brownies.  I want to be present in the activity rather than document the activity.

I still take pictures and indeed have pictures of graduations and the like, but I would rather just be there and then buy (for what seems like an outrageous price) the professional photographer's picture of my son getting his diploma or getting married or participating in the (fill in the blank) team.  I've come to realize that I'm not paying just for a picture, I'm paying for the luxury of participating in the event and still being able to have the picture to commemorate it....and that is priceless.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Customer Service

We've all had "those" experiences.  The ones where we call an 800 number to find resolution to a product or service we've paid our good money for.  Most of them are a total frustration.  In fact the credit card commercials featuring "Peggy" are pretty much on the mark.  And even when the person on the other end of the line speaks English as their primary language (thus very understandable) you are often left with the feeling that you are interrupting them from something more important or that they have less knowledge than you do on how to solve a problem with your latest techno-toy. (Yes, I've rebooted about 100 times!)

Customer service really requires the right attitude and the right tools.  You have to make the person you are serving believe that you enjoy helping them and the company you work for has to provide the appropriate resources for you to find and fix their problem (a good data base, good software or just good training in using a technical item.)  I know that it's hard to instill trust and confidence in the first few seconds of a phone conversation, but believe me, it happens!  The initial 30 seconds can pretty much tell you if this will be a good experience or another "Peggy" experience.

I had an OUTSTANDING customer service experience yesterday that deserves reporting.  I ordered a pair of shoes from an English company, Hotter several weeks ago.  The shoes arrived and were well made and a good fit, but the style did not agree with my deformed, bunion plagued feet.  Exchanges are provided postage free so I wrapped them back up and sent them back with another style choice that seemed like it wouldn't hurt my sensitive bunion area.  Since they go to England the delivery time each way is much longer than we have come to expect here.  I wanted to see if indeed my shoes had arrived.  I called their 800 number and reached a representative apparently in England.  This woman was delightful.  Not only could she tell me that indeed my shoes had arrived but also that the others would be in the "post" shortly.  She was outstandingly pleasant, made me feel like a valued customer and put a smile on my face.  My take away is this:  either Hotter has a great customer service training program which they should market, or England has a great custom of politeness which we would do well to incorporate into our society here.  Hopefully the next pair of shoes will be a wonderful fit and I will have fun filling my closet with other styles while Hotter will have gained a very loyal, shoe loving, customer in me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Internet Ages With Us

Just last year I was a "googlenope" when serched for by my birth name in quotes.  This means that Google came up with no hits on my first and madian names occuring in order.  That wasn't totally surprising since both names were uncommon and the internet didn't exist when I used that name.  Interestingly, though, my name is now searchable.  I don't use it anymore and am not creating any new records but older school yearbooks and documentation is slowly being stored online so that now I must give up my googlenope status.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Gift of TV

I used to think very little of TV watching.  And there were quite a few years of my life during which I did not own a TV and then more years yet when I owned a TV but did not have any TV service (we just watched VHS tapes) and more years yet when the only TV watched was snowy "free" TV using "rabbit ears" that had to be positioned just so to get any picture at all.  This was not because technology hadn't advanced.  This was because I thought TV watching was something I didn't want in my life at all.

But, like many things, my opinions have mellowed as I got older.  I came to see that TV, particularly local stations, in some weird way provide some unity to a community.  They are a common thread that a broad spectrum of the population are exposed to and experience.  The same can be said for TV programs that are shared with others.  I enjoy watching TV with my husband and following particular TV programs each week.  TV is much less enjoyable to me when I am alone.  If it's not a really good story, I'd rather be reading a book or doing another activity.

Over the past year son #3 has given me the gift of TV.  Now, there are few activities that a mother can share with her grown son.  Even hiking, which we both enjoy, is difficult to share.  He is young and strong and not only prefers more challenging hikes than I can't handle, but hikes at a pace that is just about impossible for me to keep up with.  But, TV viewing does not discriminate.  As long as you can see and hear and still have your wits about you enough to follow a story line, you can enjoy TV.  Unlike the theater or movies you don't have to travel to get there since basically, it comes to you.  Son #3 and I found a few series that we could enjoy together.  Thanks to Netflix we could start with the beginning of the first year and work our way forward.  When I know he is coming home for a week or so I try to have the next DVD ready to go.  Our favorite series at present is Dexter.  It's an oddly intriguing series about a sort of vigilante serial killer.  Sometimes we would find ourselves talking about the plot line and suggesting ways that we thought it would progress.  Even though it is a passive activity, it is a shared activity.  For a short time our experience was shared.  A small part of our life was the same.

So, while I think TV can be overdone, I think it can also provide a shared experience for people - family or community - to unite around.  And like so many other aspects of life (think diet),  there is a balance to TV viewing, an amount that enhances life without overtaking life. 

And so we circle back to balance.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Old Person Alert

I don't feel old yet.  In fact, sometimes I think the very core of who we are is very similar throughout the years.  There are parts of me that feel like the same person I was in high school.  I'm not so sure that is a good thing, but that's how it seems.  But, I guess I'm seen as older than I think I feel.....

A few weeks ago I had some help here cleaning the house.  When I came down the hardwood steps, the woman was cleaning the hardwood floor at the bottom.  She said with alarm, "Be careful!  The floor is wet!  I always worry when old people walk on a wet floor!"  Boy, did that one hit me.  She thought I was old!  I thought we were peers!  Wow.

Then, a few days ago I had my glasses off to read something.  I went to move on to the next task and couldn't find my glasses.  I looked all around where I was sitting without success.  So, I decided to walk into the bathroom and put my contacts in.  When I looked in the mirror, there were my glasses - on top of my head!!

Maybe the cleaning lady was right. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Gift of Mail

I love to get mail.  I've been this way forever.  I remember waiting on the porch for the mailman when I was growing up.  Believe it or not, during the holidays in the old days we sometimes got mail twice in one day!  Of course most of the mail was for my parents, but they allowed me to claim some of the "occupant" mail for myself.  Occasionally I received a real letter.  Of course, people wrote more back then.  Writing letters was a way of life.  My oldest sister lived in Florida and she wrote us regularly.  She sent letters to my parents but she also sent ones to me - addressed to seven year old ME in my OWN envelope!  Of course I wrote back.  Sometimes in the summer I would pick a pen pal from the back of a comic book (those were kinder, gentler, safer days) and exchanged letters until one of us lost interest.  When you met friends during the summer you would exchange (no, not emails) addresses with promises to write faithfully - or at least until the activities of the new school year took over. 

I still look forward to the mailman (or the mail lady in my case) each day.  Most of the mail is junk variety looking for my money either by direct donation or by selling me something.  But occasionally there is a letter and of course this time of year there were cards, some with little notes keeping me up to date on friends and family.  To me the mail has always represented promise.  You never know just what will show up in your box.  Each day is the chance to receive a nice surprise.  Granted, sometimes these are not nice surprises, but I don't focus on that.  I'm always hopeful that there will be an unexpected good thing in the mail.

My family is well aware of my love for mail.  Son #1 faithfully sends me a post card whenever he travels.  Often he has been home for weeks before the postcard finds its way to me.  But they are always appreciated and I've even started to keep them in a special notebook.

But this year he gave me a gift of mail!  He gave me a set of hand made notecards with my state on the front and all the envelopes stamped and a nice pen.  Then he told me that he bought a similar set (with his location on the front) for himself.  And he told me that if I would write to him, he would respond with his notecards - hence the gift of mail!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Winter Alternative to Salad

I had commented in a previous post that I find it difficult to eat a lot of salads in the winter.  When the weather is cold, I want warm food.  And without salads my vegetable intake really declines.  Well, quite by accident I stumbled upon a great winter substitute: greens.  When I was growing up my mother made greens for most holiday meals.  They had an Italian twist both in the type of greens that she choose and the meat she used to flavor it with.  She used the shank bone from a prosciutto that she would buy from an Italian deli.  Although that cold cut is still made, they no longer use a piece of meat with the bone included.  The prosciutto you buy today in your local supermarket is make of a boneless piece of meat that will easily slice on their machines.

 My mother's greens were also sort of polorizing.  There were those in the family - immediate and extended who loved the dish and couldn't get enough.  And there were those who wouldn't touch the stuff.  Interestingly that was repeated New Year's day when I presented my twist of greens.  Son #2 wouldn't touch them, son #1 tried a small bite and then went back for more, son #3 wasn't present, but I can tell you with certainty that he would NOT have tried them and probably wouldn't even want the serving bowl near him!

The dish started out this way: my husband wanted boiled cabbage, another family member suggested collard greens (something I never even heard of until I moved "south").  I saw this as an opportunity to try to recreate a bit of my old Italian holiday meals.  So, I made cabbage with collard greens using bacon and onion as the flavoring.  The result was surprisingly tasty!  I could see experimenting with other greens that are readily available here.  You can pack a lot of vegetable servings in a moderate sized bowl of greens!  And since I didn't boil them - they were steamed in the water that sticks to the leaves when you rinse them - most of the nutrients stayed intact. 

I had to look up on the internet how to use collard greens.  So, if anyone is interested:  you don't use the middle vein or stem. They should be rinsed to remove dirt, although mine were pretty clean straight from the store.  They have a lot of flavor and blended well with the more mild cabbage.  A medium head of cabbage and one bunch of collards fed five people.  I would put the recipe here, but instead I'm going to suggest that if indeed there are any readers out there interested - comment or email me and I'll send it to you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Wrap Up: Year One of Retirement

Well, the holidays are over.  The tree and decorations are down.  The big meals have been made, eaten and cleaned up.  It's time to get back to everyday living.  I've caught up on most of the details of life that get pushed aside this time of year and I feel the need to touch base here before fully moving into the new year of activities.  I've had many ideas come into my head that I wanted to write about but little time to do it.  But for now, let's just stick with the recap.

Retirement:  This was my first year of not working.  I was a bit hesitant to retire at a younger age, but anxious to try it. As the year progressed I grew to love the freedom more and more.  I've purposely NOT signed up for anything this past year - no gym membership, no volunteering, no regular commitments.  I'm sure I won't continue that trend for the rest of my life, but it has been so freeing to have my time to myself each day.  I know that my retirement won't look the same for the rest of my years, but for now I'm happy with how it looks.

Diet:  I ended the year just a few pounds shy of my goal.  Over the holidays I maintained the lost weight, but didn't continue to lose.  I've stayed active and changed my eating habits for the better.  I want to lose ten more pounds in 2012.  This will bring my BMI into the acceptable range and should help keep my family history of Type II Diabetes in check (I hope).

Quilting:  I've embraced quilting wholeheartedly.  One of my gifts this Christmas was a pair of quilting books that will continue to teach me some of the basics.  My first project of the new year will be a small wall hanging summarizing my projects of the last year.  I hope to make that a yearly thing and a way to catalog what I've done.  I also have a top that needs to be quilted and a few small projects in mind.  Then I will start down my quilt list.  The books have given me a few more ideas to add to the list too!

Travel:  When I thought about retirement I expected to travel more especially with my husband on some of his business trips and to spend some time helping my oldest sister.  Neither of these happened as I expected.  I did get some awesome travel in, though, but I didn't accompany my husband as much as I thought. That may change a bit this next year.  We'll see.

Parenting:  The boys (men) are all in a good place in their lives.  It's funny that I still consider this parenting even though they are adults and one is married.  The thing is, sometimes as they grow older you see the outcome of decisions you made years ago in their upbringing.  Some, I'm glad for; some I wish I could do over.  I wish I was able to spend more time with them; I wish we were closer (relationship wise). Maybe additional years will bring that to pass.

Blogging:  I've enjoyed my first attempt at blogging.  It gives me a good outlet for writing down my thoughts and keeping track of some aspects of life.  I don't know how long I'll continue or if I'll try to change my strategies any.  I may work on changing the look of the blog some, just for the educational experience of it all.  I enjoy watching the stats, slow as they may be.  I'm curious how people come to find my blog since it has been pretty under the radar.  I have yet to get my first official on the blog "comment".  So, if anyone out there has anything al all to say, I'm all ears.

So, like it or not, the book is closed on the holidays and 2011.  It's time to move forward and see what this next year has to bring.