Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Spiced, Cinnamon Glaze

I am the sort of person that will seize on any opportunity to make a cake.  I frequently volunteer it for parties.  I like baking cakes.  I like frosting.  I like eating cakes.  I like birthday candles.  I like sprinkles.  I just like the whole cake shebang.

For my friend Scott's birthday party I baked an applesauce cake, knowing Scott and Kris to be the type of people who would appreciate the local apple element of the recipe.  Instead of a more traditional frosting I decided to pair the spiced applesauce cake with a cinnamon spiced glaze.  It dribbled down the sides beautifully and really completed the cake well.
Cinnamon Spiced Glaze
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon
2 T margarine, melted
1 T non-dairy milk
1/2 t vanilla or almond extract

Combine all ingredients until smooth.  Pour or drizzle over cake/cupcakes.
It was well received by the birthday boy--and Matt's family who ate the leftovers with dinner and with me, too, of course--and let's face it:  I offer to make cakes because its easy and I love cake.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ginger in Love

Ginger in Love  

Watching her eyes,
Holding that meaningful green gaze,
I wonder:
    What is she thinking?
     What does she make of us?
      Of all this?

She loves me, clearly.
You can tell.
Its in the way she runs to me,
Waits for me,
Beckons me.

If we bring each other comfort,
If we make each other happy, contented,
If we prefer to be together,
If we crave each other's affection,
What else could you call it?
But love?

(written 10/6/2015)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review: Owls: Our Most Charming Bird

Fast on the heels of my coloring book review I have another Blogging for Books review.  This time I selected a very playful non-fiction book.  I guess I'd call it a  birding book for people who are not birders.  The book is entitled Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell.  They certainly are charming--and so is the artwork in this book.
Frankly, I am not sure exactly how to go about evaluating and reviewing this book.  The birder in me has a hard time not being too critical.  I mean, the art was great, but I think I was hoping for a little more from the text.  Scattered throughout the different entries there are sentences which hint at the things that make owls so unique--their large, fixed eyes, facial disks, and specialized vertebrae, for example--but they were just hinted at.  I wanted more.
So, I guess I can say that if a person just wanted to look at sweet, cartoonish, little owl drawings this is the book for you.  If you want to actually learn about owls it might be an okay place to start, but will leave you, like me, needing to find out more elsewhere.  Maybe that is okay.  To just be a launching pad for further exploration.  I ended up reading it alongside my National Geographic Guide to the Birds of North America--though Sewell's collection of owls is certainly not limited to North America.
Owls is laid out a bit like a guidebook, breaking owls into habitats such as Tropical Owls, Woodland Owls, Desert Owls, etc and including a checklist at the end to mark the species observed.  The owl drawings and text are rather non-technical--though often quite humorous, giving anthropomorphic traits to the various owls based on their appearance or behavior.
Matt Sewell is, it seems, a talented artist who also happens to love birds.  This book is a combination of both passions.  Owls are beautiful and I can see why they would be a never ending source of inspiration for an artist.   There are so many kinds and they're all either A) incredibly adorable, or B) awesomely fierce-looking.
I love owls--that is why I just had to try out this book.  They're so majestic and mysterious--hard to spot and often only coming out for the night.  It was interesting to learn more about owls that live around the world--an owl that only lives in Jamaica, say.  As I was reading I realized that I'm really only familiar with ones I stand a chance of seeing in the flesh.  Owls are a gift for the whole wide world.  Every place on earth seems to have one.
I don't think I'll keep the book--though I might send it to my sister, who apparently also has a fondness for owls.  It was fun to read and look at, but I don't see myself reading it again--or using it as a bird reference book--so I cannot justify the shelf space in keeping it.
It really was cute though.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: The Time Chamber - A Coloring Book for Adults

For my third book from the Blogging for Books program I decided to try something a little different.  First I'd done a gardening book and then a cooking book.  This time I went for a coloring book.  I say its "a little different" because there is hardly any text, the other two had been non-fiction, and, well, its a coloring book.  I wasn't expecting the chance to review a coloring book, but was happy to seize it.
I really, really, really like coloring.  I am tempted to say I love to color, but find that word overused which make me hesitate.  Its close to accurate though.  I find coloring to be both relaxing and yet stimulating, fun solo or in groups, a wonderful creative outlet, especially for those, like myself, that are not especially talented at drawing.  I may not be able to draft a pretty picture on my own, but boy-oh-boy can I make it pretty with my markers and colored pencils.  I also enjoy that its a hobby you can spend five minutes on--or five hours--its easy to pick up and put down as life calls.

The book I requested is called The Time Chamber: A Magical Story and Coloring Book by Daria Song.  (Sidenote:  How is that for a great last name!?)

The Time Chamber is the story of a red-haired fairy living in a magical cuckoo clock, but who goes on a night time adventure outside of the clock accompanied by a happy little owl.
The cuckoo clock is in the bedroom of a little girl.  When the little girl falls asleep the fairy leaves the clock to see what she can see.  The coloring pages, as a result, are a whimsical, fantastical representation of the little girl's home.  The homey imagery is detailed and lovely and appealed to me very much--beds, table settings, doors, keys, chandeliers, books, teapots, books, thread, clocks.   The first pages I was drawn to color was the two page spread titled, "Something Strange in the Library."  I suppose that's not surprising given my infatuation with reading.  I did enjoy that there were more simple, one-page scenes as well.  Sometimes pages so detailed as the library can be daunting.  Sometimes I want just a simple owl to color.  This book has a good mix of both.
I found it interesting that the fairy has been specifically identified as having red hair.  Since the pages are not colored it seems an interesting detail to include in the text.  I have a bias for redheads so it doesn't bother me--in fact I quite like it as so many faeries are depicted as blonde--but it seemed interesting.  It made me wonder if Daria Song was a redhead, but no.  She's Korean with dark hair.   Not that it matters.  Either way, she sure can draw.

I also found in noteworthy that the fairy never reveals her full face in the book.  Not once.  She is always turned slightly in profile or viewing the world through opera glasses or has an arm conveniently placed as to obscure her face.  I wondered about this.  Was it to add to her mystery?  Was it so the reader/colorer could interpret her more freely?  Was it to help differentiate the fairy from the little girl?  It certainly must have been deliberate on the part of the author.  It makes me curious.
The Time Chamber reminds me of a different coloring book I own--a birthday present from my friend, Derek--called Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford.  They are both the fanciest coloring books I've ever seen with elaborate scenes to color as well as a storyline to follow.  They even have dust jackets which can also be colored, too.  They are both super fun to get creative with.

The fairy from the cuckoo clock takes an assortment of objects with her when she leaves for her adventure.  These items can be found "hidden" throughout the coloring book.  It ties the book together from beginning to end and adds an addition element of interest when coloring.  Its a bit of a treasure hunt, too.  This is another similarity to the Enchanted Forest coloring book.
I dislike that the pages are two-sided.  That is about my only complaint (about both books, actually).  I worry sometimes that my markers will show through--though I am careful and so far they haven't.  If I tear a page out in order to hang it up or turn it into a postcard I lose the page on the backside.  Its a fairly minor complaint though and maybe the book is just supposed to be colored and then later read like a regular book--that its intended to be more than just a coloring book.

All in all it is a fun, unusual and delightful coloring book.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Curbside Recycling--Making a Good Thing Even Better

Between composting, recycling, and avoiding disposable packaging and products as much as possible we don't fill up our trash all that often.  We're all about the reduce, reuse, recycling at our place.
Yard waste, recycling, trash.
For a long time we just sorted and hauled our own recycling.  Matt and I are Why-Pay-For-It-When-Its-Not-Hard-To-Do-It-Ourselves type people.  A local company called Earth First Aid started offering curbside recycling in our community in 2005.  In addition to a monthly charge they didn't accept everything we already recycled--namely paperboard and margarine tubs--and so we just hauled it off ourselves.  Even still I was glad to see the Earth First Aid recycling bins at the curb as I traveled about town.

For me its worth an extra step to ensure that our natural resources are used responsibly and to their fullest. That said, I know all to well from my involvement with the recycling program on the campus where I work that for a lot of people recycling has to be just as easy as banishing something to the landfill.  If not, they won't do it.  Curbside recycling makes it easier.
In the summer of 2014 Matt and I were alerted to another curbside recycling program in town--this time offered through Republic, the waste management company that also picks up our trash and yard waste containers.  We looked into it and again decided to just continue hauling our own.

Eventually though we realized that a good chunk of our store room was devoted to housing recycling until we could haul it off.  We weren't very consistent in our hauling schedule so we'd end up with more than would fit in our car easily in one trip.  So, we compared the two curbside options and decided to just bite the bullet and try one.  We could always not renew and go back to doing it ourselves.
There are pros and cons to both companies, as is the case with just about everything.

Both cost about the same--$15 per month with Earth First Aid and $12.50 per month from Republic.

Republic accepts more paper, cardboard, and plastic products than Earth First Aid.  Earth First Aid accepts glass which Republic does not.

Earth First Aid is locally owned.  Republic is a national company.

Republic has a single 92 gallon co-mingled bin.  Earth First Aid uses totes for different materials and so requires sorting on the consumer end.
After some thought on the matter we went with Republic.  Their dumpster could easily join the yard waste and rubbish dumpsters at the end of the drive.  They accepted a wider variety of recyclables, were cheaper, and didn't require any sorting.  We do not generate much glass as we do so much canning, homebrewing, and bulk shopping so that was a trade-off we were willing to accept.    We continue to take any glass that does crop up to the bins at the service desk at Target.  [note: Target no longer accepts glass.  BLS2017]
A year and a half later and we're still very pleased with the service.  It is super convenient.  We keep a small bin for recycling under the sink next to our (equally small) trash can.  When the bin is full we take it out and dump it all in the big, blue dumpster.  Republic comes every other Friday to pick up the recycling.

Recycling is, of course, only part of the global waste management solution, since only glass can be recycled endlessly without a decline in quality.  Reducing and reusing is where its at!  Still, recycling is a step that isn't hard to take in most urban areas (and even in small towns there is at least aluminum and newspaper recycling)  and it sure beats tossing that perfectly usable plastic and paper in the landfill to rot and make methane and go to waste.
What a waste!

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Simple Woman's Day Book for January 22, 2016

A Simple Woman's Day Book for January 22, 2016

Outside my window... there are so many bunnies.  Odd colored-half domestic ones.  Easily a dozen romping on the snow.  Earlier this year Oreo Bunny showed up.  He/She must have bred with the natives...and quite prolifically, as rabbits are want to do.  I'm surprised the owls and hawks and cats haven't gotten more of them since they lack the camouflage of the true cottontails.

I am thinking....about how awesome music is--how it enriches my life and makes me happy.  Its pretty incredible.

I am thankful for... my mama.  Its her birthday today.  She is always so supportive of everything I do and she is always teaching me things and helping me grow to this very day.

From the kitchen...comes the last bowl from this absurdly large pot of chili that Matt made Thursday of last week.  It was very, very tasty, but still...that was a whole lot of chili.  Gallons.

I am wearing... black leggings under a super comfy maroon dress and a brown vest with pockets (to make up for the one short coming of the otherwise great dress which lacks pockets).  I got all three at various clothes swaps.  

I am creating...patchwork from my scrap basket with the idea that I'd like to make one of "my" dresses out of the odds and ends I've accumulated over these years of sewing.  Its new territory for me.  I am winging it pretty good so far.

I am get a cold.  I can feel it coming.  My throat is scratchy and sore.  I am trying to drown it in tea.

I am reading... a collection of short stories called Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates and the very first of the Newbery winners--The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon.  The latter I've been reading (slowly) since December.  Its a 500 page history book!  It was a daunting start to the Newbery challenge, but its been much more enjoyable than I expected.  I picked up the collection of short stories because Joyce Carol Oates is an author I've heard much about, but never read myself.  She might be a little too twisted for me....

On my mind... adulting.   Insurance, retirement, benefits, home improvement.  Whew.  Most of the time its all great, but every now and then I get a little overwhelmed thinking about it all.  I have a tendency towards being a worrier.    Sometimes I even worry in my dreams.

Around the house...the cats are getting along a lot better.  Johnny kept trying to rub noses with Ginger this morning and  while Ginger reciprocate she also didn't just flee to another room.  Progress.  They almost thought they could share the same plate for breakfast this morning, but at the last second Ginger decided she wasn't quite ready to be that intimate with her new kitty companion.

One of my favorite things...watching the sunrise while I walk to work.  Its even better somehow in the winter.  The colors more dazzling in a world that's turned so white, grey, and brown.  The miracle reappearance even more important in a world that's turned cold.

A few plans for the rest of the week...Bunco night with my library friends, a swimming birthday party with some other friends, football and pizza with the in-laws--and reading and resting and drinking tea.

A small window into my life...
I got a Spirograph for Christmas from Ryan and Bek.  I never had one growing up, but would get out theirs, from time to time, when I was over to visit.  Now I have my own.  I was pretty terrible at it at first, but have made some pretty nifty pattern in the last couple days.
 This format come from the Simple Woman blog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Enlightened People: How I Handle Those I Don't Much Care For

It would be wonderful if every single person I interacted with during the course of my days was thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting to me.  That they all improved my day and increased my joy.  That isn’t the case however.
Even if almost everyone fits the bill there are always going to be a few people that just don’t rub right—a grumpy or unhelpful cashier or co-worker, the annoying significant other of a dear friend, a relative who always seems to find the negative in everything.  Sometimes I cannot avoid these situations and they used to frustrate me greatly.  My internal monologue would grow snarky and bitter—and I didn’t like that feeling within myself.  I, too, want to be thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting to the people around me.  It is a two-way street.
So I wanted to cultivate a better attitude toward spending time with those I would rather have little or no contact with of my own accord.  I wanted to do this so I was kinder to the person I didn’t really care for.  I wanted to do it for myself, to ease my sense of dislike about the whole interaction.  I wanted to do it so I wasn't adding more negativity and meanness to the world.
I don’t know if I’d recommend the book as a whole, but there was a little something I read in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and Its All Small Stuff) by Richard Carlson that I’ve used for a couple years now with, more or less, pretty great results. I can’t say it’s worked 100% for me, I am just a fallible human after all, but overall I’ve found it incredibly helpful.  
The trick is to approach these challenging people/situations as if they are enlightened beings who are here to teach me a valuable lesson. 
Perhaps it’s an opportunity to increase my capacity for patience. 
If I am waiting in traffic or in a line behind people being “needlessly” slow a head of me I have two options:  wait patiently or wait impatiently.  Patience is a great gift to possess in life.  I don’t see how taking these small moments to practice my ability to be patient with people could possibly be a bad thing.  It’s kinder to everyone involved—myself included.  Why allow my body to get even the slightest bit worked up about something as insignificant as waiting a little while?  And practice really does make perfect.  The act of being patient breeds more and more patience.
Perhaps it’s an opportunity to recognize and work on one of my own personal short-comings. 
If I find it annoying when a person is clearly just waiting for me to stop talking so they can jump in with a bigger, better story of their own or if someone always rushes to finish my sentences for me, I should note that I don’t like it and remember that when I am the one talking.  Doing so has helped me become a better, more respectful listener and a better friend.  In a world full of noise—a barrage of info, videos, news, social events, and social media—sometimes it really is better to stay quiet and listen.  This has been an invaluable lesson to me, a more natural chatterbox.
Perhaps it’s an opportunity to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude. 
When I am listening to endless complaints from people who always have something to grumble about—bad weather, bad health, bad jobs, bad traffic, bad birthdays, bad dogs, bad bills, bad husbands, bad economy, bad politics, bad, bad, bad—I basically shout to the rooftops from within the confines of my mind, “Praise be for the great joy in my life!”  I have such a good thing going on that while there might always be flat tires on my bicycle, plans that don't work out, and other things to grumble about I have so much cool stuff going on I’d rather talk about.  I read somewhere once that while they may not all be great days there is something great in every day.  As with the patience I have found that the more I am grateful for all that I have the more I find to be grateful for.  It grows.  So, I take these moments with those who are so invested in negativity to feel especially grateful for all the joy that fill my days. 
Perhaps it’s an opportunity for me to practice my tact and compassion.
There was a time when I wouldn’t let a chance to “speak up” go by unclaimed--no matter the time, place, or how it might be received.  I was so passionate about what I was learning and working on that I could be harsh and unpleasant to be around if you didn't agree with me.  It didn’t really help my cause.  People don’t like being demanded to change.  I know I don’t. I learned to be tactful and kind when disagreeing.  I learned when to keep things to myself sometimes.  I learned to take a wider view.  There was an elderly woman who hated my dreadlocks.  She always told me so--every time she saw me.  I could have said, "Yeah, well I am not so keen on your blue curly mop either, but...."  But, I didn't.  It wasn't important enough to fight about with a little old lady.  I decided to just let it roll off my back.
I think that being able to be civil and respectful in any discourse with those you don't much care for has to be on of the highest aspirations we could have.  It seems like one of the hallmarks of acting like an adult.  By approaching these otherwise unpleasant or frustrating people/situations framed with this perspective they are much less maddening to me.  Again, its not perfect...some people are especially challenging....but it been beneficial.  It helps me get through the situations with a little more grace and kindness--and the world could stand more of that, I think.
All photos from Yellowstone National Park, most the upper geyser basin.  10/3/2015

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Sewing Save! The Blue Floral and Wool Dress

Back in November I made the 9th version of "my" dress.  I listed off the other eight that I had sewn and linked them to photos elsewhere on my blog when possible.  In this list I mentioned the "failed blue floral and wool" version that I'd never shared here because I was so unhappy with how it turned out.  Apparently, writing about it was just the nudge I needed to finally revisit that dress and see if there wasn't something I could do to make it work for me.
I should have taken a before photo, but I didn't.  Basically the problem was the little capped sleeves.   The Simplicity 2174 dress pattern has a couple different style options for sleeves, hem, and neckline.  I thought after making several of version A I should try the little capped sleeves and angled neckline in version C.
I love the angled neckline.  Its attractive--slightly dressier than the high neckline-- and was simple enough to sew.  The sleeves were easy to set and looked nice, BUT they didn't fit me right.  I felt like The Incredible Hulk, about to burst my sleeves at any moment.  It limited my movement.  That wasn't going to work for me.
I couldn't bear to think of donating it.  The skirt is of a tightly woven, almost felted brown wool.  I'd wanted it for the colder weather.  The blue flowers of the bodice was fabric I'd been "saving for something special."  There hadn't been enough of it for a full dress and I was so tickled when I hit upon the idea to combine it with something else making my first two-tone dress.  And so it sat, languishing in the closet of my sewing room for more than a year.
Then in under a half hour it was fixed.  I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.  Rather than try to tweak the existing sleeves or make new, altered ones and put them in I just took the sleeves off entirely.  A double fold hem later and the dress was sleeveless and delightfully wearable.  No more "bulging" muscles straining the fabric.  Huzzah!  I wear it all the time now.  The wool skirt is just as awesome for winter as I thought it would be.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

52 Weeks of Reading - December (with holiday photos!)

Matt getting his fancy on for Christmas Eve. 
December was such a fantastic whirlwind!  Before we get any further into the New Year I guess I better write up my last reading recap for the 52 Books in 52 Week challenge.  I actually read more than one book a week during December since I had so much time off around the holidays.  So many happy hours of sewing and reading (or being read to, if you want to be technical about it).
My boys!
December 1-5
* Burn by Julianna Baggott

December 6-12
*If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

December 12-19
*Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves by Laurel Braitman

December 20-26
*On the Day I Died: Stories From the Grave by Candace Fleming

December 27-31
*Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards
*Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Opening gifts on Christmas Eve, Ryan looking especially pleased with his new science beaker--for beer brewing, of course.
My favorite book of the month is one I've read probably twenty times--though most of those experiences were in 2002.  Welcome to the Monkey House was one of the few English books I had to read during my month with a friend from Belgium.  After reading all of Marj's sister's English language novels--including the dreadful Bridget Jones' Diary--I just read Welcome to the Monkey House over and over again.  They're short stories, so I could pick and choose where I wanted to start.  I must say that in this most recent reading though I found almost every one to be brilliant.  None I'd skip.  Its a wonderful collection of Vonnegut.  In fact, I might even identify it as my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book.  Period.  (Though I love his work so much its hard not to start adding qualifiers and caveats.)
The staff Christmas Party at the co-op grocery store where Matt works.
Animal Madness was quite good, too--once the author stopped talking about her own anxious, neurotic dog so much.  The start of the book is heavy on that--though her nutty dog was the reason she started researching the topic so I understand why it was the lead in.  I found the science and research and interviews with animal rehab workers, etc. which followed her personal story much more fascinating.  I picked the book up because I am having increasing suspicions that this new Johnny cat of ours may not be quite "normal" somehow....  It was an interesting read.
Playing Giant Jenja--a gift from Clare and Adam to be shared as a family.
I should have learned my lesson from the first Alafair Burke novel I encountered, read back in October--the month of books with lousy endings.  I didn't though and tried a second called If You Were Here.  While it was better than Long Gone I won't be bothering with a third.  I am sure some readers totally click with her, but I don't--too cliche, too much overthetop drama, and centering around a New York world that doesn't hold much interest for me.
Opening gifts on Christmas Eve.
Six Months Later, Burn, and On the Day I Died were all young adult books that just happened to meet the 200+ page requirement.  The latter was fine, albeit not that original.  It was an assortment of ghost tales, most of them being the same ones I knew growing up reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  Old legends and spooky tales like the one where a driver picks up a female hitchhiker who leaves something behind in the car and when the driver tries to return it to her learns she has actually been dead for years.  That sort of thing.  Not remarkable, but I could see it as the same sort of thing as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but for a new generation.  I sure liked those when I was young.  I must have put in on my iPod at Halloween and then never gotten around to.  Heaven forbid I just delete a book without reading it, so it was a taste of Halloween at Christmastime.  
More Giant Jenga.  We couldn't get enough.
Six Months Later was pretty unremarkable.  The premise seemed promising--a girl falls asleep in class to wake up and discover its six months later and she cannot remember any of it.  The actual story behind her amnesia was rather far-fetched, I thought.  It was not at all what I was expecting and much more disappointing.
We were feeling the love as we ran out of room on the cupboard doors for all the beautiful holiday cards we received.
Burn was the conclusion to the Pure trilogy which I started in November.  I didn't love the ending.  A couple of the lead characters were needlessly killed off, in my opinion, and others weren't quite acting true to the personalities they'd built up in the first two books.  It wasn't terrible, but I've certainly read many better YA trilogies.
Serious fun, that Giant Jenga.  Two thumbs up for sure.
And thus concludes the 52-in-52 challenge.  It was fun.  It encouraged me to read and select books in a different way than I usually do.  I think its a good thing to get pushed out of my comfort zone from time to time.   In the end I read a lot of good books (and some duds, too).  Mission accomplished.
Ryan, beer-maker extraordinaire, hard at work measuring that gravity.
Weeks passed: 52
Books read: 77
Giant Jenga with the bros.
Recaps from previous months can be found by following these links:  JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovember
A festive Pez dispenser from my dad.  I couldn't remember the last time I had Pez.