Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Ransom Note Dayplanner

Over the summer I suffered a technological mishap that resulted in quite a few lost files.  One would think I'd have learned to back up things by now--and I have--just not as frequently as I should.  My previous back up was a couple years old.  So...a lot of things just disappeared.  Like our most up-to-date Scrabble stats, say, or the template for my homespun, recycled dayplanner.

And it is the time of year where I need a new planner.  (I am lost without my planner to guide me.)  I found myself jotting down a growing list on the last page of December 2016 of concerts, meetings, dental appointments, etc.  that are, somehow, scheduled for a 2017 that is astonishingly close.  But, my old template was gone, a casualty of the mishap.  It was just something basic I'd pulled off the web and so that was where I went to find a replacement.
As I was scrolling through different free options I realized that I could seize this opportunity to get creative and make my own.  And a cooler one at that.  So, I did.
I don't know where the ransom note idea came from, but I really like it.  It is playful and bright, quirky and still easy to read.  I enjoyed hunting out the letters and laying them out in an attractive arrangement.  Johnny made herself quite a pest trying to help me with all these scraps of paper, but I persevered.  The birds I clipped from a renewal reminder for Audubon magazine, but everything else came from an outdated issue of Time.  All cast off things, destined for the recycle bin at the library where I work.
I sketched out the boxes and pasted down the letters, making one master copy.  I then printed out copies on (the gazillion) pages that students have left behind in the printer at the library.  This not only makes the dayplanner more eco-savvy, but frequently provides interesting things to look at from aviation traffic signals to English papers.  Often enough though the backside is just gobbledygook.
I have a smallish (9 inches x 7 inches) three ring binder which I use for containing my planner pages.  It is something I picked up secondhand and it has served me at least three years now.
I like it.  I like it a lot.  Maybe there was at least one upside to the digital malfunction.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So-Called Snickers Cheesecakes

I have two sisters by birth and a third by the Catholic church.  RaeLeigh was born nine months before me.  Both her parents were work associates of both of my parents.  In addition they were friends--Catholic friends at that.  So it follows that my parents are her Godparents and RaeLeigh, an only child, got the three of us as her sisters.  And we added her to our elaborate Barbie dramas and to the staff when playing "Office."
She and I were very close as kiddos, grew apart as we matured, and have rediscovered each other's awesomeness as adults.  And we've fallen into a pattern of getting together every couple of months for some of what I call our "kooky, health baking," even though I don't think we've actually baked anything.  We tend toward freezer desserts.  RaeLeigh finds a recipe online and we converge at her apartment for a session of gab as we mix and measure in the kitchen.
Our creations are the sort with designations like, "No Gluten/ Dairy/ Eggs/ Soy/ Refined Sugar, etc."  Dang are they tasty though.  Who needs sugar when you've got a third of a cup of maple syrup?!  Dates and walnuts make an astonishingly yummy crust.  Seriously.  It is amazing stuff.  I was surprised.
Kooky, health baking is awesome.  One caveat on that:  Don't be fooled by that "date caramel" bit.  That is just date puree--I don't care what she calls it.  That is not caramel at all.  I'd skip it and just swirl in a bit more of that melted chocolate.  Or, use some real caramel sauce!  Or go with the kooky date sauce, if that floats your boat.  😉
To expedite the freezing processes and otherwise make our lives easier we made mini-cheesecakes in cupcake tins.  That worked swell.
It has been too long since I've had a Snickers to really gauge these so-called Snickers Cheesecakes in that regard.  They were scrumptious though.  I can say that unequivocally.  The coconut cream makes for a smooth, rich mouthfeel.  The chocolate and peanuts merge in that heavenly pairing that is chocolate-peanut.  It is sweet, but with just a hint of salt to make all the flavors sing.  All in all, a decadent little treat.
Find the whole recipe here at the Minimalist Baker.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sewing Salons

Just over a year ago my friend Kris and I hosted the very first Sewing Salon.  The idea was (and is) a simple one:  host a public sewing group once a month as a means of fostering friendship, community, and offering support to others as they learn to sew or practice new techniques--with snacks!  It would be a place where newbies could come and have someone help them out when they were uncertain and experienced folks could come tackle a big project without the distractions of home.
A little backstory:  My mom organizes Quilting Retreats a couple times a year with her friends and sisters and mom, etc.   A space is rented and it is like a weekend-long slumber party/sewing marathon.   It is a jolly good time and we all get a lot done in an environment that is so dedicated to creativity.  I've blogged about my mom's retreats here, here, and here.

Kris and I wanted something like that in our lives on a regular basis.  So, we reserved a space at Kris's church and sent out an email and a Facebook event to a smattering of friends.  I was a bit hesitant about the whole thing initially.  A monthly sewing group seemed right up my alley for ATTENDING.  But, for organizing?!  Oh, I was much less certain about that.  I mean, it's not like I am a sewing expert or anything.   Who am I  to host a sewing group?    What sort of responsibilities would I be taking on?  Besides, who would even come?
But, despite my tendency to overthink things, I could tell it was a good idea.  An idea that would fill a little gap in our creative community.  Plus, Kris has the energy and spirit to convince me to give just about anything a try.  Looking back on the past year of salons I feel that it has proven to be a success, too.  The average attendance is about six, I'd say, but it varies from session to session.  Other people seem to enjoy it, to look forward to it even.  I certainly do.  It is such a kind, supportive group of people, many of whom I didn't know before we started these Salons.

I've learned about making rag rugs, t-shirt yarn, felting wool, embroidery, darts (!), and so much more.  I've eaten too much and laughed just the right amount.
Community starts like this, I think.  A good idea, a couple people to baby it along, and a following that comes together to make it all worthwhile.  I'm so pleased with our little sewing community.  I'm delighted to watch it grow.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: Hello, Bicycle

I realized I couple of things while reading Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life by Anna Brones.
First, I'd like to take a cycling-camping trip.  I can only imagine the satisfaction from cycling to a location, setting up camp, enjoying the night, and pedaling home again.  It would be the satisfaction of backpacking--and then some.  I told Matt I am going to look into this.  Surely there are places to camp that are a reasonable cycling distance away.
Second, I'd like to organize a group ride with my pals.  I know I have friends that cycle.  I don't know why it never occurred to me to see if they'd want to all cruise somewhere together.  I can see good times ahead.

Overall though, I didn't find Hello, Bicycle all that useful.  Maybe I've been cycling too long; I've been a cycle commuter (a term that seems too over-the-top to cover my five miles a day) for a decade or so.  Perhaps if I'd stumbled across it in the mid-2000s I'd have gotten more ground-breaking, eye-opening info out of it.
I do think it would be a good starter book for a budding cyclist--or someone who wants to take cycling to a new level.  The author takes the reader through buying a bicycle, accessories that are required, such as helmets and lights, and some very basic bicycle maintenance.  I had to smile a little over the written instructions and diagrams for changing a flat tire.  I think that is something that one just has to do, in order to get it.  Written out it seems like a snap--which is not how I remember my first experience changing a flat.  Still.  Gotta start somewhere.  Also included are a few recipes, tips for different types of cycling (commuting, downhill, exercise, cycling with kids), and a good list of resources and cycling groups.  I might have to take part in 30 Days of Biking this year!  I do love personal challenges and all.
I am torn about how to describe this book.  I found it a bit pretentious, but at the same time it seemed it was written for someone very much like me--someone who goes to the market and comes home with kale and baguette in their bicycle basket.  This left me pondering my own potential pretentiousness.  I liked the quaint, almost-vintage looking illustrations.  I especially like the empowering language--even when it did smack of pretension.  I have to credit Anna Brones with spelling out all the ways that cycling--and an active cycling culture--is a good thing.  I mean, I generally think of my commute as my daily exercise and not much more.  Anna made me realize that I am not only improving my health and being eco-savvy, but am also helping the economy and even reducing our dependence on foreign oil, too.   "Cycling is patriotic!" she says.  I did love that.   I also didn't ever give much thought to how bicycles helped women gain a greater equality with their male counterparts.  Like so many things, what seems simple might have a lot more going on if one follows along through the pages of history.
That is sort of the broad theme of the book, I'd say--that bicycles are revolutionary.  They're simple, easy to maintain, affordable and can be customized into whatever a person wants--from speedy road bicycles to workhorse cargo bikes.  In a world dominated by car culture, Anna Brones proudly, excitedly encourages a (growing) alternative lifestyle built around two wheels--and I like that view a lot.
(Even if she does make cycling in a skirt sound way harder than it is.  I dunno, maybe I just don't wear short enough skirts that this is a problem for me.  I do think the Penny in Yo Pants solution is pretty clever...even if I don't need it.)

All in all, I don't know how "inspired" this guide is.  It might be best suited for a novice or beginner cyclist, but even someone more experienced can sift out a nugget or two to tickle the imagination, open new doors.  The important part is that Hello, Bicycle makes a person want to get out and go for a ride.  So, I guess, it must be counted as a success because it certainly did so for me.

Happy cycling!!

Disclaimer:  I got a copy of this book for free from the Blogging for Books programs.  The review and opinions are my own and not influenced by that fact.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dress #20

For my 20th homemade dress I decided I should do something special.  I thought a unique dress was in order, not more of the same pattern (2174) which I make over and over and over.  Don't get me wrong.  This dress is just about perfect for me--so much so that it has essentially become my uniform...which makes it hard to invest time and energy into something else.  What if it didn't work out?!  What if I didn't like it as much?!  I eventually realized that I was probably just pigeonholing myself, both stylistically and in my sewing skill-set.  So, I decided that Dress #20 had to be something different.
My trusty, ol' Simplicity 2147.  I've made more than a dozen of these.
I waited until Simplicity patterns were on sale for $.99 at Jo-Ann Fabrics.  I bought two new patterns with the 20th dress in mind--not at all sure when I'd get around to actually making said 20th dress.  One pattern (1800) is so similar to My Dress that, while I am sure I will love it, I ultimately decided it just wouldn't do for Dress #20.
The other pattern was this one.
Instead of just coasting with what I know (er, that would be the 2174) I realized I should see it as an opportunity to branch out and learn a new skill or two and maybe challenge myself.

I'd been eyeing the Simplicity 1950's vintage remake pattern for some time online, but always brushed it off as not-the-sort-of-dress-I'd-make.  It has no pockets and has darts for heaven's sake.  My only previous attempt at darts went terribly.  So terribly the dress remained less than half-made and squirreled away in the sewing room closet for the last couple of years.  I don't think I've ever made a dress without pockets before, except that Little House Halloween costume, which I don't even count as one of my dresses, since it hasn't migrated into everyday wear.  The 1459's full skirt is lined, which intrigued and intimidated me.  The few skirts/dresses which I own that are lined are quite nice.  The drape and flow is lovely, even with leggings underneath.  But, it wasn't something I'd ever tried before.  There were button holes and a fabric belt to make, too!  Lots of new or almost-new territory for me.
And so I plunged in.  Conveniently my mom was in town and helped coach me through making darts.  She had some tricks (like Tailor Tacks) for me that really, really helped even things out.  The darts aren't perfect, but they're close enough.
I finished it this past weekend at a sewing retreat I attended with my moms (my mom and Matt's mom) and some friends.  It turned out very well.  I adore the full skirt, especially.  Oh, how it twirls!!  I cannot wait to go dancing.
I had to adjust the sleeves for my "heavy" arms.  This is the term used in my pattern alteration book.  I just winged in on the matching fabric belt and probably should have used a stiffer interfacing as the belt gets folded and wrinkled from my sitting down.  Lining the skirt was a snap and I think I shall have to line my skirts from now on.  I ended up sewing the button placard closed.  I quite dislike gapping between button holes and this dress really could stand three buttons, rather than the suggested two, I think.  Live and learn.    The buttons matched the dress swell.  They even look kinda vintage.  The huge, wide collar is a lot of fun, if you ask me.
This is the first time I've had to go shopping for dress making supplies in order to complete a project.  I think, possibly the first time ever.  I get everything gifted to me or pick it up randomly at garage sales without a specific project in mind.  I actually had to set out for matching buttons and lining fabric this time though.  Even still, it was a dress that cost about $10.
Honestly,  I don't know that I'll make the pattern again.  However, I am going to take things the pattern taught me and run with it.  Things like, lining skirts and making bodices with darts.  I might make a mash-up dress with a 2174 bodice on a twirly 1459 skirt--with pockets!  The world is my oyster.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

My Offerings

I will be taking down my humble ofrenda today.  My little offerings don't look like much--especially in comparison with some I've seen pictured--but each component means a lot to me.  This sweet, simple practice, like the autumn and life itself, comes and goes so quickly.  How fitting.
I first learned about ofrendas from the fab folks over at Root Simple.  They live in L.A. where there is a robust Mexican cultural influence.  I was immediately taken with the alter they'd set up and the significance of the different items which composed it.  I had to read up and learn more.

Here are a few links, if you like:  A Day of the Dead Ofrenda tour by Google's Art and Culture group, an article from Inside Mexico, and for those only want a single, quick paragraph to read the Wikipedia article.
Ofrendas for the dead have been recorded way, way back--dating back before the Aztecs and prior to Spanish influence.  After Christianity swept Central America the practice was rolled into the Allhallowtide triduum, somewhat akin to the incorporation of pagan practices into Christian tradition at Christmastime.

While there are many variations to this tradition there are some common themes which run throughout.  The offerings are being made in celebration of those we love who have passed on--but who are still with us in spirit.   Flowers are common--particularly marigolds--and so are seasonal fruits.  Small offerings of refreshments for visiting spirits are made, especially bread and things the departed enjoyed.  Fire, water, and salt are common elements.  Photographs and/or artifacts from loved ones are displayed, as are religious ornaments.  Frequently the ofrendas are built in a tiered fashion and include skeletons, skulls, and incense.
I think a big part of what appeals to me about this spiritual holiday is how honest and celebratory it is.  Most of my life I've been fearful of death.  It isn't exactly something we celebrate in the western world.  Age and dying, it seems, have become increasingly something to fear and dread--at least that is the general impression I've picked up from friends and popular culture.  Yet with age comes wisdom, growth, and experience!  Not all are so blessed as to reach old age.  Life is a beautiful, fragile miracle.  So, I like the practice of offering and honoring my dead, of including them in the act of living, of making it a holiday and a feast of remembrance and welcome.  I like that a lot.  So, I started making my own offerings--to Josh, Erik, and Bill, to my step-dad and my favorite uncle, to Matt's grandma and my grandpa...

It gives me a happy, peaceful feeling placing the objects with care and standing over them with my thoughts.  I set it up on October 31st and leave it for November 1st and 2nd.
This year I included photographs, a sprig of incense, a small candle, tomatoes and potatoes picked by my own hand, a tea cup my grandpa brought back from Korea, water, a pumpkin painted by Matt's grandmother, a few talismans of life and death--such as a a bird's wing, a crab's shell--which I've collected over the years, my family crucifix, stones marking the four directions, a handful of earth, an Eye of God, and colorful bunches of fall leaves as there was, quite literally, no flowers in my yard whatsoever this year.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I Can Buy Bread. (But At Least I Have a Month Off.)

Two things happened within the span of a couple hours that led me to draft this post.
First, an elderly friend of the family was (teasing his wife and) joking with Matt.  "Let me ask you a question, Matt, have you already noticed that you've got fewer and fewer bills with zeros on the end  in your wallet now that you're married?"  We all laughed at that (often true) stereotype about women loving to shop.  As the chuckling faded away Matt went on to say something to the effect of, "Well, no, actually.  Beth is almost crippled when it comes to spending money.  She avoids it if she can."

That was the first thing.
Second, I'd had a hankering for a slice of bread and we'd been months without baking any.  It was a pleasant evening so we took a bicycle ride around and about in an aimless fashion, remarking on the features of the houses we passed, on the beauty of the trees and bushes, etc.  We stopped in at a tiny neighborhood grocery store and Matt waited outside with the bicycles (so we didn't have to bother with locking them up) while I ran in to buy a loaf of bread.  Standing in front of the rather small assortment of fresh breads I was racked with indecision.  The French bread was the cheapest, but it was a bit soggy.  I thought maybe this wouldn't matter since we were toasting it anyways.  But, I also didn't want to buy soggy bread.  They had some nice sourdough loaves, but they were fairly small and twice as much in price.  I considered a roasted garlic boule, but it was the most expensive.  "Argh.  I hate this.  I don't know what to pick," I thought.  So, I just went back out to the bicycle rack and gave Matt all the options.  To my surprise he refused to pick for me, basically telling me it was just bread and I could totally handle it.  More than that it seemed he was saying that I should pick it so as to not let the, oh, fear of buying stuff totally take over.

And that was an eye-opening back to back set of experiences for me.  In fact, I almost started to cry (just a tiny bit) as I went back in to select a loaf.  It was a tad ridiculous.  I had no idea I'd let things get to this point.
I knew I was frugal.  I knew I didn't like to go shopping.  But, bread?  I couldn't even make myself buy a loaf of bread for $3.99?!  That seemed absurd even to me, when I stopped to think about it later.  And yet, I'd gone back out to have Matt make the choice for me.  (Actually, I told him he should just go in and buy it and I'd wait with the bikes, which was another factor in his refusal, I think.)

Our consumer culture is not a good thing.  We buy too much junk (both food and objects) which we don't need to fill our lives and days in a way that, in general, depletes us rather than fulfills us.  We under-value our finite, precious natural resources used to produce, package, and transport all these things we buy.  It makes me sad to see all the waste and shameless, almost non-stop consumption.
Still.  I know I should be able to make such simple decisions as in the case of this bread thing.  It's not like I was trying to decide which new big screen TV to buy or something.  As much as I like to be self-reliant I will always need to procure things outside of my home--to spend money!  I can't grow enough wheat in my little ol' backyard, say, to keep us in flour.  There isn't a way to gather salt locally.  I do not own any cotton fields or a spinning wheel.  And so on.

Honestly, I wouldn't want to be a completely isolated, independent bubble even if I could.  Needing each other is what builds community, friendships, peace!  Needing each other is a good thing--so long as we remember there is another human being, another community on the opposite end of our transaction.
So, I've been trying to carry money in my wallet.  I've made some independent purchasing decisions--little stuff, like bread.  But, I still don't like spending money.  Being aware of this propensity has helped, but I still prefer Matt to do the shopping--grocery or otherwise.  I am much better at bartering, I've realized.  Actually having to fork over cash money is still harder for me.  I cannot bring myself to completely break with the notion that this is a good thing.

Which brings me to today--November 1st--the launch of No-Shop-November 2016.  Matt refilled our containers of oil, flour, and salt over the past week in preparation.  He bought toilet paper and tofu.  This year we're keeping a beer and ticket allowance for concert/event nights out and a gas allowance for the car, but we're otherwise hoping to do no spending whatsoever.  Not just food, as in past years, but no shopping.  Period.  I look forward to it immensely in my twisted, anti-consumer way.
All photos from grape pressing day with Memo.