Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Oh yeah - I just realized, I can finally share photos of the Christmas presents I made this year. So here they are, my super dooper going-to-market/beach/diaper/knitting/workout/whatever tote bags!
P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment before Sunday evening (up to one a day), if you wish to be included in this month's "Year of Reading Dangerously" Give-Away!
Monday, December 29, 2008
In the meantime, it's time for another GIVE-AWAY! Just leave a comment between now and Sunday evening (up to one a day - improve your odds!) to let me know that you wish to be included. May the Force be with you!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I still don't know if we made the right decision. We spent most of the time leaning one against the other on my sister's sectional sofa, each wrapped in a lap blanket, nursing countless mugs of hot tea. When we ventured out to the family festivities we resembled the living dead, and had no interest in the foods spread out before us, but still, everyone seemed glad to have us there. Of course, that could all change dramatically, when the first one wakes up with a throat full of snot.
Monday, December 22, 2008
First it was my gift-sewing assembly line, then it became our gift-wrapping headquarters, and finally, just three days before Christmas, we were actually able to use our table as a place to share a proper meal - a very delicious breakfast which included kolaches made by son Austin.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
When I was in eighth grade I took an home economics class. In December we cooked up a bunch of different candies and confections, then invited our moms up to the school for a holiday tea. Three of those recipes became family favorites, and I made them every single Christmas until I left home, then never, ever made them again. One was Candy Strawberries - a concoction of sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar and coconut, that was tinted red and shaped into strawberries, rolled in red sugar, and capped with a green almond stem. Very pretty, but unless you are mad about coconut, ick. Second was the Martha Washington candies - they had centers made from powdered sugar, chopped pecans, and probably something lard-like, which you then dipped in a melted chocolate and paraffin coating. Yep, you heard me right. We celebrated Christmas every year by eating candle wax. Again, ick! Last, but not least, were the Golden Tassies - balls of cream cheese pastry dough stuffed into jewel-sized muffin tins and poked with a finger to form the crust, then filled with a bit of sugary pecan mixture. I'm not a big fan of pecan pie, being more of a chocolate or fruit filling person, but these weren't half bad, because they provided a much better crust-to-filling ratio. Somewhat labor intensive, though, unless you can find a few play-dough-loving kids with tiny fingers, to help you poke all the little crusts.
We've been through many different recipe eras since then. My recent fixation has been my Tex-Mex trilogy: Mexican Chocolate Streusel Brownies, Pecan Pralines, and Spicy Candied Pecans made with brown sugar and Cholula hot sauce. I love them so much, and make them for so many occasions, that I am in danger of reaching the burnout stage if I don't apply the brakes. So, this year I asked Lex to dig through my old recipe notebooks and pick out a couple of her childhood favorites. She chose two that we burned out on back in the 80's, but which I'm quite excited about re-introducing - Chocolate-Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats and Almond Poppy Seed Cake. YUM!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Our relatives from Ohio and Wisconsin have spent several Thanksgivings with us, all of which have provided short-sleeve, dining-on-the-porch kind of weather. Last week when we awakened to find our flower beds full of sleet, I couldn't resist sending them a photo, as proof of winter. BIL Mike's response was, "You call that winter? What a wimp!"
A couple of days ago, we woke up to find that our fountain had turned into an ice sculpture. Let's see what Mike has to say about that! (but don't anyone tell him we're already back to sleeping with the windows open, and highs around 70)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Dad was wrong. Good things in life DO come free! Take the sunrises here in the Hill Country. Many days, it just gets light. No big deal. But sometimes, on days like today, I'll start scribbling away in my journal when it is barely light enough to see the page, and a minute or two later, when I happen to glance up, the colors that have been splashed across the heavens will take my breath away, actually causing me to gasp. It is so very fleeting though, and it distresses me to realize that there were probably days when I kept my nose to the page, and missed one of God's masterpieces altogether.
Another prime example of good + free, was my recent excursion to the town square, while I was still in the laid-back, fun, idea-gathering stage of Christmas shopping. My first stop was Kiss the Cook - my favorite shop in Wimberley. I think I could just set up a bed in their back room, stock the fridge, and be quite content to live there. Exploring its nooks and crannies is one of my favorite free entertainments. The only thing better is stumbling upon the latest free issue of edible Austin while I am there, as I did on this occasion, and which caused me to squeal out loud.
From there I wandered over to River House, the surprisingly sophisticated tableware, gift and accessory shop that opened here a while back. As I was leaving I noticed another free magazine stacked by the door - one called Country Lifestyle. I picked one up and went home to brew a pot of tea, then cozied up with my new reads. Midway through Country Lifestyle I sat bolt upright, causing my lap robe to fall to the floor. It had just hit me that this was the hard copy version of the e-zine that fellow blogger Pamela Price, of Red, White and Grew, had just gone to work for. She is their new editorial coordinator, and has enlisted several other favorite bloggers to take turns providing content on the magazine's blog page. Getting free monies just for blogging? Suh-weet! If only I could find a gig like that... Check it out at www.countrylifestyle.net/blog/.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Hoo-wee, my mind is a whirling dervish this morning! Lexie flies in this afternoon, and my brain is having a bit of trouble grasping that Christmas is really here. It has been hopping from "Should I finish decorating the tree now, or wait and let the kids help?" to "Should I finish wrapping and get all this mess put away, so we'll have a place to eat, or leave it up in case anyone else still has wrapping to do?" to "Shall we have dinner in Austin, after I pick her up from the airport, or should I fix one of her favorites?" to "What shall we bake together, and what supplies do I need from the grocery store?", then to "How much cleaning do I absolutely have to get done before she arrives?"
You see, the thing is, I know how I am. If anything doesn't get done today, before I head to the airport, it's just not gonna get done at all! Her arrival is going to start the party ball rolling. It's going to pick up speed tomorrow when Austin and Guinness arrive, and it will be hurtling along full-tilt by the time John arrives on Thursday. At that point we will simply be having way too much fun to be bothered by such mundane things as chores!
I really need to do something about that laundry though. It's such a pain that our washer and dryer are still with John in Houston. I've become so spoiled over the years, being able to just throw a load into the machine in the next room, and go on about my business. I can't get used to devoting half a day to the laundromat. I've been thinking about setting up a clothesline here, to cut my laundromat time in half, but am afraid that, with the ferocious winds we get on the side of this hill, my undies are liable to end up in the next county. Wonder how my sister would react to me hauling my dirty clothes to her house in Dallas, and running a few loads during our Christmas festivities?
Saturday, December 13, 2008
My instructor said to “write a story about failing,” and there went my enjoyment of this class, straight down the tubes. I know this shouldn’t be all that difficult. So why is it I can’t think of a single thing to write about? Is it because I am just so special that I excel at everything I set my hand to? Oh good lord, if only! When I cried on my husband’s shoulder about the assignment, he comforted me with “Well, you can always write about the time you failed to complete the final assignment in your writing class.” Any normal person could easily pluck a dozen memories of failure from their head, so why not me? Probably because, in order to fail at something, one must first take a stab at it, and in my family, that was a very risky thing to do.
The one thing that has always flabbergasted me about my husband is his complete willingness to “make a fool of himself.” If he wants to participate in a golf tournament or join in on a baseball game, is he deterred by the fact that he is fairly lousy at both sports? Heck no! He jumps right in and has a great time. I could no more do that than I could get up on a stage buck naked. He is equally confused by my unwillingness to work my way through the learning curve on anything. If I can’t be fairly proficient right from the get-go, then forget about it. I never really understood it myself, and just figured it was a character flaw I was born with. Now I’m not so sure.
There is a blog I have discovered, called Eyes of Wonder. It is written by a woman with ten children, all home-schooled, and is mostly just photographs of their simple country life. There have been several occasions of late, when I have come across photos there of the parents or older siblings teaching one of the “littles” to sew a skirt for herself, or finger-knit, or bake some cookies, or ride a bike, and found myself with quivering lips and reddened eyes. Why on earth would the beatific smiles on those kid’s faces reduce me to tears? Don’t my siblings and I have plenty of great stories to tell about Dad teaching us to do stuff? For instance, everyone loves the story about the time when my brother got his first football. It wasn’t five minutes of tossing it around in the yard with Dad before he came running back into the house, face red with anger, and hid the ball away so he would never have to do it again! Oh, and what about the time Dad was teaching my older sister to drive? You should hear the way she describes how he grabbed hold of her ponytail, while screaming “I (yank) said (yank) stop!” (yank her head completely backwards). My personal favorite was the time I was foolish enough to ask him to take the training wheels off of my bike, and help me learn to ride without them. Unfortunately, I didn’t make sure he set that wrench down first, and I ended up getting rapped on the knuckles with it, every time I did something wrong.
So what about Mom? Why didn’t she take over the role of teacher, since Dad so obviously had not the temperament for it? She was an excellent seamstress, loved to bake, and was a much better driver than my father. Why was I never at her side, learning to do anything other than clean bathrooms or mop floors? Well, it was her “poor shattered nerves,” you know? Just the thought of being in a car, with one of us kids behind the wheel, would surely have caused her to take to her bed!
I suppose this explains some of why I hate learning new things, but it’s not the entire picture. It didn’t take us long to realize we were better off just figuring stuff out on our own, but like any kid, we still yearned for someone to notice our accomplishments. Everyone comes to parenthood with their own set of baggage, and Dad certainly had his share. I can look back now and say he was probably doing the best job he could do, with the tools that he was given, but oh, the damage he could do with his words. He firmly believed that criticism was the only way to get a child to strive harder. “Look Dad! I shined your shoes for you!” “You call that a shine? Why didn’t you buff them properly?” “Guess what Dad? I got straight A’s!” “But you’re still in the regular old dummy class. Why can’t you get into accelerated?” “Dad, our choir is having a concert this weekend, if you and Mom want to come.” “Why did you join that choir? You know the one your sister was in is better.”
Once, when I was nine or ten, I was in a shop with my mom. I wandered around the corner from her, came across a little framed poster titled something like “A Father Is...,” and stopped to read it. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it listed all the qualities of a good father, and talked about how a loving father would never belittle or ridicule his child. He would teach with praise and loving encouragement. When Mom came around the corner, I was standing there with tears streaming down my face. “What on earth is the matter?” she asked. “I wish someone could show that to Dad,” I replied, pointing to the poster. I think that poster planted a seed though - one that took decades to mature. I began to wonder if maybe I wasn’t really so terrible at everything after all. Maybe it was him, not me. I am just now, in mid-life, overcoming my fear of failure, but at least, thank God, I didn’t pass this particular piece of baggage along to my kids.
When my son was eleven or twelve, he wanted to learn how to mow the lawn. My folks came over one day, and I saw Dad eyeing the lawn critically. My son was not out of ear shot, so I quickly said, “Can you believe it, Dad? Your grandson volunteered to start mowing, all by himself!” “Do you call that mo...” Dad started to ask, but I grabbed his arm before he could finish, digging my fingers into his flesh. “Stop right there!” I said in a low, fierce voice. “That’s not how we do things around here. We are very proud of that kid’s efforts, so if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” He stared at me for a moment with raised eyebrows, made some grumbling, harrumphing noises, then finally turned his head slightly, and begrudgingly tossed back, “Good job, son.” Now you see Dad? That really wasn’t so hard, was it?
So...I've delved into the dark side. Hope you're happy. Don't expect a repeat any time soon. I suppose it was educational. Might explain why, the minute I start feeling like nothing that I do will ever satisfy a person or boss, I switch into bail-out mode, but if you show even the slightest appreciation for my efforts, I'm your willing slave forever! It might also explain why I can't abide anyone who finds humor in poking a finger at someone's (emotional) bruises. Still, I can't say I actually enjoyed this foray into being a "real" writer. In fact, I'm startin' to see why so many take to the bottle!
And don't forget, mum's the word!
Friday, December 12, 2008
The first two assignments came back with all the expected red pencil marks, as well as some good, constructive criticism. Number three was a shocker. I had decided to submit my story about the stages of a marriage - the one called Circle of Love. It seems to be one that really resonates with people, so I was hoping my instructor could help me get it cleaned up enough to be worthy of submitting somewhere - somewhere that might actually pay money for a story!
When I opened the critiqued version I was puzzled. I kept scrolling down the page, looking for her corrections and critical insertions, but couldn't find any. "Well great," I thought. "She accidentally sent it back to me ungraded!" But no, when I finally got to the bottom of the page, I found this: "Becky, You know how some people's homes are lovely, everything matches just right, everything is tasteful, but you don't get any sense of the woman who lives there? There's no personality in the house? But I looked at your blog today, and saw the photos of your ceramic and glassware collection - I'll bet your home is a perfect reflection of you. Writing is like that too. We call it 'voice,' and refer to 'finding your voice.' It's difficult for writers to do. In this essay you've found your voice. Nothing wrong with the earlier pieces, but they didn't have your personality in them. This one does. Nice work."
OK, picture my head swelling to the size of a Macy's parade balloon. Picture me having cocky thoughts like, "Wow, this writing biz is way easier than I expected. Only halfway through the course, and I've already got it down pat!" Now picture that balloon being ruptured when assignment #4 came back, and I read this: "Hello Becky, Have you heard of the Myers-Briggs test? It's a personality test that considers four different aspects to classify people's personalities for better team building. The reason I mention it is that I'd be willing to wager that you, (Classmate X), and I are probably similar types. We're analytical and we want to step back from the emotions of the situation to deal with it intellectually. Trouble is, that doesn't really work in personal essays, which by definition are personal rather than intellectual. (Classmate X) has really been working at getting the emotion into her writing. You might want to reread her essays on the Yahoo site. Not that you need to write about such serious subjects, but you do want to make that emotional connection we're talking about. Keep writing, Robin"
Well, sheeyut. Why would I wanna go and do that? After all, the main reason I started writing about family stuff in the first place was to put some distance between me and all the drama. I don't want to be in the center of it all, feeling all that emotion! I kinda like it out here in the audience, viewing it all as more of a sit-com. Is that a crime? So, sue me!
P.S. Many thanks to www.units.muohio.edu for the above image.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
You have no idea how difficult it was for me to shell out $200 to take that on-line writing class through Story Circle Network. It's not just that I am frugal-bordering-on-miserly. It's more that I am not currently contributing much of anything to the family coffers, so I feel especially guilty when spending money on anything that isn't a necessity. This expenditure means no haircuts or hi-lites for several more months (it's already been 6 or 8), no new plants for the garden, and most certainly, no new clothes any time soon. At first I wasn't sure if it was going to be worth the sacrifice. Now I'm thinking it might just be one of the smartest things I've ever done - next to marrying John, of course!
I have all kinds of books on how to be a better writer, but making myself sit there and wade through page after page of generic stuff, and then trying to figure out how to put it all into practice, is next to impossible. This class, on the other hand, focuses specifically on the one thing I really need to learn above all else: what to keep.
Each morning I sit here rambling on in my journal, and every so often, I see the makings of a good story appear on the page. But, along with the story I get lots of extraneous fluff. So, now I'm learning how to cull out the important stuff, and flush the rest. Neat-o!
P.S. Many thanks to www.pbase.com for the above image.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I watched a great Hallmark movie this week, about a kid with Tourette's Syndrome who grew up to be an award-winning teacher - the kind he was never fortunate enough to have himself. It got me to thinkin' - about how lucky you are if, at least once in your life, you are touched by a teacher with a true calling. My daughter is one of the fortunate few, for Mr. Jacoby came into her life just when she needed him the most. What a character he was!
We moved to Indonesia when Alexis was just beginning 3rd grade. Prior to that she had just been skimming by under the radar. She was never in trouble at school because she was cute and quiet, and the teachers had their hands full, but she wasn't flourishing either. Actually, she just barely got by.
Once we got to Indonesia, it was a whole new ball of wax. With only 5 or 6 kids in a class, there was no way for Alexis to escape attention, and these teachers had much higher expectations for their students. The first year was a nightmare, with a teacher Alexis referred to as Dragon Lady, and Alexis began to feel as if she might be the dumbest kid in the school. The next year Bruce Jacoby came along, and turned that notion upside down. From that point on, the whole Indonesian experience became one of the most magical times in Alexis' life.
Many times since, Alexis has asked if I knew where the Jacobys were now. Every time she received an honor or excelled at something, she would laugh and say, "Wouldn't Mr. Jacoby faint if he could see me now?" Several times I actually inquired of various friends, whether anyone knew how to contact him. Some thought they had moved from Indonesia to Equitorial Guinea, but they lost track after that. I wish I had tried harder, and kept asking, for there was one family who had kept in touch with them. They are the ones who informed us all recently that this vibrant, energetic young man who was probably only in his early 50's, had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away in E.G.
My daughter was distraught over the news. What she wanted, more than anything, was to be able to say to him, "See Mr. Jacoby? You really did make a difference! If not for you, I might never have discovered what a smart girl I am, and that I can accomplish pretty much anything I set my mind to. Thank you so much. You are the best thing that ever happened to me." Now it's too late.
But not for you! Is there someone out there who has touched your life? Have you told them that they made a difference? Why not?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
"When we first bought this place several years ago, we were quite anxious to experience a Hill Country Christmas. Lex had moved off to California and only had a few days off, so we didn't even try to get her up to Dallas for our traditional get-together with my side of the family. Instead, John, Austin and I drove up there a week early to see everyone. We were then able to spend Christmas in our snug little house here, just the four of us. It was a much quieter holiday than we were accustomed to, but still, a lot of fun to explore what this area had to offer, and establish some new traditions.
We've done that three years in a row now, and though it's great to be here, we sometimes miss the chaos of a multi-generational family celebration. Since Lex's office now shuts down for a full week at Christmas, we are going to shake things up a bit this year. Lex is flying to Dallas a couple of days early to spend time with old high school friends. We will meet her there to spend Christmas with my family, then drive back to Wimberley for a few days before she flies out and Austin takes off for a camping trip in Big Bend.
I'm sure it will be a lot of fun, but it will certainly be different from recent years, and it brings up a lot of questions. If the kids won't even see this house until after Christmas, and John might only be here one weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, do I really want to haul out, set up, and decorate the big tree, just for myself? I think I might be just as happy with some garland and twinkle lights on the porch rail, my funky raku nativity set on the sofa table, an amaryllis blooming in the dining room, a Christmas candle or fresh rosemary scenting the house, and wrapped packages stacked on the hearth. With all this extra alone time, I could spend my days in front of the sewing machine, listening to my favorite Christmas music and actually making some gifts , instead of in front of the computer, ordering them. Yep, I think I could be quite content with this simple, scaled down version of Christmas."
And on 11/14:
"Got all the Christmas gifts cut out yesterday, except for the canvas interlining and fusible interfacing. Ran out of those, so will have to make another run to San Marcos. Whew! I never suspected that something so simple could have so many layers and pieces. It took me most of the day just to cut them out, and my back was killing me before it was over with! I had forgotten what it was like to stand hunched over a cutting table for hours on end. Wish I could post pictures of what I'm making, but most every recipient reads the blog, and I don't want to spoil the surprise!"
"Just found out I'm having unexpected visitors this weekend - lovely friends that I'm really looking forward to seeing. Only problem is, I've wrecked the house with my projects, and with wrapping all the goodies I bought for the kids we "adopted" this Christmas, and which need to be delivered to Paula right away. I did go to the laundromat to wash clothes and pre-shrink all the fabric for my projects, but I didn't do any sheets or towels, and I haven't done any house-cleaning in two weeks. NOT ANY!! Guess I'd better figure out the bare minimum I can do, to keep the house from looking disgusting when they arrive. Criminy!"
And on 12/2:
"I'm wondering whether to get the sewing machine back out right now, to finish up my gifts, or should I spend the day doing my simplified Christmas decorating? After the craziness of Thanksgiving, and spending yesterday just trying to clear a path through the house, I'm feeling the need for a day of nesting. I think sewing is gonna have to wait a few days. Knowing me, if I don't get a bit of Christmas cheer spread around this house before I leave for Houston on Wednesday, I'll probably start thinking 'Crap. December is almost half over, we aren't going to spend Christmas here, and the kids won't even see the house until after Christmas. Why bother?' Well, I guess I need to bother just for me. Because I love it, and it's important to me. But it better get done soon, or I might change my mind!
It's funny how each person is so different about family celebrations. My SIL is adamant that the tree can't go up until after 12/17, but then she leaves it up forever. I always wanted to enjoy mine the entire month of December, but couldn't wait to get it down afterwards. My friend Paula has always disliked decorating her tree, and eventually switched to a trio of woodland-style trees with simple twinkle lights and no decor. I love decorating, when we do it as a family, but hate the fact that, more often than not, I have to coerce them into participating. The last few years have been a time for rethinking how we celebrate. I've been asking myself what is important, and what can I let go of?"
"Good news, bad news! Lex's company finished up their work for the year before Thanksgiving, and doesn't have anything else lined up until January, so her boss has asked them all to take unpaid extended vacations. This is devastating to Alexis, financially. However, it has motivated her to come on to Texas on the 15th, and start testing the job market here. Also found out that John and Austin have decided to come in shortly after her, and are staying on through New Years (except for our two days in Dallas)! It just occurred to me that this is the first time in years that we will all be together for more than a week before Christmas, while all of the fun stuff is still going on. I must admit, I've been slipping into a funk about not having a tree, and about having so much alone time this season, and the kids were crushed when they thought we'd have to skip our traditional family excursion to the flagship Whole Foods store in Austin. Looks like now we might be able to do that plus a trip to the Austin Farmer's Market, a crazy movie at the Alamo Draughthouse, and a wonderful dinner at a funky Austin restaurant. On top of all that, Lex has been emailing me about wanting to do some Christmas baking with me, and about looking forward to seeing what all we can make from my Bountiful Sprout orders. Suddenly my gear shift has just ratcheted up into the giddy zone! Guess I'll be putting up a tree after all. I can do without sending Christmas cards, buying new outfits, hosting and attending a bunch of parties, and trying to outdo the neighbors. But some things are just too important to let go of. See ya!"
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Know what I found in the mail just now? It's a check! Know who signed it? Pat Stone. Know who he is? He's the guy I've been collecting rejection letters from for about a year now, and the editor of a magazine called GreenPrints: The Weeder's Digest. I made up my mind that I wouldn't give up until he finally bought one of my stories, and I didn't. Guess that means I've finally reached the mysterious place known as "hell-or-high-water." Know what? I kind of like it here!
P.S. Many thanks to wikihow for the above image.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It is astounding how quickly a pet can take over/alter one's life. Take our son's dog Guinness, for instance. The minute she came into his life, he magically transformed from carefree college kid into responsible, loving parent. He is due to graduate in May, and has been attending job fairs and going on interviews. One reason he took a minor in German is that he has always loved traveling to foreign lands, and he hoped this might help him land a job that involved some time overseas. After we met Guinness and started falling in love with her, we began to tease about inheriting her some day, when he moves abroad. At first he just laughed at the idea, but not anymore! He's already eliminated several job prospects - jobs that he would have jumped at not long ago - simply because they involved too much time on the road, and what would he do with Guinness? When we reminded him that we would be happy to take over, he cried "No Way! She'd die of a broken heart if I left her!" She's not the only one, I suspect.
Monday, December 1, 2008
POLLY! See guys? I've been tellin' ya, it pays to comment often during a give-away! Polly, if you will just send your mailing address to becky (dot) lane (at) vownet (dot) net, I will get your goodies in the mail to you asap. I say "goodies" because, in addition to receiving a great book, Polly will be receiving some lovely soaps made by one of our local Bountiful Sprout producers!
Way back in '95 we were living in Midland, TX, and I had nabbed a sweet gig as a merchandiser for Recycled Paper Greetings. One store I called on every week was Hastings Records & Books. Prior to this, I was devoted to reading a steady stream of romance novels, and listened mostly to Top 40 hits. Fortunately, their music department manager had very eclectic tastes, and listening to whatever he was in the mood to play introduced me to a whole new world of music. Likewise with books. The information booth was directly behind me as I worked the card section, and I would eavesdrop on what people were asking about. When hundreds came in asking about one book in particular, I figured it was a must read, and that's how I discovered Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach.
Like many women of my generation, I was raised to be a people-pleaser. I became so caught up in keeping teachers, bosses, parents, siblings, husband, children, friends, church and community happy, I somehow lost track of what it was that made me happy. "Many women today feel a sadness we cannot name. Though we accomplish much of what we set out to do, we sense that something is missing in our lives and - fruitlessly - search 'out there' for the answers. What's often wrong is that we are disconnected from an authentic sense of self." - Emily Hancock
Simple Abundance shows those of us who miss the woman we were meant to be, how to reconcile our deepest spiritual, authentic and creative longings with often overwhelming and conflicting commitments. It teaches us that our daily life can be an expression of our authentic self - the soul made visible. It is made up of tiny, thought provoking essays, one for each day of the year. Ban Breathnach believes that the first step towards quenching our thirst for "the good life" that we think others lead, is to acknowledge the good that already exists in our own lives and practice gratitude. From there she leads us through learning the arts of simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and eventually, joy. You will learn to utilize some wonderful tools such as a gratitude journal, an illustrated discovery journal, and a daily dialogue notebook (a form of journaling that I continue to this day, and which spurred my desire to write).
My favorite parts of the book were the lists of "Joyful Simplicities" that she included at the end of each month - wonderful suggestions for ways to delight in the season and open up to simple joys - lists which I have returned to over and over again. Along the path to discovering the woman I was meant to be, I was introduced to a world of other authentic women: Julia Cameron, Laurie Colwin, MFK Fisher, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Helen Nearing, Tasha Tudor, Isak Dinesen, Virginia Woolf, and many, many more. No longer would I be content to lose myself in silly stories of romance. Now I expect, demand, and get, much more than I ever dreamed possible.
If you have not ever read this book, you owe it to yourself to do it now. And if you have? Do it again. Congratulations Polly!
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
In years to come, I shall have to refer to this as "the year I learned to delegate." I have always prepared most of our holiday meals on my own because our children were young, my husband dislikes cooking, and our guests had to travel in from afar. The good thing about this is being able to plan the menu to suit myself, and making things just the way I like them. The downside is that it can get a bit lonely in the kitchen, when everyone else is out in the other room yukking it up and having a good time. Everyone was always good about offering to help, but I may have had a bit of a control issue, for it sometimes made me kind of crazy to have a bunch of people elbowing for space in my tiny kitchen. I am getting over that.
This year I sent out e-mails ahead of time, asking each person who was coming to tell me what dishes were vitally important to their enjoyment of the holidays. My side of the family has always tended to try different recipes each year, so we never got too attached to one way of doing things. When I decided to try a Tex-Mex version of turkey and dressing, they were begging for the recipe. John's family is more traditional. I fixed the same thing for them the following year, and got a 30 minute lecture on how to properly smoke a turkey. I understand where they are coming from though, for I know many other people who feel it is just not Thanksgiving if they do not get their usual dressing, made just the way dear old Mom always did it.
So, when my e-mail replies came back saying "we really like our turkey smoked" and "I've always loved Priscilla's special dressing and giblet gravy" and "I love those special frozen rolls my wife always buys," I found myself thinking, "Well, why the heck not?" I put hubby and B-I-L in charge of smoking the turkey, S-I-L in charge of making her traditional dressing and gravy, nephew in charge of making a couple of his favorite vegetarian dishes, son in charge of assembling his hot curried fruit compote, and daughter and niece-in-law in charge of decorating and setting the table. They sent me their grocery lists so I could have the ingredients on hand, and all that was left for me to do was to make a couple of desserts in advance, and bake the rolls and mash the potatoes at the last minute. In between, I just got my butt out of their way, and joined the group in the other room that was yukking it up and having a good time. Why didn't I think of this years ago?
Oh yeah, in case you are wondering how the great turkey experiment turned out? Well, I think it's going to take the guys a couple of years to adjust to dealing with a smaller, leaner bird. If they had just slept in a couple of more hours, instead of getting up before dawn to start the smoker, the turkey might have ended up a tad juicier. The flavor, however, was excellent, and I might even be able to get a nice pair of shoes made out of the skin!
Friday, November 28, 2008
Here's my latest to do list (click to enlarge), and I have one thing to add to yours: Don't forget to leave a comment before Sunday evening, if you wish to be included in this month's drawing. You can enter up to once a day, and it doesn't matter if you have won before. This month I am throwing in a little something special from a local producer, in addition to a wonderful book.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I rediscovered an old truth recently, something that had slipped my memory in the years when I was earning enough to afford a cleaning service twice a month. It came back to me in a flash just the other day - heavy cleaning requires music!
I only listen to music in the car these days, primarily because I would need an instruction manual in order to operate John's system down in the bat cave. However, just as I was trying to gird my loins and summon up enough energy to whip the house into shape for our holiday guests, I suddenly remembered that John had loaded a bunch of music onto my computer a while back. I clicked on the I-tunes logo, and was amazed at the selection. It was like having my own little diner-booth juke box!
I decided that some real hell-raising music would be called for on this occasion, if I was to keep my momentum up, so I selected Gretchen Wilson and Toby Keith. It may have taken me a bit longer than usual to complete my tasks, but it sure was a heck of a lot more fun. Why did it take longer? Because every time one of my favorites came on, I found myself two-stepping my way through the house with my mop or broom. Had a heck of a time hanging on to their belt loops!
P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment if you wish to be included in this month's drawing!
P.P.S. Many thanks to www.ssqq.com for the above image.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Did I tell you about the "turkey adventure" we are undertaking this year? If you have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (and I sincerely hope you have), you probably remember the chapter describing what it takes to raise those mega-breasted turkeys you see in the supermarket. I have been feeling rather guilty about those poor sex-deprived birds ever since. So, when I heard that there was a family in the area who raises turkeys naturally, I came straight home and called to place my order.
They slaughter them all on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which was yesterday, and we went to pick ours up at their meat locker late afternoon. It is on the small side, weighing in at just 10 lbs., and it sure isn't any big-breasted butterball, but boy, is it ever fresh! I'm just relieved that all signs of the slaughtering process had been cleared away before we arrived, and that the turkey carcass was relatively clean, though somewhat drippy.
I'm not sure if I was actually smelling blood on the drive home, or if it was my over-active imagination. The turkey was in a plastic bag, which had then been placed in a closed cooler, but I drive a mini, and the cooler was sitting right behind me. Plus it was cold and drizzly, so we had the windows shut and the heater on. All I know is, I was ever so glad to get out and breathe some fresh air when we finally made it home. John would never have let me hear the end of it, if that turkey had made me barf.
GIVE-AWAY NEWS: I've decided to throw in a couple of locally made goodies, in addition to your wonderful book, for this month's give-away. Just leave a comment telling me you are interested, by Nov. 30th. It doesn't matter if you have already won - you can still put your name in the hat. Also, I'm willing to let you comment up to once a day between now and the 30th, so the more times you visit, the better your odds of winning!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Anybody ready for another give-away? I'm getting so infused with the holiday spirit, I've decided to give something extra with our book this month. I'm thinking maybe I should throw in a little something special from one of our local producers at The Bountiful Sprout (don't worry, it will be non-perishable). Just leave a comment anytime between now and Nov. 30th, to let me know you're interested in being included, and I'll drop your name in the hat. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I am a big fan of Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House. When I first came across her book, I was living in a way too big cookie cutter house in the suburbs. I remember reading something in it about the silliness of building these huge houses with soaring ceilings, that make us feel so vulnerable. She believes we compensate by creating nests, where we can feel sheltered and protected. I looked around me, and had to laugh, for I was sitting in my own little nest as I was reading her book!
Our house here in Wimberley may look huge from a distance, but looks are deceiving. The upstairs is the main floor, and has only 3 rooms across, with a small bathroom and 2 very small closets tucked behind the pint-sized kitchen. The downstairs is a glorified walk-out basement, which can only be reached via the outdoor staircase. It houses the guest room, another bathroom, a couple of storage closets, and my husbands man-cave. Although it is small, it is a house that lives large, thanks to wonderful porches and outdoor living areas.
Originally, I was just going to write about the nest where I sit and watch the sun come up each morning, but when I pulled the camera out to take a shot of it, I realized that this is a house full of nests! My husband couldn't be happier with his bat cave down below, which was actually dug out from the side of the hill, and I have multiple cozy nests in my upstairs treehouse, all with lots of sunshine and great views. There is my rocking chair on the outside porch, and the corner on the dining porch, where I sit when it is too hot or too cold for outside. There is my desk in the corner of our bedroom, with windows on two sides so that I can watch the hawks soaring past. Then there is my book-nook nest, also in the bedroom. That's where I go to peruse my cookbooks, gardening books, tear pictures from magazines and put them in the file cabinet at my elbow, and maybe nibble a piece of dark chocolate from the secret stash in the gold box. Last but not least, there is my leather chair by the fireplace, with its never-ending stack of books I'm itching to read.
So many wonderfully welcoming spots, carved from so little space, constantly calling me to come sit a spell. It's a wonder I ever get anything done! Do you have a nest? Well why the heck not?
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Not long ago, on the blog Red, White and Grew, author Pamela Price had something interesting to say about pioneers:
"In a recent interview for a forthcoming newspaper article, I noted that visual and performing artists play a particular, essential role in the Victory Garden renaissance. I added that I thought creative souls are bellwethers for the revival. Why? Generally speaking, it's often artists, landscape designers, architects, writers and others that are the first to sign up for fresh ideas and to dedicate time to nurture them. Eventually, others lock on to the concept, too--thanks in large part to the earlier creative 'pioneers.' "I left a comment, saying "You could be right. In Houston I lived in the burbs, but worked as a visual merchandiser down in the Heights - the gay/artsy part of town. Every morning before work I would hang out at Onion Creek Cafe - a very Austin kind of place. I couldn't help but notice that when I met with my friends for coffee in the burbs, conversation tended to focus on shopping, the kids, and gossip, but in the Heights, it was all about ideas and passion, and there were lots of people involved with the Urban Gardner organization, and others who were working on getting vegetable gardens in the public schools. Plus, the very first growers-only farmers market was started right there on Onion Creeks own parking lot!"
The more I think about it, the more I wonder...could that be why places like Wimberley and San Miguel de Allende are such magnets for Seekers of the Good Life? Could it simply be because they were settled by a handful of creative pioneers?
P.S. Many thanks to flickr.com for the above image.
That does not work for me, I'm afraid. In fact, I have great difficulty holding up even a small portion of a conversation. The words just seem to get all tangled up, tripping and shoving one another aside in their rush to get out. Eventually they tire of the struggle and just give up, leaving me with nary a coherent sentence to offer up. No, 'tis only when I put pen to paper that intelligent thoughts appear, ideas come together, and solutions magically form, weaving themselves together from slender ribbons of ink.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I just about wore myself out on a recent date, starting off in Kyle, where they were hosting their once a month flea and farmers' market. I also checked out a panaderia that sold everything from breakfast tacos to first communion dresses. Next stop was the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market in Austin, then it was on to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I hadn't been there in several years, and I was hoping to get some ideas on what to plant in the beds closest to the house. I was running out of time to decide, because fall is the best time to plant in most of Texas. Our summers are much more stressful on plants than our winters, and you want to give them as much time as possible to develop a strong root system, before they have to face their first one.
It was after 3:00 before I remembered to eat lunch, which turned out to be the luckiest happenstance of the day. As I was leaving Austin, I decided to stop at Mamma Fu's, and chose two favorites from their appetizer menu: sesame encrusted seared ahi tuna served on a bed of baby spinach with a soy vinaigrette, and a half-order of pot stickers. When both of those, plus my drink, came to only $6.50, I thought the cashier had made a mistake, but no, they have a happy hour! From 3 - 6 every day, everything on the appetizer menu is super cheap. Woohoo! Now I know the perfect place to go before or after our weekend movie dates at the nearby theatre. At these prices, we could even afford to top it off with some Amy's Ice Cream next door.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Have you ever found yourself staring at shelves full of so many shampoo or deodorant choices that you just can't decide what to get, so you end up leaving with nothing? I have come to the conclusion that too many choices can be almost as bad as having no choices at all. That might explain my recent recipe purge.
I was going nuts the other day, trying to find my praline icing recipe for Austin's birthday. It happens to be John's favorite in the world, and when I couldn't find it here, I sent a message asking him to check there in Houston for me. His reply? "Sure hope you manage to find it, else I just might have to re-think this whole marriage thing." Good thing I finally did.
During my hunt, it occurred to me that I should probably do the same 100 item purge on my recipes that I did on my wardrobe some years back. When I first read Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James, I made up my mind to rid myself of every clothes-shopping mistake I had ever made. What I ended up with was 100 pieces (including shoes and purses) that all mix and match, all fit comfortably, and all make me feel beautiful when I wear them. I can't tell you what a difference it made in my life. In fact, if I hadn't done it, we never would have bought this house in Wimberley. I would have taken one look at this teeny tiny closet and said, "Forget it. We're wasting our time here." Instead, I found myself thinking, "Woohoo, time for another purge!"
Anyway, back to recipes. When I first discovered Food Network, I went kind of crazy. I'd go online and print off everything Giada cooked. Then I was buying all of her, Ina's and Jamie's cookbooks. Now I can't resist the latest copies of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and am always tearing out pages to save. Things are getting way out of control. So, I did exactly what I'd done to my wardrobe - culling out all but my very favorites, which these days are the simple, basic, flexible recipes where fresh, local ingredients are the stars, and I can substitute whatever is in season. I imposed an 100-item limit on myself, and each time I am tempted to tear out a new recipe, I must be willing to pull out and toss another.
Writing about my closet purge somehow dug up a long-buried and all-but-forgotten memory. Do any of you recall a clothing line from back in the 80's, called Units? Or maybe you came across its later incarnation, Multiples. It started as young Sandra Garrett's design school project, blossomed into many small boutiques in high end malls, then faded after it was sold to J.C. Penney. But, while they lasted, they were my ideal wardrobe. It was a modular concept, with only 10 or 12 pieces in the entire line, all made of a comfy, carefree, cotton knit. If you had all these pieces, in a few mix & match colors, you could easily come up with 100 different combinations, which you would then accessorize to make them uniquely yours. I was a happy girl in the 80's.
The most surprising outcome of my various purges was the same, startling discovery that Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch wrote about in their appendix to Ferenc Mate's book A Reasonable Life, titled A Reasonable Garden: "Just as it's easier to write a sonnet than free verse, it's easier to cook well with seasonal limitations: they are a spur to creativity."
I'm reading an interesting book now called The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey Into Terroir, by Amy B. Trubek. In it, I came across something amazing: "Perhaps ironically, given the story of its origin, but certainly inevitably, in light of our global food system, the taste of place has become a transnational mode of discernment. Increasingly, the taste of place is an intervention into the vast array of placeless and faceless foods and beverages now available to people everywhere." In other words, this whole grassroots locavore movement has come about because we're all sick and tired to too damn many inferior choices!
P.S. Many thanks to inthe80s.com for the image of a Units jumpsuit.
and enjoy that tiny thing for all it's worth." (from Joie de Vivre, by Robert Arbor)
My tiny thing? Romano beans! I planted a few seeds (Seeds of Change's Italian Pole Bean) at the foot of my fountain trellis this fall, and only managed to get two meals off of them so far, but couldn't be any happier if you gave me a diamond ring - and if you knew me, you'd realize I'm dead serious about that! Last night for dinner I blanched a handful, shocked them in ice water, then tossed them in a pan with a bit of chopped garlic and breadcrumbs that had been sauteed in olive oil. Orgasmic.