Archive for the ‘Life in General’ Category

Rain Can’t Dampen My Spirits…

May 17, 2013

Although its difficult to do much of anything in the yard because its rather soggy, I know my trees and the new plants are drinking up this delicious rain.  Besides, look what I found in the mail box today!

BrownPaperPackage

Anything that isn’t a credit card or refinance offer is welcome, but nothing beats a package wrapped in brown paper. Its a real parcel right?

Okay, opening the brown paper wrapped package and finding out there are gift wrapped gifts in there beats them all :o)

BdayGifts

But my birthday isn’t for another nine whole days! I guess I should wait huh? I put them under the Gift Tree:

BdayUnderTree

(What?? I know its really a Christmas Tree, but it works – I can resist opening them while they are there)

If all else fails….

May 16, 2013

You have to be more than just a little crazy to garden in Oklahoma; the only thing you can predict here is that the weather will be unpredictable. But since my glass is usually half full, I’m loving our rain, and mild temperatures and I feel so sure that I’m going to have lots of fruit & veggies, and this time, my mailbox flowerbed will last more than one season.

I went to check on the mailbox flowerbed – I just wanted to see if there were puddles after the showers because I don’t want my new plants to drown. Look what I found….

TiekaaMail

International Mail!! Don’t you just love when you find something in the mailbox, and you know right away it isn’t junk mail or a bill? I turn the envelope over and over – checking out the foreign stamp, and wondering how many places and hands it passed through on its way to me. Finally, I get to the kitchen table, fix a quick mug of tea (not quite enough patience to brew a pot) and sit down to open my surprise.

TiekaaCress

Yeay! Cress seeds!! All the way from Sweden. Now I can grow something on my windowsill and if the weather turns against me outside, I’ll still have a lush green patch indoors…. and I shall have the finest egg salad sandwiches ever :o)

Fruits of Our Labour

May 15, 2013

I got a good workout carrying a watering can full of a solution with feed & bug protection to each of the nut & fruit trees at the bottom of our yard. This stuff is expensive, but I used it on the peaches last year and they did much better despite the drought. I’m late with the treatment but no choice since I’ve been recovering from a shoulder surgery. In fact, I think this is the first time this year I’ve walked all the way out here and inspected our little orchard.

All three apple trees have teensy fruit on them:

Apple in May

But there’s only a few treasures on one of the two peach trees:

Peach in May

The largest pecans have tassel-like flowers – are they flowers? I don’t know. I’m hoping that these will give us some nuts at last. We planted the pecans as 12″ twigs about 12 years ago, and babied them as best we could; I’d like to see some fruit from our labour……

Pecan in May

I Must Have Been Gone a Long Time….

May 14, 2013

because my garden is sooo overgrown and kind of broken. Well, after getting very busy, an ice storm or two, and the drought, and the heat and the drought and the heat. I must be crazy to try to garden again, and even crazier to try to make enough time to keep track of things here. Enough waffle, here’s what I did at the weekend:

Cleared out an area around the mailbox. Its roughly 250′ from the house so its a challenge to water, but I want a cheerful welcome when I come home and go get the mail. Besides, the mail box is kind of fugly so maybe a few flowers will distract attention from it.  Here’s my bare dirt and the first plants:

Mailbox Bed 052013

I have Indian Feather (pink), Lantana (pink/yellow), Mexican Marigold (yellow), Achillea (yellow), and Russian Sage (purple).  I added three bags of purchased dirt plus a wheelbarrow full of my own compost and now I’m laying out a soaker hose. (Wish me luck!)

 

I Love Holidays – I LOVE Christmas Cake!

December 4, 2010

I’ve always thought the most precious gift you can give to others (and yourself for that matter) is time.  The holidays get me doing time consuming things just ’cause its the holidays, and I feel like I’m treating myself when I take time out to do them.  Making Christmas cakes has to be the best example of putting an exhorbitant amount of time into something that I never do at any other time of the year.  Here’s how it goes:

First, I panic as I wonder where I put the little black book of recipes – because I can’t remember the recipe, I only make it once a year.  Then I gather up some of the equipment and ingredients.  I can’t gather them all at once, there’s too many:

Xmas Cake VIII

You can’t have too much rum in this recipe, so long as you don’t put too much in all at once; so I dump all the dried fruits into a mixing bowl and toss them in a couple of tablespoons of spiced rum. (Hint: if you have some dried fruit that is really dry, you could do this night before & cover with plastic wrap). The ingredients are listed at the bottom, but this is just a guide: my original recipe doesn’t have dates in it, but I didn’t have enough raisins one year, so I used what I had rather than go back to the store. I think it is important that regular raisins form the largest proportion of the mix, and that you vary the size and colour of the fruits if possible.

I gather up decorative tins – this year I bought six for a dollar each at a local supermarket. I line the tins with two layers of parchment paper (wax paper is OK too).

Xmas Cake VII

Next chop up the candied fruit peel. I had a box of good quality peel my Mum sent me from England. I have no idea where she gets it from, but it smells of citrus fruit. I make my own for this recipe sometimes – just boil a cup of water with 2 cups of sugar and simmer strips of orange and lemon peel (no pith) for about 20 minutes. I let them stand in the syrup until cold then drain on a rack and sprinkle with a little more sugar then keep in a jar until ready to use.

Xmas Cake VI

Now chop the crystalized ginger – I snap up lots of this stuff around Thanksgiving because it can be difficult to find any other time of the year. I have to have enough of this ginger for cookies and banana spice loaf year-round.

Xmas Cake V

In go the halved glace cherries and the slivered almonds. The cherries are the only fruit that is an unnatural colour – bright red. Please, no green cherries in my Christmas cake!!! Stir in four tablespoons of the cake flour.

PB280941

Dump the rest of the cake flour in another bowl along with the salt, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. Usually you would sift the dry ingredients for a cake mix together, but I just stir them around with a whisk – they get more evenly mixed that way, and this isn’t a light cake so why bother with sifting? I do go to the trouble of grating nutmeg – if you think you do not like the taste, I’d suggest that you only use freshly grated, and do not taste it! Its mean’t to be blended with other stuff, not eaten alone.

PB280942

Now get yet another mixing bowl – if you’re OK with beating sugar & butter together by hand, do this step in the biggest bowl you can find. I’m too much of a wuss for that, so the butter & sugar go into the standing mixer bowl. Beat them until fluffy and the colour changes to a paler shade of brown. Next mix in half of the beaten eggs. Once those are incorporated, mix in the remaining eggs and the treacle or molasses. My mixture often looks a bit messed up at this stage – don’t worry about it as everything will look better as you stir the flour in. I turn out the butter mix to my super-sized mixing bowl, then fold in the flour mix.

PB280945

Now start adding the fruit mix. Stir until the flour on the fruit cannot be seen anymore, and continue adding the fruit until it is all incorporated and there is no visible flour in the mix. Now stir in five tablespoons of spiced rum.

Xmas Cake IV

Couple things you should notice with the mix – it doesn’t seem like there is enough batter for the fruit. Don’t worry about it, the cake expands when baking, and this is going to be a rich, moist, spicy fruit cake.

Xmas Cake III

You don’t want your cakes to dry out, so take some brown paper (grocery sacks or parcel wrapping paper works fine) and wrap two layers around each tin. I tie mine with string but I think I’ve used masking tape to secure in the past. Stand the tins on baking trays lined with two layers of paper.

Bake for one hour at 300 F, and another hour at 275 F. Poke the center of a cake with a skewer – if it comes out clean, the cakes are done. Now on the timing of this – sometimes I bake for another hour, if I bake one big cake, it could be for another 3 hours. There’s a certain “cooked cake” smell when they’re done, check with the skewer, rather than the clock to decide if its time to take them out of the oven.

Cakes should be cooled in the tins for a couple of hours, and then on a rack for 8-12 hours. I rinse the cake tins and line with Press n’ Seal while the cakes cool. Then I pop the cakes back in the tins upside-down.

Xmas Cake II

Grab that skewer, and poke a bunch of holes in the cake – not close enough together to break the cake up, but make sure there’s plenty near the outside edge since that is most likely to dry out. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of rum over the bottom of each cake, maybe 6 tablespoons if you made one big cake.

XmasCakeII

I’ve never been tempted to drink rum – but the aroma of the cake and spiced rum is soo good, I’m tempted to eat some now! However I know that these babies will taste better if stored for at least a month, and will still be improving 6 months from now. So wrap up the cakes (it doesn’t have to be tight, but there should be any holes in the wrapper) and pop on the tin lids. Add another tablespoon of rum per cake after two more weeks, then flip the cakes right side up. I’ll mail four of these cakes to relatives that look forward to my cake every year, and keep two to enjoy at home.

2010XmasCakes

Ingredients:

2 ½ lb raisins or 1 ½ lb raisins + 1 lb sultanas (golden raisins)

1 lb currants or 8 oz currants + 8 oz chopped dates

6 oz chopped candied peel

4 oz halved glace cherries

4 tblsp chopped ginger

6 oz slivered almonds

1 lb cake or plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 ½ tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

12 oz unsalted butter

14 oz dark brown sugar

8 lightly beaten eggs

1 tblsp treacle or dark molasses

Third Resolution

November 23, 2010

SunsetNov2010

Now where was I?  First resolution is to get TKGA Masters Handknitting level I in the mail by year end, then continue to prioritize my knitting projects (you know, rather than starting projects and never finishing any?)  Second resolution is to take more care with my health, in particular my mental well-being.  My third resolution is to put my money house in order. 

I’m pretty sure that a dose of financial planning plus sustainable changes in my spending habits will not only help me achieve my long-term goals, but will contribute to my well-being in the short-term thereby contributing towards resolution #2 (double-dipping the benefits doubles my motivation!)

So what are my long-term goals?  I’d like to have enough resources to live in the home of my choosing and to not worry unduly about basics like eating and healthcare (I’m sure I have plenty of company).  Simple enough, except that if the track record for my family is anything to go by, my retirement fund will have to last me a loooong time – I anticipate checking out at 96 years old.  So I will try to continue generating an income after I retire from my corporate career:  I want to spend more time on my love of knitting, design and travel, and I want my supplemental retirement income to be generated from self-employed income.  The tricky part with this is, I may need funds upfront to invest in my business.  I guess my savings plan will need to consist of a source of income for my daily basics plus a fund to establish my business. 

For short-term financial sensibleness I did the usual listing of income and expenses, checked my insurance policies, and looked glumly over my 401K & Roth IRA and examined my credit card statements.  This has been an expensive year with multiple deductibles to pay for (hail storm in the Spring); a substantial contribution towards repairing the road we share with neighbours; son’s college tuition; and lowered income (tenant couldn’t pay the rent, husband’s reduced hours).  We do not have a fixed income, and we certainly do not have fixed outgoings!  I created a budget of sorts, but just to check that we don’t actually have to spend more than we earn, just to cover the essentials.  I decided to stop buying anything I do not need until credit card balance is zero and there’s enough in the bank to cover the amount I’m likely to put on the credit card by the time I get the next statement.

Well, the good news is that in just six weeks of being on a spending diet, I got the credit card paid off.  Now I want to get our emergency cushion up, but I decided that from this point forward, I get a spending allowance for something I do not need right now to survive.  This month, I gave  myself $150.  I blew half that on yarn (thanks to Slackford Studios for having a sale on one of my favourite treats) and the other half went towards reorganizing the kitchen.

I’ll be back with the results of the kitchen reorg and knitting progress soon, in the meantime, can’t close out without any pics at all, took this yesterday; perfect radishes and tasty arugula from my Fall garden:

Radishes

Second Resolution (& Progress on TKGA Masters)

November 7, 2010

So my first resolution is to get my TKGA Masters level one submission completed by year end, and to prioritize finishing up some other projects. I’ve already made a little progress!

For starters, the first swatches look simple enough, a couple of inches of rib with evenly-spaced increases in the last row before moving on to garter stitch for swatch 1, and stocking (stockingette) stitch for swatch 2. However, it is quite some time since I last knit plain garter stitch, and all of a sudden, decisions as to which side of the cast on looks best with the rib, how to place my increases, and which increases are the least obtrusive anyway are almost paralysing.  I decided to just knit the first swatch, note the methods used, and knit it again using different decisions for increases etc. so I may compare. I pulled out my needles & yarn, and set to work while reading up on basic techniques in TKGA’s website, YouTube, and a couple of books……I swear I didn’t blink before I’d already knitted three inches of rib whereas the instructions stated that I should only knit two. (Sigh!) I’m not used to knitting such small rows – clearly I’m going to need to concentrate on this a little more carefully.

With my poor concentration ability in mind, I used an aid to help me make sure I spaced my decreases evenly, that each decrease would land on same stitch (i.e. all purl or all knit), and I wouldn’t knit straight past the next decrease:

TKGA Masters I Swatch II I had not repositioned the last stitch marker when I took this picture, and its easy to see that its in the wrong place. I may use this technique for larger projects because sometimes I just do not trust my own math.

I had hoped the difference between a bar increase and a lifted increase would be enough to help me decide which swatch to block, but I think I’m going to have to block both and then decide – what do you think?

TKGA Masters I Swatch 1

Uh huh, going to have to block these before I decide which to keep, aaaand will have to find a way to label them throughout so that I’ll know which is which!

My second resolution is to take more care with my health, including my mental well-being. For me, this means starting the New Year with a cleaner, more orderly house and having established a routine for spending some time in the yard. I can’t wait for Spring cleaning, sometimes I look around me and wonder how you know when you’ve crossed the line and become one of those hoarders you see on TV.

I’m starting with the kitchen. I have food stored in cupboards that are set over our central heat vents, baking trays in the dining room, and I’m pretty sure I have some canned veggies that are as old as the house (8 years is too old no matter how carefully I processed those jars). I’ve drawn up a plan and numbered the cupboards and drawers then designated what will move to each. Oh woe is me!! Now that I know I have 31 to deal with, I’m not sure I’ll get past the kitchen before Xmas Eve!

I’m happy with the results of some time spent in the yard though, lookie:

Mailbox Flowerbed

My man recycled some bricks to build a sturdy mail box holder.  Unfortunately, its not real pretty because the excess mortar won’t wash off. I’ve planted a Carolina Jasmine at the base which should cover most of the brick by this time next year.  Also, I dug up grass and added edging (with help from Son) so that we won’t have so many nooks and crannies to try to mow.  Oh, and see the pretty red coloured grasses? I believe they are Little Bluestem. I moved those from the back of my yard where wild grasses still grow – I love their colours and the way they sway in the wind and hope that they do not mind me digging them up (fortunately there’s lots more where they came from)……I’ll be back soon with blocked swatches and resolution # 3.

Beaded Hot August Nights & Other Projects

October 7, 2010

Care to join me for a cup of tea? I couldn’t resist donning these gloves for my afternoon ritual. Turns out that adding beads isn’t too difficult, and so so pretty!

BlueTeaParty

Next time I knit up this design, I think I’m going to make them elbow length. I made this pair for Fingerless Gloves Fanatics Summer Swap on Ravelry. I’m thrilled that they look to be a good fit for the recipient.

I participated in another swap: OT FGF Insanity Housewares Medium Flat Rate Box Swap – that’s a long name for a swap! I tried knitting dishcloths and a market bag – I have a new respect for these items and will have to make some more for me:

Housewares Swap

Here’s a really versatile yarn, raffia!

Raffia Market Bag

Made a pretty market bag, and see what I did with the leftovers:

VeggiePatchFall2010

Its pretty late in the year, but I don’t think you can ever count on the weather in Oklahoma, so I may as well throw caution to the wind, and a few seeds on the yard. I’m sticking with a small patch as an experiment – most of these seeds are for late Fall/early Winter crops, some I may try to cover and hope that they don’t die come the first frost.

Democracy Worked For Me!

August 12, 2010

I swear I intended for my next post to be all about at least one of the knitwear designs I’ve been working on….but while I’ve been waiting for a finished project (or at least a good swatch), daylight, and my camera battery to charge, I recieved a notice of an application to rezone the land next to mine from agricultural, to light industrial.

Nine years ago, I designed our home, and we built it on five acres of land that was formerly pasture.  This is our dream home, we have peace and space as we are surrounded by agricultural land – the nearest neighbour is also on five acres.  There’s a five acre-wide strip of vacant land zoned agricultural between us and several light industrial lots that are lined up on the next main road.  This strip of land is higher than ours, so it acts as an excellent buffer for noise and hides the ugly stuff completely:

Sunset10262009

OK, its not the best picture, but this is the sunset I look forward to seeing out of my kitchen window most evenings. You see those bushes and trees? That’s our property line, and this is the line that someone wanted to extend their ugly metal workshops to. I should add, that recently, their neighbouring property was bought by a trucking company that extended their parking up to my neighbour’s fence line – we soon learned how far noise and light pollution travel out here.

I went online to see what I could do in response to this zone application notice, and was dismayed to find a report written by city planning, recommending approval of the application – no one asked me! Then I noticed that the trucking company never got their land rezoned….they’re not compliant!

Today, I nervously waited for several hours for my turn to speak. I was concerned about that report – it really stung that someone would recommend rezoning without checking with any of the local residents. Eventually, I stood before our City Planning Commission, and pleaded my case. I described the impact of the trucking company on my enjoyment of my yard, and my fear of being flooded if they paved the land that is higher than mine. When the board picked up on the fact that they were out of compliance with their zoning, I explained that I’d just used their website to research my own notice, figured that half of the trucking company’s operations were being conducted on agricultural land, and used their online tool to file a zone violation complaint. (I do believe a couple of committee members chuckled at that).

The application was DENIED and to top it off, the chairman of the commission ordered that someone “go out and check on those trucks because they are out of compliance!”

Tonight, I celebrate with a decent glass of wine and, what I hope will be one of my few remaining chances to drink in the sun setting over a bunch of parked trucks.

Living Pantry

July 31, 2010

Growing food is turning out to be very satisfying to me.  Its one of the few activities that my man and I both enjoy and can share (for two people that have been crazy in love for 22 years, we are remarkably incompatible).  I decided that watering by hand would allow me time to see what is ripe n ready for harvest (as in I held the hose rather than hooking up a sprinkler; I’m not lugging a watering can across acres of yard!)   I also got to see how picturesque produce can be up close:

Our first pear…..Pear

Toms We have lots of tomatoes (OK, potential tomatoes)

Summer squash flowers are beautifulSquash

Okra Okra plants would fit in any flower bed

Spider

Eeewie!  I’m ‘fraidy-cat when it comes to nature’s little helpers! 

This one is way too big for my liking, but son thinks she’s handsome.