Monday, December 31, 2012

A Happiness Project

I get very introspective/contemplative/pensive on New Year's Eve.

It gives me an excuse to sit around and do nothing while claiming to be "thinking" and "writing".

I think about what I have done, what I have learned, what I need to do, what I can do better.

And for the first time in a long time I feel pretty happy about things.  Oh, I still have a long way to go, and can make a long list of the things I can do better -- I still can't play a stringed instrument, I'm still not organized, I don't blog every day and my butt is still the same size it was last December 31st.

I need to send more cards and letters.  I need to visit those who need a visit.  I need to walk more, enhance my yoga practice (read:  start), eat more fruits and vegetables, work for peace, completely boycott Wal-Mart and avoid all drive-thru restaurants (except for Starbucks.  I'm not a saint.)

I need to appreciate who I am and what I do best.
In 2012 (ie, today) I learned/realized that what I do best is make people happy.

I make people happy when I teach them something new.
I make people happy when I play the piano with my wacky and inaccurate enthusiasm.
I make people happy when I blog.  Here you go, friends -- now be happy.
I make people happy when I make them something -- cookies, a blanket, supper.
I make people happy when I listen to them.
I make people happy when I show up.  (Now, I know this sounds pompous, but every Sunday when I walk through the doors at Our Lady of Providence and Pat Burton greets me with a hug and an "I'm so glad you're here," I know I have made him happy.  Showing up and being present is a great gift.)

Making people happy makes me happy.  So, I'll close with one happy story.

Last month, as Clay and I were laughing and talking about 30 years of marriage, I made a off-hand "promise" that in the next 30 years, I would never get mad at him again.
With one month down, I am happy to report I have kept that vow.

It should be noted that: A) he is pretty terrific; B) he works hard at keeping me happy and rarely gets mad at me; C) our children are all grown up and therefore we don't have all those parenting differences/arguments; D) we are both a lot wiser, more appreciative and more patient with each other than we were in 1982.

(Here is an amazing thing.  I just tried to list the things that made me angry in the past, and each thing I typed seemed small, petty and not worth getting mad at in the first place.  Ahh.  Enlightenment is lovely.)

And here is another amazing thing.  These past 30 days -- despite the holiday and everyday stresses -- have been some of the best days I can remember.  I joked with Clay that on November 29, 2042 (the day after our 60th Anniversary) I was looking forward to really getting mad at him.

I think, instead, I'm looking forward to looking back on the best 30 years I can remember.

Peace.  And happiness.

PS  Have you read this book?  You should.  And follow her, here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Few Random Things

When you don't blog for a while, you have a lot to catch up on.  So here you go:

Random loot from India.  Look at that yarn!  Clay has a very interesting story to go along with this yarn, and if he would blog about his adventures, I would link to it here.  (Hint, hint.)

Psi Otes had a crafty fall social/brunch -- we made ornaments, treats and cards for the patrons of our Community Diner, and we served dinner there on December 17.  At this table, the girls were putting together snowman chocolate bars, complete with little hats and scarves:

We also made paper ornaments and fancy balls with glitter and floor polish!

Stockings for Brittany and family:

From gingerbread house day (this one is Tommy's):

And a sweet and rare picture of Zoe, because you know she hates the camera:


Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Little Sewing Tutorial - Advent Calendars

 Advent calendars are a happy memory.  In our Christmas boxes, I have kept calendars from many years -- a Hallmark version, a Tomie dePaola calendar, one from Germany.  The little windows are all permanently folded open and they look pretty raggedy, but I could never throw them away.  On the Antiques Roadshow, they call old paper things like this "ephemera"  --   so much classier than "old paper things."

This year, I made several Advent calendars.   It all started with this:
I wanted to make something nice for a chili supper/auction a friend was organizing, and since it was in late November, thought an Advent calendar would be a fine idea.

I already had most everything I needed, having just purchased some wool felt in beautiful colors from BenzieBazaar on Etsy.  

I used this pattern from Skip To My Lou for inspiration, and put a Bible verse, a chocolate and a suggestion for something fun to do that day in each little felt envelope:

Then I cut out circles of brown cardstock and little larger circles of scrapbook paper, punched them and tied each envelope closed.  
I needed something to display the calendar on, and just happened to have an old window frame upstairs that I was trying to decide what to do with -- it worked perfectly.  

That evening, after the auction was over, I got a note from a friend who asked if I would make her one.  Of course.
This one was a little different -- I glued wooden discs to buttons and sewed them on, then tied twine to the flaps and wound it around the buttons to keep the envelopes closed.  

THEN, I decided to make two more calendars for the boys.  I had many different Christmas prints, so decided to sew up 48 little bags.  Here's how I did it:

First, I measured out strips of material, 18" long by 6" wide.  (I did take a picture measuring and cutting, but my cutting board looks so awful -- paint, sticky stuff, etc. -- I just can't post it here.  But I'm sure you get the idea.)

Next, turn down the narrow edges twice to form a hem, press and sew.  (I didn't measure -- I know you are shocked.)
Sew up the sides.  (See, I told you this was easy.)
Then, pinch the corners together and sew across.  Again, I didn't measure.  Just choose a width and sew all your corners the same.  Remember, the wider you make that pinch, the wider the bottom of your bag will be.
It should look like Batman:
When you are doing a bunch of something -- little bags, quilt pieces, etc -- it works nicely to chain them together as you sew, one right after the other, then clip them apart.
Flip inside out, and viola!  A little bag!
Then I made some little clips with mini clothespins and wooden discs that I fancied up a bit:
And a bit more on the second go-round:

 Fill them with treats (which I got at the Dollar Store -- pencils, Little Debbies, granola bars, candies, straws, etc.)
and hang them up
or put them in a basket
(A few of the treats were a little too big for the bags.  I need to remember that for next year!)

I started a pinterest board of Advent calendars, and am already thinking ahead to next year -- I think recycled, painted vegetable cans just might be my next project.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Fill in the Blank

I feel blank today.  I am guessing you do, too.

This morning, I had a hard time getting out of bed.
I had a hard time thinking about leaving the house.

I cried.  Again.

Because I want to fix things.
And I want to fix things because I am a mom.  And a fixer.

My advisor has hugged me, made me laugh a little and given me a figurative kick in the ass.

So, it's time to fill in the blank.
Here is my focus today:

I cannot fix the world, but I can_______________________.

I cannot fix the world, but I can see good in the world.
I cannot fix the world, but I can try to understand the pain of others.
I cannot fix the world, but I can care deeply.
I cannot fix the world, but I can work to change my little corner of it.
I cannot fix the world, but I can try.
I cannot fix the world, but I can keep fear from overcoming me.
I cannot fix the world, but I can be present.
I cannot fix the world, but I can love.

Your turn.  Go.

I'm going out now.  To work, to be with friends, to try to do some fixing.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hey there

I know.  I haven't blogged forever.
I've been a little sick, but after two rounds of antibiotics, I think I've almost kicked it.
I've been a little busy writing, and great things are happening -- I will fill you all in soon.
I've been reading a little, and knitting a little and sewing a little.  And working a lot.
And while I've been thinking about Christmas, not much is happening.
Stay tuned.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thankful for My Parents

Today is my birthday, and I am forever thankful to have been born to these two amazingly beautiful people.
They taught me how to love, how to be kind, how to work hard, how to play hard, how to marvel at creation and how to find joy in life, even in the depths of sorrow.

Everything I am, I owe to them.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thankful for My Husband

My kilt-wearing, romance-reading, grandson-loving, FreezerPop addicted, loyal-to-the-core husband.

30 years married today.  Sheesh.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanks for Chili

and cookies and jam and scones and roast beef.  I am thankful for food.

I love making food.
I love eating food.
I love that my job is all about food.

I love recipes.  And I really love when people ask for my recipes.  So here is one of the recipes I have been asked for a lot recently  -- it's a combination of several recipes into one we really like.  Low fat, low-ish sodium, high protein and fiber!  Yippee -- nutritious and delicious!

Georgie and Clay's Turkey Chili

Servings:  probably 10-12


3 pound lean ground turkey
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 Tablespoons homemade chili seasoning (recipe follows this) or 2 (1.25-oz.) envelopes chili seasoning mix
3 cups chicken broth (low-fat, low-sodium, if you don't make your own)
3 cups frozen corn kernels
4 bell peppers of various colors (the more colorful, the better!), cleaned and diced into 1/2 inch squares
2 (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
2 (15 oz. ) cans black beans, drained and rinsed well
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons sugar, optional (this is my personal addition, deemed unnecessary by Clay)

Directions:  Brown the turkey together with onion, garlic and seasoning mix in a large skillet (or in the soup pot) over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes until turkey crumbles and is no longer pink.  Stir in a cup or so of the broth and cook for a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to release all the brown bits.  Transfer to a soup pot and add all other ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for at least an hour.
(You can also make this recipe in the crockpot, but only use half of the ingredients so it won't overflow -- after browning the meat on the stove, add all ingredients to crock pot, cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.)

Good all by itself, but extra good finished with some fresh lime juice, some lowfat sour cream and a little chopped cilantro.

Homemade Chili Seasoning
Usually, making your own seasoning mixes is a great way to save money, long-term.  The investment in the spices may be expensive, but buy them in bulk if you can, make a great big bunch of seasoning and freeze the spice mix to keep it fresher and help it to last longer.

2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 Tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons cumin
1 Tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Mix all together (I like to whirr it up in the blender) and store in an airtight container.  Unlike the packaged chili seasoning, there is no salt in this recipe, which is good for those on low-sodium diets, but bad for my salt-loving Clay -- adjust the salt as you desire.  There is also no flour, which makes it good for gluten-free diets.  This recipe is easily multiplied.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thanks for Jet Planes

In the 15th Century, it took Vasco da Gama nearly a year to navigate from Portugal to India, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, up the eastern coast of Africa and through the Arabian Sea.

In the 21st Century, it takes Clay 24 hours to fly from India to Frankfort to Newark, NJ to Indianapolis.

I don't think Mrs. da Gama could have been any happier to see her husband than I am to see mine.  

Thanks to aeronautical engineers everywhere.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thankful for Audrey

and for old movies on big screens.
And for sharing those movies with girls I love.  Thanks, Sarah and Carly.

 . . . the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's

PS -- I probably saw this movie four times before I realized Holly Golightly was a call girl.  Did you know that?

PS again -- The Yes Cinema in Columbus will be showing "It's a Wonderful Life" on December 15.  I can't wait.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thanks for Poetry

I was a very good English major because I love to read.

I was a very poor English major because I hate to be critical.  And when you are an English major, your survival (ie, your grade) is based upon your ability to be critical.

So I did it, but I didn't like it.
I read literary criticism and wrote papers regurgitating views I didn't necessarily agree with (or often fully understand).
I taught six semesters of English 111/112, and did my best to grade stacks and stacks of papers with the severe red-penned approach like that of my office mates, but was criticized for handing out too many As and Bs and not enough Cs and Ds.

My breaking point was a grad-level poetry workshop.  I was thrilled get in to the class, as it was taught by a distinguished and well-loved professor.  And of course, I am a poetry fan.

On the first day, we went around the room and were asked to recite a bit of a favorite poem. When it was my turn, I began, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . . "  A few of my classmates sniffed at my choice, and one (who I thought was my friend) droned, "Frost is so plebeian."

I was embarrassed.  Not only because of the snub, but also because I wasn't so sure what "plebeian" meant.

I went home, looked up plebeian and dropped the class a few weeks later.

(I know -- I was a quitter, I admit it.  The class was REALLY hard -- deconstructionist litereary theory, eek -- my classmates were all trying to "one-up" each other, and I had two little girls at home.  At the time, it was an easy -- and relieving -- decision.)

And I dropped poetry for awhile.  But thanks to Garrison Keillor, and The Writer's Almanac, I rediscovered my love of poetry.  Thank goodness, because some days  I just need a good poem.

And speaking of good poems, here's one of my favorites, which I am sure would be considered uber-plebeian.  I remember my dad reciting this one, "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphan Annie" to us.  Riley is criticized for his use of dialect, and his provincial and sentimental themes.  But just look at that third stanza -- dried corn tassels "preaching a sermon" -- that is beautiful, and touches the heart of this plebeian farmgirl poetry lover.

When the Frost is on the Punkin

James Whitcomb Riley

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,         
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—  
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—  
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;  
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps  
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—  
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thanks for the nook

I thought electronic readers were silly.

Until I was given one as a gift by my Maggie.  I've changed my mind.

I read on it, I watch Netflix, I listen to music, I play Words with Friends and I even use it as an alarm clock and a white noise machine.  And it makes Paul happy, because he can play all sorts of games on Mimi's "e-pad."

So today, I am thankful not only for the technology that makes this possible, but also for the ability to see that I was wrong and to change my mind.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thanks for Words

I love words.

When I was 8, my grandma gave me a big fat Webster's Dictionary for Christmas, and I read it.

A few years later, my aunt Norma gave me a Roget's Thesaurus for Christmas, and I read it.

If someone gave me a book, I read it.  Even the Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedias my mom would bring home from the grocery store, one volume a week.

My grad school program was heavy in linguistics courses (which I loved, despite their difficulty) and I think that if we had stayed in Ohio, I probably would have gone on to a career in linguistics.  (My unfinished MA thesis was titled "A Linguistic Analysis of Patterns of Politeness in the Novels of Jane Austen"  -- are you yawning yet?)

Instead, I blog, which gives me a chance to indulge in word love.

And I work on my books, which gives me a chance to bang my head against the computer keyboard.

And I write poems, which gives me a chance to channel my inner Nipsey Russell. (Match Game '78, anyone?)  Here's my most recent, an homage to the thousands of cheeseballs made by hundreds of Psi Otes this time of year:

Ode to a Psi Ote Cheeseball

You take a lot of cream cheese, you take a little Bleu,
Throw in some shredded cheddar, maybe Swiss and Colby, too.
Add your secret spices; add your nuts and beef --
Mix it all together for a treat beyond belief!

Over 50 of our Chapters make thousands of cheeseballs,
Working in school kitchens or maybe parish halls.
Starting early in the morning and rolling cheese all day,
They wrap it, and pack it, then haul it all away.

Because folks in all our little towns just love the Psi Ote snack;
They buy a cheeseball once, and you know that they’ll come back
To buy a DOZEN next year to serve at their affairs
(Some take off the Psi Ote label and pass it off as theirs!)

Sisters sell their cheeseballs and deliver them with pride;
They know that there is more than just cheese and nuts inside.
Each cheeseball has a purpose, a blessing and a creed --
To aid those who are less fortunate and ease their time of need.

So eat them with some veggies, eat them with some chips;
Don’t bother with a knife -- apply directly to your hips!
More than cheese and crackers – they’re books and songs and arts;
A cheeseball is a true gift made by Psi Ote hands and hearts.

Thanks, words.  


PS  I still have my dictionary and thesaurus.  You would think I would be better at Words With Friends.