December 29, 2012

Driving Myself Crazy

I haven't created much in the past few days, except lists. To do lists, shopping lists, places to visit lists. 

It's not that I didn't want to create -- it's just that I've been driving. A lot. Seven hundred and twenty miles worth so far. And it's a little hard to knit, crochet or bake while I'm behind the wheel. In fact I'm feeling a little crazy that I haven't made anything in the past few days. 

But it is wonderful to do a bunch of other things when it's just me in the car.

So fun, in fact that I made up a list of the reasons why I love a good solo road trip.

1. I can stop anywhere I like, anytime I like, without consulting the other passenger/driver -- aka, the Sailor. In my case, I got a little distracted by 'junk'. I stopped at no less than half a dozen antique shops along the I-81 corridor within a 24 hour period. Seriously, people... there is no lack of stuff waiting to be purchased by collectors and vintage hunters alike, right off the highway -- like that nifty little Pyrex sugar bowl I scored for only two bucks. The good news is, there are even more antique shops that I didn't stop at, and there is always the drive home. 

The downside: Nobody is telling me to get a move on so that I actually make it to my destination at a respectable hour, like before dark.

2. I can eat whatever I like, whenever I like, including the Sailor's turkey jerky I was saving just for him when he came home, along with leftover Christmas cookies.

The downside: It took me the best part of 20 minutes to wrestle the turkey jerky bag open by myself. And I ate too many cookies and felt quite lethargic by the time I reached my destination (and of course I couldn't even go for a walk to burn off at least one cookie, because I spent too long looking at junk and it was dark by the time I arrived.)

3.  I can pack the car however I want, which means I can take up the entire trunk with my stuff. Plus, I can keep my enormous handbag and the aforementioned snacks all within reach on the passenger seat.

The downside: I packed the cooler in the wrong place and therefore couldn't reach any of the drinks while driving. Plus, I had to load and unload all of my stuff. I never have to do that on a road trip with the Sailor.

4. I can listen to whatever songs I want and flip through as many radio stations as possible, singing at the top of my lungs. 

The downside: There really is no downside to this. Singing at the top of your lungs should be compulsory on a solo road trip. Or any road trip for that matter. Who cares if there are other passengers. They probably want to belt out some tunes too -- sing loud enough, drive them crazy enough and they'll start singing to drown you out. (Oh wait... maybe that only happens to me?!)

So there's that list done. Now to create that list of projects I still need to finish -- starting with this lonely sock:


December 27, 2012

Winter Decor

I love how snow seems to make everything quiet. 

(Unless of course, you're driving. In which case, yuck... it's not serene nor peaceful when your tires are squealing -- be careful out there in the coming days and weeks if you are traveling in snowy locations!)

Having it snow reminded me that winter is actually here. It doesn't just come and go on Christmas day... it usually lingers for a few months afterwards. 

A friend of mine once told me she decorates her home for winter, not just for the holidays. I like that theory, and so I've adopted it as my own. After all, let's face it, January and February can both be yucky months depending on where you live -- sometimes we need a little extra sparkle in the decor. Like glittery pine cones inside a vintage salt shaker turned vase, above.  

Or general snowflake sparkle, with or without spices:  

Red berries combined with small Christmas baubles in gold and red: 

It all looked festive for Christmas, but I still think it fits for a winter scene. So, for now, the berries stay. As do the baubles -- acquired at a thrift shop, along with the mini birdbath they are perched upon.  

I also have dishes that will see the light of day a little more often in the coming months:

(To see more of this gorgeous promotional piece of Pyrex from 1965, 
check out my post on the Pyrex Collective III site, here. 

December 25, 2012

White and Bright Christmas

It snowed last night. Big perfect, fluffy flakes, right at dusk, as Christmas Eve started. 
It was indeed a quiet night. 

Then the sun came out today and melted all but a few patches. 
From white to bright in hours.  

And now that we are past the solstice, the sun will linger each day for a little bit longer. 

But I think I'll still keep the lights on inside for now.

December 22, 2012

Festive Merry-Making

I felt festive this week, and wanted to share a little merriment with some friends I've known for most of my life.

Plus, since the Sailor isn't home, somebody needed to eat all of the goodies I've been making. 

 What better way to share the joy than by having a little holiday-inspired soirĂ©e?

I made these brilliant little sugared-cranberries, thanks to 
one of my favorite food blogs: Annie's Eats

I used them to decorate the otherwise bland cracker tray, and then I also made a ring around the orange marmalade poppyseed bundt cake. I originally planned a different cake, but it was a complete flop, so I went with the old standby -- this is the third one I've made in two weeks. (Stay tuned for a post on kitchen disasters...)

The cranberries that didn't make the sugared-cut got left out for the birds. 
They didn't seem interested though. 

My friends, however, devoured the sugared cranberries. 
Who knew such a simple decorative dish could be so delightful?

I also made some cheesy onion pull-apart bread, and at the last minute, 
threw together a simple (and delicious) roasted chickpea salad.

There were also chocolate truffles.
(Half of which did not go as planned -- again, stay tuned for kitchen disasters...)


And of course, what's a holiday party without cookies? Check out how I scored this lovely vintage pink fridge dish, plus more baking prep photos here

 Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season!

December 19, 2012

Head Start on New Year's Resolutions

In less than two weeks, it's likely most of us will be declaring our New Year's Resolutions to family, friends and collegues. 

Or, if you're more like me, you may scribble the resolutions down perhaps in a private journal -- a kind of insurance to make sure nobody knows whether or not you have succeeded by the end of the year.

Admit it -- most of us have high expectations. We want to lose (insert pounds/kilos/stones), we want to do more, be better, pass the exam and get the promotion. We want to look like and actually be one of the 'successful' people. 

A few years ago, I made myself a goal book. I had some lofty goals in mind. I wanted to read one book a week, lose weight, do various photography projects, and get rid of other 'baggage' in my life -- all in one go! 

I definitely had some high ambitions. Throughout the year I referred to the book and kept a tally of how far behind I was on various projects. At the end of 2010, I looked back on my goal book and felt like a failure. I read half as many books as I wanted to, lost only a few pounds (and then gained them all back) cooked less than I planned to, and still had some baggage lurking, both proverbially and physically. 

My procrastination skills got the better of me in 2011 and instead of creating a new goal book, I revisited the 2010 book and focused on what I DID actually accomplish. I realized that although I didn't read 56 books that year, I still read 25 -- and that was better than not reading anything. I noticed that while I didn't get to all of the recipes I wanted to try out, I still cooked and baked a slew of new ones. I was so focused on what I didn't get done that I totally missed the things I actually accomplished. 

For 2012, I casually kept track of the new recipes I tried on a piece of paper on the fridge, wrote down the books I read in the back of my journal, and took photos of every crafty project I completed -- more out of being a pedantic record-keeper than anything else. After a while, without the 'pressure' of checking to see that I was fulfilling my quota of goals, the resolutions actually became a habit

While I came up with generic mottos for the year: read more, write more, walk more, eat healthier, love others -- along the way I discovered that by letting go of measuring myself, I had actually completed more -- and the 'more' was in fact better quality. 

I'm a firm believe in writing down your goals -- I don't remember who proved the theory or when, but apparently you have a much higher chance of reaching your target if you physically WRITE down your goals -- even if you never look at that piece of paper ever again. 

(This own theory has been proven in my life. During my third year at University, I wrote down a page worth of what seemed to be impossible and absurd things I wanted to do in life. Ten years later, I found that piece of paper and nearly passed out. Nearly everything except 'learn the guitar' had actually happened...)

However, I do think New Year's Resolutions are often in a special pressure-cooker category. I think sometimes we compare ourselves to others, or even our own image (past, present and what we think should be the future), so much that we forget that a resolution or goal is a process and doesn't often happen overnight. 

So we make a resolution, and by January 31st, we feel like a failure because we didn't go to the gym three times that week, or because we devoured two helpings of chocolate cake, or because we got angry with a family member. And then we throw in the towel.

The truth is, resolutions are not easy. They take time. Bear in mind that you may fall off the resolution horse. But then you get back on.

As a child, I had a pony. She wasn't the most obedient thing -- she ran away once and she used to do numerous things at horse shows to purposely embarrass me, I think. She also bucked me off several times. Each time, my mother made me climb back up on her. 

I used to believe it was so I wouldn't be scared of riding after the fall. In reality, I had to get back on my stubborn pony to show her that I was still in charge -- and that she wasn't the boss of me. 

So as you plan your New Year's Resolutions, keep that in mind. No matter what pitfalls January brings, you still have 11 months after that to climb back onto the horse. (Then again, who made the rule that you have to get it all done in 12 months?) Just because your goal book is only half full at the end of this year or even next, it doesn't mean you've failed. It simply means that some things may take a little longer -- and that's okay.

Above all else, stop comparing yourself to others. I did that for a long time -- and once I actually stopped, I saw far more potential in myself than I realized. Read that story here.  

(Of course, this is my own method for accomplishing my personal New Year's Resolutions. Maybe you have a different story -- how do you stay on track?) 

December 17, 2012

Fred and Ed

A few months back, the Sailor and I decided to dabble in some terrariums. I don't remember where we got the idea, but I do know he and I purchased some plants, dug up some ferns and then we both trawled the thrift stores looking for the perfect glass containers. 

First, we put some moss and a fern into the 'cheese globe', as I called it. We affectionately named it Fred. 

Then came, Ted, Ned, Ed and the little cactus, Red. 

They thrived for quite some time. We kept the lids on the glass until Ted decided to make a break for it seemingly overnight. There was no containing him after that.

Then the Sailor departed for work and I left to visit a friend for 10 days. The plants were not neglected -- my mom watered them regularly and made sure they got their Vitamin D. But apparently my absence still took its toll, because within days of my arrival home, both Fred and Ed bit the dust. 

Honestly, I think they had been on their way out the door, right as I was leaving. The Sailor has a much greener thumb than I do, and Fred and Ed looked a little sickly 24 hours after he left. I long for the day when we have somewhere to plant a vegetable garden, but then I wonder if anything will actually grow once the Sailor leaves for work and I have to take over?!

So now, it's just Ted, Ned, and Red. And of course, my everlasting spider plant. I'm hoping they all last through the winter. 

I couldn't bring myself to get rid of the punch-bowl-turned-terrerium that housed Ed, just yet. I put it to seasonal use, instead.

December 16, 2012

Cyrillic Signatures

This week, I sent a card to a Ukrainian friend. And when I went to sign my name, I got as far as the equivalent of 'Bren...' in Cyrillic and stopped.

I couldn't for the life of me remember how to write out a 'D'. I'm still not sure I have it right. 

I felt like I was losing my marbles a bit. 

You see, I know how to write my name in Cyrillic. I've written it out hundreds of times. It's the one thing I can actually spell in Cyrillic.

In 1995, I entered Ukraine for the first time to teach English on a summer trip. Only English teachers and a few students seemed to be speak English, at least where I was. The Soviet Union had since collapsed, but to me, as a naive American college student, things still seemed shaky.

I didn't have a lot of control over the entire summer situation, so I wanted to at least have a little control over how I communicated. Until that summer, I had never felt like a strong communicator -- I was born with a cleft palate which left me a little nasally. Kids made fun of me throughout school and in fact when I applied to work in Ukraine I was initially turned down because the organizer felt that people wouldn't understand me. 

(I was a little baffled by this, considering that it seemed nobody would understand anybody who spoke English, in any case.)

I think deep down, I wanted to prove people wrong. I could communicate. And I would do it well. That first summer there I struggled. People spoke Russian, Ukrainian and their own dialect of Transcarpathian. Some days, I returned to our house, proud of myself for learning three new words, only to discover I had learned the same word -- just in three different tongues. 

From then on, I decided to only learn Russian. While I know I offended a few nationalists along the way, I figured that I would get to use Russian far more in my life than Ukrainian. And indeed I have. Russian came in handy many times and still occasionally does.

Conversationally, I was pretty good. I was able to at least communicate which tomatoes I wanted in the market, where I was going and when I may actually get there to my friends, and I could give some pretty decent directions and the time of day to complete strangers. 

Something was missing though. I needed to learn how to actually write these foreign letters. 

In between summers trips to Ukraine, I took a short Russian course in England to force myself to learn to write. I had the alphabet down, but nobody actually prints in Cyrillic. Everyone writes the equivalent of cursive -- and the cursive Cyrillic alphabet is very different to the printed one.

Eventually, I learned how to write enough Cyrillic to get by. My name, of course was essential. I was proud of myself for being able to fill out the Cyrillic customs forms and to sign my name at border crossings, so non-English speakers could read it. 

You can understand then why it came as a great shock to me when I couldn't even remember how to write my first name this week. 

I'm giving myself a little slack, since I haven't been to Ukraine for seven years. I'm hoping the recipient of my card on the other side of the world cuts me some slack too. I suspect I ended up spelling out 'BrenBa' instead of 'Brenda'. Oops.

December 14, 2012

Tickled Pink

I'm tickled pink to be one of many authors on the Pyrex Collective III blog. While I cannot boast of the collections that are posted there (nor would I have the same kind of space in my kitchen!) I do love to learn more about vintage items and to see other people's marvelous thrifty finds. 

And, of course, I love to write, so I'm excited to be included on the site. 

My first post about this fabulous Pink Daisy casserole from the 1950s can be found here 

December 13, 2012

Felt Clogs

In early Spring, I hauled my mom to New York City with me for a day out on the town. We went to the Natural History Museum, ate sushi, walked through Central Park, devoured far too much European goodness at my favorite Ukrainian diner, Veselka, and we spent some time in Knitty City.

I knew I couldn't buy any yarn -- I had previously made a promise to myself that I would diminish the stash significantly before purchasing more. Nothing prevented me from stocking up on patterns, however. After all, how could I use the stash without an idea of something to actually knit? 

The clerk quickly pointed out to me a pile of patterns on sale. I scored this one for Felt Clogs on clearance. 

After our road trip and the Bullion Beach Blanket, I wanted to make something quick and easy, so I found some 100% wool in the stash and proceeded to make a pair. 

Do you see the size of these things?! That foot wearing the hand knit blueish green socks on the right -- that's my size 10 (!) 

(Do not fear dear reader, my left foot is also there, simply inside the other clog...)

I will admit that I used a larger sized needle than the pattern called for, but these things were ridiculously huge. 

However, they felted to near perfection.

They were just a touch too small for my big feet, so I gave them to my mom instead. I had planned to make her a pair in any case. Considering she is the one who handed down to me the Bigfoot genes in the first place (which then multiplied and gave me bigger feet than her), I thought it only right that she got the first pair I made. Fitting, therefore, that she was also with me when I bought the pattern in the first place.

These things are fantastic. And considering I bought the pattern and yarn on clearance, they only cost me a whopping $3 to make (not factoring in the needles, which I think I may have gotten in South Africa for a mere $2 for another project.) 

I love it when thrifting meets knitting. Together, they make quite a pair. 

December 11, 2012

Orange Marmalade Cake

Poppy seeds remind me of Ukraine. I ate more than my fair share of poppy seed layered cake in that country. I wanted to bake something equivalent over here in America, so I purchased what seemed like a ton of poppy seeds and scoured my numerous books for a recipe. 

I never did find the Ukrainian one. But I had all of these poppy seeds, and I also had a neat vintage bundt pan waiting to be used, so instead I made an orange marmalade cake. I have made it several times this year for guests, and even people who don't like oranges or marmalade (or even poppy seeds) loved it.

It became my go-to dessert, much like my potato salad has become my go-to side dish to bring to a picnic. 

Today, I made it again for my knitting guild party. The first time I ever baked it, the power went out 10 minutes after I put it in the oven. I don't remember why it went out -- but I do remember the cake didn't turn out at all. I needed to start the whole thing over once the power came back on.

I used the giant bundt pan I found at a thrift store for only $2. The recipe called for a 'large' bundt pan... but the cake turned out super short. The recipe was from a South African magazine. Apparently their large isn't quite so big as this thing:

While the cake tasted great, it was somewhat short. The next time, I used a smaller bundt pan I also found during a thrifting hunt -- the cake came out the perfect size. 

Today, while making it again, I don't know whether I was more excited to use that small bundt pan, or the juicer I scored during a weekend antique hunt

They both made me happy. The whole process made me again thankful for my own little kitchen. The finished cake made me smile, too. The gals at the knitting club hardly made a dent, but I won't be complaining when I have a slice for breakfast. I'm sure my elderly neighbor will also be thrilled when I give him a piece or two, tomorrow.

I'm still on the hunt for the Ukrainian poppy seed cake recipe, though. This cake is great, but it's not quite the same.

December 10, 2012

Snowfall and Snowflowers

After a solid week of rain in Idaho, it finally snowed. 

I finished knitting these fun fried chicken mitts just in time: 

To celebrate the true arrival of winter, I also crocheted my friend a snowflower

I love watching snow falling from a window -- unless that window is in the airport. I got stuck today in Minneapolis for an extra five hours. Sadly, I checked my bag with all of that new glorious yarn AND my needles. Even the mittens are in there.

I don't know what I was thinking -- I even bought some sock yarn and new needles especially for the trip home. Then before I knew it, I had checked my bag WITH said needles and yarn (and just about anything else one might like to have on a long layover -- like a toothbrush...) Clearly my coffee had not yet kicked in this morning, because I found myself telling multiple people at various check-in counters more than once today: 'Truly, I travel more often than it appears.'

And yet here I am, at a random hotel somewhere between an airport and home, without any yarn or needles, using an awful travel toothbrush that Delta so kindly gave me (along with the hotel bill), and now I have to wear the same socks tomorrow because I didn't knit myself a new pair along the way.

Thankfully, I remembered to carry my laptop with me. The chargers for every device I own, however, are also in luggage limbo.


December 7, 2012

Pilgrim Boots and Second Thanksgiving

In early fall, I knit these fabulous legwarmers. I had a friend model them for me, along with a pair of boots I purchased for my recent trip. 

I have strayed far from my college Doc Martin and Birkenstock days... and while I wear the latter obsessively over the summer, I usually wear boots with heels when I go out in colder weather. (I am short. Every little bit helps.) When I planned to visit a friend in Idaho, the Sailor suggested I get a more practical pair for both the plane and the trip out West. 

My friend's son thought they looked like pilgrim boots. 

I concur a little, but I'll bet the pilgrims didn't have boots quite so comfortable. 

I also thought the pilgrim boots comment was somewhat appropriate, since last night, we celebrated Thanksgiving again. 

There were cranberries, and mashed potatoes and stuffing and a turkey and of course... pumpkin pie. I have made lots of pies in my life, but for some reason, I have never once made a pumpkin pie. 

So, for Second Thanksgiving, I made the pumpkin pie. This is the work of art, fresh out of the oven. We also experimented and cooked the filling without the crust as a sort of custard. It too, was fabulous

Maybe it's funny that we celebrated Thanksgiving a second time, two weeks after the first one. But really, why shouldn't we celebrate Thanksgiving more than once? Every day, we can find things to be thankful for. 

I am thankful for many things, but today, I'm especially grateful for my boots. It's been raining all week, and now today the snow finally started falling. 

My boots, paired with last year's woolly knit socks similar to these, create the perfect winter footwear.  

December 4, 2012

The Dishes

Dishes are an inevitable part of life. We eat. Then we eat again, and again, and again. And unless you eat out three times a day, or use paper plates in your house daily for every meal (or you eat a meal over the sink, which I have been known to do on occasion when the Sailor is not home) then you need to do the dishes at some point. 

Modern conveniences mean many of us in the Western world simply rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher. Unless you have a grimy pot, no elbow grease is required. 

I've never had a dishwasher in my life. I'm not sure I ever want one. I'm one of those people who doesn't mind doing the dishes. To me, it's always been part of the whole 'cook it, then clean it up' process. 

To make the process more enjoyable, I employ good soap (always natural -- I have a weird allergy to any type of blue dish soap and many green ones) and I like to use fun sponges or dishcloths to clean up.

I had quite a bit of yarn leftover from the Bullion Beach Blanket, so I whipped up some basic garter stitch dishcloths and crocheted tawashis -- perfect for scrubbing. 

Recently, I gave a few to a friend as a gift. I smiled, as I did the dishes at her house, using the bright green dishcloth to clean the counter.