Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In stitches.

As it happens every year, I started to get in a creating kind of mood as soon as August was over. (Somehow my brain thinks it's fall--even when it's 95 degrees outside--as long as the calendar says September.)

Specifically, I really wanted to pick up a needle and do some stitching. I've done loads of cross-stitch, especially before the late 1990's when I discovered scrapbooking, and I've done some needlepoint, which I really enjoy, but I was wanting to do embroidery this time around. I haven't done a lot of it, mostly just some of Hillary Lang's cute little girls and boys from her site, which I did as stuffed Christmas ornaments several years ago.

Coincidentally, two books came out right around the same time that I was starting to get that needle itch: Alicia Paulson's Embroidery Companion and Vicki Haninger's Embroidery Craft. Alicia writes the delightful blog Posie Gets Cosy, and Vicki writes the equally delightful blog Turkey Feathers. The books are both terrific, too. Reading them really made me feel ready not only to hone my embroidery skills, but maybe also branch out into actual sewing with a machine, which has always intimidated me.

So I started thinking about what to make. Vicki runs a sweet little online shop called PatternBee, where she sells reprints of vintage iron-on transfers. I picked out one with horses and one with ballerinas, with the idea of making one of my nieces a horse pillow and for her sister, a ballerina pillow.

At this point I've finished the horse embroidery, started on the ballerina embroidery, and I'm having a great time with both. The ballerina has a fairly detailed face, and I felt nervous about attempting it, but she came out prettier than I could have hoped for.

As I prepared to start embroidering, I realized I needed to do something about my boxes of embroidery floss. I've done a few small projects over the years, and never bothered to put the cards of floss back where they belonged. I also had a bunch of skeins that needed to be wrapped onto cards and put in the proper order. Each color of DMC floss has a number--when doing a cross-stitch project, it's important to have the right numbers, and easier if they're boxed in order. With embroidery where you can pick your own colors, it's less important but still helpful to have the colors in order.

So I spent a pleasantly mindless afternoon last week sorting colors into their proper order, wrapping loose skeins and labeling them, and pulling out loose bits of thread that made the boxes look messy. When Todd came home and I showed him what I'd been wasting my time on that day, he totally got it. He loves to putter and organize and make things tidy, too. Further proof that we were meant for each other, no?

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that another blogger I read, lovely Barbara of Oodles and Oodles, was selling some lots of vintage embroidery transfers on Ebay. Amazing though it may seem, I was an Ebay virgin, but I set up an account and avidly watched my bids remain the highest--until I was sniped on both auctions in the last five seconds. Oh, the humanity! I'm afraid I didn't handle my brutal introduction to the world of Ebay very gracefully. I may have wished harm and mutilation on the person who sniped me. Oh, who am I kidding? I totally wished harm and mutilation on her.

After a couple of sulky days, I realized that Barbara was surely not the only person selling vintage embroidery transfers on Ebay, and I spent several enjoyable hours one night while Todd was out fishing, rummaging through the lots for sale. It's fun just seeing what's out there, so many goofy and kitschy patterns. I'm especially fond of all of the "days of the week" patterns for tea towels--apparently everyone in the mid-2oth century felt the need to feature dogs, cats, Dutch girls, anthropomorphic vegetables and dishes, and Mexican senors and senoritas on their dish towels.
I'm going to make myself some very soon--I'm leaning toward Scotties.

I cannot believe September is nearly over. I was just trying to get through August, telling myself that September (and cooler weather) was on its way--and now September has come and gone with very little long-term change in the weather. I feel gypped. Maybe October will be better!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meatball soup.

We are having some very nice late summer weather, what I guess one would call Indian summer. I just now looked up "Indian summer" on Wikipedia since I have no idea where the term comes from, and it says, among other things that "traditionally, Indian summer can only be a true Indian summer after the first frost, generally a killing frost, of the season."

We are still far from frost weather, so I guess we're not in Indian summer here. Just lovely September weather, still warm-to-hot in the day-times, but mostly cool and breezy at night.

I made up a big pot of soup on the weekend--it was too warm for soup, but in my mind, which is still tuned to the weather of Ohio and probably always will be, soup weather happens long before the weatherman here in Virginia reacts accordingly. And besides, with a raging case of fall allergies, soup seemed indicated and was in fact very soothing to my nose and throat.

This soup is from a cookbook I picked up in May at the Fresh Market, which is a small chain of grocery stores in the Midwest and Southeast that specializes in organic and imported foods, hormone-free chicken, fancy condiments, and bulk nuts and spices. They released a cookbook for their 25th anniversary, and it was on sale, so I grabbed it on a whim.

Well! I have never experienced a cookbook like this one before. Every single thing I've cooked from it has been not just good, but delicious. It's very impressive. So here's the soup I cooked from it this weekend:

Italian Turkey and Spinach Meatball Soup

1 pound ground turkey
1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup Italian style dry breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups carrots, diced
2 cups celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup green pepper, diced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning***

3 (32 oz.) cartons chicken broth
2 bay leaves
8 ounces pasta shells
croutons and Parmesan cheese for garnish

In mixing bowl, combine turkey, spinach and breadcrumbs. Roll mixture into small meatballs (1") and set aside.

In large Dutch oven, melt butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add carrots and cook for five minutes. Add celery and cook for five more minutes. Add onions and green peppers and cook until slightly tender. Add mushrooms and Italian seasoning, and cook until mushrooms are browned. Add chicken broth and bay leaves. Allow soup to come to a simmer, add meatballs, and cook over low heat for 2 hours.

Add pasta to soup and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Garnish bowls of soup with croutons and Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serves 12-14.

***I have a packet of Italian seasoning that I don't think I've ever used before, but when I pulled it down and took a whiff, it smelled too much like thyme, which I only like in small doses, and sage, which I don't think belongs in Italian seasoning at all. So I made my own:

1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds

I know that doesn't come to 2 tablespoons, quite, but I thought it was plenty of spice.

We ate some of the leftovers for dinner tonight, and I think I can make it stretch to lunch tomorrow, too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Salad and sniffles.

I stirred up a really nice fall salad last night. Here's a photo of my empty salad bowl, because we gobbled up most of it last night and I ate the rest of it for lunch just now.

Fresh Fall Salad

2 medium heads green leaf lettuce, chopped
1 medium head radicchio, chopped
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 large red apple, thinly sliced (I used a Jazz apple)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Annie's Naturals balsamic dressing

I think it's the fennel that pulls this together so nicely. I just love fennel. I could have made my own dressing, but I was feeling lazy last night, and Annie's is very, very good.

In fact, I have been feeling lazy for almost a week now. My fall allergies are usually just a passing sniffle and a few weeks of itchy eyes, but this year has just been terrible. Headache, sore throat, achy face, sneezes, runny nose, the whole gamut.

Todd's parents were here for five days and I missed out on most of the fun running around they did with Todd because I was feeling too punk. I just stayed home, cooked dinners, did a little baking and some tomato freezing, and that was about it. Today I've run a few errands, but I still feel lousy.

I did run around the corner to the thrift store for the first time in ages, and that was a productive trip. I found a nice long-sleeved shirt for Todd, and four old Mary Englebreit magazines, which are hard to come by now that the magazine's out of print. I also got a few woolens on sale, to felt. I want to try to make some fall birds, like ravens, in grays and blacks, and I found a perfect wool sweater for 96 cents and a pair of gray wool pants for $1.96. They're spinning in the (hot) washer right now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I moved around my study a couple of months ago, and found some extra wall room for a small bookshelf. I'd been wanting a small shelf for my childhood books, which have been in boxes in the closet for several years.

But I couldn't find one anywhere! I wanted something nicer than the pressed-board things you get at Wal-Mart and screw together with an Allen wrench. I found a perfect shelf at a consignment shop, but they wanted about three times what it was worth. So Todd said he'd make me one.

While I was out of town this past weekend, he finished it up for me. But it was too nice to hide on a wall in my study! So I placed it at the end of our long upstairs hallway, and it looks like it was made just for that spot--even though it wasn't.

And all my books fit on it, with room for a few knick-knacks. Todd used these tiny brass screws at the joints, which I think look wonderful.

Thanks, creative husband of mine! Love you!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Memories of Grandma.

As I did after the passing of my grandpa and my Grandma Clark last year, I've jotted down some thoughts and memories about my sweet Grandma, Martha Martin.

My grandma was born on her mother's birthday in May 1920 in rural Mahoning County, Ohio. She was the youngest of four children. She told me once that her mother suffered from poor health for the rest of her life after Grandma's birth, and that she always felt responsible for that. Grandma's aunt Mary lived with the family and helped out with the children and the chores to take some of the burden off Great-Grandma, who passed away when Grandma was 18 years old.

Grandma grew up on a farm, and her father sold produce and milk to help support the family. She liked to read her father's old McGuffey readers, and one of her favorite teachers gave her a book of Bible stories and a copy of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. She loved to read and play house in the corncrib when it was empty in the spring.

Grandma attended a country school until eighth grade, and wanted to go to high school very much. She loved school, especially spelling and history, and couldn't understand why all her friends moaned about school starting every fall. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and she was the class valedictorian.

She married my grandpa when she was twenty-two, and they moved into a house right up the road from the house Grandma grew up in. She lived in that house for the next 65 years (and lived on the same road all her life!) Over the next 17 years, from 1943 to 1960, she gave birth to three sons and five daughters.

Grandma took care of children all her life--first her own kids, and then all the grandkids who ran in and out of her house over the years. My family lived in Missouri till I was six, and I remember coming to Ohio on visits and staying at Grandma's house. She made me pancakes in the mornings, and I played in her vegetable garden. I remember running in and out of the staked pea plants that towered over my head.

Grandma was a devoted gardener--out of necessity for many years, of course, when the family depended on everything they could grow and can and freeze themselves. But even into her eighties, she was still putting in a garden in the spring and putting up the produce all summer long. The apricot jam she made from the trees in their orchard was my very favorite.

She quilted and sewed all her life, both for her family and for the church relief organizations. Her stitches were in quilts and comforters that warmed her own family, and that were sent all over the world to warm others in need. She made most of her own clothes for many years.

I remember her making me handkerchief babies in church when I was little, which I'm sure was something she did for her own children, and probably something her mother did for her. She always had a flowered hanky in her purse. She would roll the hanky on one side and then on the other and turn it around somehow and then there were two tiny babies in a hammock.

She wrote poetry--some serious, thoughtful verses about her faith and family, and some quietly funny poems about dead dogs, prowling skunks, old age, and other quirky topics. She had a self-deprecating sense of humor, always quick to laugh at her own idiosyncrasies. She was frugal from years of pinching pennies, and she knew how to live on just what she needed and no more.

Grandma was a truly good person through and through. She had limitless patience. (At least, in the years I knew her...as a young mother her patience may have been in shorter supply!) I never heard her say a bad word about another person. She always seemed to look for the good in people. She cared about doing the right thing and making the right choices. She had empathy for others and treated others according to the Golden Rule. I have often thought to myself over the years that if my conscience had a voice, it would be Grandma's voice.

In the past few years, Grandma slowly slipped away, a little at a time. She had a couple of bad falls and used first a walker and then a wheelchair. Her memory started to fade--she still knew her children, but the names of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren became more elusive. It broke my heart a little bit the first time I visited her and had to remind her who I was. But the sweetness of her personality never faded at all. She never complained, never put up a fuss about the difficulties of life in a nursing home.

Grandma loved God with all her heart and soul and mind. She prayed for everyone in her family all her life. She read her Bible every night before bed. She was sitting in her chair reading her Bible when she passed away, as appropriate a death for Grandma as any of us could have imagined.

My cousin Pam and I were talking at Grandma's grave, about how challenging it will be to live up to the example Grandma set for us. I have a very different personality from Grandma...I have always been a cranky, cynical person and I probably always will be. But she and I were both deep thinkers. We both loved to write and read. I inherited her empathic nature, which she passed to my mother, who passed it to me. I inherited her wonder about the ways of God and the spiritual world. I can only hope to be as truly good and truly loving as she was all her life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Home again.

Oh, what a sad and tiring weekend it was. I don't think I knew before just how tired grief can make a person feel.

As I was flying home on Friday morning, my childhood friend Eric Wenger passed away. My family has been friends with his family for many years--our grandmothers were good friends, in fact. We went to the same church and for several years attended the same school and were in the same class. He was a year older than I.

Eric had a challenging life. A brain tumor and surgery in childhood left him slightly--but only slightly--delayed. He had the sweetest, most joyful spirit. Even after a stroke in his early thirties, which left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak clearly, he always gave me a huge smile whenever I saw him. A final stroke two weeks ago sent him home to his parents' house to wait for the end, and he went to Heaven on Friday.

It's hard for me to articulate here how remarkable he was and how I felt about him...the feelings run a little too deeply to be easily shared. It was a very sad weekend.

We had a beautiful funeral for Grandma on one of the beautiful cool early-fall mornings that Ohio specializes in. A wonderful breeze blew during the graveside service, and it was good to stand there and feel it on my face. If the measure of a life is how much one was loved, then Grandma had a tremendous life indeed. Which she did.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Here is a link to Grandma's obituary. I'm flying out very early tomorrow morning and coming back Sunday evening. It will be sad, but I'm looking forward to seeing all the family again. It will be good to all be together and remember Grandma. She was precious to us all.

Strange to think I have no grandparents living now. I feel so blessed to have had them in my lives for as long as I did, especially both my grandmothers, who were extraordinary women, each in her own way. It has been nice to think about Grandma this week and remember all the little moments I had with her, and it will be nice to hear more about her from some of the other people who loved her. I listened to a bit of an interview I did with her ten or twelve years ago, and it was lovely to hear her voice and remember her as she was.

Monday, September 06, 2010

My heart is very sad tonight. My sweet Grandma Martin went to sleep this evening and woke up in Heaven. I will miss her so much.

Please keep my mom and her brothers and sisters in your prayers this week, and all of us far-flung family members who will be traveling to Ohio to say good-bye to Grandma.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation.

Ah, the long summer hiatus. Think of me as a TV show returning to my regularly scheduled night and time. (Hopefully.)

I had such big plans for my late summer, but the big kitchen re-do never materialized. Todd is still in search of wood to make new doors, and we had a flood of company in August that made a torn-up kitchen undesirable anyway.

My brother and his family came down the first weekend in August and we headed to the "real" beach, the ocean beach. In previous years, we've taken them to the "river" beach in Yorktown, which is much better for small children, but the girls are big kids now and they loved the ocean.

Here Marissa pretends to be a sea turtle. She was so covered with sand she looked like a breaded cutlet:

My brother and I and the girls, waiting for the next big wave:

Todd's sister Lisa and her family also stopped by for a night/morning on their way to the Outer Banks, but it was such a quick trip I didn't get any pictures. It was fun to get to see them, though.

The second weekend in August, we made a quick trip home to Ohio for a family reunion. Here's me and my sister, she must have just said something funny:

I helped my cousin Janine's son Isaac take a little stroll. He turned one year old a couple weeks after this and I believe is walking on his own now:

Some of us were eating and chatting...my dad and my cousin Alan:

Me and my mom and my aunt Carol:

...and others were kayaking and fishing in the small lake my aunt and uncle have on their property. My nephew Tanner:

My cousin-in-law Rich (Isaac's dad):

These two little cuties, Isaac and my cousin David's son Lucas, are the youngest members of the family, at one year old and two years old, respectively.

The oldest member of the family is Grandma, at 90, who was able to put in a brief appearance thanks to the terrific shuttle service her nursing home provides. Todd (my official photographer) was eating and fishing most of the time she was there, so he didn't get a good picture of her; I hope someone else did.

There are a lot of us when we all get together--and this wasn't nearly the whole family!

Missing were my cousins Jarrod and Mike (away in the Air Force and Coast Guard); my cousins Darrel and Dennis and their families; my brother and his family; my cousin Pam and her husband; and my cousins Dan and Derek, who had just gone back to college after the summer. You can imagine what a crowd it would be if we were ever all able to be together in one spot. I love my big family, they are all very special to me.

When we came home from Ohio, we brought my nine-year-old niece Kylie back with us. She stayed for five days and then flew home--her first time on a plane. We had a great week with her, going to the beach:

Todd took her crabbing several times, which she loved:

Todd also showed her how to kayak:

She and I took a dolphin cruise, too:

Then she hopped on a plane and flew away and I collapsed for a couple of days! I am not used to having a kid around full time! We had such a great time, though.

In the three weeks since Kylie left, I've been laying pretty low. I worked on a stitchery project that I'll share later...I read a bunch of not-so-great books (seriously, I'm really in a slump!)...I watched all ten episodes of Ken Burns' Jazz...I got back into my walking and diet routine that was sadly neglected during the first two weeks of August. Plus all the boring day-to-day stuff, of course.

Hurricane Earl was all set to plow into us here on the East Coast, but decided to just stroll on past and leave us mostly alone, which was just fine with me. We had a windy, rainy morning on Friday and that was it. And in his wake some slightly cooler, drier weather has come along, which is a blessing. I have the windows open tonight--I couldn't tell you the last time it's been cool and dry enough for that!

This fall we are looking forward to having some company and doing a little traveling here and there. We're also really hoping to get some exterior work done on the house. The kitchen re-do is still on the table, but won't get going until Todd finds some poplar for the doors and we get a nice big chunk of time to work on it. And I am just looking forward to (please God!) some cooler weather. This summer has been pretty bad and I am ready to wear jeans and long-sleeves again, although that won't be happening any time soon.

That's all from here!