October 25, 2011

from behind the pine curtain

"Soup's on!"

The missing pound cake recipe that is destined to be a family heirloom, as soon as we can find it among countless stashes of newspaper clippings and quickly jotted notes.

A response to my statement that, no, we aren't having kids just yet: "well, that's okay. I was an old mother too." GREAT. THANK YOU.

Collective laughter when my husband asked if anybody wanted "pop" from the grocery store.

Repeated viewings of Grandaddy's second great love: Diana Krall in Rio de Janeiro.

Locating constellations from the living room couch, courtesy of Steve Jobs.

Sharing more connections than differences, as is the case when you are lucky enough to be related to such folks.

October 13, 2011

another repurposed dress

I'm still tweaking this next project, but when I found this $5 XXL Tall men's sweater in a thrift store, it just had so much potential. At first, the shoulder seams landed just above my elbows, and the sleeves dangled a good eight inches past my wrists and the armpits hung like wings. I did nothing to the neck opening or the length. (Also, please note that in the next two pictures I am busy trying to convince Toby to do... something.)

This first picture shows the color most accurately- a sort of mossy green. It isn't the most attractive color right away, but a colorful scarf, thick belt, statement necklace, or bright tights (maybe orange?) could  make a huge difference.

Please forgive my dirty Peter Pan boots. And like I said, not the most gorgeous color, but compared to these, for example...

$188 from Anthropologie.

$65 from Modcloth.

$79 from Urban Outfitters

...five bucks from Salvation Army starts to look pretty good. 

September 29, 2011

Fall Film Fest!

If I were a good, serious, capital-B Blogger, then I would have had this list ready to share on September 1st. Since I am a lazy, haphazard, lower-case blog-when-I-feel-like-it blogger, I'm just now posting this autumn film smorgasbord. Here are a few movies that I love to watch as the days get a little cooler, food gets a little heartier, and trees throw a big costume-changing party.

September: Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel

This series of "Anne" movies are sentimental and dreamy and quaint, for sure. My childhood self drank them up on sick days when I got to stay home from school, and they've stuck ever since. This one spans a few years and several seasons, but there are some lovely autumn shots and I love the series of scenes when Anne takes her students on a picnic on the behalf of Mrs. Harris, the crotchety grandmother of one of her students. It's the turning point for her relationship with Mrs. Harris, and their gradually warming friendship fits well with the charm and sparkle of the season around them.

October: Fantastic Mr. Fox

There is something about the combination of Roald Dahl + Wes Anderson + stop motion animation that is just perfect. And the warm sunset backgrounds, underground burrows, wool-and-plaid-clad humans, and storerooms of fat poultry and golden cider make for a delicious and light-hearted fall movie. (This soundtrack is pretty great, too.)

November: Gosford Park

I love this movie for a lot of reasons: a truly incredible cast, an understated and brilliant sense of humor, a dark and twisty mystery, a captivating wardrobe. The mood is set right away; even the opening credits themselves serve to set a damp, dreary, melancholy tone. It's about a group that gathers for a hunting party on a 1930's estate and a sort of Agatha Christie mystery unfolds, involving both the visiting upper class and "below-stairs" lower class staff.

(right about 2:00 is a beautiful title shot)

It's so suited to a bleak, misty, tea-sipping and blanket-bundling kind of afternoon.

(The costumes at 3:00 are so spot-on: tweed! wool! hats! and one poor fox. And the lavish outdoor lunch at 5:00 feels brisk and lacking just enough color, except for the glasses of richly red Bloody Mary... too much foreshadowing?)

September 23, 2011


In an effort to help my dad & stepmom purge, I recently brought home a carload of family heirlooms they had been holding on to- in the form of china. SO MUCH CHINA.

I'm pretty sure this all came from my mom's side of the family, but any more information is lost to history, which is too bad. (Unless one of my relatives is reading this and can fill in the gaps for me!) I am resisting doing some purging myself, mostly out of a vague nostalgic attachment to family history, although I really don't know when we are going to have a dinner party that requires THIRTY PLACE SETTINGS of a wine glass, water glass, (not pictured) dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate, teacup, and saucer. Not how we roll.

Bryan's solution is to see what these would fetch on Ebay. I'm a little bit tempted, I'll admit.

These teacups, though, have much more sentimental value for me. My mom collected them at random before she passed away, and I wish I knew when and where, but that's just another mystery upon all the others, unfortunately.

To quote my stepmom: THIS is why nobody has silver any more. Because you would spend your life polishing it, forever and ever. (And I'm not really the type to go back in time and move to England and hire a staff to do it for me)

But still kind of cool, right? I would love to find a way to work them into our ordinary dishes, or use them for decoration or something. 

There is more porcelain and silver and glass, (oh, so much more) but I will spare you. The last category, though, I'm even less sure of what to do with.

This pink quilt lived on my bed for a while when I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure it's a family heirloom too, but once again: mystery. What's not a mystery: the rough shape it's in, what with all the shredding and stains.  

This one rotated through mine and my brothers' childhoods as well, and it's in better shape (although still pretty stained and beat up):

I love the scalloped edges on this one. The question is, is it worth it to try to clean/restore these? I'm not particularly attached to them, but they aren't really functional in their current state, and I can't bring myself to just throw them away.

This last one, though... so much potential.

I love all the colors going on, and how the honeycomb effect is orderly and whimsical at the same time.

This quilt is also unfinished, which means I could do that myself (or learn?) and put it to good use, although it would probably only fit a twin-sized bed in the end.

All hand-stitched.
OR, I could take a deep breath and cut it up. Throw pillows, a tablecloth or runner, Christmas tree skirt, mixed-media art or wall hanging. The right inspiration could lead me to do it, but do I really want to undo all the hours of sewing that some dedicated person (relative?) poured into this? I hesitate.

I love when treasured possessions have stories that give them a little life, and even more when they evoke a particular memory on top of it. I just don't know when I cross the line from sentimental into aimless hoarder, or if I'm already there, which is entirely possible. We tend to purge every time we move anyway, which is roughly every ten minutes, so maybe that will solve the problem for me! Time will tell.

September 14, 2011

Autumn's Inauguration

A chill settled in last night and has lingered all day, prompting me to start the Seasonal Closet Turnover process. A lot of laundry and digging and sorting as I decide what clothes need to just go to Goodwill already because I have not worn them in six years anyway, but I keep them because they are pretty (not because I am a batty old hoarder).

I don't know how people from California or any other temperate climate do it, keeping their entire wardrobes accessible all year round,  because I just don't have the closet space to pull it off. Which maybe explains why so many women are more obsessed with walk-ins than I am. In any case, I love this ritual, and it has definitely become a ritual. I love unearthing jackets and boots and sweaters that I forgot I had, and stashing skirts and sundresses away to make room for them. Trading out the linen for the wool. Pulling out the heavy, thick blankets for the bed. There's something about the organizing and preparation process that feels comforting and right, like gearing up for hibernation. Like storing up the harvest before a long winter.

All this scenario is missing is some hot (spiced? spiked?) cider, and today would be perfect.

p.s. My lovely stepmom (yes, those two words can coexist, much like "lovely mother-in-law") found this beauty for us at the weirdest garage sale I have ever seen, and I am pretty stoked about it.

I have never upholstered a thing in my life, but I'm willing to give it a shot. The sheer pressure of picking the perfect fabric just might kill me, though.

August 23, 2011

crafty craft craft

Well, I really have no good explanation for the lack of writing other than a creative lull in general. Moving and all of the accompanying tasks sort of sucked the energy out of me, combined with the occasional summer road trip. But hopefully things will settle into whatever normal is going to look like soon.

I have managed to pay attention to a couple projects long enough to actually finish them, though. Exhibit A!

A silver tray from a thrift store, combined with my own tarnished jewelry, endured several hot water/baking soda baths- the jewelry only went through once, but the tray went three rounds and STILL was not totally clear.

Much improved, though! (The perfume bottles are old ones of my mom's... err, vintage. "Old" always = "vintage", right?) This sheet of tinfoil was the third one to go, also. (Something about the tarnish transferring to the foil? I don't know science.)

Gross! Also from the same thrift store trip, these two beauties:

The bases are brass, then ceramic painted to look like wood? Or something? To match the wooden necks? I have no idea. They were mostly just ugly. And we needed living room lamps for cheap. Like, $5 per lamp and spray paint cheap.

That'll do. The lampshades are still a little funky, but they're livable until something classier comes along.

Now, this is the part where I brag because I'm pretty stinkin' proud of myself for pulling this one off. I had pretty low expectations. Before: a thrifted XXL cotton/linen beauty of a jumper.

After: this dress! (the cutest free pattern the internet would provide)

I quickly figured out that the stripes were going to cause me problems- keeping them orderly but getting enough fabric out of the old dress was a tight squeeze. There is definitely some funkiness on the sides where the skirt flares out, but other than that, I'm really pleased. I haven't tried to sew an invisible zipper in ages, but I made it through without any fits of cursing!

The belt is thrifted also, and I suspect it's a child's belt because I'm on the very last notch. Whatever works! Just in time for the end of summer!

June 29, 2011

within earshot

The sleepy, deliberate ringing of the church bells across the soccer field, tallying the hours. The number 24 bus rumbling past, shocks gasping as it lurches over the 3-foot-wide speed humps. Kids arguing, scuffling, pretending, hollering, pleading: "just throw the ball back over here!" A sudden rustle and clanging tags as Toby attempts to follow a squirrel up a tree. Strains of sweet and imperfect cello, piano, and clarinet floating out a nearby window. A train braying, and then again, and again...

A new environment, a different pace, another place to call home.

May 8, 2011

two days of sunshine in a row!

...the nights and mornings no longer by their Canadian temperature froze the very blood in our veins; we could now endure the play-hour passed in the garden: sometimes on a sunny day it began even to be pleasant and genial, and a greenness grew over those brown beds which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.
- Jane Eyre

April 15, 2011

also, got my first splinter of the season.

For the first time in almost six months, I finally got to work on my garden plot yesterday. Last Sunday was our first breath of warm, humid air this year and since then it took me several days to pull my act together. The community garden was bare and quiet yesterday, but not for long.

I started spreading some fertilizer and working it in with last year's soil, and within minutes I caught glimpses of robins creeping around. I know that sounds weird, robins creeping, but that's what they were doing- ducking and weaving behind fences and dried cabbage stalks nearby, hopping around and peering at me like cartoon-character-spies.

I was mystified at first, but soon I realized what they were after. Turn after turn of soil revealed worms, wriggling and gliding away as soon as I exposed them. Worms! This was a miracle to me. The raised beds were just constructed a year ago, so nobody had worms in their plots unless they bought them or dug them up elsewhere and added them in. I don't know if the worms came with the fertilizer, or if they worked their way up through the deeper ground over the winter, but I'm not questioning my good fortune. I don't know much about gardening, but I do know that earthworms are a vital partner and ally, and seeing them in abundance did my heart good.

I only planned to turn the earth and plant some early lettuce and spinach, but I stayed longer than I expected. I peeled off layers as I warmed up, even though the air was chilly. It felt good to break a sweat in the fresh breeze for the first time in months. Torso and back muscles usually reserved for snow shoveling are sore.

I'm looking forward to the hours to be spent in that mere 10' x 10' chunk of earth.

(I'm just sharing this friendly-named lettuce because the design is cool for beginners like me- the seeds are spaced evenly through the strip of tissue paper.)

April 11, 2011

blustery day

The afternoon wind was wicked enough that once my car was on the highway, I needed both (sweaty) hands on the wheel. It gusted so hard, it practically willed itself visible, for the whole 20 kilometers home.

For some reason lately, I have noticed more tow trucks crouched on the shoulder of the occasional on-ramp, even more than one might expect during bad winter weather. Just waiting for the inevitable crash. Coming from me, host of Negative Nancy, this seems particularly pessimistic.

I don't know if I've felt wind this brutal since living in Denver.

April 10, 2011

my version of duct tape

Bryan: When I make coffee in the french press it always gets cold so fast...

Me: It's okay. I'll just knit something to help keep it warm.

Bryan: Well, that's just your answer to everything.

Okay, so I didn't knit. I felted a thrifted sweater and cut out a rectangle and did some kindergarden embroidery to brighten it up. I won't even show you the back because the fastenings are atrocious- you can already see some of the flaps peeling away. But the wool does its job.

March 29, 2011

spring tease

Spring is taking its sweet time getting here, that's for sure. But Toby and I went for a ramble this afternoon in the 38-degree-air, and it's getting ever closer to the messy, muddy stage before full-on spring.

I have a good feeling that this will be our last snow (please, PLEASE let it be our last snow) so we enjoyed it. Snowballs are good for throwing (me) and snatching out of the air to eat (Toby).

And if I can't wear my Wellies to the community garden just yet, at least they are getting broken in beforehand.

Hurry yourself up, spring. We're ready for you.

March 22, 2011

so, you want to be a farmer

I have a small, nagging problem and it's all the internet's fault. All of it. Between reading bits of Wendell Berry and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (fine, only 63 pages in, even worse!) and growing weary of winter and feeling the dim confines of our basement apartment... okay, the internet isn't responsible for all of it. But I have gotten sucked into a couple of pockets of the world that are so fascinating to me: young blogging homesteaders and farmers (that phrase could not have been possible even 20 years ago, eh?).

This young couple, along with their children, are very intentionally pursuing a lifestyle outside of the grasp of the mighty supermarket. It sounds impossible, but between growing and making their own food, as well as buying meat, dairy, and other supplies from locally owned and operated businesses... they are on their way to pulling it off. I love the idea of knowing exactly where your food comes from, how it was produced, and just how far it traveled to get to you, not to mention getting to know the people producing it.

Side note: I don't know what it is about the Hamilton area, but I'm so intrigued that such a relatively urban population (500,000 in 88 square miles) is also within such close reach to farms, orchards, butchers, dairies, flour mills, wineries... must be a fortunate combination of location and climate and history.

Another deadly trap has been the discovery of this blog, and while I can't say I have an acute case of Barnheart just yet, I can feel small twitches that threaten to grow. She makes me want to find a chunk of land, buy some sheep and a truck, and start selling and spinning some wool. I'm not kidding. Throw in some chickens too, and some beehives so I can give honey and beeswax lip balm away as gifts.

I'm idealizing this in so many ways. I loved "All Creatures Great and Small" by James Herriot, a veterinarian in rural Yorkshire. I would have "Charlotte's Web" on the brain and make the huge mistake of naming every last one of my animals, and it would break my heart to watch them get sick or, as is the nature of farms, finally slaughtered for food. I love hard, tangible, rewarding work, but I don't know what it is to be tied to the land and unable to travel on a whim when there is work to be done. I can't even haul my ass out of bed at the first (or second, or ninth) moment the alarm goes off. I have no idea what it is to be a farmer.

But when I read blogs like these, I yearn for woodburning stoves and the hum of contented creatures nearby and growing fresh food outside my back door and the dead-tired satisfaction of a full day of labor and having friends over for feasts. Simple, honest, pleasurable things. They aren't so unrealistic, in some small measure, right?

March 9, 2011

it begins in ashes

There is something so gritty and tangible about the season of Lent, I am figuring out. The grey smudges on Ash Wednesday and the dim purples attributed to this time really reflect what's outside my window (although it is snowing thickly right now, but that's bound to turn to rain in the next 24 hours) and most of my surroundings as I move through my day. This time of year is tough; March is in like the crankiest of lions. Winter has worn me down and run its course, turned grey and dingy everywhere I look, but it's too soon for the earth to really come to life.

This moody, bleak setting is just about right for ideas like fasting and preparation and lament and 40 days in the wilderness. The sunlight and first day of spring and greens are on their way, and I have that to look forward to, but there's no shortcut through this season to get to the next, both spiritually and physically. So much of the Bible is about people waiting, preparing, anticipating. It's probably the kind of thing you could write a huge paper on (I am around my PhD student husband too much), all the ways and reasons and unbelievable lengths of time people hoped and prayed and waited. So much emphasis is on the preparation itself, sometimes more than the anticipated event, and that's something I haven't considered in past Lenten seasons. Like this time of year, I have passively watched the days slide by without participating or preparing.

So, I want to participate. The tangible side is straightforward; the tradition of sacrificing something or simplifying for the 40 days of Lent is familiar. In my case, it will be processed sugar, which my teeth will be happy about, but the rest of me, not so much. (This is scary for me to go ahead and write down, because I never do it here- I don't really talk about goals or challenges or commitments to whoever's listening, because then suddenly I'm ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEM. That is terrifying.) It's a comfort and a distraction, but not really healthy for the long term, and I think sugar could represent other parts of me that I use for comfort and distraction, but might be stunting my growth.

I had my last Shamrock Shake yesterday (now that they have shown up in Canada again!). How my heart and soul will participate is yet to be seen. I hope to be changed.

February 26, 2011

the taste of good things

The last few weeks have been such a slump, for some reason. Maybe because the best part of winter has passed and I like to have something specific to look forward to, and there isn't anything on the radar right now. Maybe also because it's a weird time of Life Plan uncertainty for us (which you'd think we would be used to by now) and while I like to think I'm flexible and such, right now I'm pretty much just uncomfortable and discontent and a grouch.

So in an effort to rally, here are some things that I like, for no particular reason. Most of them are food.

We tried quinoa for the first time last week, and going into it, I was a little worried. Being a recovering Picky Eater (Hi, my name is Anna, and I'm a Picky Eater) and a total texture phobe, I wasn't sure how the quinoa was going to go over. So I found a recipe full of stuff that I like and hoped it would be enough of a distraction. Success!

And, my husband was a good sport and ate some too, even after I repeatedly told him that my feelings weren't in danger and he didn't have to eat it if it bombed. The quinoa was pretty bland and reminded me a lot of couscous, which we also had last week, and in an attempt to avoid any more bland mines (HAAAAA), I found a recipe that used all of this.

I mean, come on. How can sundried tomatoes steer you wrong? We had the couscous with a whole roasted chicken, but that did not turn out nearly as good-looking so I didn't take any pictures as evidence. It wasn't a disaster or anything, but it wasn't a chicken to brag about for generations to come, either.

Something I really, really love is roasting whole heads of garlic (which I did in the same pan with the undocumented chicken). I toasted some bread in the oven too, squeezed some roasted garlic on, took a bite, and passed out from sheer delight.

... I might be drooling a little over here.

I also found a Maple Pecan scone recipe while flipping through my new Pioneer Woman cookbook (a Christmas gift I received two of, one from my mother-in-law AND one from my stepmom, who are apparently competing for the thoughtfulness prize) and I am truly sorry I can't link to it for you, because it is delicious. Obviously this is the result of whipping cream, sugar, and about 19 pounds of butter, but I got over that guilt pretty quickly.

That icing is just ridiculous. I used to always use the scone recipe in my copy of the BHG Cookbook, but no more. We have a new normal around here.

I love this mug but I look like a fool when I sip out of the corners. It's the only way to work with it. The dignity we sacrifice for love.

I'm not very creative when it comes to cooking. It's like when I clean; most of the time I avoid it until I just have to deal with it, but every once in I while I'm struck with inspiration and clean all the things! or in this case, try something new without exceeding our means. It's a tricky thing, sticking to a budget and staying cheerful and creative about it at the same time. I'm not great at it but I have my occasional moments of grace that allow me to see the joy in what we so often see as "less".

I've been reading 'A Moveable Feast', a collection of essays from Hemingway's time in Paris, and he often mentions how poor he and his wife and his young son are. He does acknowledge having to choose between good things because of this, but it's never in a bitter tone. I love the simplicity and warmth in this quote:

"But then we did not think ever of ourselves as poor. We did not accept it. It had never seemed strange to me later on to wear sweatshirts for underwear to keep warm. It only seemed odd to the rich. We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other."

February 12, 2011


I love, love this short. So clever! And not just because it was produced by Aardman, who is responsible for the joy that is Wallace & Gromit.

February 2, 2011

Empathy, or lack thereof

Scene: I am watching "The Bachelor" on tv. I make fun of it out loud, but secretly there is a part of me that enjoys it. (What is with reality tv and the false sense of superiority it gives me?) Bryan sits in the same room reading, but listening just enough to add his own commentary, because obviously the saga of human emotion is irresistible. He leaves the room briefly, and when he comes back, our friend the Robot Bachelor has sent a girl home, and I am laughing (because I am heartless).

Me: Do you know what she said? She just said, "I feel like I just got punched in the stomach. AND THE HEART."

Bryan: Aw, I liked her!

Somebody's a sucker for the drama, and it's not me.

January 17, 2011

four things

1. The state of my hands in winter: dry, crackling, and bleeding at the knuckles. But also smelling of the many sweet, tiny clementines I eat during the day.

2. I never understand the "describe your leadership skills" portion on any type of application. Why does everybody want to recruit only leaders? Have you ever been trapped in a small room filled with a bunch of leaders, but no followers to balance things out? Sounds like trouble if you ask me. Really talky, bossy trouble.

3. If you're not a dog person, you probably won't find this entertaining. But I can't stop laughing. These booties are basically glorified balloons, and totally ridiculous.

4. Excuse me, but will you just look at these libraries? I think Woody or Diane might win.