A Southfork Summer

I think I get it now. For years I never quite understood the excitement of another new Star Wars or Batman movie. And what was all that hype about Battlestar Gallactica about? You can’t change gender of the protagonist and expect loyalty. Why watch at all if there is no Dirk Benedict 2.0?

After last night’s Dallas marathon, I get it.

Bobby was a bit grayer, I loved that Sue Ellen was back, and who couldn’t love another Cliff Barnes v. Ewings plot twist? But the most epic returning character was JR. JR in a nursing home? Yeah right. Not for long. Oil on Southfork was just the miracle cure he needed.  Those eyebrows and the sinister lighting let viewers know that JR was still trouble. Those scenes could have been campy, but the fast paced introduction of familiar children now grown up was a great way to deflect any trace of campiness. The years between episodes have not softened JR. Nor have they made him less inclined to treat his family as family. In an unexpected twist, he seems out to cheat his son out of the oil he’s found on Southfork.

The clothes. The fast cars. Wednesday nights just got a whole lot better.


Latin Detours

I stopped at Whole Foods the other day to see if they had my favorite sherry back in stock. Score! The Good Stuff. Osborne oloroso. Guess I am a bit snobbish about it, but one sip detours me back to high school and I am in the Osborne Bodega in Puerta de Santa Maria, Spain sipping the wines and nibbling on cheese, bits of ham and olives.  Add in the flamenco beat of a Gipsy Kings CD and the tropical rainstorm disappears.

Things Spanish have been on my mind since I read about the passing of Carlos Fuentes, one of  my all-time favorite authors. For six weeks I have scribbled my thoughts, but nothing seems worthy of sharing, so, on a dark and stormy night, I compromise.

His Chac Mool was the first short story I read in Spanish. Gracias, Srta. V. Oddly enough, it was the same year as my Spanish adventure.  Spanish classes at Marycrest College expanded my love of his writing with La Muerte de Artemio Cruz.  It wasn’t until I’d been teaching for about 10 years that I began reading his works in English. Gracias, Barnes & Noble. The Buried Mirror,  a celebration of Spanish and Latin American cultures, captivated not only me, but my students. Commissioned by the Spanish government for the Quincentennial celebration of Columbus’ 1492 voyage, this book and accompanying five-part television special introduced millions of people to the handsome, erudite author and statesman who introduced and narrated the beautifully balanced episodes. Somehow he found a way to celebrate the discovery and honor the New World.

Paging through the stack of his books beside my reading chair, trying to decide which book to revisit, is a perfect way to ignore the deluge outside. The music stops and I notice that the rain’s temporarily diminished. I listen to the frogs croak in celebration of the rain as I pour another glass, switch the CD to some Mana, and return to the book waiting in my chair.

Tropical Storm Beryl’s Aftermath

Last weekend was a rainy washout. Sunday evening a blue heron was standing at the edge of the pond looking up to the sky, judging how soon he’d have to take cover from the storm band moving in. About midnight the eye of the storm reached us.  I was quilting with the sun porch doors open when, all of a sudden, the wind slowed and in blew the joyous sounds of frogs celebrating the rain. Nothing can be bad if the frogs are singing! The next evening when I went out to check on the building and my car (no damages, thank goodness), the heron was back standing guard on the pond, the water had risen about a foot.

The glare of the flash reflecting on underside

This weekend was perfectly sunny so I checked the batteries in the camera and went out to see what’s new. Mushrooms are poppin’ up all over the place. I didn’t want to take the usual from the top or side zooming it in so I experimented with setting the camera at an interesting angle that looked as if I were going to capture the mushroom of choice and clicked the shutter. There are some very interesting shots that I am starting to sketch in thread for future posts.

A "blind shot" -- Camera positioned on the ground, pointed toward mushrooms

The Search for Red Hots

Easter is always a great food celebration and this year was no exception.  My friends and I play the what do I make game and this year when it was my turn, the spinner landed on Jello.  Oh, I mean congealed salad as it’s known in the South (my nose crinkles disapprovingly when I hear that term, but that is another post).

So, I needed to figure out what kind of Jello to make. To truly appreciate what this means, you may have to be from the Midwest AKA the land of Jello. Church dinners, school potlucks, funeral luncheons and family reunions all feature tables of Jellos. There are sweet dessert Jellos, veggie filled salad Jellos and those that come in multiple layers that make categorization difficult.

When I taught at a charter school, we ended the year with a bring food of your ethnic background, so to be a smart aleck,  I went home and got out my Iowa church cookbooks and found the perfect Jello — strawberry pretzel salad. I am a bit confused, but proud to say that my salad won the award for best dessert. But I digress.

I had a request for the red hots jello salad. While I had heard of it, I had never had it and had no clue how to make it. So, I got out the church cookbooks and did some reading. The recipe was there: Melt red hots in water, add raspberry Jello and apple sauce. Well, it’s easy enough. But, just in case I didn’t like it, I kept reading. There it was, an old holiday family favorite, Orange Fluff.  A short grocery list formed and I went out to hunt red hots.

First grocery store…not a red hot in the candy aisle.  Clerk looked at me like what’s a red hot? Off to the corner pharmacy with the aisle of jumbo boxes of movie candy. Surely there would be a box or two there. Nope. This clerk said that they get red hots only at Valentine’s Day. He suggested the baking aisle of the grocery store. So, off to the next grocery store. Score! Tiny bottles of red hots next to the chocolate sprinkles and colored sugars. I picked up three and went home to cook.

The salads turned out great. I was delighted to have orange fluff again and my friends loved the cinnamon apple Jello. At least that is my interpretation of  “It tastes like Christmas!”

My Design Wall for the $7 Batik Quilt

In January when I first selected the yellow background for this quilt, some of the customers in the quilt shop were looking as worried as I felt. Would this yellow overpower the quilt or would it be just the right color to tie everything together?  Only one way to find out. Jump in and start cutting. I felt pretty good about the first two blocks, but I still wondered if it would be so bright that I would need sunglasses to work on the quilt.

I am happy to report that at the February show and tell my blocks were met with oohs. Everyone seemed to be as pleased with it as I was. As the months go on and I add new blocks, I fall more in love with it. It’s going to be one of my all time favorites. And I won’t need sunglasses.

Oh, why is it a $7 quilt? Calico Station has a block of the month program that is fun. The first month you buy the first star block and every month after that you have the month’s block done, you get the next block free. I joined this program three different times in the past and have always had to buy a block or two over the course of the year. My goal this year is to have them all done on time. I don’t have English essays to grade so it should be easy.

How small is too small?

Uncovered an old UFO in my closet in February and have become obsessed with finishing it. Colors arranged just so, points matching perfectly are the way things in my universe work best.  For many years of Saturday mornings I was part of a quilting club that featured a wonderful show and tell every meeting that made me want to work with bright, bright colors and with scrappy quilts. Those who know me understand that I like nothing too flashy and the front needs to look as neat as the back (lessons from embroidering with my grandma).

This quilt is an adventure of lights and darks without regard for what goes next to what and definitely no thought to the rules of light and shadow. Believe me, it was hard not to lay out all the pieces and choose which patterns go best together. As you can see in my scrap box below, everything goes together! Not in my normal universe, but in this project, it strangely works. It will be a nice nap quilt on the back of my big comfy chair.

The 2 1/2 inch squares are my member’s bonus from Material Things’ Kwilt Klub.

The tiny half-square triangle blocks are from my insanely obsessive mind that wondered what could be done with those perfectly good little pieces? I think I may have a new pillow on the couch when I finish this. Only 8 border blocks and 4 long seams away from having the top done.

The pattern is called Charm Swaps from an Australian Patchwork and Quilting magazine (the date is invisible to me, but it is from around 2000).  I hope to have it finished by Easter.




Holiday Detours and a Technological Groundhog’s Day

Seems as if I haven’t written in forever and don’t think I haven’t heard about it. Do I have a good excuse? Probably not.

I could say that I wrenched my shoulder setting up my Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Really, I have a Charlie Brown tree, complete with one, lonely red ornament and strip of blue Linus blankie to cover the stand. I’d show you the photo, but then I’d have to develop a new photo card for next Christmas, and we all know at this point in the Christmas 2012 calendar, I don’t have time to do that!

I could say that holiday baking slowed me down, but I only actually cooked Christmas day. It was fabulous and we all ate far too much to move afterwards. I believe there’s a standing invitation to my house now. It was the first year that I was not stressed because I didn’t make all our traditional goodies. I know, the kids wanted cookies but we all know life is all about a box of chocolates. And they were Peterbrooke. Need I say more?

Nope. I wasn’t crafting.  I did a bit of sewing for the holidays, but not to make presents. Mis amigas and I just had to have holiday aprons so we’d be properly attired for cooking Christmas dinner.

You must now be impressed because I have rejoined the $6 block-of-the-month quilting group. My mission is to complete the “free” block and its companion by the third Saturday of each month. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? In the past I have always paid for an additional block or two…Maybe it will be easier now that I am not correcting essays long into the night. Oh, and I chose a bright sunshiney yellow as the background for the batik fabrics. We’ll be wearing shades to view the bright blocks by July 4th. It’s gorgeous though!

My best excuse is the technical difficulties that my computer presented over the last 6 months. It all started when the battery refused to charge. Then, the hinge decided to crack. Great! Two in the same house with afflicted wings.  I could still type and surf, just not as comfortably or as portably as I had been.

Thus was born the plan I like to call Merry Christmas to Me. A new computer was in order. Sounds simple right? Not in my universe. I don’t know much about these machines and they all look pretty much the same. How to choose? Certainly not by color the way I choose a car. Did you know that the guys in the stores expect you to know things like Quad Core and lots of phrases with numbers? It all sounds too much like Math. I wonder if they saw my eyes glaze over? Friends and family started asking me which ones had keyboards that I liked and what size was I looking for? Really? Do they know me? A keyboard is a keyboard and I wanted a smallish one because they’re lighter generally.

I was good. I didn’t get the one at the first store. I went home, did some online reading late into the night. Why is it always this way? I had a whole day off, but before I got the one I wanted, I listened to helpful people and I traipsed from store to store to store and then back to the first one I visited two days earlier. As usual, I bought the first one I looked at.

I left my new baby with the tech guys to install the antivirus and office programs. And that is when I got sucked into Groundhog’s Day.

I could pick up the computer anytime the next afternoon. I went in after work and waited for about 45 minutes for the computer to be ready. As I left the kid said, oh, you have ten days to activate your antivirus. Here’s the password. The password didn’t work.

Back to the computer store. An hour later, I had an assurance from tech support that everything was good to go. Ha!

Back to the store. The two-year contract was listed as two one year contracts. An hour later, I had an assurance that the email would be in my inbox shortly and all was fixed. Five weeks later I am still waiting for the email. My account says all is well, so I will just cross my fingers and see what happens in a year.

Off to the internet card store near my house. The first one made me wait an hour and then couldn’t sell me a new card. They need to print resale store in larger letters on the door.

Back to my favorite internet store. New device activated and out the door in half an hour. At home, I found out that I was being dropped all the time.  The internet provided a helpful phone number to call to sort it out, but who wants to wait around on hold with tech support? Grr. Today I had been dropped for the last time. I spent an hour and a half with tech and she told me to go…

Back to the internet store. Another hour later and I have a new Simms card and life is good. Cross your fingers I have learned all I need to know about computers and wake up tomorrow on February 6th.


It’s all in the side trips

How did time get away from me? Have I really been so busy that my writing has become a detour this month? I hate when that happens.

 The month began when I presented a Positive Job Searches workshop for the Paralegal Association of Florida, First Coast Chapter. I have to admit I was a bit nervous because I normally do resume workshops for high school kids. It turned out to be great fun. The participants had many interesting questions and a few great tips of their own to share. I was glad I went with the “old school” workbook approach instead of the PowerPoint because it’s so much easier to remember when you can mark the handouts up as you go. The positive comments on the evaluation are just the encouragement I need to take the workshop on the road at a future date.

 Aprons have become my new sewing project. It’s funny how one small birthday present can grow. Working without a pattern has been a bit of a challenge, but no two are alike this way and I am figuring out shortcuts as I go. Embellishments after I finish them are the tricky part. After all, a pocket is just too ordinary. My lace trimmed paisley Thanksgiving hostess gift was mistaken for an early Christmas present. Must have been because I dug in the ribbon box and found a fancy gold ribbon to dress up the plain white tissue I wrapped it in. Can’t wait to break in my new Christmas M&Ms apron. It’s not too soon to start the holiday baking, is it? I have started flipping through my recipe file. I am debating several cookie and candy ideas.

 The only reason I have had time to search for recipes is because I have spent a week of decadence otherwise known as vacation. The best parts of it were spent with my Florida family. Thanksgiving was just the right amount of rushing around – last minute trips to the store because I changed my recipe selections – to get the sweet potatoes out of the oven just in time to cool slightly before I hit the road. To paraphrase one of my favorite newspapers “a great feast was had by all.”

 It was not the only great feast I enjoyed during my vacation. The other, most elegant feast, was a meal of PB&J and fruit eaten al fresco with the twins before we began a great nature walk searching for nuts and pinecones to use as holiday decorations. It was a wonderful afternoon of silliness as we searched for treasures to take home.

 Maybe the month didn’t get away from me. It seems to be pretty full of interesting adventures after all.

Indiscriminate Photography

PB&J? Check. Fruit? Check. Camera with new batteries and empty data card? Check. Time to meet the girls for girls’ day out. That means an exciting picnic and nature walk at the Girl Scout camp.

The girls are on the look out for objects to turn into holiday decorations. I am on a mission to gather images for a new needlework idea. I have been reading about other artists’ art quilts for long enough. It is now time for me to jump in and see what I can create. I have always loved the lines and colors that blend so well in nature, so it’s logical for me to go to the woods in search of lines.

 Too bad I left my logic at home that day.

In fewer than four hours I had filled the data card with 88 images. You’d’ve thought that I had never taken photos before. 88 images of what? Ok, upon review, there are about 10 cute photos of us girls. The rest are shots of trees, leaves, nuts, berries, fungus, and flowers.

 To most people this is a boring photo of the side of the trail. So, what was I thinking? Look, the light is making yellow sparkles!  I want to try a sketch of the curved and straight lines the trunks branches and leaves make.

Uh, huh. The Lansing kids are correct. I am a bit crazy.

But what a bout this one? It’s not boring, is it?

Tipped over trees. Sounds like an assignment I might have given my students: what happened to the tree? Nope. Not the assignment I have in mind. This one could be an interesting study in black and white. Look how the dirt clumps have fallen out and left holes.

Wait a minute. What was my point? Oh yeah, digital photography will turn me into an indiscriminate photographer if I am not careful. I used to think much more critically when I had a camera in my hand. I normally had a roll of 36 exposures and another in my pocket for two weeks of vacation. That meant I couldn’t take all 72 photos on the nature walk; Thanksgiving dinner and family photos required me to save at least a roll for that event.

That is so not true today. I can take a photo like this

and delete it because it looks like a fuzzy stick instead of the lizard the girls and I imagined it could be.  After all, not all of us can see an alligator like this from the walking path.

All this thinking has made me tired. Perhaps it’s time to take a nap under this canopy of Spanish moss.

Weekend Baking

I was not meant to cheat on my diet this week. The cool weather inspired thoughts of holiday baking and I figured a pan of bars would be so easy and go perfectly with the chocolate ginger pear sauce I made last week.

 HA! The Diet God was watching me. He saw the batter forming in the mixer and watched me put the pan in the oven. Yum. Thirty minutes and then a few more to let it cool and I have treats for home and some to take to work this week.

 I was folding laundry when I smelled the brown sugary goodness coming from the oven. Twenty minutes. Time to perform the first toothpick check. Beautiful!  The dough had risen to the top of my glass pan and was beginning to turn a golden brown on top. I slid the rack out a bit and saw a Jello-like jiggle come from the center of the pan. Nope.  Not set yet. Closed the oven and went back to the laundry.

 Wow, I can really smell it now. It’s been five more minutes, maybe I’ll check again. I turned the corner and went into the kitchen and saw a curl of smoke coming out of the crack around the oven door. I opened the door quickly. The batter had risen up an inch out of the pan and had oozed down the sides of the pan. At least there used to be a pan in the oven. All I saw was a huge puffy giant. Drips of batter were hanging like stalactites from the bars of the oven rack. A lake of burnt goo was welding itself onto the bottom of the oven. I watched in horror as a big glop plopped on the heating element and a smokey plume began to rise.

  It’s Alive! I have my very own horror movie monster taking over my oven. Can I stop it before it oozes onto the floor and takes over the kitchen?

 Quick, turn off the oven and click on the exhaust fan and open the porch door wider. Whew! The smoke alarm didn’t go off. But how to get it out of the oven? Hot glass pan in the sink will shatter. I decided it would be best to let it cool in the oven and put a cookie sheet under the pan to prevent further drips.

 Back to laundry and then I guess I’ll clean the oven.  No cheating this week…