Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Before and After Books: The Shining

I realize I am making a rather large leap from my first Before and After Book to my second, The Shining, by Stephen King.  I can only hope you'll stay with me on this one.

I discovered Stephen King when I was about 13.  I was with my uncle in an airport waiting for my cousin's flight.  When we found out there would be a delay, I wandered into the gift shop, looking for something to do while I waited.  I have always been an avid reader, so I thought perhaps a paperback would do the trick.  The name Stephen King caught my eye.  At that point, I had seen bits and pieces of the movie Salem's Lot.  I'm not a horror movie fan unless the plot and characters are well-defined (which in most cases, they are not), but the name recognition was enough for me to check King out.  I picked up a book of short stories entitled Night Shift.  King is known for his novels, but I tell you no one can rock a short story like this man.  I was hooked at the introduction by John D. MacDonald.  I felt like MacDonald knew me and was talking to me about writing.  Next came the foreward by King.  I found myself liking him immensely before I had gotten to the first story.  Some of my favorites from this collection include "Sometimes They Come Back", "Quitters, Inc.", "I Know What You Need", and "Children of the Corn".  Some of these stories were turned into movies or parts of movies with different degrees of unsuccessfulness. 

My original copy of Night Shift.  I love that my 13 year old self wrote my name in this book.

Back at my hometown library about a week later, I went searching for King.  I was delighted when I found out there were all kinds of books waiting for me there on that bottom shelf.  I had also seen bits and pieces of the movie The Shining when I was younger.  It never made much sense to me.  If you've read the book and seen the movie, you understand why.  I doubt anyone ever found himself sympathetic with Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrence.  Creeped out, yes. Sympathetic, no. Unfortunately, that's what the brilliance of this book hinges on.
I first read the copy the library had.  I picked up a paperback copy a little later because I knew I'd want to read it more than once. And I have.  Many times.

The opening line of the book has stuck with me for years - "Jack Torrence thought: Officious little prick."  I was immediately drawn into the situation Jack Torrence finds himself in as he interviews for a job that may be his last chance to save his family, his writing career, and his soul.  He has lost his teaching job for hitting a student.  His writing has become a frustration.  He is struggling with his drinking and controlling his temper.  But he is a man who loves his wife and son and is desperately trying to hold himself together.

The Shining is a tragedy.  My heart ached for Jack Torrence, an abusive alcoholic and struggling writer.  This book changed me because I had simply never read anything like this before.  It was my first experience with the anti-hero, a main character who you shouldn't in theory sympathize with, but find yourself rooting for anyway.  This is my favorite type of character.  Books and other entertainment are so boring when the hero is always good and does the right thing.  What's interesting or complicated or real about that?   Jack Torrence was the first anti-hero I had ever met. 

Another part from the book that has stayed with me through the years is when Jack stumbles upon a nest of wasps on the roof of The Overlook Hotel. This part did not translate into the movie.  What a pity.   As Jack is stung removing it, King sums up the situation Jack finds himself in a neat little package.  "He felt that he had unwittingly stuck his hand into The Great Wasps' Nest of Life. As an image it stank.  As a cameo of reality, he felt it was serviceable."

My infatuation with King grew from there.  I was ready to move on to all those other books on that shelf in the library.  He's so prolific that once I caught up with those books in print, I never had much of a wait before he had something new waiting for me.  In high school and college, his latest novel was always wrapped under the tree for me.  A few of my favorites are Carrie, Cujo, The Stand, Thinner, (written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman), It, Pet Semetary, and Different Seasons (four novellas - three of which were actually turned into very good or excellent movies - Stand by Me (which was adapted from The Body), The Shawshank Redemption, and Apt Pupil). 

The underbelly of human nature was exposed to me in The Shining at a time when I was ready to see it. Jack Torrence doesn't succeed in overcoming his demons.  It was the first time I remember feeling like someone was telling me the ugly truth in a book.  It changed my taste in reading material.

 I haven't kept up with King's new books in the last ten years or so.  Again, he's so prolific and I've been busy exploring the many different avenues that were opened up to that 13 year old reader at the airport.  Sadly, I don't have as much time to read as I did in high school and college. One day I may go to my present local library and catch up on the number of books waiting for me.  It will be like meeting up with an old friend. 


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Family Flower

July 20th was my Nana's birthday.  She passed away this year but would have been 93.  She was my mom's mother and probably the grandparent I was closest to.  She told me many stories about growing up during the depression that I still remember to this day.  She was funny.  She had bizarre dreams (like sleeping dreams) that she would tell us about and make us laugh.  She loved dressing up and jewelry like I do. She was a Cardinal fan and golfed for a number of years.  I remember her making me laugh one Fourth of July when I was seven or eight and too sick with tonsillitis to watch the fireworks.  It's funny what kids remember, isn't it?  Her favorite flower was gladiolus.  I used to try to send her some on her birthday every year.

These are some of the things I remember best about her.  There were a lot of things I didn't know about her. I found myself thinking about my blog as her birthday drew nearer.  What if she had had something like a blog that I could read now?  Wouldn't that be something?  What if she'd kept a written record of every day life of things that were important to her or made her happy for me to read?

I recently got hooked on a new show on HBO that began as my favorite Game of Thrones was ending.  That's how it is with HBO.  They start up another great show just as your favorite is wrapping up, so you can never cancel your subscription.  The new show is Family Tree.  If you're a fan of Christopher Guest, this is his latest offering in the form of a T.V. series - a cross between Roots and This is Spinal Tap, if you can imagine such a mutant.  Tom Chadwick, the protagonist, is researching his ancestry and ends up finding all sorts of quirky characters.  No matter where the path for his ancestors takes him, whether it be Native American heritage or a Jewish cowboy from silent movies or a Civil War turncoat, he responds with, "That makes perfect sense!" and connects whatever new information he has ferreted out back to himself, even though his discoveries often turn out to be incorrect.

I don't know if I'll have grandchildren some day.  Who knows what will be invented by then?  But I hope the internet and my blog are still around if I do.  They don't need to know everything about me, but it will be nice if they can find some connection to me in themselves.  I think we're all looking for that in some way or another.  In the meantime, I've planted gladiolus bulbs in my backyard.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Meet Me in St. Louis

We just got back from a long weekend trip to St. Louis.  We had promised the kids we would go this summer when my daughter brought home three free tickets to Six Flags from the reading incentive program she finished in school.  (Two were kid tickets, and her teacher generously passed along her teacher coordinator's pass to me.)  I realized about a week ago we were running out of time!  We had already taken a longer trip to Michigan this summer, so we tried to make the trip to St. Louis as budget friendly as possible.  Here are some of the fun things we did and how we did (some of them) on the cheap.

1. We stayed at the Drury Inn -  free breakfast and free 5:30 kickback.  If you're not familiar with the "kickback", it's a light meal for the evening.  They had mostly kid friendly food - hot dogs, nachos, mac and cheese, chicken strips.  For the adults, they give you a ticket for three drinks from the bar.  We got six little margaritas for us each night and six free meals during our stay.

2. The City Museum - We went with my daughter's Girl Scout group.  They raised a pile of money selling cookies this year!  Since my husband and I helped chaperone the trip, the troop covered our admission along with our daughter.  I was planning on paying for my son's admission but didn't have to. A nice gentleman in the parking lot gave us two armbands for FREE that his group couldn't use.  There were two armbands because one of them was for the rooftop attractions.  This is an extra cost beyond the general admission.

Lots of crazy climbing on the rooftop

3. Fitz's Restaurant
Where else can you see root beer being bottled while you eat?  It was no more expensive to eat here than it would have been to go out to one of our local restaurants. This was one of the two meals we ate out for while we were there. It was very reasonably priced for a city restaurant.
They have a "bottomless" mug you can order that can be refilled as many times as you want with their root beer, black cherry, orange, or cream soda.  We tried the root beer and black cherry.  Both were delicious!

You can watch them bottle their homemade root beer while you eat.
4. The Zoo - I had researched everything online and knew we would have to pay to park at the zoo, but admission would be free.  When we arrived on Sunday the lots were all full.  Uh-oh!  It turned out to be a blessing.  We found a free parking place just a short distance by the art museum, saving us $15.  The Zoo was amazing.  We had never taken our kids to a zoo this large.  They really enjoyed it.  Cost: Zero.  Okay, so that's not entirely accurate.  We spend money on souvenirs and riding the train, but I felt better about that since there was no admission or parking to pay for on top of those.
The elephants were very active the day we were there.  We saw Mama Elephant swimming with her two babies.

They have warm and cold weather penguins.
5. American Girl - Okay, this one was not cheap.  It could have been if I had said no to buying anything, but then what's the point of going?   I justified this by telling myself we had saved money in so many other places and that she won't be young forever.  We bought three outfits for her doll (that she received for her birthday three years ago) and had lunch in the bistro.  The boys were happy to visit the enormous mall that is adjacent to American Girl and eat at Cheeburger Cheeburger.

Every girl should get to go once.
Kit Kittredge got her own chair.

6. The Science Center - Admission is also free here.  You have to pay for extras like the Omnimax movies and Planetarium.  We got four free tickets to any of the Omnimax movies with our hotel stay at the Drury when I booked online.  We chose Flight of the Butterflies.  It actually choked me up a little when the scientist finally proved the butterflies were migrating at the end.

7. The Arch - Even though we saw it several times as we were tooling around St. Louis (the reaction of my kids was priceless the first time they saw it), we still made a trip down to actually visit it.  The line to go up was very long, so we settled for walking around and getting a few pictures.  This was fine by me.   My husband and I had traveled to the top on a trip we made before we got married (and there was no way I was ever going to do that again). 

This is how I prefer to see the Arch.  From the OUTSIDE!
There are so many other things to do in St. Louis, but alas, it was time to come home.  We packed a lot in during the long weekend but not so much that it felt frantic or rushed.  Ironically, we didn't make it to Six Flags this time, but maybe we'll make it back in the fall. 


Treadmill Musing

This morning as I was on the treadmill, I was thinking about the saying, "You teach people how to treat you."  I think that is true in a lot of cases.  But I started thinking about how nice it is when you meet someone who already knows.

There was a reason I was thinking of this while doing my workout.  Last night as I was on the treadmill, I noticed the rotating belt (the one you actually walk on) was doing some weird things.  It was wobbly and felt like it was actually stopping every few minutes.  I probably should have gotten off because it would have been easy to fall and injure myself.  Let me elaborate on why I didn't do this.  Once I am on the treadmill, it takes something like a small house fire to get me off in the middle of my workout.  I know I won't get back on if I stop.  It takes so much mental energy for me to get psyched up to get on that I don't want to waste that. So despite my better judgment, I stayed on for the duration.

My husband wasn't home at the time.  He was working bingo for our children's school fundraiser.  If he had been home, I would have called for him to come and look at it while I was on it.  He is a fixer of all things.  I never worry too much when something breaks.  I know he most likely will be able to repair the necklace/toy/electronic that is in need of help.

He got home late.  I explained to him what it was doing and asked if he would please take a quick look at it.  Even though he has to get up at 5:00 A.M. for work, he went right down because he knew I wanted to work out in the morning the next day.  It took him about 15 minutes to tighten up the belt that was loose. 

So I found myself thinking this morning as I was walking on my now safe, normally functioning treadmill. When someone takes what is important to you and makes it his own priority, you know that person loves you because of the way he treats you.  Dan doesn't use the treadmill.  It would have been easy for him to say, "I'll look at it later. I want to get to bed."  But he didn't.  He knew I wanted it fixed ASAP because I prefer to work out in the morning when I can.  He wanted me to be safe while on it. My happiness is important to him.  He's been like this since we met.  I didn't teach him.  It's just the way his heart is built.  It's why I never had any doubts about spending the rest of my life with him.  I try to reciprocate and make what is important to him my priority.

You do have to teach some people how to treat you in life. Some pick up on it quickly.  Some people take a long time to learn.  Some never do, and it isn't worth the effort it takes to try. But when you find someone you don't have to teach, you hold onto that person with both hands.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Made It Monday : Songbird Basket

I started making baskets in January.  Actually, I started learning how to make baskets in January, and I'm still learning how to make baskets.  I've made four so far and by the fourth one, I started feeling like maybe I could do this by myself sometime in the very distant future.

An interesting tidbit I've picked up while attempting to learn this skill - there is no machine that can make a basket.  Every basket you see, even one you find in Dollar Tree, is made by someone. 

There were a few reasons I decided to learn to do this.  First of all, I like baskets.  I have them all over my house and at work.  They're practical and decorative. I'm a bit of a clutterbug, so I frequently use them in an organizing capacity.  Second, I'm always looking to learn something new.  So why not baskets?  I saw a flyer and thought, "Yeah, maybe that's something. Baskets are cool." The last reason is a little odd.  In a book I read and loved in college, The Valley of  Horses, Jean Auel writes about her heroine making baskets in a cave all winter when she is all alone and trying to survive on her own.  I'm not sure why, but that part of the book always appealed to me and has stayed with me over many years.  If you haven't read that book, I highly recommend it.  But not until you've read The Clan of the Cave Bear.  It comes first.  You might as well get the order right.  But I digress...

As a teacher, I think it's valuable to put myself in a position to learn something completely foreign to me at least once a year.  It makes me remember what it's like to be a student.  I also took a sewing lesson this month (that's for another post) and felt like my head was going to explode in the last five minutes of that lesson.  The teacher was excellent, very patient and happy to answer all my questions, but it was simply too much information by the end of the hour.  The vocabulary and the concepts were all brand new to me.  I was on overload.  To her credit, she realized this, recapped what we had talked about, and gave me some homework to do on my own, assuring me that I could call her if I had any questions.  It reminded me this is how kids often feel.  To be a good teacher, I need to slow down, give short lessons, and then give them a chance to be independent while supporting them. 

So I feel like basket making has improved my teaching.  Also, it doesn't hurt that they're really cute and handy to have around the house ;).   It's therapeutic as well because you have to completely concentrate on what you are doing.  At least, I do.  That's a good thing for me because my mind tends to have 532 tabs open at a time. It clears your mind of all the little distractions that are causing you stress. 

This songbird basket was by far my favorite to make.  I think that's because I had some experience at this point, so it was easier.  Another good thing for a teacher to remember.  Kids don't like to do things that are new because they're hard. They'll resist at first.  Even the brightest student (sometimes especially the brightest - they're used to things coming easily) balks a little bit the first time they try something challenging.  The more practice you give them, the more they like to do it.

Here's my basket unfinished...

...and here it is finished. It has a little bird charm, hence the name.
I confess, that I feel silly sometimes when I tell people about taking classes like this.  The kick I get out of it outweighs that feeling most of the time.  If you're thinking about learning something new that has always appealed to you, I encourage you to get over the feeling that it's silly or frivolous or a waste of time.  You're wasting your time when you don't do it.




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Nifty Thrifty Thursday

If you read my soliloquy on my new infatuation with a thrift store, let me assure you the love affair rages on.  I decided to share some of my finds with you on the blog along with a few rules I've developed for the thrift store:

1. Go often.  They put out new items every day.  Different things go on sale every day.  And by sale, I mean 50% off what was already the thrift store price.  One visit I walked out with a pair of shoes, a dress, and three skirts for $20.

2. Browse.  You have to look carefully because the really good blouse is going to be hidden amongst a bunch of not so good ones.

3. Try on.  Since pieces in thrift stores come in a wide range of clothing lines, your size will vary.  Sometimes a size 8 will work.  Sometimes it will not.

It's hard to choose what my favorite find has been so far, but this purse is definitely in the top three.  I think I scored it on my second trip there.  It was on the wall behind the register, so I knew it was probably a good one.  They were protecting it, you see.  I spied some familiar little details on it.  I'd know those textured silver hearts anywhere.

The hardware on the purse caught my eye.
It's a Brighton!
As the manager handed it to me, I asked, "Is this a Brighton?"  She smiled, "It is." And then she said something that made my heart leap for joy, "It was $75, but it just went on tag sale.  It's half off."  She then proceeded to show me the label inside to assure me it was authentic.
 Then I checked out this adorable pink and orange floral lining and fell even more in love.  "I'll take it, " I said.
I love a cute liner in a purse or coat.
This purse was $37.50 when all was said and done. If you look them up online or go into Von Maur, you'll see that they retail for somewhere between $200 to $500. 
I was thrilled to discover this little purse.  It goes with everything and is just the right size for what I like to carry with me.  I am especially charmed by the silver heart hardware and fetching lining.  All my jewelry is white metal, so it's perfect for me.  What's even better - if something happens to it (gets lost or is chewed up by the dog), I know I didn't spend what amounts to a car payment on it.  It's of great quality, so I know it will last for years of regular wear.  It's a classic style and color, so it won't look outdated in a year.  I chose the word "discover" at the beginning of this paragraph because that's what if felt like - the discovery of  a treasure hidden just for me.  With a great price tag.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Before and After Books : Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach

The idea is that some books change you.  Your life is different after you read them, because they alter the way you view things.  A book qualifies as a Before and After Book if you can classify events in your life in terms of - Before I read [insert book's title here] I saw things this way, but After I read [insert same title] I looked at things differently.

Most books I read don't qualify as Before and After Books.  I like to read, therefore I read a lot. I learn things from the all the books I read.  Faberge eggs, the history of Afghanistan, the procedures of landing an aircraft, the competitiveness of the world of ballet - these are all things I've learned about from books.  Have any of those things changed the way I live my life?  Not really. They were interesting and added dimension to my life to be sure, and I've loved them for it.  But some books have changed me. That puts them in their own category.  On this recurring feature of my blog, I'd like to share books that fall into the category of Before and After Books for me.

The first book is one I read some time ago.  It's the first one that sprang to mind when I thought up the idea of this feature.  Yes, I did see it on Oprah. (You may roll your eyes here, if you like.)  I like Oprah, but I want to be clear that I don't follow her every recommendation.  In other words, I don't wait to see what her favorite things are each Christmas so I can make my shopping list.  I've watched her show here and there (mostly in college, which is when you have the most time for afternoon television in your life) over the past twenty something years.  I happened to catch when she had the author of Simple Abundance on her show one afternoon in my late twenties.  I don't recall what it was that Sarah Ban Breathnach said that compelled me to read her book, but I do remember Oprah talking about how it had changed her life.  I was at a particularly lonely time in my life.  Things hadn't fallen into place for me like I had thought they would. I was in the figurative doldrums.   So I figured if this book changed Oprah's life (which quite frankly seemed a little bit better than mine at the time), maybe it could do a little something for me as well. 

This is my copy.  Another hallmark of a Before and After Book is that you
 keep it forever. Or in some cases, until it falls apart. 

Reading the book was enjoyable, but no epiphanies struck me as I was doing so.  I wouldn't have classified it as life-changing while I was reading it. I wasn't clutching it to my chest and thinking,  "I've found it!  The key to life!"  It was more like, "I see your point there.  That's reasonable, but I don't know about life-changing. I was promised life-changing.  By Oprah!"

 In a nutshell, Simple Abundance gives you a daily reading which always begins with a quote (I'm a sucker for nothing, if not a good quote.) and asks you to reflect on an aspect of daily life.  I find it somewhat  ironic that it seems that Ban Breathnach wrote it to encourage reflection for those with who were living a hectic life and didn't have time for reflection, because at the time I was reading it, I had nothing but time for reflection.  I just didn't know the direction my reflection needed to take.  My thoughts on how to change my life were scattered everywhere about everything everyday.

Looking back on it, I see how it shifted my way of thinking about things slowly.  The main thing that I think changed me was what she had to say about the principle of gratitude.  She encourages a person to keep a gratitude journal in which you write down five things you are grateful each day, the more specific, the better. The idea is not to write down the same five things each day (my children, my health, my job, etc.) if you can help it.  Get down to the nitty gritty (the excellent cup of coffee, the feeling of accomplishment after a workout, the funny thing your child said at breakfast).  I'll admit when I read this, my first instinct was to roll my eyes while whispering, "Whatever" under my breath.  That's my go-to response for a lot of things. I'm not saying being a skeptical is bad, but sometimes it blocks me from a new way of seeing things. Luckily there was also a part of me that thought, "What have you got to lose?  Try it."  Ban Breathnach writes, "How many times in the past have we chosen not to change our lives for the better simply by not choosing?" 

I started to do this but quickly began to feel foolish writing down the minitua of everyday life.  I don't know why this was (and still is), since I like to write things down.  Maybe it was too personal.  It made me feel vulnerable.  Even so, the idea wouldn't go away. It was there, nagging at me.  I pray every night.  I have since I was a small child. So instead of writing my top 5 list down, I started to thank God for those five specific, nitty gritty items/moments/events/people each night at the beginning of every prayer.  Some nights, I really had to rack my brain.  I was living far away from the family I had grown up with.  I had no husband or children.  Most of my friends were in their twenties and either lived far away or were beginning their own families. But I did have a dog.  She entered into my top five list many nights- the softness of her ears, her distinctly puggy smell, her excitement when I would come home each day.  I had a job I loved.  Something one of my students said or did often made it into the top five.  Sometimes good food or drink or a dinner with a friend and some meaningful conversation made it on the list.  Many times songs that I loved and listened to that day or books I couldn't wait to get back to reading were listed specifically.  Awareness was setting in.

Little by little, this shifted my thinking.  This, in turn, shifted the quality of my life.  How much it improved my life snuck up on me. When something good happened, I was bound to pay more attention to it.  I savored those things.  I might need it for my nightly top 5 list.  Even things that didn't make it into the top 5 list were appreciated and realized more.  I started to become more aware of things that made me happy.  And I started to make choices that led me to doing those things. (Why yes, I do love sunflowers.  Maybe I should plant some in my yard.  Actually, I do love the color purple.  Maybe I will buy these purple shoes even though it seems more practical to buy the black ones.)

 I came to appreciate things and people more.  Ban Breathnach writes in her book, "You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law; the more you have and are grateful for, the more you will be given." Truer words were never written.  I once heard a priest say, "You simply cannot be more generous than God."  Same thing.  My life changed pretty dramatically about a year after I read the book and had been mentally ticking off my top 5 list each night.  I started a new job.  I bought my first house.  I met my husband.  I don't think any of that would have happened if I hadn't become consciously grateful for what I had in the here and now.

Fast forward to 15 years later.  Life is hectic now.  It is most assuredly not solitary.  I still have a job. I also have a husband, two children, two dogs, and two cats.  I'm on my third house. I've made new friends.  I've adopted new interests and become more passionate about old ones.  One thing has not changed.  I mentally continue ticking off a top 5 list to God each night for what I am grateful for.  It's not that it's always easy now that my life is fuller.  Some nights I fall back on the old standbys (my family, their health, our home, our pets), while other nights my items are very specific, so much so that I find myself smiling in the dark sometimes.  I can say with 100% confidence that this still enriches my life because it makes me more aware of what I have and what I need to continue to be happy.  It's easier to set priorities if you know what makes your soul happy.  As one of the early quotes in the book from Robert Louis Stevenson states, "To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to keep your soul alive."

  Life has changed for me because of gratitude, but I'm still a sucker for a great quote.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Made It Monday - Fourth of July Burlap Wreath

Time to share more Fourth of July d├ęcor!  My Fourth was very enjoyable.  We had some friends over who have kids the same age as ours for a cookout.  The kids swam.  We ate burgers and brats and made smores over the fire.  Then we watched the fireworks at the country club from our backyard.  No crowds = my favorite.

This Made It Monday all started back in January.  Wait.  What?  Yes, I know it sounds strange.  January is when I learned to make one of those burlap wreaths that I was seeing everywhere.  One of the local florists in town was giving a class to teach you how to make a spring-inspired burlap wreath.  I even forced  recruited some teacher friends to join me. 

I'm always sure before I go to a class where I will learn to make something that it will be too hard.  I'll be frustrated and never make another wreath/basket/plate again.  As I mentioned in last Monday's post, I am not a natural crafter.

This class, however, was one of the easiest ones I have ever taken.  These burlap wreaths are so simple to make.  If you can push fabric through wire openings, you can make one.

This was the original spring wreath I made. 
It didn't take me long to realize that this was so easy, I could make lots of different kinds of these on my own. My next attempt was a Valentine's Day wreath.  I was really happy with the way it turned out.

A close-up of those little rose doodads.  They were on clearance at Hobby Lobby.
So naturally, when the Fourth of July rolled around, I had to make another.  I actually got a little creative (for me) and used two different colors of burlap.  It was my take on the flag.  Although my color blind husband informed me that the flag is red, white, and blue, not brown. :)

I always underestimate how much burlap it takes to make one of these, so I had to stop here and go buy some more.  That's okay.  It made me remember to take a picture at the unfinished stage.


  The finished stage

And here it is hanging in my sunroom.
The class I took to learn how to do this was under $20.  It was definitely worth it!  God bless America!


Friday, July 5, 2013

Bread and Butter

Making bread is hard. 

Bread gets a bad rap these days, but I love it.  My son shares my affinity for bread.  For us, it is the centerpiece of the meal.  Put the meat and veggies on the side.

I love to bake.  I think I love it because it's wasn't confusing to learn.  The measurements and instructions are so specific.  It helps if you have nice tools, but even with cheap ones it's difficult to screw up chocolate chip cookies. 

I love that when you're done you've created something worthy of sharing with others.  It's often welcomed.  A cookie can make someone's day.  A birthday isn't the same without cake.  There's something so comforting and rewarding about handing someone a loaf of banana bread.

But baking with yeast is hard.  Yeast is tricky.  It's what separates the amateur from the professional.   Last week I decided I was going to try to tackle it again.  I've tried it a couple of times before with varying degrees of success, but this time I was armed with a online tutorial and a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook.  I was actually excited the night before, thinking to myself, "Tomorrow I am going to set aside the afternoon to make bread."  Yes, I am a nerd.

The water has to be a certain temperature.  I added the sugar to the water and yeast.  Then it's time to play the waiting game.

It's supposed to be frothy and bubbling after seven minutes.  It wasn't.  I waited another five minutes.  It was better but still didn't look like the picture online.  I decided to proceed anyway.  This is often my response when things don't go exactly as they are supposed to.

I dug the dough hook attachment for my mixer out of the drawer.  I did not have this tool with my previous attempts.  I added the oil and flour in one cup at a time and mixed.  And mixed.  And mixed.  I understand after watching that hook work the dough why my past attempts had been only mildly successful.  I finally pulled it all out and plunked it down on my floured counter.  I had to mash it a bit with my hands.

Then comes the difficult part for a person with limited patience (not naming any names).  You have to wait for it to rise.  This particular tutorial suggested heating the oven to 400 degrees for one minute, then turning the oven off, and putting the covered bowl in the oven to rise.  This sounded ridiculous to me, but I was going to be a stickler for following directions. You have to be when you bake. It's not, "Throw a little of this in and a bit of that and then bake it at whatever temperature you like." Baking is for people who believe in rules and procedures, I think (again, not naming any names). I set the timer, to remind myself to check it.

About an hour went by.  I cleaned up.  My husband came home from work.  We were standing around, discussing the news of the day, when the timer beeped.  I pulled it out and squealed.  "It rose!"  He was more than a little surprised, since he didn't even know it was in the oven to begin with.

It was time to punch it down.  This is actually the fun part.  Then I had to separate it into two pans and let it rise again.  Waiting game again.

 I got more dough into one pan than the other.  It's not easy to precisely halve a blob.

All that was left to do was bake it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. 

It came out just in time to be eaten with the grilled chicken Caesar salad we were having for dinner. 

It's funny what can make you feel accomplished.  Making this bread did.  I've learned not to question this feeling.  I just go with it now.  Several months ago I found a quote that said, "When your heart speaks, take good notes."  That means more bread at my house.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Made It Monday

I am not that creative when it comes to doing crafty stuff.  I don't dream up projects for decorating.  But show me a picture of something I like, and I can copy like no one's business.

I found a picture of a wreath similar to the one I made on Pinterest.  Love Pinterest.  Can't understand why anyone wouldn't love Pinterest.  I'm thinking I'm even going to do a weekly feature on how Pinterest has taken over enriched my life.  But I digress.

I made this wreath for the Fourth of July.  I also love decorating by theme in my home.  It's the teacher in me, I think.  The grapevine wreath was $1.00, and the letter "H" was $2.50.  The silk flowers were $5.99 at Hobby Lobby, but I, of course, whipped out my handy coupon app on my cell phone for forty percent off of that.  I painted the letter "H" red and anchored it on with floral wire and stuck the flowers in the opposite side.  Ta-da!  All done!  And I have a snazzy wreath for my red front door. (No, I did not paint the door red for the Fourth. That is something Sandra Lee would do.)

I plan to use the red "H" for the Fourth of July, Valentine's Day, the month of September (thinking apple embellishments) and Christmas.  I'm going to change out the colored letter and flowers each month.
Besides "Made It Monday", I'm planning more weekly features for the blog.  Working on this blog and writing has been such a charge for me this summer.  I wish I could learn more about customizing layout and template itself but one thing at a time.