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Triumph of the Mundane

Slow blogging at its finest

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simple pleasures

It’s Not a Competition

But it does require effort and human nature makes comparison inevitable.

Friendship.

In the area of friendship, I find myself in a sweet spot these days. Over time I have unburdened myself of the needy and greedy. Now my contact list has only people who are delightful, talented, and generous of spirit. They challenge me, and therein lies the rub. While I decided these wonderful people worthy of my time, do I put sufficient effort into making myself worthy of their time?

For example, I recently had lunch with someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Let’s just call her Wonder Woman. After she indulged my prattling litany of since-we-last-met woes, she shared what she’s been up to.

Thank goodness I quickly realized responding with interested, enthusiastic non-verbal noises was the smart option. Great job — Hmmm, Ooohhh. Serious yoga six days a week, four when time is tight — Aaahhh, hmmmm. Making art dolls, particularly (rightfully) proud of one of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, one of her role models. Hmmm?

Ms. Gilbreth was a woman of accomplishment in home and work in the early- to mid-20th century. Among other important things, she found time to invent the foot pedal trash can and develop the kitchen work triangle. Wikipedia has a good entry on her, worth a read. Wonder Woman’s art doll of Ms. Gilbreth has a tipped-up toe poised to step on a trash can pedal.

Let me be clear: There was no bragging in Wonder Woman’s comments, simply sharing her life. Still, I was exhausted just listening. That’s when the measuring-up anxiety crept in.

Thank goodness I didn’t blurt out. . .

I found a Tostito chip in the shape of a cat!

Hmmm. Ooohhh.

Sigh. I really need to get out more.

Meanwhile, I best head to the library and scan my podcasts — since a bit of humor and reading/listening suggestions seem to be my strongest contributions. And I need to stay on top of those to stay in the good graces of my friends.

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Yankee Doodle (non)Deadline

Star-spangled bag best

Some time back I decided to make tote bags for friends — close, distant, hadn’t heard from in a long while, like but never able to spend much time with, like and spend lots of fun time with — for no reason other than I have lots of nice fabric and, back then, had some time on my hands. The idea seemed a nice, personal way to express appreciation. Most recipients were pleasantly surprised. While I wasn’t expecting nor desiring praise, the cold response of a few cooled my enthusiasm. And then time became less available.

This wasn’t a random activity. Each bag was created with someone in mind — the fabric, the size, the style. All the fabrics were of high quality and good design: Of one thing I am sure: I have a good eye.

Star-spangled bag1

Delivery was random; mostly the bags were shared within a few weeks of being finished. A few ended up being gifts for birthdays or Christmas. But after a career in deadline-driven publishing, I wasn’t looking to put the pressure of time on this project.

Fast forward to today. A former coworker and her family have been going through a lot, and it’s been going on for some time. But the Facebook posts are unrelentingly positive while remaining true to the events unfolding. It’s an inspiring display of the resilience of the human spirit.

She deserves a little pick-me-up. Back to the sewing machine. Her birthday is also Independence Day. Since I have an appropriate fabric in two colorways, she’ll get two tote bags. Perhaps she’ll share with her sister. And I made these far enough in advance, this isn’t actually a birthday gift, more a gift in fabrics that honor the day she celebrates for two reasons.

I wonder if she’ll figure out from this post that these are for her. . . Also, will our schedules coincide so that I can deliver these before July. . .

 

Accommodating Cultures or Time Management

hubs-yogurt

For quite some time, must be at least seven or eight years, I’ve been making our yogurt. Two reasons: purity and plastic. The homemade stuff doesn’t have any of the additives of commercial yogurt. Or at least very little since every couple dozen batches or so I use the store-bought stuff as starter. And when I realized not buying yogurt was a reasonable way to reduce plastic consumption, well, that sold me on the effort.

And it’s not a lot of effort, but it is a commitment. Now that I’m back in the workforce, I’m also back in the time-juggling game. The hubs offered to make yogurt, and after all this time, I relented. Yogurt-making was on the TTHSND list: Things The Hubs Should Not Do. The list started early in our marriage when he offered to do laundry and tossed in my one silk blouse. . . In this case, I anticipated the task bouncing back to me or becoming a point of contention. Since I’ve been doing this for so long, even when working, that it didn’t seem worth the effort.

There is also TTTHDDWBICTI list: The Things The Hubs Doesn’t Do Well But I Choose To Ignore. Topping that list is vacuuming. He does the open areas and, if the mood strikes, gets under a few things but has long since foregone vacuuming the furniture. He’ll break down if he sees one of the dogs ‘hunting’ for pretzels sticks and popcorn between/under the cushions but otherwise he does not put forth the effort. I choose to ignore this oversight as the only other option is for me to do the vacuuming. When necessary, I employ my mother’s housekeeping coping mechanism: I take off my glasses. It’s amazing what you can’t see, and therefore what you can abide, without glasses.

Anyway, back to the yogurt. Initially, I ran through the process with him as I made yogurt, and a day later he asked me to list the steps again as he took notes. A few days later, he gave it a go, sending me a proud text when his first batch was in the yogurt maker.

Mind you, I’ve only been working two weeks and two days. But we eat yogurt for breakfast most days, weekends included. And even though we split one jar, the yogurt maker only holds five jars: The math is pretty straightforward. Oh, and I used one jar in a cake. That’s when it (already) became too much. When I said, Oh, time to make yogurt again, the look of surprise and exasperation on his face was as exaggerated as a silent-movie actor’s. Yes, it’s a commitment. So I made the yogurt. But I will vacuum only in a state of emergency. And I haven’t got a clue where my glasses are.

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Comparison Chopping or I Love the Smell of Lavender in the Afternoon

spring-lavender-17

Working again means certain things will be put aside for another day. But other things, such as trimming the lavender, are time sensitive. An unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon seemed the opportune moment.

I was all set for a quiet, zen-like moment when the buzzsaw hubs showed up. As noted last year, spending time, plant by plant, to trim thoughtfully results in a nicely undulating hedge of robust blooms. Blunt cuts without careful deep trimming soon leads to lower bloom production and stifled plants.

The hubs has a different approach. There is he was, like that cigar-chomping officer in Apocalypse Now, mowing down the lavender bushes into the shape of large mushroom caps. And I’m hearing Vikings and Beekeepers (it’s playing at the 8-min. mark), a famous piece used in the movie and the SCTV sketch, playing in my head. And yes, that’s how I refer to that music; the real name doesn’t stick. Which reminded me to pick my battles. Carefully. And laugh.

So I worked closest to the sidewalk because those plants produce the best blooms. And I quit the task much earlier than planned. Sure enough, he gave up soon after. I’ll go back and finsih the overall trimming, and do some delicate trimming on the newly rounded plants once the warm weather really sets in and the hubs’ attention is absorbed in getting the vegetable garden planted. Patience. Oooommmmm.

 

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Life and Lemons

thermos-and-steamer

It is with a deep bow to reality that I tell you of my return to the workforce. Full time, for an indeterminate amount of time. While there are many things that make freelancing pretty darn wonderful, a dependable, more specifically predictable, income is not one of them. After a string of unanticipated, albeit relatively modest expenses (including the stove going on the fritz), my financial nerves gave out. Uncertainty is the nature of the beast of freelance but that is beastly to my nature, and I come from a long line of money worriers.

One of the most important things in preparing for office days is getting the coffee thermos (I looked it up; no longer trademarked) ready. Turned into a small project. Being a proud and regular contender for Worst Housekeeper of the Year, I neglected to deep clean the thing before mothballing it. Coffee crud and stains won’t bring on anyone’s early demise, but the flavor might be a titch off. So I used Dip-It. Twice. Then a couple of rounds of vinegar and baking soda. The hubs suggested using the steamer, which did an impressive job. At least now whatever is still stuck to the sides I am confident has been effectively disinfected.

lemon-merangue-pie

Let’s wrap this up on a happy note: All but two of the Meyer lemons have been put to good use. Last week I made a lemon meringue pie for the first time. The meringue was wonderfully marshmallowy. The recipe explicitly stated not to overcook or undercook the filling. And when I thought it was done, I cooked it for 30 seconds longer, realizing even in the moment that the line had been crossed. But still completely and deliciously edible.

I picked the recipe because it was one of the few 1) calling for Meyer lemons and 2) using all the eggs of the eggs called for — I hate food waste and trying to figure out what to do with leftover yolks would drive me crazy. Detour: A book came out, eons ago, that had made-up words for unique but heretofore unworded situations. For example, excess bunerage is the term for having more buns than hot dogs. So this recipe avoided excessive yolkage.

So, you’re wondering, what to do with the last lemons? Here’s what I’ll be having Friday evening to celebrate surviving a return to work — Meyer Lemon French 75:

meyer-lemon-french-75

Cheers!

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Urban Legends of the Trail

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I hear tell a tale of two folks and a dog who done wandered off the paved trail one day and pert’ near disappeared. It was a mighty fine adventure that took ’em ’bout an hour, or possibly much, much longer, to find their way back to civilization.

Seems it all started when them folks and the pup got on the trail only to be  confronted by two unleashed dogs whose disinterested humans followed a goodly distance behind. Leashes, people! Leashes! What in tarnation is so difficult about leashes?! With a large barking labradoodle headed right at ’em, well, the easiest thing to do was head up the dirt trail before things got ugly. Couldn’t be far before that trail intersected with the pavement again; they’d seen other folks re-enter the main trail with their dogs lots of times.

So they wandered up the hill and within a few minutes were surprised at how far away from civilization they felt. The constant presence of street noise on the main trail disappeared. The trail went up and it went down — steeply. It switched back and forth repeatedly to get to the bottom of a ravine, then repeated the process to get back to high ground. And the trail slanted deeply sideways, putting one precariously close to a rapid, tumbling descent with every step. After the third or fourth ravine, well, only the pup was still running strong.Yes, the mini fjords of the Midwest can be taxing on human and, eventually, beast.

And the lady adventurer, well, not having planned on this excursion, quickly realized these were the wrong boots. Oh, they had plenty of much-needed tread, but they were heavy. And while the thin socks were warm enough, her feet slid inside the boots requiring extra effort for each step. She cursed not being more diligent about yoga for the flexibility needed for grabbing branches and taking high steps up, and the balance for taking sliding steps down. But she did become reacquainted with her glute muscles.

Figurin’ the rescue squad might find only their cell phones, she wanted to take more pictures. But her main goal was not going arse over tea kettle down the hillside.

Also with surprising quickness, the nearby rich kids academy (because rich kids don’t go to a school), and the parents’ fancy homes had disappeared from view; all the trio of accidental adventurers saw were trees and snow. And snow and trees. After cresting more than a half dozen hills, houses blessedly reappeared. But these weren’t the same houses visible from the paved trail. And the railroad tracks were nowhere to be seen. Where exactly they were was, and remains, a mystery.

At this point, the couple drew on the wisdom they had gained from many years of riding bike trails: The trail is just as long back to the car as it is going out — only you’ve got less energy. They turned around. Funny thing, though, it was a cloudy day so they didn’t really know which direction they were headed, and pretty much every snow-covered tree looks like the next so every direction looked the same. And there were a.lot. of trees. As well, they had made several choices at Ys along the way, which had to be properly re-chosen on the way back.

Why just look at this Google Earth pic – you can’t even see the dirt trails!

ashworth-park-google-maps

Now even the pup was showing some stress. She’d been wary of the narrow bridges crossing the fingerling creeks on the way out, and was even less inclined to cross them on the way back. And the snow was starting to turn to ice balls between the pads of her paws; her people not thinking she’d need Musher’s Secret on this excursion, left her paws bare. Problem is, that paw problem only gets worse over time and the party came to halt several times on the steep slopes to clean the pup’s paws.

‘Bout now, the fun aspect of this adventure was wearin’ pretty thin. But the car doesn’t get any closer by whining, so they trekked on. First the chimney of the academy appeared through the trees. And soon the Rock of Gibraltar came into view. OK, it was a rough tree stump that reminded the gentleman adventurer of the Rock of Gibraltar. Sorta.

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That was funny on the way out, but it was likely delirium talkin’ on the way back. Soon the car – with its heated seats – came into view. Rarely is a sight so devine. With only themselves as witnesses to these events, the couple and the pup headed home.

So how do I know this tale is true? Well, I listened to them retell it to each other with great animation as they stood in line at the donut shop. Seems the lady adventurer was sure she’d used up all her carbs on the adventure and felt it imperative to replenish. The gentleman adventurer indicated he was feeling the same deprivation.

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Ben Ming Nian or Seeing Red or Don’t Ask Me About My Underalls

what-fresh-hell

This card was made for me by a friend who enjoyed my use of the famous Dorothy Parker line. We laughed when I opened it. Then came Chinese New Year. No one’s laughing now.

For a reason that also includes Bastille Day (for another time), I like to indulge in a little celebration on Chinese New Year: the first bike ride of the season. Because here in the Midwest the holiday often falls in early February when it’s a tad warmer and less icy than January 1, so taking the bikes out now is smarter – or a touch less stupid. This year, the date was immaterial.

Several pop-culture-y sites also make a minor fuss over the holiday, which lead me to discover that this is a Ben Ming Nian for me – my zodiac year of birth. A good thing, you’d think. Not so much. Talk about what fresh hell! Don’t start a job or change jobs, don’t buy a house — or even move, don’t get married. Those are just the things one can control! Every move pretty much torques off Tai Sui, a mysterious power that controls people’s fortune.

Then, in an odd, third-rate-motivational-speech turn, challenges and opportunities may come one’s way “with efforts and firm belief.” I might be able to see the opportunities if I could bring myself to get out from under the bed.

I was ready to brush it off as superstition until I recalled my last Ben Ming Nian, and I wanted to grab a brown paper bag because hyperventilating was a possibility.

What to do? Wear red. Lots of red. Especially red underwear. But I can’t buy it myself; for maximum effectiveness, red clothing must be gifts. Oh yea, I can see the hubs flipping through a rack of panties . . .

If you need to find me, I’ll be back under the bed facing east (another trick to assuage Tai Sui).

What fresh hell indeed. See you in early 2018 — as an added twist of misery, this lunar year has 13 months. Send red socks!

 

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Bag Ladies

purse-1

A couple of years ago I got the idea to thank my friends for being my friends by giving them something personal — beyond the cheer, kindness, and thoughtfulness (and occasional baked goods) that I make sure to bring to those relationships.

Because I like making things, bags came to mind. For each woman, I look for a fabric that reflects her personality. Forgive the immodesty, but on the whole I have pretty good taste and a rare gift-choosing ability, so trusting my judgement puts me on solid ground.

This is my latest bag. It went to a woman I met through work. She’s artsy. I’d like to be artsy. Although we have a lot in common, our friendship didn’t really solidify until we weren’t working together. The pattern is Glenda from Swoon. (The credit is included only if someone feels inclined to find out more; I have no personal link with the company.)  I do love the interwebs to find new and different things.

purse-2

Of course for this level of effort, passing friends and acquaintances won’t be receiving bags any time soon. But I still have a dozen good women on the top-line list. That will keep me busy this year.

Lentil It Be

lentils

Lentils and greens, two more New Year’s foods. This choice was as much to return to better eating as for any illusion of influencing the cosmos in my favor. With typical American gusto, I’ve noshed my way through the holidays. Enjoyable, but time to return to reality.

Lentils with pasta, canned tomatoes, and arugula was a long-time lunch favorite. The arugula held its rewarding crunch for several days. Amazing. But for reasons unknown, this dish fell off the radar. Perhaps I simply ate it one too many times, dispelling the charm. So I reworked the recipe for the new year.

Two shallots cooked with the lentils. Added kale both cooked and fresh; ditto the tomato. Pasta seemed superfluous. Lunch perfection. Having forgotten the expansion factor of soaking lentils, I’ll be enjoying this for several days.

Almost good enough to forget Saturday’s fail: I attempted to make kransekake on December 31. Is that the last fail of last year or the first fail of the new year? The recipe in the fairly recently produced seminal work on Nordic cooking looked amazingly simple and straightforward. A little egg white, some sugar — grating the marzipan appeared to be the hardest part. Ha! Looking back, it’s almost as though the author included the recipe with an air of dismissive disdain, an embarrassing must.

When the goal is a fairly dry dough, add wet to dry ingredients until the desired consistency is achieved. Again, something I realized in retrospect after following the lauded author’s recipe. Recipes later culled from the interwebs indicated either heat or cold to get the right consistency. (The recipe on Nordic Food & Living seems worth a go.) And clearly a boatload of elbow grease is needed to get the marzipan thoroughly incorporated. Previously, the closest I’ve come to marzipan is the character on Homestar Runner.

Since there was no way to firm up the soggy dough, I decided to bake some cookie-ish rounds in hopes of salvaging the experiment and getting something I could taste for reference. Watching the rounds expand, I upped the oven temp for a quicker set — which did nothing for the set and gave the round blobs a Florida-grade tan. I can only bear to share a tiny pic of the result.

sugar-fail

The taste is quite nice — kind of an almond-flavored toasted marshmallow. And I was smart enough to make only a small batch on a silicon mat, reducing waste and clean up.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll watch a few episodes of the Great British Baking Show while eating a bowl of lentils and kale to ready myself for the next challenge.

 

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