Through the window

Six years ago today, we were on pins & needles over a band of snow & flight schedules. Eventually (and determined), we gave up on catching the local connector flight and drove ourselves out of that band of snow and down to Chicago to catch our outbound flight to Heathrow... and our England-Scotland-Wales adventure!

Oh, what an adventure it was!

I'd scheduled a dye workshop at Old Maiden Aunt in West Kilbride toward the end of our time in Scotland, and looked forward to it the whole time (my one real fibery thing on that trip).

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This was the view from inside Lilith's shop. Since then, Old Maiden Aunt has relocated to a different studio! So even if I visited again, the view would be different both from her new studio and from this one.

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It's been almost 6 years since I looked out this window, and it isn't likely that it'll ever happen again -- or, if it does, it won't look exactly like this.

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Ah, Scotland! 

I am currently awaiting the arrival of Lilith's new book, Coming Home! It should be here any day now.

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Who are you?

I've been pretty busy and/or under the weather and/or grumpy and/or uninspired, so didn't really think too much about today's Think Write Thursday topic about heritage -- Irish or otherwise.

Then I read this sentence in Carole's post and laughed out loud:

As a researcher once told Dale when he was trying to prove that he is a Mayflower descendant – if you look too closely into this you might find out your family story is wrong.

My comment:

Haha! Yeah. Grandma always talked about a great uncle who’d done the research and traced back to Sir Francis Drake… but, um, I acquired a copy of his research and it was Sir Barnard Drake… CLOSE but no cigar (definitely a sailor, but kin?)! I still have a soft spot for Sir Francis, tho.

I've been involved in family history research for almost as long as I can remember, more -- particularly in the years immediately following the birth of a child -- or less. The aforementioned Grandma Blum was supportive and helpful (oh, I miss her!). I had a subscription to Ancestry.com back in the days of dial-up modems and was equally excited and frustrated when things like census images began to be available for online viewing. Excited because YAY, frustrated because DIAL-UP! OMG, I would finally get a page to load and then zoom in and/or move the page and it was pure AGONY to wait while it reloaded... you had time to go to the bathroom or throw in a load of laundry while you waited!

Now it's easy -- sometimes too easy, I fear. There's a lot of inaccurate information out there with no research or sources to back it up, and people willing to accept it. I know first-hand how important it is to DO THE RESEARCH... follow the trail, don't settle. As I recently remarked to a friend who was exasperated with the repetition of given names in her research:

I have a bunch of Peters. Peter and his son Peter and his son Peter and... there was even, in one family, a son Peter who died at a young age so another son was named Peter and, just in case (?) ANOTHER son was also named Peter! I found them referred to as Peter Jr. and Peter Jr. II on land documents!! Muddying the waters even further, brothers Jr. & Jr. II's wives were SISTERS!!

I'd originally thought that Peter Jr. married Eva, then, after Eva's death, her sister Mary... NOPE. Two brothers, both named Peter, married sisters Eva & Mary.

Later, Peter & Eva's sons -- John, Paul, Jake & Peter (of course) -- married sisters Bena, Tilly, Lillian & Rose. John & Bena were my great grandparents.

Anyway, there's a lot of English and German -- I've always thought more German. I've made Grandma Koenig's Apple Kuchen recipe since I was able to slice apples, and her dumplings, as made by my Aunt Arlene... well, it's been years and I still remember how delicious they were (my mother never made them). Her mother had come from Germany as a young girl and never spoke English. I made sauerkraut and pickles with my dad, and I ate Grandma's sulze with Grandpa Blum (learning that at butchering time, nothing was left to waste!). Grandpa Blum's family arrived in New York from Germany in 1855; Grandma's family from England before the Revolution.

A couple of years ago, for Christmas, Rusty & I each spit in a tube and sent them off to Ancestry DNA.

Here's my snapshot:

Ethnicity

My ethnicity estimate shows:

  • Great Britain - 69%
  • Europe East - 13%
  • Europe West - 5%
  • Italy/Greece - 6%
  • Scandinavia - 2%
  • European Jewish - 2%
  • Finland/Northwest Russia - <1%
  • Caucasus - <1%
  • Middle East - <1%

Rusty's, on the other hand:

  • Ireland - 32%
  • Great Britain - 27%
  • Europe West - 20%
  • Scandinavia - 15%
  • Europe East - 5%
  • Finland/Northwest Russia - <1%

So, I guess, kiss HIM! He's a bit more Irish!! 

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Dear March,

We're over a week in already! I spent the better part of the first week in New Orleans, having a blast with my sister. It's a good thing, too, because -- though there are some lovely things to celebrate this month -- it's mostly going to be about nose-to-the-grindstone work of one sort or another, almost all of it leading to TAXES.

I can tell you that I'm really looking forward to the coming weekend. When my day off is on a Monday instead of the usual Wednesday, it sure is a long ways 'til Saturday!

I am looking forward to Daylight Savings Time -- well, not really, but if we have to play around with the clocks, I like the "springing forward" a lot more than the "falling back."

Book Club is coming up in the middle of the month. We read (I listened to) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Heartbreaking, sad, beautiful, uplifting.

My brother's birthday is on St. Patrick's Day, my 13th blogiversary on the First Day of Spring (YAY!!), and an overdue hair appointment a couple of days later (my hair is getting super long) (and also, I've noticed, a bit more "shimmery") (you might call it "gray"). Heh.

And, March, you're also all about The Quit. I smoked my last cigarette close to midnight on March 17, 2005, then tore up the rest and threw them in the trash. The End.

I can't believe it's been a dozen years! And with numbers like those... well, let's just say that I'm more than happy to be spending that money on DOING things and GOING places these days rather than turning it into ash & trash. (And remind myself of that whenever I might begin to feel a little guilty about so much doing and going on).

And, SPRING!! I know you, March, you are volatile. Here in NE Wisconsin, I've experienced everything from blizzards and ice storms, to 70s and bare-toe days over the years. It's looking pretty chilly in the current forecast, and it sure has been windy and dramatic these past few days, but also very beautiful.

I'll take whatever you've got, March. Let's do this!!

Love, Vicki


Procrastination

I fully admit to being a procrastinator of the highest degree!

I get the important stuff done on time -- rarely early, mind you. Heh. I work best under pressure and definitely with a deadline. Always have.

Right now, I'm knee-deep in a couple of book work-type things that I'd put off -- or maybe worked at a bit, but needed time to develop a process that worked and find my rhythm.

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Then there are things like this. Christmas presents for the kids. I didn't finish them until after Christmas, and I am okay with that because it's such a crazy time for everyone. When they were finally finished? Jun was mindlessly cuddling and fiddling with his bear rug and worked out one of the "safety eyes" in a matter of minutes. Since then? Gin managed to dislodge the other eye. Ugh. I think I've figured out how to secure them better... but it means taking apart both finished bears, making the fix, and finishing them again.

I especially hate doing things again! Those are the things that I am particularly good at procrastinating about... like dusting and vacuuming, too.

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Dear February,

I don't usually look to you for comfort, inspiration, warmth... or sunshine... but, boy, I sure could use all of that and more right now. (Thank you for the sunshine this morning!)

On the bright side, one of the best things you have going is the continuation of this trend:

December 21, 2016:

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January 24, 2017:

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February 2, 2017 (this morning):

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We've gained :22 of daylight in just over a week, and over an hour since winter solstice, a pace that will only be picking up as we move toward spring and summer. Thank god.

Edited to add: My weather app is Weather Underground (available on Google Play here). (I also like the desktop version.)

Another thing to look forward to is this year's Best Picture Festival -- four Best Picture-nominated movies will be shown on the 18th and five on the 25th -- just in time for the Oscars on the 26th. I am growing with a nice group of friends, some new since the last time I attended BPF. I took advantage this week of $5 Tuesday and a willing companion to see Moonlight in advance; it's the last movie in the BPF line-up and I already know that five movies in one day is at least one too many for me, so I'm happy to knock one off the list!

And at the end of the month, I'll be heading to NOLA for the first time ever, to spend a few days there with my sister Ann. She'll be here from Spain, attending a conference, so I'll have some time to relax and explore. I've had some excellent suggestions, so, in addition to a couple of yarn shops, I also have museums and restaurants on my list. And a cemetery.

I seem to be all about bright spots, sunlight, daylight, and a little bit of moonlight! Maybe it won't be so bad after all, February. It sure helps to have some things to look forward to.

Love, Vicki

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Dear January,

Welp, almost nothing about the start of this new year has gone as planned -- people (and pets - not mine) have been sick, plans and schedules have changed -- it's been an exercise in patience, resilience, positive thinking, and going with the flow! I feel as though I haven't even had a chance to sit down and say, HEY, NEW YEAR.

I have managed to accomplish a couple of the "must-do" items on my list to start the year, though, and that feels good.

First, as previously noted, I joined Weight Watchers again and... Hello, REALITY CHECK! This is my 3rd full day and eyes are wide open. I'm also certainly down a few pounds and, best of all, feeling as though I'm taking control again.

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Second, I fired up my brand new INSTANT POT! It was a Christmas gift from Kate & Ali, and I finally had minute to plug it in on New Year's Day. I've used it not once, not twice, not three times... but FOUR already!

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I've made a dozen-and-a-half of the most perfectly cooked and easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs of my life (twice), and 3-minute steel-cut oats (twice). One of the most amazing things is that I've actually made the oats in the MORNING... a WORK morning. I never give myself extra time in the morning to make breakfast, but this hardly even takes any time! Throw some stuff in the pot, push a button, wait a few minutes (brush teeth, wash face while waiting, maybe apply mascara), DONE!

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I shall soon branch out... next on the list is Coconut Chicken Curry. And yogurt. (I will let you know how it goes!)

Anyway, saving me through this turmoil in the first week of the year, is looking ahead to the third... when Rusty & I will be heading to Florida for a long weekend. Taking advantage of low airfare and a little jingle in our pockets -- and a very strong desire to get away (together) -- we booked a couple of flights to Fort Lauderdale and found a cute Airbnb. We'll actually be spending our time in Lake Worth/West Palm Beach and have scoped out a number of fun things to do... if we want. Mainly, it's about relaxing, warm weather, and the beach. I may have just re-joined WW... but I also just bought a new swimming suit! Who goes to FL without a swimming suit? I've never actually been to Florida before, but I'm guessing that's how it's done!

Right now? I'm staring down a 3-day weekend, and that feels good, too; taking some time to regroup and get organized (and take down the Christmas tree). There is much more to do/continue/finish/begin in the next few months!

So, January, bring it... I can handle you.

Love, Vicki

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Christmas Tradition

I have been known to decorate my Christmas tree with only three ornaments:

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That was highly unusual. I don't recall the circumstances, but it's safe to say that no one was available/willing to help me!

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Most years, we're fully loaded and I usually have help.

Just at Kate's left hand in the photo above is a little "band" of ceramic bear ornaments -- each of them bears one of our names and a year -- and that's just the beginning of the ceramic ornaments. My Grandma Blum taught ceramics from her home studio for many years. The first dated ornament I received from her was in 1975, and it is a treasure!

One year in my young adulthood, there was an early Christmas at Grandma & Grandpa Blum's prior to their departure for Florida for the winter. She had decorated a small tree with her ceramic ornaments and we stuffed it -- lights, ornaments, and all -- into the back of my boyfriend's VW Van and voila! "It's Christmas now!"

I know it didn't begin at birth (none of my kids has a "My First Christmas" ornament), but at some point when Katie & Ali were preschoolers -- actually, it was probably when St. Nicholas started to visit our house on the regular -- I began to buy an ornament each year for St. Nick to deliver. The girls each have their own box in which to store them, along with ornaments made for them by Great Grandma and my sister Karen, and the ones they made in school.

I really need to document them better.

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One-Eyed Santa was made by Kate in probably 2nd or 3rd grade. She didn't make him with only one eye, but somewhere along the line one fell off and, well... we love him!!

There's a skater made of pipe cleaners and beads, with small paperclips as the skates. One of his skates has been hanging on by just a bit of fuzz (mostly osmosis, I swear) for years...

These are the types of things we ooh and aah over and laugh about every year!

One of my most favorite tree-trimmings was a year the girls wanted a real tree. It was smaller than our artificial tree, so I decided that it would be decorated with only the ornaments that the girls had in their boxes -- and only by them! I did the lights, but they did all the rest while I sat back with a glass of wine and LISTENED. It was pure heaven -- the chatter, the memories, the laughter, and the tears (of laughter).

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I've had this well-worn/bedraggled ornament since 1st grade, when I won it in a spelling bee. As previously established herein, I was a pretty good speller thanks to the coveted Big.Gold.Stars awarded by Mrs. Kelly on perfect spelling tests. She was one of my favorite teachers, and I love remembering her every Christmas.

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Peanut!! Words cannot express our love for this little... actual peanut. Simple things.

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This one of the very few ornaments I have that were my Grandma Koenig's. It's not very big, and always gets a (secure) front-row seat.

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And this is a cross-stitch ornament that I made for the girls -- he's backed with fabric, sealed, and jointed! I haven't actually made very many for them... hard-pressed to think of any other than this one. Heh.

The tree still hasn't happened this year, but I'm thinking Saturday's the day!

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Hello December

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This is why.

Whenever I think to myself, "Hm, do I really need to put up the big tree?" I think of how much fun this was. And if it was fun last year, it's gonna be even funner this year!! Yes, FUNNER!!

December is hard.

I was looking ahead/steeling myself to the dates later in the month and then was reminded first thing this morning that it's Rusty's dad's birthday -- he'd have been 88.

Kate shared a story about a frustrated, insistent customer who ended up leaving the book store in tears yesterday. I got tears in my eyes right away. Ohhhh, that woman has a story -- there's a reason why she's insistent and on-the-verge, why she needs things RIGHT NOW. Poor things -- the woman and the book store employees, too; they were all a little stunned.

HELLO DECEMBER!

 

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I'm going to knit myself a peace this month. I wrote about Project Peace before, but then the pattern came out and it's one of those long, in-the-round cowls and, well, there's nothing "peaceful" about that to me. So, even though I'd read along everyday, I decided not to knit the cowl -- or perhaps to designate another project as my "peace" knitting.

I said as much to Kym. And she said, "Doofus, you could convert this one to straight needles pretty simply! Just cast on for the width and then knit back and forth until you’ve got a long enough piece. Then just... 3-needle bind-off!"

She didn't really say, "Doofus," but I know she was thinking it. Haha!

Well, of course...

I guess I needed a push. So I did the tiny bit of math, got excited about knitting an i-cord edge as I go -- in a contrasting color because, lo & behold, along with the 500-yard hank of Jill Draper's Esopus, I also bought a contrasting 250 -- like it was meant to be -- and, yeah, so I'm back in.

Peace out.

UPDATE: My mods for the Project Peace Cowl can be found on Ravelry.

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Fried Chicken Meatballs

The Think-Write-Thursday topic for today is "a favorite recipe."

I've made Melissa Joulwan's Fried Chicken Meatballs from her new book Well Fed Weeknights (we love her cookbooks) a couple of times recently! Oh, my, are they ever good -- you could say that they're a new favorite! They taste like chicken nuggets -- but are so much better!! We've enjoyed them in or alongside minestrone soup and spaghetti.

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I made them most recently for my birthday dinner. (I snapped a photo of my cart that day -- the checkout line was a little longer than usual, so I had time to fool around). Along with the meatballs, I also cooked up pasta and topped it with fresh tomato sauce & burrata cheese, and made my favorite chocolate cake, La Bete Noire.

So good.

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I walked in the kitchen door the other night and saw every spice container we own lined up on the kitchen counter. I wish I'd taken a photo of that -- I really meant to! I'd had some difficulty finding chili powder the other day and I guess it was time to do something. Rusty took them all out of the cupboard, I consolidated or tossed and put it all back! Obviously, I'd never really KonMari'd the spice cupboard before! That wasn't really on my list, but I must admit that it's much easier now to find what we're looking for.

Here's the stripped down recipe for the meatballs. Mel's full recipe includes a side of greens, along with some cooking options and tips.

Fried Chicken Meatballs

1-1/2 lbs. ground chicken
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. tapioca starch/flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. rubbed sage
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
pinch dried marjoram
pinch ground cayenne pepper
pinch ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the ground chicken, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl; mix well.

Combine the tapioca starch/flour, salt, paprika, pepper, sage, garlic & onion powders, marjoram, cayenne pepper, and cloves in a small bowl.

Moisten your hands, then measure and roll rounded tablespoons of ground chicken into balls. Roll each ball in the seasoned tapioca starch/flour, then set aside on the baking sheet.

Melt 1 tablespoon oil in a large, nonstick skillet over high heat, 2–3 minutes. Place half of the meatballs in a single layer in the pan; do not crowd. Cook, occasionally turning, until browned on all sides, 4–5 minutes; transfer to the baking sheet. Add more oil (1–2 teaspoons) to the pan and brown the remaining meatballs; transfer to the baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Bon appetit!


Day 3: With the random already!

That gorgeous "nonphotogenic" tree I posted the other day? Practically bare naked today! So I am reveling in the colorful leafy goodness for as long as I'm able, to wit...

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It fairly glows.

Catalpa

Prisma-tized Catalpa leaves.

I had a busy day off yesterday -- good-busy -- beginning with a walk to the credit union, enhanced by TWO visits from Ali & Gin, surprised by a birthday package all the way from NZ, making good progress on some work projects, also making homemade chicken soup, and ending with a World Series win for the Cubs! I was dozing off a bit during that last part...

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The rule is, a package/present that arrives in the mail can be immediately opened! There was a cute arty (in that 3rd-grade-way) card full of love from my girl Maddy, a tea towel with some great "Merino Ram" graphics, and a delicious Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramello bar -- SO GOOD! I sure miss her, but it's an awful lot of fun to follow along on her adventures (a new video up yesterday!).

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Gratuitous granddaughter pics! She was 6 months old yesterday, can you believe it?? She's sitting up on her own (under watchful eye), and almost always has something in her mouth!

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No sign of teeth yet, tho.

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Here's a little #tbt prompted by Carole & Kat's Think-Write-Thursday. The topic for today:

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YOUR FAVORITE TEACHER

Well, that's just about the easiest thing ever! Hands-down, that would be Mrs. Kelly! She was my first grade teacher at Wayne Thomas School in Highland Park, IL. Having attended three different schools with three different teachers during my kindergarten year -- of which I have the vaguest of memories -- I think I was definitely ready for someone like her.

Mrs. Kelly was young and pretty, and so very kind. I was the youngest in my class, and maybe she was extra nice because of that. My mom had all five of us by then; she begged (successfully) to have me admitted early!

I thought of Mrs. Kelly at least daily for years (well into my 20s), whenever I'd have to figure out my left from my right -- it was the chalkboard in the front of her room that I'd summon to memory (and I'd even sometimes turn to "orient" myself to the room), with the big hands tacked up on either side of the board: LEFT / RIGHT!

I absolutely lived for the big gold stars that she put on spelling papers! I've always been a darn good speller... striving to earn those gold stars certainly didn't hurt.

We only lived in Highland Park for year, but I'll never forget Mrs. Kelly. I consider her my first teacher and have always been thankful for the wonderful start she gave me.