Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Santa Claus brought a dollhouse to our two year old daughter last Christmas. She was way too young, of course, but I had explained to Mr. Claus that these items seemed to be getting more and more expensive. It kind of seemed like now or never at the time, and Santa presented a pretty great package deal. We recruited her grandparents and aunts to help with the add-ons, which by the way, are never ending. I figured at the very least it would be something she would enjoy because of all the bright colors and movable pieces. The dollhouse stayed in the great room of our house for about a month, and then all those movable pieces started to get under my skin. They were traveling everywhere. The dollhouse then traveled up to the attic playroom and this helped to contain all the little pieces. I am not the parent who can just plop all the pieces into a box and leave it there for next time- I am the kind of parent who puts each little part back in its place. Anyone who has Playmobil sets around the house will know what I speak of. It is maddening. I humbly salute and envy "box parents". Like all children, if you are paying attention, my daughter's play was becoming more and more complex. She was talking to her dolls and making them talk to each other. Grammy and Grandpa in Florida slipped into the roles of the doll grandparents, and she was identifying herself as the little blond haired girl doll. This is when I brought the dollhouse back downstairs and into my bedroom. We co sleep, even though my daughter has her own room, and the baby is in my room too. So we spend a lot of time there in the mornings and before bed, two perfect times for play. A lot of times I am right down on the floor with her, but at others I like to give her some time to develop her own sense of how she would like to play. This is where the shameless eavesdropping began. I have noticed that she assumes the mommy role when I am not in the bubble of play with her. It is interesting and downright funny to hear how she deals with situations that she dreams up with the dolls. She reenacts events from the last few days and seems to especially enjoy being mommy to her baby brother who always is the infant in the doll set. I think at this point she just can't imagine him ever being the big boy in the dolls. The dolls were making dinner the other night and there was a problem. The garden vegetables needed washing and the kitchen sink does not have a basin. So she put them all in the bathtub. Very smart, I thought to myself. Then she did something interesting...she removed the dining table and just placed the tub in the middle of the four chairs so everyone could eat straight from the tub. Dolls lead an interesting life. It makes me realize that children desperately need a place where there are no rules. If you want to eat dinner out of the tub, so be it. It has also made me realize that I do enough cleaning as it is in our real house, so I have vowed to let the dollhouse just be messy. I may even get a box for all the small parts littering my bedroom floor. It's an important start, because Santa is working on a Playmobil farm for next Christmas.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Tasha Tudor's "receipt" for gingerbread is a near perfect rendition. One of my favorite cold weather treats, I was eager to try Tasha's version. She is about as famous for her holiday gingerbread as she is for the wonderful character cookies she made from the Tree bread version of her recipe. Without further ado, here is the recipe I made this morning based loosely on her version from The Tasha Tudor Cookbook. How my recipe differs is that I nearly double the spices and leave out the raisins. I also use a darker molasses for a deeper color to the bread. My pan was a deeper version that what Tasha calls for so I added 15 minutes to the bake time and watched it closely the last portion of the baking. Lastly, I used nearly all organic ingredients.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (you may microwave for 30 seconds)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
1 cup medium molasses (dark amber in color)
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 9x9x2 inch baking pan liberally with non-stick oil, being especially careful to coat the bottom of the pan. You may wish to dust the bottom with a bit of flour as this recipe may stick due to the longer baking time.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add the egg and the molasses. Sift all the dry ingredients together and add them to the batter mixing well by hand. Add the hot water and hand blend until smooth.
Pour into baking pan and bake for 50 minutes paying close attention to the progress the last 15 minutes. The bread should be well done on the rim of the pan pulling away slightly from the edges. The center will appear nearly done and should rise about 1 to 2 inches. Insert a toothpick if uncertain as to center progress. At this stage of a clean toothpick but the center not quite complete, I baked for another 5 minutes to attain crustiness on the outer edges and thorough baking in the center.
Remove from oven and slide a blunt knife around edges to loosen bread. Turn out on to parchment paper and wrap in warm towel to cool a bit. Eat warm with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top if you wish.
I hope you enjoy it!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
There's nothing like a simple set of directions to a project to make you just throw in the towel before you even begin. I think I have spent years of my life avoiding certain things that I now find really enjoyable because I let the directions scare me into not trying. Certain activities have directions that may as well be written in Greek to me- like cooking, playing music, gardening, and knitting. I'll just muse on knitting here unless you have the next four years free to hear me out. The things is, I have now respectively tackled basic skills in three of the four but those skills didn't happen until I was willing to be brave and get on my own path. When it came to knitting, everyone told me the same few bits of advice. Do not use beautiful chunky or uneven yarns. Do not do more than one stitch on your first project. Do not use the method of left handed knitters- or the style many Europeans use. First of all, those beautiful and irregular yarns are just begging to be used- it's like choosing the Oreo over the Amish version of homemade chocolate cakes with cream filling. So unfair. Then there's the monotony of one stitch and the fact that I wasn't looking to bore myself to death. Lastly, I am left handed. This knitting thing was going to be difficult enough without my trying to turn ambidextrous. So I threw caution to the wind and just wung it. I recently realized I needed a good thick and long winter scarf because my Florida blood was clearly not up to Ohio's last winter freeze. I dutifully had pulled out my project book and found exactly what I was looking for. Only it wasn't. Again, the project called for that basic boring yarn, one stitch, and smallish needles. I thought clearly I would hang myself with the scarf before I even finished it. I parked the project for a few days. Then I happened to be in a yarn department and saw this beautiful green yarn in the same crazy texture I had done my son's hat in. The price is really inexpensive so I decided at this point there was no harm if the scarf didn't turn out. I then laid eyes on a pair of gigantic size 17 needles. That could help excite up the one stitch problem, I thought to myself, and dropped the needles into my purchases. I conceded on the one type of stitch and changed up the other two pieces of the directions. I read them through once more before beginning and then nicely shelved the book back in its place. I am now about a foot into this really pretty scarf and the big needles are making the stitches show the pattern and irregularity of the yarn really well. I have decided also that I will just knit this piece until the yarn runs out. I feel so much more relaxed in this project because there are no rules. No measuring tapes to keep getting out to agonize over how much more I have to go to completion, no stitches to count and make sure that I still have the same number of casts that I began with. There's something very liberating about getting a feel for a project and then making it your own. Now I wouldn't recommend this with everything- things like changing your brake lines in your car could be disastrous. More like it, would be disastrous. But a little leeway with things like knitting and cooking can have some surprisingly wonderful outcomes. I marvel now how knitting ever came to be in the first place. I'm not sure how long it would have taken me if someone just sat me down with a ball of yarn and a few sticks and said, "Here, make a sweater." Maybe one hundred years later I may have made something recognizable, I don't know. What I clearly do now understand, however, is that tearing out stitches ten or so times in the first hat I ever made has given me the insight on the mechanics behind the movements. I can now fix it if I mess it up and do not have to start over a new like I did with the hat. I also inadvertently learned to rib knit on that first project because even then I had changed something up right from the start. I knew after five or so rows that my project didn't look like it was supposed to, but the pattern was recognizable as other types of hats I had seen. Imagine my surprise when I learned that what I had been doing by accident was actually something I could make useful. I am about to embark on the musical thing once again. This has been a stressful endeavor as I have forgot how to read music as an adult. Then again, maybe I'll just learn to play by ear.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home.
Your house is on fire and your children are gone.
All except one, and that's Little Anne.
For she has crept under the warming pan."
Each Fall we are invaded by all manner of flying things. Some delightful and benign like the Ladybird, some pesky like the household fly, and some downright aggravating like wasps. Each afternoon I must tour the house trying in vain to rid us of the pesky and aggravating to no avail. They simply keep coming in day after day. But the Ladybird is welcome, and they come and overwinter inside the house in large numbers. They venture in from the south side of the house and find a cozy spot sunbathing on the window panes, or nestle in the folds of the linen curtains. Part of the genus Coccinella, Ladybirds come in all shades of yellow, orange, and red. There are almost as many polka dot combinations as there are Ladybirds in our house. Some 450 different species exist here in North America alone and they are one of the superheros of the insect world. Eating all types of aphids, scale insects, mealy bugs, and mites they are a definite good source of luck in the garden. Their bright colors are part of a phenomenon called aposematism wherein predators are reluctant to eat them because of prior association with color pattern and dangerous toxins. While I don't think this phenomenon was made part of their DNA makeup to ward off felines, the cats in our house leave them alone. When Spring arrives and the Ladybirds venture forth outdoors and into the gardens I miss stumbling upon their bright shells. When beloved artist Charley Harper passed away last summer, we added one of his wonderful Ladybird pictures to our collection of Harper prints that line our stairwell leading to the upper floors. So when I miss the Ladybirds I look at Charley's picture- and when I see the Ladybirds, I think of Charley. Both add immeasurable color and joy to our world.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
On September 15 the power went out.
And stayed out.
The children and I had been in Columbus for the third annual Country Living Fair and Sunday was predicted to get nasty weather wise. We enjoyed two blissful days of artisans and smiling faces and made it home late Saturday afternoon. By Sunday afternoon the winds had really begun to gather momentum. When I saw the tall Locusts out front begin to look more horizontal than vertical, the kids and I retreated to the basement. My husband was trying desperately to finish up an entry way in an old home in Indian Hill that was being photographed for a holiday issue of a large retailer. He arrived home as the power went out. We're used to power outages here as they happen all the time. Car accidents on these lonely roads are usually to blame, and storms do their fair share. But when we emerged from our hermit hole we knew this time was going to be different. Our beautiful Bradford Pear tree was split in two and had just missed the house. I had just reminisced the day before how I couldn't wait to see that tree in flower again next year. It had been a breathtaking sight. I was grateful we still had one other that had been left intact. The Locusts in front had weathered pretty well, a testament to their flexibility. Only two had snapped in half. The greatest damage had been to our vehicle when walnut fruits were flying through the air at an estimated 70 miles per hour. My guess is that next spring walnut trees will venture forth where no walnut has gone before. We were beginning to hear estimates that the power would be out until at least Thursday or Friday which was five days away. I dutifully grumbled but on the inside I was blissful. No television, computer, or phone ringing. I envisioned candlelit nights telling stories to the children, cooking meals over the open fire in the fireplace, and bathing outdoors in the sunlight. That is exactly what happened over the next five days and it was wonderful. Venturing out to the store was interesting as I noticed we were one of the only families not upset by this lack of electricity. My husband jokingly said one afternoon, "Should we just call up the electric company and tell them to take a hike?" I laughed and secretly wished we could do just that. All of a sudden my days were longer. I was no longer running around trying to fit 28 hours worth of work into a 24 hour day. I was genuinely sad when the power kicked back on Thursday afternoon. I also realized without a doubt that this week would go down as one of the best of the summer of 2008 in our family memories. The power has gone out twice since then and each time a thrill goes through me. Then it returns all too quickly. Maybe I will make that call to the electric company...
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
It was my first visit to Ohio to meet my husband's family. It was a few years before we were married and it was a bitter cold December day. Having lived in Florida for five years I was up for anything involving cold. While he had something to attend to, I bundled up and set off across the fields towards the lane. All along the west side of the lane are trees, shrubbery at first but this soon gives way to dense wooded ravine. The view down the mile long dirt and gravel lane is thus somewhat concealed until you reach a point half way down. At the point half way down and looking East the view is of three large lakes scattered about the setting. Everything is much more visible in winter when the leaves have fallen to the ground. A small creek begins at this midpoint running from the East to West, travels under the lane, and spills into Hall's Creek some miles away. Coming up the small hill from the wooded ravine revealed yet another lake to my west side and a huge old barn directly ahead. From this vantage point, the road appeared to run straight through the huge barn doors and out the back. Two more lanes branched out from this main road, the one to the East towards a smaller barn and the one to the West to a pretty home way off in the distance. As I neared the big old barn I could see just part of a weathered structure off to the West but it was clouded in a sea of evergreens. To the northeast of that was a large group of tall willowy Locust trees. I pondered the grouping of evergreens and realized that what I was seeing were years and years of Christmas trees that had been planted out. Their varying heights and species gave little doubt. As soon as I passed the greenery, the house came into view. It sat just opposite the barn across the lane which I could now see jogged around the barn and continued North. Yet another lane jetted back out to the East. I didn't get that far on this walk because the house had my full attention. A three story saltbox with eight over eight windows and the silvery hue of wood only time can create sat nestled in a grove of trees. From the main road, there was no way that you would ever know it even existed. It looked well cared for but had that mysterious aura about it that said that it was unoccupied much of the time. From this moment forward I began a love affair with the saltbox. The setting of this one was incredible as vast views stretched from both the front and rear of the structure. Never in a million years would I have believed that day that in eight years time this setting is the place I would call home. I will never forget the first visit back to the property in November 2005 right after we had signed all the papers. My husband and I were driving away from the house to the airport so that we could return to Florida as we were not yet able to move back to the Midwest. My heart was heavy and I didn't want to leave the place. I had learned that his Grandpa Ray's first house had stood right to the north of our house and that my father-in-law had been born there. At that time the farm was one hundred acres and not much else except the old farmhouse and barn stood on the land. Our eleven acres now comprised a long tract, five to the East of the lane and six to the West. Our land was surrounded by forest on all sides. From the air, our eleven acres looked almost like a landing strip with clear views into the tall grasses. My husband was saying something about carving a sign for the end of the lane. I had noticed that people in these parts had a habit of naming their land. "What would you want to call it?" I asked him. He turned to me and simply said, "What it's always been called- Hawk's Run." My surprised look prodded him to explain. Grandpa Ray had named this land decades ago and the name had stayed with it. Our tract having been the site of the original house meant that the name was designated for our parcel. A warm feeling came over me and I wondered at the chosen name. Were there nesting hawks here? There was certainly enough forest and water to support them. The layout of our land also gave the hawks a superb hunting range. My visit back in the summer of the following year did not disappoint. I heard the call from the open kitchen window and my husband ran for the camera. The hawk sat less than twenty feet from the house in a low branch. He was majestic and he was not alone. On any given day if one takes the time to gaze upward into the air currents the hawks are there circling the fields looking for their next meal. Those days when you feel like you are being watched, you most likely are. The hawk's eyes are piercing and they watch us just like we watch them. This is their home. This is where Hawks Run.