Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!!

I just wanted to drop a quick note I jet out to do some last minute things.  I wish you all a warm & safe holiday, hopefully spent with loved ones.  I'm almost ready to call everything "done".  Christmas really isn't about tons of "perfect" gifts.  It's about so many other things, but sometimes we seem to forget & get caught up in the frenzy.  I'm planning on just letting go & give all the love I can to friends & family.

I'll be giving a little blog love after the holidays.  I'm going to post a tutorial on how I made a few etched copper pieces & I think a small giveaway.  I'm not sure what I'll be giving away, so I'll ponder it & try to come up with something that someone may like.

Until then, enjoy your friends & family.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Once upon a time........

This year I decided to "do" a handmade Christmas.  Money is very tight so I knew I had to make do with the things that I already had, so no budget busting trips to the craft store.  Luckily, I'm a bit of a pack rat who used to enjoy lots of different crafting so I dug into my craft trunk & had a look around.  

Oh boy!!!  It had been so long since I'd looked inside the old trunk that it was like shopping because I'd forgotten why I bought all of that "stuff".  (I'm still not sure what I was planning on doing with a gazillion wooden balls.)  My recent free art class with Tam, aka Willowing, opened my eyes to mixed media & I really had a lot of media to mix.

I've knitted a few fingerless gloves using some yarn that I already had or that Grandma gifted me while I was home for Thanksgiving.  I also knitted a hat for an ex-neighbor as a "Thank You" for everything he did while he was living next door.  I'm a new knitter, so nothing complicated.

Aaaanyway............  Grandmas are always so difficult when it comes to gift giving.  Mine doesn't need anything & if she does, she goes out & buys it.  I didn't want to revert back to jewelry (though I did with Mom) so I had to come up with something different.  I decided to make a collage for her to hang on her wall.  I wasn't sure about the direction I was going to approach the collage, but as it turned out, it pretty much made itself.

When I was home for Thanksgiving I collected a few old photos & a few letters that Granddaddy had written to Grandma while he was in the Navy.  I scanned the photos & tried to fix them, but soon gave up because I'm no whiz with photo editing.  

I came up with the title, then started telling the story. 

I included pics of my Uncle Eddie, Mom, on the bottom left is Mom holding me when I was 3 days old  (look at that head of hair) & me on the bottom right.  

I used a stretched canvas & matte medium to adhere copies of his letters to the background.  I smeared white paint on top of the letters to obscure them a little & push them into the background a little more.  

I wanted to include parts of each of their lives, while they were apart & while they were married.  

Granddaddy was drafted into the Navy while he & Grandma were dating & spent his time aboard the USS Brinkley Bass.  I found an old photo of the ship & included it here, below a picture of Granddaddy.  A friend gave me a box of old jewelry so I snipped the back off of an earring & glued it above the "Hope" ticket that I distressed.

This is my Mom's brother who died when he was 22.  He was very much "snips & snails" kinda little boy so I had to include part of the quote.
  My Granddaddy owned & ran a general store  so I included the name of his store along with a few buttons as a little nod to Grandma's abilities as a seamstress.  

The flowers were pretty & added more dimension to the piece, but Grandma also used to have beautiful flower gardens.  She always had fresh flowers in her house & supplied flowers for her Eastern Star chapter & sometimes the church.

 Mom was a little lady so "sugar & spice" was very appropriate for her as well.

I glued an old keyhole cover that I had with the intent of gluing a key on Granddaddy's side, but didn't have a pretty key.  I wanted to convey the "key to her heart" thing, but couldn't quite pull it off.  I still like it, though.

I made the "Family" embellishment by using rubber stamps to stamp into Sculpey, then distressing.

The piece still felt disjointed so I added the pearls to pull everything together, but there still seemed to be an empty space at the bottom.
Granddaddy & Grandma used to go dancing almost every week, so I made up a dance card with some of Granddaddy's favorite songs & forged his name to all of the dances.  I distressed it, glued it down & I love it.  

Hanging it put me in a quandary, until I looked through a bag of hardware that I'd kept when I remodeled my house.  I found the painted "thing" that was used to wrap the string from the blinds to keep them up & thought it was perfect.  It was already painted & shabby & it resembles a cleat used to secure boats, etc so I screwed it into the top.  I'm going to look for some old chain to hook around the "cleat".

I didn't have boxes to wrap the knitted items so I made these.  I got this great idea from Mystelle at Little Glimpses.  Mystelle & Tam at Willowing have been so inspirational to me I can't stand it.  It seems like they've opened a door such that I can't keep up with all of the ideas & things I want to do.

For these little gift pouches I used grocery bags, pages ripped out of a phone book, fabric & paper.  I used a glue stick to quickly stick the items down to the bags, then struggled with my sewing machine to free stitch everything down, then I sewed up the sides.  The bottom left is just a grocery bag wrapped around the item & tied up with butchers twine.  He's a no nonsense kinda guy, so no frills for him.

If you've made it this far, you're a trooper & thanks for hanging in with me.  I'm currently working on an owl collage & a pair of copper etched earrings for Mom so will post pics when I get them completed.  

I'm also going to post a tutorial for copper etching.... keep an eye out for that.  

I hope you all are able to gear down & enjoy the the holiday season.  I know that everything seems to be rushed as the days tick away, but just slow down, take a breath & look around.

I know we all want to find that "perfect" gift for those special people, but don't forget to take the time to enjoy those special people.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow & Sleet & Freezing Rain...Oh My!!

We've had an unusually cold "fall" this year.  We had a tiny bit of snow a couple of weeks ago & had a little more this morning, but our winter wonderland was quickly replaced by our more typical sleet & freezing rain.  Even though our previously confection-topped landscape now more closely resembles mud pie, I was able to capture some of the beauty still quiveringly clinging onto whatever it can.

Nature's tinsels dripping from a cedar tree.

Dogwood buds encapsulated in their frozen shell.

   Hopefully, the ice will soon succumb to the warming temps & no power lines will assaulted.  
No power + cold weather = no fun

I hope you're all safe & warm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ode to My Willow Oak

We've had good times & we've had bad.  I remember how you stole my heart when I first saw you.  You stood tall & sheltered everything beneath your wide, strong boughs.  As the days & years have past, you've gotten weaker, but remained a haven for all who needed refuge.  Today we said goodbye for the last time.  I watched as your diseased limbs were removed & taken away.  

I mourned for the homes that were lost as I saw the last of you leave. 

You'll soon nourish the ones that come after you, so you will continue to live.

A little too sentimental over a tree that had to be removed?  Probably, but I've been working on a collage for my Grandma using old photos & letters that my Granddaddy wrote to her while he was in the Navy so I'm feeling a bit tender & weepy.  My Granddaddy's been gone for over a decade, but I still miss him so.  He was the best man I've ever known & like the majestic oak, he was always our shelter from the storm.  I'm so gad that he & Grandma picked each other so that I could have both of them.  They also gave me my Mom, who is the shining light at the end of the tunnel when I feel so lost & alone.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hey Bunny!!

My yard bunny.
I have a real one that doesn't like so much that I've been cutting trees & clearing the underbrush.

One drawback of not having a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner is not having all of the yummy leftovers for sammiches & pot pies & all of those other wonderful things that can be made from the myriad of dishes usually gracing a holiday table.  Friday night I decided to make dinner for Mom & Grandma, if Gran was willing to try something new.  I was surprised when she accepted the invitation for a couple of reasons.  Grandma, like most, I assume, feels that she has made it this far in life without trying Indian food so why try it now & it was Friday night...her dancing night.  She still hasn't made it back to the dance floor since her misstep while doing the Electric Slide which left her with a broken hip (now hip replacement) & a broken shoulder, but she still goes to "tap her toe & drink Coke-Cola".

I decided to make Butter Chicken, naan bread & rice.  Butter Chicken is a really good Indian dish that's not too spicy, not too curry-y, but a nice little mix of spices that mingle together to make a sauce that's just complex enough to be pleasing on the palette.  It's barely enough heat to bring a little warmth to your tongue without having to reach for something to ease the tingle.

I first made the naan bread & while that was resting I marinaded the chicken.

Mom doesn't have a tandoor oven (who does?) so I cooked them on top of the stove on a screaming hot griddle.  There was some smokeage going on...enough that it brought Mom to the kitchen to open windows & doors (sorry Mom)..tee hee.  Anyway, it worked pretty well, I just should have made sure that that the griddle was well scrubbed & well seasoned before using because it was a new cast iron griddle that hadn't been "broken in" yet.  Well Honies, I broke it in alright.  

The naan bread was just plain, no garlic, but I think they turned out well.

I only have this picture of the Butter Chicken cooking in the skillet.  When I make it again I'll take more photos as I go along.

I served it with plain rice, but would have been better with basmati rice & maybe a little dal on the side, but wanted to ease Grandma into the whole Indian experience.  I was pleasantly surprised that Grandma loved the dish.  Grandma is a good sport with trying most of the things that I make, but is pretty transparent when it comes to somethings that doesn't she like.  If it's something she'd rather not have again, her feedback typically starts with "Weeeeellllll........"  spoken in her soft accent.  Only a true Southerner can drawl a one syllable word  into one which lingers on the lips long after the first consonant dissipates.  I knew it was a hit when she told me how much she liked it as I walked her out to her car.

It was the first time I'd made Butter Chicken, but will be making it again.  I'll take more piccies during the process & post the recipe the next least I'll try.  I'm not great with recipes because I really don't measure anything, but if you'd like, I'll try to be a good girl & measure everything so you can try it too.

Y'all stay warm & cozy.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boy howdy, that's a lot of bugs!!!!

I returned home a few days ago from a wonderful little respite from the mean streets of the Dirty D.  I went back home & spend lots of time with Mom & Grandma.  I came back feeling more balanced & more loved than I did when I left & also with the habit of waving to everyone I meet while driving around.  In the country, everyone waves because everyone knows everyone else.  If they don't "know" you, they know you must be Miss Venell's granddaughter because she was coming into "town" from Durham for Thanksgiving.  As much as I love Durham, I do love my original home place.  I wish I could somehow move them closer to each other, yet keep them separate...make sense?

I spent a lot of time with my Grandma talking about old times & her "holding" my hand while I tried knitting with circular needles for the first time.  Even though she's a leftie, she was a huge help & laughed at me when I asked her how to get the stitch marker out of the knitted piece.  Hey,  I know I can't be the only one who didn't grasp the concept of a stitch marker.  Anyway, she stitched up a seamed 1030's hat that I made & inspected another cap that I'd made for my neighbor.

We had Thanksgiving at Mom's house as Grandma's house was waaay too far to travel (about 150 yards).  We usually have our holiday dinners at Mom's because it's easier for Grandma & for us, I think.  Grandma always brings several dishes ...especially dessert.  We rarely have traditional turkey.  This year we had "backbone", but it wasn't really backbone, Mom used riblets because backbone wasn't readily available at the grocery she was in, but salted them as if they were backbones & they were yummy.

I guess I should maybe explain.  I'm from Eastern NC where a lot of the food cooked is the same as it was 50 years ago......typical "soul" food.  Pork backbone is, quite literally, the backbone of a piggie.  As you can guess, it's mostly bones, but because the backbone is right above the loin, the meat that is there, is very tender.  Mom salted down the riblets...I don't mean salted them, I mean salted them down.  Lots of salt (non iodized, please) on each side of the meat & stack the meat in layers in a glass or plastic container.  Don't be prissy with the salt.  I asked Mom how much salt she used & she said that she didn't use the whole box of salt.  That's how much salt needs to be lavished onto the unsuspecting piggie.  The container sits (covered) in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  The meat turns a little gray, but that means that it's started to "cure"  After a couple of days, (in this case, the night before Thanksgiving), rinse off the salt & soak the meat in a container of water, changing the water several times to leech out the salt that you spent days getting into the meat.  

The meat is then, simply boiled in a pot of water on top of the stove. 

Potatoes & cornmeal dumplings can be added, but Grandma had made the collards & cooked the taters & dumplins for us.  Of course, no Southern table is complete without a bottle of pepper vinegar.
Sorry I don't have pictures of the other Southern staples, collards, taters, cornmeal dumplins & baked sweet potatoes.

Here's Mom's mac & cheese:

Crunchy, crunchy on top, but creamy & cheesy under the surface.  Not the typical mac & cheese, but my favorite.  Just a few ingredients & I think it's actually less bad for you than others...maybe not.

Potato salad that Mom had in the fridge:

Holla to the sweet potatoes in the back.  Yes, they're just baked in the oven & served on the table in their skins.

Grandma's cake...oh yeah.  She usually makes chocolate meringue pie, but I forgave her this time.

When I was driving back on Saturday I ran into a huge herd....pack(?)  maybe swarm, of bugs in Wake Forest.  What in the world????  Further down the road, the bugs turned onto snow.  By the time I arrived in Durham, the lawns & roadside were heavily dusted with this rare confection.  I can't remember the last time we've had snow this early because for us to even get snow is a bit crazy.  It would have been less of an anomaly had it been a giant swarm of bugs.  If you've been to North Carolina in the summer, you'll know what I mean.

I hope you all had a great week.  Now, back to gift making.  Times are hard, so I'm making a lot of my gifts this year....I guess I should get to it, but I have a few jewelry orders that I need to get wrapped up.  I have most of the designs sketched out, which is something that can sometimes take me a while.  I'll post my things as I get them completed, plus I have little sneaks of my home to show you.