Sunday, January 30, 2011

Raising Functioning Adults

I don't have children. I married rather late in my childbearing years, to someone who knew he didn't want children. I was ambivalent about the whole thing (I'm the oldest of five, so already knew quite a bit about the non-romantic aspects of caring for babies). So when it came right down to making the decision I was ok with agreeing to no children (truth be told, I'm probably too selfish anyway).

But I like being an auntie. Some of my older nieces and nephews through marriage I'm not very close to. I probably entered their lives too late to form much of a relationship or, being a "second wife," maybe was never thought of as their real aunt. I don't know - water under the bridge. Some of the interpersonal relationships in my inlaws' family are a bit bewildering to me anyway.

But I treasure the relationship I have with the children of my own siblings. I'm especially close to my California sister (let's call her Annodear), and have been a part of her two boys' lives on a regular basis since they were born. They're seniors in high school now (yes, twins), starting to think about college and leaving the nest.

Our mom always said her goal was to raise self-sufficient adults. She succeeded, too. All of us have had our fits and starts, ups and downs, but we are all, indeed, leading successful lives. Annodear has the same aspiration, and she and her husband are doing an admirable job. Besides overseeing their schoolwork, the quest for a driver's license, assigning their share of the household chores, Annodear has also included some life skills lessons.

When I first went away to college myself, as a teen, it was interesting to see how many freshmen boys were suddenly wearing pink t-shirts and socks - one red shirt in with the whites will do that, and they obviously had never had to deal with doing their own laundry. Annodear's boys have learned about laundry.

Sewing is another one of those life lessons. At the very least, the boys now know how to thread a needle, sew on a button, patch holes in their pants, and hand-sew a seam. Money management, too, is an on-going lesson.

The ability to feed one's self, without resorting to a diet of fast food and vending machine fare, is their latest endeavor. Annodear has a blog, writing even more sporadically than I. But she did just recently write about how a household with two working adults and two teenage boys deal with mealtime chores. I think it's a great plan - read more about it on her blog, here (the above photo is in my kitchen, after Thanksgiving dinner - the first time the boys, raised in a house with an automatic dishwasher, had been faced with a sinkful of dirty dishes. I gave them a quick lesson in washing dishes by hand, and left them to it).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thrift Shop Linen

Whenever I find myself in a thrift shop, I gravitate to the linens section. I have a real weakness for hand-embroidered cotton - pillowcases, tea towels, tablecloths. I'll patiently go through stacks of polyester in hopes of finding something interesting. Sometimes, I get lucky.

This thrift shop find - a strange little x-shaped piece of cotton lawn, beautifully embroidered, its scalloped edges finished with buttonhole stitch - was my key to finding the best way to store fresh greens. It's my turn to post for the Co-op, so I just finished writing more about storing greens over at the Simple Green Frugal blog. For more tips and recipes, here's a cool website about cutting food waste and making the most of the food you buy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First New Life in the Garden

A couple of warm days, after weeks of snow and way-below freezing temps, and the snow has melted. Of course, seasonal temperatures are forecast to return later today, but in the meantime I got the chance to check on the garden.

No sign of the fall-planted garlic or shallots yet. But, looking closely, I find the spinach and arugula have germinated. Broadcast last fall, watered in by the melting snow, there won't be much growth to be seen just yet. But they can take the freezing weather yet to come, and their roots will start reaching down deep. Then, as the days get longer and warmer, they'll have a good foundation to start putting on top growth. I've found sowing in fall the best way to get a good harvest from these two quick-to-bolt greens. And that harvest comes when I really start craving something green and fresh; when I'm getting tired of stored cabbages and roots.

The leeks too, are perking up and starting to fill out. Young plants divided and set out last summer sent up seed stalks. I broke the seed stalks off, and left the plants in place in the fall. Now, with the snow melt, they've started growing again. I'll leave them to bulk up for the next couple of months, harvesting them for fresh use usually in March and earliest April. Dormant season gardening is soooo easy.

I like experimenting with storing food too. Right now we're snacking on fresh chocolate zucchini bread. I made a three-loaf batch yesterday from a monster zucchini stored in the cellar. The skin was a bit tough, so I skimmed that off with the veggie peeler, and scooped out most of the seeds with a spoon. One-third of the zuke we had as a dinner vegetable, sauteed in olive oil with onions and garlic; the rest shredded for the bread recipe. And there's still one more left in the cellar, looking good.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just A Bit Cross-Eyed

During three seasons of the year, I spend most of my evenings outside. There's always something to be done in the garden or the rest of the yard. But in the dead of winter, when it's cold and the dark comes early, I end up in the living room, keeping warm close to the wood stove.

Aries watches tv, and I like to read. But sometimes I'll be kinda listening and/or watching whatever he has on, and then I like having something in my hands to work on. Many years ago, when I was young and could see better :-P I started working on a little counted cross-stitch set of the 12 days of Christmas - early-American versions, as opposed to the more-common English stuff. I'd done two and started on the third (a crazy-inducing black and white Barred Plymouth Rock hen, instead of a French one, whatever that is), when the days started getting longer. So I stashed them away in the closet. And there they sat.

Around Thanksgiving this year, needing something to work on, I dug them back out and have been diligently plugging away on them again. They're a nice little handwork size - fitting within a 5" hoop. I figure I'd better get them finished while I can still focus on that 18-count material - that's 18 teeny x's to the inch (what was I thinking!).

I now realize I can't wear my contact lenses to work on them either. I usually wear mono-vision contacts - using my right eye for reading, my left eye for distance. It's worked great for me for years - my brain just automatically knows which eye to use when. But it means I have no close-up depth perception. I can't thread the needle! Nor easily focus on getting the needle into those teeny tiny holes, especially when I'm filling in a new color in-between areas I've already worked. So I'm wearing my glasses instead. With the lamp shade tilted to get more light. This gettin' older ain't for sissies!

And then, I started on that damn swan-a-swimming, working with white and cream threads on ivory material! It was almost like working in braille. I could feel the raised threads of the x's better than I could see them. That one I finally finished up in the mornings, sitting in front of the east window so I could see what I was doing.

Working on teeny cross-stitches kinda starts messing with my mind after a while, too. I stop seeing parts of x's, and start focusing on the empty diamond spaces in between instead - sort of a negative space kind of thing. Or half an x looks like a natural extension of the one diagonally above it. It takes some concentration to readjust back to seeing where I need to start the opposite-side slashes, in the middle of that diagonal.

Stitching the x's, too, is a bit like working in watercolors, or with a soft-focus filter on a camera. The colors kinda run and blend together. But then, when the x's are all finished, I love how it suddenly all comes into sharp, pulled-together focus with the addition of the outline stitches. And once again, I'm amazed at how just trusting the process, I end up with something looking pretty good.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shopping the Cellar

I was out of carrots in the house, and wanted some for the black-eyed peas this afternoon. Time for a trip down to the cellar. We got about 4" of snow this morning, but I'd shoveled my paths and cleared off the cellar door earlier. So I grabbed my basket and headed outside for my weekly "cellar shopping trip".

Let's see - I'm out of apples too, so pile in a few of them. Aries will like it if I bring up some beer - pilsner or dark? The pilsner is older, it's had more time to mellow, so I guess I'll take a couple bottles of that. Might as well take up one of the zucchinis - they usually only last through January, so it's time to be using them up. And a few tomatoes too - they don't have much taste, but will add a bit of color to sandwiches.

The celery is a new experiment this year - one I think I'll continue. Garden plants dug and potted up last fall, they're continuing to grow slowly in the dark cellar. I think I need some celery for the beans too. Hmmm - don't need any potatoes or beets. They can wait for another time.

But I do need a pickle! The pickle crock is another new experiment - and another success. Every ten days or so, a viscous layer of scum has formed on top of the liquid in the crock, but it's thick and firm enough that I just pinch it and pick it up in one piece to toss. De-scummed, I lift up the plate holding the pickles down and fish out one to take too.

Heading back up, it's almost dark - the chickens have probably gone to roost. So before heading back to the house, I go down to close up the coop for the night. A quick check of the nest boxes reveals two eggs - what a nice surprise! Everyone has pretty much feathered back out after last fall's molt, and a couple are starting to lay again already. What good girls!