Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Holiday Fair with a Flare of Hail

Yesterday my daughter-in-law and I went to the Christmas Bazaar, an annual tradition for us.  Three hours of wandering, greeting people, looking at handicrafts.  My daughter-in-law and grandgirl kept moving through the booths twice as fast as me, so I would attach myself to another family and ask if I could adopt them, since my own left me.  They all agreed :)

This bazaar takes up two buildings at the Expo Center.  It used to have only handmade crafts and goods for sale in the larger-first building and then commercial and larger things in the smaller second.  But over the past couple years, we have noticed a major change.  This year there was probably more commercial vendors than handcraft artists and they and they were blended in with one another throughout the building.  It did make it more difficult to find and focus on the small verdors.  And although I did find a few unique items for my nephews and nieces, not nearly as many as in previous years.  I think this is because the cost of materials that has hurt the price of the item.  The artist needs to ask for more for each item in order to make a profit on the item.   I would pick up something gorgeous and put it down; couldn't pay the price no matter how deserving of that cost.

So today we decided to go to a Holiday Market in Vancouver, WA (right across the river from me) that had only handcrafted items.  It was very small and there were so many beautiful things, but nothing we wanted to take home.  And the prices!  Oye!  :)

As we stepped out of the hotel where it was housed, we were greeted with a hail storm!  It wasn't that cold (neither of us had on a coat), but by the time I arrived to my car, I looked like I had styrofoam all over my hair :)

One more recipe for delightful pumpkin!  This is a Weight Watchers recipe that is awesome and only 3 power plus value points each (I don't remember where I found it):
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes (3 points plus value)
servings: 12  Prep time: 10 minutes  Cook time: (they say 30 minutes but I say 50)

1 C graham cracker crumbs
3 tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 C canned pumpkin
1 C Weight Watcher Whipped Cream Cheese Spread
1/4 C brown sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

preheat oven 325.  Place cupcake holders in muffin tins.  Melt butter.  Combine the crackers and salt with the melted butter.  Evenly put the crumbs into the cupcake holders and lightly press own with finger tips.  Bake for 5 minutes or until brown.

Mix together the pumpkin, cream cheese, brown sugar, egg whites, and spices until smooth.  Spoon the mixture evenly into the cupcake holders.  Bake for another 45 minutes or so (they said to back for 25 minutes but we found the middle soft like pudding rather than firm like cheesecake, so I kept adding in increments of 10 minutes and using a knife to test the middles until they were firm and yet light).

Let cool and serve at room temp or chill and serve cold.  Yummy!
Enjoy the day and smile unexpectedly at people out there in the world!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Treats

Thanksgiving was a wonderful day at our house, with smells and voices and laughter and SURPRISE! no fighting :)  I planned to eat lightly, but well.  I don't care about potatoes, so I could skip those but give me stuffing!  And I can live without butter but give me a roll!  It was a good day, with lots of fresh fruits, veggies, and trivia questions.

I love pumpkin pie.  I love all things pumpkin :)  I tried two new recipes for pumpkin from Weight Watchers.  I will post the recipe for the one I call Pumpkin Pudding.  Simple and delish.

Pumpkin Pudding

1 box of sugar free/fat free Butterscotch pudding
1 Cup fat-free milk
1 15oz can pumpkin
use spices as listed on the can

Mix all together and refrigerate.  Makes four large servings a 2 points plus value each.  It gives me the pleasure of pumpkin pie without the points.  And is filling.  Life is good :)
While I was cooking yesterday, I was focused on chopping and chopping and chopping  I caught a sound or a movement and I happened to look down at my feet.  What did I see?  Zoë steadily staring up at me, hoping hoping hoping!

Drop it!  Drop it!  Drop it!
I hope your Thanksgiving was as delightful as was mine.

She Asked Nothing for Herself

It is getting closer to the Giving Season.  How can I tell (besides the decorations already up in the malls)?  Like many of you, I have started receiving pleas for help from different agencies.  These pleas come in many different forms: pleas for money donations, pleas for time donations, pleas for the donations of foods, toys, clothing.  Some agencies send you things in their plea letters, things like cards or address labels or stickers.  They tell you these are free gifts, but they know that most people feel guilty using these things without sending in some money donation.  It’s rather a cost-effective process.

My college also has programs for needy students and their families.  They gather food for Thanksgiving baskets as well as toys and gifts for Christmas and Hanukkah.  Frequently there is a tree on each campus where an ornament on the tree is actually a request for a specific toy or CD or movie, or “something appropriate for a boy, 10.”  In 1999 they started doing something different. Their program since then is to adopt a family for Christmas--taking on the expense of a family for the holidays. 

The first year when I received an email about this program, I looked down the list of families.  All were single mothers; all had one or more children.  The children asked for one or two gifts -- those children over age 13 usually asked for gift certificates for music.  Younger children asked for specific toys.  The mothers often asked for perfume or lotion sets, or something practical like bath mat sets.  I scanned down the list, thinking what I’d like to do.  These families all moved me in some way.  Then I saw Family #5:
Mother: asked nothing for herself
Daughter, aged 13: asked for a gift certificate for music.

I looked at this mother again.  Asked for nothing for herself.  A sob escaped my lips.  I covered my mouth and looked again, and as much as I wanted to remain quiet within my almost silent shared office, another sob escaped my lips followed by another and another. 

Asked nothing for herself.

It was Christmas 1981.  My sons were 9 and 11.  I took a seasonal job at UPS so I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to return at 6 p.m. and immediately going to the store across the street in order to work until midnight.  On weekends I would work for my friend who is a quadriplegic all morning and then return home to do bookkeeping at the store.  I would then return to the store two hours later to work a 9 hour shift behind the counter.  The extra money I earned at UPS would help pay for heating for the winter.

You need to picture this house.  For $135 a month, it was a small two-bedroom house.  Ten years earlier, before we moved in, a car had parked too close to the house and had slid under it.  The landlord had covered the gaping hole with plywood, but never repaired the “basement area.”  So when the east winds blew, air would come up through the floorboards.  I had no carpeting to mellow out this cold breeze.  While I tried to tape the windows during the winter, the air would filter through the plastic “storm windows” I had created.  Many a time I would blanket off most the house so I only had to heat the front room, but with the winds blowing through the floor, it was difficult.  So, even though I did all I could to help, as well as keep the temperature at 64f degrees, our heating bills were huge all winter.

Christmas was approaching and I had no extra money for gifts for my kids.  I told no one of this situation, but continued to work as many jobs as possible, hoping I could take a little out of the heating money to buy them something.  One day I received a letter from one of my professors asking if he could build a bike for my sons.  I had mentioned that the bike I had given them the year before had been stolen; he said he had many bike parts around in his garage.  He also asked what he and his wife could give to me. 

I immediately replied how much I would love for my sons to have a “new” bike and thanked him for his thoughts for me, but I needed nothing.  I sealed the letter and went on about my life, happy that my sons would have a special gift.

On Christmas eve, he and his wife arrived with this incredible multi-colored, multi-parted 10-speed bike for my sons.  They had tied a ribbon around the handle bars and weaved more ribbon through the spokes.  I invited them in for hot chocolate and when they came fully into the house, I then saw a bag of wrapped gifts.  For me.  For my sons.  It was a very bright Christmas.

How many times do we as parents want the best for our kids.  We don’t want them to miss out on the important as well as the trivial things that make each of our lives a little bit nicer, easier.  But to do this we often must deny ourselves important things.  I went for years wearing the same underwear, sometimes pins holding them up, because I could only afford to buy clothes for my growing sons.  They needed shoes.  They needed underwear.  They needed school supplies.  How many times do we say, “No, don’t think about me.  Just make my children’s lives a little bit brighter, please.”

She asked nothing for herself. 

I adopted this mother.  Doug and I showered her and her daughter with love and things she can't afford for herself.  I wanted to make this the best Christmas ever.  I wanted to reward her somehow for her love for her child, for her unselfish care for her child.  I want to give her something to make her own life a bit brighter for herself.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Switching Things Around

I want a long-arm quilting machine.  I am looking at a Pfaff 18" neck, the frame set up to work a king-sized quilt.  Since the majority of my own quilts are smaller (lap sized and twin, as well as crib-sized), I would be still working mostly those.  But I want it to be able to go as big as it can. 

I also want to be able to use it, which means a dedicated space large enough to house this machine and frame.  The basement could be converted but then I'd have to be in the basement with little natural light.  I like lots of natural light.  Lots.  So what's left?  The garage!  But wait...Doug needs places to put his stuff.  Our garage is split into two, with a short wall between the spaces.  My side of the garage is 20' x 10'.  And that is the space I want to convert into my quilting area.  My sewing area will remain in the main house because there is no room for both in 20'x10'.

Before my mother had a stroke June 1, I had a designer/contractor come to give me an estimate for converting this space.  The plan was to convert the space and it would be finished about the time the quilting machines would be on "their best sale of the year" the end of July.  Unfortunately I wasn't home for two months and Doug and I never talked about the cost, where the money would come from, and where the stuff he is storing on my side would go.  So when the designer called me in California, I had to tell him to put it on hold.

Zoë with her new friend Bear on the new bed in the new guest room
Now move along this month.  Doug has a music space in the basement.  I asked him if he wanted to take over the guest room as a music room and we make the computer room into the guest room. He jumped at this offer. His computer went into the music room and my big computer went into the guest room.  I don't spend much time on the big computer, so it seems to fit. We made the switch, in part, the last time I was south with my mom and then when I returned.  We bought a new bed for the guest room.  And we are off.

Oh and the garage...we agreed to check into how to finance the remodel (straight loan with equity or revolving account with equity) and then give the okay.  Convert the space first and then wait for a good sale for the long arm set.

And life is good.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vacation Plans

When my son returned to his job after he completed his month-long stay in the hospital for chemotherapy treatments, some of the staff were sitting in the staff room, talking about vacations.  He said he really wished he could take a nice long vacation.  One of the women under his supervision said, "You mean after taking off over a month!?"  He looked at her and said, "You mean the month I was in hospital getting treatment for cancer?"  She was shocked.  He said he regretted his comeback. He had chosen not to tell anyone about his cancer; he didn't want to be "that guy" that is looked at differently because he had cancer.  She had not known.  But it does say something about how we view vacations.  As a full-time working single parent, going to college full-time, a week off from school was a vacation.  Or taking off an evening from my job to attend my son's music recital was a vacation.

Recently I took Doug to downtown Portland for the weekend to celebrate his birthday.  What fun!  A very nice historic hotel.  An afternoon tour and tea at the Lan Su Chinese Gardens--a city block of peace and beauty in downtown Portland.  Dinner at a kinda fancy restaurant in a beautiful historic building. We were going to head out with a stop at Saturday Market (on Sunday), but decided to come home.  It was a glorious vacation!

Lately some people think I have been on many vacations as I travel down to visit my mother.  You say "vacation," I say "longdamndriveandthensleepinsomeoneelsesbedwithoutmyfella."  Potatō/potahtō  

I'm joining Pig next trip...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Travels With Zoë

I love to drive.  I love the freedom of the open road.  I love the people I can chat with as I stop to take a short break.  I love the changing scenery, the changing colors, the hum of the tires.  Every time I get into the car, I know there are adventures out there, just waiting for me to find.

I am so tired of driving.  Sounds crazy but I have been driving up and down the I-5 corridor every three weeks since August.  I live in northwest Oregon; my mother lives 30 miles east of Los Angeles.  And I have been trying to visit her often since she had a stroke June 1. I spent the first couple months down with her, but needed to come home to revisit my husband.  Family is like that, right?

Just another rest stop
So I have been driving down south, staying a week, and driving north again.  My pup, Zoë, goes with me.  Understand, Zoë really hates the car.  She hates riding, hates my music, and hates the idea of travel.  She gets carsick, poor thang.  So I have to give her Dramanine.  It stops the carsickness, but she does sit in her car pouch, glaring at me for the next 1000 miles.  We do have it down, though.  Rest stop: I get out and remind her I will be back.  I open the moonroof and lock up the car as I hurry to the restroom.  I usually have to hurry because I have put off stopping for a bit too long.  Then I return and Zoë is already ready to gt out, her little paws on the sides of the carpouch.  I buckle her into the leash and we take off.  She sniffs and wanders and visit with others and then pees, returns to the car and we are off!

This last trip south, I realized I was just tired of the whole thing.  I was tired that my mom had a stroke and is bedridden, her level of dementia increasing daily.  I am tired of being away from my fella for week or so at a time, sleeping on my sister's guest bed, trying to live a normal life for the duration.  I am tired of the same nothing landscape on the drive.  I am tired of California politics, voting commercials and, oh hell.  Just tired.  So I decided to pay new attention to the drive and revitalize the trip.

First thing I noticed was this crazy fog just north of Eugene, Oregon.  It was ground cover, but high ground cover.  I had noticed it on my last drive home, but thought it was smoke.  And here it was again.

As usual, Mt. Shasta was stunning.  It can sit right on the freeway, in your face.  My favorite rest stop if at Weed.  Don't know why it is my favorite, but it is.  Perhaps it is the green grass, the nice sidewalks, and a backdrop of Mt. Shasta. 

I love mountains almost as much as I love the ocean and lakes, but not quite.  Actually I love everything bits of nature that helps me see that my little problems are no match for the majesty of nature.

Near Colinga turn-off, there is a large area of hills that have this huge huge really huge fence.  It makes no sense to be there.  Was it a prison?  The fence didn't look like a stronghold.  Was it someone's property that they wanted others to stay out?  It really was out in the middle of nowhere, so that didn't make sense.  Zoë and I talked about this fenced area many times over a bottle of water and came up with nothing. 

The last time I drove, I had cell reception and called Doug to ask him.   He looked it up.  Nothing as sinister or heavy as I thought.  It is a paper recycle center and the fence is to keep the papers from flying out onto the freeway.

Driving home, I always stop by Aunt Ruth's in Bakersfield for a little visit.  Here she is with Zoë.  Aunt Ruth is my dad's twin sister; she is 94.  Zoë likes to stop there because she can get out of the car, wander in the backyard, and maybe Aunt Ruth will have a treat to sneak her.

Leaving Bakersfield heading up to I-5, I always pass orange groves.  They reminded me of the time my sister and I had been lost in the orange grove behind Uncle Lloyd's house in Redlands, California.  Now, we were told to not to wander into the grove, but did we listen?  I must have been maybe four or five years old.  Uncle Lloyd's house was so cool.  Classic Redland's bungalow with stone walls and a big porch.  They had a grand piano in their living room.  So cool.  I would slip under the piano and pretend to be asleep so I could hear the grownup chatter.  we were found, but it was scary to be lost so close to home. 

The final piece to this specific drive was the changing colors along the freeway in Oregon.  Such glorious reds and yellows among the evergreens.  Hard to take great shots with my cell phone at 75 MPH...

That's it until April.  I no longer drive south in the winter through the mountains nor through Sacramento and Tule Fog.  So I will be flying.  Without my travel companion, Zoë.  She misses me when I am gone; I miss her.  But she really really does hate the car (and we both hate those little bows that the she gets at the cleaners!).


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Some Thoughts on Veteran's Day

I have a little problem with the military.  Oh I know the importance of the military.  I understand that a strong show of power is important to keep our country safe and secure.  That's not my problem.  And I have a great respect for all the men and women who have been in the military, fighting for my freedom to say what I want and do about anything I want.  I thank you all. 

My dad was a sailor.  He was drafted into the Army and quickly joined the Navy.  He and Mom were married already and she followed him to New Orleans, where he was stationed.  Like many men in the military, he learned skills he could use during peacetime.  For him, it was what became his favorite trade: metal shop skills.  He later became an electrician, but his love of working with metals remained.  He always said if he didn't have to think about supporting his family, he would work in a metal shop.  But alas, he had two daughters and a wife.  Time to bring home the bacon.

Dad and Pat and me, 1952

So, I guess I don't really have a problem with the military.  It is important and I am thankful for all the men and women who have served our country.  No, it's not a problem with the military but it is a problem with war.  Yeah, that's it.  I have a real problem with war.  

In today's paper, a comic strip called Red and Rover had the little boy, Red, hugging his dad, thanking him for what he has done for his country.  And then he continued to hang on and his father told him he could let go.  The little boy said no because he didn't want him to go off to war again.

Lorraine Schneider's 1967 flower-power poster, saying, ''war is not healthy for children and other living things," came to mind as I read that comic strip.  I thought about the little boy, then to all the little boys and girls who's fathers or mothers were not home because they were in another country, defending my freedom.  And while I knew that war was not healthy for living things, I had not thought as much about the impact a parent's service had on the children and the family left behind.

So thank you so much for the great sacrifice you  made in my honor, all of you.  Mothers and fathers and children and grandparents and sisters and brothers and neighbors and all of us.  Thank you so very much.