Kreativ Blogger? Wow, thanks!

I want to say a big thanks to Montessori Mama, who has given me the Kreativ Blogger award!!

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You know, it feels kinda good.  I needed the boost — thanks again, MM.  Coming from one of the most creative of all bloggers I know, this award means a lot!

Now, on to the rules:
– List six things that inspire my creativity
– Pass the award on to 6 more kreativ bloggers
– Link back to the person who gave you the award
– Link to the people you are passing it on to and leave them a comment to let them know.

so…

SIX things that inspire my creativity:

  1. family night — We decided to rotate the responsibility to each family member each week  to choose an activity for Friday night that the whole family would enjoy.  Last time that it was my turn, I chose painting, and we had a marvelous time just hanging out and painting together. Never done such a  thing together ALL three of us at the same time.  Cool!
  2. Christmas — Something about that holiday brings out my creative side.  I relish the chance to make things beautiful, to use my hands to create something new out of something old (ornaments, table decorations, handmade cards….)
  3. teaching a text that students seem to find boring — Ah, I love that challenge! That’s when I revert to drawing crazy pictures on the board, jumping on top of furniture to act out a concept, bringing in wigs and hats for students to stage an impromptu dramatization of that boring 18th century poem, etc.
  4. dinner parties — I know you aren’t really “supposed” to make up new recipes when you have company coming, but I love to get creative in the kitchen for my friends.  Almost always there’s enough delicious food (if I do say so myself) in the meal to make up for anything borderline.  Even the flops are food for funny stories later on. 🙂
  5. scrapbooking — Okay, I admit it.  I actually like doing this activity.  I haven’t been able to work on anything for years, but I love how it is both a creative (making something new) and retro- and intro-spective activity.  I need to find a way to do this craft again, as it gives me much pleasure both in the doing and in the viewing later.
  6. Grandma’a life — I find my beloved grandma to be incredibly inspiring.  Writing her book is one of the most meaningful things I have undertaken in my life and one of the hardest.

Now, on to listing SIX more kreativ bloggers:

The Sruggling Writer is a wonderfully creative guy — I like how he just keeps on writing despite being busy with work and his young family. I’ve seen a noticable change in the quality of his writing, too, clearly proving that practice makes perfect. Paul, you’re awesome!

I read Kitty’s delightful blog  The Show Must Go On almost every day.  She is witty and hilarious and kind.  Check her out!  But bonus…she is also a gifted photographer and has another blog The Cuckoo’s Nest filled with interesting pixs.  This gal can do anything.  She even turned me on to cooking cabbage (yup, Kitty, I finally bit the bullet and cooked that thing in the bottom of my fridge — delicious!  Who knew?)

Ginny over at Praying to Darwin is a crack up.  Always makes me LOL when I read of her and her family’s escapades in the great white north of Canada.  I’ve actually snorted with laughter when reading her before.  Thanks, Ginny, for cheering my day!

I love handmade paper products (books, cards, etc.), and I really admire Diane Aldred’s work, often showcased on her blog Much of a Muchness.  She has a real knack for choosing just the right design.  She’s also a good writer, and despite my jealousy over her exciting travels, I’m nominating her as well.

I don’t recall exactly how I first found Katie Hoffman’s blog Paint Fumes, but I have enjoyed visiting it and viewing her paintings for a long time now.  I always find something worthwhile to contemplate there, and I’ve enjoyed learning more about the art wold from her interesting written posts, as well.

When I first began blogging a year and a half ago, I was searching the blogosphere using the keyword “grief”  and came across Linda’s mysteroriley, a “blog I never wanted to write.”  What strikes me so much about this blog is Linda’s courage and the strength of her creative energy in the face of the painful loss of her 20-year-old son.  Linda, I admire you both as a writer and as a human being.  You inspire me!

So, there you have it folks!  And I want to encourage everyone to visit Montessori Mama‘s site, too.  She is a gifted artist, teacher, and a great gal. Thanks!

It’s beginning to look a lot like … Finals

Funny how the mind works.  I’ve had that darned Christmas song, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” running through my head for the last few days.  It’s a constant refrain ever since it snowed.  Ugh.

Christmas is, I admit it, probably my favorite holiday in the whole year.  Too bad every year I also have a ton of work to do right before the holiday.  As an English teacher, I end up with mounds of final portfolios (each one including  final versions of all of the students’ papers from the whole semester plus their original drafts to show improvement and an extensive cover letter assessing their work).  Whew!  Makes me tired just summarizing it.  Here is a picture of my current semester’s stack, guarded by our faithful pooch, Maggie, until I can get around to that important work…

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So, yeh, why am I not grading those papers right now, then…? Just taking a breather, folks, having  finished grading on-line assignments for a different class, I haven’t yet gone on to the next task.  Busy, busy, busy!  Ah, but lucky, too.  I like seeing the improvement of the students’ work at the end (usually there IS growth).  Makes me feel like it was worth it or some such nonsense!  🙂

Holady Shopping… Typos Matter, Even at Christmas

I am NOT the grammar police, okay?  But, honestly, sometimes I can’t help but draw attention to signage errors.  I mean, I’d want to know!   I live by that Do Unto Others credo, so shoot me.

I was at the mall this weekend buying a few last Christmas gifts, when I was surprised to see a See’s Candy shop.  Where the heck did that come from, I wondered.  I am quite certain it wasn’t there last time I visited the mall.

I hustled over to the store, though, to pick up a couple of boxs of nuts and chews and assorted chocolates.  Sees is not only delicious candy, but it brings back lovely memories of my grandma.  The company began right there in Sacramento, California, near my grandma’s house, in fact.  I am delighted that the company has done so well that it now has a store in the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, New Hampshire.  Go figure!

But as I was reading the description of one of their items to see which candies the box included, my eyes bugged out at this typo.  Can you SEE it?

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How appetizing!  Just what I want to buy for my kid’s stocking: a box with six soiled choco balls.  Mmm! Delicious!  Sample anyone? 🙂

I hesitated but then thought, goodness, this has to be fixed.  Or at least laughed at.  So I showed it to the two sales ladies, making it perfectly clear that this was, no doubt, NOT their fault.

Clerk One: “Yes.  Uh huh….  So you’re a teacher?”

Me: “Well, yeh. Er, I am. Ha ha.” 🙂

Clerk One: “And you teach…?”

Me: “English.  Sorry.  Typos just have this way of jumping right off the page at me, especially this time of year when I am grading so many student papers.  I can’t help it.”

Clerk Two: “Where do you teach your classes?”

Me: “At the University.”

Clerk Two: “I want to take an English class.  I need to learn English.”

Me: “Well, there’s community colleges.  They offer such classes.”

Clerk Two: “What I really want is a tutor, just someone to sit down with me and help me understand better.”

Me: “Our local library has such a thing — literacy tutoring run by volunteers.  You should see if your town has that.”

After the Clerk One lady rang up my purchase, she slipped three butterscoth lollipops into my bag and smiled. I guess she didn’t mind my pointing out the typo after all.  Still, someone should fix that sign.  Made me think I should carry around white out and a black marker.

Has anyone heard of that guy who goes around, on purpose to fix people’s typos? Now THAT’S annoying!

Happy Sankta Lucia Day

Yes, I know that all of you American and English readers are busy eating your Lucia buns and drinking the coffee that your eldest daughter brought to you at the crack of dawn and all that.  Sorry to bug you.  I just wanted to wish all a happy Sankta Lucia Day.

In case you don’t know (though I’m sure EVERYONE does), Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated in Sweden and Italy.  Yeh, that’s weird, huh?  Lucia was an Italian saint, a martyr who brought food to the Christians hiding from the Romans in the catacombs.  She is famous for wearing a crown of candles to light her way in the subterranean caverns (her hands were busy holding big baskets of food, get it?)  Of course, she was murdered, but not until after all the requisite miracles.  Etcetera.

So the Italians celebrate her feast day (Dec. 13), but why the Swedes?  Well, one thousand years ago King Canute was experiencing a bit of Seasonal Affect Disorder and feeling glum because, well, Sweden is relatively cold and dark this time of year.  Then he heard about Saint Lucy and said, “Ah, ha!  This is the saint for us!!” So he proclaimed that Sweden would observe her feast day, too.

The Swedes today celebrate with Lucia buns and coffee in the early morning.  Girls wear electric lighted crowns and bring their parents the food.  Boys wear funny pointed hats and are called “Star Boys.”  There’s lots more to it and all, but that’s the basics.  Oh, and there’s a song, of course, as well!

Anyway, happy Sankta Lucia Day to one and all!

Saving Money at Christmas…

This year, since my husband was laid off in August and had to take a job at much reduced pay, we are particulary keen to save money.  Here are a few tips I thought I’d share with you:

1) Invest in LED Christmas lights.  Yeh, I know, that means spending some money.  But those little lights add up to a big savings.  Did you know that LEDs use one tenth the electricity of standard lights?  Plus, they are SOOOO much safer — very much cool to the touch.  And they last SOOOOO much longer than regular bulbs, so this is savings that will continue for years (not to mention it’s better for the planet).  I bought the colored mini-lights because I prefer their warm tones.  The white LEDs seem kinda almost blue to me.  Some people like that, though.  Whatever.

2) Send your presents to relatives who live far away NOW.  Do NOT wait.  It is five times as expensive to send things express at the last minute because you forgot to take care of this earlier.  Save money by thinking ahead.  And this particularly applies if you are sending presents to ME!  Don’t delay! 🙂

3) Cook for people.  Seriously.  Who really wants yet another bodywash/lotion/loufa sponge set or a kitchy little Christmas doo-dad?  Give folks what they really want: chocolate.  Here’s a simple truffle recipe that will make everyone SOOOO happy you are their friend.  Warm up one cup (240 ml) of heavy whipping cream in a saucepan over low heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add one pound + 6 ounces (625 g) of semi-sweet or dark chocolate, chopped.  Stir until chocolate is melted. If you want to add 3 tablespoons of rum or some other flavoring, you can do so now.  It’s you liver.  Put the pan in the fridge about an hour until mixture is firm.  Scoop out teaspoon-sized mounds onto a baking sheet and refrigerate again about a half hour.  Then roll each one in your hands to make it into a smooth ball, and roll balls in plain cocoa power, chopped nuts, or coconut — whatever you like.  These look so time-consuming and  fancy and taste so delicious.  But this is a super cheap and quick gift (makes about 65 truffles in less than two hours)!

4) Regift.  I mean do so deliberately.  Get together with friends for coffee at someone’s house and bring items that you want to get rid of (new or gently used).  Put them all out on a table and then everyone goes around and tries to see if any items might work as a gift for someone you know.  (Of course, this doesn’t work if the gift you want to regift came from someone at the regifting party!!)  In my case, though, I’ve got a few different sets of friends, and we don’t really give each other gifts anyway, so I anticipate no worries on that count.  This is a great way to do children’s gifts, by the way.  I mean little kids especially are almost more interested in the box than what’s inside!  And I think this is going to be pretty hilarious, too.  I mean wow some of the stuff people get — at least this event’ll be good for a laugh. 🙂

5) Do not buy wrapping paper!  Use what you can find around the house…like brown paper bags turned inside out  with red painted stars and a rafia ribbon wrapped around a cinnamon stick…or tinfoil with shiny ribbon…or the tried and true–newspaper comics page…for a small gift, create your own fancy paper from a plain sheet of white paper with watercolor paint splashed on it….  Use your imagination.  Time spent on a nice wrapping counts as part of the gift, you know.  And it’s possible to make your wrapping look like it took SOOOO much longer than it really did.

And now, it’s time for me to practice what I preach and wrap those presents that I need to send to California tomorrow!

What I’m thankful for…

For Thanksgiving, we went to Grandma’s niece’s husband’s sister and brother-in-law’s house.  in other words, we were with family!  We follow my cousin pretty much wherever she and her husband go during the holidays.  They are the only relatives we have in the Northeast, and it’s to far and too costly to go “home” to California.  Anyway, it was the fifth time we’ve gone down to Connecticut to K and M’s house for the holiday.

This year I discovered something I never knew about K (the brother-in-law).  He had known Martin Luther King Jr. back in the day and had even marched with him.  During the “I Have a Dream” speech, K was able to squeeze his way into the fourth row, right up front. He was a classmate of MLK’s and had even been invited to King’s wedding.

K told me about how “when you go into a situation like what we faced, you have to have a plan and know the plan before ever setting foot there.  People just don’t know what it will feel like or be like when the violence starts or when the threatening presence of the police officers sweeps in.  It’s absolutely necessary to have a plan going in.”

He related a story about one day going into a cafe with a mixed race group and sitting down together to be served lunch.  They were hungry, plain and simple.  But they couldn’t just go get a bite to eat.  They had to have a plan. Ready for trouble, they finally filed in and sat down at a single table, black and white friends together. The waiter just served them their food.  Nothing happened.

At first, I was dismayed by the story, a little annoyed.  I thought, well, at least you could have gotten put in jail.  No beatings?  Bah!

Then I caught myself and realized how utterly ridiculous my reaction was.  It is because of people like K. and MLK, white and black together, that such blatant discrimination is no longer allowed.  As K. put it last night at dinner, sitting there loading his fork with a big bite of apple pie, “I’m sure you’ve already heard it, but it’s true. King marched, so Obama could run.” Then he spoke about how on election night his tears could not be stopped.  K. marched, too.  He helped make a President Obama possible.

So that’s what I’m thankful for on this holiday that is dedicated to gratefulness.  I am thankful that the sacrifices of so many for so long have at last come to this pass, that it is indeed possible for an intelligent and capable man whose father was black and whose mother was white to be elected to our highest office. Because so many marched — including a sprightly, elderly white man with a big fuzzy white beard, who just happens to be my grandmother’s niece’s husband’s brother-in-law — on January 20 we can give thanks for President Obama.

On Gratitude … and Lemons

While waiting in the foyer of my son’s school to pick him up this afternoon, some of the children’s art on the wall caught my eye.  I didn’t have a camera with me, so please excuse the less than ideal quality of the pictures I took with my phone camera.  But these were just too precious not to share with y’all in this season of giving thanks.

First off, there’s Ava, whose wonderful love of citrus first caught my attention.

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Who ISN’T thankful for lemons, honestly?!

And then there’s Jordan…

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… who loves ALL pie. I think I’m pretty open-minded, but, man, that takes the cake. 😉

Next we hear from Amanda:

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I’ll bet Caroline and Victoria are glad they rate above cornbread, though who can blame Amanda?  Cornbread IS tasty.

Finally, since this applies to YOU all, I include this message from Erin…

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Thanks, Erin.  You’re a sweetheart.  Don’t hate us too much when you find out how much we’ve screwed up your beloved world.  We’re trying to fix our mistakes now.

What are YOU all thankful for?

Lefse season fast approaching

Ah, the crispness in the air 9we’ll hit a low in the 20s tonight), the wind swaying the bare branches of the trees, the red and green decorations appearing in the stores…yes, it’s … lefse time!  HUH?

For those of you uninitiated ones, lefse is just the most delicious treat ever, that’s all.  I’ve already posted a number of times on lefse, so I won’t repeat. You can click on the tab above to see those posts.

But I will add something new.  Someone recently searched my site with the terms, “making lefse large batch.”  So I wanted to give some advice on this topic.  I don’t know just HOW large a batch this person has in mind, but I’ve made a hundred lefse before, and that’s a lot for one person.

Do not cut corners on the mashing part, i.e., I always recommend ricing the potatoes to avoid lumps.  You can’t roll out a piece of potato lefse dough if there are hunks of potatoes left in it.  Maybe if you have a LOT of lefse to make, you could run the potatoes through a food mill, like you would applesauce — just make sure you leave no lumps.  Effort on this front pays off in the end.

Also, do NOT add all of the flour to the cold mashed potatoes at once.  Yuck!  It gets too sticky if it sits for a while.  Only add flour to maybe 2 or 3 cups of potatoes at a time, mix, and then roll out the individual circles of lefse.  Then repeat until finished. This will keep you from making too sticky a dough and then having to add too much flour.

When people tell me that they have had potato lefse and thought it was too heavy, I always think that the problem is the potatoes are not properly whipped and too much flour was added.  If you make it right, potato lefse is tender and moist.  That’s what Grandma taught me, and I’ve found it to be true as I’ve taken over the lefse-making in my family.

Ah, now I’m hungry.  Darn.

Church Year Begins with … Bagpipes?

Our church does not hold regular services during the summer.  It’s not that we completely shut down — there are still some informal services held in the air-conditioned common room, but the regular ones in the sanctuary stop for three months.  Then we start up again, the Sunday after Labor Day weekend.  And, weather permitting, we hold that service outside on the green.  Our minister says the same thing every year: “I’m not ready to be back inside yet!”

Well, this year, we had an excellent reason to be outside for the first formal service of the church year.  Bagpipes.  Yup a corps of nine bagpipe guys played for us.  Turns out this group was first formed in 1964 when the then minister of our church (can’t recall his name) asked the “men of the church to form a band.”  They thought about a banjo band at first but could not find anyone to teach them to play that instrument.  So they turned to bagpipes!

Over the years the group lost all association with our church, and now not a single person in the ensemble is a member.  The award-winning group lives on, though, and last week we had the pleasure of listening to them play…outdoors…on the lawn.  It was a windy day, in fact, the day after the remnants of hurricane Hanna passed through New England. I honestly didn’t think we’d be outside that morning, but when I saw the bagpipers, I understood the particular need.  Bagpipes are pretty loud.  Cool.  But loud.  Really strange instruments, I think.

Here’s an odd tidbit.  I always find myself humming the drone note when I listen to bagpipe music–you know, the note that stays the same throughout the whole song.  Why is that?  How weird of me!  But I do it every time.  It’s like I get dragged into the song, riding along on that plodding underlying tone.

Anyway, when the band played “Amazing Grace,”  we stood and listened in honor of our fellow UU’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, who were killed and injured by the lone gunman who entered their church and began shooting during a children’s performance this summer. The music was incredibly moving. All the more poignant as we could look off to the sides of the town green where our church is located and see our children running and playing during the service, climbing a lovely ancient mulberry tree–their perennial favorite.

Many of us brought water from our summer travels and dropped some into a common bowl.  We will use this (later sterilized, of course) for child dedications throughout the year.  I brought water back from Sweden and Norway especially for this purpose and was happy to add my drops to the pool.  And I was happy to be back in my beloved community.  It is good to be together.  I am ready to go back inside.

Happy 4th of July

8:45 pm. Working hard on a manuscript due back to the publisher before I leave for Sweden and Norway on Monday. Then it hits me. ARRGH.. It’s the 4th of July and my husband is doing homework upstairs for his IT class, and my kid is sitting in the basement watching tv alone. Oops.

Frantic five minutes of running upstairs to ask, “Honey, does it bother you that it’s the fourth of July and our son is sitting alone in the basement?” Yup. “Maybe we should go down to the river and see the fireworks?” Are you sure they are going to have fireworks this year? Maybe you should check the paper.

Run, run, run to the basement to grab my new laptop with wireless internet. Fireworks to start at 9 p.m. Quick look at the computer clock: 8:59. Run back upstairs and tell hubbie, “YUP, starts at 9. Let’s go.” Hubbie shuts down his computer, and I run to the basement door yelling for my son to come quick. He arrives in the kitchen breathless with a worried look. “Let’s go see the fireworks.” Relief floods his face and then a big grin.

We fly to the car and take a “back road,” which is quickly clogged with cars. Edging out to the main road, we pull over as soon as a space opens up, all the while watching the beginning of the show over our shoulders. Then we scamper across the street, where hardly any cars are moving anyway, so jaywalking is fine.

Kaboom!

Crackle, crackle, crackle.

Swoosh.

BANG!

echo, echo, echo…

Kaboom, twang, whizzzzz

pop, pop, pop, popppppety, pop

BA BOOOOOOM!

Amazing how strong the echoes are when fireworks are set off so close to a river. Tons of people, including two young men who almost got into a fist fight two feet in front of us as we watched the fireworks through the trees.

They set off the pyrotechnics from the grounds of my university, actually. One year a while back we went to see the display from right where they set it off. Our son would have NOTHING to do with that, thank you very much. He does NOT appreciate loud noises, and fireworks have only recently become of interest to him (starting last summer when he got to see his uncle’s fireworks show).

I think he enjoyed the holiday at least a little. Fireworks were good. At least he got to stay up way past bedtime, since it took us thirty minutes to drive the mile home…. Oh, and I found out after the fact that my husband had decided today was a good day to teach our child how to light a match. It’s probably time for him to learn. He’s ten. He’ll be careful. I guess he was pretty psyched about it. He even lit the b-b-q. That kid’s sure growing up.

Happy independence day…