My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant


Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing out the Old....

I like to tidy up loose ends as an old year wraps up, so here are a few recent photographic and anecdotal stragglers I haven't had time to post but wanted to share before we find ourselves in 2012, distracted with trying to remember to write the new year on our checks. :-)
My Merry Muffin Misadventure


First is the story of my biggest kitchen debacle ever (not that I have many, honest!) As you know from reading my previous post, the holiday season was a struggle this year between having the flu and BW's atrocious work schedule. My friend Robyn and I always get together shortly before Christmas to have lunch and enjoy our gift exchange, and this year we'd decided to order take-out Chinese (our local Chinese bistro makes some slammin' vegan dishes!) and have our get-together on the 23rd here at Dragonfly Cottage, which Robyn hadn't seen since we were still in the throes of moving in. Then I got (and stayed) sick. Then Robyn's husband Jesse broke his wrist and had to have surgery and a metal plate installed. So we decided to postpone our get-together till after Christmas. But as the 23rd progressed, I was feeling better and had cleaned house so Robyn and I decided to see how it was going that afternoon and maybe stick with our original plan, but left it open-ended. When I hadn't heard from her by about 4:30, I decided to bake a batch of Hearty Spiced Cocoa Muffins for BW to enjoy when he got home. But then Robyn called to say she and Jess were picking up the Chinese food and would be here in half an hour, and since I'd already started mixing some of the liquid ingredients, I thought heck, I'll just forge ahead. It's an easy recipe, I've made it many times before, it won't take long, and we'll have the muffins for dessert. Simple! No sweat! Step aside, Martha Stewart!

But alas, I'm a cook who just doesn't function well if I feel rushed or distracted, and suddenly I was both. The muffin recipe calls for a cup of non-dairy milk, and I like to use 1/2 cup of vanilla and 1/2 cup of chocolate soy or almond milk. I'd already measured and added the chocolate milk to some other liquid ingredients, and had just shaken and pulled off the little plastic sealing thingy (under the twist cap) on a brand new half gallon container of the vanilla almond milk, but hadn't poured and measured it yet, when Robyn called. So when we hung up and I resumed my muffin-making, somehow I managed to completely forget that I'd already shaken and opened the container. I'm sure you're ahead of me by now - gave that container a good shake and ended up with almond milk in my face and hair, saturating my apron, sweater sleeves and even the t-shirt beneath, dripping down the front of the cupboards and dishwasher, and in widening puddles on the floor. I was aghast. But what was there to do but rinse out my hair as best I could, change my clothes, wipe up the mess, and proceed... now in a bigger hurry than before.

So I made it through the liquids without further incident and started combining the dry ingredients, which includes 1/2 cup of sucanat. To save time, I poured the sucanat from the container in which we store it into the measuring cup instead of spooning it in. Normally this works fine, but I didn't realize there were two fist-sized lumps of sucanat lurking just beneath the innocently powdery surface, and they hit that nearly full 1/2 cup measuring device like a pair of massive meteors slamming into a lake. Sucanat covered every surface I'd just cleaned (except my hair). Through tears of frustration now, I cleaned up THAT mess, and after pausing to turn on all our little lamps and Christmas lights (no small task), feed the dogs and supervise them while they went out front for their post-dinner constitutionals (the back yard being too muddy), I resumed my muffin project. Because really, what else could possibly go wrong?

I was very careful and precise in measuring the spices, given how it had been going thus far. Didn't want to confuse my baking soda with my baking powder, or my cayenne with my cinnamon! I made it to the end of the recipe in fine shape, but noticed the batter was soupier than I remembered it being from previous times. So I figured I must have just added a bit too much almond milk, and added a couple of teaspoons of flour to compensate. But it made little difference. I also noticed the batter was pale - more khaki than dark, chocolatey brown like it should have been. This I attributed to using chocolate almond rather than chocolate soy milk. Ignoring all the red flags and klaxons, I spooned the pale and soggy batter into my silicone muffin cups, sprinkled some demerara sugar on the tops, and was placing the tray in the oven when it finally hit me. I'd failed to add the six tablespoons of cocoa powder!


I actually stood there for a few precious minutes, trying to calculate how they might taste without it (concluding that since "cocoa" is actually part of this muffin recipe's name, it was probably a key ingredient), how the hell I was supposed to add it now, how much time I could possibly have remaining before Robyn and Jesse showed up with gifts and Chinese food, and whether I would be ahead to just dump everything in the garbage and pretend it never happened. But being even more loath to waste ingredients than I am to have to gag down a baking failure, I scraped the batter out of the muffin cups and back into the mixing bowl, gamely added and thoroughly stirred in the cocoa powder (ignoring that it's supposed to be sifted with the other dry ingredients and then have the pre-mixed liquid ones stirred in "just until mixed"), refilled the muffin cups, and with hope in my heart and perspiration (and a little vanilla almond milk I'd missed) on my brow, popped them back into the oven, all before Robyn and Jesse showed up.

Unfortunately, the Baking Gremlins weren't through toying with me yet. This kitchen has a fancy, high-tech double oven, and its timer is programmed using super-sensitive soft-touch buttons. An errant touch, easily and unwittingly made, converts the timer from minutes and seconds to hours and minutes. I really don't have to tell you at this point, do I, that I'd set the timer for 15 hours rather than 15 minutes without realizing it. Distracted by Robyn and Jesse's arrival and house tour and serving up the Chinese food and pouring wine, it occurred to me at some unknown point later that I'd never heard the timer go off. It was a Christmas miracle that they weren't burnt to a cinder. In fact, they weren't burnt at all, but in addition to being over-stirred (and downright man-handled), they were now quite overbaked. I took them out, expecting them to turn into little brown rocks as they cooled. But we all tried them and they were not only edible, they tasted very good and their texture really wasn't bad! So though I wouldn't recommend following my unorthodox techniques from that evening, I do highly recommend this recipe as not only delicious and (as sweets go) healthy, but also bordering on saintly for its phenomenal capacity to forgive!


The Loot

BW and I didn't exchange gifts or get ourselves anything for Christmas this year, but we enjoyed an abundance of goodies to unwrap and enjoy thanks to the generosity of my friends and several of his customers! Here are a few highlights... You've already seen a photo of the entire string of pretty paper hearts from Barbara in my last post, but here's an artsy closeup I took of one of the bigger hearts...


I don't have a photo of it, but Joanne (aka AdventureJo) gave me this wonderful digital photo frame, and just as soon as my tech-challenged Amish self figures out how to load my favorite photos onto it, I'm going to have some wicked fun with that! :-)

And Rose gave me a tin of Remedy Teas Orange Krush (which I have really been enjoying, and has me convinced I am now a Remedy Teas junkie), and two bars of delightful Hugo Naturals seasonal soaps: the lovely peppermint candy cane and cinnamon spice poinsettia, which are too pretty to use and smell good enough to eat! I love how Rose's thoughtful gifts always introduce me to wonderful products.

From my longtime friends Paul and Marsha (real names: Spud and CG ~ which stands for "Candle Girl," earned when she once propped her stockinged feet up on the coffee table too close to a candle and caught her sock on fire and has never lived it down) came this beautiful (and heavy!) wolf hologram crystal, a wonderful surprise!
I've loved wolves since I was a little girl,
collecting pictures of them for a scrapbook I still cherish.
Since then I've been lucky to know several wolves personally.
In the wild their plight is dire, their future in peril.
Please take a moment to help endangered native wolves
in my state of Wyoming and neighboring Montana!

One of my gifts from Robyn was a set of three large ornaments in the shapes of a gingerbread man, snowman and stocking. But I didn't put them on our Christmas tree because they're for the birds. Literally. :-) Made of a variety of bird seeds and dried fruits, I've hung two of them from our juniper and poplar trees and am saving the third for later this winter...
A seedy guy hanging around in the juniper

The stocking was hung from the poplar with care
in hopes that the chickadees soon would be there!

The Wild Critters


Okay, we didn't see Tigger (but check out Barbara's snow leopards!), but we had some bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun-fun-fun-fun-fun wildlife sightings lately! On Christmas Day, BW and I took the dogs for a walk along one of our favorite sections of the walking path network, very near Dragonfly Cottage, which we call "The Apple Orchard Trail" because it passes by an area with several bountiful apple trees. Regrettably, I didn't take my camera with me that day but here's a photo of a section of that trail that I took in October...

We had it all to ourselves that late Christmas afternoon, except for all the wildlife that showed up to make merry! First was a herd of about two dozen mule deer, running hellbent across a very steep, open section of the opposite hillside. At first we thought something was chasing them, but quickly realized they were just playing! They chased each other in varying groups down the hillside to the creek, then back up to the top, then back and forth across it, bounding like impalas (as muleys are wont to do), and clearly having a jolly time! We all really enjoyed watching them till their play date wound down. We'd no sooner turned and started hiking back home when Josie alerted on something across the creek, which turned out to be a gorgeous male pheasant, strutting his colorful self among the trees and brush. After admiring him for a few minutes, we set out for home again only to be stopped in our tracks by an adorable little otter, frisking along the opposite creek bank! We watched him play until he splashed into the creek and vanished. BW thinks his den was under there somewhere. I've never seen a wild otter before and had no idea there were any in this area! It was an amazing little stretch of abundant frolicking wildlife and one of the best Christmas presents the Universe could have given us! Only thing that would have made it better is if yours truly had brought her *&$# camera! I'll be revisiting the spot where we saw the otter as often as possible, with my camera, in case he does encore performances!

Here's one wildlife photo I did get, earlier today when the first chickadee finally discovered the gingerbread seed ornament!

A Message from the Universe


And finally, and speaking of gifts from the Universe, comes this wonderful way to bid farewell to 2011 and greet 2012. Thursday morning was rainy and windy but by afternoon the rain had stopped. It continued to be windy and chilly, though, so the dogs were contentedly snoozing on their Pooch Porch while I worked on my blog, when I heard our neighbors' dog bark followed by some woofs and boofs (which is something between a bark and a woof) from our girls. I looked out the front windows to see what they might be boofing at, but all I saw was a little girl of perhaps 8 or 9, wandering rather aimlessly with a little black dog in tow across a couple of vacant lots on the other side of the walking path. Most people don't venture from the paved walking path like that so I figured that unconventional behavior is what inspired the boofing, and went back to what I'd been doing. A few minutes later I looked out to see if she was still there, but she and her dog were nearly out of sight down the path to Whitney Commons by then. And that's when I noticed that the door on our old mailbox, no longer in use since the communal neighborhood mailboxes were installed early last month, was hanging open. When I stepped out to go close it, I looked down and saw a piece of green construction paper, rolled up like a scroll and tied with a piece of pink yarn, sitting on our top front step. I closed the mailbox, brought the scroll in and opened it. I don't know if it was the wandering girl who left it, but it's had me smiling ever since. And as we enter the new year, its sweet message is worth passing along to each of you...

:-)

And have a very


Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on,
with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.
~ Hal Borland

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Come on in! (Part 1)


I'm sorry I've kept you standing outside of Dragonfly Cottage for so long. I'd fully intended to invite you all in on Christmas Eve, but the week before I was laid low by a vile and virulent virus. Or maybe it was a badass bacterium.


Whatever it was, I went to bed feeling just fine the night of the 16th only to wake up the morning of the 17th with a fever, sore throat, and the stuffiest head in human history. I went to bed that night around 6, unable to finish eating my supper, and slept straight through till nearly 6 the next morning. Since then, I've had some pretty good days and some wicked relapses, got over my sore throat and fever only to develop a cough and lose my voice (which has gone from squeaky to non-existant and back to squeaky), while the stuffiness comes and goes at will.

Meanwhile, BW was working dreadful hours for two weeks, during the most grueling UPS Christmas season we can remember, culminating in official "peak" last Thursday when he worked until 11:45pm! Fortunately and miraculously he didn't catch my bug (probably wasn't home long enough!), but with his horrid schedule everything fell to me: errands (often by bike and on foot, because flu or no flu I just love being able to do that!), laundry, cleaning, daily dog-walks, writing our Christmas cards, etc. And to add to our torment, earlier this month construction began on two nearby lots along with a big siding project on one neighbor's house and fence construction at another, so we've been surrounded by the noise and mess of bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks, cranes, jackhammers (plus regular hammers) and swarming construction workers starting at 7 in the morning. So much for silents nights or peace on earth! Needless to say, we were both exhausted by Christmas weekend, I had no desire to blog (or do much of anything else), and at any rate I thought inviting you all in to a plague-infested home would be inelegant of me. :-) But now that I'm feeling better and want to make it up to you with a festival of photos, please come in at last to see some of the interior of Dragonfly Cottage!

click on any photo for a larger version

For anyone who hasn't seen the outside yet, and for the rest of you who want to see how it's looking for the holidays, here are some exterior shots I took early one morning in early December...


I even lugged the tripod across the footbridge to get this pre-dawn shot with the mostly-frozen creek in the foreground....


I took this one using the tripod too, from the walking path alongside the cottage, so you could peek inside the front porch and living room before coming inside...


So come on in to the front porch!


Unfortunately, though the porch is heated it's not insulated, it faces north, and those windows still have their original, wavy, single-pane glass (several of which are cracked), which looks cool but is actually frigid. As in: during cold weather we use the porch as a second fridge, keeping leftovers and beer out there.

See?

We gave up trying to keep it warm and most of the time close it off from the living room. So it's not as inviting as it looks, but we've been having mild temps lately (40's and 50's), so you'll be fairly comfy as you linger here and take your boots and coats off before heading into the house!


Now come on in to the much cozier living room, with its 9' ceilings, gas fireplace and fir floors...

That's our new hobbit-sized sofa and coffee table,
since our old originals were too big for this snug room.

Here's a post-Christmas version of the same area, this time starring a long string of beautiful paper hearts that gently spin in the house's air currents ~ a sweet gift from Barbara...


Today is warmer but raining and windy, so I lit a fire for you (though unfortunately the flames never seem to show up in my photos!) We love to ask each other, "Want me to build a fire?" and then smugly flip the wall switch. That instant and effortless "woosh" of the gas fireplace, a novelty for us, is so satisfying!


BW and I have a power struggle going on over the big recessed window ledge. He's wanted to get a cushion made for it so we can use it as a window seat, while I prefer to use it to display things I otherwise have no space for. Clearly, I won this round with our 3' Christmas tree I've had since I was a little girl...


This is a crafty little corner of the room, with the star pillow and Santas quilt both made by my friend Jo (whom you know as AdventureJo in the comments), and the very first cross stitch I ever did, displayed above the window...


Just to the right of the bookcases and fireplace and around the corner to the left is the master bedroom. At 12' x 12' it's quite a bit smaller than our former one, so while our queen sleigh bed fits fine, we had to buy two tiny nightstands. My great-grandmother's quilt is perfect on the wall behind it!


The French doors (I love French doors!) lead to the other, smaller half of the front sunporch, divided from the one off the living room by a wall with a high transom window. This has become "the Pooch Porch," and it's where the girls sleep at night or hang out in bad weather (we keep the French doors open and the heater vent open it so it stays far more comfortable than the other porch)...


You can just make out my little faerie hanging crookedly on the right side of the French doors in the photo above. Poor thing had her foot caught between the door and the frame! So I freed her foot and made it up to her by taking this closeup...

A gift several years ago from AdventureJo's daughter Michelle,
I just love her!

Of course the girls all insisted on their own closeup too, though they snoozed right through it when their big moment arrived! At least it's a good demo of the Pooch Porch in use...

I love that Tess and Josie are sharing the corner bed.
That, for whatever reason, is the most popular spot,
so they race each other to be the first to snag it!

I love the soothing color of the bedroom walls (Sherwin Williams "Rainwashed"). The Italian glass lamp on the dresser is special enough it will be getting a closeup and post of its own one day...


I thought the floors also deserved their own closeup. They're very creaky and uneven (the charms of a 92-year old house), and bitchly to keep clean. They show everything and thoroughly cleaning them is a time-consuming, three-step process involving this, then this, and finally this, but they sure are pretty!


Just a couple steps down the hallway from the master bedroom is the main bathroom...

With no medicine cabinets and barely any linen storage,
we bought the piece of furniture to the left of the vanity.
It not only stores towels, cleaning supplies and toiletries,
but also provides a nice display area for my geese.
And since we live on Big Goose Creek,
geese definitely deserve some cottage space! :-)

The shower curtain was a new purchase too, and I really like it despite its lack of geese. ;-)


Let's take a break and enjoy some wonderful orange tea (a lovely Christmas gift from Rose), and next time we'll finish our tour with the office, kitchen and dining area. But before that I'll regale you with the amusing story of my holiday baking blunder (actually an impressive series of blunders), and a few other little catching-up tidbits!

Meanwhile, enjoy these final days of 2012 and stay well!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ABC Wednesday: W for Workshop (Santa's!)


I'm sure by now I'm on Santa's Wayward Blogger list (Which is Way Worse than being on his regular Naughty List, you know), having Wistfully Wandered away from the Land of Blogs for nearly two Weeks. I fear I've been Whelmed (over and over) and Wretchedly under the Weather. And While neither of those conditions has Waned yet, I don't Want to miss a third Week in a row of ABC Wednesday. So I'm Worming my Way out of Working on a more Wearying post by reprising a Post of Christmas Past. (Ha, get it? I'm such a little Dickens!*) To those of you Who have been my unWavering followers for over a year and so for whom this is a rerun, I apologize for my Wicked indolence and assure you I've been Working on my promised photo post(s) of Dragonfly Cottage's interior. For the those of you newer to my blog, please enjoy the festive Whimsy of this Wonderful (if I do say so myself) post of yore! ;-)


W is for Workshop. As in Santa's Workshop! Here's just a Wee sneak peek to entice you in, via the link below, for the story of my miniature Santa's Workshop (housed inside an antique mantle clock) and lots more photos...



*My absolute favorite cinematic version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the 1984 film starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. If you've never seen it, you can watch it in its 9-part entirety on You Tube, beginning here...


And as a bonus in honor of my friend veganelder ~ Who believes no post of mine is complete Without our Winsome Woofer Willow ~ I give you this classic photo of...


Willie-Claus! (Claws?)

Along With Warmest Wishes for safe and happy holidays!


What are you Waiting for? Wander over to...


Where more W's are Waiting!

Friday, December 9, 2011

SkyWatch Friday: The Cold Moon


The Cold Moon, that's what December's full moon was called by the Celts and the Algonquin. But it goes by many names ~ in Colonial America it was called the Christmas Moon, to the Chinese it's the Bitter Moon, to the Cherokee the Snow Moon, Neo-Pagans the Long Night Moon, the Medieval English the Oak Moon. No matter what it's called, the nearly-full waxing moon, which will be officially full tomorrow morning (Dec 10, 2011) at 9:36 EST, sure has been beautiful the past couple of days!


Took this one yesterday morning from our office window


And these next two from our back porch early this morning.
Bitter Moon and Cold Moon were the best names for it then!
Brrr!


Tomorrow's full moon will experience a total lunar eclipse, the last eclipse of the year. Check out this page to find out if it will be visible in your neck of the woods and when!

And check out more skies around the world at


Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quilt Show 2011, Part 4

I've had a lot of interruptions and distractions lately ('tis the season), and am tardy with my 4th and final 2011 quilt show post. So without further delay, here are some of the non-quilt fiber arts that were on display along with the quilts:

I love lace and admire people with tatting skills...
Tatted Money Insert Cards
Technique: Tatting
Artist: Victoria Bales
"I give money to grandchildren for Christmas
and still have the urge to give them something I've made."
(If you're adopting new grandchildren, Mrs. Bales,
I'd like to submit my grandchild resumé!) :-)

I'm very fond of the colors and whimsy of this frolicking sea nymph...
Ocean Dance
Technique: Cloth Doll, Embellished
Artist: Michelle Havenga

And it's always nice to see fresh veggies get their props! :-) (Cute and clever how she displayed them in a colander!)...
Fresh Veggies
Technique: Knitting
Artist: Georgann Lee
"Eggplant, carrot, tomato, peas, garlic are all from the book,
Amigurumi Knits by Hansi Hingh."

This next display, a bedspread made from the artist's mother's 100-year old handmade wedding dress and petticoats, was the most unique. There was a lot of information with this display ~ click on the photos of the notes to read about it more easily...

And last but not least, a lovely example of counted cross-stitch, the one fiber art that I can actually do! :-)

Gather Ye Rosebuds
Technique: Counted Cross Stitch
Artist: Norma Haase Just
Pattern By: Kathleen Wagner

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.
~Robert Herrick

And on that cheery note (lol), see you at next year's quilt show! (Well, I'll see you long before then! Though I feel in need of a bit of a blogging pause, I hope to return fairly soon with photos at last of the inside of Dragonfly Cottage ~ with and without Christmas decorations!) :-)

Meanwhile, if you missed any of this year's quilt show posts, here are the first three parts...

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SOME CURRENT & RECENT READING...

SOME CURRENT & RECENT READING...

  • INFERNO ~ Dan Brown
  • MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL ~ John Berendt
  • MY NOTORIOUS LIFE: A NOVEL ~ Kate Manning
  • ONE SUMMER: AMERICA, 1927 ~ Bill Bryson
  • QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING ~ Susan Cain
  • THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL ~ Daniel Stashower
  • THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY ~ Erik Larson
  • THE SHADOWS, KITH AND KIN ~ Joe R. Lansdale
  • THE TIPPING POINT ~ Malcolm Gladwell
There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"