Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cleaning Up

Today was the day to replenish my cleaning supplies.  With the mini financial crisis brought on by Mike’s medications and his position in the donut hole, we have been looking at ways to cut back on expenses.  And of course I have been a follower of Green Clean: the Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home (Melcher Media, 2005) for a few years now.

I also usually have an abundance of lavender and thyme in my garden and I can use those herbs in some of the homemade cleaners.  I put a cup or so of lavender flowers and a cup or so of thyme sprigs in a quart jar and then fill with white vinegar.  Some times I use sage or mint, too.  After that steeps for a couple of days, I strain the vinegar into a spray bottle.  It is an effective disinfectant.

I use this for a daily shower spray.  If you give the tile or tub enclosure a good scrub to start with, this will keep the soap scum at bay a bit longer between major cleanings.  Put 1/2 cup white vinegar, 2 teaspoons of borax, 1 tablespoon of liquid castile soap (I like Eucalyptus scented), and 20 drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle.  Fill with hot water.  Spritz away.

And did you know that you can fill a spray bottle with club soda and use it as a window cleaner.  Mike says club soda is meant for mixing with Canadian whisky and should not be wasted on house hold drudge tasks.  Some are just not willing to go all the way for green living.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Italian Crumb Cake

This is an easy recipe that serves 8.  Three basic ingredients and some flavoring.  Share.  Don’t eat it all yourself! You know who I’m talkin’ to.
It is like a big shortbread cookie, but the almonds make it Italian.

  1. Heat the oven to 350.  Butter a 10” tart pan with removable bottom or a regular 9” pie pan.
  2. Melt 2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup) and allow to cool.
  3. Coarsely grind one cup of unblanched, whole almonds; set aside.
  4. In a medium sized bowl. whisk together: 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp. of salt.
  5. Stir in the almonds.
  6. Stir  2 tsp. real vanilla extract into the melted butter and stir that mixture into the dry ingredients.
  7. Stir until butter and flour mixtures are evenly combined.
  8. Put 3/4 of the mixture into the prepared pan and press lightly with fingers.
  9. Scatter remaining crumbs over this.  Do not press.
  10. Bake 25 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
  11. Allow to cool before slicing into wedges.

A cup of tea and a wedge of this…Heaven!

Italian Crumb Cake

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Creative Endeavors

Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity. –T.S. Eliot (poet)

Anxiety is part of creativity, the need to get something out, the need to be rid of something, or to get in touch with something within. –David Duchovny (actor)
I never considered myself to be a Creative person—Creative with a big C, the kind of person who could accomplish something so astounding that the entire world (or at least a small part of it) would stop and take notice, the kind of person who would win awards and recognition, the kind of person, you know, with actual talent.

Still, there is something in me that wants to create something everyday.  That feeling has not diminished because I am retired although the focus has changed.

In my mind, that urge to create (with a small c, if you will) means being open to new learning, being curious about the world around me, really seeing the world around me as it is and as it might be, being flexible in my thinking and willing to change.  It’s about giving myself a little challenge and a way to have fun.  It is a great way to remind myself that I am not now nor never will be perfect, but that is perfectly okay.

So I get that connection with anxiety because if I don’t feel that I am being creative, I definitely do feel anxiety.  If I look at my stated qualities of creativity, I think that the opposites of each of those is what I would dread as being “old” and set in my ways.  I don’t mind being old in years (nothing to do about it anyway), but I do mind being old in habits, thoughts, and opinions.

When I think about my work in education, I kind of realize that there was an awful lot about school systems as institutions that discouraged creativity—sadly enough by not funding the big C things like arts and music, but also by a dedication to the little c of conformity.  There is a need for some of that.  Yet when I think about the most outstanding teachers and other educators I encountered over the years, it was creativity that made them shine. 

I always had this secret desire to be creative, but here I am now coming out about it.  I am not saying I want to become famous or renowned for any of my many little hobbies and activities.  I am saying I want to be open to people and experiences, to the environment, and to have some fun.  Golden years, right?  I might as well get the most from them now.

As I flit around blogland, I am convinced that I am in good company in the creativity department (not necessarily the golden years department).  I’ll mention (and link) a few here because these were among the very first blogs I started reading.

The New Sixty.  Arkansas Patti is witty and wise.  She has had some of the most interesting life experiences and encounters with people and animals that she relates with such wry humor that you will chuckle all day thinking about her.  When I am in a pouty mood I can always work up a smile recalling the tale of her “butt ugly” glasses.  The good humor and optimism with which she takes on life is true creativity at work.

The Cataract Club (formerly known as musings of a middle aged woman).  Dani from Oklahoma, talk about an inspiration and example of nurturing love at work in the world.  When life hands you a plate as full as this woman’s, I guess you get creative or go whoopdi-do crazy. 

Finnegan Begin Again.  Margaret was the first follower of my blog, so she is obviously a woman of discerning taste and wisdom.  Well, at least she has a special place in my heart.  She provides us with the wisdom of the goddesses—so many goddesses.  So smart and funny to boot.  She has a new book out, The Goddess Lounge.  Smart, funny, and a published author.  I am so glad she lives in California because if I knew her in person I would probably be jealous.

A Slower Pace.  Linda transplanted herself from Texas to Portland, Oregon.  We have the knitting thing in common, but otherwise are probably complete opposites.  She doesn’t like to cook or to shop.  She reads non-fiction almost exclusively.  She doesn’t like hot weather—doesn’t even seem to mind all the rain in Portland.  Still, I do so admire her blog because she is a thinker, an intelligent thinker who digs for the facts and states opinions in such a reasoned way.  That is creative.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunday’s Creative Endeavor

There just was nothing going on today.  I started poking though my fabric scraps and this is what I came up with.

fish quilt 001

It’s a fish, if you can’t see it.  Here it is draped over a pillow, but I think that I will put it on a stretcher and use it for a wall hanging.

I could have done some garden weeding, but it was kind of hot today and it is supposed to be in the 90’s tomorrow.  It has been a hot summer by Vermont standards.  Still, I haven’t had my bathing suit on since last winter.  Life has gotten a bit topsy-turvey.

I also finished Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson.  If you enjoy laughing at serious panic attacks, social anxiety, and marital arguments, this is a really funny book.  Be warned that I  really do have quite a sick sense of humor.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Conversations with a 5 Year Old

Dane 006
I gave my grand son back to his mother last night so I had a chance to breeze through the hundred posts that had accumulated in Google Reader before crawling into my bed.  Amazing how answering a continuous barrage of questions can be so exhausting!

-Do you have a real name?


-What is it?


-Olga?  That’s not a real name.  Let’s call you Melinda.


-It’s time for bed.

-I’m not tired.

-I am.  Mike is.  It’s time for everyone to go to bed.

-Why are the elderly always tired?


-Can I have a Popsicle?

-Not now, it is too close to suppertime.  You can have one for dessert.

-Let me say something!  You are not listening to me!


-Why do men like boobs?


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reading, Always Reading

I finished The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.
I have to say that I had never heard of Louise Banks, who was apparently a real silent film star who really did grow up in Witchita, Kansas, and who really did go to NYC at the tender age of 15 accompanied by a chaperone.
But the book is fiction and the focus is the story of the fictional chaperone, named Cora Carlisle.  I found it an interesting story and social commentary.

Before that, I read The Dovekeepers Alice Hoffman, who is one of my all-time favorite authors.
It is a sad story, but a wonderful read.

Another of my favorite authors is, of course, Toni Morrison.  Home is also a very sad story that is based on real historical events.

Short, but powerful.

Right now I am reading The Goddess Lounge by blog land’s own Margaret Finnegan.  I believe everybody in the world already reads her blog, but if for some reason you have missed it, definitely check it out.

The Goddess LoungeIt’s fun (and only a little sad if you think about it).

Monday, July 16, 2012


I forgot to tell you…

Quilt 3
I finished my quilt.  It is far from perfect, but I am still quite happy with it.  In fact, I really kind of love it.
'This is made from pre-cut charm packs and is called ‘disappearing nine patch.’  I signed up for a tutorial on Craftsy.
Now I may have been bitten by a new bug.  I have wandered into a couple of area quilt shops just to run my hands over the bolts of fabric and think about what I might want to make next.  Uh oh.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Busy week in review

The past week was Vermont summer at its finest…well, at least if you like the heat and the sunshine.

Weeding the garden chores were fairly easy.  It has been dry and even the weeds are not growing quite as vigorously as usual.  Watering the tomatoes and the planters is of critical importance, though.  Mike takes care of that job when he swabs the deck each morning.

I have a few tomatoes almost ready to pick.  I also picked a bunch of lavender to hang for drying.  I do like to have a sprig at bedside.  Lavender is one of those smells you either love or hate, but I love it.
Lavender in vase

I spent about 8 hours doing library volunteer work spread out over the Monday-Wednesday-Friday open hours.  The advantage there—besides doing something useful in the community—is that the library is air conditioned.  This week, I covered many, many new books in plastic and entered them into the catalog system.  Our library is small, but it is very, very busy, especially during the summer.  Our single librarian organizes a tremendous summer reading program for kids.

Of course, I have to be crafting a bit each day.Card setSome cards.
Bird houseA painted bird house.
felted scrap2A little felted sweater to use up scraps.

I was a lady who lunches.  I went to a card party/birthday party with lunch served on Tuesday.  On Wednesday, Mike and I took a ride through the Lake Champlain islands and stopped for lunch.  I wish I had remembered my camera.  On Thursday, I went to lunch with two friends and former colleagues from the middle school.  We had a great salad lunch in downtown Burlington—the new moon cafĂ©—and a long catch-up talk.

I did some shopping.  Staples has started the ‘back to school’ sales.  I scored a pile of stuff. Cheap.
Staples scoreThese things will be part of the Advent baskets I make up for Kristen and Dane.  Christmas in July?

I also baked a pie.  Mike was really crabby when he saw the oven was turned on.  Later, he said, “Even though you turned on the oven, that pie looks really good.”  I said, “ Good.  Because I baked it for the library bake sale tomorrow.”  That fixed him…momentarily.  Then I told him I planned to eat the whole pie myself because he had been such a pill, but really, in the end, I shared.
Blueberry pie, hot from the even.hotpie

Kristen has camp for the next two weeks, but I will have Dane for “grandma camp” this coming week.  that will be fun…and another busy week ahead. 

I love summertime.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Generally speaking, Mike and I are quite compatible.  That doesn’t mean that we agree about most things, (HA! Far from it!) but we politely agree to disagree.  As I often tell him, he does have the right to be wrong.  So if he wants to watch some black and white movie about World War I with closed captioning, I simply watch something on my television with the sound on.

Since it is grilling season in Vermont, he likes to have hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks a whole lot more than I.  But he can grill his meat selection and I’ll make something heavy on the vegetarian side.  Right now, I am in a spicy lentil salad loop.  I made up a big batch—meal planning solved for the week.

However, we are never going to agree about this:
oh 002
Our yard is pretty open and sunny.  About 18 years ago this tree was a little sprout next to the wood shed.  It is a box elder.  In my mind this is a weed tree.  I wanted to pull it up right away, but Mike said he wanted to let it grow so we would have shade on the deck for sunny summer afternoons.

I am not against a shade tree.  I would have been happy to go to a nursery and purchase a nice shade tree that we could then have planted—oh, I don’t know--maybe fifteen or twenty feet out into the lawn.  But no.  That would present a mowing obstacle.
tree 1I
I think you can see that the tree in its growing disrupted the mow edge and lifted the floor of the wood shed.  Mike does trim this tree so at least it has not damaged the roof of the shed.

And messy.  Please.  The shedding seeds in the spring are followed by leaves all summer long that yellow and fall.  The yellow leaves are not even noticeable on the tree until fall, but they cover the roof, the deck and breezeway for most of the summer.

Although it does host all manner of song birds, it is an ugly tree.  We are going to continue to agree to disagree about this one.  I do wish we owned a chain saw.  I wish I had an accident with the weed whacker years ago.

P.S.  Mike informed me that he also hates the tree, but is remaining where it is because of the shade and the bird entertainment...and its lack of disruption to his mowing pattern.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sparrow Follow-up

Honestly.  I never realized how much sparrows actually fly into the house.  I have my craft table set up in the garage during the summer months because it is spacious and a nice breeze blows throw.  Twice in the past week, though a sparrow has flown in while I was out there working.  The first one bashed around a bit and then found his way out, but he made sure to squawk at me like it was all my fault that he got lost.

The second one had a harder time finding his way out.  He rattled around in the furnace vent for a while, then flew to the door.  For some reason he was totally flummoxed by the space between the top door sill and the open overhead door—just could not figure out how to go three inches lower and fly out.  He finally flew back into the garage and perched on the hoop of a fishing net Mike has hanging on the wall.  It must be that he was trying to tell me to scoop him up and take him out.

The other day while I was at the library, Mike went into the downstairs den to watch something on the television.  He caught some kind of movement in the woodstove so he opened the door.  In a few minutes a sparrow that had somehow made its way down the chimney (We’re naming him Santa, of course) hopped right out, then made a flying escape attempt toward the front window. Mike climbed up on the love seat, trying to catch it.  He missed and the sparrow flew to the back window.  Mike went to step off the love seat, but the recliner had not quite caught.  He fell, wrenching his leg in the recliner mechanism.

He managed to catch the sparrow and take it outside, by the way.  He didn’t kill it to insure against bad luck.  However, when I got home around five, he was sitting there with a contusion the size of a softball.

Here is the funny thing.  Climbing on the furniture and having bizarre furniture related accidents is such an Olga move.  I have never know Mike not to take out a step ladder if he has to reach something.  I told him he was turning into me as a fixed him up with an ice pack.  He found that scarier than a bad luck sparrow. Green with envy

The white sparrows are still hanging around our back yard.  They have yet to come into the house.  They are shy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thankless Tasks

Garden12 005
Is there a household task more thankless than washing old windows?

I can’t think of one off hand.  I mean other jobs are a pain—shampooing the carpets, cleaning the oven—but at least they give you a momentary feeling of accomplishment and a couple of days of feeling that the house is clean.  Windows, old windows, never look clean.  There are always streaks or smudges somewhere and then they get spattered with rain within a few hours—guaranteed.  And even though I don’t think the windows look sparkling clear, there is always, always a bird that thinks the glass has disappeared so – smack – bird sludge on the pane.

Here’s another thing that I resent having to spend time on every week—doing my nails.  All that fussing to shape and file and then they just keep on growing.   I personally do not view my nails as a fashion accessory and really don’t see the need to have them extend past the ends of my fingertips.  Twice a week I have to sit down and deal with nails that have gotten too long for my comfort.  It has to be a design flaw.

And think about weeding.  I do like to be outside and I don’t mind weeding so much actually.  But will someone tell me why grass can grow so quickly in a freshly weeded garden plot and languish, turning crispy brown out in the actual lawn.  Some people have wild flower gardens.  I could have one of those if I would just learn to appreciate the indigenous plants that I am choosing to call weeds instead.  And then some nursery purchase from long ago has become weed.  I swear our entire acre would turn to  a field of johnnie-jump-ups if left to its own devices.
What are the chores you can do without?

Shrimp ‘n’ Spice

I do have a certain fondness for curry dishes, although usually it is chicken or cauliflower.  Sometimes it is good to branch out.  On a beautiful summer night, I thought supper should consist of tomatoes, olives, a bit of cheese, a lentil salad, and some spicy shrimp.  We had cherries for dessert.

Have you noticed that the supermarkets are now bagging up the cherries?  They were on sale for $2.99 a pound today, but all the bags were 4+ pounds.  We will eat that many cherries, but what if you really just wanted a pound?

It was such a pleasant evening to sit out on our deck and have, not exactly a picnic, but a pick-at kind of supper.  The sun has already reached its furthest North point and has started inching back South along the horizon.  The days are a minute or two shorter now.  We savor these summer evenings in Vermont.

We watched our sparrow family as we ate, and realized that there are in fact two white sparrows.
White bird 010
White bird 008

A recipe for spicy shrimp:

1 pound of large size shrimp, cleaned and deveined
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of one lemon

Preheat the broiler.  Melt butter in saucepan.  Stir in turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, and lemon juice.  Toss the shrimp with the seasoned butter and spread on a broiler pan.  Broil until shrimp are a golden brown, about 8 minutes.  Serve hot.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Food and Flood for the Fourth

We decided not to join the 100,000+ throng on the Burlington waterfront on July 3rd, which is when the city of Burlington celebrates.  Their fireworks are quite amazing, but we find that we have less tolerance for the crowds and the exit traffic is a nightmare.
We celebrated in a quiet way on Wednesday.  We barbecued some chicken and I made a sweet potato salad. Watermelon for dessert. How 4th of July is that? Then we sat on the deck and watched a fireworks show of lightning—the cloud to cloud type that races all over the sky, complete with rolling thunder.
Here on our hill, we had sprinkles.  It was a good thing that Burlington had its fireworks the night before because that area was getting the brunt of a storm called a bow echo.
Sweet Potato Salad
  • one large sweet potato, cut in bite size chunks
  • a stalk of celery, chopped
  • half of a red bell pepper, chopped
  • chives or a scallion, sliced
  • parsley
Steam the sweet potato just until fork tender (6 to 8 minutes, don’t over cook).  When cooled, toss with the remaining salad ingredients and the following dressing:
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. sugar, pinch of salt, a good grind of pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
Whisk first five ingredients in a small bowl.  Slowly drizzle in the oil and continue to whisk until well blended.
This recipe was inspired by one of the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks—still among my favorites.  It easily serves two, but if one of you won’t touch sweet potatoes, give him a tossed salad and eat it all yourself over a couple of meals.  The dressing works for regular potato salad too.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Here is a quilted place mat that I made this past spring:
Quilted mat1

I use it on the bedside table of the guest room:Quilted mat2

I have also use scraps of material from other sewing projects to piece together and quilt some pot holders.  This has been the some sum total of my quilting experience to date.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just wanted to use up scraps.

Was I daunted by my lack of education and experience when I for some reason took it into my head to attempt a larger quilt project?    No, no, just plunge ahead full speed.  Make it up as you go along.
quilt top 001
Here we are in progress.  Since I took this picture I have added a plain narrow border and then a wider print border.  I have cut the backing and the batting and pinned everything together.  I think it’s way too big to quilt on a regular sewing machine and I had not previously considered the possibility of hand quilting.

Now I know why it is fairly common to find quilt tops, unfinished, for sale at yard sales and flea markets.  You would have thought the piecing together part was the hard part…but noooooooooooo.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

What I Learned About Sparrows

The white sparrow prompted me to do some surfing.  I learned a few things about  sparrows in general.
  • Their Latin name is Passer domesticus.  The common name derives from the Middle English sparewe.  They are may also be referred to as spodgie, spuggy,or sprog.
  • Sparrows are the most common wild bird on earth.
  • They are used as a Christian symbol to signify the importance of all things in God’s eyes, and extending on that, as a symbol of God’s presence.
  • In many European traditions, the sparrow is an omen of death.  If one flies into your house you should catch it and break its little neck or otherwise you will die yourself.  If a sparrow flies into your house and lands on your piano—that’s really bad.  You are doomed. (A sparrow did fly into our house once a couple of summers ago.  Mike picked it up and took it back outside.  Neither of us died, but thank goodness we don’t have a piano!)
  • Both Chauser and Shakespeare referenced the sparrow’s lecherous sexual behavior in their work.
  • Sparrow pie was a common rural dish until around the early 1900’s.
  • Ancient Egyptians considered the sparrow a soul catcher.  Sailors would often have a tattoo of a sparrow so that their souls would be carried to heaven if they died at sea.
  • In the Indonesian culture, sparrows are omens of good luck. (Indonesians are SO much more cheerful than Europeans, I think.) If a sparrow flies into your house, it is a sign that there will soon be a wedding.
  • The Indonesians also say that if a woman sees a sparrow on Valentine’s Day, it is a sign that she will happily married to a poor man.
About white sparrows, I learned:
  • A true albino sparrow would have pink eyes, feet, and beak.
  • A condition called leucism is responsible for white skin and feathers on all or part of the body in some sparrows.  An all white sparrow like our little fellow is quite rare.
  • Life can be cruel and white birds are easy to spot by predators.
  • Often white birds are subject to hostility from their own flock.
The white sparrow seems to be accepted by the other sparrows that congregate at our feeder.  He is alarmingly visible, although quite beautiful.  We are rooting for him.