Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cold ahead, Thanksgiving ahead, Christmas crafting ahead!

Everyone around here including me, is watching the weather for the coming week with a very wary eye. The high temperature by Tuesday is supposed to be only 35 degrees. The low doesn't usually get that low this early in the season, so people are rightfully worried. Pipes aren't insulated here. There are also lots of animals to keep warm.

I'm looking forward to five more days before the week off for Thanksgiving break. I made some food for the upcoming week's meals-

--Pea soup with potatoes, carrots, onions
--Kale chips
--jalapeno corn muffins
--chopped pineapple (to throw in cottage cheese)

Pea soup is so easy to make, and so good, filling, healthy, and delicious!

I started a Christmas project. I have all these photos I took, some are good, I think. And the free digital software these days is so powerful and versatile, I can manipulate the photos and make lots of things with them. I decided to make bookmarks from my photos, add scripture, print them on quality photo paper at home, and then laminate them at school. (The School charges a reasonable rate for personal use).

Just because the project is digital, doesn't mean it's easily accomplished. It takes time to select just the right photo, add a border that complements the photo, and to find a scripture to match. Deciding on the font and placement also takes skill, just ask any graphic designer. If the end result looks good, that seems like no big deal, but it is a big deal, because the designer did a perfect job that took much time. If the font is too big or too small, too scripted and hard to read, or off center, the project will look clumsy and amateur.

I had a hard time at first with cropping the size of the bookmark just right. Two inches by 7 inches seems to be a good, proportional size for a bookmark. Two of them I've finished will need to be redone because they are too wide. I saw this when I printed out a draft copy. But here are the results of the first pass.



In real life the nail bookmark is easier to read. But you can see the issues. Choosing a photo that isn't too busy is the key. Also being able to see a large photo and crop the parts that will translate well to a 2X7 inch strip, and still tell a story is also key.

In writing when one edits, it's all about what you leave out, and the same is true of any other creative art project. It's all about what you leave out. I'm excited to use the photos I've been taking for these many decades.

I'll paste a logo on the back, here it is

Have a good week ahead, try to stay warm!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Of leaf angels and London Bridge

The Arctic Plunge weather has arrived. We had a low of 26°F and a high of 48°F. Tonight is supposed to be colder. It's unusual that the daytime temps don't rebound. The strong sun and length of time the sun is usually out tends to make a warmish daytime even in the middle of winter. Brr, we're in for a chilly night.

It was a very good week at school, and at home. I'm very blessed to have creature comforts, a good job, friends, and my church.

This week at school there were several fun events. It's a fun time of year where there are several things going on. Next Wednesday the cafeteria ladies put on a Thanksgiving feast for lunch, with all the fixins. It is always a delicious meal. The kindergartners wear their Indian or Pilgrim hats and outfits they'd made and we make a parade around the school as we go to the cafeteria.

Sleigh Ride. EPrata photo via JAdams
In December there is a Christmas program. This week our event was we had photographs with Santa. A man dressed as Santa comes in and the children can have a portrait taken, and the parents can choose to buy it or not. The day that Santa comes is a very exciting day in the kindergarten-grade 2 wing of the school. I was on hall duty by the door and I heard the excitement in the pitter-patter of running footsteps, all hurrying, one after another as they entered, to tell of the news that Santa is coming.

One boy came to tell me that Santa was HERE. He'd arrived! He said, "And he didn't come in a sleigh! He came in a Silver Ford F-150 with a front license plate that says SANTA!"

A truck is even better than a sleigh, I'm guessing by the excitement in his voice, lol.

On the playground we ended the week with a sweet moment. I sometimes despair of the life ahead of the children as the movie and television entertainment gets darker and darker with each passing season. Their impressionable minds are so drenched with dark visions and thoughts. The kids play vampire games and play zombies, and even mimic the eating habits of zombis, which of course is cannibalism. Zombies eat flesh. Sometimes the games get rough as the zombie or vampire chases after a victim and tries to catch him. The teachers always put an end to the rough play right away. In past times, I remember on the playground playing Red Rover and Foursquare and jumping rope. Where were those games? Why did they die? Where was simple innocence?

My private cry was heard...because on the last recess of the week one of the boys lining up looked up at me. All red-cheeked, happy and flushed, he said, "We played London Bridge and made leaf angels!"

Awww. Thanks for the sweetness!

Tower Bridge, London, AKA London Bridge. EPrata photo


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hibiscus flower tea: A review

I mentioned a few days ago that I was excited to have bought some new herb teas to try. I am looking for new flavor and perhaps some medicinal value. To that end, I bought rose hip tea (flavor) and hibiscus flower tea, (medicinal).

I purchased Davidson's Tea Hibiscus Flower, 100-Count Tea Bags. USDA Certified Organic and Caffeine-free. Also Organic Rose Hips Alvita Tea 24 Bag, made with premium-quality organic rose hips and produces a light and delightful fruity flavor and aroma. Traditionally used for its antioxidant properties USDA Organic Gluten Free Kosher Suggested Use

I have no sense of smell, but apparently the rose hips are not only tasty but smell like heaven. The aroma of roses lingers and makes the room smell lovely.

The hibiscus is supposed to be powerful flavor but quite astringent and its medicinal properties are supposed to aid digestion.

I made the rose hip tea and it was very lovely tasting. Gentle, flavorful, like small flowers after a dewy summer rain.

The hibiscus blew me out of the water. It was very strong, acidic, and too powerful. I tried to sweeten it with some French vanilla creamer, but the creamer curdled right away. I learned later that hibiscus is the main ingredient in red zinger tea, a tea I’ve never cared for. Oh well, there goes all my careful research. I overlooked a big one.

The problem was, the only packet the rose hips came in (organic, good price) was a 24 pack, and the hibiscus for the same reasons came in a 100 pack. Oh, dear. I goofed. I should have remembered to try first, then invest. I do not want to be stuck with 99 unused, organic hibiscus tea bags, I don’t want to throw them out, no one I know would enjoy them I don't think, and I don’t like wasting.

I’m stubborn, you see.

I could have learned to like the taste, it wasn't awful, just not my cup of tea. I hope you see what I did there. But there had to be an ever better solution.

I googled the issue and I found a great potential remedy. There was a blogger who had the same issues I did, astringent hibiscus flower tea was not so much to her liking, but she found that if she cold brewed it, the taste was gentler. In addition, she made a simple syrup to add to the brew to sweeten it.

Chilled Hibiscus flower tea, and simple syrup
A simple syrup is just that, one part water to one part sugar. Heat to dissolve, while stirring. Store in a clean, covered jar (I have plenty of Mason jars) in the fridge, and it should keep for up to two weeks.

I tried making it the other night. I popped two tea bags in cold water and a large mason jar- 32 oz I think. I poured some yesterday afternoon when I got home from school. The color is jewel-like, cranberry color. Very nice.

I added a few teaspoons of the syrup and voila! Not only drinkable tea, but delicious tea! I really enjoy it. Hibiscus tea is refreshing when chilled! The difference between heating and chilling it, and adding a touch of sweetener, made it a delightful beverage to me. Thank you google. I lift a pretty glass of chilled herb tea to you, and to the lady blogger who gave me the solution.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Color Series: White

Examining the colors of the world: white

Clouds barely there...
EPrata photo
Not red, but white barns in calm fields
EPrata photo
And white barns with weathervanes
EPrata photo
Chickens brooding white
EPrata photo
Fog on cat little cat feet
EPrata photo
Ice cold and white
EPrata photo
Mayberry white fences
EPrata photo
Snow blanketing coldly, no warmth to be found under it at all
EPrata photo
Steeples against azure
EPrata photo
Wedding dresses and promises white and fresh
EPrata photo
We opened with a clear sky and barely there clouds, and end with the sky also, a moon looming and deeply present in white against dark
EPrata photo

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Tea, cats, cooking, weekend!

COUGH UP A LUNG

I caved in and went to the clinic, and yes, the Doc diagnosed bronchitis. I get it every year, albeit earlier and earlier in the year. Actually this time I had the flu, and it left behind three weeks of fatigue, coughing, and aches that I definitely did not want to turn into pneumonia. So I was a good girl and I went..

I got my meds filled and right away I started to feel better. The inflamed lungs subsided their throbbing, cement-wright feeling. I coughed less, and I got my energy back.

Now after two days, I think I might actually stay awake all day and be somewhat productive.

I worry because the bronchial issues are a job hazard for me, and it takes more out of me each year. That was one of the reasons I quit teaching in the first place. Oh, well, I still think it is the best job in the world. I love helping kids.

NOISE NOISE- GUESS THE NOISE

Murray kept me awake last night. He had gotten a-hold of something I could not identify. I know all his sounds. THUNK mans he's shoved another book off the coffee table. BUMP means he's jumped off the kitty litter bucket onto the floor and the litter barrel thunked against the wall in a rebound from his launch. BAM means he's whacking the pictures against the wall, which means I forgot to put up the pillow barrier to stop him doing that. He has knocked two pictures off the wall and broke them, and they were expensive pieces. Fortunately I could repair them myself.

But last night it was CLINK CLINK CLINK. I dunno. This morning I was doing dishes and I saw him sitting on the buffet and reaching his paw into my dish of rocks and gems and fossils. I think that was what he did last night. He reached in and pushed off an amethyst or a shell or a fossil in my display dish onto the floor and chased it all night. I can only speculate that there is some semi-precious gem stuffed under some bookcase or nook or cranny somewhere that I'll find next year. Sigh. See? This is why I can't have nice things. LOL.

GENTEAL

I ordered some teas to try and they came in today. Hibiscus flower and Rose Hip are two new teas for me. I am steeping rose hip tea now. It is supposed to have a lot of vitamin C and also antioxidents. I'm so excited. I love everything about tea.


THE GOOD EGG

Long ago I had a microwave egg poacher. It cooked two perfect nuked eggs, it only took a minute and they were the right size for English Muffins. But being made of plastic, it eventually got too unsanitary to use and I threw it out.

I have tried making poached eggs the traditional way, in water, but it takes too long, makes a mess in the pan, and the eggs don't come out in a nice circle.

I've looked for a new one ever since but have not found it in stores to my satisfaction (size, price, function). When I made my tea order I added a microwave egg poacher that looked like a good candidate. It's made of durable silicon, and has space for two eggs. The cover lets out steam and retains heat. No adding water is necessary. Here it is:


I'm so relieved they placed the neat schematic in there so I'll know where to place the eggs! LOL. It is a good cooker, the eggs came out the way I like them- with firm whites and slightly runny egg yolk. I just have to experiment with the timing. I cooked them in my 700 watt microwave for 1 min, then another min, then 15 seconds, then 30 seconds...all at half power. I'll cook in its entirety tomorrow and hopefully it won't explode.

PILLOW TALK

Seeing as it is chore day, and I had some energy back from taking the meds, I decided to make hay while the sun shone. I cleaned up the kitchen and then messed it up. I made roasted scallions, cauliflower, carrots (separately) baked some potatoes, and put together an apple crumble. I defrosted some garden tomatoes I'd frozen, to make a vegetarian chili tomorrow, and also got the freshly picked jalapenos and banana peppers out for de-seeding.

It is also 'change the sheets day'.  I love making the bed with fresh sheets because I love fresh sheets when I slide into bed that night. I also enjoy making hospital corners and making the bedspread fringe line up perfectly with the bottom of the bed rail. I fluff the pillows and arrange them just right. When I come into the bedroom after that, it all looks so clean and tidy and cozy and neat and symmetrical. Bliss.

Apparently Murray thinks so too.

Aw, Murray...what am I gonna do wid you? Love you to pieces I guess!


Monday, November 03, 2014

Life on the farm

I call my place a farm, it's a semi-farm. All the properties around here if they aren't an outright farm, are a semi-farm, keeping some animals. Horses, a few chickens, a cow or two, or in my case, sheep.

The weather turned unseasonably cold, but it'll be back up to the high 60s/low 70s in a day or two. That's the great thing about Georgia weather in the winter- it might get cold but it doesn't last long. Here is the cold/freeze map-


However the growing season is pretty much over. The farmer's market goes until Dec 2 though. Farmers & growers might squeeze one or two more weeks if they cover things. I plucked my last little pepper from my plant. I ate it in eggs for breakfast yesterday.


The yard still looks lovely. The leaves don't turn much here. That's a school playground across the street.


The last morning glory?

The neighbor on the other side of the house's windchime. Her son made it.


The sheep are comfy in their winter coats. I'll have to wear a coat this morning. Practically for the first time ever. I am subbing for a friend's outside car duty this morning. It's 29 degrees. Yes, I'll need a coat if I'm going to be outside for 40 minutes. I'll get teased about this. I haven't worn a coat in 8 years. When I have outside duty it's usually at 2:00 and the day has sufficiently warmed up enough for me, this Yankee.


My friend gave me this cute tea for one set. It's by Whittard, a British tea company established in the late 1800s. You put the hot water and tea in the top and set it on the cup, which warms the cup. It is terribly cute and I got wildly excited over it. I enjoy tea every day.


The utility company put up this new pole near the fig tree. I like the yellow letters and the cool medallion on top. I'm going to add this photo to my Color Series: Yellow page.


So that's all that's happening at the homestead. I love fall in Georgia.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weekend cooking: yams & apple casserole, roasted broccoli, mashed potatoes

I am making yam and apple casserole, baked potatoes, roasted broccoli. To warm up the house, and my belly.

Someone gave me the yams, and apples, and also red potatoes.

Using yams is always kind of a struggle. They are a hard vegetable to deal with, literally. They take a long time to cook, they're hard to peel, and so on.

When I receive gifts of food from thoughtful friends, I use them. So when I received apples and yams so of course I googled "apples and yams." Recipes abounded. I am making two casseroles, one for my friend who gave me the ingredients.

The apples had to be cored, peeled and sliced, and the yams boiled, cooled, peeled and then sliced. Yikes, a lot of work. You layer the sliced apples and sliced yams. In a small saucepan mix cornstarch, apple juice, butter, brown sugar and lemon juice. Pour over the apple-yam layers. Bake, like, forever, and baste constantly.

There is only 5 minutes left on the timer and there is a lot of juice left. So much I wonder if I doubled the cornstarch. We will see in the end. I'll take the casseroles out and let them rest, and see how much juice remains.

While the oven was on I roasted broccoli too.

As for the red potatoes...they had been accidentally frozen. My friend gave them to me saying, "See if you can do anything with these. I'm going to throw them out." I love a challenge.

Unfortunately, this was not challenging. LOL. All I did was google "I accidentally froze red potatoes."

The first search result was from a frugal site, which was responding to a question, "what can I do with accidentally frozen potatoes?" I love the internet.

The red potatoes had been frozen whole, in a Ziploc. I squeezed them hard. The starch separates, and a lot of water came out. The skins slipped off easily, too. The meat turned a bit gray, but oh well.

I crumbled the meat into a baking dish and popped them in the oven with the other stuff I was baking. This would continue drying them. I did not add any spices, salt, butter or milk. Just a pile o' potatoes, baking uncovered.

When the edges were getting a bit brown and crusty I took it out and let it cool. I decided to make mashed potatoes out of them. Add milk, salt and butter. I think they came out OK. I like potatoes any way they're served. I am giving half to the friend who gave me the potatoes and she will let me know if they are palatable.

It's a gorgeous day. I am going to add oil to the car, and clean the interior. I'll zip over to the friend's house and deliver the food. Then I plan to vacuum my apartment and then take a nap. I want to read this evening, with tea. It's the weekend and life is good.

PS:
Nope, the casseroles are still too juicy. Maybe I did forget to double the cornstarch. Or the recipe makes it this way. I'll never make this again, it's taken hours. My personal favorite-to-try recipe I found this morning is a spicy African yam-peanut soup. I'll do that next time, if I ever get yams again.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Drill sergeant on the playground

What a gorgeous day today was! Fall in northern Georgia is just great. No humidity, days in the low 70s, clear night skies with sparkling stars.

I had my car in the shop for a few days and I got it back this afternoon. Just in time, I ran out of cat food and litter this morning. I made a run to the Dollar Store and the local grocery store. The prices at the Dollar Store are admittedly extremely helpful, but it's sort of a depressing place. I wouldn't trade it though, for having to drive to a Wal-Mart or a Target in Athens.

I bought broccoli which will be roasted. I think roasted broccoli is the tastiest vegetable alive. Unless it's spinach salad with boiled eggs, feta and mushrooms. Or a spinacci, a sauteed spinach--lemon-garlic with mushrooms and softened feta stuffed into a toasted pita. All those are on the agenda for the weekend. I already made pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins.

I cleaned the kitchen so it'll look nice when I come home and collapse tomorrow afternoon, lol. I have some books on the docket and I plan to take some walks and look at the sheep, morning glories, clouds, birds, chickens and anything else that crosses my path.

I think I'll wash the car too. It's been five years. It's due.

I was on recess duty today. Usually the kids are like spilled marbles, rolling everywhere randomly, the scene punctuated by the occasional shriek. So when a gaggle of about 8 or so kids lined up against the chainlink fence and looked listened to a kindergarten boy who was yelling at them, I perked up. I nudged the other teacher on duty and said, "Hm, something is going on there."

The lineup of kids was toward me and the drill sergeant boy was back to me. He was gesturing fervently and saying something loudly. Then they all saluted the drill sergeant boy! After that, they all broke into a run around the pavilion. They were doing laps! The boy was drilling them.

I asked him later,

"What were you doing?"
 He said, "Training them. Making them exercise."

I thought about it this evening. Can I get 8 or so kids to stop what they're doing, at recess, line up, look at me, listen to me, do what I say, AND salute me?

No. I cannot.
Well played, young boy. Well played.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Murray the Cat is One Year Old

Today I'm making split pea soup, roasted cabbage, black beans N rice, and apple crumble. I still have pumpkin muffins left over from a few days ago. This will be the basis for meals this week.

I like pea soup because it's hearty and SO easy to make. I discovered boil-in-bag rice when a friend dropped some off when I had the flu. Boil in bag, where have you been all my life? I'll add black beans and celery and a bit of hot sauce. The apple crumble is because apples were on sale, 3 for $1.

The weather is turning fall-like here in North GA. I read on Twitter a funny line that encapsulates the situation:

"The nights know it's fall, but the days haven't committed yet."

The nights are in the upper 40s/low 50s but the daytimes are still in the upper 70s/low 80s. It's hard to dress for such a wide range of temps. But I'm not complaining, The days are warm enough I don't have to turn on the heat yet at night. Best of all, the humidity is gone. The nights are so clear I enjoy standing in the yard when it's dark, just looking at the clarity of the stars, moon, and planets. In rural GA there are no ambient lights to compete with the glory of the heavenly lights.

Murray the kitty was born sometime last October. The neighbor who lived here at the time, noticed the kitten living under the shed, and was often cold or hungry. She started feeding him. After 8 weeks or so, she had him fixed and attended to be the local vet. He was still an outdoor, yard cat though.

Once you start feeding an animal, it's my position that he is your responsibility. It's cruel to teach the animal to depend on you for food ad water and then take it away. At one point in early January last year we were predicted to have exceedingly cold temperatures, near zero, which is unheard of for this area of the south. The weather forecasters were advising people to bring in their animals, to the house, the barn, wherever. I asked the neighbor if I could bring Murray in, just for the duration.

Ha ha. The duration is ongoing almost a year later. Keeping Murray inside with me was fine with the neighbor, and eventually she moved away anyway.

At first, he was standoffish with me, and minimally affectionate. I could see he wanted affection though, even when he was a yard cat. He'd come bounding out from under the shed, his home, when I drove in from school. I'd groom him at the picnic table, and pet him. He would only stand it for a few minutes though. He was too preoccupied with being alert for noises and predators and danger. Let's just say he was skittish.

But I could see the cat he wanted to be, and when I brought him in, I started a program of behavior conditioning.

When he came up to me for petting, I pet him but I always let him go before he fussed. Leave 'em wanting more was the motto. Plus, I wanted him to know he wasn't trapped.

When I groomed him with the comb (clipping nails came later) I stopped before he fussed and I immediately praised him and gave him a treat.

I left him alone when he decided on what spot to take for his naps. He chose the blue chair in the bedroom and I made sure it was always available to him, so he'd know he had a safe place to sleep.

It took a long time before he would climb on the bed to sleep with me and cat Bert and cat Luke. He just started doing so in the last month or so. I'm so excited when he comes up but I try not to manhandle him too much, but pet him to acknowledge him and let him know he's welcome, and then I just let him sleep where he wants. Increasingly, it's been closer to my head. He started at the feet, for 2 or 3 minutes. Then by my knees for 5 or 10 minutes. Then by my shoulders for an hour. Now he feels comfortable enough to sleep near the pillow for as long as he wants. Usually till 4 am and then he sits on the back of the couch and whacks pictures off the wall, sigh. I said he was growing, but not perfect ;)

At first I thought I'd have a problem with Murray and Bert. Bert is aloof, mild mannered and private. Murray of course, immediately gravitated to Bert. They snarled a few times because Murray likes to scare Bert by leaping on him while Bert is snoozing. Of course this is aggravating to Bert.

But Murray settled down into the pecking order and the three are downright chummy. Most days, lol. I have to remember that Murray is only just turned 1. He's still a kitten and will misbehave and pull pranks as kittens do.

I still believe that three cats is too many for me and overloads this apartment, But I would not trade his life for my comfort. He is a precious l'il thing and as long as he is alive I'll take care of him, and love him. He is my little snowball ghost kitty!

Here, Bert on the top bunk and Murray relaxing below. This would not have happened 9 months ago.

Impromptu kitty condo!

Doh! Murray leaps up and scares the kitty litter out of Bert! And Murray looked so innocent a moment ago!