Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Keeping a Promise.

     In 1989, my family and I were living in Melissa, Texas, having relocated from the northshore of Boston, Massachusetts the year before, and we welcomed my paternal grandparents for a visit, their first and only during our four years there.  It was during this visit that my grandmother, Marion, tried (in vain, as it was) to teach me to knit.  Before our relocation (and after our return), I loved watching her knit.  I was mesmerized at how she crafted afghans, rugs, sweaters, etc, simply by using two needles, yarn, and her hands.  After her passing in January 1996, someone estimated that she made approx. eighty afghans during her lifetimes, each of which roughly forty hours to complete.  She sat by my side and handed me a pair of short needles with ivory-colored yarn looped about one of them.  I'm not certain how long we sat there, but I couldn't grasp all the twists with the skeins, positioning my hands, and coorindating the needles.  Eventually,the towel was thrown in, despite her insistence that my hands and long fingers were just "perfect" for knitting.  I promised her that one day I would learn.

     The years haven't diminish my desire to keep the promise.  I don't think there's many girls who, even during their teens, walk longingly by the knitting section of craft stores, wishing they could master it in some capacity, but I did.  It was a reminder of what was left undone, a promise not kept.  Until now.

     I've always relished learning skills that, though no longer hold much relevancy now, ties me closer to my connection with the past.  Of course, some of these skills are now in vogue, or at least have enjoyed a renewal recently: homemade bread, sewing, etc.  I've recently entertained the thought of learning to spin, doubtful if anyone in the area offered the service only to find a new growth of classes devoted to this task.  I've even learned how to make my own butter, though this mayn't be something everyone wishes to take on. I tend to think it is my love of history that imbues me with the desire to take these things on--to acquire the skills that made up day to day tasks of my grandmothers of further generations back; it ties me to them.

     And so it is with knitting.  One of my lovely neighbors offered very kindly to teach me, even supplying me with needles and a ball of yarn.  Although our first lesson was cut rather short by the antics of my children, I carried on at home, and found many video tutorials on youtube to assist me.  I feel a deep sense of pride wielding my needles now, knowing, slowly but surely, I am keeping my promise to Nana.  I find it a very soothing activity, and am enjoying the process, even when my two year old son pulls off a row of somewhat tidy stitches, necessitating a restart.  It has meant a great deal to keep this promsie to my grandmother, and even more to know I shall hold this connection with her now.   

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A Toe, An Apple, and a Mouse Face: My Week.

So, where do I begin with my week?  It began nice enough.  My daughter was surprised, upon entering playgroup, to find two bouncy castles put up.  She was just ectastic.  I'd known about this for some time, but kept it as a surprise.  Then, a few days later, I had a lovely chat with my dear friend, Teddy, who lives back in Boston.  Teddy and I have been friends for years and years, and we're highly anxious for his trip to Scotland next week.  And then came the toe.

My inquistive two year old son pulled a solid wooden drawer out of a dresser onto his toe.  Now, even in the best of times, I'm not good with the sight of blood, and the color changes happening in my son's toe nail was more than enough to send me to the ground.  Luckily, a girlfriend of mine lives almost literally in back of us, and she had a first aid kit for me to borrow.  After a lovely struggle of holding my boy down so that my husband could bandage his foot, things began to settle down.

The following day the weather was just awful, and, as I couldn't put a shoe my son's foot, I kept both children inside until a mid-afternoon doctor's appointment; we had to make sure everything with the toe was fine.  That went well--and, shortly after coming home--we met with the apple.

I was preparing dinner when my nearly four old comes in and announces she has an apple in her nose.  Sure, I said, teasing; I'd just before given both kids apple slicces for a snack.  The she said it hurt.  Uh oh.  I looked up her nose, but saw nothing.  I took her over to the window, tilted her head, and, sure enough, there was a piece of APPPLE up her nose.  And I mean up.  I tried getting her to blow her nose.  Nothing.  I tried massaging her nose.  Nothing.  I tried tweezers, but, on realize just how far she'd managed to get it, I admitted defeat and planned a trip to the emergency.

After a two hour wait, we finally saw the doctor.  We again tried a regime of blowing her nose; she ended up sneezing twice with no dice.  Finally, the nurses wrapped her in a blanket like a fajita, and the doc went in with a long, thin pair of tweezers and, at last, out came a piece of apple the size of an m & m.  Oddly, after this whole thing, and screaming like a banshee all the while, my daughter thanked the nurses, chose from the stickers offered, and said goodbye.

The conclusion of the week ended with a mouse face.  Yes, a mouse face.  My husband and I have three cats: Sita, Ollie, and Fifi.  Sita was a rescue cat, found years ago wandering the streets of Edinburgh.  She's our old girl, very elegant and regal.  She can be quite grumpy, so much so that this is the first thing I mention whenever my daughter has a new friend over.  Ollie is a lovable rogue.  He's very adventurous, but so affectionate.  Lastly is Fifi, the newest addition.  Although she is incredibly cute, her spunkiness constantly reminds me of why we decided on another cat.  Recently, under Ollie's tutlage, she's begun hunting mice and, yesterday morning, while Ollie gazed proudly, she was outside enjoying her very first mouse breakfast.  When I finally had the courage to open the back door, there, staring me in the face, was all that remained: a mouse face. 

What a week!  I need a break.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Chicken Caesar Burgers, oh wow!

Before I delve into the deliciousness that is chicken caesar burgers, I'd like to thank those whom reached out to me with the previous post.  It was much appreciated, and truly helped sooth me during such a painful day.

Okay, on to my most recent cooking adventure.  Although I've not yet written on cooking, it is a huge passion of mine, though (exluding my family and friends) it comes third after 1. History and 2. Sewing.  I've been a big fan of Rachael Ray since the bygone days when she was just on the foodnetwork doing 30 minute meals.  I love her recipes; she keeps things fresh, with wonderful twists on classics. 

Last night, I made her recipe for chicken caesar burgers, and they were fantastic.  I added my own wee twist by serving it with a parmesan sauce on top (another RR recipe).  The burgers, made up of ground chicken, parsley, dijon mustard, and other caesar ingridents, proved a small challenge for me.  As I live in the UK, ground chicken (at least in my area of Scotland) is not to be found.  However, for Christmas, my husband gave me some rather nifty kitchen gadgets, and, one of them, was labeled as being able to ground meat.  So, yesterday, I gave this a try and it worked just fine.

The meal was just fab, and I'll certainly be doing these again.  So, with that, if anyone is looking for something new for dinner, definitely give these a try.  So delish!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

In my memory she's healthy...

This morning, as I prepared to set breakfast on the table for my two children, I caught sight of the date on my new phone: April 4th.  Whilst I'm fairly indifferent with most days, those otherwise non-holiday/non-birthdays/ non-anniversaries, this day, however, is special, but not a 'good' special.  Today, twenty-two years ago, I lost my very best friend, Jennie.

I met Jennie in the spring of 1989 in Allen, Texas at St Jude's Church.  My family and I have moved to Texas the previous summer, and we were having trouble finding a good church to attend.  Unfortunately, there weren't many Catholic churches to be found in North Texas then--I cannot say now, as I haven't returned to Texas since a visit in 1995.  That day, however, my mother, sister, brother, and I happened upon St Jude's, and here I met Jennie. 

My mother popped inside herself, back in the day when parents felt it safe enough to do so, and rushed back out minutes later to bring us inside.  Just inside the door I saw a girl a bit older than myself, in her early teens, with honey blond hair to her shoulders (though even now, I realise, it may have been a wig), wearing a blue and white checked dress.  Jennie greeted me warmly, taking both my hands in her own.  She was so excited to have met someone else with the same name as her and the same middle initial, hers Lou and mine Leigh.  Her family--mother, father, and brother--were devote attendees of St Jude's, and urged us to do so as well, which we did.

As the weeks went by, and we got to know others at the church, I came to learn an unsettling and disturbing fact about Jennie, the girl I'd come to idolize, the girl who'd become my de facto big sister: she had cancer, quite badly actually.  Each week, services asked the Lord to pray for her recovery, for her strength, and that of her family.  At eleven years old, I did not see the illness myself, for how could I?  Jennie, when I saw her, was always glowing, smiling her warm smile, surrounded by friends who didn't seem to see her illness either.  I knew what cancer meant at my age, and I knew people could die from it.  But such was my place still firmly set within the realm of childhood that I did not for one moment allow myself to consider her demise.  After all, children weren't supposed to die.  Okay, there were freak accidents like plane crashes and such, but God wouldn't allow a child to die.

I kept my eyes shielded from this very impossible path for my friend, despite seeing her grow thinner and thinner.  When I first read Little Women a few years later, I was very much reminded of Jennie in the passage about Beth's decline.  Though I can't remember it word for word, it was something like the, 'Mortal portion of her thinning away, and the immortal beginning to shine through.' 

That Easter of 1990 was April 3rd, and the last one I spent as a child for, the next day, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the phone rang.  I was out playing at the time, but something made me run inside when I saw my mother on the phone, crying.  The world seemed to stop, everything halted.  The prayer tree of St Jude's had phoned, she said, trying, though in vain, to make her words calm, reassuring, to say that Jennie had passed away.  I don't remember much after that.  I know I ran to my room and stayed there a very long time.  I vaguely recall my mother knocking with pleas for me to come to dinner, but there is a terrible haze over that day and those that followed.  Oddly, I am grateful for that haze, as I don't think I truly wish to relive them in anyway.

What I do take away from that week was her funeral, the first funeral I ever attended.  I remember the church packed beyond capacity, the vestibule even choked with attendees, the powerful scent of flowers, banked everywhere possible, and a small green casket, overlaid gently with a white pall.  Again, bits are hazy, but I do recall standing before her casket on the way to Communion, touching it to be close to her.  Though I don't remember it clearly (again, thankfully), I am told I stood there for some time, staring at the casket, whilst others had burned in their sight, the (I imagine) awful image of one child caressing the casket of another child. 

I can truthfully say that that week was the final chapter of my childhood, a childhood were children didn't die and others didn't go to their best friend's funerals.  I've been asked in the past, rather insensitively, how she could have been my best friend when I hardly knew her.  Yes, I never had Jennie over to our house, and I never went to hers.  No, we never gabbed over the phone to each other about New Kids on the Block and neon peace signs, and whether they were as popular at her school as at mine.  I've termed her my best friend because she was the best.  She became my friend, no questions asked, from the moment she met me, she smiled and laughed in the face of her illness and eventual killer, she was brave for her family and friends, all of whom helped her go with God. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Christmas Stockings, Ornaments, and Mince Pies, oh my!

Okay, I've been quite the naughty girl with nary a post for six weeks, but my 3 1/2 year old and 20 month old have been running coordinated circles around me! 

Sadly, I have not been able to complete my Ceylon dress for this weekend's anniversary getaway.  I so envisioned myself enveloped by the wonderful Colette Patterns' creation, but the time simply wasn't there.  It is still a project I shall carry on with, but, this time, perhaps without a set deadline, given the children and my grad work.  Not to fret, though, I shall still post updates and pics as I progress.

So, what have I been doing other than not working on Ceylon?  As I try to corral the children in our front sitting room on most days--baby gates STILL not up despite hubby's promise--I've taken to needlework when not occupied with papers.  Yesterday, following a template from Sew Magazine (, I made a Christmas tree ornament with a beaded holly sprig, which I'm very proud of, on the front and 'Noel' embroidered on the back.  My daughter was just tickled with watching me make it, and was so excited when it was stuffed and sewn up.  Also, finding a gorgeous antique-looking fabric from, I made her a Christmas stocking with green lining, and her name embroidered and beaded at the top.  It's nearly finished now, and she just cannot wait to see it hanging up.  Stockings are planned for my son, and my husband and myself--just waiting for the fabric to arrive.

Lastly, after many unfulfilled promises, I made mincemeat pie filling for my husband, a recipe that can be done ahead of time.  My very English spouse adores mince pies, and, if unchecked, could OD on them every holiday season.  I'm not a personal fan of this dessert, and, not realising the vegetable suet contained wheat flour, my daughter won't be partaking of it either.  So, I can only hope hubby enjoys the pie--he'll be having it all himself unless our wee boy takes a fancy to it as well.  Here's a link for anyone interested in the recipe; it was very easy to put together, though I've no idea how it tastes!  : )

Take care all!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Battle Goes On...

My progress has been slowed a bit by a virus and overt exhaustion.  All pattern pieces have been cut out of a second hand sheet and all bits of gathering have been completed.  I stitched the first couple of pieces together with no problems (though the thread kept bunching underneath for some reason). Now, though, I come to grading the seams, a problem I had the previous time.  Somehow, when grading this portion (which would accomodate part of the bust), I've given myself a silhouette akin to bullet bras.  It's all part of the learnign process, so I shall, in my acclimated-Britishness, keep calm (mostly!) and carry on.

On a lighter note, I've recently found the site for Denver Fabrics, an online store mentioned and recommended on a number of blogs and webpages.  The prices are great and the fabrics look amazing.  So many ideas!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Ceylon, Revisited...

Two posts in one day, astonishing!  I shall attempt to keep a log of my second attempt at the gorgeous Ceylon dress pattern from Colette's.  Not only to I simply wish to conquer it because of its vintage appeal (swoon!), but because I'd love to don it during my anniversary getaway with my husband.  We're planning a weekend trip to York, England to celebrate four years of wedded bliss.

My first step back into my Ceylon War started nearly three hours ago when I dragged out the pattern pieces.  As I mentioned in my previous post, being very new to sewing clothes, I cut my pattern pieces out and, as I learned when tracing them onto tracing paper this evening, found I initially cut out the WRONG SIZE.  In some cases, I cut two different sizes on the same piece [mentally clunks self on forehead].

But that is behind me now.  All of the pattern pieces have now been properly traced onto fresh pattern paper and cut out, with all of the appropriate notches and markings.  Tomorrow (if the kids go down for a nap [crossing fingers & toes]) I shall begin my second step: cutting pattern pieces from a used (but clean!) sheet from my local thrift shop for my muslin.  This time it's personal... : )