Tag Archives: Christmas

Six inches of melting snow + warmer weather + 3 inches of rain = December flood

Well. Let’s just say it’s been a pretty weird week, given that we’re just a few days from Christmas.

The deluge began on Friday, the day before the first day of winter. Except for a few moments, it continued into early Sunday, the day after the first day of winter. One week earlier, we’d been digging of first one snowfall, and then another. So not only did we have the onslaught of 3 inches of rain but we had 6+ inches of melting snow.

And what happens with so much water? Flooding. Odd that we should have a flood on the first day of winter, but this is Ohio, land-of-the-weird-weather.

10500-saturday-night-rain-continues-and-riley-risesBy Saturday evening, we could see the lights of Bluffton University’s library reflecting on the green space directly across the creek from our house. That’s usually the first hint that the creek has spilled over its northern bank. Fortunately, we live on the high side of the creek.

My husband went out late Saturday, intending to photograph and videotape images for our website, The Bluffton Icon (www.blufftonicon.com). By the time he returned, the local police department had begun encouraging those in low-lying areas to move to higher ground. Memories of the August 2007 flood were still lingering.

By morning, streets were closed due to high water, and the high school football field was waist-high in water. But even by then, the water had begun to recede. By all accounts, we were pretty lucky, although those with soggy basements might not share that feeling.

1222-9.m.sundayAnd now? Just 24 hours after the water had begun to recede, the temps have dropped from 48 degrees to 30, and a few flurries have reminded us that we’ll likely see snow before we see that much rain again.

But it’s nearly Christmas, and thanks to the winter solstice, the days are getting longer. It’s the beginning of the end….of winter’s darkness, at least.

*For a video of the flooding, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPZ49fOaDag

(Photos and video courtesy of the Bluffton Icon.)

 

The pinch hitter and his Dead Sea Scroll pear/cranberry/blueberry pie

Pies are not on my list of favorites to bake or eat, but I’m pretty sure my husband’s first solid food was pie. So this weekend, I realized it was time to call in my pinch hitter since I’ve been in a no-blogging zone for the past five weeks while teaching.

On Saturday night when I returned from the Country Living Fair in Columbus, there was another Dead Sea Scroll pie cooling on the counter. The pie baker had been busy, so I took a photo and begged him to send me the recipe to share. He did more than that — he expounded. What a guy!

photo (10)Fred’s Dead Sea Scroll
Pear-Cranberry-Blueberry Pie

I call these pies my “Dead Sea Pie Scroll” series. That’s because I use Phyllo dough as crust. It’s frozen and rolls out looking like I think the Dead Sea Scrolls probably looked when they were unrolled after 2,000 years in the desert.

I followed the opinion that it’s very difficult to bake a bad pie.

On Saturday someone placed a bag of Bartlett pears on our back porch. So, I peeled them (about 7). Sliced them and started rummaging through the freezer to see what needed to be dumped.

I found a half bag of cranberries from Christmas and a bag of blueberries. I nuked them for 2 minutes, dumped them into the pear slices and started to think.

What else would go with this? So, in went one-half cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of corn starch and some random spices – ginger and something else that I don’t remember. You can never lose with sugar, but I like to try to limit it – most pie recipes call for lots more sugar than this.

While lemon juice is always good with cranberries, I had none, so I added a slug of OJ.

I wasn’t in the mood to make a crust, but luckily I had Phyllo dough frozen from a previous project. I used that for my pie crust and pie topping. After all, Phyllo sounds like “pie,” so why not use it as a crust substitute? It works.

Poured the fruit-sugar glop into the Pyllo crust, already placed in the deep dish pie plate.

I’d preheated the oven to 350. Placed the pie in the heated over and ignored it for one hour. I added an aluminum sheet on top of the pie so as to not burn the crust after one hour. 

Waited 30 more minutes and took it out of the oven. Didn’t wait to eat.

 

 

Re-purpose…again and again

Despite what all the crafters might have you think, the art of re-purposing isn’t new. Surely it dates back to a time when “disposable” was unthinkable. Those with memories of the Great Depression frequently speak — proudly — of how they re-used an item  over and over and just when it seemed destined for the dustbin some ingenious soul would determine a new use for the item.

My mom, who was born in 1922, often reminds me of how she used the wool from an aunt’s coat to make a coat for me. The coat is still in my attic — a gentle reminder that new is not always better.

Several years ago, when we moved my mom from her condo to an independent living center, I discovered some old cotton rice bags among her fabric stash. Back when we were kids, my parents bought large quantities of rice. Today those bags are usually made of some odd kind of fibrous stuff with a plastic feel.

But the “vintage” rice and flour bags were made of sturdy cotton and usually imprinted with the company name, amount and type of rice, etc. During the Depression, flour sacks were often made into clothing.

So when I found these bags, I decided to turn them into a two-layer shopping bag. I added a strap and it was perfect for the farmer’s market. One day, my aunt, who lived in Japan for 30 years or so, saw the bag and offered me her own collection of rice bags.

As Christmas approached, I realized the bags would be a perfect last-minute gift project, and ended up with four re-purposed market bags. This is really simple. All I did was turn one bag inside out so it would become the lining for the outer bag, then made straps from strips cut from an extra bag.

I sewed around the top of the two bags to hold them together, then sewed each end of the strap to the bag.1224121546  1224121545

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Tell me about your re-purposed projects. I’m always up for new ideas!

Of memories lost, remembered and why to be grateful for them

Christmas is all about memories…remembering those from the past and making new memories. Can you imagine not remembering the Christmases of your past?

Jeff Ingram doesn’t have those memories, or at least he can’t easily conjure them up in his mind. Holding an old Christmas ornament in his hand doesn’t quickly transport him to a childhood night of decorating a tree with his family. Ingram suffers from a type of amnesia called dissociative fugue. When he has an attack, his memory is wiped clean. That’s when his wife, Penny steps in. She is his memory. In a recent episode of NPR’s Story Corps, Jeff and Penny explained how she fills in the blanks.

It’s an amazing story. After listening to the podcast, memories just flooded back…from early childhood to my teenage years to college, then marriage and my own children from their early years to present.

Of course, the fact that it is a holiday season, my memories focused on Christmases past. I’ll bet my memories from our childhood years differ from those of my brothers. Thinking about these memories made me sad that Jeff Ingram cannot simply pull out these random thoughts, but his situation also made me grateful that I do have such happy memories as these…

Breakfast on Christmas morning always featured semmel, a simple German roll best slathered with homemade strawberry jam.

My doll, Ruthie, who got a new head every Christmas — over the years, she had brown, black, and blonde hair.

Getting to spend Christmas at my grandparents’ home in Indiana, with cousins we rarely saw because their parents were missionaries in Japan.

The green and white gingham two piece swim suit my mom made for me the year we went to visit our grandparents in Florida over Christmas.xmas girls

Red barrettes from my brother, Tom, who spent most of December in bed because of Scarlet Fever. It amazed me that he somehow managed to get me a present.

Christmas 1972 — we were living in St. Pete, Florida. What I remember is a warm, sun-dappled screened in porch with the ubiquitous Christmas tree.

The first Christmas with our oldest daughter, who was just a month shy of her first birthday. Her grandfather had made her a rocking horse. She spent most of her waking hours on Doodah.IMG_0333[1]

The first Christmas with our youngest daughter, just four months old. She was too young to appreciate the holiday and clearly displeased with Santa. By her second Christmas, she too was entranced with her very own rocking horse.

Over the years, there were the annual elementary school Christmas concerts (third grade recorders were a standout year for each daughter), followed by band and orchestra concerts, and in their senior year, each took a turn lighting the candles during the Christmas Eve service.

Memories. So many memories. Last year’s Christmas was a first for us as we celebrated away from home. One year ago tonight, the four of us attended midnight mass at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, featuring a small orchestra of professional musicians.

We’ll be making more memories in a few hours. I hope Jeff and Penny Ingram are making some of their own.

Creating a gingerbread village: No kits allowed

We have the Brothers Grimm to thank for the popularity of gingerbread houses. Anyone who has read “Hansel and Gretel” remembers how hungry the two were after wandering for several days without food. When they came upon a gingerbread house in the middle of the forest, they began eating the roof of the house. How could they resist the scrumptious confection?
Making a gingerbread house always seemed daunting, despite the many kits available. But with my 11-year-old niece coming for a visit over Thanksgiving, I decided it was time to give it a try. Since I’ve never been much of a conformist, I passed on the fancy kits.

Instead, our local elementary school cook provided us with empty milk cartons. She even bleached them before dropping them off…yet another advantage of living in a small town. They turned out to be the perfect size.

We stocked up on all the essentials — gumdrops, miniature M&Ms, chocolate chips, colored sprinkles, tiny candy canes, peppermints, graham crackers, red hots, etc.

After the turkey and other Thanksgiving foods had been cleared away, we made a huge bowl of powdered sugar icing sans butter, we set about creating our own little gingerbread village. Perfection? Not at all, but creative and unique. Most importantly, the over-40 artists had as much fun as the 11-year-old. And probably ate as much candy.IMG_0313[1]

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Hey, at least it’s evenly dented!

Our 1997 Dodge Caravan had survived nearly 15 years of life with nary a scratch on its exterior. Its bright, shiny, red paint belied its age. But look inside and the picture changes a bit.

The gray upholstery and carpet are showing signs of wear and tear, as are its innards — a second transmission, third set of tires, and so many serpentine belts that we have single-handedly financed the retirement of the CEO of whatever parts company makes the belts.

Years of travel with two teenaged drivers should have produced some dings along the way, but the only major trauma during their years at home occurred when the hubs and daughter number two were returning from her job at Stratton Greenhouses. Their version of the story was “The deer just came out of nowhere, just dropped from the sky.” Said deer left the van totaled, but the good body doc fixed it up right as new.

As the girls moved on to Athens and Bowling Green, then Kent and Cincinnati, the Caravan morphed into a moving van. Still…no dents.

But, as so often is the case with cars, fate interferes.  I’ve learned not to question these things…acceptance is best.

But…sigh…there are now two rather hefty dents on each rear side panels of the van. Both show signs of having collided with something painted white. Well, hey, at least it’s evenly dented.

As I understand it, here’s how this little scenario played out.

First, while the hubs was removing the middle and rear seats from the van (preparing it for yet another moving spree), one of the seats tipped over and smacked one of the rear lights.

A few days later, wearing his Chamber CEO hat, the hubs was —  as he puts it —  working “in the line of duty,” delivering signs to the Christmas lighting contest winners. It was dark and he backed over a post holding two mailboxes.

Lest you accuse him of a federal offense (which it is), rest assured, he reported it immediately to the owners and our insurance agent.

In a burst of insight, he pointed out that his procrastination in repairing the broken rear light saved us $70 because it most certainly would have been smooshed again in the mailbox fiasco.

Perhaps a month later, the van was parked on the street in front of our house when someone backed into the other rear panel, producing the matching dent. Said offender was remorseful and offered to pay for repairs. Why bother? Then we’d have to fix both sides.

At 15 years of age and showing 156,000 miles on the odometer, Big Red is showing signs of age. Most days when we start it up, the dashboard no longer lights up. But one smack to the top of the dash, and up come the lights.

It’s cranky in the cold, squeaky in the heat. The heat only begins to blast warm air after we’ve driven an hour or so. The air conditioning? Nada.

But hey, Big Red is part of the family. We won’t put it out to pasture until Gary Kirtland and Jim Kinn pronounce it hopeless. And those big dents? Like age spots, you can try to hide them, but why bother?

Check out my mom’s fingers — they’re all green

Ever wonder where the term “green thumb” originated? One of the more plausible answers originated with the Brits, whose version, “green fingers”, actually makes more sense because how many gardeners do you know who use just their thumbs?

What I discovered is that just before and during World War II, one of the most popular programs on BBC radio in Britain was called “In Your Garden,” the host of which was a Mr. C.H. Middleton. A well-known etymologist, Eric Partridge, suggested that this program might have popularized both phrases, and that “green thumb” was actually a reference to the very old English proverb “An honest miller has a golden thumb.” Millers, merchants who grind corn for farmers, used to judge the quality of their product, corn flour, by rubbing a bit between the palm and thumb. But millers were often suspected of cheating their customers, and “golden thumb” was often used sarcastically, including by Chaucer, to mean a talent for duplicity. In any case, the proverb was sufficiently well known in Britain in the mid-20th century to make the “golden thumb” and “green thumb” connection plausible, and would explain why the thumb in particular is found in the most common form of the phrase.

What prompted this interest in green thumbs? My 89-year-old mother — a shining example of green fingers. When she moved from her condo to an apartment in an independent living facility, she gave up a lot — her piano, many antiques, family heirlooms, furniture, etc.

But she insisted on taking along many of her indoor plants (and some outdoor ones). After all, she’d nurtured many of these potted bulbs for years, letting them lie dormant until it was time for them to bloom. In fact, she has so many I worried that she would trip over them. She solved that problem by acquiring a second storage space in her building — this one just for her plants.

This is the scene in her living room right now — most of the plants are placed in front of her large patio doors where they get what little winter light is available.

Every winter, she babies her amaryllis bulbs (she has three pots) watering and staking them carefully to be sure they are productive. And they are, indeed, productive. So much so that my husband is green with envy. He’s attempted this several years, with limited success.

Last week, one of Mother’s amaryllis plants had produced seven (yep) blooms. By the time I took this photo, it was reduced to four. But no matter. Trust me. On a gloomy day, just take a look at this beauty and you’ll find your spirits quickly lifted.

Christmas lights that go pffftttt

What is it with Christmas lights? Every year, they work fine all through Christmas and are still shining brightly when I take them down and store them away for the next year. But 11 months later, I pull them out of storage, plug them in and…nothing. Absolutely nothing. No lights. Not a single one on the string.

Over the weekend, I finally caved in and began to pull out the Christmas stuff. First the door wreath, which was strung with a strand of clear mini lights and a strand of “peppermint” mini lights (red and white). I actually began to feel a bit more excited about Christmas until sticking the plug in the nearest outlet. Nada. Sigh.

So okay. I’ll just replace them with the other clear lights stashed away. But no such luck. Of all the strings of lights in the basement dungeon, only one string worked. Why should I be surprised? This happens every year. You would think…but no, I’m enough of an optimist that I like to think just once, all the lights will spend their time in hibernation saving their energy to come to life in December.

Boy. They just don’t make lights like they used to. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can remember my dad getting out the lights every year — these were the “old-fashioned” big lights. All you had to do was keep some extra bulbs on hand and replace the few that didn’t work. No need to replace whole strings of lights. Or at least that’s how I remember it…there was also a little bit of groaning and grumbling on Dad’s part so maybe it wasn’t as easy as I think it was.

Back to my own lighting frustrations. Oddly, while picking through the Christmas boxes last night, I found another string of lights hidden away. I stuck them in an outlet in the basement office and…bingo…they worked!  I ran upstairs, wound them around a display on top of the lawyer’s cabinet and plugged them in.

Pfffhhhttttt. No pretty lights. By this time, I could feel a scream forming at the base of my throat. In the meantime, the hubs — ever a patient man — was standing by, rolling his eyes, fingers in his ears, waiting for me to blow.

Okay. This is just plain silly. Stupid to actually lose my cool over a bunch of lights that will just cause my electric bill to skyrocket if they ever decide to come to life.

So…here’s the plan. This year, I’m buying new lights and when Christmas is over, I’m going to throw them out. Why not? They won’t work next year anyway and I’ll save myself the frustration of having to test them all over again. I’ll just buy new ones each year.

Just making my own little effort to boost the economy.

“Twas three days before Christmas…

‘Twas three days before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ‘cept Ma and her dog. One child and two cats were nestled snug on the couch, when Ma and her Ike tiptoed into the room. From out of the dark, there rose such a howling, the quiet household shuddered and woke with a start.

So much for a quiet start to the day. And so much for my attempts at poetic license. I knew that there would be an extra cat in the house, but I’d been assured that Peaches the Queen and the visiting Casio, would “just ignore each other”. What we didn’t plan on was the rude awakening of said cats and child by one wriggling, tail-wagging miniature Schnauzer, eager to join the sleeping trio.

Ten minutes later, one cat had been relegated to the outdoors and the other one to the basement. Ike, the innocent instigator, was upstairs in bed with the other child and Harvey, the calmest dog on earth.

Phew. Quiet reigned again…for a few minutes anyway. I took that as a sign that I could take a shower. Halfway through that, daughter number 1 pops her head in the door to say that “I was trying to find an outlet for the coffeepot, and I unplugged your bread machine. Does that matter?” Matter? Why would it matter that a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread had been unplugged mid-cycle? A little deep breathing reminded me “not to sweat the small stuff”. Lo and behold, she’d plugged it right back in and the bread kept baking. Huh. Must have some sort of surge protection on it.

30 minutes later, I headed off to work. As I walked out the door, I heard two hoots of laughter from daughters number 1 and 2, watching something on the Internet. Which reminds me. All cat- and dog-fights aside, it’s good to have my family home.

 

 

Catching up..and staying up…with “the boys”

Since my four brothers each live at least 500 miles away, it is rare that I actually get to run with them. And usually when I do run with them, I’m slightly out-of-breath, pushing myself a little harder, trying to keep up with them. Seems I’ve been doing that all my life…from our childhood days of basketball rounds of Horse and neighborhood kickball games. Always catching up.

So when it appeared two of “the boys” would be here on the day of the Pandora Jingle Jog, I suggested we run it together. One of them — the oldest and a resident of Tucson — grudgingly agreed, reminding me that the predicted temp for that day was 12 degrees. The other one — the third oldest and a resident of Natural Bridge, VA — was still in recovery from an ultra that he’d run the weekend before, said “Only if we run slow.”

They arrived with more running apparel than regular clothing, but still griping about the cold. Still, they were game for the 5K run. On the way to the race, we discussed strategy and agreed to run together. Actually, I think they asked — again — if I would run slow. What did they think? That just because I’m younger, I’m suddenly faster?

We warmed up and I listened to them discussing which way the wind would be blowing when we started out and finished. Running into the wind at the start is a lot better than at the end. At least on a cold day. For me, ice was the bigger concern, but I figured if I went down, they were going first. I didn’t intend to land on pavement.

Off we went with about 60 other brave (or stupid — depending on your perspective) souls. James and I, running side by side, peered behind us at Phil, who was grinning. A distance bicyclist at heart, he was — of course — drafting already. Always a wise guy.

The next 3.1 miles went pretty much like that — a trio of revolving drafters. Toward the end, I began to feel myself slowing…my breathing was off. They were five steps ahead of me when I heard “Where’s Mary”? Magic words. That always forces me to catch up, which I did. Phil, me, James

We finished together, holding hands. I’m sure we looked pretty stupid, but hey, who cares? It was fun and for once, I stayed with them. We ended up with age group ribbons — they tied for second place — it was a first time they fell into the same age group. A first for me since there are always fewer women in my age group…not that I’m that fast.

But the best part was stopping in to see our mom afterward and giving her James’ door prize — a Christmas pillow with a photo insert. In it is a photo of her five kids.