Friday, January 29, 2010

Fun with textiles

I love making scarves, hats and things to give as gifts, but nothing beats Amigurumi in terms of being SO much fun and super rewarding... they're so darn cute! Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures.*

I made a little piggie for our goddaughter, Sammie, for Christmas this year. Last year I made her a little yellow duck, so the farm animal theme is cute. The duck was a real success, given my novice crochet skills a year ago... and the fact that the pattern was for a fuzzy baby penguin! Basically, I figured that I could make it into any bird I wanted and then used a much smaller crochet hook than the pattern called for... it turned out well despite being completely 'wrong.' I still LOL about it.

Patterns are easy to find on the internet and many are free.** and are the sources for the two I've used and google finds all sorts of tutorials. The pig only took an evening in front of the tv to make! There are also patterns to buy on etsy and, if you're not the crafty type, there are shops like this one.

*from Wikipedia
**to make for yourself or to give them as gifts, of course.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So that was a bummer...

Yesterday, I mean. To make up for it, I'll share my favorite comfort food recipe!

The recent and extended cold streak we had here in Raleigh was a perfect excuse to make a batch of Potato Soup. More accurately, this is the (in?)famous "Gutter Runner's Potato Soup" of fame. You can google it, if you like. I modify the recipe, although only slightly, because the original calls for celery and I prefer to use chopped greens instead. I am a good Southern girl, after all!

I usually halve the amounts of the original recipe, because it still makes way more than we can eat without giving away or freezing some. So my recipe is for a 'half' batch, which is still 8-12 servings, depending on the audience. Feel free to double the amounts and go back to celery, if you prefer. I think the amount called for is "5 stalks". Oh, I also add a little thyme, along with the basil... maybe a 1/2 teaspoon or so.

1/2 lb of bacon, chopped
3 lbs potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 cup of chopped carrots
3 cups chopped kale
30 oz. chicken broth (or a 15 oz can of broth and then an equal amount of water)
2 tsp salt*
1 tsp pepper*
1 T minced garlic*
2 tsp basil*
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes*
2-3 tsp hot sauce* (Frank's, Tabasco, Texas Pete... whatever you like)
1/2 stick of salted butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream

*or season to your taste

Saute chopped bacon in a large stock pot until crispy. Remove to paper towels.
Pour out most of grease, leaving drippings in the pan, but save the grease for later use.**
Add chopped onion to pan, saute until clear.
Add potatoes, carrots, broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil.
Add chopped kale and allow to wilt on top before stirring them in.
Allow to simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting liquid, if needed. This allows the soup to thicken without the aid of flour or cornstarch.

Return bacon to the pot and add butter and heavy whipping cream, simmer an additional 30 minutes.

**In case you do not know to do this, already... you can keep it in the refrigerator and use it to cook eggs, cornbread, fried things, etc., for excellent flavor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sometimes you just need to throw things

A recent post by Dana at Mamalogues has been on my mind... and I'm using her example of the Trebuchet to get something off my chest, so to speak.

This week marks one year since DH was laid off and, despite several extensions, the end of his unemployment benefits looms in our minds. As far as we can figure, anyway, we need to make it work strictly on my salary... and for a while.

These frustrations and limitations include the fact that we had to put DH on my insurance policy... which was inexpensive enough to do. Due to some past health problems other folks have had, the only way my firm can afford to offer benefits is to offer a catastrophic policy and we contribute to our own HSAs. Our current financial situation means I can't contribute very much and, since adding DH, the deductible for a 'family' is much higher than for an individual. So we can't really afford to use it except for basic stuff because we can't afford the total deductible. Which means we have to put off things we want to do and maybe, potentially, preventative care we need to do. I read as much of the House health care reform bill as I could stand and I'm not optimistic that even a combined version or whatever the Senate has proposed will make the situation any better. Without addressing the true problems of the pricing games the insurance companies and hospitals play, nothing is free and we'll all pay more in the end. If the mandatory basic coverage has to increase and the company can't afford it without us paying more or my salary going down... well that dog won't hunt.

So, now back to Dana's Trebuchet. Pile up the problems that make me want to scream and fling them far away. My 'fling' list is short... after making a longer list, I realized all the things that bug me come down to one simple problem. Then, count my blessings, the things not to fling.

To fling:

A lack of empathy. I don't want to be in the middle of other people's drama or problems unnecessarily, but I (hopefully) have the heart and patience to listen if someone really has something to say. Even if it doesn't apply to my life, I try to feel for what other people are dealing with on a daily basis. Basically I don't feel like I have many people to turn to when I'm having a particularly rough one. Then again, many of those closest to me have it as bad or worse... who am I to complain. Ugh.

Not to fling:

Snuggle-y dogs on a very cold night. We've had lots of cold nights lately and, although there are only the two of them, I'm certain the very-bad-dogs snuggle enough for at least three dogs.

A laugh shared with a friend. My best friend, DH, in particular, but any friend or even the person in front of me in line at Harris Teeter. Laughing with children is extra credit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

'Can'structing Wall-E

My firm participated in the local CANstruction competition this past Saturday. There are only four of us and the rules allow for a team of five, so with some shift help from Allison's hubby, DH (he brought us lunch) and brother K, we spent about eight hours building Wall-E for the "cartoon heroes" theme. The local newspaper, the News & Observer, has a few photos up from the build day, including one of my boss and me building Wall-E's arm.

Nathan, my boss, took a few photos once we were finished and had cleaned up the rolls of tape and empty cartons of Ghirardelli chocolates we used for his treads! The entries will be judged Tuesday and the exhibit officially opens on Saturday, January 23, 2010. It will remain up until February 14, and all the food will be donated to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Friday

Inspired by Pinewood Castle's January Daybook post, this is my Friday morning...

Outside My Window: The parking lot at work, the guys across the street washing cars. Forecast today is a high of 60!

I am hearing: Typing and clicking... and Chatham County Line's "Route 23"

I am wearing:
Friday uniform - dark jeans, Clarks (similar to these), camisole and long-sleeve t-shirt.

I am Thankful For:
Being alive. A roof over our heads and food in the pantry. Family.

I am Pondering: Be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead. Philippians 2:2-4

I am Thinking:
about lunch :p

I am Reading:
Finishing up Prince Caspian, as I make my way through the Chronicles of Narnia in order. I don't know why I didn't do this sooner! and this article DH just sent me...

From the Kitchen:
Last weekend was productive, big pots of chili and potato soup... leftovers for lunches this weekend. Last night I made Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli for dinner with my brothers and parents. It was a huge hit.

I am Creating: a beret from a pattern I won in a giveaway.

Towards Rhythm: Waking up and going to bed (at the same time each day, eventually), lunch with DH most days.

I am Hoping and Praying:
for the people of Haiti.

In the Yard: We finally took up the tomato cages and pulled up dead tomato and pepper plants... everything has been pretty much frozen for weeks now.

Around the House: Took the tree down last weekend, we should probably take the lights off the outside of the house. The wreaths with greenery and berries will stay! We've been repairing drywall, ugh more sanding to do!

On Keeping Home:
Weekly, I mean daily, cleaning of dog hair is never ending. Organizing and purging of unnecessary stuff is ongoing. We need some bins to help organize the attic, probably will build more shelves up there, too. I have a potted plant that I brought indoors for winter that's suffering... need to figure that out.

One of My Favorite Things:
Two, really. The wagging tails of the very-bad-dogs when I return home from work at the end of the day.

A Few Plans for the Weekend:
Lights down, sanding drywall, and CANstruction tomorrow!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The good, bad and the ugly of my 2009.

About a year ago I wrote down some goals for the year. Unforeseen events kept me from completing several, at least not 100%, but I learned a most-valuable lesson, there. Planning ahead is good, but rolling with the punches and focusing on TODAY is also good. In keeping with the lesson I learned, not to mention the fact that several of last year's goals are not yet complete, I'm not going to actually make a list for 2010.

I still love my job and they treat me well. Becoming a salaried, as opposed to hourly, employee and having paid time off made a significant difference in both the income I take home and my mindset. We had concerns about our field, DH and I both have architecture degrees, and worked to build our emergency fund in case our worst fears were realized. They came to fruition on January 15, 2009, when DH was laid off along with about two dozen others at his place of work. It was sad and disappointing, but we were more concerned for colleagues with a single income and families for whom to provide. We were just grateful that the savings we'd worked so hard, in 2008, to accumulate allowed us to not lose our minds! Between tightening things down and the unemployment extensions, we have been able to cover everything and still save up the leftovers for unexpected expenses, like the leaking water heater we had to replace in September. If the goal was to be more 'grown-up' about our finances, we definitely achieved that. We still worry for friends in the industry... my job is secure but municipalities and the state government aren't funding projects they've awarded already, so even busy firms may not have things to do in six-months' time.

I didn't really get to do much traveling this year, other than for work. DH took a hiking trip through part of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains with Brother K and our friend, Paul. I don't think any of them had jobs at the time, so a week in March was a perfect time to do some serious work in the backcountry! The Great Smokies don't allow dogs, so it was also a perfect opportunity for DH, at least, to check it out. He also took a trip to Mountain City, TN, in September for an offroad/rally race! He went with cameras in tow to document the inaugural event (there will be a 5 or 6-race series in 2010) and get to know some of the east-coasters involved in the sport. We have friends out west who have been into this stuff for years, including the Baja 1000. We're planning to make a trip in February to Johnson Valley, CA, for the King of the Hammers offroad race to watch some of them (east coast and west coast) compete.

See how I go from thoughtful, outdoorsy architect-ish to downright redneck-ish, just like that? Yeah, that's normal around here. I promise, the rest of this 'year in review' is much more concise, too.

We made lots of progress on our patio and back yard, thanks in part to help from friends and DH being at home to get some things done! We're still not 100% with the patio because the dyed concrete slabs we've started making, ourselves, for the stair treads are time-intensive. We're also still finishing the cosmetic work to our laundry room and working on design ideas for the future renovation of the whole house. These things take time and we're in no rush to add on at this point.

I did not finish my exams (to become a registered architect) but made significant progress, passing 3 of the 4 I took. DH and I did study for and pass the LEED AP exam and he was able to determine that he's completed his internship requirements, so we plan on studying together for the rest of the ARE exams, starting soon.

I did, in fact, make and modify several articles of clothing with the machine my parents gave me last Christmas! Interestingly enough, I found a whole world of blogs devoted to such things. In May I took the Pledge at Wardrobe Refashion for four months and then kept it going for the rest of the year. I found so many great people there; creative, funny, interesting people whose blogs I now read regularly. It was so inspiring to see how people express themselves with fashion that I started a new project in July, Raleigh Street Fashion. It is still small, by blog standards, but growing and I'm really happy with the things I've learned and the people I've met because of it.