The Joy of Handmade Gifts

The news keeps blaring the same doomsday message about the shortage of Christmas gifts this year. Yes, the pandemic, and production woes in China, and shipping bottlenecks and lack of enough truck drivers has caused a shortage of somethings. I grant that if you want to buy an electronic made in China you might not find it this year, but is that such a bad thing?

As I think back on my memorable gifts, both those given and received, it is mostly the handmade ones that I truly remember and love. Some are true works of art, like a painting of my mother’s I was gifted rather than having to purchase (which yes, even I have to pay for her paintings.) or a quilt I made for my mother. Those are somewhat priceless gifts, but I’m not really thinking about those special gifts. I am thinking of little things, like this small Christmas Tree banner made by Carter in Pre-school, which I lovingly display every Christmas. Even though it was a school project, wrapped by her teachers so that each child had a gift for their parent’s at the tender age of four, I love it as much today as I did when I opened it nineteen years ago.

Last year Carter and Russ gave me a painted Christmas ball of our house. It was hand made by an artist Carter found on Etsy. It was not made by Russ and Carter, but is was a handmade gift from them that meant the world to me.

This year is the perfect year to make or support an artist to give a special gift that is hand made. You don’t have to worry about the world wide shortage of computer chips if you are going to sew someone a set of placemats. It helps if you are crafty, but if you are not look on Etsy and support a maker who is.

If you can cook or bake make something edible as a gift. A consumable gift is a green thing to give as it won’t take up space forever. The thing about it is you are giving your time instead of just your money to the person you are giving to. I will never forget the year my Aunt Janie Leigh gave us a quart of her homemade pimento cheese for Christmas. That gift was what turned Russ into a pimento Cheese lover. He still talks about it 22 years later.

Loved ones will forget gifts which are things they could have bought for themselves, but will remember the unique ones you create. So forget about the shortages and think about what you might make and give some of yourself instead.

Shay Trains Russ

When Russ is eating something Shay wants she just licks her lips, while looking soulfully at him, and he totally melts. Russ is Mr. Softy when it comes to Shay. It doesn’t matter how much he loves what he is eating. If Shay licks her lips he will gladly give her some of it. No matter how bad it might be for her, Russ gives her some.

Tonight, after Russ’ long, hard day at work he poured himself a drink and got a small ramekin of peanuts and sat down by the Christmas tree to enjoy his break. Shay immediately jumped up to sit next to him, licking her lips in the international dog symbol of “Can I have some?” Not only did Russ give her a peanut, he put it on the sofa so she could easily eat it.

Now I have to train Russ not to put the salty nuts on the furniture. I am not sure I can train him as well as Shay can. I think at best I can train him not to do it when I am looking.

Missing Her Girl

Shay gets very depressed after holidays when her girl goes home to Boston. Today she has been particularly mopey, looking all over the house to try and find Carter. After she realized she was not anywhere to be found she just hung in the gathering room with me, looking despondent.

Even though Shay went with us to the airport to drop Carter off, Shay thinks it is like taking Carter to high school and she will be back at home to sleep. It is so sad that I can’t explain to her that she will have her best girl home in three weeks. I am sure it will take a few days for her to readjust, but until them my heart breaks for this sad puppy.

She haven’t eaten anything all day, even Turkey Russ offered her. Oh, how a dog’s heart breaks.

Alexa, Bring On Christmas

While I was doing the low tech work of ensuring that no part of the tree could be seen through the thousands of ornaments another Elf was hard at work behind the scenes. It took me all day to go up and down the ladder with baskets of snowmen, Santa’s and snow flakes. I had silver bells and icicles to hang from the branches. While I worked, Russ was secretly setting up all the Alexa systems to turn the lights on all over the house and the Christmas music with just one command. No need for me to unplug any cords. The clapper is officially so last century. Now we have Alexa.

Not only can I turn it all on with one command just whispered in any room of the house, but Russ has it set to turn off on a timer so if I am too exhausted and just fall asleep Alexa will take care of everything for me.

On top of Russ’ tech work I had Carter in the best humor helping put away all the boxes. In years past just the appearance of the Christmas decorations put Russ and Carter in a sour mood because that meant they had a lot of toting things to and from the attic. But somehow this year the tide turned and everyone was cheery through the whole two day ordeal. This is the Christmas miracle I was hoping for.

Sadly Carter returned to Boston this afternoon. She is closing in on the last few days of her college career. But in the blink of an eye she will be back again for Christmas and she will be happy all the decorating is already done.

A few wreaths are the last things I am needing. Alexa, Bring on Christmas. Merry Christmas to all.

It’s Not Black Friday Here

Today has never been Black Friday in our house. The idea of shopping, let alone shopping when the masses are out shopping makes my skin crawl. I don’t know what I used to do before the internet. Oh yeah, catalogs. Today is perpetually reserved as the first day of Christmas decorating. I think this year I might have my decorating down to two days, which is a very manageable amount.

Thanks to my purchase last year of a new flip tree, the putting up of the tree is not the divorce inducing event it has been in years past. Thankfully Carter was very cheerful about helping Russ take the 42 boxes, half a dozen Christmas trees and 9 wreaths out of the attic. Russ had been dreading trying to carry the new 150 pound tree up from the crawl space, but Carter looked at him and said, “That’s only 75 pounds each.” It was a piece of cake for the two of them.

I was able to totally decorate the living room, dining room, breakfast room and entry today. The tree is ready to be decorated, but I did not see the need to impair the recovery of my back by spending half the day on the ladder. Russ has volunteered to hand me baskets of ornaments while I stand on the ladder tomorrow. I should be finished with the decorating well before it’s time to take Carter to the airport. It’s only about 5,000 ornaments that I have to hang.

Carter asked me when I started collecting Christmas decorations and I told her about how I had a real full size Christmas tree in college. She said, “It didn’t have as many ornaments as you have now?” Of course not, but I still have some of those ornaments I bought in college. It takes a lifetime to collect as many ornaments as I have.

So, perhaps today was Red Friday and tomorrow is Green Saturday. I love a year where Thanksgiving is early so I get almost an extra week of the Christmas season. Nothing makes me happier than coming downstairs to be treated by the needlepoint garland. No Black in my Christmas season.

Thankful Indeed

Thanksgiving was a glorious meal here at our house today. The best way for me to keep my mind off missing my Dad was to cook and cook I did. My mother, not the worlds best cook offered to bring something and I said, “Are you trying to start a fight?” Then my sister Janet, offered and turned her down too. We invited our friends Jan and Rex, as they were alone, and Jan offered too.

No, I didn’t need anyone else to cook. Jan, instead showed up with a yummy Pomegranate cocktail and wine.

So Carter and I cooked and cooked. Making Turkey, dressing, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, Brussels Sprouts, arugula salad with oranges and pomegranate seeds, gravy, cranberry sauce, popovers, pecan pie and Caramel cake. It may have taken a few days. We might have used most of our pots and pans. We certainly pulled out all the serving spoons. But it was worth it.

Even if you only took a small spoonful of everything the plate was not big enough to hold the abundance of yumminess. We gathered in the dining room to say the blessing. I started, but chocked up as we all held hands around the table. Jan picked up for me saying the prayer of thanksgiving.

The sun shone in on us all at the dining room table. We ate, told stories and enjoyed the company of friends and family. It was a happy occasion, one that we all needed.

I hope you all had plenty to eat and much to be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Don’t Fight Tomorrow

Thanksgiving in my family has a history of being a day that involved at least one fight. It almost always involved my father saying something that he knew before he said it would make at least two different people at the table mad. Now he was not the only one. If my mother started a sentence with, “This is going to make you mad…” I always responded, then just don’t say it. That never worked. She always said it anyway, and she was right. It always made me mad.

Despite the guarantee of a fight, we almost always went to the farm to have thanksgiving. Lots of years we brought friends to help diffuse the conversations that might start fights. We warned them of the subjects that were sure to be argument starters. We pre-apologized for the inappropriate comments that were sure to be made. The guests came anyway. Somehow witnessing other people’s families fighting at Thanksgiving is more like watching a movie, than being “in” the fight.

One year, not so long ago, the fight was bad enough that I got up from the table in the middle of dinner and said I was going home. Napkins were thrown in the air and the conversation changed and I stayed, but it was a real low moment in the great history of thanksgiving fights.

Last year, due to Covid, Carter did not fly home for Thanksgiving and Russ and I did not go to the farm in fear of giving my parent’s Covid. Instead we ordered a take out Thanksgiving and did not have a cross word. It was a sad. Now it is made all the sadder because it was our last chance to fight with my Dad over the Turkey.

If we had known that we would last year was the last chance to be offended over politics while we passed the creamed onions we might have gone. You just don’t know when the last thing is going to be the last chance.

I know my Dad thought he was invincible. He certainly out lived every actuarial table of his life style. But if he knew he only had a few thanksgivings left, I wonder if he would have not started so many fights. Probably not, he really couldn’t help himself.

For me, I am looking forward to a fight free thanksgiving. That doesn’t mean it won’t be sad without my Dad. Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. Not because he was thankful for all he had, which he should have been, but because he loved to cook for other people. There will be a moment or two of sadness for his not being here, but if my mother can not start a sentence with, “I know this is going to make you mad…” then this will be the most peaceful Thanksgiving I have ever had in my sixty years.

Don’t fight at thanksgiving. You want your relatives to be sad when you are not at the table.

The Unwanted Gift of Extra Fallen Leaves

It’s leaf blowing season. You can hear it all around, all day. My yard people came today and blew my leaves. It took them a couple of hours. I know because the sound was deafening as I was making Turkey stock for gravy and setting the Thanksgiving table. I know why they were here today…they wanted my house to be nice for Thanksgiving. For that I am grateful.

We are an oddity around here. We have natural areas on our property where I am happy for the yard guys to blow the leaves and leave for composting. We have trees and forest that we have kept natural, rather than a fully landscaped piece of property where one fallen leaf really sticks out. Not all our property is natural and where it is manicured I like it to be leaf free too.

Today after my yard guys finished the Herculean job of moving leaves I had an hour or two of quiet. Then the leaf blowers started up again. Neighbor’s yard guys were doing the same thing that mine had done. As I was cooking I looked out the window and noticed leaves being blown into my leaf free yard from my neighbor’s yard. As these are superior neighbors, who happen to be away I went over to talk to their yards guys myself.

I asked them not to just blow my neighbor’s leaves into my yard. They guy looked at me and said, “Our truck is full and we have no place else to put them.” I was not in the mood for that ridiculous kind of thinking and told him so.

So many times I am driving home and I see a yard guy blowing leaves across the street from the house they take care of to the one on the other side, which they do not. I am certain that this would be frowned upon by the person receiving the gift of extra leaves.

Please talk to your yard people and provide them with a place to put your leaves or ensure they take ALL OF THEM WITH THEM. Giving them to your neighbors is most certainly not what you pay them to do.

Why Now?

I am hosting Thanksgiving at my house. This is not really difficult for me as I will have my best sous Chef, Carter, here doing the bulk of the work. She gets home Wednesday and I can hardly wait for her to be in the kitchen with me. Carter called me this weekend to discuss what I was going to cook in advance and what I was leaving for her. She was happy for me to do the cranberry and stewed tomatoes in advance. The tomatoes are a two day cooking event and it is best to get them out of the way before the big production cooking starts.

I got up early to get the Dutch oven out and start the simmering of the tomatoes. Before I could get going I needed to get some clothes out of the dryer. As I bent down, before even picking up a single item,q I felt the horrible feeling of tweaking my back. I have no idea what I did, but my back was immediately a mess. I tried to straighten up, screaming just a little bit all the way up.

There would be no Dutch oven lifting for me. Thankfully Russ was home to fetch it for me. My back does not hurt while I am lying down or sitting still, but getting up is no fun. I am hoping that a good night’s sleep with some good pain medication will bring me back to normal.

Thanksgiving cooking is a sport. It requires me to be at the top of my game. Please let this be a one day event.

People Forget

One thing I feel like the pandemic has done is make some people feel like other people have lots of free time because they are not doing their regular stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some people are busier than ever and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. Lives are going on, whether you see people living them or not.

Regardless of how busy someone may or may not be we all sometimes forget to do things. Apparently I forgot to follow up with someone after a short phone call. Exactly when this phone call happened, I can’t recall. I have been actually busy.

The person I forgot to follow up with is not someone I know well, but my not following up has caused this person to think less of me and tell others. That is how I found out I forgot.

If I ask someone for something and they forget I call them back and remind them. No big deal. People are busy. People forget. People have other things, like the death of a loved one which throws a wrench in everything.

I called and left a message admitting I forgot and asked for forgiveness. At this point I am looking for a little Grace. I have not heard back.

I am hoping I don’t act this way when someone forgets something I have asked for. I hope that I can extend Grace to others. I know the world does not revolve around me and I hope not to expect people to act like it does. We all forget things. I am truly sorry when I let someone down, but give me a heads up and let me try and resolve it.

If I have forgotten to do something for you, let me know. I may or not may not do it, but at least give me a second chance.

Scents of the Season

Smell memories are big to me. Of all our senses, smell is the one that gets the short stick, but the one that gives me the most emotional response. Yes, I would rather lose my sense of smell than my sight or hearing, but if I did the world would be a much flatter place.

Today I made the annual Cranberry sauce. I make mine with many aromatics, like ginger and orange zest and juice. As the cranberries come to a boil and pop, they release a fragrance that screams “the holidays are here.” I heard on the news that Cranberry sauce is the most disliked part of the thanksgiving meal. I feel like those people must be eating the wrong cranberry item. There are those people devoted to the canned jellied cranberry. To me that is a whole different animal.

I like the whole berry sauce, to which I add toasted pecans right before serving. Turkey needs the bright punch of the cranberry to bring the otherwise bland bird to life. Plus the smell!

I know lots of people think peppermint, or pine for the holidays, but to me the best aroma is my cranberry sauce.

24 Oz. Fresh raw cranberries (2 bags)

2 T. Grated fresh ginger

Zest of two oranges

Juice of three oranges

1/2 cup of water

1 cup of sugar

Place it all in a big sauce pan and bring to a boil and cook until the cranberries Pop. Cool.

Right before serving add cup of toasted broken pecans pieces.

Scary Bridge

My dear friend Deanna is a generous, expert bridge player. I love when I get to play with her. I practically gave up bridge during the pandemic. I don’t love playing on the computer. So my bridge skills declined over the last year and a half. Deanna asked me to play in this twice monthly mentor -mentee game. One game is in person and one is online, at night. That is two strikes against it for me. By seven PM I am not at my sharpest so playing bridge online then can be a real mess.

Tonight, thanks to my superior partner, we came in third out of twenty. That’s a very good showing for me, despite a couple of bad bids on my part. I just don’t have time to play bridge multiple times a week and really concentrate on it. Especially come January when I will be teaching Mah Jongg 80% of the month.

Honestly, I love Mah Jongg and I only like bridge. I just hate letting my partner down.

Stacey Abrams at DPAC

After many years of going to Broadway shows at Durham Performing Arts Center, Russ and I gave up our season tickets because it seemed like there were more shows we didn’t care about than ones we did. Then Covid hit, so we didn’t really miss anything. So after being away almost two years when my friend Mary Lloyd asked me if I wanted to go see Stacey Abrams at the DPAC I jumped at the chance. First it seemed like a very safe crowd. Second, the DPAC requires proof of vaccination and third, there was no singing.

I had no clue what the talk was going to be about, but I was highly curious to hear what she had to say. Melissa Harris-Perry was the host who asked Stacey the questions and was quite effective. It was billed as a conversation with Stacey and that really was what it was.

I had no idea that Abrams was originally a tax attorney and apparently I was not alone, because when Harris -Perry asked her first question about taxes the whole audience laughed.

Abrams parents and two of her five siblings were in the audience and the talk very much focused on her up bringing in Gulfport Mississippi. They were a poor black family, who spent their time helping people even poorer than they were, which certainly made an impact on Stacey’s life. She said her parents had three important pillars, Faith, School, and ensuring that they take care of each other. It certainly paid off. She has a sister who is a federal Judge, one who worked at the CDC before coming to work with Stacey, a brother who is a film maker.

Stacey was informative, funny and most of all so likable. She was not like most politicians. I did not learn anything about community organizing, or how to get the vote out, but I did come away more intrigued to learn more about Abrams. It was a fast hour and a half and was sad that it was over when I was just getting to know her. It was a good reason to be out in a crowd.

Silver Lining

The silver lining of losing a loved one is all the together time you get to have with the rest of your family. When Carter’s semester started I did not think I would get to see her until Thanksgiving. She purposely stopped her off campus job so she could enjoy her last semester of school. Unlike me, she loves school and learning and wishes that part would never end. Sadly her plan to have a fun last semester got hijacked by her grandfather’s passing. It also threw a wrench in her spending time figuring out what her next move would be. On the flip side I have gotten to see her three times in the last six weeks.

Thank goodness for good relations with her professors so Carter could miss classes and fly in for all the events. She did a quick 24 hours in Washington. Yesterday, my Mom and I went to the national gallery in the morning for a little culture. The plan was for Carter to get a cab from the airport and meet us at the museum. True to my parking good luck gene I got a coveted street space right in front of the museum and texted Carter a photo of where to come. Sadly, her flight was delayed so by the time she got there we had run out of museum time.

Instead, Mom asked Carter if she would like a tour of all the houses she used to live in so we drove around visiting my parents old haunts. At each place my mother lamented selling them when she did as they all had gone up in value ten fold. After the tour we went to old town Alexandria for lunch. Again, I got the number one street parking spot, holding on to my title. We walked up King street and found a lovely seafood restaurant with white table clothed tables out on the street. The sun was shining and the heaters were on making it a lovely spot for lunch.

By the time we were done it was time to go back to out hotel to meet Suzanne and get ready for the party. Our hotel was in a strange location Sandwiched between Arlington cemetery and the highway, but all our rooms had the most fabulous view of all of DC and the air force memorial in the foreground. While Carter, Suzanne and I caught up in my room the sun started to set bathing the memorial in a beautiful orange glow.

The party was wonderful, but it all went very fast. So this morning Mom, Carter and I went to a little coffee place for breakfast to get to squeeze those last few precious moments together before we dropped Carter off at Reagan to fly back to Boston. Mom and I drove back to Shady Side, remarking that it felt like we had been gone for many days, not just two nights.

Photo credit suzanne worden

We will all be back together in a week like everyone in America, to gather around the table and give thanks. Being the first thanksgiving without my father, who used to cook most of the meal, will be sad and different. At least there will be a lot less fighting, but some good togetherness.

The Last Goodbye

The exhaustion is finally seeping in from all the celebrations of my Dad’s life. Tonight was the final event…the big party where so many of my father’s best life long friends came to be together with us. My Dad spent his life curating a tribe. When I first got out of college and went to work he told me, “Always be nice to the people who work for you, you never know when you will work for them.” I thought that was so interesting because that had not happened to him at that point in his life, but certainly was true.

Beside my father’s work friends my two nearest and dearest, Carter’s god parents, Suzanne and David came to be with us. As Suzanne said to me once, “You always remember who came to your parent’s funeral.”

It meant the world to my mother that people came from far and wide to tell stories about my father and what he meant to them. He loved all these dear friends, Ann and Mark, Mary Jo and Dick, Julia, Knute and Siri, Debbie and Geoff, Nish, Rick, Tim, Tim and Jayne, Rich, Sally, Judy. The common theme was that he made everyone feel that they could be their best selves.

My sister Margaret spoke about how he was her biggest supporter. Russ talked about the lesson of never giving up and always striving to be the best that my father imparted on him. Carter, who was moved to speak talked about how he always pushed her out of her comfort zone, which was a good thing.

Thanks to Mary Jo and Dick for organizing the party at the Army Navy Country club. They did a beautiful job. Thanks to Ann who helped me find all the contact information for all these friends. My aunt Edie, who could come sent all the flowers for the tables and they were perfect.

In the end my mother thanked everyone for reminding her what a force my father was. He made a huge impact on many people’s lives. If you were strong and could learn from him, you grew in many ways. Not everyone could handle his tough love and brutal honesty. He was brilliant and sometimes that was frustrating for him when people could not keep up. There will never be another one like him, and everyone in that room tonight knew that. You made our last goodbye one he would have loved.

Driving Day

My family is doing one last celebration of my Dad’s life with many of his close work friends in Washington. The event will be tomorrow and my Mom wanted to make a little trip of it so I picked her up early this morning and drove her up to DC. We decided to detour to Middleburg for lunch was the most pleasant part of the trip. Middleburg remains completely charming and seems untouched by the woes of the world. They still have little privately owned stores on their Main Street and the horse farms are manicured and pristine.

Mom and I ate at the Oyster Bar and fittingly a girl dressed in jodhpurs, tall boots and a Burberry jacket waited in line behind me for the rest room. It was a beautiful day for that drive. After lunch we headed to Rockville to my sister Janet’s headquarters for all her businesses. I was on a mission to do some YOUZEY shopping for Christmas.

Two of Janet’s best employees, Katie and Jenna fixed me up with all my purchases. I can’t wait to start wrapping my gifts. I Hope I have enough room to get everything home in the car.

After my shopping trip Mom and I checked In our hotel. Figures we just sell the Washington apartment in May after decades of having it. Janet came and met us for dinner. it was rally good to be together and I can’t wait to see old friends tomorrow. But tonight I am going to pass out. Driving Miss Janie is exhausting.

Mah Jongg Etiquette

The last couple of months I have had the pleasure of introducing the game of Mah Jongg to over 100 new friends. Nothing makes me happier than helping people discover how fun Mah Jongg can be. I go over so much information in each of these classes that it is impossible for people to remember all of it. One thing that seems unimportant when first learning is the etiquette of the play. Thinking back on the first year I learned to play I can remember just having a hard time playing attention to what hand I was playing.

So for the benefit of all my new players, and old players alike I want to remind everyone of the rules that make playing together more pleasant. No one wants to be the person at the table who is annoying, so it’s best to follow these rules.

Building the wall

Try and be quick about building your wall. It is the dull part of Mah Jongg so no need to drag it out longer than it has to be. That means learn to stack tiles with two hands and help your neighbor once you have finished your wall. You can build and talk at the same time.

Dealing the tiles

When you start getting your first four tiles from the wall, do not turn them over and put them on your rack, but place them as a stack of two-on-two on the table inside your rack. As one of my students said, “put your tiles between the rack and your rack.” Like In cards, you do not look at your tiles as they are being dealt, but wait until you have gotten all 13, or 14 tiles you are due, depending on if you are East or not.

The Charleston

Plan on spending no more than two or three minutes at the beginning of the Charleston to find the three tiles you are going to pass. Once the Charleston starts you should aim to spend no more than 15-20 seconds to figure out your next pass. Don’t hold the whole table up scanning your whole card weighing every option.

When you have the three tiles ready to pass, place them in front of the rack of the person you are passing to. Unless you are a very experienced group of players, everyone should wait until all players have passed their tiles before you pick yours up. This saves confusion about which pass you all are on.

The Play—After a Tile has been discarded

If anyone at the table thinks they are interested in the tile that was just discarded, make a clear indication you want to think about it by saying, “hold, call, wait…” you should not spend more than 10-15 seconds deciding. You can always say, “pass or never mind,” if you don’t want it, but if the next player picks up the next tile from the wall and racks it, you have missed your chance.

If you are a group of relatively new players, it is courteous to take a beat after a tile is discarded before the next player picks so that everyone at the table has a chance for the discarded tile to register with them.

Exchanging a tile for an Exposed Joker

The etiquette on this is very clear. If, at your turn, you have the real tile that is in another player’s exposed rack where a joker is acting as that tile you make make and exchange for that joker. The play goes, pick your new tile first, then make your exchange by saying to the person with the exposure, “I’d like to exchange my tile for your joker.” You hand the person your real tile and only they touch their rack and pick up the joker and hand it to you. Never put your tile on someone else’s rack and snatch back their joker.

If your hand goes dead

Never announce to the table your hand is dead. If someone asks you if it is, then you must tell the truth and stop playing. If your hand goes dead far enough into the game it is unlikely you will be able to change hands. Don’t slow the pace of the game down to a snails pace. Just pick up and discard tiles as if you are really going for something. You don’t want to be the person no one wants to play with because you slow the game down too much.

General Etiquette

Never discuss out loud what hand you think other people are playing. Just because you think someone needs a flower, it is very wrong to announce it.

Playing faster is an important goal for new players. If you are brand new playing a game should not take you more than 40 minutes. After playing a few months you should be able to get to 30 minutes a game. After a year or two 20 minutes should be your goal.

It is very generous of experienced players to play with new players and help them, but as a new player if you get terribly lost during one game, just pick up a d discard and ask for advice after the game is over. This is a game meant to be played fairly quickly.

If anyone has any other questions of etiquette, please send them in the comments and I will be happy to answer them. Happy playing.

The Half Year Quilt

I have been quilting as long as Carter has been in college. Actually I bought my first materials to make my first quilt in August before she went away. I thought it would be a good empty nest project. I think I finished it before she left, so it took about a month. I have gone on to make many quilts in these four plus years. Usually it only takes me two months to make one, unless it is for a baby then it takes a week.

I started my current quilt sometime in June. It involves making 200 three and a half in star squares, which each have fourteen tiny pieces of fabric. Those stars took many months of cutting tiny pieces of fabric and sewing them together. Once they were sewn they had to be “Squared.” That means I had to trim them on all four sides.

Then I had to cut out all the white squares and make nine patch bigger squares with five stars and four whites. Then I had to square the nine patch squares. Then cut bigger white squares and sew strips of star squares and white squares ten blocks long. Then sew the strips together. That takes me up to today – Five months. Now I have to design and make the framing pieces so the quilt is the king size I want it to be. That won’t take too long, as it will be a colored strip of every fabric in the quilt with two white strips around it. Maybe I can get it done tomorrow. If not, it will be another week as I am booked all this week.

I don’t quilt my own big quilts because I don’t have the right sewing machine to do that. So I will take my quilt top and backing to the very talented Tina who will quilt it. I have not altered her that I have a quilt coming so I have no idea what her turn around will be. Then I will make the binding and attach it, which involves machine sewing it on one side and folding it over and hand sewing it on the other. At least a ten hour job. So figure six plus months to make one quilt.

As much as I love this design, I don’t think I want to make another quilt with so many tiny pieces. I think I will love it when it is done, but probably no more than I love one that takes two months to make. Remind me I said this when I start on a much more intricate quilt.

Shay’s Golden Hour

This afternoon Shay Shay, the wonder labradoodle came over and stood on me while I was sitting on the coach. This is a sure sign she needed to go out. So I go up and we went to the front door. She didn’t seem to eager to go out so I went out first and she followed. She slowly walked out into the middle of the grassy area in the front yard and just stared up at the golden tree bathed in the sunshine of the golden hour.

Shay turned her head and looked back at me and gave a little nod from me to join her in the splendor of the tree. She never went potty, instead she sat down and looked up at the tree for a good five minutes. There were no squirrels or other entertainment, just the beauty of the tree. I tried to capture her looking up at the tree, up it when she caught me she ran into the herb garden and posed there. I think she felt like she could never compete with the glory of the tree. It was a sweet few moments I was happy to share with Shay.

Blast From My Past

Such a fun day today. My Pi Phi Big sister, Marlene “Bodene” Ostrow came for lunch all the way from Cincinnati. Her real little sister, who lives in Raleigh, turned 60 today so she flew in for that celebration and came to my house for lunch. If you ever knew Marlene you still know Marlene because she never changes. She brought a bunch of photos with her from “back in the day.”

The best ones she brought were ones she had taken at my surprise 21st birthday kidnapping trip to New York City with a bunch of college friends. It was a wild weekend, so I hardly remember all the details. Since I was one who was kidnapped I did not have my camera with me and I never knew there were any photos taken of the weekend. It was probably a good thing no photos were taken at the Trader Vic’s in the Plaza because I do remember some people getting so drunk that they lay on the floor beside the table.

Marlene had already graduated as had my friend Bill Hill. They both lived in the city and they came to the party. I guess this photo of Paul Adams, Bill Hill, Jonathan Sloan, me, Kyle Heisey and Dave Wolfe was taken the day after the party, although we look fairly fresh so perhaps it was before the party. I have not been in touch with these guys for years. I would love to know where they all are now.

It was a weekend to remember, if only I remembered more of it. It was one of those weekends that made me consider giving up drinking. It just took me two more years to actually do it.

Marlene gave me the photos she brought which makes me think of all the millions of photos I have taken over the years at friends’ important events. I need to go through all those photos and give them to the people who are in them. Thanks Marlene for the most fun,if way to short visit.

Don’t Be Lonely

I was listening to NPR in the car today and loved a story about people having a hard time making friends. The pandemic has definitely made meeting new people hard, but this story was about pre and during Covid times. It pointed out two major things. Loneliness is a head issue. There are people who have tons of friends who still feel lonely and people with few friends who never feel lonely. The second point was, people like you more than you think they do. Let’s take that point first.

Unless you are a true narcissist I find that to be more true than anything. Many people I have talked to over the years, both young and old, have said something along the lines of, “I don’t want to go there, the people there don’t like me.” Most people don’t dislike people they don’t know well and most of us like most of the people we know. If you like most of the people you know why would you think they don’t like you back. Second, if you like people once you meet them, why would you think that same in the reverse.

For me, I like most everyone I meet. It really takes me a long time of knowing you before I decide I don’t like you. I can honestly say there are only about a couple of people I really know that I don’t like.

The doctor being interviewed on the show was espousing the notion that people who complain they don’t have friends are holding themselves back because of this unfounded fear that people don’t like them. Honestly most of the people I don’t like think everybody loves them.

So if you are lonely, you need to push yourself to go out and meet people with the attitude that others are going to like you, because they are. Now if you are a jerk, eventually they will learn to dislike you, but chances are you are not a jerk.

Loneliness is a tragedy that doesn’t have to exist. You just need to put yourself out there and get out of your own head. Volunteering to help others is the best way to help yourself. You never will feel better than when you are doing something for someone else. Please don’t suffer alone.

Birthday Celebrations are Back

After another day of teaching Mah Jongg to my newest class in Raleigh, I came home only to turn around and head back out to celebrate Needlepoint Nancy’s big birthday. I was lucky enough to celebrate twice with her. Tonight was the first “out to dinner” birthday I have gone to in 20 months and it felt great.

Nancy chose Mateo for a fun tapas birthday and Kate organized it. Elizabeth came all the way from Greensboro. Jeanne walked from her downtown Pad and Deanna and Cindy drove over from Chapel Hill with Nancy and Kate.

We used to sit around the stitching table and visit regularly, but since that went away it has been hard to see each other as a group. I am so thankful for these dear friends and all their wisdom and fun. Happy Birthday to Nancy, “who says her whole year is going to be a celebration.” I love that attitude. We all need to see everyday as a chance to rejoice that we are still here, are loved and are lucky to have such dear friends.

Deer Damage

Someone close to me, who must remain nameless, had a deer run out in front of her relatively new vehicle and do a boat load of damage to the front end. It must have done a lot of damage to the deer too, but it limped off. Thankfully my person was not hurt. The animal did not go through the windshield and the vehicle was still drivable afterwards.

Another person close to us, who also must remain nameless, had the same thing happen to his new vehicle at this same time of year last year. Thankfully he was Ok, but the deer did $12,000 worth of damage to his car.

Deer are idiots, no matter how cute you think they are. Cars are quieter than they used to be and I think that some deer are running with their AirPods in their ears.

It’s mating season. Does are running away from bucks. Bucks are running after does. Yearlings are acting just as you would expect teenagers to act and are running all over the place, trying to find a place to fit in. It’s dangerous out there.

There is not a lot you can do about a deer sprinting out in front of you. Just make sure you are paying attention in case you can stop in time. But if you can’t you are better off hitting the deer than swerving and possibly hitting another moving car. The physics are more in your favor. Also leave plenty of room between you and the car in front of you.. if they stop suddenly for a deer and you hit them your insurance pays. Sadly deer are not yet required to have insurance.

We definitely need some thinning of the beard, but not by car. Stay safe.

Fall Back…The Perfect Excuse

It’s everybody’s favorite thing, an extra hour of sleep, but it reeks havoc. I really wish we didn’t change the time. Let’s pick a time and just live with it. Since I don’t control that I just had to spend the day doing something that helped me adjust. Well, not exactly adjust, so something decedent.

I chose to spend the day working on my very, very complicated quilt. Since I was already spending time in the sweat shop where it was cozy and warm, rather than being outside in the freezing cold I thought I had the perfect excuse to binge watch Dopesick. If you haven’t heard of it, get to your Hulu station now and start watching the really well done story of the Sackler Family and the Opioid crisis.

Recently I have had encounter three people who all lost a young man in their family to opioids. All three young men were college graduates with jobs, but were found in their beds dead. When I was a kid the people who died of drug overdoses were not people we knew. We thought of them as people who did not resemble us. Not now. One interesting small point in one of the early episodes was that Ronald Reagan cut so many jobs out of the FDA, leaving the job of drug oversite up to the Drug industry themselves. Discuss among yourselves.

Anyway, quilting for five hours and watching four episodes of Dopesick I have whiled away my Sunday. I have no guilt whatsoever. I feel productive and educated.

End Of Summer

It’s November 6, the day I finally pulled out my summer garden. We have not actually had a frost yet and my tomatoes and peppers were still producing, but I know the frost is coming. So rather than wait for the cold to kill what was left from my warm weather vegetables I picked everything that was left and pulled out all the plants.

I planted my first things on April 6 so I think I did fairly well to get seven full months out of the garden. My yield was fantastic. I wish I had weighed every basket, but I did photograph most of them.

Todays’s final basket was over flowing with red and green tomatoes, seven different kinds of peppers and two last lonely eggplant. My garden does not get much sun in the winter months, but I have some arugula, kale and Swiss chard in it now with some herbs. I am not growing any thing else during the winter. So the boxes will rest and I will replenish with compost as fast as I can make it.

Just dreaming of what I will plant next spring and planning my crop rotation. Thanks summer garden. You were lots of fun.

Saddest Loss

When Carter started playing basketball there was a lot expected from her as the tallest girl on the team. No one should ever equate tall with talent, but Carter loved her teammates and the families that came with them. Early on it was apparent who the outstanding players were. The cream of the crop was Liz Roberts who was a year ahead of Carter. Liz was not only the hardest worker, with the most superior skills, but also the kindest. Those are qualities that don’t always go together in a star player.

Carter’s first year on the team we got to know the Roberts family well. Liz’s parents, Bennet and Angie were not the only family members who would show up for every game, but also sister Madison, Twin brother, Nick, grandmother Snow and often other family members. The Roberts family were the best cheering section a team could ever have, sitting right on the front row paying eagle eye attention to the game.

It became quickly apparent that Liz’s kindness was an inherited trait. Her father Bennet quickly became the best sideline coach Carter could ever have. He was excellent and building up her confidence when she needed it most. It is normal for a family to cheer when their child scores, which happened often for Liz. But the visiting team must have thought that the Roberts family were Carter’s people because no one screamed louder for Carter than Bennet Roberts. Bennet made every game a celebration for Carter, regardless of her actual outcome. He cheered especially loudly when she would have a foul called on her for ripping the ball from an opponent’s hands by flinging the girl across the floor.

Sadly, Bennet, at the very young age of 54, passed away yesterday after a valiant fight against pancreatic cancer. This is a loss that is felt deeply by everyone who ever met Bennet, but most profoundly by his loving and tight knit family. All the Lange’s hearts are broken for the Roberts loss. Bennet was just the kindest and most generous person. His smile and support will be missed by us all. We send our love to Angie, Madison, Liz and Nick.

Rosie the Riveters Needed at the Grocery Store

Russ went out to work today and stopped at Harris Teeter on his way home. He was talking to a guy who works in the produce department and casually asked him how things were going. The guy said, “The assistant produce manager quit today. And another employee came into the store and quit and another didn’t show up for work yesterday, so most likely he’s not coming back. It’s bad.”

Russ came home and relayed this story to me. I looked at him and said, “I think we might be getting into a Rosie the riveter situation. All the Hope Valley House wives are going to have to each take a shift once a week to keep the store going.”

I wouldn’t mind doing a half a days work doing, physical labor as a way of exercise, once or twice a week. I don’t want a full time or even part time job. I would be happy to take my pay in groceries. I certainly know where everything in the store goes. I wonder if employers would be willing to take people who worked that little?

I have little time as my Mah Jongg lessons keep expanding. This week alone I have scheduled 13 distinct classes, which are all three sessions each. I am not going to have much time to even play myself.

If you are a business owner having a terrible time getting workers, consider recruiting house wives for half shifts. They wouldn’t get benefits, which would be a bonus to the business. I don’t want the places I shop to not be stocked because they can’t get workers. It might just be easier to do it myself.

Clam Chowder

Today is the intersection of my looking at houses in Maine and the weather finally got chilly here today, so I made a clam Chowder. I realized that I never put a clam chowder recipe on the blog, so here is mine that is made with canned clams, which really aren’t bad when you are putting them in a chowder. Mine is also not so thick that a spoon will stand up straight in the bowl. If you like yours thicker, add a little more flour and a little less stock. I made mine with a quart of seafood stock I had left over from making lobster rolls. You can use chicken of vegetable stock, but no matter what you still need clam juice.

This will make a big pot, probably five quarts. So feel free to halve the recipe if you don’t have enough people to share it with.

Six slices of thick bacon, diced

2 T. Olive oil

2 large yellow onions diced

3 stalks of celery diced

3 leeks, well washed and just the whites sliced thickly

4 T. Flour

2 T. Thyme

4 bay leaves

2 t. Hot sauce

15 baby potatoes, quartered

1 quart of stock

1 bottle of clam juice

20 Oz. Of canned clams(whole baby or chopped) in clam juice

1 quart half and half

In a big stock pot put the olive oil and the bacon and cook on medium heat until the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain.

Add the onions, celery and leeks to the pot and cook on medium high for five minutes. Add the flour evenly across the veg and stir and cook for another minute. Add the thyme, bay leaves, hot sauce, stock, clam juice and potatoes and bring to a boil, cover and deuce to simmer and cook for ten minutes, until the potatoes are just fork tender.

Add the clams and a juice from cans and simmer for a few minutes. Turn the heat down and add the half and half, salt and lots of black pepper, heat slowly. Do not let the soup boil again, but if you want it to thicken up you can keep it at a simmer for a while.

Serve with Oyster crackers and the cooked bacon.

Proud of Dickinson College

I went to college at the tenth oldest college in the country, Dickinson College. It was a fabulous place for me and I met so many of my life long friends there. A place that was founded in 1783 most certainly has a checkered past when it comes to race. It was not talked about much when I was there, but then again it was a ridiculously white place when I was there. Not that it was not diverse in other ways, just not so attractive to African Americans, which was a shame.

Today I read about Dickinson’s House Divided Project which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the civil war and Reconstruction. A big part of the project includes the Dickinson and Slavery Initiative where the college is facing injustices of the past and doing their part to right wrongs.

On November 20 they are having a renaming ceremony for a gate and a building to honor four different African American people who worked around Campus in the nineteenth century, Carrie and Noah Pinkney and Henry W. Spradley and Robert C. Young. The college also has an extensive walking tour to illustrate the college’s history with Black People. I am happy to see this as such a large initiative to bring to light histories we are not always proud of and to learn from them.

One of my friends, and classmates, Eric Wittenberg, is a distinguished Civil War historian and prolific award-winning writer is the keynote speaker at the events on November 20 at Dickinson. He will be talking about some of the myths about the battle of Gettysburg.

Dickinson, as a true liberal arts institution, is doing exactly what I would expect, and examine history from the points of view of many and not just the authors of the history books. We all know that the one who tells the story gets to insert their point of view, but that is never the only points of view. Truly educated people are constantly learning and adjusting their thinking based on more information.

Congratulations to Eric for being invited to speak at this important occasion. I am sorry I won’t be there to witness it.

Celebrating So Many 60th’s

Today was a big day to celebrate two different friend’s 60th birthdays. It started with my friend Nancy. We gathered to needlepoint, since she is our Needlepoint dealer. It was nice to be in person with a small group of friends. We caught up on all that each other was doing. Nancy opened her thoughtful gifts. We ate the most delicious Victoria Sponge cake made by Karen. It was adorned with raspberries, strawberries and fresh figs and just the right amount of sweetened whipped cream. Mary Berry would have given it high praise.

Then this evening I had a Zoom with my book group and It was Rose’s 60th today. So no Zoom cake, but lots of fun hearing about her adventures for her birthday, having just returned from San Diego.

Since all the friends in that book group are also all born in 1961 Rose told us about a Japanese word for turning 60, Kanreki. This means that in your sixtieth year you are reborn because you have lived through five cycles of the zodiac. Apparently when you turn 60 you are starting a new phase of life, and in a good way.

I love the positive spin on 60. I agree it should be nothing but celebratory. So here’s to all my friends who have made it to this excellent birthday. You all are so much better. Live long and happy lives.