Thursday, 4 December 2014

Grandmother's Birthday

I confess that I'm cheating here: creating a post and back-dating it. I've not posted here mainly because we were full of Thanksgiving preparations, hosting 30 people. It all went well - as it should do after nearly 20 years' experience - but there is always some hiccup or other. This year the pumpkin pies tasted good, but weren't very pretty. Never mind. Preparations also included a lot of sewing for the house, which I'll share another time. There is still a lot of sewing and crafting going on here for Christmas! 

My final excuse is that I'm full of cold. At least four people who came to Thanksgiving mentioned they had colds so I have no one in particular to blame. It's that time of year anyhow. We normally come down with something in January; maybe I'm ahead of the game and will stay well in January...fingers crossed.

Anyhow, Grandmother's birthday was a few days ago and she would have been...116! I'm thinking it's a sign of my own age when I can make ridiculous statements like that! I think one of the reasons why I love the interwar years is that they would have been the heyday of my grandparents, and to some extent of my parents, though they were born at the end of WWI in 1918. This Grandmother would have been 16 when WWI began (though the US didn't join in until three years later). She was 41 when the second world war started (though the US didn't join that one until two years later). 

I like to read both fiction and non-fiction relevant to the first half of the 20th Century and often calculate how old my parents and grandparents will have been, wondering how they perceived the events of their time. I think it helps my brain absorb the historical information I'm reading; and to enjoy the background information about the setting of novels.

I like my posts to have photos and I've used most of the ones I have of Grandmother, so I'll show you a brooch I have that belonged to her. I've no idea how old it is, but I'm guessing it dates to at least the 1940s. That is when she had the most money to spend and I certainly remember seeing it as part of her things from my earliest memories. There was a matching set of clip earrings, but over the years one has gone missing. 

I always think of it as green, but it's really more beige and brown, isn't it? Then again, carnival glass flashes is all sorts of colours. I once looked up those dull cream coloured stones to learn the name, but I've forgotten what I found...must do that again sometime, not in the middle of the Christmas season!

Can't say I wear this much: it's rather large for me, not in my best colours and I worry about losing it. Still, I take a lot of pleasure in seeing it each time I happen across it in my jewelry collection. 

Happy Birthday, Grandmother.

Friday, 21 November 2014

"Easy" Patchwork

Here is another project I've done with my style of patchwork. You've seen several others, mostly in the form of tote bags. I wanted to call it 'crazy' patchwork, but that name is taken. It refers to a style of Victorian patchwork which was originally made with luxurious fabrics like velvet. I've tried it and I can't say I think it's very easy. 

My 'easy' patchwork also makes use of luxurious fabrics - and plain ones. I'm the woman at the craft and sewing groups that takes home the bits other people are about to put in the trash. That's what I made my pillows from: mostly samples from interior decorating books but also dressmaking fabric and the bits cut off blouses, trousers and skirts when being shortened. 

Front (never mind the patchwork throw - it's a store-bought knit, a gift from my Aunt Rita from years ago).

My system involves just cutting equal widths of fabric (a rotary cutter and mat help, but isn't mandatory), sewing those together to the required length and then sewing the strips together to the required width. The key is to piece together bits and turn things sideways so that it's not too uniform. The more 'rules' you break the fewer 'rules' you have to follow, is my thinking. If using heavy fabrics, I like to zig-zag the edges on each side of the seams. The stitching shows on the front of course, but if you're using all sorts of fabrics and the thread colour coordinates, it works out fine. 

I raided my pillow stash from the loft. I found three small-ish square pillows used some one's off-cuts from a quilt to wrap each twice. I made the patchwork an inch or so wider that my covered cushions and about two and a half times as long. I stitched the long sides together so that the cushion fit in like a letter into an envelope. The flap was folded down and secured with snaps (Brits call these 'press studs'). 


It takes a while to make patchwork anything, but I love handling all these fabrics and I just worked on it a little each day. When I get tired and start making lots of mistakes, that is when I knock off for the day.

I get great satisfaction from making 'something from nothing'. 

How about you? Do you find a use for things rather than throw them away?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Frugal Failure

I've talked often about how my menu plan is basically to rotate through the healthier options for most of the week with the occasional higher calorie (nuts) / lesser healthy (red meat) option once every week or two. A protein, a green veg, a red veg and fruit for dessert is the goal I set for dinner; pasta, rice and potatoes are included occasionally, when my imagination runs out of other ideas. 

I used to use a recipe for peanut sauce with pasta as my go-to option when 'nuts' rolled around but then I discovered how delicious homemade pesto could be. I read somewhere that you didn't have to use basil and pine nuts but could use a whole range of green herbs or red veg as the basis and quite a few different nuts or seeds for the other main component.

However, carrot greens (which I'd grown from carrot tops in saucers, trimmed and frozen) don't work for this. And I've finally got it through my head that Bill really doesn't care for Parmesan cheese. Unfortunately this particular recipe called for quite a bit. I've been reading labels at the grocery and I notice that commercial pesto seems to have other kinds of cheese, eg pecorino.

After I realised how bitter my pesto was I added some tomato paste and sugar to dilute the flavour; I even threw in some lemon juice. But there is a point where you don't want to throw more ingredients in after bad. Bless him, he ate what was put in front of him, I didn't think it was awful, but it wasn't very nice either. I have no trouble throwing my carrot tops straight into the compost bin these days.

On the other hand, Bill started a new experiment which is kind of fun! Can't wait to see how big these will get, and beet greens are definitely more edible than carrot greens! But I'm still not likely to make pesto with them...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Jazz, Jackson & Joan of Arc – Part II

So, we were all standing by the Mississippi River and our tour guide started telling us about the Battle of New Orleans. I thought sure I'd go to sleep standing up - American history has never much grabbed my interest. But she managed to spice it up by throwing a few pirates in there.

Anna on the right...

Apparently the Battle of New Orleans  happened in 1814-15 as part of the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson defended the port of New Orleans against the British with the help of Pierre and Jean Pierre Lafitte and their men. According to Anna, Jackson had barely a cannon to his name, but these pirates had been stealing and stockpiling armaments for quite a while. In return for their help they were all given full pardons for their piracy.

There was also something about a bend in the river, the geographical name for which I didn't catch and cannot now find, which also aided the Americans in that it meant the British couldn't see around the corner and realise the weaknesses in the Americans' defense.

Earlier that day, Jan and I had been sitting in Jackson square trying to remember why Jackson was such a big deal in New Orleans. I think she remembered the Battle of New Orleans but we both remembered there was something about a woman... Sure enough, I spotted a book in one of the museums we visited and read the flyleaf: Being So Gentle: the Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Patricia Brady. It seems that Rachel was married to someone else and he hadn't divorced her as was believed when Andrew and Rachel married. So initially theirs was a bigamous marriage. Not a great thing when one is in politics. 

Oh, and Joan of Arc? Seems the French have presented New Orleans with another statue, this time of Joan of Arc.  It strikes me that given the love hate relationship of Britain and France and the same odd feeling between the US and France, maybe it’s not us…maybe it’s the French?

Much better photos here.

Anyhow, Anna’s tour ended with us sitting in on a free jazz mini-concert. The chat about how the piano player grew up in a musical household was fascinating; he was clearly an academic type, a teacher, as well as a jazz musician. Bill made a video clip of the jazz but can I find it? Nope.

So I leave you with something else.  Enjoy!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Jackson, Jazz and Joan of Arc - Part I

Did you know that the National Parks Department has Passports that you can buy - for grown ups - and collect stamps from each of the Parks you visit? Neither did I, nor that the 'Parks' are sometimes museums in city centres. Jerry had one of these and this is what took us on a walking tour that involved a lecture on the birth of jazz in New Orleans.

Our tour guide was a striking young woman named Anna who said she was a jazz singer as well as an historian. This is what I can recall of what she told us: The French settled New Orleans in 1717-18 and they had African slaves. Their relationship with their slaves was slightly different to that of the British / Anglo-Americans. Their code noir gave slaves Sundays ‘off’ which meant they could work for themselves that day and earn money to buy their freedom, a practice that was not discouraged. The Congo Square was a popular place for slaves to gather and make African music.

Being able to buy their freedom meant there was a class of gens de couleur libres (free people of colour), a sort of middle class between the lower class of slaves and upper class of plantation owners. These free slaves mixed freely (socially and otherwise) with others of European descent and sent their children to France, or later to Spain, for a classical education, which included classical music. These people – of European and African descent - called themselves ‘Creole’, which means native. I found myself seeking the definition(s) of this word throughout our time in New Orleans, as it was given to us differently each place we went.

Soon after the Louisiana purchase of 1803, Anglo-Americans moved in and the city was divided into the Anglo section (possibly ‘uptown’) and the Creole section (‘downtown’). By the 1830s slaves lost their Sundays and were no longer as able to buy freedom. It was no longer acceptable for persons of colour or mixed race to mix socially – or musically – with white people and so they met in brothels, where no one paid much attention to social rules. Jazz was born as a mixing of African music and European classical music. As soon as ‘coloured’ musicians became successful they moved up river to St. Louis and Chicago and spread the jazz sound.

Anna didn't talk much about the period when Spain held New Orleans, which was only about forty years beginning in the mid-1700s. She did tell us about the Baroness de Pontalba. This woman was born during the Spanish period and led a remarkable life between France and New Orleans (her father-in-law shot her and then himself; he died, she lived!) She built the Pontalba buildings on the Place d'Armes, including her initials in the wrought iron work around the balcony. 

Anna then took us down to the river to remind us that New Oleans was first and foremost a port city. More about that later...

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween

This is the first Halloween costume I ever made. It was our first year in Salt Lake City, so my Aunt Rita wasn't near by to save me. Mom was gone. I had to come up with the goods on my own.

My first mistake was to ask Johnny what he wanted to be (I later learned it was best to rummage through my fabric stash and make suggestions based on what I already had). 

My second mistake was something to do with cheap fabric. I don't recall what was wrong with it, but it didn't work out and I literally made two Ninja turtle costumes, one that worked and one that didn't. Total cost about $60. in an already very stretched budget! My third mistake was to hang on to the thing instead of selling it on or giving it away so someone else could get some use of it.

Still, he was very happy with the thing and I felt I'd started to acquire some of my Mom's skills.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Our Creole Cottage

Sunday morning in Ponca City we said our good-byes to my Uncle Pat. He went off to church and we took off for Dallas. Some of the less expensive rental firms are not very flexible about where you return their cars, so we had to take this one back from whence it came. Never mind, flights from Dallas to New Orleans were short and sweet.  However another inflexible matter was the weight restrictions on baggage. I was dangerously near mine but could solve this if I had a slightly larger carry on, so we dashed madly around to find one. One problem solved, another created by miles of road works on the highway down to Dallas. I despaired of being able to fill the gas tank as agreed, but my wish was granted - there is a filling station right on the airport grounds before you get to the rental terminal. It was a stressful morning!

Our friends, Jan and Jerry, kindly picked us up at the airport in New Orleans. They drove down from OKC in a lease car, interestingly, rather than put the miles on their own car.  

The photo of the other bedroom was pretty bad!

We rented a small house to share for the week we were in New Orleans together. I thought it would be a nice way to catch up with them and to show Bill around a new city with a different culture.

We were more than pleased with the aesthetics and conveniences of the house. I really loved the pull down, well lit ironing board with a timer. Brilliant idea that. I want one!

The location was great, only a mile from the tram line, but it was noisy. Behind the wall across the road is a major highway. The train line is about a block away and they were re-building a house behind us; there is still a lot of rejuvenation continuing from the aftermath of Katrina. 

One day the sewers were cleaned out, a terrifically loud process, while we four sat on the front porch enjoying some fresh air. We gave up yelling at each other and settled into reading and knitting all the while having our heads vibrate with the noise. Completely crackers, the lot of us.