Merry Christmas, My Children

It’s Christmas morning, but the house is quiet, except for the sounds of a hungry cat trying to wake us for breakfast.  Sleepily I walk to the kitchen, two felines on my heels.  I try not to trip over them as I pop cans of food open and portion it out.  Mercy cries when she smells it, and Pixel runs to check on her, making sure it’s only the lack of food that disturbs her.  The three of us walk back to the bedroom as we do every morning.  Sassy, Pixel and Mercy are chowing down on their morning meal, but the house is quiet.

Our tree is still packed away from last year.  Mercy would have had it torn down in minutes if we tried, and you’re not here for it anyway.  All of the decorations are still in their boxes.  A couple of packages wrapped in the same paper sit by my computer, ready to bring to Grandma’s house in a little while.  The room where you would have slept is cold and empty, even though there is furniture inside.  A twin bed.  Some toys for the cats.  A window to the outside that only Pixel and Mercy sit and look through.  There is no sign of you anywhere.

This morning, the house looks like it does every other morning.  It’s too small for us but it’s where we are for now.  There is no inkling of activity anywhere.  Even the cats, with their bellies full of chicken and liver, are not making a peep.  Mercy is on her furniture taking a bath, Pixel is watching out the window and Sassy is probably under the bed.  The house is quiet.

It’s 8:00am. Around the world, children like you are eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  The yearly visit from Santa.  You would have been good children this year, I bet.  Then again, you were going to be good kids anyway, even without Santa.  It is how we would have raised you.  You would have been kind and courteous, with giving and loving hearts, but knowing boundaries so you wouldn’t become a door mat.  I am in Grandma’s kitchen making cinnamon rolls.  There is enough for all of us, but you’re not here.  Daddy and I take a second roll each, because they are awful warmed up later on.

It’s 10:00am, and Christmas morning is over.  Presents were opened, but somehow it’s not the same without you here.  I wanted to see the look of wonder on your faces, the excitement of new stuff!  I wanted to get you that one special thing you wanted more than anything in the whole world!  To hear the sounds of laughter and yes, even play arguing. Maybe especially the arguing, because that would mean there was a brother or sister for you.  You wouldn’t have been an only child.  Yes, I would have wanted that for you.

Now it’s 2pm, and dinner is ready.  It’s only your Dad, Grandma and me today. The kitties are home safe, guarding the house. We are having your favorite for dinner.  Swedish meatballs and that yummy gravy with real mashed potatoes.  I made it myself for you, but you weren’t here.  Would you like green beans like me, or Brussels sprouts like your Dad?  Or maybe you would have liked them both.  I would have gladly made more if only  you were here.

At 5pm, it’s starting to get dark already, but it’s warm outside.  Maybe you would have spent your afternoon riding your new bike.  Or maybe inside playing with Legos with your Daddy.  He loves those things just as much as you do.  Maybe that’s why you love them, too.  Maybe you would have read your new book to Grandma as you tried so wonderfully to explain to her the nuances of the story.  She would have loved you to the moon and back, just like we do.

The clock chimes 6 o’clock.  I’ve been working to clean up after dinner while you would have been playing.  But now it is time to go home.  We pile all of our gifts into the little red wagon we bought, and it doesn’t even fill the bottom.  It should be filled to overflowing with all of your new favorite toys, that one special doll or stuffed animal that you would go to sleep with tonight.  You would be pretty tired by now, after a full day of excitement and play.

There is still time to catch a movie when we get home, but there is only two of us.  I could see one of you snuggling with your Daddy, and one with me.  Mercy might be licking the butter from the popcorn off your fingers, and trying to steal a kernel or two from your bowl.  Be careful!  All of us cuddled together on the floor, or maybe a sofa, laughing and pulling our last moments of joy from a perfect day.

It’s 9pm, and time for bed.  Daddy and I are tired, and even though I don’t go to sleep this early, I’m going anyway.  The kitties are fed for the night and happy.  They are the only ones in the bed with us.  Your room is still cold and empty.  The echo of your laughter fades from my imagination.  And I realize I miss you more than I can express, but I have never met you.  Tears come, and they’re hot and stinging the skin on my face again, probably for the tenth time today.  I was trying so hard to make this a special day for everyone, even through the tears.  Because even though I’ve never known you, I have loved you anyway.  And days like today only serve to remind me that you’re not here, and will never be.

The house is quiet.  All I can hear is Pixel purring at my side.  And I fall asleep thinking of you, my dear children.  My children.  The ones my heart misses and loves, but will never know.  I don’t know if you would have been a boy or a girl, or maybe one of each.  That is what I wanted most; a boy and a girl.

Christmas is gone.  The house is quiet.  Good night, my children. Merry Christmas.  I love you….

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The Great Cookie Kerfuffle of 2016

Well, before I start out with this story, I want to wish my reader(s) a very blessed Christmas season!  I hope your family is close and your joys are many!

This year hubby and I decided not to pull our Christmas tree out of hiding and set it up.  There are two reasons for this, mostly:  Pixel and Mercy.  Last year, Pixel took great joy in stealing most of the ornaments from the bottom third of the tree and playing with them.  We use cat safe McDonald’s Teeny Beanie Babies to decorate the tree, and I do admit it is quite adorable, but Pixel always chooses one toy in particular to play with from the tree.  Last year, it was one of the lion toys, its name escapes me.  I have no reason to believe that Mercy, in all of her kitten-y goodness, would not be a terror when it comes to having a 6 foot climbing obstacle loaded chock full of toys to play with.  So no, we’re forgoing the tree this year.

One of the other things I usually do to make it feel (and smell!) like Christmas is baking cookies.  It is one of the things I actually don’t mind baking, and the recipes I usually use are foolproof (meaning I can make them with little problem.)  Unlike most folks who have holiday specific cookies they make on a fairly consistent, annual basis, I  have two recipes that I use no matter the time of year.  I have to like the cookies in order for me to make them, and I don’t necessarily enjoy the pressed cookies that come from the old “super shooter” type of press, or ones that I have to spend a lot of time decorating.  I’ve never baked a gingerbread cookie, and sugar cookies are too blah for me.  So my go-to cookies are usually shortbread, because I love it and it’s too expensive to buy in the store, and a variation of a chocolate chip recipe I got from Food Network some years back.  They may not scream Christmas or be terribly festive, but they are good.

I started sometime last week with the chocolate chip cookies.  These are adapted from a recipe from Alton Brown, called “The Chewy.”  I have made these many times before and they are just such a wonderfully decadent and chewy cookie.  I didn’t have the recipe written on a card or my book like I usually would, so I checked the Food Network website for it.  It looked a little strange, as I didn’t remember the dry ingredients being measured by weight instead of cup measure.  But I didn’t mind, because I had gotten a nifty digital kitchen scale over the summer and this would be my chance to try it out.  However, when I got to the brown sugar part of the dry weights, eight ounces looked like a LOT of brown sugar, so I went back and re-checked the video, which was taken from the episode of Good Eats where this cookie recipe was featured.  That is when I figured out that the video measurements were so much different from what the written recipe noted, so I started all over with fresh flour (because I had already sifted 12 ounces of flour with the salt and baking soda,) measuring out 2 1/4 cups instead, 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar, which ironically turned out to be 8 dry ounces, and the other measures in the video.

The cookie dough turned out good.  It was full of chips and nuts for the amount of batter I had, which is good.  Usually, when I make chocolate chip cookies, my last few cookies have very few chips in them because the batter to chip ratio is terrible.  So, following the directions on the written recipe, I baked one tray of cookies at a time, having only one cookie sheet, for the fifteen minutes noted.  Everything was smelling wonderful halfway through, and I switched the sheet from the top rack to the bottom third like I was supposed to.  But at the end of the baking time, the cookies were almost not recognizable as cookies.  By the way, if anyone is looking for some last-minute coal for stockings, message me.

Not deterred, I put my second tray of cookies into the oven and reduced the time for baking from fifteen to twelve.  Again, the aroma of baking cookies filled the air and at twelve minutes, they were almost as charred as the first batch.  A little frustrated at myself for not being able to bake these stupid cookies, I put my third batch into the oven, this time for 1o minutes.  The last batch was still over done, but better than the first two, and spread out like melting ice cream on the sheet.  Not wanting to waste any more dough, I gave up baking that night.  The rest of the dough sat in the fridge for a day while I sulked.  I thought I was losing my touch.

The next day, I decided to give my shortbread cookies a try.  Those are REALLY simple, and only have five ingredients.  I couldn’t screw these up, right?  The dough came together very nicely and after turning it out onto my floured counter, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to stiffen a bit.  While that dough was resting, I gave the “Chewy” cookies one more shot.  This time, I decided to measure the ingredients using the scale and not let the amounts spook me.  Twelve weighed ounces of flour.  Eight ounces of brown sugar.  Two ounces of granulated sugar.  Like the last batch of batter, it came together nicely but had a bit more body, for lack of a better word.  I’m guessing this was the extra flour, because 12 ounces does not even remotely measure to be 2 1/4 cups.

I was getting tired and bit achy from so much standing, so I decided to just bake the shortbread cookies that night.  The chewy chocolate chip cookies would have to wait at least one more night.  The shortbread turned out beautiful, as I had hoped.  Finally!  A good result.  But it was Thursday night, and I really wanted to have some cookies to bring to John’s therapists on Friday.  But I was pleased that the shortbread baked up nicely.  As luck would have it, we never made it to the therapist on Friday before Christmas.  Achy muscles and cookie burnout were the culprit.

Tonight we went to my Mom’s for dinner and what was supposed to be church services online.  I brought the cookie dough and sheets to her house so I could hopefully finish these cookies, which by this time have become a real thorn in my side.  While our dinner was baking in her counter top convection oven, I worked on the cookies in her big oven.  This time, I lowered the oven temp to 350 from the recommended 375, and checked them at 10 minutes.  They weren’t quite finished at 10, and another two minutes made them a nice golden brown.  Perfection!  I could have cried, but honestly the cookies had plenty of salt in the batter already.

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Finally!  Chewy cookies that actually LOOK like cookies!!

So, here are my recipes, adjusted for what made them work in my kitchen and how I made them.

Shortbread Cookies

  • 3 Sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature*
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar**
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In the work bowl of your mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until it is just combined.  Add the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  Add flour to butter and sugar mixture; mix on low-speed until the dough starts to come together.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter or cookie cutter, cut cookies into rectangles approximately 3″ by 1″.  Place cookies on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (I found they were perfect at 20 minutes, but watch the cookies from 20 minutes on) until they begin to brown around the edges.  Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool thoroughly before storing.

*Use real, unsalted butter for this recipe.  Substituting Crisco or margarine will not give the shortbread its classic buttery flavor.  Some things shouldn’t be skimped, and this recipe is one of them. You’ll be happy you didn’t skimp.

**I used fine granulated brown sugar, sometimes called turbinado or raw sugar.  Despite the different color, this does not carry over to the color of the cookies.  So if you don’t use regular white sugar, don’t hesitate to use the brown granulated (not regular brown sugar) in this recipe.  It will turn out as if you had used white granulated.

 

The Chewy (Courtesy of Alton Brown, tweaked by me!)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces (by weight) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces (by weight) light brown sugar
  • 2 ounces (by weight) granulated white sugar
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces (one bag) vanilla chips (white chocolate)
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat until fully melted.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.  Pour the butter into the mixer’s work bowl and add the sugar.  Mix on medium for two minutes, using the paddle attachment (or on medium with wire beaters on a hand-held mixer.) Lightly whisk the egg, yolk, milk and vanilla together; add slowly to butter and sugar mixture.  Turn the mixer speed to low, and mix until smooth.  Slowly add the flour, scraping the bowl down as needed.  When the flour is incorporated into the batter, turn the mixer speed to “stir” (or fold in by hand) and add the white chocolate chips  and macadamia nuts.  Chill the dough in the bowl for one hour.

Spoon cookie dough by rounded spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool thoroughly before storing or devouring!

 

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!  Buon Natale!!

I Need To Rant A Bit…

Since my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia I have become increasingly sensitive to a variety of different things. I really won’t go so far as to say I have allergies because that would imply some sort of drastic reaction to the substance. For example, I can no longer eat iceberg lettuce because it does not like me. I will spare you the details of how it does not “like” me, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I would call that a sensitivity rather than a true allergy. And in the same manner, I have this increased sensitivity to many foods and external products.

A few years ago after watching a documentary called, “Sweet Poison,” I gave up the artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame K) and sucralose. Soon after those chemicals were purged from my body, I noticed a significant decrease in my pain level. It was enough to make the sacrifice worth it, and though I had no intention of resuming any consumption of these sweeteners, I vowed anew to keep them out of my diet permanently. Now, if I happen to have a product with any of these sweeteners in it, I can tell immediately. The artificial taste gives this stuff away, and I usually just spit it out and go about my day.

Recently, I have noticed these products, specifically sucralose, being hidden into more and more everyday products, even those that are not listed as being low sugar or low calorie. My first experience with this was Swiss Miss hot cocoa. After we bought our first Keurig coffee machine, we had a few samples of coffees and other hot drinks that came with it. One of these was a K Cup of Swiss Miss hot cocoa. I thought the idea was wonderful, as there was just enough hot water in one small cup to make a perfect, steamy cup of cocoa.  But the first (and last) sip revealed that telltale taste of sucralose. I was puzzled because the cocoa was not marketed as low sugar or sugar free. This was their regular cocoa. The very next time I shopped, I checked the ingredient label on every variety of their regular cocoa, and sure enough every one of them, except for their natural variety, has sucralose in the list. Luckily, I found a brand that does not use any artificial sweeteners in their mix, and I buy it exclusively now.

Because of this revelation I have to check every single item I purchase before I buy it. Sucralose does not have a warning on the label like its predecessor, aspartame, has under the ingredients. It is not as simple to tell without reading the entire label if the item contains sucralose. And it appears in things you would never suspect. Mouthwash, toothpaste, regular chewing gum, some presweetened drinks (like PepsiCo’s Lipton Brisk bottled teas,) canned fruit, even if it is not labeled sugar free or low sugar, juice drinks, cereals, flavored oatmeal, the list is endless. It is very difficult for me to find mint candies or chewing gum that is safe. It is frustrating and unnecessary that these, “crap sugars,” as I call them, are in a huge percentage of commercially prepared and sold products.

The latest discovery was really maddening, however. One of my favorite soda pop flavors is Mountain Dew’s Game Fuel*, cherry citrus flavor. It has a limited production and availability, usually coinciding with the release of a highly anticipated video game. And I found a bottle in my grocery’s cooler while shopping yesterday and I picked up a bottle, excited about finding it again. My first sip was an immediate mixture of pleasure and disgust, because I tasted the sucralose in the first mouthful. Why, oh why do these companies feel the need to put this stuff in every freaking product they make??? Either they don’t realize that people in the general population are trying to cut this artificial crud out of our bodies for a whole host of reasons, or they are yielding to the public outcry against high fructose corn syrup. If they want to use that stuff in their products, fine and dandy, but they should be required to disclose the use of sucralose and acesulfame K on the front of their packaging. I am so tired of being unpleasantly surprised, especially when it appears in a product I would have never guessed.

I am surprised that so many things have these artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes in a society where people are steering away from processed food and more toward organic, whole food items.  These chemicals are not safe, but somehow the demonization of artificial sweeteners was localized to aspartame. Somehow, sucralose and acesulfame K were spared the scrutiny and appear in even more items than did their predecessor. But I don’t believe that either of those two are any safer than aspartame and someday will be proven so.

I will continue to keep these chemicals out of my body, because I tend to be sensitive to their effects. Consumed in large amounts, these sweeteners (at least for me) cause symptoms similar to those caused by MSG, including migraine headache and muscle aches.

Thank you, kind reader(s), for allowing my rant. Sometimes, these things need to be said only if for no other reason but to vent a frustration.  I’ll be back soon with a more uplifting post!

*Disclaimer: These statements are based upon my personal experiences with these chemicals.  There is no malice or libel intended on any specific company.  I am simply stating factual information that is readily and publicly available on the labels of the products listed here.  People who are sensitive to artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes (a whole different subject for discussion) have a right and a need to know that these substances are being used in common, everyday products.

A Joyful Remembrance

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A freshly brushed Tika enjoying the bed.

Six years ago today was easily one of the worst days of my adult life, after the passing of my dad.  Because six years ago today was the last time I held my Persian cat, Tika, before she slipped away from us.  I’ve written of her many times in other places and on other media, but only once on this blog.  She has so shaped my being that I think that this year, her remembrance belongs right here.

Tika was no ordinary cat.  She was one of those creatures that when you met her, you just knew there was something special about her.  When we rescued her from the shelter during our first year of marriage, we knew she belonged with us.  Tika was the first birthday gift I’d gotten from my husband after our wedding.  She kinda picked us, the way you hear of dogs choosing their new owner.  We weren’t really interested in adopting, but we found ourselves at the shelter that rainy Saturday April afternoon.  It wasn’t unusual for us to stop in at the Humane Society just to look around, when we weren’t doing anything special on our way home and it was on the way.  We meandered into the cat room, where the staff was tending to a new bunch of cats that were recently surrendered after their owner passed away.  Since we already had a 3 year old calico, and because I have a soft spot for calicos and tortoiseshell cats, I was drawn to a pretty calico that was in the group.  She was reserved and shy in the back of her cage, not really understanding why she was there… and then I felt it.

Two light golden eyes were staring at me from a cage behind me.  It was Tika, but her name at the time was “Luna.”  And she was unlike the other cats.  She was active and friendly, purring and licking our fingers through her bars.  So hubby and I decided to spend some time with her in the visit room, and that is where we fell in love with this cat.  She was sweet, and loved belly rubs.  She purred the whole time we were with her, laying on the charm.  Her meows were soft and pleasant, almost begging us to take her home.  It was very difficult to leave her that afternoon, but we had placed a hold on her so we could “think about it.”  There was no thinking, but there was plenty of agonizing, tears and insomnia.  We finally decided to bring her home, and whatever the problems the two cats would have would surely work out over time.

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Tika and Callie in their favorite spot. Can you guess who the boss was?

In truth, it was over six months before Tika and Callie could tolerate each other and be in the same room.  But she was in my lap most times, and Callie just adored my hubby from the moment she met him.  So we each had a cat for our laps and our hearts.  Tika became my “certified professional” lap warmer, and my nurse when I was hurt in a car accident the following year and in the years that followed, right up until she passed away. She always knew when I needed her, and she was always right in my lap, grooming and loving me. She never knew a stranger.  Tika was the greeter that welcomed every guest into our home with a meow and a polite demand for a belly rub.  Everyone who met her adored her, even the veterinarians who treated her for the last six months of her life.

Every day since the day she passed, I have thought of her.  I have pictures of her on my desktop computer.  There is a photo of her and Sassy, our now 16 year old Ragdoll, that peers at me from a frame on the wall.  And every day has been excruciatingly painful.  For a long time, I couldn’t say her name without tears of grief, and I certainly couldn’t speak about her without choking sobs.  When she died, a piece of my heart died with her.

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Sassy and Tika.  The depth of their relationship was very apparent in this photo.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called, “If Tika Came Back From Heaven.”  It was unbearably difficult to write, and I couldn’t post it for a year.  Even now, it’s hard to read, but sometimes I do go back and read my thoughts about what she would say if she could.  But the one thing I know for sure Tika would have wanted was for me to be able to love again, and she would have given her blessing on our newest family member, Mercy. In so many ways, Mercy has been able to heal some of the hurt of loss, and replace it with joy and hope.  Her name was chosen because of her physical disability, but her presence in our home has brought mercy and grace, exactly the things that Tika would have desired for me.  So it is more than fitting that Mercy Grace has come to be with us.  I can never replace Tika, but Mercy has been good for my soul.

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Mercy Grace, our one-eyed kitten, six months old and lookin’ good!

Tika Marie, I still miss you with all of my heart.  Every day I wish you were here again.  And I am so thankful that you chose me to be your Mama.  I have learned so much from you, Munchkin; how to love without condition, to give without expectation, and to find joy in the small things.  You are gone from here, but always in my heart.  Rest well, until I see you again. Much love, baby girl, now and forever.

You Old Sew and Sew….

Hubby and I have been apartment dwellers for most of our nineteen year marriage.  The short period of time when we actually didn’t live in an apartment was spent in half of a duplex that we shared with dear friends (here’s a tip… don’t live next door to friends.  Something will inevitably happen that will suddenly make you ‘neighbors’ instead of ‘friends.’)  In the duplex, we had plenty of space, and more for storage for our plentiful hoard of junk in the garage.  Funny how folks have a garage they use for useless stuff, while a $20,ooo car sits in the driveway, unprotected from the elements.  But (as usual) I digress.

When we moved to Florida twelve years ago, we moved into an apartment-turned-condo which was much smaller than what we left in Oregon, but it worked and the landlord welcomed our fur family of three.  The duplex and the condo were really our only departures from apartment living.  We’ve lived in tiny apartments (our first one was a 600 sq ft, one bedroom apartment that we outgrew the second the moving van arrived from Florida,) crummy apartments that grew mushrooms in the carpet because it was so damp and had nearly no insulation.  That was our second apartment, and though it was much bigger than the first one, it was really, really awful.  Our third one ended up being in a nicer complex, but we settled for a rent on the second floor.  Between that apartment and our relocation all the way across the country was the duplex.  We also did a quick stint with my mom after my dad had passed away, and she needed some help after having knee replacement surgery.  Another quick tip, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart… NEVER, NEVER EVER move back in with your widowed mother, especially if you are married.  It will hardly every work.  I do have to admit, though, that living arrangement worked to our extreme benefit because it happened to be at a horrible, difficult time in our lives.  To not worry about paying rent consistently was a huge blessing for us.

Anyway, the point of all of that rambling is this: I haven’t lived in a house since I was 20 years old, the house in which I grew up.  All of these apartments have been an experience, but none of them have ever truly felt like ‘home.’  So, this time around, since I know we are planted in this apartment until we leave Florida, or until the complex owners sell to another company that cancels our lease.  We have no room to move around because we are, quite frankly, surrounded by nineteen years of stuff.  Having the furniture and tchotchkes to fill a three bedroom home stuffed into a 900 sq ft apartment makes for decor challenges.  The kitchen has no formal pantry, so I’m using some cabinet space (It’s a good thing I never registered for a china set, because I’d have no place to put it!) for the stock of staples that grows seemingly endlessly. The rest has overflowed into an old computer desk we no longer use for its designated purpose.  We’ve had that sitting just outside the kitchen entrance for as long as we’ve been here (just over a year) and finally I got tired of looking at the mess of stuff just crammed into the desk.  I mean, yes, it serves a good purpose but it was getting to be an eyesore.

About two months ago, on a shopping trip to Walmart I was looking for a set of sheets for our bed to replace a bottom sheet that had worn a hole in one side.  The set I picked out was a pretty turquoise color, but the fabric was microfiber.  I wondered, living in Florida, if the fabric would be able to breathe and keep us cool at night.  The answer to that question, by the way, is a resounding NO.  Those sheets were miserable.  Can’t move around on them, they trap body heat as if they were aluminum foil, and you’re a potato in an oven.  But the pillowcases were never intended for use on our bed.  For one, they were for a king sized pillow.  I don’t think I’ve ever owned a king pillow.  A body pillow, yes.  King pillow?  Not so much. And I had  been talking to hubby about getting or making a curtain for the front of the computer desk turned makeshift pantry, to hide the clutter (oh, who am I kidding?  It’s a complete disaster.  If it wasn’t I wouldn’t need a curtain to hide it, am I right???)  Looking at the pillowcases that matched that horrible excuse for bedding, I got the idea to turn them into the curtains.  And so, my first “upcycling” project began.

I don’t have any photos of the process because I didn’t think as I was starting out, “Gee, this would make a neat blog post!” But the transformation from pillowcases to curtains was fairly simple.  First, I measured the opening I was going to cover.  I only did a measurement from top to bottom, since I knew I would be using both cases to make the curtain.  The space was 26″ high, so at least I had a starting point.  One of the nice things about these particular pillowcases was that a neat hem already existed.  Some fancier pillowcases are trimmed with some kind of piping or lace, but since these were Walmart specials, they had no such adornment.  This made them ideal for my project!  One less stitch to worry about, right?

The first order of business was to remove the stitches from the sides and end of the case.  On the first one, I did it the hard way and removed every single stitch using a seam ripper.  By the time I got to the second case, I just trimmed the edges off at the stitching.  Much easier, and I didn’t have to fuss with the extra threads that the seam ripper left behind.That, of course, meant that one curtain was slightly wider than the other.  Since I’m the only one who knows that (well, not anymore,) it doesn’t matter.  Next, I finished the raw edges of the panel by folding 1/4″ over, and then 1/2″ as a seam allowance on all sides, except the top since that was eventually going to be trimmed off anyway.  The fabric on the pillowcases was so easy to work with, and a steam iron easily pressed the all of the folds into place.  All I did from there was pin the seams and stitch.

Next was the crucial measuring step.  I took my tape measure and marked my desired length, in this case 26 inches, in about 2 inch intervals along the width of the panel.  That was where I wanted to make a fold, so I pressed a crease on the fabric with Mom’s trusty old steam iron.  I knew I wanted to make a ruffle at the top of the curtain, and a rod pocket for a tension rod.  So, I marked 2 inches from the top (the fold) for the ruffle, another 2 inches for the rod pocket, and 1 inch more for the seam allowance.  At the bottom of the one inch line was the cut line. So, at the raw edge, I folded a ½ inch over and ironed, and another ½ inch to the bottom of the next time, where the rod pocket would be formed.  You can see in the photo below:

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Sewing the bottom of the rod pocket, catching the seam allowance in the stitch.

From there, once everything was marked and pinned, it was just a matter of stitching. One last press from the iron, and voila!  A set of pillowcases turned curtains!  And they look so much better than all that clutter.  See for yourself! (Don’t mind the stuff around the desk… that area is my kitchen/laundry space.  With a little apartment, some areas serve a double duty.)

And so there you have it.  And please pardon my horrid photography.  Some day I’ll get better at it.  Practice makes perfect!

We have some busy weeks coming up, but I’ll try to keep you updated as the holidays quickly approach!  Thanks for reading!

Family Traditions

It’s Independence Day weekend, and for the twelfth year in a row, we have no plans to do any of the traditional things that families and folks do during the holiday.  When we moved in 2004 from Oregon away from hubby’s family and friends, we left behind most, if not all of our social life.  We have found in our late 30s and 40s, it’s not as easy to find folks with as much in common with us as we did when we were younger. We don’t have children, so we don’t really relate to couples that do.  So, we end up spending most of our holidays with my mom.

Most folks think of cookouts, beaches, fireworks and family for Independence Day celebrations, myself included.  My family would always have a get together with my parents’ friends, and we would be dragged along and, despite vociferous objection, end up having a great time.  My mom always made her baked beans, slow baked in a stoneware bean pot, and usually a macaroni salad.  My dad and our gracious host would be in charge of the grill, while the ladies worked in the kitchen to finish up the assembly line of goodies. My brothers and I would swim until we were called for lunch, and afterwards play a game of lawn darts, the ones that were recalled because someone decided they were too dangerous.  Before dark, we would all head back to our hometown, by the beach for fireworks and sangria (well, the adults got the good stuff.  I usually got to have a Tab, which was a special treat.) The display was nowhere near what is done on the 4th today.  Just simple, one at a time fireworks that lasted almost an hour, with big, tummy-sickening booms and pretty lights.  Sometimes, they would scream.  Mom called those, “screaming mimis.”

When we all got older and no longer did the cookouts, one of the new traditions we started was watching NASCAR races on the holiday weekend. It was my older brother who actually started this tradition, and he was usually found at the annual picnic glued to the television, watching the race by himself. Eventually, the whole family would watch the race, settled in and cheering for our favorites.  We even had a hometown favorite on the national race stage that we watched every week, hoping that he would do his biggest fan (my brother) proud.  This was back when the majority, if not all of the races took place during daylight hours, because tracks just weren’t set up for evening races like they are today.  Over the years, I’ve lost my taste for watching the races, and the fact that most of the drivers I grew up watching have long retired contributes to my waning interest.  But I will still usually watch both races at Daytona, and both races at Talladega, AL.  This is the one family tradition that I still adhere to, mostly because it doesn’t require that I have friends that share this interest.  I guess one tradition is better than none.

Wherever this weekend takes you, and whatever you do for the holiday, I wish for you to stay safe, enjoy yourselves, and make memories with your families and friends.  God bless America.

Happy Birthday, America

The first thought that comes to mind today is, “Where did June go?”  Here it is, the last day of the sixth month of the year.  Which means that Christmas is now officially less than six months away.  You’re welcome.

The 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is coming up on Monday.  That is still a big deal to many of us.  The Declaration of Independence.  The birth of a new, unique nation.  A nation settled and established by some of the bravest souls to walk the Earth, in search of liberty, FREEDOM, to live  how they wished, not under tyranny rule of a not-so-benevolent king.  I say that these men and women were some of the bravest souls to walk the Earth, and I mean that.  It takes courage and resolve to journey across an ocean that few had ever navigated to a world where there were no comforts, a place where there were no guarantees, where death would visit them in startling numbers just the first winter.  But they had a purpose.  The settlers of the colonies desired to be able to worship their God freely and without persecution by their government.

If you wish to truly celebrate Independence Day with a movie this weekend, stay away from the theater (I hear that the new Independence Day movie is horrid anyway) and turn on Netflix.  Search for Kirk Cameron’s Monumental.  I promise you, it will not be time wasted.  Have your children watch, as this is a family-friendly movie.  There will be no cussing, no “adult themes.”  But they will learn something, and what they will learn is the truth about why the pilgrims fled England to settle in the new world.  And chances are, you will learn some new things, too.  Things that are not taught in schools any more, because education has ended up in the wrong hands for too many years.  That is another conversation all by itself.

From the daughter of a World War II army vet and her family, to every man and woman serving in the Armed Forces to protect this land and her Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, to the families who gave their soldiers to our great nation, and for the generations of those who did the same in the name of freedom and liberty, I thank you.  For it is because of the best military in the world that we still have the best place in the world to live our lives, raise our families and love one another.

God bless America. Happy birthday!