Saturday, October 25, 2014

Menu Planning Helps

Things just go so much better when I take the time to plan a weekly menu. For one thing, I'm not scrambling around trying to come up with meals at the last minute. But it's also good from an economical standpoint, because we shop only for what we will use.

This week I kept an eye on the menu so I knew if/what I needed to do ahead of time, whether it was thawing meat or doing some prep work. I was also able to plan for those days I knew I'd be busy working in the garage, and therefore not able to keep an eye on things in the kitchen. Double score for trying a couple new recipes that were big hits with both of us.

I don't really plan for breakfast. We have a few favorites we rotate, depending on how much time we have and how hungry we are: yogurt pancakes, oatmeal, eggs of some sort, yogurt and fruit, or simply muffins or toast.

Here's a peek at this week's menu:

Lunch
grilled cheese with pickles (homemade whole grain bread and three kinds of cheese)
leftover roast chicken and vegetables; salad with tomatoes and onions
Thai noodles with sauteed vegetables and topped with chopped peanuts; salad with orange, pecans and blue cheese
homemade pizza with homemade Italian sausage, red pepper and onions; applesauce
chicken milanesas; mashed potatoes; salad with tomatoes
tomato and blue cheese pasta; salad with tomatoes and onions
sandwiches (homemade whole grain bread, farmer's cheese, tomato, avocado, lettuce)

Supper
roasted chicken and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions)
homemade vegetarian pizza (onions, garlic, red pepper, olives); applesauce
rosti potatoes; eggs; sliced tomatoes
leftover Thai noodles with sauteed vegetables
wedge salad with bacon, sauteed maple onions, blue cheese, avocado, cherry tomatoes and Ranch dressing

Ivan is busy at least a couple evenings each week with ministry responsibilities, and when he's gone, it's pretty much clean-out-the-fridge-time for me.

Love sesame yet we haven't loved any of the recipes I've tried -- up until this week when we both really enjoyed the Spicy Thai Noodles I found over at A Small Snippet blog. Yay! 

Basically I halved the ingredients, since there are just two of us, but we still ended up with enough for two meals. Probably because I added some sauteed vegetables. It's one of those dishes you can customize to your family's taste and/or what's in your fridge at any given moment. We always have onion and garlic on hand, plus there were some carrots and a red pepper in the crisper, and we picked some swiss chard from our container garden for a little bit of green. It was a very colorful dish.

I subscribe to The Splendid Table's weekly emails and knew when this recipe for wedge salad popped up that I had to try it, pronto! Again with adapations, because we simply don't have access to all the ingredients. We shared a small head of iceberg lettuce; no romaine or fancy radicchio for us. I made do with the white onion I had on hand, because who cares what color it is, right? And pancetta instead of bacon, although there I think it was an improvement because we have some nice artisanal pancetta. (It comes in about a foot long rolled up cylinder that Ivan slices rather thinly and we package in small amounts and freeze.) I left out the baguette but threw in an avocado and some cherry tomatoes. As for the dressing, we do not have access to either buttermilk (ever) or chives (this time of year), so I mixed up some of the dry mix Ranch dressing we brought back from the states. I figured it was a close approximation.

Did you notice a lot of the meals are vegetarian? We've cut way back on meat, partly for health reasons and partly for economic ones. My goal is to buy one piece of meat each week (which I can stretch to 2-4 meals) and so far it's working out really well. Our one concession is the bacon, but as I mentioned, we buy a big chunk, repackage and freeze, and it lasts us for a long time since we don't eat it very often. In fact, the bacon we used on the wedge salad this week was the first bacon we've had all month.

We're always on the lookout for good vegetarian recipes, so if you have one (or more) you really like, do share! It may only be Spring here, but we've had temps in the 90s all week, with no end in sight. We're getting ready to haul the toaster oven out to the garage to use when necessary and our regular oven probably won't see action until next April. That means we are on the look-out for recipes that require no, or very little, cooking. So summer-time recipes get extra credit :)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Seeded Whole Grain Bread

This week we finally tried a recipe I pinned a while back, for seeded whole grain bread. We've been trying to find a good recipe like this for a few years; for bread that's chewy and full of whole grain goodness, but not heavy like a brick. Since cutting waaaaaaay back on white bread (Ivan's yummy, homemade-bread-from-an-Italian recipe), we've pretty much just done without since whole grain breads are rather hard to find here. Usually if it's marketed as whole grain, that means they've substituted a minor amount of the white flour with whole wheat flour, and there might be a few seeds sprinkled on top, so it doesn't really taste any different than the white equivalent. Once in a while we really do come across a whole grain bread, but the price prevents us from buying it. I know there are some who think nothing of spending $5-6 on a loaf of bread, but that's a budget buster in our book.

With all our comings and goings, I didn't make it to the health food store to buy the whole wheat flour and seeds until early this week. Our first attempt convinced us that this recipe is a keeper! It met all our criteria and then some.

We did tweak the recipe, so what you see here is a little different than the original one I found over at Half Baked Harvest. Here are the changes we made:

1) I'm not sure if we got a bad packet of yeast but the first attempt at mixing the yeast, water and honey was a complete failure; even though we let it sit for half an hour, the yeast never did proof. On the second try we mixed the water and yeast, then just drizzled the honey in without stirring it, and that one proofed just fine.

2) The recipe calls for bread flour; we use plain white flour.

3) We cooked half a cup of wheat berries in 4 cups of water for an hour, drained them and added those to the mixture for an even grainier bread.

4) We don't use a whole cup of seeds on the outside as called for in the original recipe. We did on one loaf and it was just too much, and kept shedding massive amounts of seeds every time we cut into it. We think 1/2 cup is just the right amount. This is definitely one of those personal preference things, though.

A few more things that are important to know:

1) This recipe has to be started the night before, so don't think you can start it in the morning and have bread for lunch. Please tell me I'm not the only one who's guilty of not reading through a recipe ahead of time, and finding out too late that I should have started hours before?

2) You will not need a whole packet of dry yeast. I think packets typically contain a tablespoon and you'll only need 2-1/4 teaspoons. This is not a typo, so don't go dumping in the whole packet!

3) We have not tried to make this on a cookie sheet, but followed the directions in the original recipe that say to use a Dutch oven. Tieghan said you can use a cookie sheet instead, but the bread will be a little denser and won't have the lovely crust you get in a Dutch oven. So yes, you can make this without a Dutch oven, but be forewarned it won't be quite the same.

4) Dutch ovens come in various shapes and sizes. Mine is a Calphalon 5 quart enameled cast iron beast. It weighs a ton and takes up a lot of space, but is still one of my "must haves" in the kitchen. This recipe makes a huge loaf. Not.Even.Kidding. It fills the oval 9.5" x 13.5" shape and rises to about 4" high. It's worth at least two regular size loaves. If I had two smaller Dutch ovens, I could divide the dough and make two loaves, but I'm working with what I have so that means one ginormous loaf.

5) One of the things I love is that you can use whatever seeds you want. On the off chance that you're as clueless as I was about some seeds: Make sure you check to see if any seeds need to be precooked or soaked ahead of time. Otherwise you might find yourself spitting out hard, unchewable bits. Just sayin'.

Okay, enough already, right?! On with the recipe...

Seeded Whole Grain Bread

Night Before:

Preferment:
1 cup bread (white) flour
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast

Wheat Berries:
1/2 cup whole wheat berries
4 cups water

 

Next Morning:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling
1-1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 cup old fashioned oats
3 Tablespoons ground flax
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups bread (white) flour
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 Tablespoons mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flax, etc.)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flax, etc.)

1. The night before baking the bread, make the preferment. In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together the flour, water and yeast until a smooth paste forms. Cover the bowl and allow the preferment to ripen at room temperature overnight. The preferment will double in size and become bubbly on top as it sits.
2. In a 2 quart (or larger) lidded saucepan bring wheat berries and water to a boil, lower heat and simmer for one hour with lid on. Drain berries and store in fridge overnight.
3. The next day, measure out 1/4 cup warm water in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add yeast, stir slightly. Drizzle in 3 Tablespoons of honey and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is foamy on top and smells like bread. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 1-1/4 cups warm water with the oats and ground flax and allow to sit 5-10 minutes while yeast proofs.
4. Add both the yeast mixture and oats mixture to the bowl with the preferment from the night before. Add whole wheat flour, white flour, salt and wheat berries. Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed for 4-6 minutes. If the dough is extremely sitcky, add flour 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Now add in 3-4 Tablespoons of the mixed seeds, mix until combined.
5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two.
6. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit in a warm area for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
7. Once the dough has doubled, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a 5 quart or larger cast iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid onto the center of the rack.
8. Punch the dough down with your fist, turn out onto the floured surface again and knead a few times with your hands. Form into a rough oval or circle shape (dough can be divided in half to make two loaves, if you prefer) and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise 20-30 minutes, until it has again doubled in size.
9. When the dough has doubled, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with 1/2 cup mixed seeds. Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons honey over the seeds. Using a sharp knife, gently make a small slit down the center of the loaf.
10. Carefully remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven, closing the door quickly to retain the heat. Remove the lid and, picking the dough up by the parchment paper, carefully place it into the Dutch oven. Put the lid back on and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and allow to bake an additional 15-20 minutes until the bread is a deep, golden brown.
11. Remove from the oven and, using a couple of thin spatulas, carefully lift the bread out of the Dutch oven onto a cooling rack. Use the spatulas to slide the bread off the parchment paper (which can be discarded). Cool completely, and don't slice into the bread right away, because the bread continues to cook as it cools.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Chicken Tikka Masala

Although I'm not what you'd call an adventurous cook, I do like trying to recreate food I've enjoyed in restaurants or at a friends' house. When I came across this recipe, it brought to mind the great Indian food we enjoyed while living in Uganda. My favorite restaurant there was an Indian place with the improbable name of Khana Khazana, and my favorite dish was a mushroom curry. I have hunted high and low for the recipe, to no avail. Every recipe I've found includes tomato, which this curry did not have.

But back to this recipe. To be honest, the first time I made it, I thought I was making butter chicken. I'd pinned both recipes, and meant to pull up the butter chicken and it wasn't until I was finishing the dish that I realized my mistake. Oops.

My other mistake was fortuitous, because I discovered that marinating the chicken for several days (instead of overnight as called for in the recipe) makes it much more flavorful.

Indian food is not something we can find here; maybe in Buenos Aires, but definitely not in Cordoba. So if we want it, I have to make it. I haven't tried a lot of other Indian recipes yet, mainly because this is so good that I keep going back to it (it made the cut for my "Favorite Recipes" Pinterest board). But if you have a good Indian recipe, please do share!

I've had to adapt this recipe a bit, because I don't have access to a few things, but they are minor and make no big difference. For instance, even when I can find boneless chicken (which is rare), it's very expensive; so instead I usually buy pata-muslos (leg/thigh sections) and don't mess with kabobs. Limes are also hard to come by, so I substitute lemon, and I use ground cumin instead of seeds.

It takes some time to put together, but it is so worth it! This dish is very flavorful, and the leftovers heat up beautifully (if you're fortunate enough to have any). One thing I started doing (after the second or third time) was doubling the masala, because we like a lot of sauce.

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

Combine marinade:
4 T. oil
1 T. minced garlic
2 T. lime (or lemon) juice
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
3/4 t. paprika
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
2 T. plain yogurt
Marinate 1 lb. chicken in marinade for 3-4 days.
Pour into a greased pan, bake at 375 degrees until done (leg/thigh sections take about 45 minutes).

Masala:
3 T. oil
1 diced onion
2 t. minced garlic
2 t. minced ginger
1 chopped tomato
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. paprika
1 t. salt
1-1/2 T. sugar
2 T. butter
1-1/2 T. lime (or lemon) juice
1/4 c. heavy cream
3 T. water
In a large skillet, sauté onions about 6 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and sauté an additional minute or two. Add tomato, cover and simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mash into paste, stir in dry ingredients (spices and sugar) and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add butter and stir to melt.
Pour mixture into a blender and add remaining ingredients (juice, cream and water) and pureé until smooth. Return to skillet and bring to a boil. Add chicken (and pan drippings) and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve with rice.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Learning Spanish: A Personal Story

Speaking  Spanish

First in a Series

(graphic via lingos blog: interesting stats on the Spanish language)

My mom used to say she couldn't "carry a tune in a bucket" and I inherited her disability. In my head I know how a song should sound, but what comes out of my mouth bears no resemblance. (Just ask my husband or kids.)

Speaking Spanish is a lot like that. In my head I can converse with some small amount of fluency, but the words I actually speak are rarely pronounced correctly. It.Makes.Me.Crazy.

In theory speaking Spanish should be easier since each vowel has one sound, and one sound only, and it is ALWAYS pronounced that way. In reality, my mouth trips over those sounds, refusing my efforts to manipulate it into the correct form.

[Right here I want to stop and apologize to all the wonderful language teachers out there, because I will not be using the correct terminology since I don't know it. I'll describe things in the best way I know how, which will probably make you grind your teeth. Feel free to correct me in the comments. Just be kind!]

Let's take the word Europe. In English it has two syllables and sounds like "Ur-up". In Spanish it's Europa, and you say each and every vowel.

But let's back up and talk about how each Spanish vowel sounds:
a = soft a, as in father
e = short e, as in pet
i = long e, as in seen
o = long o, as in post
u =soft u, as in due

Okay, now try to say Europa, pronouncing each and every vowel:
e as in pet
u as in due
ro as in post
pa as in father
e--u--ro--pa

Yep, that makes four syllables. Does your mouth have a hard time forming those sounds? Mine sure does!

And certain vowel combinations are guaranteed to come out garbled. The "ae" in aeropuerto has me doing oral contortions, and I still can't say it properly 95% of the time.

I'm telling you, it's sooooo much easier to learn a language when you're young. Not only because the brain is more like a sponge when you're young, but also because that's when your mouth is learning how to shape itself to form the words you use. My fifty-five year old mouth is reluctant and recalcitrant, and sometimes I wish I could slap it into submission.

The other part of speaking Spanish that I find frustrating is the brain-to-mouth delay. I tend to talk fast, and sometimes often realize as it's coming out of my mouth that I've tacked on the wrong conjugation or gender (Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine). Aargh!

But you know what? People still understand me! Well, most of the time. I'll occasionally have to repeat and/or correct what I've said, but in general I can make myself understood.

With practice I see progress. Miniscule progress, but progress nonetheless.

This learning a new language is not for the faint of heart. It is the absolute hardest thing I've ever done, and there's no end in sight. I realized early on that this was going to be a life-long endeavor, and that there will always, ALWAYS be more to learn.

I'm going to share in future posts what it's been like learning to understand what others say (way harder than speaking!) as well as learning to read (easiest part for me, although I'm not a fluent reader either). I'd love to hear from you, too, what your experience has been like if you've learned another language.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I LOVE being a Nana!

I might have mentioned a time or forty-seven that I love being a grandmother. I'd been hearing about it for years from friends who arrived at the position before me, and I'd smile and agree, but I didn't really get it. It wasn't until I saw my baby holding her baby that it hit me. Your heart just melts into a big ol' puddle of mushy mush.

[Rabbit trail: There's a women's clothing store in town called Mushi Mush. Why? It has no meaning in Spanish, and it makes me wonder what they do think it means!]

Anyway, it happened again with the birth of Adalyn. I mean what mother could possibly look at a photo of her son holding his little girl, and not get majorly sentimental?!
He is completely smitten with little Adalyn Faith, as are the rest of us. He says she likes sitting propped against his knees, looking at them.
Don't you ever wonder what's going through their little minds? I imagine conversations like this:
"Hmmm, that face doesn't really go with the voice I got to know while I was inside. I thought he'd be shorter and have more hair." 
or maybe this:
"I wonder if I look like him or her? I like her eyes. His smile is nice. They seem pretty happy. I think I like it here."

I know for a fact that Simon likes it here! He takes such obvious joy in everything he does, and we get a kick out of his smiles and giggles. Last weekend there was a circus in town, and he liked that too!
When they're out and about, he's usually in his stroller or being carried around but at home he has the run of the house. At 8 months old, he's quite mobile! Last week Tina posted this photo with the caption: "I think this best represents what he's been up to this week. He has mastered going from sitting to crawling (still army crawling). Before he would get "stuck" in the sitting position and eventually fuss because he was tired of being in one spot. Not no more!"
Watch him go!

He's especially fascinated with machines that make noise, like the dish washer and washing machine. Funny kid will just sit for a long time and watch the window on the front loader while it swishes water and clothes around.

And me? I could just sit for a long time and look at photos and videos of him and Adalyn. Doesn't matter what they're doing (even sleeping!), I find them the ultimate entertainment.

Yes, you could say I get it now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Applesauce Bran Muffins

In the two years since we last had internet, I've found some "keeper" recipes that I'll be sharing. Since I made these applesauce bran muffins last night, it reminded me that this was one of those recipes. I first made them a while back when I had some leftover homemade applesauce and googled "applesauce muffins". It's from the Canadian Living website.

One of the things I like is that they don't have a lot of sugar. In fact, the recipe only calls for 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup molasses and that's not bad for 18 muffins! They're sweet but not overly so. They have a dense texture, so don't expect a cake-like muffin. I think they're great for breakfast, along with cheesy scrambled eggs, but they also make a nice afternoon snack all by themselves.

I do have to tell you about the first time I made them: I used raisins from the health food store (which is the only place I can find them here) and they had seeds in them! Which we didn't find out until we were eating the muffins -- and spitting out the seeds :) Thankfully I've now found a source of seedless raisins.

Now that y'all are heading into fall in the U.S., this is a good recipe for those cooler mornings. After a week of unseasonably warm weather here (high 80s), the temperature dropped on Saturday night and we're back to "normal" (30s/40s at night and into the 60s during the day). It felt good to turn the oven on to make these muffins, because it warmed up the kitchen space a little. Probably be doing more baking in the next few weeks since we still have almost a month of winter left.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

(makes 18 muffins)
1 egg
1 cup applesauce
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup wheat bran
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins 

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine first 7 ingredients (egg through vanilla). Add bran, stir well and allow to sit for five minutes.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Pour wet ingredients over top, and sprinkle with raisins
Mix until combined and no streaks of flour remain.
Fill muffin cups to top with batter.
Bake 25 minutes. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Life out of pans onto racks and let cool.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On The Bookshelf

I love to read. Always have, always will. My mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten and signed me up for a book club at the same time (a new book came in the mail every month). My allowance more often went to buy books than anything else (although there were periods when other hobbies edged out the books, like when I received a microscope for Christmas and bought slides to look at, or when I was into roller skating and saved my allowance for skates and a cool skate case, or that autumn I spent every Saturday riding horses...).

Mostly I bought books through the Scholastic program at school. Remember that? We ordered as a class, and what a thrill the day the books came in! But I also hit thrift stores, which is where I discovered some older books no longer in print. And then there was the library. Ahhhh, the library! I'll be honest, it is one of the things I miss most about living overseas. Anyway, not sure why, but we'd usually go to the library on Saturday and I'd always lug home at least a dozen books. That continued through grade school, high school, and beyond. Even now, whenever we're in the states and I go to the library, I'll lug home a big bag full. 

My first 'job' was as a library aide at school (6th grade), and my mom kept the resumé I created to apply for the job -- complete with a school picture glued in the upper right hand corner. Becoming a librarian was a goal for many years. That or working in a bookstore. Just as long as I could be around books.

My mom used to joke and say that a bomb would have to fall and score a direct hit, knocking the book out of my hands, before I'd notice. She wasn't far off. It was one of the things that drove Ivan nuts in the beginning, that his new wife could completely ignore him when she was reading.

Anyway, all that to say, I love to read!

I'm not sure why I've rarely shared favorite books here on the blog, but I've decided that I'm going to start. Life is too short and I want to read GOOD books and I think others want the same thing. Gone are the days when I'd read clear through to the end of a book simply because I had to know how it ended. If a book doesn't grab me in the first two chapters, I move on. I've discovered some great books and authors via other bloggers, so I'm jumping on the band wagon and will start to share when I come across a really good book.  Let's all share the book love!

In the past month or so I've come across some real gems. I read a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, sometimes re-reading old familiar friends and sometimes discovering new ones, and I'll talk about the ones that I think are worthwhile.

Forgiveness: The Power & The Puzzles by Wendell Miller
This is a book that's been on our bookshelves for a long time but I just got around to reading it. Mr. Miller, who happens to be a member at one of our supporting churches, has spent a good many years as a Christian counselor, and I think this book shows why he's such an effective one. He writes in a clear, readable style (rather redundant at times, but he wants to make sure you get it). I was surprised at how much I learned, and would highly recommend it. Not just for those in full-time ministry either. It's a practical book that would help anyone with difficult relationships (and who of us doesn't have those?!).

Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
Such.A.Good.Book. It spoke to how we view ministry: not as a series of programs and events, but as a life filled with relationships. 'Ministry' isn't something we set aside time to do. It should be ALL we do: intentionally, relationally, personally. Whether it's shopping at the corner market, getting our oil changed, taking half of that zucchini bread to the neighbor, offering to babysit so a young mom can take a nap, letting the neighbor ride along when you go to the library... Every interaction, every action, should be infused with why we are here: to glorify God. And we do that by living our lives in such a way as to glorify Him. Cannot recommend this book highly enough. Read it! Right now! Okay, you can finish this blog post first.

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I've read the Anne of Green Gables series at least half a dozen times. I love them all but this is one of my favorites. There is a reason this series is considered classic. Even though they were written a century ago, they continue to speak to us today. 'Silly Rilla' as she's sometimes called grows up in this book, in ways that are hard and painful, and she does it with grace. Set in a time period I was not familiar with (World War 1), I found it fascinating to learn more, especially from the perspective of a small Canadian community. I know most have read "Anne of Green Gables" but if you haven't read the rest of the series, you should! Who cares that they are considered Young Adult literature. Good literature is good literature, period.

Remains of Innocence by J. A. Jance
Jance is one of my favorite authors, and of her three series I am most fond of the one featuring Sheriff Joanna Brady. The latest installment (#16) came out last month, and I could not have been more excited. It also helped that I didn't have to pay for it -- I was able to use a credit that I received due to a lawsuit against price fixing by a group of publishers. I'll be honest, I thought it was a scam email to begin with, but when I went and checked my amazon account, sure enough, I had a credit! And it was enough to pay for this book, which I pre-ordered.
Back to the book... When you get into a series, you feel like you get to know the characters, as if they are real friends. At least that's what it's like for me. I've enjoyed seeing Joanna grow as a woman in a position most often held by men, and as a mom, daughter, friend... She's not a one-dimensional character at all, and neither are any of the others. Even those who just show up in one book are fully fleshed out. 
Jance has a way with dialogue, and moving a story along, so you get sucked right into the story. So much so that I find it hard to put one of her books down! Even ones I've read before ;)
If you like mysteries and a strong female protagonist, do yourself a favor and read this series! Start with the first one, because this is definitely a series you'll want to read chronologically.
I hate to give away too much of the plot of "Remains of Innocence" (it wouldn't be a mystery then) so I think it's safer to share the blurb the publisher provided:
An old woman, a hoarder, is dying of emphysema in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In cleaning out her house, her daughter, Liza Machett, discovers a fortune in hundred dollar bills hidden in the tall stacks of books and magazines that crowd every corner.
Tracing the money’s origins will take Liza on a journey that will end in Cochise County, where Sheriff Joanna Brady is embroiled in a personal mystery of her own. A man she considers a family friend is found dead at the bottom of a hole in a limestone cavern near Bisbee. And now there is the mystery of Liza and the money. Are the two disparate cases connected? It’s up to Joanna to find out.
And while I'm talking about J. A. Jance, I'll go ahead and recommend a couple of her $1.99 novellas that recently became available. One ties in with the Joanna Brady series and the other with the J. P. Beaumont series (which is also excellent and I highly recommend).

Home to Holly Springs
In the Company of Others
Talk about feeling like characters have become friends, Jan Karon's books make me want to move to her fictional Mitford! I was sooooooo sad when I heard she was done with the Mitford series, but then she decided to write a bit more about Father Tim. Yahoo! This is one author Ivan and I both really enjoy. Ivan's not one to read fiction. In fact, he only reads two authors who write fiction: Jan Karon and Alexander McCall Smith (author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series featuring a female detective in Botswana).
So why did I wait so long to read her latest two books?!?! I have no idea, especially considering they've been on my bookshelf since they were published. Blame it on building, on moving, on life... Whatever the reason, my bad!
But I did finally read them, and they are, Oh! So! Good!
"Home to Holly Springs" had me laughing out loud, crying real tears, and suddenly looking up from the book and saying to Ivan, "Oh my goodness, you're not going to believe what just happened!" And then I wouldn't tell him. haha  I told him he'd have to read it for himself.
Father Tim returns to his hometown after decades away, and in the process discovers things about himself and others that he never knew, or didn't fully understand while growing up. He makes new friends, renews old friendships, and embraces all those God has brought into his life. 
As Karon herself says, her books are character driven. And she is a master at developing real, honest-to-goodness characters!
"In The Company of Others" I sort of figured out the plot early on, but it was still an absolute joy to see how Karon pulled all the strings together.  With her books, the cliché "there is joy in the journey" certainly rings true. Father Tim and Cynthia's plan to vacation in Ireland goes sadly and hilariously awry and the ensuing drama will keep you turning the pages right until the end.
I seriously finish each and every one of her books with a deep sigh, sad to say goodbye to my friends, and anxious to get my hands the following book so I see what happens to them next!

I recently downloaded two new books to my Kindle and if they turn out to be as good as I hope, I'll be sharing those with you soon. I started "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal" by David McCullough, and it reads like a political thriller thus far. Absolutely fascinating! I'm a bit of a history geek, and I know everyone isn't, but McCullough writes in such a way that if you didn't know better, you'd think you were reading a novel.

The other is a novel, although it has an historical setting. Elizabeth Street takes place in New York City in the early 1900s. I'm really looking forward to digging into that next.

What have you been reading? Any books you want to share? Without access to a library, or even books in English except via the Kindle, I am always on the lookout for those that friends can recommend. With an almost non-existent book budget, I have to be very careful choosing; I want my money to go toward books that are worth it. So if you've read a book you absolutely loved, let me know! I'm pretty eclectic in my taste, except I'm not a big fan of science fiction, fantasy or romance. (Well, romance is okay if there's more to it, but if that's all it is, then I'll just pass.) Mysteries are my favorite genre.

And I'd love to hear about any cute/funny/silly/sad stories you have about your own reading history.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

cultural adjustment is a forever endeavor

Read a great post on culture shock over at Velvet Ashes, and this quote really resonated with me: "Culture shock is a part of cultural adjustment, and that is a forever endeavor." Sometimes I have a hard time articulating how I feel and think, and it's always refreshing to find someone who gets it.

And I certainly agree that this cultural adjustment is a "forever endeavor". Six years in and I'm still occasionally surprised by what I call a "cultural whammy". Something pops up that I haven't encountered before, and it throws me for a loop.

One of the first things to bother me was the way people litter. Rather than walk five feet to toss something in a trash can, they just throw it on the ground. Rude! Then I found out that this is because people want to ensure that those who are paid to clean up the streets and parks will continue to have a job. In theory I get it. Unfortunately, in practice what happens is that they pick up the bigger pieces of trash, but walk right by lots of little pieces. Then those who mow run right over the small debris, shredding and whipping the now thousands of tiny bits all over.

As our circle of acquaintances grew and we began to socialize more, I ran into another cultural wall. Not everyone, but quite a few, will tell you what they think you want to hear, whether they mean it or not. For instance, you invite someone over for dinner. "Sure!" they say, "We'll be there!" Only they never show. In my mind, it would have been kinder to say no up front, before I bought and prepared all that food. In their mind it was kinder to agree to my face, thus making me feel good in that moment, even though they had no intention of coming. Huh?!

There have been many other instances of culture shock, and often, even when I understand the "why", I still find myself scratching my head. Rather than let it get to me, I've adopted the attitude "Es lo que hay" which roughly translates "It is what it is". It's not right or wrong, it's just different.

It also helps to think about some of the crazy cultural aspects of my home country :)

And I appreciate that my friends here have accepted me, graciously overlooking my many mistakes and cultural faux pas, laughing with me rather than at me. After all, isn't that what we want in any culture? 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Welcome to the world, baby girl!

No, I'm not talking about the book by Fannie Flagg. I'm talking about the long anticipated arrival of Adalyn Faith Hoyt! She made it in just under the wire yesterday, August 14th, making her appearance at 11:54 p.m. PST.
At 20.25" long, and weighing 7 lb. 4 oz, Adalyn is a slender little girl with big rosy cheeks and long fingers.
Her daddy had long fingers too, and my mom used to say that meant he'd be a piano player. Well, he took lessons for many years, although I don't think he does much playing these days. We'll just have to wait and see if Adalyn has any proclivity for the piano.
Obviously her parents are thrilled with their sweet little girl and we are totally in love with her, too! [And doesn't it look like she has a little dimple in her chin?]
Just so much squishy baby goodness, it makes my heart melt.
I've been walking around all day with a big grin saying, "My son is a daddy!"
I know Jon and Nat have prayed and waited for this day, and now that it's here we are so excited for them. All who know and love her parents are rejoicing at Adalyn's arrival.

Welcome to the world, baby girl!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Internet!

After almost 2 years, we finally have internet in the casita! Doing the happy dance!

It's a little on the slow side, and we can't do all that we could when we had internet via the landline, but it beats having no internet at all.

What we have is called "por aire" and we weren't even sure it was feasible until today. The installer arrived about 3:30 this afternoon and it was almost 7 p.m. before he finished. The antenna is on the garage roof, about half-way back on the side closest to the casita. Ivan had to cut a few branches off one of the elm trees, so there would be a clearer shot between the antenna and tower located a mile or so away, across the river. We're a little concerned about what will happen when the trees leaf out this summer. Guess we'll just have to wait and see. While we could take off more branches from our elm tree, there's also a big tree in the neighbor's yard with branches in the way and we can't do anything about that.

I'm especially excited to get it in time for Adalyn's arrival in the next few days! I remember when Simon was born the end of last year while we were in Sta. Rosa. We were driving all over trying to find a place with wifi that was fast enough for us to skype with Kyle and Tina. Our first view of Simon was pretty pixelated :)

In other news, we are slowly making progress on the property. Before we went to the states in April, we'd managed to get half of the interior of the garage plastered and half the ceiling drywalled. When we got back, we talked to Taní and he sent a father/son team over to finish the job. They plastered the remainder of the interior, and applied a fine coat to the exterior. Then a neighbor, who is an electrician, spent a couple afternoons running the wires and installing outlets and a few light fixtures. Ivan still has to install the command module for the garage door and put up the rest of the lights once the ceiling is finished. Drywalling the rest of the ceiling is the next project on the list, but it's not something Ivan can do alone so he's going to see if he can hire a guy to help him.

We can't believe the difference now that we have lights and bright white walls out there. It always felt like a cave, and now it feels like an altogether different building. I estimate it will take another month or two to check off the rest of the things on the "to do" list for the garage, but it's encouraging to see the progress we've made over this past year. Other girls can have their diamonds and fancy nights out, this southern girl gets more excited about smooth plaster walls and fresh paint jobs...

...and internet in the casita!
  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Adalyn's Quilt

I finished the last of the quilting on Monday evening, June 9th, about 6 p.m. Talk about getting down to the wire! Before Ivan and I left the next day, Tina and I put together our package that included lots of adorable baby clothes, along with the quilt, and sent it merrily on its way to California. Jon and Nat received the package the next Monday and they filmed their opening the box and all the goodies, then put together a really cute video. Don't you just love technology?!

Because I'm determined to do a better job of documenting things like this, be forewarned this is a photo-heavy, looooong post. So if you'd rather, just skip to the end to see the finished product :)

Y'all know that Jon and Nat decided to go with a science and math theme in the nursery. Initially they wanted a yellow-white-gray-black color scheme. Hmmmm, how do you make a math and/or science themed quilt in those colors?!

Spoiler alert: I ended up going with my very first design idea! That's not to say I didn't agonize over a number of different designs for months, but I kept going back to my original idea.

So what was it? Here's my very crude, initial, hand-drawn sketch, that elicited a rather tepid response from Ivan when I showed it to him.
And it didn't fare much better when I sent this picture to a couple of others.

Which left me thinking that maybe it really wasn't a good idea at all. 

And yet it incorporated the colors they wanted AND fit the science theme. I should also back up and explain that I had Jon and Nat look at my Pinterest quilt board where I've pinned ideas for inspiration, to get an idea of their style. I also googled math and science quilts and sent those links to them. Their taste clearly leaned toward the more modern quilts with clean lines, and quilts with large, singular graphics. So the concept of a large microscope and the metamorphosis of a butterfly seemed ideal.

In the end I had two main contenders: the butterfly quilt and a cool carbon molecule that kind of resembled a soccer ball. I decided if they were having a girl, I'd go with the butterfly and if it was a boy I'd go with the carbon molecule. We all know how the story ends.

Now I'll be the first to admit I'm not an artist and the drawing does not convey my concept very well, so I guess a tepid response was to be expected. And I wasn't really happy with how busy it seemed, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Then Ivan pointed out that with little ones we don't go into the entire story of metamorphosis; we simply tell them "a caterpillar becomes a butterfly". That was just the tip I needed! Removing the eggs and the pupa left the design much cleaner. Perfect!

And as bad as my drawing was, it didn't matter because I wasn't planning to draw it freehand anyway. A few online searches and I'd found some great photos that took the guesswork out of the equation.
I taped a large piece of paper to the wall of the garage, and arranged our projector the right distance away to get things the size I wanted. The butterfly is obviously a little oversized, but I figured I could claim artistic license. To be honest, the making of this quilt involved more than a little artistic license!
master pattern

Since I couldn't find a caterpillar that fit the curve of my microscope, my SIL came to the rescue and drew a nice, fat, juicy caterpillar for me. Yay for artistic sister-in-laws!

I didn't have the fabric I needed to start the quilt while still in Argentina, so that was the first thing on my agenda when we got to the states. Oh, and meanwhile Nat had decided to veer away from the black and gray and go more toward a yellow-white-purple color scheme. Which I thought would make it easier. Wrong! I knew fabric lines, like fashion or home decor, have color fads. And apparently yellow and purple is not a popular color combo these days because I could not find a single solitary purple and yellow print. Not.A.One. So Adalyn's quilt has a lot of solids and tone-on-tone prints but that's it.

And finding the right purples? Oh my goodness. Jon sent me the Pantone app for my iPhone with the colors they really liked. [Which is a WONDERFUL tool, if any of you need to color match something!] So at each fabric store I'd whip out my phone, pull up their purple swatches and... nada. I finally found an acceptable purple (a very subtle tone-on-tone) at Lolly's in Shipshewana. It's a deeper shade but the right hue.

And before you ask, Yes!, there really are purple microscopes. Seeing this on Amazon brought back fond memories of my first microscope. Which I finally got rid of just before we moved to Argentina. It had a lot of sentimental value which is why I held onto it for so long. I had so much fun with that microscope while growing up. I remember going through a stage when I spent all my allowance buying prepared slides with really fun things to look at under the scope.

This was almost completely hand appliquéd, which I really enjoy. The microscope went super fast. The butterfly required more work, trying to figure out the best way to go about it. In the end I did reverse appliqué but cheated a bit by using a glue stick to help keep the black 'seams' in place while hand-sewing the different colors behind (the glue washes out).
The caterpillar was a nightmare, but that was all my own fault. I was suffering from a severe case of DMD and ended up sewing three different caterpillars before I was okay with it. And I'd have done a fourth if I'd had time.
I used the trapunto technique on the caterpillar and the front wing of the butterfly to give it more dimension. The caterpillar is quite "fat and juicy"! 

Once all the appliqué was done I took the top to the fabric store and 'auditioned' various fabrics for the border. SIL Sharon, Tina and I unanimously chose the yellow print with a kind of batik look to it.

I knew I wouldn't have time to quilt it too, because we were going out west for a few weeks. So I found a lady who does hand quilting and hired her. She did a nice job, but didn't exactly do what I asked. Ivan and Tina marked the quilt with a continuous double helix around the border, and with various math symbols and numbers on the main body of the quilt. I asked her to do a meandering stitch around the symbols. While she quilted the border as marked, for some reason she ignored the symbols and numbers entirely and just did a very loose meandering stitch on the main body. And she didn't get it done until Friday, June 6th! I was rather frustrated, but what can you do? ¡Es lo que hay!

Since I was determined to have math symbols and numbers (plus her meandering was so loose there were large unquilted sections), I spent our last few days quilting like mad (even quilted during the ordination council that Saturday!) and, like I said, finished at 6 p.m. on Monday June 9th. You can definitely tell a difference between my not-so-small stitches and the quilter's teeny tiny ones, but I'm okay with that.

I held my breath while washing and drying it, because although I'd pre-washed all the fabrics, there's no guarantee there won't be any bleeding... especially with all that black. This is a quilt I hope Adalyn will love and use for a long time. The black is a Kona solid, and I've always been very happy with that line, and I wasn't disappointed this time either. I did throw in a couple of those sheets that are supposed to absorb any bleeding that occurs in the wash, and whether that helped or not I don't know, but it came out looking great. Whew!

I really liked it, and so did Ivan and Tina, but would Jon and Nat?
Yes, they did! See Nat's smiling face as she holds up the quilt? That smile made me do the happy dance :) 

And now we can hardly wait to see Adalyn wrapped up in it. She's due around the 12th of August, so we don't have too long to wait!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Our last weekend in the U.S.

Not a very creative title for this post, but it's late and it would just be a waste of time trying to think of something clever. I wanted to take advantage of being at our friends-with-wifi today and get up a couple of posts.

One of the main goals of this furlough was for Ivan to go through the ordination process. And it really was a process! He met with one of the pastors from our home church once a week the first month, to go over what they'd be covering. Pastor Rob gave Ivan a list of potential questions that he then worked through, using a 5" x 8" index card for each question; the large size gave him plenty of space to write his answer/thoughts on the other side. He spent time just about every day either working through potential questions and searching through Scripture, or going through his existing cards and quizzing himself. Or having me quiz him.

After we got back from our trip out west, he met with the elders for a mock session. Ivan found that helpful as well as encouraging. In the following weeks he just worked on his own, continuing to think through other questions that might arise. For anyone unfamiliar with ordination, the questions cover the gamut of theology, from Christology to eschatology to angelology... You get the idea.

On Saturday, June 7, our home church hosted the ordination council made up of the elders from that church as well as pastors from other area churches. We specifically asked pastors from nearby supporting churches and were so happy that a few could participate, especially considering how June is a busy month for weddings. We started off with breakfast at 8 a.m. and by 8:45 we were settling into the auditorium and ready to begin.
There was a short break mid-morning and then they resumed their grilling questioning. After lunch Ivan shared our vision for the work in Argentina and explained our philosophy of ministry, and then I was asked to join him and share what I thought about the ordination and our call to be missionaries.
When we were done, the pastors met in a closed-door session to discuss whether they felt comfortable recommending Ivan for ordination. Thankfully it was a unanimous YES!  (Whew! Cue us wiping our brows in relief!)

Sunday mornings our church has two services during the summer, but it's not that one is traditional and the other contemporary or anything. It's just that we have too many people coming to be accommodated in one service so there are two, and they're identical in format. In each service on June 8, Pastor Lillie gave the charge to the church while Wally gave the charge to Ivan (which you can read here on Wally's blog). It was amusing that after they presented Ivan with the certificate of ordination in the first service, he had to give it back, so they could give it to him again in the second :)
The one difference is that during the first service Ivan's brother Aldo prayed when they laid hands on Ivan, and his brother Alan (below) prayed during that segment in the second service.
It was a really special day and we are grateful for our home church and the huge part they've played in our lives. They are the ones who trained us before sending us out, and they've been staunch supporters in every sense of the word. We're also grateful that two of Ivan's brothers could be a part of the ordination. Aldo found someone to fill his pulpit and flew out from Colorado to participate. It was supposed to be a surprise but somebody let the cat out of the bag (no, it wasn't me this time!). And Alan, the one Ivan's closest to in age, took time from his responsibilities in the hispanic ministry in his church so he could be there too.

So now you can call Ivan "The Very Reverend Hoyt".

(Cue hysterical laughter.)  

NOT! He's still just plain Ivan :)

And because I'll use any excuse to share a photo of my grandson, here's one taken during the ordination council on Saturday.

Back to Winter

We've been back in Argentina almost two weeks, and I have to say we have been having a fairly mild streak of weather so far. Saturday was officially the first day of winter, and it was close to 70 degrees that day. Even the coldest days have been in the high 50s, and I can live with that.

I do, however, frequently wear my Cuddl Duds because houses here do not have central heat and it's often colder inside than outside.  It took us a few days to get the temperature in the casita to break 55 degrees, even with our wall heater running full blast. It wasn't until Ivan had the brainstorm to install a small fan just above the heater (which is in the small hallway between the two rooms), facing the bedroom, that the gauge began to edge up. We've managed to keep the temperature between 60-65 ever since.

We have found it necessary to kick the heater up on high at night because, without insulation, the block walls absorb the cold night air, causing the temperature to plummet inside as well as out. We prefer it to be a bit cooler at night anyway, because we both sleep better, so it's not a big deal that it gets down to 60 most nights.

July is just around the corner, though, and we anticipate much colder weather so we're hoping our fan+heater system will prove sufficient.

The day we got back, it was a lovely 72 degrees and sunny, making the transition from summer to winter a little easier. A lot of other things helped ease the transition too.

We had a rocky start to the trip due to horrible traffic in Chicago. We honestly feared we'd miss our flight. And when we did arrive and tried to check in at the little kiosk, we were told we had to see a live person.* Okay, so we get in line, nervously eying the clock. Thankfully the woman who took care of us was a kind, compassionate person who, after informing us that our flight had been moved up to 4:55 instead of 5:45 (we're even later than we thought! Oh no!), quickly took care of our paperwork and then escorted us to the front of the security line.

So we started breathing a little sigh of relief, only to be asked to move aside while they physically searched one of our carry-ons. Silly me, without even thinking, had put my new mandolin slicer in the carry-on because I was worried about it getting busted if I put it into the luggage we checked through. Ugh! I was sure they'd take it away, but again God provided a kind, compassionate person who allowed me to keep it. Whoop!

The clock ticking away, we ran the rest of the way to our gate, arriving just as they started boarding. Since we were in one of the latter groups to board, we had time to catch our breaths. Whew! Then they announced if anyone wanted to check through their carry-ons for free, they could. Ivan said "Why not? Less for us to haul around" so that's what we did (btw, the mandolin slicer came through the experience just fine). And it was really nice during our layovers in Miami and Santiago to have less stuff. As we were boarding a few minutes later, Ivan saw the attendants checking every carry-on to make sure it fit their size parameters, and he's pretty sure one of ours would have been too big. Another example of God's provision.

Good friends, Julio and Magdalena, picked us up from the airport, waiting patiently for us to get through customs. We were some of the last ones off the plane, and therefore almost the last through customs. We landed about noon and it was almost 2 p.m. before we made it out of the airport. For whatever reason (maybe because we were the last in line, and the customs folks were tired?) the customs guy waved us right through, so we didn't have to wait while they pawed through our luggage. Whoop!

Julio and Magdalena treated us to lunch before heading back to Carlos Paz, and then loaned us their car for the evening so we could get settled in and do a little shopping. That was nice because it gave me time to sweep and mop the casita before we unloaded our luggage from the car. It was also helpful because our car wouldn't start; Ivan had to charge it overnight.

Throughout the trip, we saw God's hand again and again, easing the transition in so many ways.

Before I start talking too much about life back in Argentina, I'm going to do a post or two about our last weekend in the states (Ivan's ordained! The quilt was finished!). I also wanted to let those inquiring-minds-who-want-to-know: Yes, the white bedspread made it here! And it looks very nice on our bed, adding more white to the space and giving the illusion that it's a bit bigger than it really is. Yeah for the power of white!

*The reason we were flagged at the airport and had to see a live person was due to the reciprocal tourist fee that Argentina has with the U.S., but from which we are exempted because we have permanent residency status here. Showing our national IDs took care of that hiccup.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Winding Down

The past two months flew by, as expected. We head home next Tuesday!

I won't lie, it's gonna be HARD to say goodbye, especially to our grandson. I plan on having a full box of tissues ready to use on the way to the airport and beyond.

As I sit here typing, Simon is happily ensconced in his swing. Reclining in the swing after eating helps minimize the amount of spit up (Si is a prolific spitter-upper) so I resist the urge to get him out and play. There's time for that once his tummy has had time to settle down.

Being a grandparent is the BEST! We have so enjoyed our time here, and have worked hard to get lots of hugs and cuddles in. They have to last for a couple years!

Later today we head to Michigan. This weekend will be busy with the ordination process. Tomorrow Ivan gets grilled by the ordination council and Sunday he'll be officially ordained. Exciting days!

We're grateful for this short two-month furlough, and all that we've been able to cram into it. Last year I put together a photo book of all the things we did on our furlough, but this year my photo book is Simon, more Simon and even more Simon. Gotta love those amazon local deals; I was able to do my Simon book for only $10! I'm so happy to have the book to take back, not only for me, but also to show all my friends. Who wouldn't want to see twenty pages of my adorable little grandbaby?!

I start packing today. Not looking forward to that. We always have to thin out and prioritize. I've been trying to take a white bedspread back with us, but the last three trips it ended up getting put aside "until next time". So the burning question is: Will it make the cut this year? I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat in anticipation so I'll be sure and let you know in the next post.

Some of the fun new things I've enjoyed this trip (besides Simon) include pretzel rolls, The Glades (via Netflix), cocoa roasted almonds, and discovering the Olympia Candy Kitchen in Goshen.

Then there are those things I always look forward to: checking books out of the library!, apple cider from Glei's (seriously the best cider ever), watching the news and understanding everything that is said, garage sales, driving through pristine countryside where everything is so neat and tidy, the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables that are available, the opportunity to eat out at ethnic restaurants, and bookstores.

["These are a few of my favorite things" just starting running through my head.]

The best part, of course, is time with family and friends. We haven't gotten to see as many people this time around, but we've thoroughly enjoyed the ones we have been able to visit. We're grateful for the hospitality extended to us, and the love and encouragement that so many have shared.

We are going to do our level best to get internet at the casita when we get back. Not a lot of options, so appreciate your prayers that somehow, some way, we can make it happen. But I really, REALLY want to be able to skype with our kids and grandkids. I want to be able to jump online and see Adalyn as soon as possible after she's born. I want to be able to talk to Simon so he doesn't forget my voice. I want to blog more frequently. I've missed this and the interaction with blog friends.

But even if we can make it happen, it will probably take some time. Meanwhile I'll try to get on when I can...when I'm not looking at my Simon book.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Scrappy Quilt Entry

I hadn't really planned on sharing more than one quilt in the annual Blogger's Quilt Festival, but after seeing all the fun scrappy entries, I decided to include this pinwheel baby quilt I made for a friend a while back.
Since we didn't know if it would be a girl or boy at the time I made the quilt (it was a boy!), I thought bright primary colors would work either way. I was looking for a good scrap buster project at the time, and this seemed like a good opportunity. I used larger scraps for the pinwheels, and smaller pieces for the inner border of prairie points as well as the multi-colored binding.
(close-up of quilt top before it was quilted)

I have used that monkey fabric in so many baby quilts and wish I'd bought more than just two yards! I've seen lots of other monkey prints, but nothing as colorful as this.

I got a little carried away making pinwheel blocks, so I used some of the extra in the diaper bag I made to go with the quilt, along with coordinating fabric pockets on the ends.

My friend loved the gift, and has since asked if I could teach a class so she and her friends can learn how to quilt. I live overseas where quilting is not very common, and I look forward to sharing my love of the art with other women.

Don't forget that you can go and look at all the quilts by category now and starting May 24th you can vote on your favorites. It's going to be really hard to choose because there are so many beautiful quilts! I've been blown away by the creativity and quality of workmanship.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

It's Time for the Blogger's Quilt Festival!

It's been a few years since I participated in the Blogger's Quilt Festival, and I want to include the baby quilt I made for Simon last year. As friends and family know, this was a labor of love from conception to completion.
For anyone who might be visiting, Simon is our first grandchild, and he was born at the end of 2013. We learned of his anticipated arrival when our daughter and son-in-law picked us up at the airport last May with a big sign that said "Welcome back, Grandma and Grandpa!" To say we were excited would be an understatement :)

Since we were only here four months, I knew I had to get busy quick! I spent the first few weeks collecting fabrics in the colorway Tina had chosen: aqua, lime green, gray, and white.
All the while I was thinking through the design. Kyle and Tina wanted a storybook theme for the nursery, but I just wasn't having any success coming up with any ideas. Then Tina mentioned she was going to do an alphabet wall, and that was just the inspiration I needed!
I mapped out my design on graph paper, choosing to do different sizes of blocks and a variety of fonts. Then I projected the design onto the wall and traced my design onto newsprint paper from a roll. I hand appliquéd each letter to a contrasting background, and as I finished each block, I taped it over the master design on the wall. It was easy to see where it needed tweaking, so adjustments could be made.
Once the blocks were done and sewn together, I took the top to the fabric store and "auditioned" it with a number of prints to determine which would work best as the border. My artistic sister-in-law, Sharon, went with me and helped me choose not only the border fabric, but also pointed out how a thin black sashing between the lime green and border fabric would make the quilt "pop". She was so right! A friend with a longarm let me quilt it on that, but being a novice, I chose to do a simple meandering design.

Although Tina had seen the fabrics, she had no idea of the final design until I gave her the quilt at her baby shower. I loved the look on her face when she opened it up!
And a friend at the shower took this photo of us together with the quilt:
Tina's taking a weekly photo of Simon this first year, and she's using the quilt as the backdrop. Here is a collage of the photos she's taken so far:

Now I'm in the process of finishing a baby quilt for our second grandchild! Our son and his wife are expecting a daughter in August, so maybe next year I can share that quilt with you. They are decorating with a math and science theme, so this quilt is very different from Simon's. I sure do love making original, special quilts for my grandbabies!

Voting begins May 24th, but you can go any time between now and then and look at all the lovely quilts. There are eleven categories, from mini to large, art, applique, hand or machine quilted, modern, original (which is where I've entered mine), scrappy and ROYGBIV. So much creativity, you are sure to be inspired!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Time for my monthly post

I really did mean to get a post up yesterday, but I'm learning that living with Meniere's can throw a big ol' wrench in my plans.

Yesterday I posted a link on facebook to this site that gives a clear explanation of Meniere's. It seemed easier than trying to explain it myself in a forum characterized by its brevity of communication. But here on my blog I can be a bit more loquacious (I've always wanted to use that word). So settle in for a brief primer on the foibles of Meniere's...

In my case, the first symptom to appear was hearing loss. Which isn't much fun, especially on the days when my ear is completely plugged -- I feel like someone's great grandmaw who's always yelling "Huh?!" Combine that with the tinnitus that's occasionally so loud it seems hard to believe no one else can hear it, and well, let's just say my head starts feeling a bit crowded.

The sheer unpredictability of the attacks can make life challenging. Take Saturday. I did some painting in the morning, worked on laundry, cooked lunch, took care of some emails and paperwork. Just a normal day. Until around 6 p.m., when I started thinking about supper. I wanted to look up a recipe on the computer, which I'd left out in the garage while doing emails. On the short walk out there I began to feel dizzy. Within an hour the dizzy had turned into severe vertigo and the vomiting began. The next three hours weren't pretty, my friends.

Sunday was a complete wash, since I felt like a wrung out dishrag. You know it's bad when you're too tired to eat. Not much stands between me and a square meal, but Meniere's is doing a pretty good job of it. By Monday I was back on my feet, but not for long. I was sorting through boxes in the garage when I suddenly started feeling light-headed and nauseated.

I'd spent quite a bit of time online Sunday night, doing more research, so as soon as the dizzy started I marched myself back to the casita and plunked down on the couch with my Kindle. I didn't turn it on; it was just a prop to focus on. I'd known before about trying to focus on an object but in my reading I learned it needed to be no more than 18" from your face. Which might explain why focusing on a picture on the wall across the room hadn't really helped on Saturday. Anyway, I spent a long time focusing on that Kindle, about an hour and a half. But it helped. Eventually the dizzy and nausea subsided, leaving me feeling slightly light headed. That soon developed into a migraine, which is also common.

I never made it back out to the garage but I did manage to make a late lunch and then clean up the kitchen. Afraid to push it, I spent a quiet afternoon reading and trying to rest.

We see the ENT specialist again on Wednesday. I'm going to ask about vestibular rehabilitation therapy, and am praying there is someone trained in VRT within a reasonable driving distance. The anti-vertigo meds and diet changes don't seem to have made much of a difference, so I'm ready to move on to the next step and VRT sounds like a good option.

VRT "involves specific exercises that can eliminate or significantly reduce symptoms by promoting central nervous system compensation for inner-ear deficits." VRT includes a pretty broad spectrum of exercises and works best when the therapist tailors the exercises to that particular patient's needs, depending on their type of inner-ear disorder and associated symptoms. For instance, the canalith repositioning procedure (CRP) is a form of VRT prescribed for people suffering from BPPV but not Meniere's. Displaced canaliths (small crystals of calcium carbonate) send false signals to the brain that cause vertigo, and CRP moves the canaliths back into place. This procedure would not help someone with Meniere's because displaced canaliths are not the problem.

I'm going to need exercises that actually stimulate the dizziness, in order to desensitize my vestibular system. Sounds kind of crazy, right? Make me dizzy to help cure the dizzy. But they've found that this is actually a very effective form of treatment. I basically have to retrain my eyes/brain to circumvent the symptom of vertigo. I foresee good times ahead.

NOT.

But I'm so ready to do more than pop an anti-vertigo pill, cut down on salt and give up my beloved cup of morning joe. I'm ready to get serious, people! So there Meniere's: Bring It ON!
canalith repositioning procedure

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tap, tap, tap...anybody there?

I wouldn't be surprised if nobody answers, since I've been so bad at blogging. In my defense, I have wanted to blog but super slow or non-existent internet prevented it. In the meantime, the ideas rolling around in my brain all spilled out and I can't find them any more. But honest, I had some! Ideas, I mean. The brains are debatable.

When you hear the word 'menopause', what's the first thing that pops into your head? Hot flashes, right? Well, let me tell you, hot flashes are nothing, NOTHING, compared to the insomnia and brain fades.

The brain fades have made me even more grateful for the iPhone our son and his wife gave me a couple years ago. Now that I can use it (Remember, it took a year to get everything straightened out to where I could use it here in Argentina. Oh, you don't remember? Are you going through menopause too?)...

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, now that I can use it, I have found my life returning to a bit of its former organized glory. As long as I remember to put an event into the calendar, or create a list on the Notes app, save photos from Facebook to the Photos app, forward links to my email... You get the idea. The ability to act on something right away has helped immeasurably in keeping me on task, and on track. No more missed appointments, no more forgotten items at the store, I'm always ready to show friends the latest photos of Simon, I can pull up the link to that article in a flash... Life is good.

But I do have to be disciplined about doing stuff RIGHT AWAY. Because once it's gone, it's good and gone.

Hopefully the internet speed in our town will improve once the bulk of tourists depart the end of February. Meanwhile don't expect to see me on here very often. Today we are in another town, and although their internet is kinda slow too, we're here for the day so I have more time to play on my computer.

So whatcha been up to? Believe it or not, I've been reading many of your blogs on my iPhone but trying to comment MAKES ME CRAZY. I'll spend five to ten minutes slowly typing in a few sentences, my pudgy fingers making umpteen mistakes on those tiny screen letters, and then IT WON'T POST my comment. Aaargh! So I don't even bother trying any more.

I've been posting more on Facebook, which actually accepts my comments. Plus it's a good venue to quickly share another cute photo of Simon or a great post or article I've read. But I miss blogging! Make no mistake, my wordy self has gone through withdrawal symptoms from all the not writing.

I wonder if the stress of not being able to write is what precipitated another episode of Meniere's? Yes, that blasted condition is back. Not as bad as last time (in 2011) when I couldn't hear at all out of my right ear for over a month. This time the hearing comes and goes. A really bad case of vertigo hit about a month ago, but anti-vertigo meds had been helping tremendously until a few days ago.

I think I know what happened this past week, though, and hope to prevent it in the future. I worked really hard in the garage one day, getting the first coat of lime wash on the newly plastered wall, and ended up with a horrible migraine. The next day I spent the morning putting a second coat on half the wall before vertigo struck with a vengeance. Once the dizzy stopped, I read up more on the disease and found that migraines can be both a symptom and a trigger. Which makes me think the horrible migraine and pushing on through it was a trigger.

In fact, I'm wondering if this whole episode wasn't brought on by chronic migraines that I've been suffering since late December. Not sure what's causing them -- although they did commence with the really high temps of summer -- but I've pretty much had a headache every day since then, with some days being a lot worse than others.

Or could the migraines have been a symptom that the Meniere's was back even before the really bad vertigo a month ago? Because prior to that I had days here and there when my ear was somewhat plugged up, but never completely, so I just shrugged it off.

Who knows? 

Anyway, I'm understanding that this condition is likely to come and go for the rest of my life and I just have to learn to deal with it.

Enough with the depressing health stuff. Here's a funny for you. On one of his many repeat trips to the pharmacy to get more migraine medicine, Ivan snapped a photo of this guy:
Yep, that's a pretty close approximation of what it feels like when you have a migraine, nails pounding in from every side. Not sure about the pin in his nose though.

On a much, MUCH happier note -- and not that I'm counting or anything but -- in only 50 days we meet Simon in person!!!!

Meanwhile I'm thoroughly enjoying all the photos Kyle and Tina post on Facebook, and the glimpses we get when we manage to Skype. When I'm likely as not to snap quick screen photos like this one:
But you know it's not the same, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on that sweet little face!

There's another sweet face I'm looking forward to meeting too:
We're going to be grandparents a second time! Yessireebob, we are super excited that son Jon and wife Natalie are expecting a baby in August. Sadly we'll have already returned to Argentina by then, but you know I'm trying to figure out how soon I can go back to meet Baby Hoyt :) A really fun note: Jon and Nat discovered they were pregnant the same day Simon was born! How cool is that? And I love that Si and his little cousin will be close enough in age to be good buddies. Ivan and I have both been blessed with some wonderful cousins who are very dear friends, I know Jon and Tina have also enjoyed great friendships with their cousins, and we hope the same holds true for Si and Baby Hoyt.

I am lovin' this grandparent gig!