Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Boys are Back

I collect snowmen. They pose so nicely, too, don't they? Every year the collection grows, and now their box can hardly hold them. You can see how pleased they all are to be out and about, even if they do have to contend with (shhhh) the C-A-T-S .

And look who spent the day helping me decorate the house for Christmas. This is my baby, Molly. Isn't she spectacular? She is as pretty on the inside as the outside, as well!

This Christmas I feel especially festive. I don't know if I've just gotten used to poverty, or whether I've just realized that life is happening around me and to me whether we're poor or not. It's just not going to do any good to fret over our retirement money disappearing, or whether Richard has a permanent job or not. These things are out of my hands, for the most part. My children are healthy and happy. What more could a person ask for?

Plus, the snowboys make me laugh. And the cats. . . this is Gabriel Mozart. He is a sun hog. The cats are feeling festive as well, since Molly added vintage jingle bells to their collars. They sound like Santa's reindeer when they go on the move!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ice Storm

This morning at 4:30, I gasped myself awake, hooked up to a sleep apnea machine that was no longer delivering the promised Positive Airway Pressure, but instead delivering a sound that sounded waaayyyy too much like Darth Vader on the treadmill. No power, no light, just a Stygian blackness that tends to make one believe that blindness has struck.

I have barely gotten used to this apnea contraption, which has offered blessed relief and improved sleep. Richard has one, too, and the two of us, if observed in the wee hours, must closely resemble a mini-hive of Star Trek's Borg species. Richard, in his briefs and undershirt (a vision of loveliness), put on his Nikes and headed down to the basement, where the sump pumps normally keep things crisply dry. Uh-oh, four inches of water!

The first half of the day is a blur of misery, rain, sleet, hail, no charged-up items in the house. Three flashlights that dimmed infuriatingly quickly. No telephone, no cell phones, no oven, even our Nintendo DS(es) were dead. Plus, I am apparently pathologically unable to resist trying to turn on everything in reach that runs on electricity, repeatedly.

A horrendous crash against the house--our pine tree had shed a huge branch. More followed all over the yard, and we can only imagine what the rest of the town looks like if our yard is a barometer. My little battery TV gave the news that there was a state of emergency, with a million people electricity-free, probably for several days.

Pretty soon we got our heads around the situation and began to adapt. Molly and I lit some candles and wrapped Christmas presents. We made a big pot of chili, because the stovetop is gas! We even were able to keep warm from one room where the heating is gas. Rich was in his element experimenting with ways to use the generator to keep our fridge going---"For God's sake, don't try to turn on the bathroom light again, Alyson, you'll overload the balance!" Thanks to his shenanigans we don't have to cook and eat 5 lbs. of shrimp.

The sun began to break out, the room lit up, then dimmed with the late afternoon. Candles again. The warm, rich scent of the chili enveloped us. We found some vintage Christmas tags and had fun using them on our gifts. The cats posed pleasingly for photos, hypnotized by the warmth of the wall heater. We laughed ourselves senseless remembering lines from Saturday Night Live skits we have seen and loved.

And then the lights came on. The perfect end to this day. Here is the chili recipe.

Alyson's Chili,
adapted from Lisa's Chili
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Chili


some ground beef (anywhere from 1 to 3 lbs.)
1T cooking oil
some onions (I only had 1.5 today, anywhere up to 3 big ones is fine)
fresh garlic (I use 4 cloves), chopped fine
a bottle of beer
a cup of beef broth (or 1 beef boullion cube in 1 cup water)
a couple of cans of beans, drained and rinsed (I use pinto and red kidney)
a large can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup or so of bottled ketchup
1t jalapeno powder (Bobby Flay's), or a chopped, fresh jalapeno
1/3 cup chili powder (Chimayo is the best, if you can get it)
2T powdered cumin
1t dried coriander
1T dried oregano
salt to taste, and black pepper
1/2 cup masa harina
1 box frozen corn kernels


Brown meat, drain of fat and reserve. Saute onions in oil until translucent. Add chili powder, salt, cumin, coriander, oregano, jalapeno powder or jalepeno, garlic. Cook until spices are fragrant. Add beer, beef broth, tomatoes, beans, cooked meat, and catsup. Bring to simmer and cook one hour. Add corn. Stir masa harina into mixture slowly to avoid lumps. Adjust amount of masa depending on how thick your chili has become, and how thick you like it to end up. The masa will continue to thicken over time, so be careful or you'll end up with concrete. Turn it off and let it sit for an hour or so if you can. It improves with age. I like to eat my chili with Saltine crackers spread with grape jelly. Try it, it's good!

Stay warm; stay safe; stay patient with life's little surprises.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

To All the Unemployed Out There

You should read “My Life as a Statistic” by Steven Maas, an essay in the 12/7/08 Boston Globe Magazine. Heartbreaking, uplifting, and poignant. You’ll know how he feels.

My New Friend Janet

This morning I got an email from Janet. I first met Janet when purchasing a kit from her for something called a “Dottie Bag.” She is the queen of this bag, even down to finding the most beautifully colored felt. She finds colors heaven forgot, let me tell you.

I had told Janet that I was looking at tutorials on the blanket stitch, and had been surprised that there are so many ways to do it. It was almost a philosophical dialogue to see what each teacher said about the stitch. Here is what Janet wrote back:

“Have you ever heard of the zen of stitching? When I get into my zen zone my stitches just flow! It’s such a great feeling. I have perfected my own blanket stitch. I know there are simpler ways to do it, but they don’t feel right to me. My style feels right and balanced. It’s a rhythm, like a heartbeat. To me, stitching is a prayer, a spiritual offering, a moment to treasure the miracle of our hands. It’s not work, it’s an expression of joy and it’s very personal. Not to mention comforting!”

Isn’t that an amazing paragraph, it absolutely exalts the idea of simple sewing to a new level, doesn’t it?

Here are pictures of a few other smaller bags that I was compelled to create. Oh, joy.

(See more of Janet’s work at http://www.feltonthefly.etsy.com/)

Dottie Bag by Alyson

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Three Amazing Artists

I joined Etsy (and now 1000markets) this fall, and just today I was marveling at how many wonderfully talented women I have met in my explorations.

I would like to tell you about three of them.

Janet is from Michigan. Her sellername on Etsy is feltonthefly. She makes the most beautiful colors of wool felt in the world. She sells goodies made out of felt, including an incredible Christmas “boot” for those who don’t have a place to hang stockings. I just completed one of her unique and adorable kits for a “Dottie Bag,” which transforms a few bits and pieces of ribbon, a felt triangle, and embellishments of your choice into a work of art. Janet told me they would be addictive, and they proved to be so. I have already made three more, and have ideas for more. Check out her website, http://www.feltonthefly.com/.

Fiona (sellername linenandroses) lives in the UK, where she lives a life immersed in art and beauty. Fiona is a thoughtful Renaissance woman, interested in many things. Her blog (ginghamandflowers.blogspot.com) is an education in itself.

And then there is Elke. She lives in Belgium, speaks five or six languages, and is a gifted jewelry maker. Her work is young but elegant, bright and bold without being garish, and very much a bargain. This necklace is only $26.00. Elke sells on Etsy as dellejuwelen.

The fact is that I have met these three spectacular artists because of my love of handmade things. I have to say that I have always felt a bit guilty about my “craftiness” gene. Maybe it wasn’t “real” art to me, or I felt that I should be doing something more useful with my time. I don’t know why I felt that way; it seems crazy now. The desire to create takes many paths. Why should anybody question that? I have been freed up at this stage of my life to explore hither and yon and I plan to follow where that leads me. Like Janet, Fiona, and Elke, creating pretty things, useful things, or even totally useless things is my journey.

I hope you will take a look at the work of these three amazing artists. They lit up my November!

www.feltonthefly.etsy.com (www.feltonthefly.com)

www.linenandroses.etsy.com (www.ginghamandflowers.blogspot.com)