Stepping out of character

June 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Posted in art, Change the World, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships | 7 Comments
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5:32 p.m. 9 June 2011 — Update to today’s blog |   This just in:  I just posted several fine art photographs of tree peonies from this season in my new fine art Etsy store.

I don’t use my blog to discuss my personal opinions on music, movies, television shows, politics, specific religions, etc. Instead, I try to devote my writing to overall spirituality, inspiration, creativity, epiphany, struggle leading to triumph, beauty, gratitude, and so forth. Mixing is personal commentary regarding preferences in entertainment or opinions as to politics and specific religious beliefs is not a good fit and in reality I don’t have any desire to share or impose my personal tastes in that regard on others.

That having been said, I am going to step somewhat out of character and talk about something I saw on a television show — The Voice. This morning over coffee and toast my daughter and I were watching our recording of last evening’s The Voice (NBC). If you are not following the show, it is a competition between four highly successful and talented vocal stars who are coaching their personal choices of up and coming vocal competitors — a sort of a double whammy competition because the “coaches” are competing to see who can pick and coach the one voice that is chosen by American voters at the end as being the best of the best, but then the vocal talent (32 in all) are competing against each other as well.

Featured in this week’s competition is a particular fellow who I want to say a little something about, his name is Jared Blake. When I heard him sing this morning, he put so much emotion into his performance of a perfectly chosen song that I cried a pretty good cry over it all. He touched me, and it led to me thinking more this morning about his particular story and the potential I see therein.

This is what I love about his story: he has lived a less than admirable life. He has done bad things, he has abused alcohol and I don’t know what else. He got married, and he fathered six little girls. And at some point he realized he needed to clean up his life and try to be the kind of guy that would be good enough for his daughters.

The song he sang last night, and honestly I don’t remember the specific song he sang last night. What I do remember is that he put his entire heart and soul into singing that song. When a singer gets that full-blown insight into their heart of hearts moving up through the body, out through their vocal chords and way out into the atmosphere, those who listen feel it reverberating through their own spirits and it is magical.

Singing aside, what I really want to write about regarding Jared’s story is the fact that I believe he could inspire others to do something that is very healthy — take a good look at yourself and figure out if you live up to the standards you set for the kind of people you would want your own children to hang out with, date, fall in love with, and possibly marry.

My point is that it is healthy to take stock of yourself (over and over and over again throughout life really) and find something you could improve on, and perhaps thinking of it in terms of how you measure up to the example that should be set for your own children or grandchildren is the best place to start. None of us are perfect, some are flawed and some are extremely flawed and there isn’t a one of us who has no room for improvement.

There are some things that are obvious to improve on, in Jared’s case it was alcohol abuse. There are plenty of subtleties also, that bear looking into. For instance, am I as patient with others as I should be. Do I truly look at others with actual love in my heart, love being unconditional. Am I more tolerant of myself than I am of others? Am I slower than slow to anger, quick to be supportive and understanding? Do I freak out over things that are trivial, when I should set an example of calm? Was a I kind, inside myself, toward the stranger or for that matter toward the strange person I encountered? Was I quick to forgive, rather than feeling justified in holding a grudge.

This is just the tiniest start, but I could list a million questions in searching my own soul, how about you? I do plenty of good things in life, I know that. I know myself to be kind-hearted, loyal, hard working, and so forth. But still, I can honestly ask myself all of the questions above and plenty more because I cannot live without making errors, large and small — hard though I may try. And I seek to make it difficult for me to live with myself if I don’t find and correct even the smaller imperfections in my nature — not so that I may strive to be perfect, because that is something I do not care to be. No, I do it because I strive to set and live up to standards within myself that are worthy of the love of god and the innocence of a baby’s smile.

I dare say, let us all take a little opportunity here to take a look at the lives we live, in the big ways and the small way,s and see what we could improve about the example we are setting not only for our own children, but for the children, the children of the world. Are we doing everything we can to be the kind of people we want these little ones to grow up into? Are we taking some things for granted that if we just looked at a little bit more closely we might want to change.

My hope for Jared is my hope for you and I and many others out there, that whatever the outcome of the vocal competition some of us may take the time to think about Jared’s story and apply it to ourselves in whatever way we can. May he inspire others to be better men, better women, better mothers and better fathers. May we be humbled in a healthy way by the honesty he has displayed on national television. May we be moved to change through self improvement, and to find surprising things about ourselves that we could improve … for our children and for the children.

Best wishes to you Jared, in your most precious quest.

And by the way, we absolutely loved your performance.

Now, onto more mundane matters. My readers, I have been doing some surveys over the past few months for a client I do some writing for. I am doing a series of surveys over the next couple of weeks that I could really use your help with. If you can take the time to answer a few questions, I would appreciate it. We will be awarding a couple of $25 Amazon Gift Certificates to two survey participants at the conclusion of this set of surveys. (Sorry, but these surveys are limited to U.S. residents.)

For this survey, you start by answering a question right here. These are qualifying questions:

Do you own a small business? If so, even if you are just working from home for yourself, click here to participate in the survey.

If you are not a small business owner, click here to participate.

You might also be interested in knowing what I have featured in my photos today, what story do they tell? In the first photo, you see our very first peach that we are growing ourselves. We put in four fruit trees in our yard last year: a cherry tree, a honey crisp apple tree, and two peach trees. The two peach trees have fruit on them; we have counted nearly two dozen peaches so far between to the two trees. When I was a teenager, my family rented a house that had a magical peach tree. That tree produced a steady stream of perfectly delicious peaches in such abundance we didn’t know what to do with them all. I ate peaches for every meal while they were coming in, and we made peach pies, and peach marmalade, and peach ice cream. We gave peaches away to everyone who would take them. They were incredible. That summer left me being a big fan of peaches, and so is my husband as it turns out. So, we are very much looking forward to our very own, productive peach trees.

The next photos if of one of our mulberry trees, surrounded at the base by alliums, with the willow tree in the background. This shot shows you something of how green and alive things are around here.

The third photo is of a wild duck swimming in our springtime pond — water that fills up a shallow area by our willow tree each spring as the snow melts and takes some amount of time to disappear. This year the pond has been larger and more persistent than usual because we have had record rain fall. The other thing we have had is several ducks calling our little pond home this spring. We were out in the yard, and this one came in quacking, flying low and landed very gracefully then continued quacking as he swam around the pond.

As for the fourth photo, this old wheelbarrow was stuffed into a brushy area back behind our barn. I noticed it this winter, late enough to where enough snow had melted and I could see it. My husband pulled it out for me, and I just love it. It has a metal wheel and the handles are rusted off. I will fill it flowers soon, and hopefully have photos of that to share sometime soon.

If you are new to my blog, please be sure to check out:

1) My Etsy store where I sell knitting patterns and the ever popular Knitter’s Eye Chart
2) My son’s Etsy store where he sells wonderful vintage look subway sign and bus scroll prints that he has meticulously designed (he is Etsy seller FlyingJunction, FYI)

We appreciate your support, because that is what makes it possible for this blog to continue through the years.

Hope you and yours have a great day!

~firefly

Peepers, willows, and geese

March 31, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Posted in country life, country living, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, Knit Alongs, knit-a-long, knitting, Life, love, photography, recipes, shopping, travel, yarn | 5 Comments
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My husband’s grandfather had a saying about the peepers freezing three times before spring officially arrives … we heard them last week, then there was a freeze and we heard them again this week.  I don’t know if this counts as them being frozen twice already, or only once.  What I do know is that once you start hearing peepers the glowing green grass and flowering fruit trees are not too far behind.

Between now and then we will hear more and more peepers until peepers is about all we can hear, there will be so many birds singing that they will wake us in the morning and charm us during the evening hours, the geese will create an ever increasing symphony (I think of it as a symphony, though some might consider it a cacophony) of calls and honks as they feed in the fields around us and fly overhead at dusk and dawn.

The willows will transform from their lean, graceful golden winter state to a plumper green-gold of early spring as the buds of their little leaves begin popping to the surface up and down their slender whips.

This in-between time when the peepers are freezing and thawing and the world is slowly waking from a long, cold winter nap is a time of sweet anticipation of warmth and beauty we know will come.

I wanted to thank everyone who participated in the drawing my son and I held last week going into this one. When I asked people to visit the Love Letters Treasury at Etsy and from there to visit my son’s store then go back and leave a comment at the Treasury I didn’t know what to expect. It was so fun to read the various comments people made, coming up with creative ways to mention something they had seen in his store.

If you didn’t check it out, you might enjoy reading through their comments … somehow it seems like a walk in a park to me. I don’t know why. Check it out and see how it impresses you.

Using a random number generator, I selected three winners from those who left comments. I contacted each of the winners via the “convo” feature at Etsy and have heard back from two. The winners are:

phqueenb = Grand Prize
nuttywifery = First Prize
sandyp218 = Second Prize

By the way, you should check out Flying Junction’s new “Keep Calm and Carry On” vintage style print, available in 32 decorator colors. I will be hanging one of these in my dinning room shortly to remind us all to do just that … keep calm and carry on.

And, I notified one reader who participated in last week’s survey that she is a winner in another random drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate — congratulations Linda H. She tells me she will be picking up a new knitting book from Amazon, how sweet is that.

I have another survey for the same client this week, and there will be another random drawing of all participants for a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate. If you are willing to help, it is a brief survey–only four questions–so if you can take a couple of minutes to participate you can get into the random drawing. Note: To be eligible for the drawing, you must complete the survey by midnight tonight, 31 March 2011.Check it out here.

Tomorrow I will post Stage 3 directions for my Summer in the Country Cotton Blanket Knit-Along, so be sure to check back if you are participating. If you aren’t in the knit along yet, check it out and look at some of the photos members of the group are posting on their blogs, Ravelry, etc. to show their progress. It is a lovely pattern, with some cool surprises as you go along.

Next week be on the look out for two recipes for Pimento Cheese, a delicious and refreshing sandwich spread. My son and I will share the down home southern style spread my mama used to make when I was a kid along with his updated urban gourmet style spread that I have yet to try. Yummy, yummy, yummy!

Hope you have a great day!

Best wishes,
~firefly and son

My son is a designer, graphic artist and photographer (Etsy seller: FlyingJunction at http://flyingjunction.etsy.com, specializing in vintage look subway signs and bus scrolls). He has worked as a professional artist and graphic designer for more than ten years. His t-shirt designs, sold both online and in exclusive boutiques, have been worn by celebrities around the globe and are frequently spotted at major sporting events, in celebrity photos, television productions, and music videos. He commutes between Los Angeles and the family farm in upstate New York, calling both places home. We collaborate on many things, including recipe development and the Knitter’s and Crocheter’s Eye Chart prints and other fiber lover art prints I sell in my Etsy store.

Beautiful food

March 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Posted in country life, country living, faith, family, food, gifts, Knit Alongs, knit-a-long, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, recipes, shopping, travel, yarn | 22 Comments
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(NOTE:  If you arrived here via my email about side dishes and the knit along, that post is here.  Sorry, I inserted the wrong link in the email.)

This weekend was my grand-daughter’s second birthday … what a treat! My daughter did a wonderful job of putting on a special birthday party for her, filled with all kinds of magic and surprises. A few family friends joined us all for an afternoon of good food, pleasant chatter, and plenty of laughter.

By the way, I have made slow progress, but progress just the same, on the blanket I am knitting for myself from some of my now extinct Country Cotton Yarn. I am still on the bottom border in a seed stitch … a little bit boring to look at just now. I am knitting on size U.S. 10 circular needles, the yarn is worsted weight and is my lovely Misty Morning color. I will be sharing this pattern for free whenever it is complete — but don’t hold your breath because it is going to be a bit of a slow knit. If you would like to do it as a blind knit-along, check this page where I have started the KAL going. If you are itching to knit something new, remember to check out my knitting pattern store here.

My son (Etsy seller “FlyingJunction) and I love to collaborate on meal planning and recipe choices; for Sweet Pea’s birthday party we had the idea of keeping everything simple by having a pizza and sub sandwich party. That was the plan until Saturday morning when the idea surfaced that perhaps it would be nice to make some Stromboli sandwiches instead. Stromboli’s would be easy for guests to serve themselves and eat while standing around chatting or sitting around in the living room where the festivities centered.

Several years ago, when my kids and a I were still living together in California, they gave me a bread machine for Christmas, and we got into making Calzones using homemade pizza dough. We each had different likes and dislikes and special treats we would want in a cooked turnover sandwich and we enjoyed coming up with ideas of what to put inside.

A couple of years after moving to the farm in New York, my sister-in-law made Stromboli sandwiches for a picnic they just seemed like such a great idea … similar to a calzone, but presented differently. The next time my son came out to the farm, I made sure to introduce him to the Stromboli sandwich and he became an instant fan as well.

If you are familiar with both, you don’t need me to tell you the difference but if not, the Calzone sandwich is a true turnover style, baked sandwich while a Stromboli is a roll-up style baked sandwich. You would put similar sauces and fillings in either, they are just constructed and served differently.

What we prefer about the Stromboli is that you make it as a long sub-sandwich looking roll-up and after it is baked a cooled a bit you slice it up. Guests then grab a slice and chow down. They bake up beautifully and are so tasty and easy to serve that people inevitably love them. The only problem is, they don’t stay around for long.

The Stromboli is also a great sandwich to refrigerate and serve cold, and it was a perfect picnic sandwich. Once we had the idea of Stromboli’s for the birthday party, pizza and subs quickly disappeared into the archives and a shopping trip for Stromboli fillings was planned.

We were planning on a mix of people with three different food preferences: 1) meat, cheese, and sauteed onions and garlic for some of the men, 2) one with goat cheese and veggies, and 3) veggies and Italian cheeses.

So we put together three Stromboli’s to accommodate the different tastes and dietary needs. I will share our list of filling items but keep in mind that you can choose pretty much anything you wish to put in your Stromboli so long as you can roll it up to bake it. Here is how we did Stromboli’s for Sweet Pea’s big bash:

Down-Home Urban Gourmet Stromboli Sandwiches

Shopping List

  • 1 or 2 store bought Pizza dough balls or ingredients to make it fresh at home (see recipe below)
  • pesto sauce)
  • marinara sauce
  • fresh spinach
  • fresh sliced mushrooms (a couple of packages)
  • onion
  • garlic
  • asparagus tips (canned, fresh, or frozen)
  • canned artichoke hearts
  • canned black olives
  • grated Italian mix cheeses (your favorite choices)
  • 4 oz. log of goat cheese
  • sesame seeds (optional)
  • grated or powdered Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Italian sausage (we used three sausages for one Stromboli)

Preparation

The night before you are going to serve the Stromboli, do any of the sauteing that needs to be done. We sauteed the mushrooms, onions and garlic, and Italian sausage. What we did was saute each item separately (except the onion and garlic were done together) and then we stored them separately overnight in the refrigerator in glass bowls.

If you are making the pizza dough yourself, get that started the day you are serving the Stromboli, sometime about mid-morning.

Pizza Dough Crust

The easiest thing is to purchase a couple of balls of pizza dough at the grocery store, the kind that comes as a dough ball ready to be shaped. If you can’t find that or don’t want to go that route, here are the ingredients I used in my bread machine to make the dough for our sandwiches:

  • 1 1/4 cups hot water plus 1 Tbsp. (between 105 and 115 degrees, but honestly I just get it good and hot and don’t measure the temperature exactly)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp. raw sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast

Put all of these ingredients in your bread machine in the order they are listed and mix on the pizza dough setting. When the dough cycle has finished, punch the dough down and divide it into two or three equal pieces — depending on how many different style sandwiches you want to make. If you purchased pizza dough at the store, divide it at this point into however many sandwiches you want to make (one ball will make two sandwich rolls).

Roll the dough pieces out into rectangles (preferably on parchment paper or wax paper lightly dusted with flour) that are at least 12 inches long by 10 inches wide. Beat one egg thoroughly, and then brush a strip of beaten egg about 1″ wide down one long edge of the dough.

Assemble Your Ingredients

While the dough is mixing and rising in your bread machine, assemble your ingredients in your work area. Chop any of the ingredients that need chopping. (I used this great little hand-operated chopper my son gave me for Christmas three years ago. He bought one for me and one for himself at William-Sonoma, and it is one of my most-used kitchen gadgets ever. I just love it because I can chop nuts, vegetables, spinach, etc. with such ease. It is also easy to clean up and doesn’t seem to ever hold on to a stain, smell, or taste.) For our Stromboli I chopped the spinach in the little chopper, and drained and chopped the olives in it as well. I sliced the artichoke hearts by hand.

Putting it All Together

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Generously oil two large cookies sheets and then sprinkle with flour or cornmeal to prevent sandwiches from sticking. Better yet, use parchment paper between the sandwiches and the cookie sheets when they bake — the sandwiches won’t stick and they will be completely easy to remove to a serving tray without damage. (I always keep a supply of parchment paper on hand in my kitchen for this type of thing.)

Here is how I assembled my three different sandwiches:

Italian Sausage and Mushroom with Pesto Stromboli

  • Spread a generous amount of pesto sauce on dough, avoiding edges by about 1/2″
  • Sprinkle a layer of chopped fresh spinach over pesto, enough to cover it completely
  • Arrange crumbled, sauteed Italian sausage evenly
  • Spoon marinara sauce lightly over the Italian sausage
  • Arrange sauteed mushroom slices over sausage
  • Arrange sauteed onions and garlic over the mushrooms
  • Sprinkle generously with grated Italian cheese mix

Spinach Goat Cheese and Mushroom Stromboli

  • Spread a generous layer of marinara sauce over the dough, avoiding the edges by about 1/2 inch.
  • Sprinkle a thick layer of chopped fresh spinach
  • Arrange a layer of sauteed mushrooms and sliced artichoke hearts
  • Sprinkle chopped black olives and canned or cooked asparagus tips over the mushrooms and artichoke hearts
  • Arrange slices of goat cheese over the top of everything else

Pesto Spinach and Cheese Stromboli

  • Spread a generous layer of pesto over the dough, avoiding the edges by about 1/2 inch
  • Sprinkle a thick layer of chopped fresh spinach over the pest
  • Spoon some marinara sauce lightly over the spinach
  • Arrange mushrooms and sliced artichoke hearts over spinach
  • Sprinkle chopped black olives and canned or cooked asparagus tips over the mushroom layer
  • Sprinkle a generous amount of grated Italian cheese mix over the black olive layer

Gently roll the sandwich, starting with the one long edge that does not have egg wash on it. Do this slowly and gently until you get to the other edge. Pull up the other edge that has the egg wash on it and stretch it up and pinch the dough edge into the rolled dough to make a seam. Pinch the ends and pull them to the bottom of the sandwich (seam side). Roll the sandwich over and place it on a cookie sheet (onto parchment paper if you are using it), leaving enough room for another sandwich if you need to. Make sure the seam side is down and that the ends are tucked in and secured underneath the sandwich.

Take a sharp knife and make slices about a half an inch deep, diagonally about every two inches or so. Brush the dough (avoid the sliced parts) with more of the beaten egg. If desired, dust the top of the sandwich with sesame seeds and/or powdered or grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Use left over marinara sauce as dipping sauce for the Stromboli sandwiches, or for people to spoon over the top of their sandwiches if desired.

It might all sound complicated and time consuming but making these sandwiches actually goes pretty quickly and smoothly if you do your prep work ahead of time as I outlined above. Get your kids and your husband, boy/girlfriend, etc. involved in picking out the items to layer in your sandwiches and they will probably also help you with prepping and assembling the sandwiches. I think it is so much more fun to cook with a friend or loved one, and hope you will give that a try along with this tasty for some beautiful food.

Have a great day!

~firefly

My son is a designer, graphic artist and photographer (Etsy seller: FlyingJunction at http://flyingjunction.etsy.com, specializing in vintage look subway signs and bus scrolls). He has worked as a professional artist and graphic designer for more than ten years. His t-shirt designs, sold both online and in exclusive boutiques, have been worn by celebrities around the globe and are frequently spotted at major sporting events, in celebrity photos, television productions, and music videos. He commutes between Los Angeles and the family farm in upstate New York, calling both places home. We collaborate on many things, including recipe development and the Knitter’s Eye Charts art prints I am selling in my Etsy store.

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