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February 2008

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QUILTY AS CHARGED

            When I was in college I made my first quilt as a wedding gift for my brother and his wife. I remember how fascinated all the guys around me were. They wouldn’t have been more impressed if they observed me walking on water! Frequently, they’d check on my progress, and look at me with lustful eyes as if I was wearing some low cut, provocative top! It was then that I realized what an aphrodisiac domesticity was! Baking a cake, comforting a child or making a quilt seemed to ignite some primordial internal fire that suggested “this woman make good mate”! I certainly wasn’t intentionally using quilting as an enticement to guys, but I do understand their attraction!

 

            Our love affair with quilts begins early in life. Chances are you were brought home from the hospital swaddled in a quilt made by your mom, grandma, or Aunt Doris. This quilt became your sustenance. You couldn’t sleep without it, and felt abandoned whenever your mom decided it had crossed over from smelling merely pungent, to down right offensive, and ran it threw the laundry. Your quilt, no, your lovey, brought you peace and security, friendship and comfort. And although there comes a time to “put away childish things”, throughout our life most of us are still drawn to quilts.

 

            Quilts perform two very different purposes. First, the functional…they provide warmth and comfort. Even on the most frigid of nights, quilts help maintain body heat and keep us as snug as a bug in a…well, quilt! They can also provide a metaphoric hug when we’re lonely or, when necessary, they can become a cave to hide in while watching scary movies in the dark! I can still see my children and their friends, all snuggled together on the couch, cloaked in an assortment of quilts. Seems nothing bad can get you when you’re wearing an invisibility quilt! Second, they are a creative outlet…whether you are the maker of the quilt or simply using them to beautify your surroundings quilts enhance your environment and personalize your space. There is something almost metaphysical, or at least philosophical, about quilts. The idea of bringing hundreds of tiny pieces together, to harmoniously form a unified whole, is life affirming! Simply put…quilts make us feel good!

 

            To me, quilts are timeless, and often, the cornerstone of my decorating. Over the years I’ve developed a healthy appreciate for not only the warmth quilts provide (I’m always cold, so quilts are a must!) but for the beauty they bring to a room. Every room in our house has at least one quilt in it. Some are functional, some are decorative, but all of them add an eclectic flair that warms and individualizes our home.  

 

Ways to Use a Quilt:

 

1.      Put it on your bed. Uh, duh, right? Well, perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but a beautiful quilt sets the mood for your bedroom. What mood are you trying to create? Quilts of soft browns and blues are restful and can help lull you to sleep. Add a good reading lamp and a stack of “must reads” and golden slumbers will surely follow. Have trouble getting up in the morning? Quilts with a mixture of bright and mellow yellows will help open your eyes and keep them open. Even at predawn hours or on overcast days, a sunny quilt can help to immediately energize you and put a smile on your face. Pamper yourself and keep a vase of fresh cut flowers in your room. Even a couple of daisies can help make mornings brighter! If you are hoping to turn your bedroom into a romantic playground, try a lush quilt of satins and velveteens in deep crimsons and gold. Red helps to stimulate all senses and by adding a few candles, some lusty scented massage oils, and well chosen mood music you’ve created your own personal romantic get-away at home!

 

2.      Tack them on the wall. The open space of modern homes is beautiful, but high ceiling can sometimes feel cold and impersonal. A soft quilt is a wonderful way of combining the freedom of contemporary design with the warmth of traditional decorating. If your house is traditional, a contemporary quilt, with vibrant colors and an abstract design can help lighten the mood of a sometimes stilted room. Above our mantel I’ve hung a quilt that features a contemporary twist to a traditional design. (The story about this particular quilt has a life of its own and will be the subject of its own blog one day!) The quilt is definitely the focal point of the room. Through it I am able to add color and interest. Without it, the room looked stark and unwelcoming. I also have a quilt hanging in the dining room. It is a traditional wedding ring design. Its soft curves help tone down the sometimes harshness of the contemporary lines of our house. As an extra bonus…I keep a tin of straight pins handy, and I can temporarily pin children’s artwork or Christmas cards to the quilt, leaving walls unscathed and the fridge clutter free!


Quilt Over Mantel


 

3.      Use them as tablecloths. Quilts can be found at flea markets, in catalogues, and if you’re crafty, you can make them yourself. I’ve been making quilts since my late teens and my daughter made her first quilt when she was in second grade. (Okay, it was a very small quilt, made entirely by hand, but it was her design and became a beloved possession!) You can also find cheap ones, under $40.00, at many of the large department stores. If you are using a quilt as a tablecloth I have a few suggestions. Use a quilt that you won’t be devastated if it inherits a stain or two that cannot be removed. Use “thin” quilts. It is hard to get glasses and vases to remain standing on quilts that are too “lofty”. And, before using the quilt as a tablecloth, treat it with a stain repellent like Scothgard.

 

4.      Stack them, drape them, pile them, snuggle them. Quilts are an incredibly fun and changeable decorating touch. They bring color, design and warmth into a room. Having a stash of quilts adds interest to your home and can help to bridge the gap between various decorating styles. And, their uses are endless. Thrown over a table they become an instant tent for younglings. Taken outside they become a picnic spread or a sunning spot. Spread on the floor they become a large playpen for pre-crawlers. Use them to protect your furniture from wear and tear, or if you’re too late for that, to cover that brown stain, origins unknown, in the middle of the sofa! And, my personal favorite, pull one around you, and head outside on cool evenings.


Quilt In Dining Room


 

            Quilts are a wonderful way, and often inexpensive way, to bring color and design into a room. They also become a catalyst for eclectic design, helping to bridge different design styles. The uses for quilts are almost as numerous as the designs themselves. And, if you grow weary of a particular quilt, it can always be used as warmth on a bed…now, there’s a concept!

 

Quilts got their start as a very prudent way to make use of scraps of material, but early quilt makers were quick to turn the task into a creative outlet, crafting not only functional bedding, but beautiful works of art. Do you have a favorite quilt or a special way to display one? Do you quilt or have you inherited a family heirloom quilt? Please share!


HAPPILY EVER AFTERS

           I have a rather metamorphic euphemism that always begins with “Things will get easier after (fill in the blank)”. Tim chuckles when he hears me say that (he loves me despite my inability to grasp reality) and my daughter begins a series of counter hexes as she laminates, “Why do you always say that? Every time you do something happens.” And there, my friends, is the point of this week’s blog…in life…something always happens!

 

            As a preschool teacher I’d listen sympathetically, often downright empathetically, to parents talk about their current stage of child rearing. Although individual grievances varied, and not as much as one might think considering the uniqueness of each family, one element seemed to remain constant…the optimistic hope, that around the next corner, things would get easier! “I can’t wait ‘til Alexa is out of diapers. It’ll be so nice not having to tote around the diaper bag anymore!” And, “I’m sooooo looking forward to Brandon sleeping through the night. How long can someone survive with sleep deprivation?” Or, “I think Jacob will settle down a lot when his speech improves. I know he acts out so much because he’s frustrated.” Truth be told, those are all wonderful things to look forward to, and far be it from me to burst their bubbles by saying, “Sure, but wait until he starts having trouble with a bully on the bus, or she just doesn’t get “addition”, or he experiences developmental regression when the new baby comes home.” And almost as unthinkable as having the human race evolve a third arm…I guess it would probably have to be two new arms so we wouldn’t lean…is the thought that this preschooler will one day be driving and dating…the scientific explanation for the graying of hair!

 

            So, I’d listen quietly, give a compassionate smile and head bob, then say things like, “Gosh, I know. You feel like you’ve lost 30 pounds when you stop carrying a diaper bag.” And, “Nothing beats a good night’s sleep, does it?” Or, “Can you imagine how frustrated you would be it people didn’t understand you?” And I leave their fantasies untainted, because, some days, that’s all that gets us through. And, because after all my sagely years, I’m still a cockeyed optimist! To chide parents for their naivety would definitely be the pot calling the kettle black!

 

            So, as a species, we look forward to how perfect our lives are going to be “AFTER” we get through “NOW”! But, it’s always now, and “afters” are just the new “nows”. (This is either totally Zen or seriously demented!) Anyway, the point is, the secret of true happiness isn’t reaching Nirvana, which I’m sure is plagued with its own tribulations, but enjoying the journey. My mom always said, “Bloom where you’re planted.” That was quiet the advice coming from a once seemingly shy 14 year old uprooted from her small Texas town and plopped into the Detroit school system! She had to pull on some serious latent fortitude to make that transition and survive. I’ve heeded her advise over the years, but interpreted her counsel of “bloom where you’re planted” to include time as well as space.

 

            I was once chatting with a friend of mine. I’m not sure if I was having a bad day or if she was. It was unlike me to complain…being everyone else’s rock…but given a weak moment, I was bemoaning something. I was utterly shocked and taken aback, when, instead of sympathy, she said, “Big deal. That’s life. Suck it up and move on.” Okay, it was NOT the warm, fuzzy reception I was expecting, and for the briefest of moments my feelings were hurt. Then I found myself grinning. She was right, and her response, was much more useful than the pity I was expecting. Life is nothing more than a series of challenges, some more taxing and humbling than others, but it is this string of events that gets fashioned into what we so glibly refer to as “living”. Fortunately, spattered throughout our days are those briefest of moments, when all seems calm, all seems bright. I strongly advise you to amass all the sanity, all the energy, all the self confidence that you can from those serene moments, and store them away in your internal battery, to be used as backup later when you need a little extra oomph to get you through one ordeal or another!

 

            This is not meant to be a “downer” blog; quiet the contrary! Life is good, and we are able to embrace life, with all its highs and lows, because we are strong, and we can take the challenges, rise above them, and given just the tiniest of distance, can find humor, or at least peace with them. NOW is the AFTER we so lustily coveted yesterday. Truth be told, feels a lot like THEN doesn’t it? So we survive the move, the loss of a beloved relation, our child’s terrible twos and the extra 8 pounds that we can’t seem to shed. And we focus on our daughter’s first ballet recital, the promotion we’ve been working so hard to achieve, and the perfect peanut butter cookie we just had over coffee with a friend. Probably the axiom I used most frequently with my children as they were growing up was “Don’t wish time away.” Tomorrow will be here soon enough, with new challenges, so make it a personal choice to “Seize the Day!”

 

            In the realm of “Do as I say, not as I do”, I find myself saying at the ripe age of 53, life will get easier after we finish remodeling our kitchen, I mean after my mom’s surgical biopsy, no, no, I mean after I’m through menopause…or not! Sometimes delusional optimism still gets me through the day, but I have learned that tomorrows look a heck of a lot like todays, so I might as well smile, or at least give a confident grin knowing life is a series of “ever afters”. Might as well make them happy ones!

 

Life is continually unpredictable and challenging. (If we personified “Life” I’d also give it an over active sense of humor!) Given the stage you are at now, how would you complete this sentence…Life will get easier after…and what survival techniques do you use to get through your hairiest days?


IS IT REALLY ONLY TUESDAY?

           I’m not a fan of Tuesdays…never have been…never will be. To me Tuesdays are like having something wedged between two teeth. It serves no purpose and is exceedingly annoying. Tuesdays are too far away from the coming weekend to start getting excited, and they’re too far removed from the past weekend to provide comfort. The effects of the “weekend massage” (you know, the restful, change of pace from the work week feeling you get) have worn off and you can feel your muscles tensing. Let’s just say I lack motivation on Tuesdays and no where is that more apparent than when I think about cooking dinner. Frankly, I think the world should go out to dinner on Tuesdays…let someone else worry about this often thankless mundane chore! (BTW…this is usually the only day of the week when you’ll hear me make a comment like that. For the most part I thoroughly enjoy cooking!) But Tuesdays…well, they suck the life right out of me. Even pleasurable tasks can be overwhelming.

 

            Having said all that, let’s make the assumption that logistically speaking, not everyone can go out to dinner on Tuesdays…think of the lines…think of the shortages of chicken fajitas! Then, accept the fact that people still need to eat whether you feel like cooking or not and chances are your family is in the same Tuesday funk you’re in, and could benefit from a plate of comfort food. Let’s also assume you only order pizza on Friday nights…not sure if it’s a local or national ordinance; at the very least I consider it a moral imperative! So, the enigma…how do you get a soothing meal prepared for your family with little effort? Answer…fast foods. I don’t mean burgers ‘n fries from the golden arches, but rather foods that don’t take long to prepare, but are satisfying and become “welcomed friends” to the entire family. These are the foods you can make every week and no one complains!

 

            I think that through divine intervention or sheer happenstance, everyone stumbles upon that one meal they can make with their eyes closed, yet appreciated by the whole family. THESE RECIPES ARE WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD! The meals won’t win any prizes for the most creative use of an artichoke or couscous, and they certainly won’t impress anyone with a sophisticated palate, BUT, for the average family, they are delicious, satisfying and comforting. (Okay, they are not JUST Tuesday meals…good is good anytime…but they are life savers when you’re lacking drive and inspiration.)

 

            My mom was, actually still is, a wonderful cook. Her recipes ranged from the painfully simple…like her tuna variation of S.O.S. (A colorful military abbreviation for Sh*t On a Shingle…or for the civilian, chipped beef on toast!) to elaborate gourmet meals. (See my Sweater Flambe blog for her wonderful Beef Bourguignonne recipe.) But, with the exception of Saturday nights, when dinner was usually sandwiches and/or canned soup, she made a warm meal every night. Some dishes took her all day to prepare…like her killer spaghetti sauce…to dinners with prep times of less than half an hour. (BTW…not everyone’s idea of “easy” is the same. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? We’re talking about surviving Tuesdays…so if it works for you and easy means heating up a pot pie…great!) One of my favorite “quick” recipes Mom made was Easy Lasagna. She could throw it together at any time during the day, and pop it in the oven half an hour before dinner. She found the recipe in a magazine around 1956 and it’s been a favorite with our family since then!  

 

MOM’S EASY LASAGNA

 

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

2 cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 cups uncooked medium noodles

1 cup cream style cottage cheese

1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup shredded parmesan or mozzarella cheese

 

Directions

In a heavy skillet, brown ground beef along with chopped onions. Stir in the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, garlic salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, cook the noodles. Drain. Combine cottage cheese, cream cheese, and sour cream. Spread half the noodles in an 11 x 7 x 1 1/2" baking dish. Top with a little meat sauce, cover with cheese mixture. Add remaining noodles and remaining meat sauce. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serves 6.

 

            I stumbled upon my “golden recipe” early in my married life. It came from a Betty Crocker cookbook. It was quick, easy and enjoyed by everyone in the family. Like all easy recipes, if time permits, you can muck about with them to enhance them…I know my daughter has made some changes to this “basic” recipe…but left as is, they stand on their own. While my kids were growing up, we usually had this dinner once a week. I never heard, “Oh no, not again!” I would say that makes it rather priceless!

 

HAMBURGER STROGANOFF

 

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic salt or 1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 can (8 ounces) mushroom stems and pieces, drained

1 can (10 1/2 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup sour cream

2 cups hot cooked noodles

Snipped parsley (or dried)

 

Directions

In large skillet, cook and stir ground beef and onion in butter until onion is tender. Stir in flour, salt, garlic salt, pepper and mushrooms; cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

 

Stir in soup; simmer uncovered 10 minutes. Stir in sour cream; heat through. Serve over noodles. Sprinkle with snipped parsley. Serves 4 - 6.

 

So, there you have it…my answer to Tuesdays! No, I have no secret formula for abolishing Tuesdays altogether, not sure I’d want that responsibility anyway. Think of the global cost of switching over to a 6 day a week calendar, and I’m sure there would be some serious Biblical implications, too! (Wonder what God actually created on that first Tuesday. I’m guessing it was something simple!) Anyway…Tuesdays are here to stay! So, hunker in, batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, and get ready to take on 52 Tuesdays a year. A tried and true recipe just might make them a little more palatable! (BTW…As Tim was proofing this his comment was, “I thought everyone had trouble with Wednesdays. That’s why they’re referred to as “The hump.” My reply, “One man’s Tuesday is another man’s Wednesday!” Personally, the optimist in me feels good about Wednesdays…they have a round, cheery feeling…and it is permissible, without being delusional, to start thinking about the weekend. But, hey, it doesn’t matter if our challenging day is a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, they’re weekly, and survival is the key!)

 

How do you “culinaryly” cope with Tuesdays? Please share your “golden” recipe. Let’s face it, some weeks feel like every night is Tuesday! Best to be prepared with a collection of “simple” meals! Just one more little note on Tuesdays…I seldom make enough food for one meal. Anything that freezes well, I double. So, when even “Easy Lasagna” seems too draining on a Tuesday, just defrost a meal, and, well, everyone is feed, Easy Peasy!


COMMON SCENTS

            Close your eyes…think of the smell of your elementary school cafeteria…the ocean…a baby’s neck. What about your grandmother’s house, a bonfire on a cool October evening, or your first boyfriend (or first girlfriend if you are a Renaissance Man reading this blog…btw…kudos to you!) Helen Keller, blind and deaf since near birth, once said, "Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.” Smells are some of the most intense memory joggers and the first, and sometimes the last, impressions we have of people and places. To me, HOW your house smells is just as important, maybe even more so, as how your house looks. The smell of your house can make people hungry, put them at ease or make them wish they were wearing a gas mask. Do you bring an objective nose to your house?

 

            Truth be told, I have the nose of a bloodhound. “Can you smell something?” or “What is that smell?” are as common colloquialisms for me as “Have a nice day.” or “Gimme a call.” I truly believe it was my overactive olfactory nerves that saved my life and the life of 3 of my friends. (Actually, 1 boyfriend, 1 brother and 1 future sister-in-law…but meaningless distinctions for the purpose of the store, so…) Before retiring for the night I kept asking everyone, “Do you guys smell something?” to which I got weird looks and dismissive comments. Later, snuggled on the floor in a makeshift bed, I was running through my mental data base of catalogued smells. As curious as concerned, I couldn’t quite place the smell, but couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something “Not quite right”. Finally, I turned on the lights and went on a quest to track down the perplexing odor. Ah, so that’s what smoldering foam rubber smells like! Apparently, a fugitive spark from the fireplace burrowed into the cushion of an old armchair. By the time I made the discovery, it had melted through the foam and was igniting the wooden frame. My brother and boyfriend (my boyfriend, not his) were able to successfully throw the antiquated chair into a snow drift just before it burst into flames! Frankly, I think my nose should have received some accolade for superior sleuthing, when in fact all it got was a bad cold…probably from standing around outside barefoot, in the middle of winter, watching an evaded disaster burn! If only we had had a Singapore Sling. (Sorry, inside joke here!)       

 

            I suppose I’m overly sensitive to smells, but it’s amazing the mood altering effect scents can produce for most people. Understandably, we want our houses to smell appealing, but how do we get our houses to smell, well “homey” and inviting? Have you ever gone into a store and asked a clerk, “What smells so good?” Chances are she’ll tell you it’s this potpourri, that candle, or those essential oils. You expectantly purchased “it” with the hopes of creating the same aroma in your house. You are delighted on the car ride home because you’re slathered with wafts of fragrance, producing a delightful aromatic ambience. But, upon getting the new scent home, it only takes minutes before the scent is lost. What happened to the fragrance you bought? To answer that question, let’s back up. Put your candle back in the bag, get in the car, drive in reverse, and walk backwards into the store. Take a look and smell around! First, you know that candle that smelled so good in the store? Well, they have 20 of them on display, each giving off a small amount of fragrance! And, right next to it is 30 bags of potpourri. And, oh, look over there, sachets and aroma therapy diffusers are pumping mega doses of aromas in the air. Your sense of smell is on overload, and your brain is unable to discern individual scents, and, in reality, that jumbled smell is what you are trying to duplicate.

 

            Let’s state the obvious…you cannot afford to buy out the store’s entire scent assortment. So, given that fact, how can you replicate a good smell that doesn’t disperse in 5 minutes or empty your wallet? Here are a few suggestions:

 

§         I have found scents activated by heat pack the biggest punch. My preferred method is using wax tarts and an electric “melter”. There are many on the market, ranging from small ones that heat 1 tart at a time, to larger ones, which I use, that can hold 3 or more at a time. There are also potpourri pots that use liquids, warmers that you can set whole glass incased candles in, and “diffusors”.

§         Learn to “reuse” scents. For example, after I’ve “used up” the scent in my tart warmer, I pour it off into a candle mold. Because I melt different scents, they are usually in different colors, and this creates a beautiful striped pattern. And although the fragrance is not intense, it still gives off a lovely, subtle scent. (My eldest son has absconded with these candles for years!) When dried potpourri’s fragrance has waned, simply add a couple drops of essential oils, mix, and ta-dah, good as new. Throw room satchets into clothing drawers when they’ve lost their punch. Although they can no longer influence an entire room, they can still produce a lovely effect in a small, closed in area like a drawer!

§         Location, location, location. Place your fragrances in areas most commonly used and in areas most likely able to contain the scents. Rooms with high ceilings seem to lose their fragrances easily…I’m sure they have a tendency to drift upward, enhancing the ambience for domestic ceiling spiders, but doing little for visitors. Also, stay away from open windows, and other areas that can draw the scent away from the room. On the other hand, a basket of dried potpourri, placed near a heat register, can throw the scent into the room whenever the furnace kicks on.

§         “Fragrances” can often be expensive. Become a “scent sleuth” and keep your eyes…well, your nose…open for the unexpected. For example, many common bath soaps have wonderful fragrances, but let’s face it, who wants to set a basket of Irish Spring in your living room? Solution...unwrap the soap, cover individual bars in a cotton print that coordinates with your room, and place in a decorative basket or bowl. For a fraction of the cost of designer fragrances, you’ve given your room a delightful “bath”! (As an added bonus, when the scent begins to fade, use them in the shower. Let’s face it, between your shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and perfumes, who’s gonna miss a little scent in their soap?)

§         Create “scentsational” environments. Although it is okay, even desirable to “mix” scents, your house should not be a nasal battleground. I like to use “families” of scents. In the fall I like to use “spicy” aromas that remind us of mulled cider and falling leaves. Around the holidays I lean toward evergreen and cranberry scents. Spring is the only time when I allow “flowery” fragrances in the house. I prefer jasmine and lavender, however, be careful not to allow the scents to become so intense that your house begins to smell like a French Brothel! Then, in the summer, I just look for soft, subtle, powdery scents; the idea is to create a “cool and calming” environment.

§         Finally, and this is certainly a subjective comment…don’t be a tease! Experience has taught me to stay away from scents that smell “good enough to eat”. Although “Buttered Cookie”, “Fresh Apple Pie”, and “Chocolate Brownie Fantasy” may smell yummy, that does little to console a hungry child or enticed mate, when they come home and start foraging for the delicious treat they are smelling! If you generate a hunger stimulating scent, make sure you can follow through with the food! BTW, nothing makes your house smell quite as good as the real thing! So, for the best scents, bake!           

 

            One day a friend told me, “Every time I go into a store that sells home fragrances, I think of you.” I took that as a lovely compliment! Although all scents smell a little different, there is commonality in all of them. We work hard at making our houses look good; we labor over paint and furniture selections. We clean, ah, usually, and rearrange, in hopes of making our houses not only lovely to look at, but comfortable. I believe “scent” is just as important as any thing else you do in your house. Take a good “sniff” around. How does your house smell?

 

Over the years I’ve used many different home fragrances. Hands down, my favorite has been Yankee Candle’s Home Sweet Home. Do you have a favorite scent or secret formula for bringing good smells in? Please share!