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A Look Back at 2017

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Happy New Year! Boy, all it takes for me to consider not doing this is going back and reading the previous year’s. And then I realize how nice it is to have a recap and yes, yes! I will take time on this first day of 2018 to look back at 2017 and find the positive in it.

Just like 2015 and 2016 Paul and I continued to see a lot of concerts together.  In the summer we trekked out to the Mann Center for a few outdoor shows: Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes, and Belle & Sebastian.  We had seen Sigur Ros at Radio City Music Hall previously and this was a different experience being outdoors, but still intense and otherworldly and spectacular. This time closer seats let us admire their instruments. Ditto Belle & Sebastian (as in, we’d also seen them at RCMH, and this time we had close seats.)  We went to see the Flaming Lips at the Fillmore and while Paul is the fan, not me, I loved it and it lived up all I’d heard. Wayne Coyne rode a unicorn into the audience and also walked around in a giant hamster ball atop the crowd.  We’ve seen Barenaked Ladies many times before, but this spring due to a weather situation we ended up seeing them in a pretty small indoor venue, which made it extra fun.  A big spring highlight for me was seeing The Decemberists. I pinned a lot of high hopes on this concert because a. it was at the Fillmore (so it would be different than the Academy of Music show) and b. I hoped to hear some stuff we hadn’t heard live yet.  The show was fantastic and they did in fact play an awesome song I didn’t think they’d do.  We also saw an up and coming band Paul likes a lot called Pinegrove in a the world’st hottest basement ever. [I’m going to break up this lengthy text with a concert photo collage!]  Lez Zeppelin was an awesome treat at the tiny Sellersville Theater.  At a local outdoor festival we saw the hip band Red Baraat.  Perhaps my favorite show of the summer was seeing rock icon Blondie, with Garbage. Both were amazing. How had I missed listening to Garbage? I was smitten with Shirley Manson. And Debbie Harry just blew me away. She was incredible. In the fall we took Tabby to see Katy Perry! She is a great entertainer and we had a terrific time. We also saw the band Alvvays (super), Regina Spektor (beautiful voice, even though I got sleepy several times), and Rodrigo y Gabriela (crazy good.)  We were excited to see Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile and they were fantastic.  We finished the year by seeing Darlingside at the South Orange Performing Arts Center–a place much closer than our usual, very small, we had second row, and it was a wonderful way to end the year. They have the most beautiful harmonies and songs and seem like all around nice people (we met them afterward.)
We also saw some shows with the family and some non concert things:
Cirque Eloize (an amazing show of cirque and music, this had a saloon theme), our favorite fellow Seth Meyers, Taj Express (A Bollywood musical),  Pippin (my favorite musical, Paul got tickets for my birthday, and this production was outstanding), Water on Mars (the most fascinating and entertaining juggling I’ve ever seen),  Golden Dragon Acrobats, and Shaolin Warriors.    I’d say we were certainly well entertained in 2017! Looking at it written out it makes it seem like we’re never at home! I will say that after we’d secured tickets for Darlingside and Courtney Barnett, and First Aid Kit (in 2018) I announced that I was done with concerts.  That completed my list of singers and bands I really wanted to see live and really next year I just need to see Guster if (when) they come around again, and obvs. I wouldn’t pass up seeing Pearl Jam. So, we’ll see. Oh, and we have tickets for the Foo Fighters.

As for house and garden….well. No vegetable garden at all this year. We removed our raised beds and returned that area to grass (or, are trying to.) I did miss having my own grown things, so I think we need to make a plan for this spring about what we will grow and how and where we will grow it.  Our well covering fell down and we actually really liked the way it opened up our view of the rose bushes and butterfly garden.  And I got to grow my beloved Heavenly Blue morning glories up the trellis and they were spectacular. 2017-10-11 15.43.37Our milkweed was part of the monarch butterfly life cycle, which made us very happy.Monarch CaterpillarsAnd of course the roses and peonies and coneflower were beautiful. In fact, the coneflowers had a banner year and were host to many insects, birds, butterflies, and moths. Monarch on the coneflowerIn the coop things did not go well this year.  A fox (?) ravaged the population on one unfortunate night the gate was left open.  We are left with 3 young roosters and 4 hens. Of those hens two of them (silver seabright and buff orpington) are FIVE years old.  One of the hens did hatch a chick this fall, so we do have an 8th bird. Unclear if it’s a hen or rooster yet. Our flock is so sad and diminished and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do in terms of getting more birds–chicks in the spring? seek out pullets? We decided to wait until til spring. Gordon continues to live with them, though he was pretty sad (I think) that his beloved hen, Tree Bird, perished.A mixed up coop He suffered an indeterminate “traumatic eye injury” (a chicken pecking? a thorn?) which required a vet visit and two weeks of oral antibiotics (which was a real treat to administer twice daily, let me tell you). He is all healed up nicely now and hopping around as usual, though he has likely lost some vision in that eye.
In other animal news, in late summer we welcomed two new guinea pigs as permanent fosters. Samson and Louie are adorable and lively and big! We love seeing Louie jump on top of his igloo, which he does all the time.Samson & LouieAnd just a couple of weeks ago we said a fond farewell to dear Blackie. She was 5 1/2 and had a good long life. Although we weren’t with her when she passed away (it was during the day), it appears to have been a peaceful slipping away. R.I.P. Blackie, I hope you’re enjoying an afterlife with Nibbles.
2017 began poorly for our cat Sweetie, when accidentally left home and was gone for a solid month. We were so sad, canvassing the neighborhood, unable to find her, sure she was gone forever.  In February a hot tip from a neighbor led us less than 1/4 mile away and we were able to retriever her. Yeah!! Her month away made her get skinny (i.e. normal weight) but she was otherwise fine and super happy to be home. I don’t think she stopped purring for two weeks. On the other hand Liesl was super annoyed and mean to her for quite a few months. They are finally back to sometimes snuggling and at least no longer hitting. And Sweetie is back to being…large.As with last year my beloved hobbies took a hit. No homemade gifts, much less sewing, etc. However, just a couple weeks ago I finished the last of the courses I’d been taking at Rutgers (graduate, online, not getting an additional degree, getting a new certificate.) I’ve been taking classes ever since I started my job and I have to say I feel like a huge burden is lifted. No longer will I spend weekends doing assignments and projects! So, I feel like there is nothing to hold me back from getting back into doing the things I like. I will just work my normal job and have my normal family life. Hooray!!!!!!!!!!!!

That said, I did manage to do one quilt start to finish, and it was a pattern I’d really wanted to do and I loved how everything came out. The Pinwheel QuiltPinwheel Quilt-Complete! I also finished in February the Christmas scrap quilt (it was really a 2016 project, just finished off at the start of 2017.) We did indeed love snuggling under it this season. Christmas Scrap Quilt-done!

I also finished embroidering this towel finally, which apparently I will mostly use for photo-ops 🙂Hot out of the ovenMy Flickr is no longer kept up to date very well, and everything is on Instagram, and I no longer have those great “food” “sewing” annual sets.  But I have still done ample cooking/baking/photographing.  I’m scattering some favorite pics throughout this post. Here’s one more:
On the jetty

Running atop the jetty
One big event this year (either terrible news or good news, depending on how you look at it) is that during the ’16-’17 winter we did not have heat as our furnace had broken.  We replaced it with a new furnace and conversion from oil to natural gas.  The project was completed in spring, just as the weather turned warm. It was not until this fall that we really got to turn the heat on and enjoy it.

Our big travel this year was a summer vacation to New Hampshire. It was a bit of a haul to get there, but oh man it was my dream vacation. We loved kayakingA cabin (that left a lot to be desired), along a lake, with paddleboards and kayaks and canoes and loons (it was where On Golden Pond takes place!) There was reading and board games and swimming and floating and I loved it.

We began the year with a visit to my brother and his family in Vermont, and we also hit two theme parks this year-Hersheypark (on a day with pouring rain, which was awesome-no lines!)  and Great Adventure.

A super special trip for me was a weekend away with three dear friends. Our last trip together had been 15 years ago–to Iceland! We booked a lovely house in the Berkshires, near Stockbridge. We had a great weekend where we never ran out of time for all the talking we like to do about books. Plenty of wine, great food, and a surprisingly powerful trip to the Normal Rockwell Museum. mosaic277e3d5cfc46572b6223a1b0b61893979a6a902d

January was also the historic Women’s March, happening all across the country.  I participated by going to a NJ one in Trenton. It was a powerfully moving day and I felt inspired that intelligence, common sense, and decency would someday prevail. Unfortunately the past few months that feeling has been waning. It’s been a tough year and I still can’t believe the things happening in our country.

Here are some assorted moments/memories:
Doing a fun photo shoot with the guinea pigs and having the horrifying event of a garter snake slithering across Tabby’s leg (we were traumatized)
Clark and Tabby riding the Wildcat roller coaster six times in a row
Getting maximum enjoyment out of our small pop up above ground pool, making whirlpools and filling the whole thing with rafts, and floating and looking out at the fields
Eating giant ice cream “snowballs” in New Hampshire
Watching Tabby become a confident baker who made us many tasty treats
Dinner out in New Hampshire when a lovely waitress spilled all our drinks on me and we ended up laughing and laughing
Watching Tabby perform in the Wizard of Oz at the 4H Fair
Watching Clark change his hair color to dramatic shades of red and blue (he also got braces this year and surpassed me in height)
Tossing rocks and dirt clods into the dried grasses of the meadow for Willow, who pounces like a fox
Listening to Paul on WDVR FM be a dj for an hour and playing a fantastic selection of music with commentary (my wish for him is that he look into having a regular show…)
My mom’s new dog, Harry
Getting Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and seeing Clark spend most of the year absorbed in that world
Many many off leash walks with Willow at the nearby meadow watching her run and leap and chase and jump and be a happy dog. At 2 1/2 years old and 85 lbs she is a solid full grown dog now.

and the #1 good surprising thing of 2017…Paul winning a Wawa sweepstakes! Wawa for life! (ok, not life, but a good long while.)
Here’s my other annual post: Top Ten Books of the Year.
A very happy new year to all! May 2018 bring adventure and also contentment.

Signing off with one of my favorite self-portraits of the year,
Sarah

2017-09-08 17.05.03

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The Good Enough Christmas

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2017-12-25 13.19.34Ahh….Christmas. You know I love it. The build up is almost better than the day itself-baking, shopping, gifting, cozy movie watching, decorating, parties, cheese balls, cookies, etc.  I love the whole package.  This year it seemed like I didn’t give my best effort in many of those categories.  In fact, at one point I just said “you know what? It’s good enough.” and that became the refrain. For example, we usually put a lot of effort into our Christmas cards. This year…we didn’t. But we did still send some out and the picture we did was fine.  I did not bake a million kinds of cookies, just three. But no one went hungry and it was fine and there are even still some in the freezer.  I didn’t make homemade gifts, though I did manage to make a batch of the favorite spicy hot candied walnuts to give to my co-worker and Tabby’s teacher.  At the end of Christmas Day I said to Paul ” For a Christmas that was only good enough, it was still pretty good.” And it was. A wonderful day with our family, gifts that were surprising and wonderful, and good cheer all around.  And although I took a year off from making homemade gifts, this year I received two wonderful gifts made by my family. My brother spent his year harvesting (is that the right word here? special wood and creating these beautiful Japanese inspired lamps for everyone. Totally an heirloom work of art and very special and personal. 20171227_131742My mother made us this beautiful fabric art picture of our house!2017-12-25 13.39.40 I can’t get over the details such as the blue planter that is a favorite in the summer, the exact right color of our porch furniture, and more. Such special gifts!
As for baking, my earth shattering news is that I made a different recipe sticky bun for our Christmas breakfast. And I waited until Christmas Eve to even make it!  It was a different style bun-a less rich dough, but sweeter (I might actually cut back on the sugar next time). It was delicious and actually an easier recipe to make. (Notice I don’t even have a photo of the buns. Many fewer pictures this year. Good enough!)
I think the best Christmas gift to myself is that I finished the class I was taking this semester, and with the completion of that I have finished all the extra classes I’ve been taking for the past two years. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m really looking forward to just enjoying my evenings and weekends and life and getting back into sewing and quilting and all of those hobbies I love but pushed aside in favor of assignments and such.  I am relishing this week off!
I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas as well!

2017-12-25 21.01.45

2017 Christmas Cookies

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Yes, Christmas has happened, and the cookie party was a couple of weeks ago, but better late than never. I couldn’t not have a recap of the annual Christmas party because I do love to look back on them. So this year we had the same setup as usual-cheese ball, punch, music, and cookies cookies cookies. I was very undecided about what I wanted to make right up until a few days before. I decided to make a citrus spritz cookie, for which there was a recipe in a new cookbook I had bought. Spritz cookies (we just called them “cookie press cookies”) were a regular part of my mom’s Christmas baking. I loved them-a butter cookie that tasted great straight from the freezer, delightfully decorated with red and green sugars, silver dragees, and cinnamon red hots (for the wreaths!) This recipe was citrus, which meant it had orange/lemon zest in the dough and then you dipped it in a citrus glaze.  I basically never make cookie press cookies because they are a pain and never seem to work. True to form, these would go along great and then 12 in a row wouldn’t stick to the pan. So aggravating! I didn’t feel these looked very Christmassy because I used orange sugar to decorate (atop the glaze) to go with the citrus flavor. That said, they tasted delicious. Tabby made a cookie this year and it was most attractive–a pinwheel sugar cookie. It was a regular sugar cookie recipe.

Offerings from our guests included:
Hot chocolate mint cookie ( I had seen this recipe online myself and thought about doing it!)
Pretzel caramel (tasted like a chocolate chip cookie dough base with addition of pretzels and caramels, which I love.)
Vanilla Polka Dots (a Dorie Greenspan recipe which exceptional vanilla taste and crunch. The pearl sugar was pretty.)
Gingerbread Men (it was so nice to see cute traditionally decorated gingerbread men!)
Christmas Trees (adorable sugar cookie trees)
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
Lemon Bites (very similar to the “orange brownies” I sometimes make in the winter. Brownie texture, not really a cake, but very pure lemon flavor. These were a hit.)
Cranberry Pumpkin Bites
Peanut Butter Crunchies (I felt like these deserved a special prize because it’s a vintage recipe my friend made after seeing it on over at MidCentury Menu.  This was kind of gross looking, and pretty weird (as one expects from vintage recipes) as it had chow mein noodles in it. But guess what? It was delicious!)
Reindeer Bites (a smushed up Oreo ball concoction decorated to look like a reindeer. The baker (except they are no-bake) fully admitted to making these in a bid for an appearance win, a strategy which totally worked.)

The winners were…..

Most Christmassy: Reindeer Bites

Best Appearance: Gingerbread Men

and the overall big winner was….Melissa and her Vanilla Polka Dot cookies.  Melissa is multiple times winner, but it’s been a few years since she won first prize. She used the collected winnings to purchase and donate to Chimp Haven, which is awesome.

 

 

R.I.P. Blackie

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July 4, 2005-December 20, 2017

Dear Blackie passed away today.  At 5 1/5 we knew she was up there in guinea pig years and I really can’t say it was unexpected, but it was still sad to find out.  We visited Blackie & Nibbles when they were born and earmarked as Clark’s 7th birthday gift (Blackie for him, Nibbles for Tabby.) What a delight those pigs were! And what a surprise that winter to find out that Blackie was a girl-a very pregnant girl. Watching her get huge and have three babies was so neat and exciting. After that it was separate quarters for Blackie and Nibbles, except for during supervised fun photo sessions where many holiday hats were placed atop fuzzy heads.

We will miss you, Blackie!

Giant Pinwheel Quilt!

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(picture by Tabby, not sure the caption goes with this, but whatever!)

A few years ago I checked a book out of the library called A Month of Sundays–Family, Friends, Food & Quilts. I was quite taken with one of the, a giant pinwheel, and photocopied the pages so that someday I could make it.  A pinwheel is a basic and familiar quilt block and here the entire quilt was made to be a big single pinwheel block–made up of other pinwheel blocks. I really loved this concept. It’s pretty simple looking in design, and I found it striking, especially because it used two colors only. The colored blocks would be made up of many different fabrics, printed, all in that color. The book showed it in green and white and though I considered many, many other color combinations, that is also the colorway I wanted. This winter I saw a lovely new line, Greenery, at Hawthorne Threads. That did it– I ordered a few of their fabrics (that bark! those deer!) and that was the start. The Hawthorne Threads fabric is digitally printed and definitely not the beautiful softness you’ll find in other high quality non-digitally printed fabrics, but I think since I bought it it has softened through handling (and washing.) That fabric did cut very nicely. So I chose a combination of their fabrics, plus some I saw at the store, plus a few little bits from my own collection. Although I tend to bemoan the vast swathes of white fabric prevalent in modern quilts, that is what was needed here. I chose a white-on-white with an all over floral pattern. Because two of my prints had tiny bits of bright pink in them, I chose a beautiful pink for the binding.
As for the backing, I’m so in love with it. I decided that the perfect backing would be a green and white vintage sheet. I got right on Etsy to browse and found a 1980s sheet from the seller BlueRose Retro. It was in terrific condition, so smooth, and the colors and pattern looked made for my patchwork pinwheel! Inexpensive and delivered quickly, to boot! (certainly less expensive than 4 yards of good cotton.)2017-09-03 15.54.24

The construction of the top really wasn’t very difficult at all. Good instructions from the book, and it’s all just triangles and squares. The hardest thing was cutting 4 gigantic triangles of the white fabric.  Because the center of the quilt is one complete pinwheel block I made extra certain that those triangle points lined up perfectly.  The prints are randomized, though I was careful to have that center block be 4 that I especially liked together. The one design flaw I made was that I had just 2 triangles of an old fabric I liked, a dark green with hearts on it. Because it was only two I wanted to be sure they were nowhere near each other. So how did they both end up in one block?!

Perhaps it is because I sewed the top so successfully-matching points, laying flat, pretty square, that it is especially galling that this ended up being probably the worst made quilt I’ve ever done!! More on that later.

For quilting I decided to do curved lines in the big white section so that they might mimic or evoke a pinwheel’s movement. Though I used saucers and plates to draw on the first lines, after that I used a string held at the center and my pen. I also decided to not measure, but have variable widths. My thinking was that I would have different widths intentionally, rather than accidentally (and yet they ended up fairly even. ) I also decided that the lines of stitching would not go seam to seam, but rather end short of the other seam. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting and so some go all the way and some end. Ultimately I do love how the curved lines look and think they give big impact when seen all at once.
But here’s where the problem came in… tremendous wrinkles on the back. And then, the front not laying smooth and being loose and blousey. Because I did the white sections first, and curved around rather then going out from the center, (and also I should have used a walking foot on my machine.) it all just ended up fairly bunched. However, after a few tears I pulled it together and accepted it. So what if there are wrinkles? So what if I had to take a few little pleats when I applied the binding. I’m not entering it into a contest and it’s for family use. It’s soft and the colors are beautiful. The stitching in the white areas does look how I envisioned it, too. In the green sections all I opted to do was one large triangle the same shape as the overall piece.  Oh, and while the drama of the wrinkles on the back was happening, something I’ve always worried about finally did happen: while snipping a thread my tiny sharp embroidery scissors cut a tiny hole right in my fabric!! Not visible but I worried that it could fray and grow over the years. I was going to cover it with a piece of matching fabric, but since I usually like to put something special on the back that is where I appliqued a small pinwheel block made of the backing and binding. I did embroider my initials and the year on two sides of the block, but frankly did such a lousy job I’m going to pull it out and redo it.

After all the quilting woes the binding was a treat to put on. I was eager to wrap this up and call it done. I’m back to work on Tuesday, and while my initial goal in June was to complete two quilts this summer, by July I knew it would only be one. There was no way I was not going to finish this so I spent some solid time Sunday finishing the binding. And, as there was definitely a September chill in the air on Sunday morning, I can attest that having the quilt on my lap was very warm and snuggly. So, as Liz says, “does it work as a blanket?” You bet it does!  (And I love the way it looks, too.)

Live Free or Die (a vaguely threatening motto…

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Our much anticipated summer vacation has come and gone and it was wonderful! This year we went to New Hampshire, where I’ve never actually stayed before and neither has Paul. Frankly we just hoped that we’d picked a place that would be pretty, have a few things to do, not too much, have some ice cream nearby, and we’ve both relax and have fun together. We picked a place off of VRBO, which not knowing anything about the area, was kind of difficult. But guess what? Our vacation luck streak continues! It turns out we had chosen a popular (but not wild) outdoorsy area of the lakes region. Little Squam Lake was an offshoot of the big Squam Lake, and the whole thing was surrounded by woods. Not only that but it’s where On Golden Pond was filmed! As soon as I heard that I started listening and looking for loons. We never saw any, but one night around 3am I heard them!!! I was very excited by that and woke up Paul so he could listen too. We heard them the next night as well. Our Little Squam Lake area was perfect-we had access from our cabin to a small beach shared by a couple other houses. We loved kayakingThe lake here was very shallow and not too big. We could just step onto the paddleboards and take off, or kayak, or swim, or canoe. From the water, looking toward the shore:Floating on the calm lake, if only I had a book in my lap...
The water was unbelievably crystal clear, and even though there were rushes and water lilies, it was not murky or icky.lilies The water was like a mirror. The water was like a mirrorI even found it delightful that there were turtles: friendly turtles swam by usThe whole little lake area was a no wake zone and we enjoyed kayaking all down it and checking out all of the lake houses and boats along it. At the other end was a covered bridge and once you went through that you were into the big lake, which was very big and people waterskiied and the like on it and could drive their boats fast. On our last day we hiked up a mountain to a spectacular view of the whole Squam Lake (and Little Squam, etc.) and this is what it looked like:
The view of it all!
We ate plenty of ice cream. We were especially enamored of something called a “Snowball” which was a scoop of ice cream rolled in toasted coconut and hazelnuts, sitting on hot fudge and topped with whipped cream. I was happy to read a few books, and we even played enough games to satisfy me. And we had a couple of outings too. In addition to the hike we also spent a whole afternoon at the Squam Lake Natural Science Center,an evening at the “world’s largest arcade” (Funspot at Weirs Beach/Lake Winnipesaukee) and another morning at the Polar Caves. The whole caves thing was reminiscent of Bushkill Falls–a natural geologic feature turned into a family attraction. In this case it was a series of caves in this mountain. I opted out of 3 of the caves, including the “Lemon Squeezer” and “Orange Crush.” One of the caves was called “Fat Man’s Misery.” There were definitely some tight and narrow spots, but none of us got stuck or freaked out.

All in all, it was a terrific week away!

Welcome Samson & Louie!

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These handsome boys are Samson and Louie, and they have come to join our menagerie. An old friend from high school was in a sad predicament of no longer being able to keep them (the entire family was terribly allergic to them) and asked me if I would be interested in taking them. How could I say no? Everyone was on board and they arrived a week and a half ago. They have an enormous enclosure, which I’m still trying to work out how to clean because it’s so different from Blackie’s pen. It’s quite spacious and open and I feel bad for Blackie being in her small pen. But, she is an old lady now and very mellow. Even when we take her out she doesn’t really enjoy running around, but would rather sit on your lap.
Samson is the one who reminds us of Nibbles, in color at least. His texture is very different-like a soft brillo pad. Louie has a darling swirl atop his head. They are each a specific breed, which I have forgotten the names of.
We had forgotten how fun it is to have two pigs together and listen to them talk to each other and chatter and run around. They are pretty amiable and adorable. It’s unfortunate they are boys because Blackie cannot be with them. Interestingly, Willow is kind of crazy about them, whereas she completely ignores Blackie. I think it’s just that their enclosure is on a table just slightly above where Willow can see. So she hears them and smells them and can’t quite see them and gets a bit wound up. I’m sure she’ll settle down soon, though.