You can’t always get what you want

Smitten written in tiles

There is so much to love about the story behind the meme–and the mittens.

Also, I love everything about this gift made for Bernie from a friend/supporter/constituent. It was made with love and recycled/found materials: recycled sweater, fleece made from recycled bottles, second-hand thread.

I have to say that as much I would like to be as fashionably iconic as Lady Gaga, I am much more like Bernie. I would definitely prioritize being warm over being fashionable. And I admire that Bernie is always exactly who he is. WYSIWYG. And smittens, sewn knit mittens are actually in my wheelhouse, since I am much handier with a sewing machine than I am with knitting needles. And sewing with repurposed materials is good for the planet.

If sewist and creator Jen Ellis made mittens full time, she would probably have enough work to keep her busy until the summer, but mittens are an act of love for her, not a financial transaction. My favorite quote from this interview with CNN: “…sometimes in this world, you just can’t get everything you want.”

But if you try, you can get what you need.

If you need a mitten pattern, check out this one from Fleece Fun: or this tutorial from Instructables:

Cover Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Spicing up weeknight dinners

Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

I subscribe to the Five Weeknight Dishes email from the New York Times. I often peruse it, but we rarely make anything. Printing off – and making! – three of the five recipes in a single week is decidedly blog-worthy. 

We are vegetarians, so some modifications were needed, and I noted those below.

Here’s what we made: 

Pasta Puttanesca

The best part of this recipe is the sauce. This is the easiest sauce recipe I have ever made. It was ready before the pasta. We used Cento brand canned Italian tomatoes. These are saucy right out of the can, so no need to drain them.

A substitute for anchovies is capers, so we used more capers than called for in the recipe. 

This mushrooms-on-toast recipe was easy and delicious. No creme fraiche options in grocery store pickup, so we substituted sour cream, which worked great. Sliced baby bella mushrooms made this a quick meal, and we served it on Dave’s Killer Bread to keep it on the healthy side.

For the Sheet-Pan Scallion Chicken(less) with Bok Choy we used two bags of baby bok choy and a bag of breaded veggie chicken-less tenders from Trader Joe’s. This dish is way fancier than what we usually make for a weekday meal, but it was quick and delicious. I used less oil than the recipe called for (which is my typical practice).

All three recipes are winners and are now on the repeat list. We’ve made the pasta dish three times in the past two weeks, and I now feel like capers have become a pantry staple. I was the living embodiment of the heart eyes emoji when my beloved started making Pasta Puttanesca last night for dinner. (FYI, Trader Joe’s crushed Italian tomatoes work well, too.) 

You can sign up here to receive the weekly Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter from the New York Times. 

Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Festive backgrounds for your virtual gatherings

white bauble

I am not a big fan of virtual backgrounds — they always feel a little off to me, but special occasions seem to beg for a party backdrop. ‘Tis the season for virtual decor, so here are a couple of virtual background repositories that will help you deck the halls for that holiday Zoom call:

Put it down in a letter to yourself

Red envelope on a golden yellow background.

Holidays and especially the new year are times for rituals of introspection and reflection. It helps to write it out and talk it out. I think we can all agree that 2020 did a number on us, and we need these rituals more than ever. The exercises below are both inspired by a coaching friend. 

The high five list is your year-in-review list. Instead of (or in addition to) resolutions for change the new year, catalog your current awesomeness! What went well in the past year? What deserves a high five? Take 10 minutes and see if you can come up with 10 things to add to your 2020 High Five List. 

I feel pretty strongly that if ever there was a time to lower the bar, it’s 2020. If you kept a decent stock of toilet paper on hand, give yourself a high five for that. Learned to navigate grocery store pick up? High five, my friend! Did you make masks? High five! Become a champion hand washer? High five!

The letter to yourself is a tradition that I learned about last year. You write a letter to yourself and tuck it in with your holiday decorations to be opened in a year. I wrote my letter in early January before all hell broke loose and completely forgot about it until I unpacked the holiday decorations a few weeks ago. I thought the letter would be one long, sad joke given the dumpster fire of a year that we’ve had, but I was pleasantly surprised at the many things I did and learned. It was a reminder of the power of hope. The aspirations and goals I set for myself in 2020 weren’t all for naught. Finding that letter was definitely a highlight of the holiday season.

Thanksgiving cactus: Success at last!

Thanksgiving cactus

In 2017, I adopted a gorgeous Thanksgiving cactus. (Wondering about the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses? Me, too! It’s the shape of the leaf.) I’ve had limited success getting seasonal plants to rebloom, but recent success with my amaryllis bulb collection gave me hope. 

My Thanksgiving cactus is huge and looks very healthy, but it hasn’t bloomed since our first Christmas. I did all kinds of things to keep it cool,  in the dark, limit water, etc. No luck. All leaves, no blooms for the last three years. So this past summer, I put it on our covered front porch. Lots of light but no direct sun. Not in a place where it gets a lot of water. I ignored everything I had read about getting a Thanksgiving cactus to rebloom. I remembered that one of my plant friends brought a similar plant back to life on her porch.

And guess what? I was rewarded. It’s blooming!  It doesn’t have a ton of buds, but it has some, and they are just starting to open up. My plant-loving heart is overflowing with joy. 

Grace given and received

beach photo

Our shipping systems in the U.S. are overwhelmed. I sent a package on Dec. 3, and it’s still taking a tour of the U.S. I thought it was a goner but then received a tracking update after 10 days of radio silence. I mean, it’s in the wrong place. But it’s alive. It’s in circulation. There’s HOPE.*

I know that a lot of small businesses are in the same boat. People are upset and demanding refunds. I get it, I do. It’s disappointing to have something sent by priority mail and realize that those words no longer have meaning. If everything is a priority, then nothing is. That axiom applies to the mail, too. 

My lost package was sent by me, not a vendor, and some of the contents were handmade and one-of-a-kind. So it’s disappointing. I can’t replace everything that was inside the box. Yesterday, I reordered what I could, and I am hoping for the best. 

I’m trying to have faith and be patient with everything I am sending and receiving. Most of it will get to us. And if it doesn’t, we have a good story about the year without a Santa Claus (a.k.a. Priority Mail.) If you can, please let the small business people off the hook. Beyond sending it, they really aren’t responsible for mail delays. I find that when I extend grace like this to others, it comes back to me twofold.
* Update: Since I wrote this post the package resurfaced and was finally delivered. YAY!

In the Studio

Drying mat strip quilt - 2020

I’ve finished a few quilts in the past month after taking the machine quilting class I mentioned last month. When I was first learning to quilt, I was influenced by the book by Mary Ellen Hopkins, It’s Okay if You Sit on My Quilt. My main takeaway was that quilts are meant to be used.

I create a lot of quilts that are used for coasters and I added drying mats to my list of practical quilts. Heretofore, we’ve been using microfiber drying mats for dishes. Nothing wrong with those, but I can’t resist infusing a little beauty into everyday things and tasks. Enter the drying mat strip quilt! This quilt was a Christmas gift for my beloved – along with a promise to help clean the kitchen from top to bottom!

I experimented with using blue painter’s tape as a stitching guide (it’s amazing!), and I quilted with some of the variegated thread that I have been saving for a special occasion combining quilt-as-you-go quilting with traditional quilting. 

A maximalist falls in love with a minimalist

minimalist photography of open door

If I have a motto, it’s that more is more. I’m not usually talking about stuff, but if I am being honest, I am no minimalist. If I like something, I usually wind up with at least three of that item. So I have a hard time explaining my complete adoration for Dawn, The Minimal Mom on YouTube. I am hooked; I’ve already watched a handful of videos in the last five days. 

Maybe I’m trying to change my ways. I think I am realizing the limits of abundance. Dawn often mentions that she doesn’t want to manage that much inventory: I can so relate to that at this point in my life.  

Check out 5 EASY Ways to Make Christmas Extra Special This Year and especially Get rid of these 3 things to feel BETTER about yourself today!! Don’t wait to have clothes you love. Your weight is fine right now. Give away and recycle what no longer fits and love the body you have. Yes, a million times, yes.

If I were a short story writer …

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug

I’d be done. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and it’s an intensive activity that engages writers around the world to write the equivalent of a novel, 50,000 words, during the 30 days of November. (That’s 1,667 words a day if you were wondering.) NaNoWriMo has a great website and a supportive community. I encourage anyone who wants to dive into writing to have a go at this annual event. 

This isn’t my first go at NaNoWriMo but I’ve gone further than ever before with more than 12,000 words. I find myself stalled out. I love my story and my characters and the world-building I’ve done. I have completely entertained myself with my story but I’m not sure where to take it next. While I am way short of novel-length territory, but 10,000 words is a legitimate short story, so I’m thinking about claiming victory and imagining the bumper sticker that says, “If you were a short story writer, you would be proclaiming victory.”

Maybe I am and maybe I will. Keep writing, my friends!  

You can save your neglected paint brushes

Brush and brush cleaner

You never know what life-changing tip you might learn from a class. I love to paint but I’m not always as thorough as I should be on the cleanup. I learned about this product from an instructor on Creative Bug (our local library offers free access). 

The supply list included The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver, so I ordered some from Blick Art Supply. It seemed like an amazing product, one that could bring stiff-as-a-board-brushes back to life. I was skeptical but thought a brush cleaner might help. 

I set up to do a painting and the first brush I picked up looked okay but it was clearly not. I last used it for a complicated oil painting project. It was time to put the miracle brush cleaner to the test. And of course, it was an Ad Reinhardt-inspired black on black oil painting. Would anything remove dried black oil paint? I assumed the brush was a goner, but I put the blush cleaner to work, and holy moly, it’s almost as good as new. It did take a while. I had to do several rounds of cleaning and rinsing but was rewarded with a favorite brush back in the lineup. 

Painting design by Let’s Make Art. I did this version with acrylic paint instead of watercolors.