Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Third Day of the Year

'A tranquil but determined start to the new year here.  I had a good bit of time off from work these past few weeks, and I used a lot of it to get some things organized and reorganized in this little apartment.  I have long thought of home-care and decorating and what I call puttering around--fluffing up the throw pillows, changing out the tablecloth, adding the fresh flowers to canning jars, hanging the new-old paintings and embroidered pieces sooner rather than later, refolding the granny square afghans on the backs of the chairs, taking oranges out of their mesh bag and adding them to the green stoneware bowl, even just putting the dishes back where they belong and arranging them neatly on their shelves--as hobbies or pastimes or interests, but I have realized this past month that for me, these little activities are actually a form of self-care.  Eureka!  When we see a woman who has made the extra effort to dress especially nicely, paint her nails, look out for her health and fitness, or [insert-your-own-examples], we think "There is someone who values herself and makes the time to take good care of herself," and I realize now that similarly, when my home is orderly and sweet and cheerful, I feel those things about myself.  When my home is orderly and sweet and cheerful, I feel those things about myself.  Ahhhh!  All the little "puttering around" tasks, then, aren't really chores at all, then, just as I would no longer think of them as one of my hobbies either.  I see now that they're more vital for me than that.  These are ways I take care of myself, I have just learned at 40-and-a-half-years-old:  I go for long walks, I take my vitamins, I try to eat and drink well, I use sunscreen year-round, I pray, I read, I cuddle with Stuffed, I show my love to my loves ones, I slather on lotion, I rest when needed, and I keep an organized and inviting home.  

On that front, I have tackled the bathroom cupboard--and after almost seven years of living here, have wrestled it into submission.  It is about seven feet tall and its three shelves are two feet deep but only twelve inches wide.  Without the shelves, it would be the perfectly-proportioned space to store a broom and mop, but . . .I think I've finally figured it out.  And now hanging vertically on the inside of its door are three narrow cork bulletin boards, my work-schedule, a list of that month's birthdays and other need-to-send-a-card-or-otherwise-mark-a-special-day occasions, a small pink dry-erase board I'm using as my weekly food diary, a basket for pens and dry-erase markers, Stuffed's litter-scoop, a dust pan and broom, and a six-inch-wide calendar I use to record my daily walks.  'A good use now, and better late than never, of that seven-foot tall-but-only-twelve-inch-wide door too.  Take that, Ill-Proportioned Closet.  That alone has made home and life feel so much tidier.  It's What-I-Need-to-Remember Central, and it's a breath of fresh air for this lifelong list-maker:  I have it all in one spot now but tucked away on the back of the door so it doesn't "read" as clutter.  That's been just one improvement lately.  And now that I actually like the cupboard, I want to doll it up even more by papering the small wall-spaces inside the cupboard. . .give it a little more love.  Just like that, it's become a time-saver, a better use of space, and features a door I actually enjoy opening and seeing what's behind.  I myself feel so much more on top of things even with this one project, is the point.  And now that I have a better perspective on it all, I look forward to taking on everything else that's on my around-the-apartment to-do list.  Those to-do items no longer feel like problems or chores ahead of me, but instead opportunities and possibilities.  How good this all feels after watching everything fall apart around here the first seven months with this new job and new work schedule!  Ohhhhh, I love learning.  I love figuring it out.  Life already feels so much better, and 2018 is looking so much brighter. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Mushroom Stuffing Recipe (Especially for Cheryl)

I promised this recipe at least a couple years ago to Cheryl from the joyful A Simple Life blog and am finally getting around to sharing it.  Cheryl, I know you are partial to your dear grandmother's stuffing, but I consider this  more of a mushroom side dish with bread cubes added than a "real" stuffing, so it need not compete.  :)  When I worked as a hotel cook years ago, my manager would encourage me and the rest of the kitchen staff to look for new recipes in the cookbook collection, and this mushroom stuffing was one of my best finds from those years.  I think it was in one of those little cookbooks printed by a church group or school organization, and this is a basic guideline, and this isn't the way it was originally written.  I don't measure anything anymore when I make it.  As I just told Mike the other day, finding this recipe and learning how to flip omelets are two of my favorite takeaways from that work experience.  :)  This is the only stuffing I make anymore here for holidays and other "stuffing occasions."  For all of us who like mushrooms, then, here's my favorite mushroom dish.  

Val's Favorite Mushroom Stuffing:
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup herb-seasoned stuffing bread cubes
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/4 cup Half and Half

~  Cook the mushrooms in the butter until tender.  They will "sweat" as they cook, of course.  Do not drain the extra liquid they make.  I think I cook them down maybe ten minutes.

~  Stir in the stuffing mix/bread cubes until they've absorbed the mushrooms' excess liquid and taken on their color.  I have been using fewer stuffing cubes each time I make this, which is another reason I think of it more of as a mushroom side dish than a stuffing.  Play with the recipe however you like, obviously, adjusting all the amounts to focus more or less on bread or mushroom.

~  Add half the mushroom/stuffing mixture to a greased baking dish.

~  Cover this layer with some of the cheddar.

~  Repeat by adding another layer of mushrooms, then more cheddar.  (Regardless of how many layers you make/which size baking dish you use, cheddar should be the top layer.)  Pour the Half and Half over it all.  Sometimes I'll add an extra tablespoon of butter to the top, as well.  

~  Bake 20-30 minutes.  Even twenty minutes seems to do the trick.  

Ohhhhhh, this is so good.  I haven't managed yet to get an impressive-looking picture of the finished dish--stuffing rarely looks pretty, it seems--but every forkful is an incredible combination of bread, butter, cheese, and mushrooms.  'So good. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas Eve

'Two new-old Christmas pillowcases added to our bedding here tonight.  Chinese food takeout, homemade sugar cookies, and dear Emmet Otter are up next in this little apartment.  I wish you all a sweet and cozy holiday season. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday - unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour. ~ Sukhraj S. Dhillon

Well, today has been a relaxing day off.  Really relaxing.  Really off.  I slept in.  The first two Christmas cards came in today's mail, Mom's and Aunt Heidi's.  Mike had the day off too but went out to breakfast alone and then ran a few errands downtown, so I had most of six hours to myself.  I added the miniature pink gingham wreath to my little cottage planter, per somewhat new tradition.  I thought of one last little gift for my older brother and his family and ordered it with just enough time left for it to arrive by next weekend's early Christmas.  While watching The Shawshank Redemption, I touched up a few Christmas tree ornaments with some fresh paint, glue, and faux snow before rehanging them.  I made this year's batch of salt-dough ornaments while watching About a Boy, another of my favorite movies (and books).  (And let us pause here to admire the colorful holiday table-scene here:
Ah!  Love!  Every time I watch this--and it's become another Christmastime tradition for me--I remember that I want to look for a simple candelabra like that one, and then forget until the following Christmas.  Maybe 2018 will be Candelabra Year.)  I had made my last big bunch of salt-dough ornaments in 2011--
--but decorated the tree this year in just pink and white so wanted some pink candy canes and hearts instead of all these rainbow-hued ones.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand just now taken out of the oven and cooling a bit before I add them to the tree, then, is this afternoon's batch, along with a couple hearts formed from the last little scraps of dough.  (Salt-dough:  1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour-plus-more-mixed-in-as-needed. . .baked at 250°-ish for about four hours.  Katy Elliot's recipe--and are the snowflake ornaments in her post not the loveliest!--is the one I started with in 2011.  I usually need more flour than her recipe calls for, and I bake mine at a higher temp, but my recipe is otherwise her recipe--and a good one it is.)  Quite soon, then, the new candy canes and hearts will get hooked onto tree boughs and I'll loop some green thread or fishing line through the hearts to hang them and will declare the tree done. 
I'm off tomorrow too and am trying to talk Mike into a game of Trivial Pursuit.  No takers yet, but I got a "We'll see" upon last mention, at least.  'Am at some point re-hanging the gingham apron "curtain" that has a home over the air conditioner now that winter's here. 
I still have my cards to get ready to mail, despite Wednesday night's best intentions, but returning to my book sounds better than cards and envelopes.  Sometime this weekend, I'll take some Christmas tree pictures.  Ahhh, well, one picture for now, because I just added the salt-dough pieces and this is all making me very happy.
Sweet little tree.    After all the stress and chaos this week, this Christmas tree is actually my favorite one ever.  Go figure.  Thank you all for your kind words on the ol' balancing act.  Maybe everything just had to get worse here before I could figure out how to make it better. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Looking for Santa (and Some Smarter Ways)

How sweet is Stuffed, staring at the empty Christmas stocking!    Or maybe he's looking at his own.  :)  This feels like the latest I've ever put up the tree, but it likely just seems that way because so much feels so out of control lately.  Tonight, right after I hit "Publish" on this and pour myself another iced tea, will be a feverish night of Decorate-the-Tree-and-Get-All-the-Holiday-Cards Ready-to-Mail-in-the-Morning.  Because of my wacky work schedule, I usually go to bed around 2 am, but I'm determined to get all this done tonight even if it means I climb into bed later than that.  I just can't handle having More!  Big!  Things!  hanging over my head another day.  I am still (forever and always) behind on laundry.  I have to finish Christmas shopping:  My big family Christmas is next weekend, the 15th/16th, since that's when I can get home for it, so I have to get it all done this next week.  Shoot, I still have to wash tonight's supper dishes.  Double-shoot, for that matter, I still have to put away the leaf and snowflake cookie cutters and frosting bags I used making my desserts on Thanksgiving.  (Containers of sprinkles, cookie cutters, food coloring tubes, sugars, etc. all need to be rearranged and re-fit into little tins and jars for these to be put away properly, but in the time it's taken to write this sentence, I could have gotten it at least half-done.)  And make that a triple-shoot:  I still have to put together the two bookshelves I mentioned in OctoberThere are just So!  Many!  little tasks like that to be done, is the issue, and I'm always exhausted, and in order to accomplish anything besides all the usual everyday chores, I either have to go to bed too late or force myself to start my day too early, and that's not  sustainable for long.  (That my writing and walking--and of course, running--have fallen by the wayside lately is almost more distressing than all the rest of this combined.)  And there are bigger to-do items too, which take more energy and/or a real chunk of time carved-out, and so it all falls further apart.  There are in-person bank errands to run, and student loan nonsense to sort-out and deal with, a new photo to be taken for my driver's license. . . .The lists are all long ones.  This is the first Christmas that I think I would have happily skipped both putting up a tree and sending cards--it's all just so much extra work and feels like a hassle this year--but I don't want to ruin Christmas for Mike, and I know myself well enough to know that maybe I would feel even worse, and life would feel even more out of control, if I had to look back on December knowing I didn't manage the tree or cards.  Everything that had been stored in the corner where the newly-put-up tree is, is now scattered throughout our tiny one-bedroom apartment, and the clutter--or THE CLUTTER (CLUTTER CLUTTER CLUTTER), since I say that word in a booming echo like enraged Saruman bellowing into the snowstorm--

--is driving me crazy/even more crazy, especially since everything-that-had-been-in-the-current-tree-corner-and-that-is-now-scattered-all-over was only in the current tree-corner because I had to move it from the hall closet to the corner in May when I turned the hall closet into the spot for my work-wardrobe.  I still haven't found a new spot for any of these things--but doing so was/is ON MY LIST!  Bwah ha ha!--so the fact that everything's now been shuffled around AGAIN just makes me want to give up and live in a hotel awhile.  This one, please!  
Add a pitcher of flowers, my journal, pens, and a stack of books, and fill the mini-fridge with iced tea for me, and I'M THERE, I tell you.  I'M THERE.  I hate clutter.  I hate clutter.  I am here surrounded by it tonight, though, and I am signing off to attempt the nightly slaying of a little more of it.  I am off both Friday and Saturday, is what I am holding onto in this regard tonight, and I can spend them reading in my chair with Stuffed, content knowing my cards are already are their way to everyone while the tree lights and decorations charm me from across the (I swear, I swear, if I have to stay up ALL NIGHT TONIGHT) organized and tidy apartment.  That will make me feel better for December, but I need to figure out some new and better ways moving forward because the schedules and routines that worked for me the seven years I had my now-old job are clearly just not the right ones anymore.  Alas.


Oh, to have this cozy and tidy little home again!  Well, I had four days off every week with my old job, since all my hours were squashed into three loooong shifts before, so that made a huge difference.  And the hours themselves were quite different and allowed me to be home at times I could do noisy things like vacuuming, moving boxes and furniture around to reorganize things, clanking dishes together while washing them and putting them away, running up and down the three flights of stairs from our apartment to the basement to do laundry, etc. all without fear of waking Mike or any neighbors.  That made a difference too.  And I used to leave for work and return home from work at the same time every shift I worked, and I can no longer say that either.  Sometimes I get home from work at 6 pm now, but usually, it's 12:30 in the morning.  Other times, 11 pm.  Today's shift was supposed to have ended at 5:15 but saw me leaving at 6:05.  This is the job I had wanted for so long, though, and I am determined to make it work without letting everything else suffer.  I want some peace and organization and routine back.  I will get there again, I think, but it's going to take some real doing.  And realizing--really understanding now--that all the new jobs in my future will require that I figure out all new ways and routines to make them work too--has been eye-opening, indeed.  Ah, the constant adjustments and readjustments needed to make life run smoothly.  Onward and upward, and all that jazz, then, because I'm not climbing into bed every night of 2018 feeling like I just slid into home plate in a kick-up of dust (and to-do lists).