Sunday, March 30, 2014

My First 5K

Yesterday, the boy and I participated in our first 5K!

Ready to run!
I have wanted to participate in a 5K for a long time now. If you are are unfamiliar with term, a 5K is a 3.1 mile 'race' that is generally a fundraiser for a charity or event. This particular 5K was sponsored by Hodges Elementary School in Hodges, SC, and held in honor of a beloved teacher who had passed away from cancer.

While being part of a 5K run may not be a big deal to many people, it was a big deal for me. It was a first, a goal accomplished, a step towards being the runner I want to be. A way to prove to myself that I could do it. A step towards the marathon I want to run one day. P is a marathon runner, which I find very inspiring. I know how difficult it is, from supporting him through several. It is still, however, something I long to try. And while a 5K is nothing close to a marathon, well...

All done!
... it was very meaningful to me, because I spent the first two decades of my life being told by physicians that the asthma I was diagnosed with as a child would prevent me from ever being athletic. In school, I was not even allowed to participate in athletic programs of any kind. I longed to be a runner, but being told for years that you can not do something, well, it takes quite some time to undo the damage that does. Lucky for me, I never much liked listening to other people tell me what I can and can not do. In my early twenties, I weaned myself off the medication and learned to strengthen my lungs through once-forbidden exercise and participated in many sports activities.

It took me a while, however, to brave a 5K. Now, I'm so glad I did, and look forward to more. It gives me a goal to strive towards in baby steps...finishing a 5K, finishing it by running entire way, finishing one in a certain time, etc.

Post 5K apple was the best snack ever!
And being a marathon runner, well...it seems less and less impossible for me every day!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Time for Little Things

It's a typical Tuesday evening here. We're relaxing, and I'm waiting on a friend to stop by.

There is no rushing about. No place we need to be except for home. Work and school are done; this time is ours.

Homemade gingersnaps, my son's favorites!
My son plays outside with friends while I set out treats and make coffee. My friend arrives, and we chat at the kitchen table, the center of any Southern home. The kitchen has always been my favorite room of the house. While I love looking at images of big, fancy kitchens and imagining what I could cook there, I also love the coziness of my small one.

Making sweaters is only a mild addiction...
My friend has brought some knitting patterns to share. I'm excited, because today, in some old stored junk at work, I found some beautiful vintage buttons I will use on the sweater I'm currently making. They are nautical, featuring anchors, which I love.

Perfect...
And the sun sets, my friend says goodbye, and it's time to settle in for the evening. Quality time together with a new library book. I still love reading books to and with my son. I'm hoping he'll one day share my passion for them!

We often discuss the books we've read on the ride to school...
And Tuesday passes. And this is the stuff of life. Simple moments, time with friends, time with family. Warm cookies from the oven, good strong coffee on a windy March eve. The world revolving around the kitchen table, where decisions are made and stories are told and the universe seems to unfold, where food is shared and love is felt....and tiny armies wage battles for Middle Earth on Saturday mornings...


"I don't have time to make cookies," someone recently told to me. "I have a life. I don't have time for little things like that."

I'm so infinitely glad that my life allows time for little things...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

3 Simple Things...

I'm learning to use my new laptop, and it's not fun. I'm not a technology buff, and to prove that point, here is fact most people find quite amazing...this is the first computer I have purchased for myself since...eeek...1995, when, as a 20-something, I bought a desktop Dell behemoth on a payment plan in order to establish credit.

Soooo intimidating for a non-techi like me!
So, as I'm learning my way around this new device, I find myself fighting the urge to just pick up my work computer, which I've relied on for years, and roll with it. I'm not going to do that though. Instead, I'm gonna muddle through, learn to use this one, and share with you three exceedingly simple things that I have found help settle me when I'm stressed or annoyed by some task.

1. Make the bed. A made bed just tidies up the entire room instantly. This simple practice takes less than 5 minutes a day, and to me, just brings a sense of peace whenever I enter my room. Even if I am running late, I always make a point to make the bed.



2. Light a candle. This is one of the first things I do each morning, usually while the Keurig is brewing my first cup of coffee of the day. Scented or plain, there is something peaceful about a small, lit candle nearby. I prefer tea lights and votive holders myself, but larger pillar candles are nice, too.



3. Get outside. Even if it's cold. We Southerners tend to hermit ourselves unless the day is sunny and warm, but breaking that habit and getting outside for some time each and every day (even the cold and wet ones) has become an essential practice for me.


So there you have it, three simple things that are helping me keep my sanity as I become accustomed to my new computer. I'm proud to bring you this first post composed on my very own personal laptop!

Now, I step away and start baking that bread I never got around to making yesterday. Rosemary and sage. My kitchen is soon going to smell heavenly, and we'll have fresh homemade bread to enjoy with our spaghetti lunch later.

Simple things. Big joy. Happy Sunday, dear readers!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

First Day of Spring/Spring Equinox

March is not a Winter month here. The Spring Equinox roles in, sunny and warm. Somewhere between work and dinner and laundry, I make time to relax a bit, outside. Have coffee, and a snack.

Sunshine...
Then it was time for a walk. A long walk, as our first 5K is next weekend. I'm delighted my son chose to walk it with me, but today's walk wasn't about training. It was about being. Being in the moment, in every moment of this Thursday evening, Spring Equinox, 2014. 

Beautiful spring trees, brilliant blue sky...
I often tell people, when they complain about feeling stressed and overwhelmed, to take a walk. Get outside. Be in nature. I truly believe it is healing, and essential to our spirits.

Bright blooms...
Spring is such a symbolic time. Watching the earth come alive, being witness to the cycle of renewal...I find it very hard to be stressed or even grumpy on a day like today. My son helps me collect a bouquet, which is something of a tradition for us to do on long walks.

Holding a bouquet contribution and a found treasure he's carrying home to his woodland clubhouse.
We visit the secret pond, one of our favorite places. We watch for Redwing Blackbirds, but don't see any. We do see Canadian Geese passing overhead, and a Pileated woodpecker alerts us to his presence with a loud rat-a-tat-tat. We watch, and wait, and soon are rewarded with a brief sighting. My son tells me his favorite birds are blue jays, cardinals, and woodpeckers, and of course, hawks. I agree, as we walk, that they are all marvelous birds. I like egrets and herons. They remind me of the low country marshes we pass enroute to the beaches we love. 

The secret pond, where the Redwing Blackbirds will be again soon.
And then we are home, and there is laundry to go on the line, and other small evening routines. The day passes into night, but my feeling of calm and peace stays with me. 

This is time in nature. Healing. Precious. Necessary. Our bouquet goes into a heart-shaped vase on the kitchen table. The weekend is one day away. Movie night. Baking bread for the week. Working in the garden. Setting up my new laptop. A birthday party to attend. Long conversations Skyping with P. Love. Laughter. Dreaming. Being. 

Our bouquet!
It is spring. We are renewed. I leave you with some eye candy, beautiful colors of what is to come...

Happy Spring Equinox!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In Praise of Hand-knit Socks!

The weekend. A trip to the city on Saturday, with the boy and my mother, which included a stop by a newly opened yarn shop!!

A bag of happiness!!!
Follow that up with a cold, rainy Sunday, a Lord of the Rings movie marathon, and a pattern I've been just itching to try out. Add a cup of coffee and a little piece of chocolate (maybe two) and you have one very happy me!

There is such an excitement to casting those first stitches on...

I can't say enough about hand-knit socks. They are like pampering the feet. Even my son treasures his, and was delighted to receive a new pair at Christmas.

Christmas socks!!!

Because we don't wear shoes in our home, warm socks are staples on cold winter days, or chilly dreary mid-March afternoons! Knitting socks can be intimidating, but like anything else, with time and practice, they are quite simple to master. This was my first patterned sock, and it was exciting to see it develop.

Heel and instep!

Pattern becoming visitble...
Almost there!!
I absolutely love this sock!

I love the way the sock came out, and have started on the second. These socks are soft and airy, and will be perfect in summer when traveling and/or having some new adventure requires that I wear sneakers! I can't wait to make the second pair, and have already had requests from others to make a pair for them as well! 

So, if you have been shying away from socks, I encourage you to try this pattern. It is simple, quick, and the sock develops easily with a variation of knit and purl techniques - nothing tricky! To find the pattern, look for me on Ravelry.com under Zenmamaknits. Take a peek in my projects folder, and you'll find the link there!

Happy knitting!! 

Psst...if you are in the Upstate SC area like me, that new yarn shop is Yarn and Ya'll, located at 600 Laurens Road, Suite B! www.yarnandyall.com

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Making Karelian Pies

Last weekend's adventure? Making Karelian pies!

Karelian pies with garlic and herb cheese spread!

Unless you are Finnish, or have been to Finland, you've likely never heard of Karelian pies, just like most folks who are not from the South have no idea what a Cat's Head biscuit is. I'm Southern, and here, food is life. It is culture as much as language is culture. I love to cook, so of course it stands to reason I would attempt some of the regional foods from P's world. And while I can make a mean Finnish-style berry pie in a matter of minutes, (thank you Essi for that lesson!) Karelian pies turned out to be quite a different experience!

First of all, a Karelian pie is a rice-filled pastry that is commonly served as a breakfast food in Finland, also at parties, large gatherings. P told me of times spent with family making the pies for a wedding, hundreds of them, and how it was an all day process. I couldn't wait to get started, though. Karelian pies are unique to Finland, and I was excited to give it a try. First, the recipe, which I found on a wonderful blog, www.saimaalife.com. (I'll post the direct link at the end of this writing.) Next, the ingredients, which I had to improvise a little. Authentic Karelian pies call for rye flour, which was impossible to find here in the sticks. So I used regular instead. Short grain rice was also not the easiest thing to locate. This required me to venture into Walmart, which, if you know me well, you'll know how much I enjoyed...not. Still, I had the main things I needed now, and could begin!

Getting ready...
First was making the rice porridge. Cooking the short grain rice in milk seemed to take forever. I used a favorite cooking pot, which belonged to my mother for years before she passed it on to me.

I think the pot is as old as I am...
Finally, an hour or so later, it is done!
Next, the dough. Making it, then separating it into 20 small pieces, and rolling those as flat as possible...it was a timely process for just one person (the boy bailed on me when his neighborhood buddies asked him to come outside and play.)

Flat as a fritter, as we say in the South!

Then, spreading the porridge filling into the dough...at first I thought I had way too much porridge, then I feared I would not have enough. However, it was the perfect amount!

Rice filling on dough...
Then, pinching up the edges of the dough around the filling. I'm sure I did not do this nearly so elegantly as a Finnish cook would...but it was my first time, and I don't think it was half bad! Then they went into the oven!

Ready to cook!
After 10-15 minutes, I brushed them with a butter and water mixture to soften, then covered with clean kitchen towel to cool.

All done!!!
I began these around 4pm, and the last batch came from the oven a few minutes before 7pm, when my guests were set to arrive. Talk about timing! They were served up still warm, with an herb and garlic cheese spread that complimented the pastries perfectly. It was not the traditional boiled egg spread that they are customarily served with, but I had them with all kinds of toppings while I was in Finland, and you can't go wrong with cheese! My guests found them tasty, and one took a few pies home to share with family!

I had enough left over to breakfast upon for the next few days, which was nice! Also to share with my family, as the recipe made 20. Karelian pies are quite filling, and not unhealthy, especially if you can find the rye flour to make them with.

Here is the recipe I followed, very simply written, with wonderful photos to guide you along. In addition, this blog is fantastic and I encourage my readers to explore her other posts as well:
http://www.saimaalife.com/a-recipe-karelian-pies/

And now, off to prepare for this weekend's pleasures. A day in the city with the boy, and my mother is going with us, which due to her handicaps, is a very rare occurrence! Lunch at our favorite cafe, visiting a new yarn shop, a sunny day for the drive and time together with family...good stuff. Hope your Saturday is full of love and sunshine!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beverly's Bracelets...Treasuring the Handmade

I get very excited when people do brave new things. And I'm excited to share with my readers a brave new thing my friend Beverly is doing.

Creating jewelry. Handmade, beautiful items, with an artisan's attention to detail and a diva's eye for style.

This blue and gold is just exquisite...
I host a bi-monthly knitting group at my home, which ends up being more of a show-and-tell, socialize, and nibble-on-all-kinds-of-goodies group than a knitting group, and this was no exception. While I served the Karelian Pies (post on that culinary adventure to come!) Beverly displayed her creations...

Turquoise discs and mother of pearl...

The button clasps are eye-catching and fun!
I am always excited when someone creates something beautiful from their imagination. Beverly has taught herself to make these bracelets, which inspired her to join the Greenwood Artists Guild.She now has many items in stock in the Artists Guild Co-op Store, which is located in the Federal Building at 120 Main Street, Uptown Greenwood, SC. However, she is happy to ship items anywhere in the US and abroad!

Turquoise, black, and white - you can't go wrong with that combo!
Wrap bracelets compliment any wardrobe and style...

...and look great paired with other jewelry pieces!

And so, we delighted in trying on the bracelets and enjoying handmade, one-of-a-kind items. Beverly's creations are very fairly priced, ranging from $10 to $25, and take on average of one - three hours to create. She also takes commissions for particular colors, styles, etc.

They look fantastic layered! 
I had to have the blue and gold one...blue is currently my go-to color, and gold just makes me happy!

My blue and gold Beverly Hill original!
Of course, I just had to give Beverly this shout out in my blog, to share her beautiful work with my readers, because she is the person who taught me how to knit, which led me to look at the handmade in a whole new light. As an artist, I often found myself surrounded by people who placed 'collector' value on handmade items..i.e., what one might sell for in a gallery, or what it would be worth twenty years from today. Knitting taught me to value the handmade for reasons that have nothing to do with money. It taught me to create for the soul purpose of enriching my life, and the simple joy of creating...and I've never looked back.

To see more of Beverly's work, purchase one of the items above, or commission a special piece for yourself, you can visit the Artists Guild Co-op Shop at 120 Main Street, Greenwood, SC or send Beverly a message at beverly.sewgirl.hill@gmail.com.

My new bracelet's going to match my H√∂yhenenkevyt sweater perfectly! :-)


Friday, March 7, 2014

The Adventure Principle

It's Springtime in Charlotte! 

I'd never been to Charlotte, NC, until I picked P up from the airport in December. The day before he left, we had a night out there, and it was wonderful. This weekend I returned with the boy for a much needed mini-break, and to enjoy a bit of the adventure principle.

Just a pop of color is sometimes just enough...
We headed up right after work on Friday afternoon, thrilled at the prospect of checking into the hotel and finding a place to have dinner.  A main purpose for the trip was to nurture my son's curiosity about the Revolutionary war with a visit to Cowpens Battlefield, so we stayed in Gaffney, just a short drive from Charlotte and a hop, skip, and jump from the battlefield. We spent all of Saturday in Charlotte, taking in the sights of spring. And visiting Amelies French Bakery. And Yarn House Knits, which to my delight, are pretty much side by side in Charlotte's  wonderfully eclectic and historic NoDa district. 

Along the streets towards NoDa...
But first, Amelies. I have to thank a friend for turning me onto this place, and I find it very well worth mentioning to my readers, as it was a primary motivation for choosing Charlotte as our getaway destination. 

Have I mention before, in previous blogs, my love of coffee? And desserts? Nothing makes me happier on a Saturday afternoon than to have a cup of coffee brewing and some delectable delight baking in the oven. I consider the Southern Caramel cake I made for Thanksgiving to be one of my greatest creative accomplishments, if only for the icing, which was far more complicated than making the cake itself. But these are the things life is made of. These simple, little things are our happiness...and sometimes, our greatest accomplishments, depending on our goals. 

Now back to Amelies.... I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...

Places like this, you can have a great chat with friends over coffee...or you can read and write and dream and learn that solitude is an entirely different thing from loneliness.
As if choosing the coffee wasn't hard enough...
We finally decided on a berry torte for me, and a cinnamon stick for the boy! We brought a box of assorted goodies to take to the family, to share the goodness! 
Next stop Yarn House knits, just a couple of doors down. I have to tell you, there is nothing so grand to a knitter as an independent yarn shop. And since there are no such yarn shops within an hour's drive of where I live, this is a rare treat. My second reason for visiting Charlotte...

This is just the back wall...
This is for The Hoyhenenkevyt (light as a feather) sweater!
And for the $5 in Paris Sweater, a soft grey and purple...
Then it was the boy's turn, which was well deserved, considering he's spent more than an hour patiently waiting for me to peruse the goods, then have seven skeins of yarn swifted! So we headed across town to The Discovery Place, a delightful science center and museum for children and adults alike, our third reason for the trip.

I'd made sure to pack my walking shoes, which was a good move. The place is huge!
There was so much to do, I could barely list it all. There were animals, science experiment stations, all kinds of physical activities and opportunities for children to enjoy technology. The boy's absolute favorite was the animation station, where he arranged little characters and took still pictures, which the computer strung together into a short animated film!

The boy at the animation station!
It's not about the souvenirs, it's about the time together, the adventure. We rarely return from a trip with more baggage than we took with us; we like to keep it simple. However, I had one of these as a kid, and absolutely loved it! I was secretly delighted that he wanted it!

Old School DS :-)
What a busy day!
Dusk is falling and an hour drive ahead...Goodbye, Queen City...for now.
Sunday, Cowpens Battlefield awaited. A picnic lunch,  exploring the grounds, hearing tales from volunteer rangers as passionate about Colonial history as the boy is...it was wonderful. And we could not have asked for a sunnier March day.

Standing in the footprints of a Patriot. The boy was thrilled!
And spring, blossoming through, in unexpected places....you can miss so much if you hurry. We had no agenda but our own. We didn't hurry.


Then, home. The boy playing with friends while the sun set. Me putting away clothes, preparing for the week of work and school ahead. Both of us excited. Happy. Smiling. Even the briefest of trips can serve to renew the soul.Nothing needs to be grand to be valid.

I find my soul tends to need renewing as the seasons renew. I'd never considered the Charlotte area as a vacation destination until P and I spent an evening there. Joy, bursting through, in unexpected places. We've decided that adventures are our extracurricular activities for now. And we pursue them, big and small, with a vengeance.We call this The Adventure Principle. Packing the car and heading out on the road always feels like a big adventure, but a nature walk or reading a good book can also renew the spirit.

This weekend's adventure? Making Karelian Pies, a Finnish salty bread with rice, from scratch for my knitting group. I can't wait. Adventures do not only make life more fun and interesting, they are also like a little infusion of joy into a day. I plan to master these, which should be easy now that I've finally cracked the code of how many cups constitute a dl (desiliter). And now I've got to get up and get going, because P informs me Karelian Pies can sometimes be an all day process.

Look for kitchen tales and a link to the recipe soon! Until then....

My latest sweater adventure,  The Hoyhenenkevyt, (pattern by Milja Laine). I'm in knitting heaven with these Berrocco yarns from Yarn House Knits! Check me out on Ravelry.com under Zenmamaknits 
for current projects and patterns. 

Lovely Links:
http://www.ameliesfrenchbakery.com/
http://www.yarnhouseknits.com/
http://www.discoveryplace.org/