Tuesday, 28 December 2010

New Sweater!

I had the pleasure of test-knitting a sweater pattern for Becky, a very talented knitter and designer whose blog I've followed for the last couple years.  A couple months ago she said she was looking for test knitters for a new design and I thought, hey, I've been wanting to knit another full-sized sweater!  So I volunteered.
This is the fastest, easiest sweater pattern I've ever made!  It took less than 5 days knitting to make up - I never thought I'd make an adult sweater in under a week.  The pattern knit up with no difficulty; it was very easy to follow.

I used KnitPicks' natural, undyed Wool of the Andes worsted weight yarn, dyed to two different shades of blue using Rit dyes, with the contrast left undyed.  It was my first foray into dyes other than Kool-Aid, and went pretty well!  The yarn is slightly thinner than the heavy worsted suggested in the pattern; I went up a size to #10 needles, which produced a slightly looser, more drapey fabric than the heavy worsted would, but keeps its structure well.  I would say if you like a firmer, stiffer fabric, stick with the heavy worsted, but this worked well for my preferences.  It knit to the correct gauge on the size 10 needles, and blocked out to the right size.  (It's also budget-friendly!  The whole sweater took only 5 hanks for the main colour and one each for the two contrast colours.  I dyed 6 of the light blue and had nearly two whole ones left over, plus plenty of the dark blue and the white - so my dad's getting a scarf out of the remainder.)
This sweater is designed for men so there's no shaping to speak of.  I made the 40" chest size; it has enough ease that had I wanted a snugger fit I should've done the 36" size for my brother (whose chest measures 37") - but I like this loose, relaxed fit so this was perfect.
And oh, btw - it fits me, too :)  In fact I liked it so much I don't think I'm going to let David have it, after all!  The fit is flattering on a woman, too - relaxed and oversized without being hugely bulky.
My only note on the pattern would be the sleeve length: I knit the sleeves to the measurements given and they still ended up quite long on both me and my brother - and we both have longer than usual arms.  So those with shorter arms might want to take off an inch or so.  I happen to love really long sleeves, so the fact that these come down over my knuckles delights me, but they ARE long.
(This is just documenting the models switching off!  I wore David's boots because they look nicer than my monster boots, and we had to swap sweaters, but neither of us bothered stepping inside to do it!)
Oh, and we had a snowball fight, too.  Normal.

To sum up: this is a really nice pattern!  QUICK to knit, very simple, but just enough colour work that it's not mind-numbingly boring; I enjoyed making this.  And there are only two short seams, which suits me just fine; I hate sewing in a knitting project!  The fit is nice, and both of my picky brothers approved of the design :D  Two thumbs up from me!

Saturday, 25 December 2010


Advent wreath with the Christ candle lighted!
Happy Christmas, everyone!  May you all have a blessed day with family and friends, full of peace and joy!  I'll post about our Christmas later, but for today, here is the text of one of my favourite hymns of the season.

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heav'nward by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
(Frank Houghton)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sunset on the Lake

Sometimes I'm convinced I live in the most beautiful spot on earth.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Perfect Tree

Most winters my family travels at Christmas, so we rarely have the chance to decorate a "real" tree.  Our artificial one is nice but certainly nothing like a living, scented pine tree!  This year though we're only going out of town for a few days, after Christmas itself, so we were able to have a live tree.
I haven't hunted Christmas trees since I was, oh, about twelve?  This was so much fun.  Snow covered the tree farm, probably six inches deep on the ground, and more drifted down as we hunted.  This being our family, of course, we had to look at every kind of pine and fir they had - very nearly at every tree.  All five of us had a mental image of the "perfect" tree, and while we agree on some things - it must be as tall as possible, straight, and fairly symmetrical - there were differences of opinion on colour, needle length, fat vs. skinny, and endless other things.  We wandered for at least an hour, while my poor dad got more and more frozen (poor circulation) and the owners of the farm probably thought we were crazy.
But we found it at last!  The tree is about 7.5 feet tall in its stand, a beautiful shape, fat and full and luxurious, but still with that distinctive cone shape that a Christmas tree ought to have.  I've rarely seen such a beauty!
The cats think it's fascinating.  They love to sit under it, and they were in the way the whole time we were setting it up.
David, Katie and I carried it up to the van, singing Chopin's "Funeral March" at the top of our lungs because for some reason the scene suggested to us a funeral procession.  Our minds work in strange ways sometimes.  (Oh, and yes.  I did in fact wear a long dress to go tramp around in six inches of snow and acres of Christmas trees.  It's one of my Regency gowns from the S&S pattern, layered with a petticoat, and it was perfectly practical!)
Now our beautiful tree is standing in the middle of the living room, sparkling with lights, festooned with strings of "cranberry" beads, and hung with all our old beloved ornaments.  It is so lovely, I sometimes wish we could keep it up always - but it would probably lose its wonder and delight and become commonplace, so perhaps it is better this way.  I keep having the words of a song I sang with my choir at school this year running through my head... "There is a flower sprung of a tree; the root thereof is called Jesse...."  And of course this - that flower sprung of the tree of Jesse - is the real reason for our lovely tree.  Somehow that makes it even more lovely.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


I know it's not technically winter yet - not by the calender anyway - but the weather certainly has been wintery in the last week or so!  Even in Tennessee at school we've had wind chills in the single digits, and on Sunday even snow flurries.  This was perfect - my church had our Christmas cantata this week and it was so delightful to be singing the Christmas message as snow swirled outside the windows.

But it was COLD, so my roommate and I went home and made a fire.  It wasn't terribly successful and it didn't last long, but it was beautiful while it lasted.
I am endlessly fascinated by fire.  The colours in it - not only orange and yellow, but the blues and reds, even purple, which appear in the hottest parts of the fire.  The way the flames jump and flicker.  The incredible heat which just a few logs put out.
Finals ended this past Wednesday for me, but I didn't get a break; I had a ball gown to make!  A friend of mine from college is dating a boy who does Civil War reenacting, and this year she was to go with him to their Christmas Ball.  She asked me to make her a dress for the event and of course I said yes.  I've not had much experience at all with this time period but it's one that fascinates me.  She wasn't looking for complete period accuracy, just a general impression, and she didn't want to fuss with a corset and all the underpinnings.  So we went with Simplicity 2881, and a forest-green taffeta with cream-coloured cotton lace for trim.  We bought the pattern and fabric several months ago and I did a preliminary fitting of the bodice last month, but I didn't have a chance to finish the gown until this past week.  Which ended up meaning that I pulled an all-nighter to finish it.  But finish it I did!
I didn't manage to get a good photo of her in the dress before she had to leave, but I hope to get some better eventually.  In the mean time, here is the dress reclining in my armchair on its hanger.  (The pink ribbons are the ties of the hoop petticoat I borrowed from the theatre's costume shop for her to wear with her gown!)  We left off the skirt decorations from the pattern.  I also learned how to gauge a skirt!  It's so exciting to see a 60" width of fabric magically pull up into a 4" piece of waistband :)  But oh, it takes a long time to stitch down!
I thought at first that the sleeves would be too fussy, but I ended up really liking them.  This wide lace trimmed the sleeves and the neckline, and the narrow lace edged the bodice trim.
This is probably my favourite part of the dress - I love that deep point in the front of the bodice, the way the lace comes together in the front, and the double piping at the edge.  The buttons are shell; I had them in my stash and put them on at the last minute, but I think they really pulled it all together.

On the whole I really liked this pattern, although I am still bemused by the cover image.  Those of you who know more about this era, correct me if I'm wrong, but would not these short, puffed sleeves and the trim given in this pattern be acceptable only for an evening or dress gown?  Why then would they show it in what looks like a cotton fabric?  The print just seems so everyday to me, and combined with the skirt decorations and all the lace and beaded trim, it just seems wrong.  But I liked the pattern made up as a ball gown!

This week I'm home again for a little while for Christmas break.  I've got lots of knitting and sewing projects planned - I'm hoping to make a 19-teens corset, for one thing! - and I'm test-knitting a sweater pattern, so I'll be busy.  But there's snow outside, warm cuddly cats inside, and the prospect of cookie baking and an expedition to find our Christmas tree this weekend!  It's going to be a good break.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Grad school and a Question Meme

Does it ever happen to some of you that you're working on a major project, and you're convinced you are completely organized and on schedule, and completely on top of things?  And then it comes down to the deadline and you realise you've missed something major?

Yeah.  That happened to me with grad school applications.  I started the online application part back in October, over fall break.  I asked professors if they'd be willing to write recommendation letters.  I put together my repertoire for audition CDs.  I even got my recordings done.

And then it got to Monday and I realised that, while I had asked all my professors, I hadn't actually given them the forms and instructions for the recommendations.  And oh, by the way, the deadline is NEXT Wednesday, not the one after that.  And oh yeah, Thanksgiving is this weekend and no one will be working.

I sort of panicked.  No, I completely panicked.  I also had my first major emotional meltdown of the semester (which is much better than some other semesters, but still, I was hoping to avoid it altogether!)  But I scrambled and I sent people forms, and I've done the best I can now.  Some of them may be late even so, but there's nothing I can do about that at this point, so I'm trying not to obsess over it or worry.  I planned badly, and maybe my foolishness will have unfortunate repercussions.  But it's in God's hands now.  I hope the lateness of these letters won't adversely affect my acceptance to the programs to which I've applied... but even if it does, I guess there's a lesson to be learned from that, too.  And hopefully the admissions people will look with grace on me.

And now, as a break from the seriousness of all that (and because I'm avoiding writing "personal statements": how is one supposed to explain, in 500 words or fewer, that one would be a good candidate for the master's program, and should be not only admitted but given lots of money?  I'm not good at writing about myself; I hate sounding boastful, but I can't think of any way to write this sort of thing without sounding conceited.) -- anyway, as a break from that, here's a "meme" from Jenny to help me procrastinate.  I hope you'll all join in :-)

1. What's your favorite Christmas song or hymn, and why?
My goodness.  I love too many to have a single favourite, but I do love "Of the Father's Love Begotten".

2. Which book heroine do you think is most like you?

Hmmm.  I'd like to think I'm like Harry in Robin McKinley's "The Blue Sword" - certainly we are alike in our towering height and our clumsiness! 

3. What's for Christmas dinner -- turkey, ham, pasta, or something else entirely?

When we are home, our traditional Christmas dinner is roast beef and Yorkshire puddings - with plenty of gravy, please!  However, these days we're often away, and so it usually ends up being ham.

4. What's one piece of parenting advice you wish you had BEFORE the baby was born? If you're not a parent yet, what part of parenting are you most curious about?

Well, I'm certainly not a parent, but even from babysitting I think the hardest part is discipline.  It's so difficult to punish a child, even when he richly deserves it!  How do you parents deal with this?

5. What is your guilty-pleasure food?

Oh, chocolate, definitely - and Hot-n-Spicy Cheese-its.  I could eat an entire box of those!

6. Santa: Yes or No?

No.  We hang stockings, but we kids have always known that Mummy and Daddy filled them, and we never put out cookies for him or anything.  I do like the stories of the original Saint Nicholas, though!

7. What is your most favorite part of the holiday season?

I assume we're talking Christmas holidays here... for me, I love Advent almost more than Christmas day itself.  I love the feeling of anticipation; the gradual addition of more decorations, the holiday baking, the rooms and drawers that no one may look in because they hold treasured surprises.  The nightly Advent readings, telling the Christmas story from creation to its fulfillment.  The weekly lighting of the Advent candles.  I always have a feeling of peace - anticipation, yes, but mostly of a contentment, a fullness, that I rarely sense any other time of the year.  That's definitely my favourite part!

Friday, 5 November 2010


I've been away again for a little while, and here's why:

All the choirs here have a uniform: the men in tuxedos, the women in black dresses and pearls.  I've always done a few alterations or hems, here and there, but this year apparently the music secretary started recommending me to the freshmen, so I had several requests for dress alterations.  I'm always happy to do it; it doesn't take me a lot of time, I can charge a modest fee which provides pocket money or (this year) spending money for choir tour to Italy, and it's so much less than a "professional" alterations shop would charge that the girls are always happy.

I also make the pearl necklaces.  This started back in my sophomore year when I had a jewelry business with two friends.  They have since moved on and we no longer have the business, but I still make the pearls.  This year, we needed 35... and my supplies didn't come in until last Friday afternoon, with the concert last night, and a major voice competition happening on the Saturday in between.

I have spent a LOT of time stringing pearl beads this week.  The upside is that it gave me a good excuse to watch a lot of movies; one can't read, write, or practise music whilst beading, and I had to keep my mind occupied some way.  The downside is that I got very little sleep and have neglected my class reading and study.  But I got all the pearls done in time.

And as a bonus, here's a selection from the concert!  This is Voices of Proclamation, the smallest, most select choir at Union.  The piece is called "The Pearl", which was arranged for us (and specifically for the soloist, Courtney Moore) by our choral director and head of the music department, Dr Chris Mathews.  There are so many parts going on that it's often one voice to a part - so the highest soprano part is me, mostly, all the way through the piece :-)  Oh, and isn't Courtney amazing?

(At the moment I can't figure out how to embed a video, so here is the youtube link:  The Pearl - Proclamation )

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Apple Butter

It's a beautiful afternoon!  And by beautiful I mean mid-seventies, still, grey, and rainy.  Thunder rumbles far off in the distance and I've seen the occasional faint flash of lightning.  I'm holding out hope for an honest-to-goodness thunderstorm; autumn storms are a delight to my heart.  I love how even when the sky is clouded over, the trees stand out bright and cheerful in their changing colours.  Some people may deplore the rain, but I love it!

I've spent the afternoon studying for a psychology test.  I think I might find this class interesting if I had a better teacher: as it is, the class is boring, and most of the material seems to be either just giving names to common-sense ideas, or complete nonsense.  Needless to say I don't find it very inspiring.  So I took a study break and hung some posters in my bedroom!  It's always been homey but now it looks... settled.  I'm happy with it :)

In honour of the autumnal weather, I thought I'd post my recipe (such as it is) for apple butter.  I made this this summer - our apples come in really early - but it's about the right time for fall apples now and I think a pot of sauce slowly simmering down into butter would be the perfect accompaniment to this rainy day!

Apple Butter

Wash and quarter tart apples. If you have a food mill, don't bother peeling or removing skins - if you don't have one, go ahead and do that. Cook in water (or apple cider, or a mixture - this heightens the apple flavour!) until soft and disintegrating. The amount of liquid sort of depends on your apples - always put in at least enough to keep them from sticking/burning; I usually fill the pot until the liquid shows under the top layer of apples.  I have any cider but I think it would have been even better with it.
When the apples are soft enough, put them through a food mill, or if you're skipping that step, just cook the fruit until it is falling apart and apple-sauce consistency. Then put the apple into a heavy pan - I used our 8-quart enameled cast-iron casserole dish, which was perfect for the huge batch I was making. Season the sauce: a little sugar (to taste - don't overdo it!), cinnamon, nutmeg, a tiny bit of clove, maybe some allspice. Some recipes say a splash of lemon juice - I think I did this in one batch but not in another. And you can always adjust and put in more of something, so again, don't overdo it.
Then put this pot on the stove over low heat, with a heat diffuser if you've got one, and just cook it down until it's lost some moisture and is the consistency you like. It will get gradually darker and thicker. I cooked all my batches at least 24 hours - on the lowest heat with a diffuser on my gas stove. I honestly can't remember if I left it on overnight or turned off the flame while I was asleep - may have done both, with different batches. Somewhere between the halfway cooking point and the point at which your butter is almost ready, run it through a blender - this smoothes out the texture and makes it less grainy. (I tried blending it before the long cooking stage, but it didn't work as well and I had to go back and repeat later, so it's definitely not worth it!) Taste at intervals and adjust sweetening/seasoning if necessary - and STIR. A lot. I would guess at least every 10-20 minutes it needs to be stirred, thoroughly and making sure you get the bottom, because this does tend to stick/burn if you don't watch it.

This is about 1/2 way through the cooking-down process.

Then you just put it into canning jars, freeze, or keep for immediate use!

My grandfather used to always keep us supplied with Pennsylvania Dutch apple butter, which was WONDERFUL - so dark it's almost black, really thick, and such a full flavour - but we don't see him very often and the family eats huge quantities of it, so I thought I'd try making it. It's not quite the same but it's a fairly acceptable substitute - and my picky brothers, who are apple butter connoisseurs, gave it a thumbs-up :-)

(I apologise for the weird font sizes and formatting on this post - I can NOT get it to cooperate!)

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Fried Chicken

My roommate and I tried a new dish for both of us tonight - fried chicken!  It was actually surprisingly easy, and it turned out SO well.  We used the recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, although we used chicken tenders instead of a cut-up fryer.  We also sort of missed the step about soaking the chicken in buttermilk overnight, but it worked just fine with only a half-hour soak.  The breading is delightful and it really wasn't a very greasy finished product.  Yum!

This is the rest of our meal.  We made oven fries (new potatoes, quartered, sprinkled with Italian seasoning and parmesan cheese, drizzled with olive oil, and baked brown), asparagus, and fruit salad.  It was utterly delicious.  And quick - less than an hour and a half from the beginning of cooking till the time we sat down.  I love how we've been able to eat so well this year, but at such a low cost - much less expensive than eating in the school cafeteria or dining out all the time!  And we get the benefit of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and no preservatives.  I like it :-)

Friday, 22 October 2010


I went to Hobby Lobby today for some jewelry supplies (I make the "pearl" necklaces for all the girls in the choirs here at school, and it's coming up on time for a new batch.)  But of course, since this is me, I had to go and look at the yarn and fabric before I left.  I wasn't going to buy... just to look.


I should know by now that if I don't intend to buy, I should. Not. Look.  I came away from Hobby Lobby with my jewelry hardware... and eleven balls of yarn.  Eeep.

I justify this purchase to myself by saying, well it was wool.  It was $1.90 a skein.  How often are you going to find a nice, soft, dove-grey wool in that quantity for that price?  It really is a fabulous price.  I'm going to make myself a sweater, I think - and I promised the friend who was with me that I'd make her mittens with red accents.

Still, though.  I've been trying to stay away from impulse buys, since my budget is tight and I'm trying to learn to even have a budget.... so this wasn't the best idea, probably... and I need to keep a better check on my impulses.

But I'm keeping the yarn :-)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Odds and Ends

I've been quiet for a long time again - almost a month.  Mainly I've been trying to keep up with school and performances, but I've also been working on graduate school applications.  It's hard to believe it's time to do that already!  Sometimes it feels like I just started college, and here I am almost ready to graduate.  It's weird.

I also took three CLEP tests this month - English Literature, Western Civilization II, and Biology.  Since I added my English minor so late I had to clep some core classes to fit everything in on time, but I'm actually really glad I did this.  It took very little time and much less money than taking the courses at Union would have.  I got 10 hours of credit with probably only about 10 hours of study time, and the cost was a fraction of what I would have paid.  And now I can tell people that I'm getting 28 hours of credit in one semester! ;-P

I've also been cooking, and slogging away (slowly) on my quilt, and I made a pair of socks.  They're finished except for grafting the toes, but they're a gift, so I won't post pictures until after Christmas :-)  Now I'm working on another pair of socks, and a beaded lace shawl which is going to be gorgeous, if I can avoid shooting myself  before I finish it.  Placing tiny seed beads with a 0.5 mm crochet hook is NOT the most fun activity in the world!

Oh.  If anyone can tell me if it's possible to keep up with the laundry and the dishes, I'd appreciate it!  My roommate and I are so busy with school that the apartment gets - and stays - cluttered.  I don't like it, but the best I seem to be able to do is a cleaning spree every three weeks or so.  It's depressing.  On the up side, the weather is beautiful now.  If only it would rain - we need it.  But I'm loving the temperatures!  Never above mid-seventies, and the nights are down in the forties now.  This is my kind of weather!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Happiness, and God in the Details

Happiness is having a safe, secure, affordable place to live.

Happiness is fresh baked bread... delicious soup... experimental (and misshapen!) bagels.

Happiness is a roommate who puts up with you, even when you're making disgusting sounds because you have a sinus infection.

Happiness is the glorious weather that comes after a break in the summer heat.

Happiness is sitting in a comfortable armchair, surrounded by books and music, with a cool breeze from the window that occasionally blows your papers all over the room.

Happiness is meeting new people with whom, after spending only three hours in their company, you feel comfortable, relaxed, and welcomed, and with whom you have laughed inordinately for the entire time.

Happiness is waking up early to go to the farmers' market.

Happiness is the straw hat full of new potatoes, yellow squash, and green tomatoes that's sitting on your counter because you didn't have a basket to put them in!

It's already been a long semester and I know I've complained a lot.  But isn't it more fun to go through life being positive?  Optimistic?  Cheerful?  I could complain about the wind that throws my papers into disarray... moan about the sinus infection... feel poor and underprivileged because I can't afford to buy a cute basket to put my fresh produce in.  But it's so much more fulfilling - and interesting! - to think about the fact that the hot summer wind has given way to the fresh breeze of autumn... to appreciate and love on a roommate who's sweet enough to make dinner when you feel miserable... to improvise and put your produce in a hat.  

They say that "God is in the details" - and he is.  Every little feather on the wren outside my window was individually designed and made by him.  Talk about details!  But I think he's also in the details of how you live your life - how you react to situations.  Moaning and complaining, feeling ill-used, is not showing God in our details.  And I think this is something we often forget - that we can announce that we're Christians, and go to church, and wave our Bibles around, all we want; but if we don't live in a way that's different from the world, no one will believe us.  No one will look at us and say "I like the way he lives.  I like the way he reacts to difficult situations.  What is it that makes him different?"  

I'm not trying to say I'm in anyway a model of perfection in this area.  I most certainly am NOT.  I whine and complain about little petty things as much as the next girl.  But I know people who are consistently cheerful, patient, and God-honouring, even in the face of truly horrifically bad times in their lives.  I admire them, and I want to be like them.  I also know people who, while claiming to be Christians, act as though the world revolves around them; who seem to think that any minor setback is a personal affront and a cause for a loud and public airing of grievances.  I shudder to think that anyone would view me in this light!  So I've made - not a resolution, exactly, but at least a conscious effort - to look for the good - and for God - in difficult situations, or times when I'm tempted to be grouchy because things aren't going my way.

I hope it makes me more pleasant to be around.  I know it keeps me sane!  And I pray, above all, that people would begin to see God in the details of my life.


(This was originally going to be just a list of "happys".  But then I thought about this application and got sidetracked!  So it's another long post.)

Saturday, 18 September 2010


There are two events in the music department that I've been looking forward to all semester.  One is the NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singer) vocal competition.  The other is the performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony, for which we're collaborating with the local symphony orchestra and several university choirs.

These events take place on the same day.

This wasn't supposed to be a conflict; NATS has two rounds, the initial and then the finals, which take place in the morning and throughout the afternoon; the concert is not until 8 PM.  No problem, right?

Well.  Apparently the dress rehearsal for this concert is Saturday afternoon at 4.  Which is the approximate time of the final round of NATS.  Which I certainly hope to be performing in, since it's from the contestants in the finals round that they choose the winners.  The problem is, the director of the symphony orchestra has decided that any singers who miss the dress rehearsal - for whatever reason, including the competition - cannot sing in the concert.  Period.  No exceptions.  My choir director has tried to change his mind - the directors of the other choirs likewise.  But it's made no difference.

I realise it's his orchestra, his dress rehearsal, but still this decision makes very little sense to me for several reasons.  Firstly, he's excluding from his performance all the best voices, most talented singers, and most dedicated musicians, since these are the ones who generally make it to the finals in competitions.  Secondly, these singers - dedicated, talented - are the ones who are most likely NOT to need the dress rehearsal - to be able to just walk in and sing.  And thirdly, all these singers who are singing in the competition are also required to put in the time and energy to learn the choral portion of the symphony, not knowing whether they will actually get a chance to perform it.  I know that I, for one, have less motivation to learn the music knowing I may not perform it - but conversely, I'm afraid that subconsciously I won't sing my best in the competition, because part of me will want not to make the final round, so that I can sing the concert.  I'm feeling frustrated and conflicted and just plain upset, at the moment.

I know God wants me to learn something from this.  I know that I probably will.  But at the moment, I'm just mad.  I feel helpless, because there's nothing I can do to change anything - frustrated because no one made it clear before now that there would be this conflict.  I'm also annoyed with myself for being so upset and emotional about what is, in the grander scheme of things, a very small concern.  I'm just praying for calm acceptance for myself - and, if it be God's will, for the orchestra director to change his mind!


Apart from all this, I had a very nice week.  How was yours?  :-)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

I'm Terrible at Titles

Um.  Did I mention I'm not very good at blogging during the school year?  Well... yeah.  It's a definite failing in my character.  Or something.

At any rate, I've been keeping exceedingly busy already.  It's full steam ahead on my senior recital music (which doubles as grad school audition music, and competition repertoire...)  I've got 18 credit hours again this semester, which is probably crazy - but I'm always crazy.  I don't know how to attempt a *reasonable* amount of work, I think!

Most of all, I'm up to my ears in grad school research.  I started out with a list of about 12 schools - which expanded to 15 - and I'm trying to whittle it down to about 3 or 4 at which I'll actually apply and audition.  I've spent countless hours already going through their websites, jotting down notes on their course of study, price of tuition, cost of living, availability of scholarships, etc.  It's a lot of information even about one school, and when you make it 12 or 15 it's a bit overwhelming.

I've worked it down to about 6 schools that I really like and think I'd be happy at.  Of course (this always happens to me!) they are almost all both the really expensive and the extremely prestigious (and therefore HARD to get into) schools.  Places like Juilliard.  Curtis.  Northwestern.  Boston Conservatory.  Guildhall. And while my teacher seems fairly confident that I'd be accepted at most if not all of them, I'm finding I have self-confidence issues.  Just because I've done well in undergraduate school (at a tiny Baptist college) doesn't mean I have any right to think I'm good enough to get into the best schools in the nation - nay, the world!  I realise that if I don't believe I have a chance, then I won't have a chance - confidence is everything in the performing world.  And yet I've spent my whole life trying to be humble, to keep my opinion of myself and my ego within bounds.  So I'm struggling a bit on this.

I may not be blogging much in the next few months; in addition to my coursework, I'll be filling out applications, recording audition CDs to send off, preparing for my recital, for a competition, for a couple of master classes, and writing a massive research paper I'm hoping to present at a conference and my school's Scholarship Symposium in the spring.  So I'll be swamped!  I hope to pop in now and then with updates and maybe a funny story and a photo or two, but don't expect any more novel-length posts until Christmas :-)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Settling In

I've been living in my new apartment two weeks now, and it's beginning to feel like home.  Aubrey and I finally got our living room furniture arranged - the first week, it was just all dumped anyhow, as we were still waiting on a few items from her parents' house - but now we have chairs and television placed, decorations hung, blankets draped on chairs.  I love how the apartment has come together; it is what my roommate's family likes to call "Early American Attic" - that is to say, mismatched, in a variety of styles and periods - but it all works together well enough.  And more importantly, it's comfortable.  We have big squashy armchairs, useful tables, lamps.  Nothing too fussy; nothing difficult to clean; nothing really unnecessary.

I took all these photos in the evening, so you don't see the incredible sunlight we get from that huge window in the mornings; I'll have to take a morning photo someday.  It's wonderful.

The kitchen is small, but useable.  And use it we do indeed!  We're both tea fanatics; we joke that half our electric bill will be due to our boiling of inordinate amounts of water.  I keep us supplied with fresh bread, and we both cook.  Last Sunday we sat down and planned out the menu for the week (and stuck to it, lol!) and we did the same again this afternoon.  We've found it seems to work best to cook about four times a week; Wednesday evening I eat at church and Aubrey fends for herself; the other nights (and some lunches) we eat leftovers.  We take turns cooking, and we like the same sort of things, so it works out really well.

Classes started again on Tuesday.  I'm going to have a very full semester, but I'm excited about most of my classes.  We started out with a rush in the music department, with the select choir performing twice by themselves (to dedicate a new classroom building and the new dorm quads) and again combined with the other choirs for Convocation yesterday.  That was a lot to prepare in just a few rehearsals!  But we carried it off well and I'm looking forward to the rest of the semester.

I'm taking a history class; my professor (who attends my church) is an elderly gentleman whose lectures seem at first look to be quite vague, rambling, and off-topic.  But when you think back you realise that not only did he actually cover his whole class outline, but you remember everything he said.  That takes talent!

Probably my favourite class is "Plays of Shakespeare", which I'm taking as part of my English minor.  The teacher is incredible - he is one of the main reasons I came to this school, actually; when I visited I was debating between majoring in English or music, and I set up a meeting with him, thinking we might talk for 5 or 10 minutes -- I spent nearly an hour in his office!  His class so far is living up to that; it's fascinating and well-taught.

I'm taking Vocal Literature, which is of course for my major, and I'm really excited about that one too.  There are only three of us in the class, and both the other girls are close friends of mine.  And the teacher is my voice teacher!  We meet in her office and we spend lots of time just listening to music, which in my mind is perfect :-)

About the only class I'm not thrilled about is psychology.  It's a required core class, so there's no way I can get out of it, but after only two meetings I'm frustrated.  I'm not convinced psychology is a necessary science; the useful parts of it just seem like common sense to me, and the rest is just nonsense.  I'm going to have to work hard at staying motivated, I think.

Oh!  Here is the bed from my last post, with my not-quite finished quilt at the foot :-)

All in all, I'm excited about this new semester.  I think it'll be crazy, but good!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A "God Thing"

Well, here I am in Tennessee again, all moved into my new apartment!  I love it; the location could hardly be more ideal - as close to campus as you can get without being on campus; fairly secluded; east-facing, so we get all the gorgeous morning sunlight and none of the heat of the afternoon.  I'm still revelling in the space; we have a living room!  A dining area!  A kitchen with enough cabinets!  My room holds my extra-long twin bed, a bookshelf, and a recliner with no trouble at all and has room for a desk when I find one.  I have my own bathroom, for that matter!  And a walk-in closet!

More than that, I have a delightful roommate who shares my love of vegetables, Jane Austen, and good tea; who cooks and organizes and decorates and thinks much the same way I do.  Our mothers like each other, too :)  I think this is going to be a good year!

We loaded up the car last Wednesday and drove down Thursday (and I was convinced that I had forgotten something major, because even with my upholstered recliner, a pile of bricks and boards for my bookshelf, a good-sized TV cabinet, and the television itself, there was still space in the car.  I still don't know how we managed this!  But I don't seem to have left anything large at home, so perhaps I just figured out how to pack this year.)  Friday we signed the lease and moved in a lot of stuff, then headed back to my roomie's house for the night, since I would be moving some furniture from Memphis and she's a lot closer than the apartment is.

I should back up a little.  Last spring some friends of mine in Memphis offered me some furniture for the apartment: a couple of chairs and a full-size bed.  I said yes, because who turns down free furniture? but I didn't think a whole lot about how we'd get it from Memphis to Jackson.  I figured it would fit in the minivan.

Well, the week I was moving back my dad took some measurements and announced that there was no way a full-size box spring was going to fit in our van, even with all the seats out.  So we were looking at renting a trailer.  I got online, did some research, and Wednesday evening put in a reservation for a 5'x8' U-Haul trailer.  I knew I was cutting it fine, and after reading some very negative reviews of U-Haul's service online I was a little nervous, but figured all we could do was pray it worked out.  They were supposed to contact me by "6 PM of the day before your reservation" to let me know the status, pick-up location, etc.  But I realised that the reservation form hadn't had a place to specify time, and we really did need it at a specific time; the person I was picking up from had other plans that day and needed to be out of the house fairly early.

So I called, Friday morning, and talked to a woman at the regional office who was extremely helpful.  She noted down the time I said and my preferred pick-up location, and said they were still working on locating a trailer but she'd call as soon as she knew.  It wasn't until almost 8 PM that she finally called back.  "I'm afraid we still don't have any 5'x8' trailers available," she began, and my heart sank, "but would you be willing to take a 6'x12' for the same price?"

For the same price?  You bet I would!  And it was available at 8 AM, the time I needed it, and at the location I'd requested.  Prayers answered.  So we showed up at the time and place specified, signed papers, drove around back, and got hitched up.  The owner and his assistant were very pleasant and friendly, and we were feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

And then the lights didn't work.

There was a problem with our wiring, apparently, and neither tail lights nor turn signals were working on the trailer.  After some consultation they announced that they didn't have the mechanic to fix it at this location; if we wanted to go down to another location they could fix it for us, but it would run us $55.  If we wanted to go and get the wiring fixed up, we could come on back and pick up the trailer, no problem; if we decided not to, they'd reverse the charges on the trailer, no fee for backing out.  We decided to call my dad, but thought we'd drive on to the other location anyway, in case he said to go for it.  I think it took three phone calls but we decided that, between the almost $100 price of the trailer rental and the cost of fixing the wiring, and the fact that I was after all only borrowing the bed and would have to return it, it would be almost as cheap just to buy a new bed.  So we decided to just head over, pick up the chairs, and figure out a bed later.

We missed the turn to the highway.  Mum was driving, and she's usually three steps ahead of herself, so this was unusual.  As we pulled into a parking lot to turn around, I happened to look across the road.  And there was a flea market - with a bed frame and mattress sitting out in the parking lot.

We thought we would have a look.  We did have a look, and we found that there was a very nice wooden bed frame and an extra-long mattress and box spring set - and they were on sale for $100, the price we would have paid just to rent a trailer.  AND they fit in the car!  Not only that, but they fit in the car with the two chairs we were picking up.

We decided that God really does work in mysterious ways - but he works.  So many things "went wrong" - the bed wouldn't fit in the van, I was worried about using U-Haul at all, then they didn't have the trailer we needed, our lights didn't work, we took a wrong turning.... but all that, in a convoluted way, led to my possession of a very nice bed for an unbeatable price.  It truly was "a God thing"!  And I'm pretty sure he was sitting up in heaven chuckling.  I'm so glad our God has a sense of humour.  I'm so glad he cares even about the little things, like procuring a bed to sleep in!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Be Careful How You Walk

...or rather, where you trip...

We ate Sunday dinner out on the deck today, as usual on lovely days, and we'd gotten to the dessert stage - peach-blueberry cobbler, fresh out of the oven.  I realised we'd left the whipped cream inside and jumped up to get it.  Going a little more quickly than usual up the stairs and through the door, I caught my foot on the sill - the runner of the screen door.

Caught it a little harder than I'd realised, because when I stopped hopping up and down and gasping in pain long enough to look at my foot, I found I had a gash in my second toe and was bleeding freely on the tile floor of the hall.  I'll spare you the gory details, but I'm fairly sure my toenail is at least partially detached - the end with the quick, not the "dead" end.  Lovely.

So I have spent the afternoon in a considerable amount of pain, with my toe first being iced and then bandaged, and elevated as much as possible.  I'm already tired of sitting in one position, and it hurts.  I usually have a fairly high pain tolerance, but this eventually made me cry, and it's still throbbing.  To make it worse, I'm scheduled to leave for Tennessee on Thursday morning to move into my apartment and make ready for my senior year of college, and I haven't started packing yet.  That was supposed to be the work of Monday through Wednesday.  There's a half-bushel of peaches that need to be put up before I leave, and I had two dresses I wanted to finish.  None of which can be very handily done from a recumbent position on a sofa, with one's foot propped up on pillows.

So if you're the praying sort, I'd appreciate prayers that this toe of mine would be feeling better by tomorrow morning!  I've got an awful lot I need to do - deadlines to meet, and no one else can do the work.  I'll hobble around and get it done as best I can, regardless of the pain - but it'll be so, so much easier if this throbbing would subside a bit.

(And, just for vanity's sake, pray too that I won't lose the toenail completely.  I can't tell exactly how bad the damage is but the cut is in such a place that I'm honestly not sure whether it'll grow back.  Which is pretty minor when you think about it... but still!)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Traveling by Train

This past weekend I went to Memphis for the wedding of two sweet friends from college.  Jordan has been my saviour in music theory, tutoring me through a couple of tough semesters when he really was the only thing between me and failing.  Shelby has been a dear friend for a couple of years, especially last year when she and her sister - and her roommate! - transfered to Union after their school hit financial difficulties.  I was able to be "behind the scenes" when Jordan finally proposed, and the piece I was part of a quartet to sing at the wedding was one that he wrote and I helped sing for the proposal last fall.  (I made cheesecake for the proposal dinner, too.)  It was an honour to be asked to sing at the wedding as well!

I took the train because it was cheaper than flying, and that way no one had to drive to Nashville to pick me up.  It was fun!  Plus, I didn't have to deal with strict baggage restrictions, security checks, or getting to the station two hours early.

There were two stages, from Ann Arbor to Chicago and from Chicago to Memphis - and then in reverse to get home.  The first stage was about five hours, more or less a commuter train, so people got on and off more frequently, there was less space, and it went more slowly.  On the way down, I was blessed to be in a car with two couples, headed to Chicago for the weekend, who had decided it would be a good idea to bring with them a cooler of beer, a bottle of vodka, and various other strong drinks - and to drink the entire cooler en route to Chicago.  Oh my.  They were very, very relaxed and happy by the time we got there!  Not to mention loud.  I have no problem with the drinking of alcohol in reasonable portions, in moderation - but this was a little much.  I was glad to be rid of them!  The long leg of the trip was overnight; the train had a lot more leg-room, a nice "cafe" or snack car, and was in general very comfortable, but it got COLD at night!  Brrr. Next time I'll pack a heavy sweater!

Chicago was really lovely.  I had about 3 hours between trains on the way down, 4 on the way back, and so both times I was able to get out of the station and explore the city a bit.  The first time I stuck close to the station; I got dinner, then sat in Starbucks and watched the city go by.  (People-watching is fascinating!) On the return trip, I had a bit longer and was more confident; I found the opera house and drooled outside of it for a while, then walked down to Michigan Avenue, explored Millennium Park, and discovered the harbour on Lake Michigan.  I probably walked two or three miles, but I'd spent so much of the weekend just sitting around that the exercise was welcome!  I took a few photos on my phone - and I think I can transfer them to the computer, but I'm not sure yet, so you might have to wait a while ;-)

The wedding itself went off well - Shelby was such a calm, relaxed bride!  I ended up with the task of pinning on corsages and boutonnieres, which I would not say is a particularly enviable job - especially when the pins provided are about a half-inch too short - but I did enjoy pinning the groomsmen's, because they were so relaxed and low-key about everything.  Really there were very few hitches; the only thing of great note was after the wedding, after the reception, and after most of the cleaning up had been done, the bride's mother thought to take the marriage certificate out of its envelope and examine it.  Only to find that the minister had forgotten to sign it!  Much hilarity and a certain amount of consternation ensued, and several people tried to contact Jordan; I'm not sure what the eventual upshot was, but in my opinion it was nothing to worry about.  They were married in the eyes of God and in front of a whole slew of witnesses: let the minister sign the paper tomorrow!

Whilst in Memphis I stayed with my roommate-to-be, which was a lot of fun as this was the first time I've met her family.  They were absolutely lovely - so welcoming! - and I felt like family from the very first.  I look forward to seeing more of them this year!

This seems like a very disjointed post and I don't think I've done either the wedding or the travelling justice, but that's about the best I'm going to manage today.  I think the heat is affecting my brain!

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Birthday Frock

The weather finally cooperated with my schedule and we had a lovely sunny, breezy afternoon just perfect for taking photographs of new frocks!  Usually my dad does my "photo shoots" but my little sister volunteered today and we had a lovely time.  We went down by the lake across the street, plowing through the underbrush which has grown over the path - with a bicycle, which was no mean feat! - waded in the water, tried not to step on thistles in our bare feet, and had a lovely time.  I came back a bit scratched and mosquito-bitten, but no serious damage was done.  And many thanks to Katie for the photos!  Plus the sister-bonding time - that's always good too :-)

Anyway, the dress!  I'm calling this the "birthday frock" because I did the majority of the sewing on my birthday this past Wednesday.  I cut it out the day before and finished it up the day after, so it was a pretty quick project for me.

The pattern is Butterick 5033, a reprint (I believe) of a 1952 pattern.  It was very easy to work with and went together quickly!  There were very few fitting issues, which for me is unusual and so was a nice surprise!

Usually I end up lengthening bodices; this time I left it as-is but added a wide waistband, and I like the look even better than the original.  It gives that nice waist definition without making a belt necessary (although it certainly would be cute with a belt, too!)  

The fabric is a cotton-and-something (I think) blend that I picked up at Walmart last summer for $1/yard. I had three yards where the pattern called for 4.5, so shortened the skirt by about 6 inches and used a linen/rayon blend which had originally been intended for corset lining to add the length back on at the bottom.  I used the same linen for the collar.  The lining is the crisper, stronger parts of what used to be my old fitted sheet; it's blue-and-white stripes and matched the main fabric perfectly.  There's lots of that sheet left, so I'm sure it will show up again at some point!  The best part: the cost.  I paid $3 for the blue fabric, less than $2 for the linen blend, nothing for the old sheet, and I got the zipper with a 40% off coupon.  So the whole thing only cost me $5-$6!

When I get back from Memphis I'm probably going to take the zipper out and replace it with a longer one; the 22" zip just isn't working for me.  I'm so tall that my back-of-neck-to-waist measurement is 20" already, which doesn't put the end of this zipper anywhere near the fullest part of my hips.  Which means it's quite an adventure to get it on and off!  If I take it apart that far I'll also take the skirt off the waistband and narrow it by about 1/2", as the bodice is really just a tad bit longer than I intended it to be.  (As you can see in the photo above, the back is too long and wrinkles a bit with it.)

My favourite part might be the pleats at the centre front of the skirt.  Such a nice design detail, and they camouflage any unsightly bumps and rolls in that area! ;-)  I wish I'd pressed the whole dress before we took photos - I'd been wearing it since 8 in the morning, and the linen wrinkles if you look at it, which is one of the very few flaws in this dress.

I wonder if anyone has advice on this, though: I know that with bias-cut skirts, such as this full-circle one, you're supposed to let them hang for 24 hours to let the fabric stretch before hemming.  I didn't do that with this one, both because I wanted to get it done already and because of the contrast border (also cut on the bias); I didn't know how to even it up without making the while border uneven.  With the result that the hem is uneven, but regularly.  It has almost a scalloped effect.  I don't mind it at all; it almost looks like I intended it to be that way - but I wondered if there's any way to deal with this in case I make another similar dress.  Would I hang the main dress to even out, trim it, and then attach the border?

I'll definitely make this pattern again!  I want to try the other view - the one with the little triangle cut-out at the neckline.  This was a quick, easy, fun project and the "shoot" was such fun - a lovely way to spend a gorgeous summer afternoon.

I'll be busy sewing this week so I'm not sure if I'll have time to get proper photos of any of the other projects - but I'll be sure to post them when I get back from the wedding if not before.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Postponed on Account of the Weather

I did finish my new dress on Thursday, but I am unable to give you any photos yet.  Why?  Well, it has rained more or less non-stop since I finished it.  And not just any rain - we've had whiz-bang thunderstorms and deluges of epic proportions, as well as the more moderate drenching rains which are so good for my garden, but so very bad for photo shoots.

My garden is loving it, though.  I brought in my first zucchini this week - it weighed in at 2 lbs 14 oz!  And there's another nearly as big waiting to be picked.  I've no idea what to do with zucchini though, apart from bread, so if anyone has favourite recipes I'd be more than grateful!

The tomatoes are setting up fast, too.  A few days of sun and I'll be inundated, I suspect.  I just hope they decide to ripen before I go back to college in three weeks!

I have a lot of sewing to do this week.  Thursday afternoon I leave for the wedding of two dear friends, taking place in Memphis.  I'm taking the train, which will be a lot of fun, I think!  But I still need to make my dress for the wedding, in which I'm singing, and I'd like to finish two other dresses as well, a shirt-dress and a sun dress.  And since there's to be a pool party in the evening after the wedding, I really need to finish up the bathing suit I've been working on for over a year.*

Tomorrow we are having my birthday celebration.  I've planned a lemon-pasta with grilled chicken dinner, and my favourite cake - chocolate with mint icing, which is a family tradition.  My great-grandmother used to make it for my mum's birthday every year :-)  And when we finish with the birthday celebration, I will be madly at work at my sewing machine.  I hope to have lots of pictures to show you all soon!

If it will every stop raining, that is.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Little Things

Sometimes it's the little, everyday things in life that make an impact... that stick with you and define a period of time.  This summer, I've been photographing them when I can - I'm a "visual learner" and I like picture memories!  Today I thought I'd share some of these with you... the little things of this summer that have made me happy :-)

My very dearest friend from college and her boyfriend (also a close friend of mine) came to see me!  I haven't seen either of them since May so this was a lovely day.  They're also the first of my friends from college to actually make it out to my house - living 700 miles from school has its drawbacks.  I loved spending the afternoon with them :-)

I made bread last week.  At least I tried.  I did something wrong, or the weather affected the yeast somehow; and then it fell before I could get it in the oven.  So it came out looking more like bricks.

But Daddy took my photo shoot as an opportunity to be silly - so I got a laugh out of a failure after all!

Is this not the sweetest house?  I've been pet-sitting this week and on my twice-daily perambulations with the dog I pass this house.  From the road it simply looks like a very tiny one-storey house -- but it's built into the side of a hill, so there's twice as much house below the first level!  Its yellow paint is so cheerful and it has dark green shutters on the front that I just love - and to top it all off it's lakefront property, so  the view is gorgeous.  I have no idea who lives here but I smile every time I pass it.

This last picture isn't really a "happy thing" - it's my finished project from last week.  We needed new napkins and Mum asked if I could make some.  I found this fabric - a cotton-and-something blend - on the Red Tag shelf at JoAnn Fabrics, and the red tag fabric happened to be on sale that day.  So a yard and a half of a lovely, weighty jacquard, plus the thread to match - cost me about $7.  I got 12 napkins out of it, and I'm pretty happy with them.  They're boring to hem though!

I'm working on a new dress that I hope to have finished this evening; if I get it done I'll have photos for you tomorrow!  Have a lovely evening, friends :-)

Thursday, 15 July 2010


After this week, I have a whole new respect for housekeepers.  Not people hired to keep other folks' houses - no, the women who cook, clean, wash, and care for everyone and everything in their own houses.

My mother's been gone this week -- at a teaching conference which she attends almost every year and which is her relaxation and vacation for the year.  She went by train, this year, and since the conference is in Dallas this time around it's a two-day trip, each way.  She left Tuesday, early, and won't be back until Sunday evening.

This leaves me, as the eldest girl, in charge of the household.  I figured it would be pretty easy.  Cook dinner a couple nights a week - the kids each have a cooking night, so that would be easy.  Breakfast is a piece of cake - scrambled eggs and toast aren't exactly difficult to prepare.  The laundry needs keeping up with, but what's a load or two of laundry every day?

I am disillusioned.  It has been only three days, and already I am exhausted!  Eggs and toast aren't hard to prepare - but one has to be up and awake in order to prepare them.  And there's the washing up afterwards.  It's not hard to run a load of clothes through the washer - but one has to remember to go back, fetch them out, and hang them on the line.  And then remember to go back and turn them for even drying.  And then remember to go back and bring them in before darkness and dew.  It's not hard to cook dinner, but there's the planning, the shopping - and the cleaning up afterwards.  And meanwhile, while you're hanging laundry or washing dishes or catching a few minutes of rest, the floors need sweeping, there's an accumulation of clutter on the coffee table, and your younger siblings are doing something they're not allowed, because Mummy's not here and they think they can get away with it. 

I knew all this, in theory.  I've watched my mother try to keep up with all of it over the years - and she's home schooled us all at the same time, too.  I knew she didn't find it easy; I knew we were often disorganised, behind in something.  The carpets weren't always vacuumed, dinner was late, and the garden never got weeded unless I did it.  Now I'm looking at the weeds and saying "They can wait!" -- and the only reason I'm planning to vacuum today is because we have company coming.

This is all without mentioning trying to deal with an 18-year-old brother who thinks he's immune to all authority, parental included but ESPECIALLY that of his older sister.  We won't go there.

The most difficult thing for me has been not the cooking or the cleaning or the whole organisational aspect of housekeeping; it's been juggling all this while keeping an even temper and a sweet disposition.  I'm sadly inclined towards shortness and snapping when I'm stressed or tired, and it's been almost impossible to deal with minor crises and small annoyances in a righteous manner.  The siblings annoy me, some plan or other doesn't go quite right, and I bite someone's head off.  I hate this, and I've spent most of my odd moments the last few days praying for a calm spirit.  I guess maybe God wanted me to learn a lesson this week! ;-)  But again I'm impressed with the magnitude of the job so many women bear every day.

I realise I'm probably preaching to the choir here - after all, most of my readers, I think, are mothers and homemakers themselves.  Well, my hat is off to all of you!  I think that anyone who is under the impression that being a homemaker or a stay-at-home mother is easy should be obliged to try it himself for a week.  I think he'd be singing a different tune by the end of it!

And I'll be very, very glad to hand the reins back to my mother on Monday morning.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Currant Price

One of my favourite passages in Little Women is the chapter when Meg tries to make currant jelly.

          In the kitchen reigned confusion and despair; one edition of jelly was trickled from pot to pot, another lay upon the floor, and a third was burning gaily on the stove.  Lotty, with Teutonic phlegm, was calmly eating bread and currant wine, for the jelly was still in a hopelessly liquid state, while Mrs. Brooke, with her apron over her head, sat sobbing dismally.  
          "My dearest girl, what is the matter?" cried John, rushing in, with awful visions of scalded hands, sudden news of affliction, and secret consternation at the thought of the guest in the garden.... "What worries you, dear?  Has anything dreadful happened?" asked the anxious John, tenderly kissing the crown of the little cap, which was all askew.
          "Yes," sobbed Meg despairingly.
          "Tell me quick, then.  Don't cry, I can bear anything better than that.  Out with it, love."
          "The--the jelly won't jell and I don't know what to do!"

I never could help laughing at this point -- it's such a silly thing to get so worked up about.  But I know her pain; I've made my share of batches of jelly that wouldn't jell, and it gives a horrible feeling of helplessness -- there's nothing you can do about it!  And this week I decided to make currant jelly for the first time ever, so I couldn't help thinking of poor Meg the whole time.

To start with I picked my own currants!  We've got a thicket of them growing wild in our back woods (or, I don't know, they could have been planted on purpose; all the land around here used to be an orchard, and we have one of the old apple trees on our property.  But they're very wild now!)  Over the last few years I've picked a few, but never enough to do anything with, so I've been slowly collecting them in the freezer.  But this summer I was actually around and paying attention when they came ripe, and after stripping all the bushes I had almost a quart of berries.  Combined with what I had in the freezer, it was enough to make it worth trying to make jelly.

Oh, and did I mention?  I don't think I've ever been so mosquito-bitten in my life.  We nick-named the currant patch "Currant Hollow" as it's in a low spot in the yard - and low spots attract mosquitos.  And this is Michigan, so there are lots of mosquitos to attract.


I got a little carried away with the artistic shots of currants.  They're so pretty, though!  The berries are almost translucent and they have a distinct veined pattern.

The Joy of Cooking is my go-to book for jams and jellies.  Simple, straightforward, and none of this fuss about added pectin.  Did you know that the addition of storebought pectin means you have to use more sugar?  The percentage is something like 40% sugar, 60% fruit.  So even though there's a slight risk factor in making jam without added pectin - risk of it not jelling, I mean - I'd much rather go with a method where I can turn the percentage the other way around.

This is the fruit after the first stage.  It's in my makeshift jelly bag (hastily sewn together from a scrap of unbleached muslin), straining through the fabric to produce the juice which is the only part of the fruit to end up in the jelly.  It sounds sort of wasteful but I only had about a cup of pulp left after straining - I started with about 7 cups of berries, and had about 2.5 cups of juice - so I guess it's not too bad.

And the finished jelly not only tastes lovely, but it DID jell!  There was no cause for hysterics this time around :-)  In fact I was surprised, because currants seem to have a lot more natural pectin than many of the fruits I've worked with; I didn't have any trouble with this.  Maybe Meg had a different kind of currants!