Sunday, December 28, 2014

Creative Outlet

I believe most of us need to be creating something – writing a book, painting a picture, or a myriad of other acts of making, even creating a perfect lawn. We humans are makers of stuff.

This urge is persistent into old age, when we sometimes lose the abilities necessary to create in the ways we want. In my case, arthritic hands have made several techniques and media inaccessible. First thing to go was woodcarving. I was just getting started and have only three pieces I was able to finish. I won’t recite all the media I enjoyed at one time but can no longer manage. The bottom line is that now I don't have many choices for creative outlets.

I’m not alone in this. I know of two other women who have lost their ability to control a paintbrush because of hand tremors. Both have made beautiful paintings in the past. Both are trying to use the tremors to their advantage, creating abstractions using watercolor for one and charcoal on paper for the other. They just can’t quit making.

For myself I have taken refuge in photography. I have a small digital Cannon that I can easily grasp. Luckily I don’t have tremors, so I can focus and steady the camera. The iPhoto on my computer has several thousand photos. It wasn’t enough to look at photos on my computer; I wanted to see prints, too, of my favorites, but I didn’t want to fill my house with framed photos or photo albums.

Nancy got me started on the right path. She asked me to have some notecards printed using my photos. It was the perfect solution for me. I would get to see the printed photos and I would have a nice supply of gifts, not only to Nancy, but also other relatives and friends.

I’ve had three different batches printed. One of the first batch was called “Peas in a Pod.”

The second batch centered on photos taken on Galveston Island, such as this feather.

Now I’ve had a fourth set printed, this time 20 copies each of nine different photos. One of these is “Rural Road in Autumn,” taken on a road we often travel to town.

The process is amazingly easy. One simply carries PDF versions of photos on a zip drive to the printer. My first printer didn’t furnish proofs, but I found that Printing Solutions in Lawrence does, so I switched. After I look at the proofs I can sit down with Chris, who does the tweaking of image placement, if needed. If I sent Christmas cards, I could have had Christmas notecards made for about 50 cents each.

I’m thinking about going commercial. At my age, that would be ridiculous…or would it? I'm not interested in making money, but I need to make and share. Am I too old to dream?

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Grey Days

Grey day after grey day, our spirits sag. For many good reasons, human beings need sunlight and we crave it when deprived. It isn’t just the light from our sun, it’s the  sun’s warmth. Our friend Richard, who has lived in total darkness for thirty years, loves sunny days. He loves the warmth of the sun’s rays on his skin, and can sense when sunlight comes through the windows of his house.

One of sunlight’s many benefits is our skin’s production of endorphins, the natural opiates that cause us to exclaim, “I feel good!  No wonder, then, that more than a month of grey days here in Kansas has many folks feeling sad. There’s even a condition known as SAD, season affective disorder. It’s treated by exposure to light.

This morning we were elated to see a clear sky at dawn, but clouds moved in and obscured the sunshine by mid-morning. Marianne and I were engrossed in making tamales, an activity for which we had little to no experience, and didn’t notice the change until we were finished. Here are a few of our products cooling.

I’ve concluded that keeping busy is the best way to compensate for the lack of sunshine. Solitary activity is all right, but activities with family and friends keep our momentum going and are a lot more fun.  

It also helps, I think, to have bright spots of color in our lives. This is a poinsettia carried over from last winter. It spent the summer on the deck, with an occasional watering, and now is rewarding that little bit of care by blooming.

So, let the grey days come. We have ways of coping and we know that we’ve past the winter solstice, heading for spring and summer, when the sun will shine abundantly.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Feliz Navidad

In Checker’s grocery store yesterday my eye fell on a package of pork labeled “pork rump roast.” The meat was very lean and in two large chunks weighing 3.25 pounds.  The imp in my brain – the one that wishes she were a Latina – cried, “Tamales!”

I put the package of pork in my cart and sailed along as if I knew what I was in for. That realization came later. My personal experience with tamales is limited to 1) the kind my mother bought in a can and heated up on the stove, 2) a real tamale I ate and relished high in the New Mexico mountains, and 3) a party Pam gave in which a bunch of Gringo women formed tamales using filling Pam had prepared in advance. That one was hilarious, resulting in tamales ranging from fat and huge to tiny and thin. 

I know that Latinas gather together to make tamales at Christmas time, working as an accomplished group. So, now I’m going to make tamales on my own. Right.

After some consideration and review of a lot of recipes, I chose the simplest recipe and decided to make the filling, and then enlist Marianne for the final production. Lucky for me, she agreed.

Making the filling, though, I was fraught with doubts and indecision. First of all, the meat I bought was 3.25 pounds, while the recipe called for 2.5 pounds. In order to adjust the seasonings and sauce accordingly, I had to re-learn how to figure percentage, something I knew perfectly well in high school, more than sixty years ago. Fine. I needed the mental exercise.

I was ready to cook! I liked the recipe’s instruction to cut the raw pork into three-inch pieces. (Another recipe called for cooking the meat in one large piece.) After the meat was cooked with spices and seasoning it was very easy to shred.

Then it was time to cook the shredded meat with more spices and one cup of the liquid from simmering the meat. It was supposed to simmer for 25 minutes until all the liquid was absorbed. 

From the start I could see there wasn’t enough liquid to last 25 minutes, so, what the heck, I added some more. That seemed to work out pretty well. But, is this what tamale filling is supposed to look like? I have no idea, but this is what I have and this is what we’re going to use.

Thank goodness Marianne is coming to help with phase two. I don’t think I could face it alone. I’ll get some Mexican beer to help us through the process.

In the meantime, I’m asking myself why I didn’t stick to what I know how to make such as English toffee and peanut brittle. It’s that naughty imp’s fault. Feliz Navidad!

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cleaning the Hen House

On yet another grey day in a long series of grey days, we seemed to get our energy back. Laurie and Dennis decided to clean out the hen house. This is a recurring task and not a pleasant one. Face masks are required because of flying dust.

Their first step was to lure all the hens out of their house and close their little access door. Then they carried the waterer and feeders outside. Next, they used putty knives to scrape droppings off the roost and the tops of nest boxes, which are favored by certain nonconformist hens. I did not get there in time to photograph these phases, but we can be sure the chips were flying.

Next, a division of labor left the sweeping to Laurie…

and the scooping to Dennis. Here he is tossing a scoopful into the bed of Laurie’s truck.

This dirty task is not without rewards. Not only is there the satisfaction of spreading fresh straw on the hen house floor and in the nest boxes, there are the treasured cleanings, which Laurie will spread on her raised beds. (There it is again: Waste Not.)

This is a rich mix of straw, feathers (the old hens have been molting), and chicken poop, a rich source of nitrogen. By spring this mix will have turned into brown gold, enriching the soil and improving its tilth.

Margaret, our tamest hen, supervised the whole process. Margaret is looking fine in her outfit of new feathers. She has just finished growing them after a rather humiliating nakedness. You can see one of her feathers in the cleanings, along with many from the five Barred Rocks, who are molting now.

I, too, had more energy today. (A person can mope about grey, gloomy days only so long!) I had a pleasant task in the kitchen, baking oatmeal-apricot-date-almond cookies. The reward from that task is pretty good, too.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Waste Not: Fabric

Quilting, a popular pastime among American woman and men, has come a long way from its humble roots. Quilters today visit fabric stores where they have a myriad of patterns and colors to choose from. If not for quilters’ insatiable desire to accumulate fabric, the fabric stores of American would surely die out for lack of custom.

In America’s early days, women quilted by necessity, using partially worn-out clothing as their material. They salvaged the unworn parts of various garments, cut them into carefully planned pieces, and sewed them together. Their piecework had a softness of color and texture that comes to fabric only when it has been washed and worn repeatedly. Spreading a quilt on a bed, one could point out bits of the shirt Billy wore in first grade, or fragments of Betty’s eighth-grade graduation dress. Family history was written in fabric for those whose memories it jogged.

Quilting originally was an act of frugality. “Waste nothing” was the credo. Being a child of the late Depression, I learned frugality at my grandmother’s knee, watching her sew my tattered storybooks back together. I learned frugality from Aunt Vena, who constructed a warm comforter from Uncle Ben’s old pants. Frugality is deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Although most of Dennis’s and my clothing isn’t appropriate for the quilting projects I undertake, I have enough of the Depression mentality that I almost never purchase new fabric for my projects. Instead, I go to a thrift shop, looking for garments made of fabric that suits my needs.

When I was planning a wall hanging inspired by a sidewalk in Delft I found at Goodwill a large, ugly pair of women’s shorts made of a tightly-woven grey cotton. I paid $2.00 for the privilege of cutting those shorts into four pieces, applying acrylic paints, and cutting them into appropriate sizes – two squares and five rectangles. After sewing them together, I used a lot of black thread to create the illusions of cracks in the “stone.” Finally, I flung some splatters of white paint, just as the Delft sidewalk had been splattered. I backed the piece with unbleached muslin and bound the edges with strips of black cut from an old pair of pants.

Somehow, this frugal approach satisfied me more than new fabrics would have. For better or worse, I’ve passed this “waste not” mentality to my daughter Carol. Last week told me that she had sewn an Advent calendar using fabric scraps. She said she found it especially satisfying because she didn’t have to buy anything new to make it.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer