Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Gratitude

On this last Sunday before Christmas there is a lot I am grateful for.

- There is still color in my garden. The rain has knocked off most of the flowers that were still standing, but the Pineapple Sage still is strong and beautiful. Real eye candy at this time of year.

- The rain. Since the beginning of December we have had a lot of rain, and boy do we need it. Although we got quite some inches it hasn't put a dent in the drought yet. Conditions are still pretty severe. However, everything looks so pretty and fresh. The hills that were brown most of the year are green. I think the cows have a field day (literally!).

- We had a huge rainstorm the week before last. School was cancelled and we were advised to stay at home if possible. Nothing happened here - no flooding, no power outage. Some towns and villages nearby weren't quite that lucky and were flooded. Many roads were closed due to flooding, even the freeway. However, everything cleared rather quickly, but there certainly is some damage. We were lucky that nothing happened here and are very grateful for that.

- Kaefer was my assistant at our second artisan holiday fair. Our booth was much smaller than at the first one where we had a 10' by 10' booth. Here, we only had one 6' table and I had to redesign my display quite a bit. The day before I changed my sign to get more space on the table. It is now hanging from the burlap at the front of my table. Even though we had much less space, we sold so much more and got lots of compliments for the display and my items. The energy at the fair was happy and positive, the organisation of the event was excellent, the entertainment great and the food was good as well. Kaefer and I had a wonderful time. She is a great helper!

- Re-discovering knitting has been such a blessing. By now I have knitted so many doll's winter accessories and sold some of them during those holiday fairs. The next project is boot socks for Kaefer which she would like for Christmas but probably will turn out to be a sometime-in-January gift. After that I'm planning on a hat and infinity scarf for myself. Jo and I love to go to knitting stores, and I usually go through the patterns to get some inspiration. There's always the Internet for some wonderful inspiration as well.

- My friend Jo and I had our Christmas breakfast when we chose a nice café somewhere in the county, have breakfast there and exchange our gifts. I am so grateful for this wonderful friend. We got to know each other when our daughters went to the same charter school for fifth and sixth grade. We connected immediately and our bond has become stronger over the years.

- Kaefer and I love to spend time in our locally owned bookstore. It's wonderful to see how much she loves to read - and she reads actual books! She has very similar sentiments about a book like I do. It is good to hear that from a teenager.

- School is over for the holidays. Kaefer had finals last week with Thursday being the last day of school. It is a big relief to have a two weeks break, and fortunately she has almost no homework. She can really relax and I'm so glad about that. She has worked very hard and she certainly deserves a break. We all do. And this is why we all take time off for this winter break - time off the computer and similar addictions. It will be family time for the next two weeks. That doesn't mean that I won't sneak over to your blogs every now and then, I just won't post here.

I wish all of you a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah or whatever you're celebrating - winter solstice, Kwanzaa... - and all the very best for the new year. May it bring you lots of inspiration, health and joy.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A White Mug And the Neapolitan Novels

I wanted to write this post two weeks ago... well, that didn't happen, but I hope you don't mind to read about this today, even though this is not exactly this week's find.

My friend Jo and I love to have breakfast together every now and then, and usually we have our favorite cafés that we frequent a lot. Two weeks ago, however, we wanted to try a new café that is actually in walking distance from my home. The café is wonderful and has become a new favorite. We had planned to go to the yarn store afterwards, but it was still too early. So we opted to visit the Goodwill store next to the café instead.

That's where I found this white mug. I immediately fell in love with it - I love it's clear lines, its simplicity. I already pictured the hot chocolate in there.... but I actually use it mostly for tea. Hibiscus tea, to be exact. The red tea in the white mug looks fabulous (which you can't really see in this picture).

We did make it to the yarn store as well. Those are always dangerous places for me. I love yarn and knitting, especially with double pointed needles. I don't exactly know why - I just love the feel of it. I found some wonderful alpaca yarn in a rusty orange color - I plan to make a hat and a matching infinity scarf. And drink lots of hibiscus tea!

Another find of this (!) week is this book by Elena Ferrante, "My Brilliant Friend". Ferrante is an Italian writer from Naples, and this book is the first in her Neapolitan novels. It takes place in the late 50's in a poor neighborhood in Naples and she just describes her childhood and teenage years in post-war Italy that was dominated by her friendship with the girl Lila, but also takes in all the other happenings in her neighborhood. It's a portrait of Italy that really draws you in. The two other Neapolitan novels are "The Story of a New Name" and "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay". It was this third book that I saw first in the book store - the title intrigued me and was the reason why I picked up the book in the first place. I then decided to start with the first book in the series - and I haven't regretted it. I will certainly get books 2 and 3 as well.

I'm linking up with "Friday Finds" after I had missed it the last time!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Christmas Fence Is a Good Fence

There is this woman in our neighborhood who has a beautiful front garden and who always decorates her picket fence for the holidays. I'm usually not into big bows and stuff like that, but this is the big exception - I love the big red bows with the ball ornaments on the white fence (I just realized I used the word "big" three times in this sentence!).

It looks so festive and happy at the same time.

I guess she spends quite some time for this beautiful decoration, and we can enjoy it. It always makes me smile when I walk past her house.

Such a beautiful fence certainly falls into the category "Good Fences" - and that's why I'm linking up to Theresa's blog!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Last One Standing

Most of my lavender is gone - but this one is still standing! Standing up to winter, rain, winds, digging squirrels. Quite amazing.

Here's the recipe:
layered original photo with kk_bestill in linear burn at 47%;
levels adjustment on the texture only;
added the quote;
layered with kk-hughes in soft light at 100%;
levels adjustment on the texture only.

I'm linking up to Texture Tuesday. Do you want to see more great texture work? Just hop over to Kim's blog!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Gratitude

This Sunday sneaked up on me... I simply wasn't ready for it. But here it is.

My gratitude list is full again. I feel blessed.

- As usual, and every single day, I am so grateful for my family. We had a bit of a rough week, mainly because Kaefer has been buried beneath homework. Only two more weeks until winter break, and it seems that the teachers have doubled the amount of homework. I simply don't get it. Still, there are always moments when we laugh and have fun together.
- There was time to watch old episodes of Downton Abbey, Kaefer's favorite TV show. She always watches the old episodes in anticipation of the start of the new season (January 4th!!!).

- Knitting - along with the cooler season I take out my knitting needles again. I knitted many doll's hats, scarves and leg warmers in the past weeks and am currently working on a pair of boot cuffs for a certain young girl (no, she doesn't read my blog). I love projects that are done fast, but I also got some patterns for more challenging projects in our local yarn store. I'm also looking for a good knitting book that is easy to understand - if you have any suggestions please tell me in the comments!
- Nature always calms me. I finally went back to the lake and it was THE highlight of this past week. This place holds a certain magic for me that works over and over again. It doesn't matter if the sun is not shining and the ground is sogging - the lake is pure heaven.

- I am so grateful for my friend Jo. We hadn't seen each other in quite a while since we both were very busy. But this week we finally managed to get together twice. We discovered a new breakfast place in town, spent time in the yarn store drooling over skeins of alpaca and mohair and went to a holiday craft fair. With her I also discover our town with new eyes, like this statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. I had never realized before that Snoopy actually carries a rose in his paw!

- The smell of freshly baked bread was waving through our home this week as well. Beside all the whole grain bread that we love I tried a recipe for a Moroccan country bread - it was yummy and went so well with the shrimp in lemon butter. I guess I will post the recipe some time in the coming week, so if you're interested in it watch out for it.
- Still life photography. I had never thought that I would enjoy this special kind of photography so much. Usually I'm the nature, landscape, tree and fence photographer, but this quiet photography is so different and fulfilling at the same time. I enjoy setting up a photo shoot, take several shots and then process them in Lightroom. Kim Klassen's online class "Start to Finish" has been a big helper in this development.

- And like every Sunday - don't forget the birds. They are an endless source of joy for me. I saw this little California Towhee during my walk around the lake and I was happy that he stayed on this bench for quite some while.

Now it's your turn - what are you grateful for?

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Soup Season Has Begun

Winter is soup season! Soup is such a great comfort food.

I make my soups in my big Dutch oven where it can simmer for hours and fill the house with delicious flavors that make everybody hungry. Is there anything better than gathering at the table for a big pot of soup and some rustic bread (preferable homemade)? My mom used to make a wonderful potato soup with some very hearty sausage in it. We loved that soup, but unfortunately the recipe is lost. This is something that still bugs me, that my mom's recipes disappeared after she had died.

However, only a few weeks ago my blogging friend Ginnie mentioned her son's potato sausage soup on her blog. She also included a photo of the soup which reminded me of my mom's soup. It looked so super delicious that I asked her whether I can have the recipe. She sent it to me a day later.

A couple days ago I tried it for the first time - and gosh, was it good! No, it wasn't exactly like my mom's potato soup, but it had pretty much the same ingredients - especially the sausage!!! Although it is a different kind of sausage (Germany is the sausage nation of the world, there are so many kinds that you can't expect to find anywhere else) it has the same heartiness. Just yummy, and wonderful on a winter's evening. If you like cornbread, go for it. We love to eat rustic country bread with it.

The soup is my find of this week and worth a post for Friday Finds! This is definitely a keeper. Ginnie has graciously given me permission to post the recipe here.

Potato Sausage Soup

1 large onion
4-6 medium/large potatoes
4-6 stalks of celery
6-8 large carrots
1 pound of sausage (Polska Kielbasa)
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup of sour cream
paprika (I used smoked paprika)

Cut sausage into 1/2" sections

Chop onion and saute in water (cover bottom of pot).  Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp paprika to onions as they cook on medium heat.

Add sausage to onions and simmer covered while you cut up the rest of the vegetables.

Cut celery and carrots into small pieces.  (optionally peel) potatoes and cut into cubes 1" or so.

Add veggies to sausage and onions.  Add 2 bay leaves.

Add just enough water to cover everything, 6-8 cups.

Add 2 tsp salt.

Bring to a boil and then simmer covered until veggies are done (easily pierced with a fork)

Once veggies are cooked, and before you are ready to serve, dip out one or two cups of the hot soup broth (just broth, no veggies or meat) and add 1/2 cup of sour cream to the hot broth.  Stir up thoroughly to mix sour cream with the broth.  Then pour that mixture back with the rest of the soup and mix well.

Soup is ready to serve.  Goes very well with cornbread muffins!

Keep refrigerated and before reheating skim off the solidified fat from the top of the soup (looks orange!)

There is only one thing to add: ENJOY!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Fence With a Lot of Sand

It's been a while since I joined Theresa's Good Fences. I haven't taken any photos of fences recently, so I looked through my archives and found this one:

If you just glance at it without really looking you might think this fence disappears in the snow. And although this photo was taken in winter, the fence disappears into sand - beautiful, white sand.

The location of the fence is at the entrance to this:

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. We went there in December 2010 and fell in love with this huge area of white sand dunes and an incredible blue sky. The temptation to show you many more photos of this location is big, but I will limit this post to the yucca plants that grow there.

It's rather surprising that anything grows here anyway - but it does. I found the yucca rather fascinating, especially the dead ones that were lying on the ground - still beautiful.

Look at these huge seedpods. Aren't they gorgeous? And so photogenic...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Back at the Lake

It has been months since I was at the lake the last time - it must have been some time in summer - I can't even remember. I'm not quite sure why I never went after that. My priority in the morning has been my workout since I felt I really have to do something for my health and stay at least a bit in shape (round is a shape, right?). Then at the end of September my parks pass expired and I never got around to buy a new one - until a couple weeks ago, when I finally renewed online and got the new pass in the mail.

I can't express in words how beautiful it was to be back at the lake. There were still a few remaining signs of autumn, but it is obvious that we're heading into winter by now.

Some trees though still were fiercely red which almost glowed on this grey morning while the hill behind them simply disappeared in the fog.

I was looking for my little friends, the black-crowned night herons, but only found one. It was hidden in the leaves hanging in the water from a downed tree. Can you see it?

These little guys are so cute, I love them! It was a bit disappointing that I didn't see more of them. Instead I saw lots of other beautiful things - like these wild blackberry leaves. This photo is straight out of the camera. Isn't the color amazing?

There were fungi at a tree stump and beautifully colored leaves at the edge of the lake.

Suddenly I heard the call of a red-shouldered hawk. First, he was chased by two crows, but then he took off into a different direction. It took me some time to find him again when he was perched high on this post.

Unfortunately he flew away before I could take better pictures of him. When he was gone I looked around a bit - I had left the path by then and was in some kind of wild and open space. I noticed the buckeyes lying on the ground, most of them munched upon by wildlife, but some still complete. They are so pretty. Thank you, hawk, for leading me to them!

This one is for Texture Tuesday.
Layered with kk_colton in soft light at 100%. Texture brushed from buckeyes. Copied and blended in color burn at 61%; layer mask disabled. Level adjustment on texture only.

After almost two hours at the lake, the fog was slowly burning off, but it still stayed grey. The sun peeked through the clouds every now and then. It was so pretty - and I decided that I need to change my morning priorities a bit. Workout is important - but perhaps I can skip one morning a week and walk around the lake instead. The workout keeps me healthy, but the lake feeds my soul.

This is the view of the lake from exactly the same spot as the first picture, two hours and 15 minutes later. Quite the difference.