Monday, December 17, 2012

Mary Kristmas: The Christmas Witch - A Pagan Tale

There is a tale of days of long ago that is very seldom told – not because it is so antiquated, but because elements of it are tragic. It has therefore has been swept under the rug so to speak – hidden from audiences all these many years. And yet, it is a tale that needs be told. And so, breaking from the hustle and bustle of a busy season, I pause to share it with you.
Throughout history social orders have divided groups by class or culture. Societal norms do not allow for transcendence through class boundaries. Such was the case in this tale.
Kristopher Kringle was born to Elizabeth and Kristoph Kringle. They were peasants and worked each day of their lives just to provide scanty clothing for their children and put a meager spread of food on the table. On the last day of his existence, Kristoph Kringle was found in the woods, slumped over his axe which had been sunk deep into the trunk of a deadfall tree.
This left young Kristopher in the care of his mother. She had once been young and beautiful, but years of manual labor had worn the curves from her body, the roses from her cheeks and the fullness from her lips. Without her beloved husband to provide for the family, she could put but little food on the table, so many evenings Kristopher went to bed famished, having sacrificed what he might have eaten so that one of his younger siblings could have a portion more.
At the age of 15, Kristopher left home and procured work as a messenger for Lord Shropton. The pay was poor, but if he didn’t light a fire in his quarters and ate coarse bread, country cheese and an occasional cabbage or turnip for his sustenance, the income was enough for him to survive and to send a small amount back to his mother to provide for his family.
It was through his service as messenger that he first met Mary. Mary Kristmas was born to be a duchess. The first time Kristopher saw her she was seated in the garden, painting a picture of the vineyards. Though she faced away from him, the setting sun splashed orange highlights across her brunette locks.  So compelling was the image that Kristopher paused, entranced by the shimmer in her full hair. Had not his horse nudged him, he might have stayed rooted to that same spot on the gravel drive until he was caught and punished for looking upon one so far above his station. On that fateful day, he delivered Lord Shropton’s message and left – but his heart stayed on.
Months passed after the chance encounter. As fate would have it, one day while Mary was out riding, a terrible storm hit the countryside. Icy winds picked up and torrential rains blew like a volley of bullets into anything within their path. The storm burst so suddenly that Mary and her lady riding companion scarcely had time to turn around before they were hit full force. At the first clap of thunder, the young, skittish horse Mary was riding bolted, pulling the slippery reins from Mary’s grasp.  
The terrified pony plunged wildly into the relentless weather with Mary clinging to the saddle.  Her cries for help were lost in the howls of the wind and the horse ran too fast for her to safely dismount. She felt helpless, doomed to perish in the untamable storm.
Time and time again she reached unsuccessfully for the wet reins. At last she managed to grab one side of the reins and pulled on it with all her might. The horse balked at the bit, reared up, and fell to its side, crushing Mary’s leg beneath its weight before scrambling up and disappearing into the darkness.
Stunned, Mary lay on the sodden forest floor. Eventually she attempted to stand, but her leg was twisted uselessly at an odd angle. Fighting back waves of nausea and dizziness, she dragged herself to the side of the roadway beneath the sparse shelter of an evergreen. Surely someone would come for her when her horse returned home without her.
The storm raged on. Soaked and in shock, Mary began to shiver convulsively. She fought to stay conscious. For what seemed like hours, she sat beneath the failing shelter of the large tree, propped against its trunk.
I will die here, thought Mary. There will be those that mourn my passing; my mother, my father, but who else? I’ve done very little for this world, certainly nothing heroic, and once I am gone I will soon be forgotten.
The thought discouraged her, but only for a moment. She could not die, cowering beneath the needled branches; she was born to be nobility and should live to fulfill some greater purpose.
Wincing and moving cautiously so as not to injure herself further, Mary reached for an overhead branch that had died long ago. It was sturdy and required her full body weight to snap it from the trunk. It gouged into her armpit as she attempted to stand, but she knew it was her best chance at survival. Warily she leaned forward. The makeshift crutch held. Dragging her useless leg beside her, she hobbled forward.  
She had gone no more than fifteen paces beyond the tree when she heard it: the thundering sound of hooves beating against the ground. Had her horse returned? Perhaps it had calmed enough so she could coax herself onto it to be carried home. The sound grew closer and Mary braced herself for what might be her only chance of survival. Within seconds her mount would round the bend, hopefully see her and stop – for she was in no condition to capture it.
As predicted, the horse rounded the bend and stopped, but this was not her horse and this steed already carried a rider, a messenger boy. The saddle groaned as the young man eased himself to the ground. “Are you hurt my lady?” he shouted over the din of the storm.
“Yes,” she gasped. “I was thrown from my horse and I believe the fall has injured my leg.”
The man’s face cringed as he looked toward her mutilated leg. “May I offer you a ride home?”
It was improper, he a commoner and she without an escort, but what choice did she have? Surely her parents would be grateful he had preserved her life and not be vexed about the impropriety of her sprawled across his lap.  Perhaps they would even reward the young man for such chivalrous behavior.
She inched toward his mount before realizing she couldn’t climb into the saddle with her mangled leg. He seemed to understand and - refusing to meet her eyes – scooped her up and gently lifted into the saddle. Instead of climbing up beside her, he took hold of the reins and began walking. Clearly the boy had a sense of decency.
Mary had little way of gauging how far she was from her home. She had been miles before the cloudburst and then the horse had carried her farther in the wrong direction.  The raging storm blocked all familiar landmarks.
“Do you know how far we must go?”
The young man didn’t look back as he replied. “Several miles, less than fifteen.”
Less than fifteen? With him walking, it would likely be hours before they reached the house. She shivered involuntarily, which seemed to set her chills in motion. If he were truly a gentleman, he would offer her his cloak, but he wouldn’t know that; how could he? She pulled her arms closer to her body and attempted to draw her legs in tighter.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m chilled,” she answered.
The man stopped the horse, took off his cloak, and settled it over her shoulders. Already drenched from the rain, it did only a little to ease her suffering.
“Thank you,” Mary said.
The man nodded, still refusing to meet her eyes. Onward they trudged but the storm worsened and Mary could not tell how far they had traveled. Night stole away the dim light not already drowned out in the passing storm.
Surely my parents will have sent someone to look for me by now, thought Mary. There is but one road to my home and I’m certain to have been missed.
Mary’s fingers clutched the edges of the cloak, drawing it closer around her. She could no longer feel her extremities and likely could not have loosened her grip had she tried. Was it cruel to persuade the young man to allow her to ride on, galloping home? He was sturdy and had quite obviously seen much worse in his day. Surely a walk in the storm could do little more damage.
“We’ll stop here,” the youth said suddenly.
Mary looked up, too shocked to respond. “We’ll do no such thing. I have to get home. Even now I imagine my parents are terrified that I have become lost to them. They’ll be sick with worry.”
“Aren’t you cold?”
Mary clenched her teeth, but didn’t respond.
“There is a small hut not far from this spot. We’ll go in it, build a fire, have some supper, and dry out. When the weather has cleared, we’ll continue onward.  I am cold and hungry and I imagine you are as well.”
“It isn’t proper,” Mary answered.
“Very well,” answered Kristopher, “you may stay here and await the search parties. I, however, will be going to the hut to feed myself and my horse. When I return if you are still here, I will continue to lead you home. If you’ve gone, I’ll deliver my message to your father and then be on my way.”
“I demand that you take me home. Know your place servant.”
For the first time, his eyes met hers. “I am a servant to Lord Shropton. My place is in his service. I was given the task of delivering a message to your father. You have kept me from that task. My place would be to leave you and continue on as I was intended to do. Is that what you wish?”
Put that way, Mary could hardly protest and so, looking away, she answered, “Very well. We’ll rest.”
With no comment, Kristopher led her off the path and down into a shallow ravine. It took little time after reaching the hut for him to light a blazing fire.  In the dimly-lit interior she saw as chair, a small table and a platform probably used as a bed.
“It might take me some time to find food,” Kristopher said, tossing her an abrasive wool blanket he’d carried in his saddlebag. “Hang your things by the fire and I will be back as quickly as I can.”
“Where do you mean to get food?”
“I am an expert huntsman.”
Rage filled Mary. “This is my father’s land, you thief. How dare you hunt on his grounds!”
A smile played at the corner of Kristopher’s mouth. “And I am using his game to feed his only daughter.”
His response silenced her immediately. She waited until the sound of his footsteps were no longer distinguishable over the rain, and then stripped off her clothing and hung it from the mantle over the fire. Listening for his return, she took time to examine her leg. It was surely broken, probably in two places. Large bruises had formed on both her upper thigh and the middle of her calf. Wincing, Mary eased herself on the platform and tried to get comfortable on the hard surface.
There was no way of telling how long the young man had been gone, for when Mary awoke, he was already there, slowly turning a game hen on a spit.
“You’re back,” she remarked, stupidly.
He nodded almost imperceptibly. “I believe your clothing has dried and the sky has cleared. Though I saw no signs of your father’s men looking for you, I’m certain they are worried. I’ll step out so you can dress and then we’ll be on our way. We can eat supper as we go.”
Mary watched as the young man secured the meat over the glowing embers and then exited the shelter. She pulled herself to a sitting position and made to swing her legs over the side of the bed. Sharp pains caused her to cry out.
“Are you well, my lady?”
Tears forced their way out of the corner of her eyes. Gasping she answered, “Will you fetch me my clothing?”
Silence was her only response for several seconds. At last, she heard the door scrape against the floor as it was pushed inward. Gathering her underclothing and her gown, Kristopher set the items gingerly on the platform beside Mary and then, pausing only to turn the hen, again went outdoors.
The process was long and painful, but at last Mary had dressed herself except for her stockings and shoes. Her broken limb was too inflamed for her to force her foot into the shoe and the other foot she could not reach on account of the first. “I’m ready,” she called out.
Kristopher entered once again. He carefully folded the blanket and then offered an arm to support Mary’s walk to the horse.
“I can’t,” she whispered.
Kristopher hesitated, as if making a decision. Draping the blanket over one arm, he eased himself down on one knee. Gingerly, Kristopher lifted Mary in his arms and carried her out of doors. He was still damp, she noted, and had obviously not taken time to dry out. Loading her once again back onto the horse, Mary grimaced.
“Your feet are bare,” Kristopher noted.
She nodded.
“I worry you shall become chilled again.”
Mary looked away. Without waiting for invitation, Kristopher grabbed her shoes and stockings. With surprising dexterity, Kristopher eased her stockings over each of her feet, doubling them over several times until they rested loosely against her calf. Gently he secured the boot on her non-injured limb before draping the blanket across her shoulders.
Returning again to the shelter, he came back with the roasted hen. This he tore in two and gave half to Mary. All her training flashed before her eyes. It was uncivilized to be eating without linens and utensils and fine goblets for sipping cider, but her ravenous hunger won out and with little hesitation she devoured her meat.
“Have you a name,” Mary finally asked?
“Kristopher,” responded the young man. “Kristopher Kringle.”
“Well Kristopher, I expect you shall be handsomely rewarded upon my return.”
Kristopher shrugged.
“Do you not care for money?”
“Money is necessary, but it isn’t why I helped you.”
Despite herself, Mary smiled smugly. She had often been praised for her poise and beauty and though she wasn’t at her finest, clearly he must have seen it. It gave her power and she used it to her advantage. “Then why did you help me?” she teased.
His response silenced her. “You were in need of help. I should hope had the roles been reversed, you would have done the same.”
For much of the long journey home, Mary contemplated his response. Would she have helped him had he been in need? He was common. He was poor. He was barely human. Her honesty with herself sickened her.
Had she died on the roadside, her parents would have made a show of losing her, but what loss was she really to humanity? At last she spoke. “Reward or no reward, you must come see me again.”
It is here we escape the storyline. You see there is much to tell, but it can all be summarized in a few short sentences. Kristopher did come to see Mary again, as often as occasion would permit. As one might expect, the two fell deeply in love though such a relationship was doomed from its conception. Though fairytales attempt to tell us otherwise, logic tells us a relationship between nobility and a commoner could not flourish. Their mutual devastation was all-consuming the night she told him her parents had promised her as wife to a king.
“I can’t go through with it,” Mary said.
“What choice do you have? A king is king and his word is law.”
“Kristopher, I love you. I wake each morning and spend the day thinking of you. At night I dream of you. There is no part of me that doesn’t belong to you.”
Concealed in the darkness of the grounds, Kristopher lost his inhibitions. “Mary, my love. . . what can I do?”
“Go to my parents, beg for my hand.”
Even in the opaqueness of night, Mary saw the tears as they slipped down his cheeks. “You know I cannot. You are well above my station and by admitting any feelings for you, I would immediately be executed.”
“Then take me away,” she whispered. “Take me away from this life and let me be yours.”
“And where would we go? How would we live? My family depends on me for sustenance. No one will hire me when it is discovered what I have done.”
“Then let us go away, beyond the inhabitants of the world, to a place where money has no meaning.”
“And my family?”
“You forget,” replied Mary, “I am a duchess and my house has untold wealth. Were I to take only my inheritance, it would be enough for you, me, our children, your family, and a whole household of orphans besides.”
“I cannot ask you to do that – to steal and forsake your family  – forsake your life.”
“I shan’t steal. I will take no more than my dowry.”
“It is deception.”
“My parents intend for me to wed, and so I shall.”
“It is a lie.”
Mary looked away from him. “I do not want to be the woman I am destined to become in this environment; selfish, greedy and so caught up in meaningless things like the way I hold my hands or the perfection of my needlepoint. I want a family with children that I see - not just when I send for them on occasion - but each morning at breakfast. None of that is possible here.”
“So I am your escape plan?”
“You are my world Kristopher. We have the same dreams and goals. We can’t be together and we can’t have those dreams here.”
Pulling her too him, he kissed her fiercely. “Oh Mary, I wish it were to be so.”
Gently she kissed him back, “You’re wish is granted,” she whispered.
I must again interrupt because those who are bound to happy endings often intercede at this point and retell the tale ending with Mary and Kristopher departing for the South Pole, using her family’s fortune to start a toy shop, and having hundreds of little children that never really grew up due to the polarity of the South Pole. Yes it is true that one night, shortly before Mary’s intended wedding date, Kristopher came for her. Mary was ready with her portion of her inheritance, much of which she gave to Kristopher’s siblings and some of which she used to give his mother a proper burial in a churchyard. But Mary Kristmas did not go on to become Mrs. Clause, nor did their children spend their lives as toy-making elves.
It might have happened that way had not something deep inside Mary broken the day her parents promised her in marriage to a man she did not love, offering their only daughter as though she were some sort of trophy or premium. Or perhaps her betrothal date is when something had indeed snapped, but the damage had begun on the day of the fateful storm that led her to Kristopher. That day she had returned home only to discover she had not even been missed, her parents assuming she had been in the care of the servants. It was with no regret and little remorse that a steel-hearted Mary left her home.
Kristopher and Mary made one stop on their way to the South Pole and that was in Australia, where they were at last wedded. It was a small affair, but was the happiest days in both of their lives.
Once at the South Pole, the two found a hidden steam vent that sent tropical temperatures up through the earth’s crust. So though surrounded by icebergs, frigid temperatures, and an abundance of snow, their small little oasis was almost constantly warm and sunny for half of the year. It was a good life; plenty of fish to eat, fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden, and time to spend loving one another. But decades passed, and though their love was still strong, Kristopher began to feel selfish in his complete happiness.
It was then, after the two had been married for more than twenty years, that Kristopher first approached Mary about spreading the joy and prosperity they had enjoyed. Mary was reluctant at first, terrified of returning to the world in which she had been so harshly objectified, but at long last, she was persuaded, remembering how the first time she had felt sincere love was that day long ago when Kristopher had rescued her from the roadside. He hadn’t done it because she was nobility, but because she was in need. It had changed the course of her life. Perhaps it would be healing if she could do that for others.
So it was that Kristopher Kringle, hoping to disguise his identity, took on the name of Santa Clause and began delivering presents to those in the world that fortune had overlooked. Mary joined him on this quest and with each passing year the two looked forward to the winter season when their hard efforts made with love could be spread throughout the world.
Unfortunately, there was one obstacle between them. It began as playful banter, but year after year it grew until it could easily be recognized as the wedge driving them apart. You see, Mary had not forgotten her ill treatment by her parents and by others like them and continued to feel that those type of individuals should be punished with terrible creatures sent to haunt their dreams.
As a compromise, Kristopher begged her to let them send coal to these individuals. The message would be clear; that they had not acted in a way that upheld others and made the world a better place because they were in it. Yet those individuals would still receive something, a gift that could be burned to bring warmth and hopefully thaw out their icy hearts. Mary contended that any gift was too great a gift.
Year after year, the rift between them grew. Finally, one Christmas Eve as the sleigh of presents was being packed, everything came to a head.
“Did you pack the sack of coal, love?” Kristopher asked.
“Not this year,” answered Mary.
“Must we go over this year after year?”
“No,” responded Mary, “this year I’ve made my decision. I love to go with you to deliver small tokens of joy to deserving and good-hearted individuals, but why should those ill-behaved mongrels of the world be given anything? If you insist on giving them coal or any token of our passing, I can no longer support this effort.”
Kristopher stopped strapping down the overflowing bags of gifts. “Don’t do this Mary. Remember how you feel when you do something for others. Don’t let this hatred fester and destroy you.”
“It doesn’t destroy me, it completes me. I cannot bear your hopeless optimism, your eternal view through rose- colored glasses. You must see that not everyone deserves something.”
“Please, don’t do this.”
“I have no choice.”
Tears filled Kristopher’s eyes as he stepped toward Mary and gathered her in his arms. “Mary we defied everything to be together and we were given that chance. We have love. We have prosperity. We need to share that with others.”
“I can’t on these terms,” whispered Mary. Her voice strengthened. “I’m sorry, but I there are some people I cannot forgive and some actions I cannot overlook.”
“I will be gone by the time you return.”
Stiffening, Mary disentangled herself from her husband’s embrace. It broke her heart that it should end this way; she’d enjoyed such bliss, such happiness, with a man she could no longer abide. “Just go. You’ll be late.”
They had fought this fight before and he fully expected her to stay. Disagreements are a naturally occurring part of a relationship. Delivering the gifts gave him time to cool off, to blow off steam. Certainly it would do the same for her. One can only imagine his heartbreak and the months of depression that followed when he returned to a South Pole that had fully iced over, chilled by the frosty disposition of the mistress.
None alive today will remember the tales of the years that Santa Clause didn’t come. He couldn’t come. Upon seeing the South Pole and imagining it without Mary, he left, signed all the legal paperwork for the divorce and spent several years in Australia, working as a cowhand and trying to forget. It was there he met Karma Noel, one of the cooks for the large ranch. She was kind. She was hard working. She was selfless. She helped Kristopher regain hope for humankind. And so he married her and she became the Mrs. Clause so often recounted in tales of Santa and the North Pole.
Working together, they relocated to the North Pole, created an empire, and used Mary’s inheritance – constantly growing through proper investments – to hire elves. Though he found peace, hope, love and joy, Kristopher continued to wear the red fur-lined suit that Mary made him as a reminder. A reminder that although there is a world full of hatred, cruelty, disaster and violence, if the focus is placed only on those negative entities – all the goodness, kindness, gentleness and humanity will be overlooked until it ceases to exist.
Many who have been privy to this little-known tale wonder what became of Mary. Do not mourn her. The night Kristopher flew away, Mary was momentarily stunned, but her pride helped her recover quickly. Loading her few belongings atop a magical flying candy cane, and kicking the snow from her red ruby slippers, she took off into the night, landing deep in the forest at the hut where she and Kristopher had spent an evening decades before.
At first she was heartbroken that a love so beautiful and so tender could have collapsed with such finality. Grieving and lamenting the loss of her one true love, Mary switched out her fur lined red cloak and minty-striped stockings for stockings striped in black and white and mourning black crepe. From there, her life became what legends are made of.

Some cultures agree that she used the candy cane to adorn her house, adding other sweets as time permitted so that she could lure in little children to eat. Eventually she was baked in her own oven by some intelligent orphans.

Others say she was cast in a major film production and though her face was never to be seen, her legs with their black and white striped stockings and sparkly red shoes became iconic.
In several countries it is said her hut has been bewitched to travel about on the legs of a chicken and that it travels through the forest in search of children to devour.
A few believe when her grieving had passed, and with vengeance in her heart, Mary vowed to begin a celebration of her own kind at her own time of year. It would be in the season when the frost came and plant life was wiped out. It would be at the time of year when hours of daylight were scarce. It would follow the rules she had set forth for the universe. A treat would be given for those who had been good and kind and for those who exploited the innocent and were a drain on society, there would be nothing but monsters, ghouls, hauntings and tricks. And so Mary Kristmas, having been made immortal through her time at the South Pole, traded her flying candy cane for a broom, and has found contentment in spending October 31st of each year passing out tricks or treats.
Yet I prefer the legend of the Italians. The tradition follows a witch who was approached by the Wisemen and asked to lead them to the Christ child. As she was busy sweeping her house at the time, she dissented. Only later did she realize the gravity of her error and then began searching all the houses of the world on the eve of January 6th to find that special baby. Though He has long since passed, the messages of His life have not. La Befana, as she is called, leaves a gift in the stocking of the Italian Children and continues to look for the Christ child. I’m sure she too sees that the prisons are full, families live in broken homes and life has become unnaturally busy. Yet HOPE still survives; hope in healing from wrongs, hope in forgiveness, hope for a little more compassion and understanding -- hope made possible by a baby who came into this world centuries ago and whose birth we celebrate this season. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cardigen from a sweater

 Most of my ideas, best and worst, begin with I wonder if. . .  This project was no exception. I was given this lovely sweater as a hand-me-down and though the color isn't something I would ordinarily pick out for myself, it happened to be the excact shade to compliment a dress my sister-in-law picked out for me.

I tried wearing the sweater under the jumper type dress, but it was far too bulky.

Next I tried wearing it over the halter topped dress, but then it lost the whole beauty of the halter top and empire waist.

The print on the dress is semi-tropical, so it is probably meant to be more of a spring/summer outfit, but I want to wear it now because I like it (the dress).

The natural solution was to turn the sweater into a cardigen.

My idea was to sew ribbon down the front, turn the ribbon to the inside and then stitch it to create a finished edge.

Luckily I was able to find both ribbon and thread in a the correct color. Notice how the ribbon is the kind that is woven rather than silky. I think it will be more durable.

The first step was to find the center of the sweater. I did this by making sure the side seams were actually at the side and then measuring to the center at the waist and across the chest. I should note at this piont that there is no turning back. It would be best to use a marking pen in case errors were made, but I used permenant marker because I figured it would be covered in the seam and I wanted it highly visible. Though I wasn't sure it was going to work, at this point, I was committed.

 I then pinned two lengths of ribbon side by side onto the front so that the big black line down the center was between the two strips. Be certain to leave excess at either end so that it can be turned under to prevent fraying.

 Also, when pinning it, it is helpful to put cardboard or something beneath it so you only pin through one layer.
 Then, of course, it is time to sew it. This is done sewing right alongside the inner edges of both strips of ribbon. Then, carefully cut through the sweater. The two strips finish off the edges so the sweater shouldn't unravel.

Once you've finished cutting down the middle, press the seam flat and turn the ribbon to the inside of the sweater. Also, tuck the ends up underneath to finish off the ends of the ribbon.

Lastly, topstich a second seam the width of the ribbon to create the finished edge of the sweater.

 At this point, one could do a whole line of buttons all the way down the front so that it could be buttoned all the way down as a true cardigan should be.

Or, if you prefer, you can find just one mismatched button left from who knows what and stitch it on at the top just to keep the neck closed. It might have been better to have something to match the sweater, but I didn't and I kind like the bling of the diamond set in the antique, tarnished brass. It sort of gives it that matronly look that I'm really trying to pull off these days. Even better is when I wear the entire ensemble with my flat, shapeless, Mary Jane Doc Martin's .

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cooking is my nemesis

I sure love good food and it seems that there might be a natural correlation between a desire for good food and the love of making said food. However, in my realm, no such thing exists. I hate cooking. It isn't so much the actual cooking part, though if there are too many ingredients (more than about 7) or too many steps on the instructions (I have culinary associated attention deficit disorder CAADD) or if it requires the use of too many dishes (usually more than one bowl or pan), I seem to form a very negative association.

More debilitating, however, is the task of selection. I know my family needs to eat. I know that which we consume should be promote a healthy lifestyle. I know that in an ever failing economy we should be budget-minded. All of this inhibits my decisions. Each night as I go to bed, one of my last thoughts as I drift off is, "Tomorrow, very first thing after I open my eyes and step out of bed, I'm going to have to make something for breakfast." Then the other factors come into play. I could make pancakes most every day, but are that many carbs actually good for a young individual? Cold cereal is fortified, but what kind of mother opens a box of cereal every morning? Waffles are a lot like pancakes. Yogurt is nutritious and desirable, but doesn't stay with you and if that is breakfast, there is a guarantee that I'll be back in that kitchen before lunch time.

Though I don't care to admit it freely, there is a strong likelihood that I have, on more than one occasion, said to one of my children, "Stop Eating!" Sometimes I feel like the kitchen is a prison and that each time I make my escape I am soon caught and summoned back to the same locale. Like many others, I find meals or foods on pinterest and think, that looks good. So I pin it and it sits on the board, taunting me to attempt it. But I'm like the woman who has only been in bad relationships. Even if she meets a nice guy, she's reluctant to enter into anything too serious because she knows how it will end. I believe the therapeutic term is self-sabotaging.

So tonight I sit here at 11:30. I should go to bed. But I sit and wait it out because I know in a few short hours, hungry bodies will be in my bedroom asking for a morsel and once again I will trudge to the kitchen, open the cupboard or fridge, and find that the elves I had anticipated arriving in the night to do the cooking for me did not come. So I'll flip through a cook book, look online, maybe phone a friend and finally pull out a box of cold cereal. By the time the kitchen is put in order, it will be about time to start lunch, a whole new saga of what to make, a saga that must be evaluated and is dependent on what was served for breakfast.

Wanting to actually get something done, I'll leave the kitchen immediately after cleaning up lunch only to realize about 6:30 that the family is hungry and I've done nothing toward dinner. Some day when I am independently wealthy I will, without guilt and/or remorse, hire someone to come in and do the cooking. I have a lot of other great skills and fine attributes, but oh how I loathe cooking!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Upcycled popcorn tin wall hanging

It is not my intent to sound ungrateful, but I have popcorn issues. Remember the whole rant I posted under Three simply delicious autumn treats? I won't quote myself on it, but if you need a reminder, go back and look. Earlier in my life, one of the best Christmas gifts given by neighbors were tins of popcorn. At that time, the tin came with the canister and a solid lid as well as three flavors of popcorn; caramel, butter and cheese. In my house the caramel was the first to go, followed by the butter and then, in a desperation for low-grade carbs, the cheese. I don't know if we actually ever all the cheese.
About the time I went off to college, I acquired some really cool tins that were shaped like milk cans. I had a whole collection of cow themed memorabilia and the tins were painted with cows and sunflowers. I kept them for a number of years, but surprisingly when I married and entered a new life with this other person, he wasn't as in to cow stuff as I was and so much of that collection went by the wayside.  
It may be that the tri-popcorn collection of tins is still available for resale. I don't buy them because I don't really like popcorn and I don't receive them because I probably am not a good enough friend/neighbor to warrant them as a gift.
Though I don't prefer the contents, I like many of the actual tins. But unless they have the year round versatility of the milk cans, what can be done with the tins?
Obviously they can be recycled or reused. I've seen people store Christmas decorations in them or used as garbage collection bins. Lights can be placed inside and holes punched through them to light the pathway to the house around the holidays. However, if they aren't being used for those purposes, they are taking up space and being tripped over until finally, scratched, dented and no longer fit to the lid, one throws them away. It seems such a waste when most have such pretty little scenes painted on them. But what to do?

I'm not sure where the tin I have came from. (The one above was at Wal-mart, but I had already cut up mine, so that's why I had to snap a fresh photo.) As mentioned, it has been in my basement for several years. The lid no longer fits, at least I don't think it does, but I actually haven't seen it in months, possibly years. Until recently, the tin served as the trash can for the unfinished basement, but when the bottom was needed for a separate purpose, I was left with the canister sides. I like them. It has a cute scene with snowmen by a campfire. Naturally, I was inspired to make an upcycled wall hanging.
The first step was to square up the sides. The best tool for the job is, as the name would imply, a square. If you don't have one, you could borrow one or just use a sheet of card stock or some other object that you trust to have straight sides.  

Once the sides have been traced, use a pair of tin snips to cut out the desired scene. If you don't own tin snips, I imagine you could use a pair of sharp and durable scissors, but I cannot in good conscience recommend that strategy. Whatever you use, make sure you wear gloves, leather if possible so that you don't slice your palms open on the sharp edges of cut metal. After all it would be a shame to shell out hundreds of dollars for corrective surgery on an injury obtained while making a "free" craft.
It's a good idea to grind off or sand (you can rub the edges on concrete) the edges of the tin so as to keep them from becoming lethal decorations.
The final step is to mount the tin. If the proportions are correct, the tin image could be framed. In my case, I used nails and two sided tape to attach the scene to a painted wood block.

A wire run through the top makes it easy to hang and now I have a lovely winter decoration to replace the Christmas wreath or something I can give away to someone I am quite fond of. And the best part is with two scenes, I was able to make one and my daughter able to make the other. A fun project we could work on together.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm Larry Sagers daughter. . .

I used the tag line because my sister had a song she made up and sings, which doesn't sound at all the same when typed out, but the lyrics are, "I'm Larry Sagers daughter, da, dah, duh, da, da dah. . ." See what I mean?

Larry Sagers is my dad. He passed away three weeks ago. When he first called and told me he was going in for exploratory surgery in his lungs, I cried myself to sleep because even then, I knew it was cancer. My family has a long history of it. Since that time he lived for 18 months more, a year more than he was given. There were many, many, many nights thereafter that I grieved. Some nights it was insomnia. Others found me lying in bed, tears dripping into my ears as I tried to cry silently so as not to wake my spouse.
A few months ago, my husband and I put in an edited for content movie called Black Book, which I had confused with Little Black Book; huge difference. In Black Book, the main character is a Jewish woman who, after her family is killed in front of her, begins working with the underground as a spy. Toward the end of the movie after many more people she loves are killed, she finds herself in the office of a doctor, who breaks the news to her that yet another loved one has been killed. She goes into hysterics. The scene terrified me, not because of all the killings and finding out that her trusted doctor friend was a traitor, but because a very logical part of me was worried that when my dad's last moments came, that was how I would react and that was how I would grieve and that I might never again appreciate the beautiful things of this life.
His death has had quite the opposite effect on me. I miss him. We went to the place where he worked up until his death the other day and visited a dinosaur museum. There was a new exhibit open. For a few seconds I couldn't wait to tell him about it because he would have loved it; especially the part where most of his grand kids were there that day. It is impossible to not feel a loss, yet the thing that has amazed me has been the accompanying peace. I know there are many out there that have prayed for me and my family. People who don't share a common religion. People who have never met me and some who never personally met my dad. I can only say it is working. There have been very few other times in my life when I have felt such a calming influence and a peace.
From those comments, some readers may think, "Well that is heartless!" Let me assure you I shed more than my fair share of tears and continue to have moments in which grief washes over me. I am very much a daddy's girl. He was my solice through most of my adolescent years before I realized what an amazing mother I have. I am just grateful to a Heavenly Father that knew how hard the deat of a father would be and He created the comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost so that sadness would not overwhelm me and be all that I would know.
The Tooele Transcript Bulletin, Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL news all ran articles on him that were so comforting to read. There were many other media venues who mentioned his life and his passing. I've loved looking at the pictures associated with each column because he looks so happy and so healthy.  It has been a remarkable tribute to read through comments posted in response to newspaper articles about him and through social media. . My favorite has to be the user who wrote in something about how he and his wife so loved Larry that they named their turtle after him.
His friend and KSL Greenhouse co-host, Tim Hughes, put together a memorial greenhouse that was broadcast the Saturday after his death. I cried through most of it, especially when I heard the sound of my dad's voice, but what a thoughtful tribute!
One of my favorite things and one of the most memorable things about his professional career was his tie collection. He had a tie to represent the content of each of the classes he taught as well as many others just for fun. On his passing, my sister and sister-in-law and I took about 2/3 of his "fun" ties and made these tie wreaths.

My favorite is that Larry the Cucumber is on the wreath next to his Utah State Extension tie. Fitting, right? (You have to look closely).

There are many other thoughts I've had about his life, his passing and how remarkable it was to have been born his daughter, but those thoughts I do not wish to make public. Instead I will finish by saying that he gained a lot of prestige in his professional career. He was known and respected by many. He earned a great many local and national awards and recognitions. And yet, all that pales in comparison to his greatest role, that of being my dad.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tom and Hen 4x4 turkeys

I should begin by saying this wasn't my idea. It was done for an activity at church, but I'm pretty sure the idea didn't come from the girl who was in charge either. Like most things, I'm sure someone thought of it, someone else copied it, and no one recalls exactly from whence it came.

The original design, or at least the design on display was made from a 2x4, a paint stirring stick  and tongue depressors. If you type in 2x4 turkey, you'll get quite a few hits on it and can design your own from what you see. There are step-by-step tutorials on many of those sites, but I'm pretty sure. . . well that wasn't a kind way to phrase it, so I'll finish by saying most people could figure out how do do it by looking at the finished product.

My daughter made the nearsighted turkey and my niece made the one with the sparkley pink eyes. See how creative one can be by adapting a basic design?

I used a 4x4 because it is common knowledge that no one wants an emaciated turkey; plus I had scrap 4x4's.

Also I used mini wooden spoons because they were more feather shaped. I might go back in and add some more to make a fuller tail, but I don't hate it as is. Additionally I painted the back sides of the "feathers" because if I want to use it for a centerpiece it needs to have a more finished look. Also I covered the back end and tail feathers with scrapbook paper for the same reason.

Since I had the space, I used mod-podge on the sides to fasten on decorative paper. That was more my brother's idea, but I liked it, so I added it. If using it for a centerpiece you could also put thankfully minded quotes on the side or names to make place cards for the formal dinner I'm sure most people enjoy on a family-filled holiday.Lastly, and probably most importantly, I added the feet. Turkeys in this day and age are so large with breast meat they cannot breed naturally. That may seem like a random comment, but the 4x4 turkey is much more like the turkey bread for Thanksgiving dinner and while ordinarily you might think the feet would be on the legs underneath, I imagine this to be a strain on its joints, so the feet are out in front as it lazily squats on the ground. 
To my knowledge, the turkey hen does not have nearly as full of a tail as the tom, but in this case the only gender distinctions I made were the placement of the bow, the eyelashes, the gobbler, and the hen is covered in glittery mod-podge while the tom has a matte finish.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Beowulf: Lego Version

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Warning . . . your common sense could be in jepordy

Usually I have my deepest thoughts in the bathroom. Sometimes they come in the shower, sometimes as I'm brushing my teeth, (often the most profound come as I am brushing my teeth in the shower), and sometimes as I am taking care of business so to speak.

The other night as I was brushing my teeth, deep in thought, waiting for inspiration, I noticed this.

(I added the scissors for emphasis. We don't actually keep our scissors on the back splash. Staring at the picture I realize they could use replacing or else we will need updated tetanus shots)

At first glance I thought it humorous, funny enough that I giggled to myself about it even after I had gone to bed. (I'm sure my spouse who gets up at 4:30 a.m. appreciates it when I giggle to myself. . . not as much as he'd appreciate a good guffaw. . . but more than a titter).

As the hours grew later and I continued to think about it, I realized that what I was seeing was not a comedy at all, but a tragedy. I've read Shakespeare and Steinbeck and they pale in comparison. How have we as a society evolved into a species that needs little tags attached to the power cord of the Norelco shaver in order to practice common sense? What next?

A few thoughts crossed my mind and it will surprise me not at all if in the very near future we see these safety tags on commonly used products.

(Would this one be attached to the outlet or the fork? Maybe both?)

I am awaiting the call by manufacturers for me to jump on board with their design team to mass produce these safety tags. (Although, due to costs associated with color printing, the green on the ipod and blue of th toilet water might have to be grey) Pshaw! Who said you need computer graphics?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Interview with the Author

If you can believe it I have been blogging for approximately one month and no one has ever taken it upon him/herself to interview me. Shocking, I know because I have such a wealth of knowledge to share with the world. Therefore, I have determined the best course of action is to interview myself. Intriguing concept, isn't it.

Me: You've stated in the past that Halloween is one of your favorite holidays. Why is that?

Myself: Halloween is one of the most magical holidays. It is the one day of the year the I can wake up, get out of bed, and without digging through the closet, know exactly what I'm going to wear that day. I love to dress up and I love to dress up my kids.

Me: Do you decide on costumes for your children or do they make that choice?

Myself: When they were younger, I always decided. After all, I was the one making the costumes, I have the larger share of the vote. Now as they've gotten older though, I've included them in the creative process.

Me: Many would argue that costumes are available ready-made. Why not just take them to the store and allow them to pick out one of the costumes?

Myself: I think part of that comes from kindergarten. At the time I attended kindergarten the public schools in my area had Halloween parties in the afternoon, which included a costume parade around the building. Parents would come in to help dress their kids and then stay to watch the proceedings. One year a mom smeared oatmeal all over her son so that it looked like bits of skin were falling off his mummified body. The librarian had a scary robe and mask hanging on the wall all season and on Halloween, one of the special ed. teachers wore the robe and mask and stood against the wall in the same position the creature had been hung. As students passed by, suspecting nothing more than a Halloween decoration, she jumped out and terrified them. It was exhilarating.

In kindergarten, in October, we colored paper masks. I'm sure it was part of the core standards about coloring in the lines, small muscle development, and other art forms, but it was essentially coloring a picture and cutting it out. I don't remember my costume that year, but I do remember Shelly's. On Halloween day when everyone else was dressing up in their Halloween finery, Shelly wore the same outfit she wore to school and her paper mask with a string around it to hold it on her head. I know you can't by love and affection, but making their costumes is one of the ways I demonstrate to my children that they are important to me. They have this vision of who they want to portray and I make it come to fruition. Some parents sign their kids up for every sport and lesson available, I empower imagination.

Me: Wow! You sound pretty full of yourself with all that "empowering" and "bringing visions to fruition." Do you really think you are all that?

Myself: No. As a matter of fact, there have been some years that I've not fulfilled my costume-making goals. The year we were rushing to meet the deadline on building our house my mother-in-law very generously stepped in and bought my son an iron man costume. This year he was going to be Harry Potter for the second year in a row, but a month before Halloween, his dad cut off all his long hair and he changed his mind and decided to be Hawkeye, one of the Avengers.

Me: And you made his costume?

Myself: I looked online and the costumes I found were around $40, so I sat down with him and we worked out a design together. As you can see, the two photos, that of Hawkeye and that of my son are nearly identical.

Me: What are you talking about? They aren't even close. He has no arm support for his shooting arm and his clothing . . .

Myself: One thing you need to realize is that generally I begin working on costumes in July. This year was busy and so it was the end of August before I got started. Then when he switched characters last minute, I had to scramble and made this costume in less than a day.

Me: So tell us about the other costumes.

Myself: My daughter's cheerleader outfit I made from a sheet we were no longer using and a spool of ribbon. We looked at patterns, but I'm too cheap to actually by it so I retrofitted one I already had to make it in to what she wanted. The youngest is enamored with Toy Story and wanted to be Woody. I couldn't find the right fabric for the shirt, so I bought a mustard broadcloth and drew the lines on it. His pattern was also partially made up. His hat was spray painted and then the yarn stitched around the brim. Hawkeye's costume started as a dollar store t-shirt. My son didn't want the maroon colored portion of the costume and I didn't want to spend money on the zippers required for the vest so instead I cut caprisun pouches into strips and stitched them on and added the pleather embellishments.

Me: And you felt good about that?

Myself: Initially I didn't, but then he put it on and recruited his siblings to be Captain America and Black Widow. Add to the costume the quiver made of ABS pipe and the strap from a camp chair bag, and he is as close to being Hawkeye as was Jeremy Renner.

Me: And what about your own costume?

Myself: I had leftover pieces of cow print and the black and white stripes to make the chaps. The hat I made of some fabric I'd had in the cupboard for a long time and never really found a use for. After I made it, even with extra thick interfacing, the brim was pretty weak and I ended up running a strand of wire around the circumference and then stitching it into place with the white yarn Jessie's hat is noted for. I bought a men's dress shirt and used scraps of fabric from the Woody costume and rick-rack to turn it into the western-style Jessie top.
Me: Rick-rack? I haven't seen that in use since the late 70's/early 80's.

Myself: I know. As a matter of fact I have a story about that:

My parents, in an attempt to be fitting parents, dressed me in a yellow coat one cold snowy Halloween. I know it seems as though common sense prevailed at the time, but what they seemed to overlook a the time was that I was dressed as a princess. My mom had pulled up my hair into a fancy up do, painted my face with make-up and fastened a velvet choker about my throat. I even had a beauty spot.

I grew up in a very rural location (nearest neighbor not across the street was 1/3 mile away) and to go trick-or-treating, my parents let us each pick about three houses and drove us around to each. It had snowed that week and the temperature was probably sub-zero, but princesses don't worry about the weather when it comes time to flaunt their beauty. We ate dinner and then readied ourselves to set out. Over my fluffy, pink, frilly dress, my mother insisted I wear my coat; a yellow coat with red and blue rickrack and a faux-fur lined hood.

Me: Well, it looks like we're out of time and space. Thank you for your time today.

Myself: Thank you, it's been my pleasure.

Wasn't that a great interview? So smooth and structured. I wouldn't be surprised if it is soon one of the stories advertised on the cover of your favorite magazine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Friendship Quilt

I met my best female friend when I was very young, like five. We went through elementary school together, but I didn't really take up the friendship until about 6th grade. From that point on, we were inseparable. She got married at the age of 21 (I think) and though I liked the man she fell for, it was hard to close that chapter of my life. (Before you pull out the box of tissues, I'm still in contact with her and still consider her one of my best friends). To work through the change associated with her moving on, I made her this quilt.  Each square represents one of the memories I have with her. (In retrospect, I never should have made it white.)

I used a variety of techniques from applique to iron on transfers. It was the first quilt I ever quilted and if you were to ask a long time member of a quilting guild or something, I'm sure I didn't do it right.

My favorite memory has got to be the bubble gum machine, fourth row from the bottom, all the way to the left. She had this random tradition of buying me gumballs. Every so often, we'd pass a gumball machine and she'd plunk in a quarter and hand me the gumball. I didn't particularly like the gum that lost its flavor after less than 10 minutes of chewing, but I will say this. I can't pass a gumball machine without thinking of her.

Sometimes when I'm really stressed or really sad, I call her. I don't necessarily tell her that I'm sad or stressed because I want to be strong. Even so, she has a way of returning order to my world without even realizing she's doing it.

What a remarkable world this would be if every girl had the blessing of having such a perfect friend to get her through those adolescent years and carry her into adulthood!

Zombie Cake

I realize this post is less than timely with Halloween only a day away, but the beautiful thing about Zombies is that they aren't particular about when the emerge from their graves, ravenously searching for fresh brains.

I had a myriad of step-by-step instructions with photos, but somehow the photos became corrupted and so they've been taken out. Hopefully your literacy will make the compensation.

I don't know if the trend continues, but for a time in my childhood, the coolest cake a birthday girl could ever have was a Barbie cake. I never actually had one and continue to suffer devastating emotional and mental effects of having gone my entire life without that type of cake, but as one should do, I push forward.

The Barbie cake is a lot like it sounds. The baker makes a cake and bakes it in a metal bowl. When the bowl is inverted, the cake comes out in an almost half ball shape. Then the Barbie doll is shoved into the center of the inverted cake and frosted in a fancy fashion so it looks as though she is wearing a Civil War era Southern Belle frosted ball gown. From that explanation you can see why it would be traumatic for such an extensive time period.

I decided it was time to restore Karma and make peace with my past, so I made my own Barbie cake. But I couldn't just make a Barbie cake because anybody could do that and any girl could have that. I, on the other hand, have waited thirty-something years for my cake, so it had to be unique. One night, as I was lying in bed, it hit me; the Zombie cake!

As the initial execution of the cake is relatively similar, it makes it similarly universal. Imagine, if you will, hosting a party for the season premiere of Walking Dead, a zombie Apocalypse based cable television series. Or perhaps it's a night in, with members of your book club who have just finished reading Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (beautiful Zombie artwork inside if you ever need inspiration). Or maybe you have seven of your gaming buddies over to play Left4Dead. As host/hostess, you walk out just as the party gets going, carrying your very own personalized zombie cake. I think there are so few other honors that would be comparable to the reactions you would get that I can't even form a decent metaphor here.

As mentioned, the first step in making your cake is to . . . make the cake. I made one from scratch because my Aunt Debbie makes the best chocolate cake ever to cross my lips.

Aunt Debbie's Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1 cube margarine
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs (beaten)

Mix together sugar, flour and soda.
Bring to a boil margarine, water, oil and cocoa.
Pour chocolate mixture into flour mixture; add milk, vanilla and eggs.
Beat well.
Bake at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes.

A cake from a mix would work as well, but in my experience it tends to crumble more than a cake made from raw ingredients. I baked it in my kitchen-aid pan that had been greased with shortening and floured. After baking, allow the cake to cool about 10 minutes, loosen from the edges from the sides, and invert it to remove it from the "pan" and to allow it to cool completely.

To improve the cake to frosting ratio, I then sliced the cake into thirds and put a layer of orange frosting between each layer. I then wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap and stuck it in the freezer. If you are going to use a whole Barbie rather than a doll pick (the top half of the doll on a pick; available at stores that sell baking items) hollow out the center prior to freezing or you will never get those legs through the cake. It matters less if using a pick because the pick is much smaller.

Also, if you plan to use a Barbie doll, make certain it is sterile by running it through the dishwasher or boiling it for several minutes. If it is new, you spent a lot of money for something you are sticking in a cake, and you might still want to sterilize it. I happened to have a Barbie left over from when I was teaching 6th graders about mummification. The information I was given at the time said that part of the mummification process included shaving the hair, so that is why she is bald. I never bothered to check if that was accurate, so if you stumble across this, don't bother commenting about inaccuracies in the process. I freely admit, I may have been wrong. You can leave the hair if you like.

After it had frozen solid, I pulled it out and put it on a platter, then changed my mind and put it in a shallow salad dish. I hadn't remembered to put the Barbie in before freezing, so I ended up breaking the legs off and hollowing out a small spot in the top.
If frosting from a can is used, it can be microwaved for about 20 seconds to make a glaze. I drizzled the glaze around the hem of her skirt and then immediately sprinkled it with "soil". To make the soil, grind up dark chocolate cookies in the blender or food processor. I wish I really had soil like that. My plants would be so, so happy.
Next, I worked on her dress. I imagine after being beneath the ground, she would have torn it in a few places as she worked her way out and that it would have soil and debris in it. I saw some great leaf sprinkles at the store, but failed to buy them and didn't want to go back for them. Chow-mien noodles make great branches. So the dress draped over one shoulder and had an uneven and shredded hemline.  If you want to take the time to make it fancy and ball-gown like, use multiple tips for differing effects.

Next I added the green skin. I covered her head to toe so that when I added the hair, the "skin" could show through. I also left one eye visible and crafted a second part way down the face as though it had fallen out.

The last step in frosting her was to add her blond locks. Some of the strands broke off and fell onto the dress, but it is only natural for a being removing itself from the ground to suffer some damage.

I made some instant pudding and poured it around the base of the dress. It might be better to use cooked because I think it has less of a tendency to separate, but I didn't think of that until later. I put the whole thing in the fridge to cool for a time.
The final step is to add those things one would be likely to find in the soil; insects and plant life. Generally available are the go to gummy worms. I also found two variety packs of gummy insects. I'm not product pushing, but these are what I used. I really liked the Black Forest version because the insects are filled so when one bites into them, guts come squishing out. Perfect! The red beetle is my favorite.

I sprinkled a thin layer of soil over the pudding and then a drizzle of the glaze made from canned frosting to look like slug and snail trails. Then I arranged the rocks, insects and pumpkins. I also added a headstone made from a trimmed graham cracker. Then I finished up by making the pumpkin vines. (You know how the undead are always buried and later emerge in pumpkin patches. It is a common part of zombie-lore; look it up.)

Keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve it so the pudding stays set. Serve it with a knife and a spoon; the knife to cut the cake and the spoon to dollop a scoop of pudding over each slice. Deliciously disgusting!