Sunday, January 30, 2011

Old Things Renewed ~ The Dining Room

We live in a Craftsman-style bungalow home built around 1920 in a very "Leave it to Beaver" kind of tree-lined, know-your-neighbor, old-town downtown area. It's the kind of street the Hollywood-types sometimes scout for location shots 
for commercials they are hoping will appeal to all viewers. 
It's an average, slightly nostalgic, everyday, American kind of place.

I love the built-in character of our home--
the (drafty) windows and (creaky) hardwood floors. 

One of the happy challenges of living here is keeping 
my decorating/remodeling choices consistent 
(or at least not in conflict) with the existing 
architecture and atmosphere of the house.

Living in an old house makes me want to incorporate lots of old things--
so the different elements look collected over time and not just purchased yesterday.

I found the antique painting on ebay. 
The rocks are from my yard. 
The "Keep Calm and Carry On" sign was made for me by a dear friend.
(She must know about the challenges in my day.)

It's also a constant puzzle to figure out where to store things 
in this place with no hall closets and very limited cupboard space. 
This bench has storage under the seat.

I try to keep up with our family's shifting needs. 
Lately colored pencils, tape, scissors and crafty stuff 
have been in high demand. 
This is my attempt at keeping it pretty and functional.

The plain white linen curtains are a recent Ikea purchase. 
The chalkboard is something I put together--
pressed wooden board of some sort from Lowe's, 
painted with chalkboard paint and framed 
in an old frame I've been carting around for years.

And amaryllis bulbs planted in a soup tureen, 
reminding me that this is the time of the year when life asserts itself, 
starting fresh, pushing through the old, making something new.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Garden

It's not exactly a bleak midwinter here in Southern California. 

The sunny three-day weekend gave me the chance to get out 
and clean up the garden...after five months of neglect.

(Hi, five-month-old.)

It was high time I pruned some roses, 
cut back the bushes, 
weeded, whacked, and tore things out.

Gardening requires faith in new life. 
It often looks worse before it looks better.

But really, that was a bit unruly, don't you think?

Ahh, that's better.

When pruning the roses, I enjoy removing 
every. single. leaf.

Do you find it hard to be so cruel?

 I love examining the strongest canes, 
choosing the best latent bud to be the recipient
of coursing springtime vigor.

I have great expectations.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January Mantle and a Confession

Alright, I'm going to let you in on a secret obsession of mine. 
 It was bound to come out sooner or later. 
 If I didn't tell you myself, it would quickly have become evident. 

I find great joy in arranging things. 
 There. I said it. Don't judge.

I can spend a lot of time (too much) moving a little thing 
a few centimeters this way and that until I am satisfied. 
My living room mantle provides an ever-shifting canvas 
for indulging this obsession.

To me, composition matters.  And so does content, actually. 

I think the current trend of chalkboard-everything is great. 
It can go too far though.

(Pottery Barn chalkboard rocks, originally priced $16 for four!)

Don't buy chalkboard stuff. Make it. 
It's one of the easiest and cheapest homey-crafty things you can do.

But, back to my obsession:

In my slightly neurotic, visually compulsive world, 
objects, placed just right, 
and a glimpse of a few well-chosen words 
have the potential to express meaning 
and to encourage thoughtfulness.  

This is a Lenten mantle.

Is it just me, or does the multi-layered, peeling, 
bleached and time-worn frame on that mirror speak to you too?

Let's take a moment to listen.

Now go shift stuff around and stare at it.
Others may think you're nuts,
but I will understand.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Homemade Yogurt

Lately I've been on a yogurt kick. 
I like it plain, unsweetened,  
mixed with some yummy this or that, and . . . 

I had to work up my nerve to do it. 
For a while I was a little hung-up on the idea of growing things 
in my kitchen--cultures, or bacteria, or what have you.

Then I saw (while visiting my sister) 
the ease and domestic grace that is homemade yogurt, 
and I was convinced. 

The process is simple. 
The result: mild, creamy, and inexpensive.

You need two ingredients:

(I use whole milk, but you can use what you like.)

with active cultures
(I've found that Greek-style yields a creamier result than other kinds.)

1. Pour the milk (as much as you like) into a pot 
and heat it until just before it boils.

(This kills off anything that might be in there 
that you don't want to grow.)

2. Let the milk cool a bit (maybe ten or fifteen minutes).

3. Pour the slightly cooled milk into a bowl 
and add a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt.

(This introduces the hardworking active cultures.) 

4. Cozy-up your bowl of hot milk in a towel 
and find a way to keep it warm for 4 or more hours.

**UPDATE: I usually keep it warming overnight--10 to 12 hours or so.

**NEW UPDATE:  Tip: You know the milk is cool enough to add 
the yogurt when you can keep your finger in it for 10 seconds or so. 

Also, don't stir the milk/yogurt while you wait for it to thicken. 
I only did this once and it messes with the consistency. 

And, I've always read that you want to wait 6-24 hours 
for it to be done.  The longer it "cooks" the less lactose it retains.

(Thanks, sis!) 

I keep mine on the warmer at the back of my stove 
(with the stove on low).

My sister rests her bowl on an electric heating pad 
and wraps a towel around the whole thing.

You basically want a warm environment for a long time.

5. When it reaches the consistency you like, stick it in the refrigerator.


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