Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holiday Madness

Well, it appears the holiday madness has started if the shopping frenzy I witnessed on Saturday is any indication.  I went for a little journey to my favourite craft shop and people were definitely in a mood to be purchasing items.  With all the holiday decorations out on the shelves and displayed temptingly thoughout the shop, it would have been easy to fall victim to the insanity and buy items which I doubt would ever be useful or decorative in my flat.  It is sad that some people go to all the trouble to decorate their homes with all the latest pieces and fall victim to the colours dictated by all the chic interior decorators.  Whatever happened to showing a little creativeness and decorating your home to suit the colours you favour along with the type of pieces that suit your particular and individual type of decorating?

I have not got a clue how I will decorate this year.  Other than a wreath on the door and a few little decorations sprinkled about the flat, I really do not allow myself to buy into the premise that if I were to decorate every room, deck the halls with festive boughs and have a miniature Dickensian village winding its way around a holiday tree, that the holidays would be all the better for my efforts.  I am not one to get too wound up over the holiday season.  It is a nice time of year to visit with friends who may have landed in the vicinity to visit other family and friends.  Of course, I will bake a number of goodies and have little gifts for guests who are expected to drop by.  But, I cannot and will not be held hostage by a season in which one can easily spend much more than they budget and still be paying off the debt come the next holiday season.

Maybe I am sounding a little dour and not trying to play nicely with the holiday crowd.  But, when people get so wrapped up in their shopping that they are grabbing things wildly off of the shelves and not really thinking about their purchases, I have to wonder about them.  Are they buying gifts that will really appeal to the recipient or are they purchasing gifts that they think will make them appear to be in the know of what the hits of the season are this year?  Far better to take a little time to think about the person for whom the gift is intended and maybe make all or part of the gift.  Purchase a pretty container and fill it with homemade cookies, candy or whatever.  Maybe a pretty glass jar filled with scented pinecones with a festive bow tied around the base might be just the ticket.  I am just saying that sitting down with pen and paper in hand and making a list of ideas along with a plan of action as to how to proceed this year might save a lot of time, money and prevent the inevitable mental letdown.  You know, the one where you feel that you cannot do anything right, least of all, pick out a gift that the intended recipient will enjoy.

Back in the craft store, people were loading up with all sorts of tree trim, figurines, chargers, strings of lights and filling their carts with candles, bolts of ribbon, and premade artificial holiday arrangements that were marked to half price when we have not even reached the first of December.  What does this tell you about the pricing?  Maybe I am a tad cynical since I once worked in the floral industry.  But, if a store can afford to mark down items this early in the season, then perhaps the items were massively overpriced to start with and even at half price, still command a hefty investment.  Premade bows are displayed in all their splendour with a rainbow of colours, patterns and designs parading down the length of the bolt.  But, again, the cost of having a designer make these ribbons had my heart rate racing.  Four of these lovely bows would feed a small family for a week.  Seriously, it is time that we stepped away from the displays, put our credit cards back into our wallet and walked out of the store, went for a coffee and gave serious consideration to how we tart up our homes to show our holiday spirit.

My vote is that we all look at the decorations that we have collected over the years.  Some of them are truly past their prime and need to hit the dust bin pronto.  Other decorations could be spruced up with a few less expensive additions and some reasonably priced ribbon.  Another thought might be to have a holiday swap  and get all your friends together along with their used but still attractive decorations.  Maybe if everyone traded off their old and brought home some gently used decorations, everyone would be happy and feel good about decorating hearth and home.  I would love to hear what you have to say about this idea and what you think about the holiday madness in general.  Do you fall prey to all the insanity or are you able to remain clear headed and stay on target budget wise?  I suspect that this is all a matter of priority.  Many would rather die than use the same decorations year after year and feel that if they did not follow the colour trends, that they would end up being on the worst decorated home list.

I enjoy seeing certain decorations year after year.  They remind me of holidays past and bring a sort of tradition to the day spent putting out a few much loved treasures.  I do like to see a different wreath up on my door each year and since I am able to put one together myself, the cost is minor.  Add to the fact that someone generally buys my used wreaths, I do not feel too badly about this little indulgence.  A wreath on the front door or in my case on the door of my flat, welcomes people to the home and says a lot about the person who placed the wreath on the door.  You can easily spot the homes that bring in a decorator to put up the decorations and follow a dictated theme each year.  When you come to visit me, you will see what intrigues me this year and how I incorporated these ideas into my way of decorating.  I do enjoy decorating, but I just do not feel the need to go overboard and have my entire flat become a Winter Wonderland with flashing lights, moving figures and holiday music played nonstop from mid November until the dawn of the New Year.

There now, I have had my little rant and I feel much better for it.  Just to show that I am not a total heathen to the decorating gods, I have put up a little Hallowe'en decoration and incorporated it into my autumn wreath.  We do not celebrate Hallowe'en, but some of the neighbours, myself included, like to take part and see who puts up an innovative display.  One door down the corridor sports a wicked witch in black with the body made out of straw strands and hangs low enough that Molly Cat on one of her sojourns into the corridor, runs past and tries to grab a piece to bring back home.  I must admit that I do chuckle at this, but get Molly home sans any little souvenirs.  I did not spend much on my little decoration, but it suits the purpose and since it will be taken down on the first of November, there really was not any reason to be outrageous and have a towering Frankenstein hovering outside my door.  I mention this because someone I once worked with got into the office early one year and when I turned on the lights as I entered the room, the over sized Frankenstein was hovering over my desk area and I have to admit I was quite taken aghast and uttered a few unladylike words which no doubt made their way back to the culprit who arranged this little vignette.  Consequently, I do suggest to keep in mind whether or not your display is age appropriate or the type which might necessitate the use of an AED to jumpstart one's heart.

Artistically, I am working on holiday cards, some wreaths for friends, along with a few other things that friends have asked me to make for them.  Since I am the one at home with some time to spare, I can easily make up little decorations, place marker cards, along with other requests.  I enjoy doing these little things to help out.  But, I also have a stash of canvas that is calling out to me to open it up and get messy.  This will happen, but may have to wait a week or so until I finish off my own holiday cards so that they are ready to send off at the appropriate time.  I have decided on a colour theme, but not the actual scene to be portrayed on the card front.  That will come to me as I look through my treasure trove of rubber stamps and my collection of pretty Japanese papers which I promise to make use of this year.  Well, a little of it.  It is just too pretty to use and yet to keep it in a drawer is pointless, no one gets to enjoy it and that is not why it was made in the first place.

Have an artistic week!  Share with us how you decorated for Hallowe'en if you did and what your plans are for decorating for the upcoming holiday season.  You just might inspire one of us to try something new and get out of a rut or maybe show us that it is possible to decorate and stay on budget.

Sincerely,  Rutheemac 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Autumnal decorations fill my flat, autumn meals bubble in my kitchen

I know this is late going online today.  I promised myself that I would be up early and moving at the speed of light or at least fast enough to keep up with Molly Cat.  Such was not the case.  I seem to get a series of nights where I am unable to sleep and life goes awry with me trying to play catch up.  I firmly resolve to get back on track this week.  Knowing that I have to be up early tomorrow to take Molly for her appointment to get  her annual vaccines along with a check up, should help to get the day off to a good start.  The appointment is for 9 a.m. and so I will need to be up no later than 7 a.m. to get ready and then capture the little rascal to get her into her carrying cage will keep me moving at a good clip.  I am already praying that the kindly vet will proclaim that Molly is a healthy little imp with all her vitals being normal.  The only problem we might be scolded on is that Molly has an appetite for popcorn as do I.  Generally, most nights I make up a bag of microwave popcorn and my little companion holds me hostage until I dole out a handful of the fluffy popped kernals of goodness that she so enjoys.  How bad can a little popcorn be for a cat?  Well, I suppose that tomorrow we will both find out.

I  made up a series of autumnal wreaths for some friends this week.  They purchase the materials or have me do this and reimburse me the cost plus a little extra for making up the decorations for them.  Generally, the cost to my friends is less than what they would pay if they had a shop make up these wreaths for them.  The plus side for me is that I get to keep my hand in the floral industry which I love and I work with materials that I very much enjoy.  Set me lose in a shop containing ribbons and you might not see me for days.  Every piece of ribbon is used, none goes to waste, just as my treasure trove of Japanese papers is utilized to the max.  I have even found paper punches in various sizes of flowers that I use on scraps of paper and ribbon so that I have little decorations for greeting cards, but that is a whole other entry for my blog.  Suffice it to say that I am frugal and make the most of every piece of material going into my floral pieces.  Little strands of grapevine can be wound around gourds, miniature pumpkins or worked into another piece as accents and painted a contrasting colour.  Autumn is a time of colour and I make full use of all colours, mainly darker hues, to show the best that Mother Nature has to offer at this time of year.

I am also getting back into cooking heartier meals.  My soups tend to acquire handfuls of barley, rice, beans or other additions that make a bowl of hearty goodness into a full meal when a piece or two of crusty bread are dipped into the broth.  I love soup.  It makes me feel warm, happy, at peace.  When the day has gone along in a manner that does nothing to soothe the soul, there is nothing like a bowl of warm, homey goodness to bring you back to your happy place.  I firmly believe that if everyone sat down to a bowl of soup every day, there would be much happier and healthier people out and about.

Are you at a loss for some wonderful soup recipes?  Not everyone has a family collection of soups and so my suggestion is to turn to the most wonderful and gracious Julie Anne Rhodes who runs a personal chef operation in Los Angeles, California.  Known on Twitter as @JulieAnneRhodes, she also has a web site where you can read her blog and join in a community of people devoted to making good, healthy food.  Check out and read her blog accompanied by a recipe suitable for the season.  If you choose to go one step further, you can become a premium member for an extremely nominal price and have access to weekly menus that include shopping lists and details for freezing the meals.  The Personal Chef Approach teaches you that spending a few hours on a weekend in the kitchen can translate into 8 - 10 hours saved on weeknights since when you get home from work, you have a meal ready to pop in the oven or microwave instead of starting from scratch or resorting to the take out menus.  You not only save money, but time.  That time is better spent with your family, catching up on the goings on of the day or even supervising the inevitable homework.  Think about it, go to Julie Anne's web site and read her blog.  This lady is immensely sensible and can help you get your act in gear and get eating healthy meals without a horrendous expenditure of time.

What else am I up to?  Besides cooking, I am making up some holiday tree ornaments, each of them hand sewn.  Gingerbread boys, houses, and angels are being cut out of felt and stitched lovingly together.  Each year, I like to come up with a new theme for my holiday celebrations and I suspect that these handmade treasures will be part of the homespun theme for this year.  I like to make gifts for people that I know will enjoy them.  There are always those whom I know to be more enticed by a store bought ornament or gift and I try to accommodate them, but sometimes it just cannot be done.  I like to give things that friends or family will enjoy and can use and so in some cases when I know that someone has more decorations than necessary, I resort to baking mountains of cookies, treats and so on.  Sadly, fruit cake is no longer enjoyed by many.  I love fruit cake, but it is not worth making it for myself and my friends are those who do not enjoy a slice of this rich treat.  And so, I generally purchase one from a shop, but it never really tastes like the ones from my childhood.  Maybe this will be the year that I find a recipe that makes just a loaf or two and tastes like the fruit cakes of my childhood.  I remember my mum starting her baking in October so that the fruit cakes would have a chance to mellow.  She would soak the fruit in some sort of liquor and then blend it in the batter.  After the cakes were baked, she would wrap them securely and freeze them until the holidays.  I somehow think she may have wrapped the cakes in brandy soaked cheesecloth, but cannot be sure of this as it was many years ago, the early 1960's to be exact.

So this is how my week has played out.  I anticipate more holiday decorations over the next week along with cards, tree ornaments and a few other surprises.  Meanwhile, I will put up some pics of the wreaths that were made along with a picture of my mum circa the late 1930's.  I do not look at all like her.  I remember her as being tallish, slim, elegant - none of these words describe me in the least.  She was a lady and I am more often a nondescript middle aged woman wandering about in track pants and a hoodie.  While I do clean up well when there is the need, in my lifestyle, the artist in me requires old, washable clothes that can go the distance.  Mum would frown, but maybe she might have a smile on her face, watching the youngest of the brood happily splashing paint about, getting her hands covered in ink, glue and other artsy elements.  I really hope that this is what she is thinking as she watches over me.

I just picked up a copy of a new book -  Raw Art Journaling by Quinn McDonald.  I am just getting into this and will let you know how it is changing my thoughts on the way I usually journal.  Quinn is also on Twitter so check out her tweets and follow her blog.  I think you will find her information interesting and perhaps decide that the art of journaling is something that you might want to try.

That is it for me this week!  I hope you got some inspiration, some ideas or thoughts to ponder from this post.  I would love to hear from you and definitely want to know what you think.  Do not be shy, I read and ponder every comment and reply to them all.  Take a moment to jot down what you liked or didn't like.  Maybe, I can persuade one of my friends to take on a guest post to give another side of the artistic journey, give another perspective and let us get this journey into high gear.  So much to learn, to practise, to do.  I must be getting my second wind as I am feeling excited by the thoughts of all I want and need to get working on.

Sincerely,   Rutheemac

Monday, October 17, 2011

Life is getting back to normal!

Okay, life is getting back to normal after having been ill for the past six weeks.  Just when I thought I was feeling better, I was body slammed by the flu bug, landing me right back into bed.  That is all in the past and I am gradually getting back to full strength and able to participate fully in life.  Amen!

Suffice it to say that all things art related were left to gather dust in my studio.  Molly Cat spent more time in there than I did.  But, now that I am up and moving again, studio time is gaining momentum and with any luck, I should be able to make up for the lost time.  I have some fall wreaths in progress with one of them decorating my front door to welcome visitors to my flat.  I have plans to alter it a bit to bring in a bit of a Hallowe'en theme and spice it up just a little.  I know that Hallowe'en is really not celebrated so much, but being the quirky woman that I am, I like to push the envelope and bring a little of the supernatural into daily living.  Enough said!

I am also going full tilt in the production of making greeting cards.  One special batch that is in production right now is some that I am giving to a group who raises funds for breast cancer survivours.  The cards have a holiday theme with a little angel dressed in pink, decorating a sparse little holiday tree with pink ribbons.  This is a design of my own making and I am happy to donate packages of these to the group to sell at a bazaar that they are holding in a few weeks.  Time is the biggest element in the making of the cards, time well spent.  I can totally lose myself when I am making cards and have looked up to find that I have lost all concept of time and that the clock on the wall reads very late into the night or very early in the morning, depending on how you view the actual time.

Whilst I was down with the flu, I spent my time watching movies on my little DVD player along with some old time television programs that have been brought back to life with the new technology.  The hands down favourite of all I watched was "Julie & Julia."  For those who have not seen this movie, it is about a young woman, Julie, who needed to challenge herself and decided to work her way through Julia Child's cookbook on French cooking, recipe by recipe, and to blog about the experience.  Meryl Streep played the part of Julia Child and her performance was amazing and so true to life.

What a wonderful way to challenge yourself!  I was so impressed with Julie's way of approaching each recipe and sharing her ups and downs of the process with the readers of her blog.  Julie told her readers the ups and downs of her methodology and in the end, transformed herself into a true foodie with a great appreciation for the art of cooking and an even greater appreciation of Julia Child.  Cooking is truly an art, but it is one that each of us can master if only we put a little time and thought into what we are preparing.  I spent a few days thinking about this movie and actually watched it three times in one week.  Cooking is the way we express our love to others.  Whilst we eat because it is necessary for us to survive, cooking can be a way of expressing feelings, a way to challenge ourselves to learn new methods of preparing something that we have only ever eaten in one particular way.  It was interesting that in the movie Julie gained a new appreciation of eggs.  She had only ever eaten them when they had been incorporated into a recipe and never on their own.  And so, Julie learned to poach eggs and after hours of practice, she poached the perfect egg and savoured the simple taste of a food that we all take for granted.

Cooking for many of us is something we do, but we do not really enjoy the process.  We think of cooking as being the means to an end.  We are providing nutrition and not really interested in challenging ourselves to try different ways in preparing them.  Finding time to cook is getting more and more difficult with our lives being held hostage by jobs, time spent commuting, finding time to do laundry, tidy up our homes and spend time in a relationship with a significant other.  Consequently, we hang on to the tried and true methods of cooking our meals and do not look for ways to bring in new tastes and keep the prep time to reasonable blocks of time.  Enter Julie Anne Rhodes (@JulieAnneRhodes on Twitter) who can teach us all her Personal Chef Approach to getting meals on the table and having time left to spend doing things we really enjoy.  Julie Anne's approach is to make several meals in the course of a few hours, package up the meals into the appropriate portions and freeze these and bring them out as needed.  To learn more about the PCApproach to preparation and cooking with the bonus of having having healthy meals on the table in minutes each night.

Take a look at Julie Anne's web site, and you will see that she writes a wonderful blog about cooking, life and so many other things.  There is the cyber living room where premium members can connect and talk about problems or successes they are having with their meal prep.  If you decide to join the community, for a nominal monthly fee, you have access to a library of recipes, menus and advice.  What more could you ask for?  This is just like having your own personal chef standing beside you, helping you prepare meals ahead of time and safely storing them to bring out when needed.  You are able to sign up and receive just the weekly menus, but I strongly urge you to sign up as a premium member in order to get the most of your membership.  You can sign up for a trial three month membership and see how it will help you change up your meals, learn how to prepare foods that you may never have tried before and connect with other members who share the same challenges on a daily basis.  Thinking ahead, a trial membership might be just the gift for a special someone this holiday season.  We all have a few people on our gift lists that we can never think of what to buy for them.  What could be better than to give them the gift of time which is what the Personal Chef Approach is all about.  By following this approach, you can take a few hours on the weekend and translate them into meals for the upcoming week.  Take a look at Julie Anne's web site and see how she can help you make meal prep into a time that you actually look forward to and most of all, enjoy.

Watching Julie & Julia made me think a lot about Julie Anne's approach to cooking, but most of all the enjoyment in making real meals that are healthy and taste amazing.  I have been following her approach for a few months now and knowing that dinner is only a matter of minutes away from being on the table frees me up to spend more time in the studio.  The approach really made sense when I was ill for so long.  I had made a huge pot of soup, some meatloaf, and a few other mains which were all stored in my freezer prior to becoming ill.  Thank goodness I had prepped all these meals and the soup was my main stay over the past few weeks.  I defrosted countless bowls of a hearty vegetable soup, and that along with some toast, was just what I needed to warm my body.  I am planning a morning of cooking and prep for this upcoming week in order to fill up the freezer again.  Every Wednesday, Julie Anne posts a new menu with five mains, side dishes, recipes, cooking and reheating directions and how to package up your meals safely.  She has a grocery list done up for you and other bits of information that you need to make meal prep a breeze.  You have nothing to lose other than the wasted time and money spent on take out meals which never really satisfy you.  Take out a premium membership on a trial basis and use the approach to simplify your life.

Julie followed Julia Child's approach to cooking and gained a whole new appreciation of what had been a daily chore.  Her blog inspired countless others to take on cooking as a challenge and learn to enjoy meal preparation as a way of expressing love to their family and friends.  Julie Anne's approach simplifies meal prep and in a few hours, make meals for a week leaving you time to spend with your family and friends.  Involving your family in the meal prep is such a great way of teaching life skills, a way to connect with each other and so much more.  For the single people in the community, think of getting a few friends together and spend a morning cooking together with everyone taking home a week's worth of meals.  However you use the approach, it's a win/win situation.  You will save time, money, and eat healthy meals.

So, that is how my week played out last week.  A little art, some cooking, and some time spent enjoying movies.  This week, I plan to spend more time in the studio, but I also plan to devote one or two mornings to cleaning out the fridge and refilling it with lots of nibbles.  I hope you take the time to wander over to Julie Anne's web site and see what it has to offer you.  With the holiday season coming up, you will be in good hands and have a personal chef helping you navigate through family dinners, both casual and formal.  The best part of it all will be that you will have the time to enjoy the family gatherings because you will not be tied to your kitchen, you will be the hostess enjoying the pre dinner chatter with your guests or just be able to sit down with a cup of tea and catch up with your own family about what happened during their day.

Well, I am heading into the kitchen to make a cup of tea before heading off to bed.  I will be in the studio for most of the day on Monday prepping cards for the holidays, making some more autumn wreaths and hopefully get a few holiday decorations made.  It is a welcome thought that I have enough energy to do the things I enjoy.

Wishing you a healthy week!   Rutheemac