Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Martha, Homekeeping, Copper and Memories

I've always had a soft spot for the rich, warm tones of copper. I suspect I inherited the gene -- it was a favorite of my mom and when she died I also inherited her copper. Teakettles, mostly, a lovely candelabra, some plates, a leaky vase that holds umbrellas rather nicely. And with copper comes copper polishing!


My mom had it figured out. When a crowd surrounds, employ critical mass to help. Who else but my mom would have put all of us kids to work one day up at the lake polishing her copper? You might call it child labor. She would call it taking advantage of a good opportunity!

OK, maybe it was a rainy day, hence the lack of rebellion. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to get into it. (Well, my aunt observed and I got into taking the photos!

Of all the things I didn't have in copper that I really wanted, a copper boiler was one of them. I wanted it for the cottage to either set by the fire filled with wood or -- if it was too big for the spot -- to sit in the utility room next to the cat box filled with wood. We had made too many wet trips to the garage to bring in more wood on cold and rainy days. At least this way we could stock up.

So, when antique hunting with my friend Richard recently we came across one. It was $40 and Richard pointed out that the bottom seam wasn't good. He suggested asking if they had another and sure enough, another showed up at $23 -- with 20 percent off on top of that!

Not that it looked like copper. It looked more like zinc. And the handle was off (but easily replaced -- I don't plan to be moving it anyway). It was time to employ my copper polishing genes and see if I could shape it up a little.

I didn't have any copper polish but I did have Martha going for me. Long ago I remember her polishing copper using lemons and kosher salt. I'd tried this before on small pieces and it worked quite well. And, I had saved the lemons from yesterday's pesto just in case! (I put lemon juice in pesto. It rocks.)

So, there I was in my little sink with my big boiler and not enough lemons. I scrubbed and washed -- even used the Mr. Clean sponge now and then (not helpful, for once! and the scrubby end of a regular sponge. It took about two hours -- and it still needs more work but I had places to go, people to see, things to do. Here's the finished result! That one spot on one side is still pretty yucky but lots better than before!

Not bad! Here are my hints.
  • First, buy more lemons than you think you'll need -- you'll always use the leftovers and it takes more than you might imagine. The same for the kosher salt. I must have ended up using at least a cup.
  • Have plenty of paper towel on hand and a scrubby sponge will help, too.
  • You might want to wear gloves. I didn't. The yuck will come out of my nails someday. An apron is good, too.
  • If you have a spot bigger than the kitchen sink, use it. This isn't a tidy project.

The technique is simple -- wet the surface with the lemon, sprinkle over the salt and rub till the cows come home. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Have you tried other methods? I'm all ears! Any favorite polishes that bring out the glow but don't turn it into something gaudy? Share the tips!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Flying the Prayer Flag!

There's something about doing an art swap that motivates me. It gets me to work on schedule, I meet other bloggers and sometimes I even work outside my comfort zone!


Joanne's Prayer Flag swap fit into that last category in particular. Why? Because I don't sew and these had to be 4x6 vertical flags made from cloth with a space for "stringing" onto a cord or ribbon.

So, I went the easy way. Is anything easier than burlap? It instantly fringes, it's very easy to hand stitch a straight line for the ribbon space and has some heft to it, so it doesn't need to be sized.

 I have a ton of angst about my flags. I know I'm working with a lot of artists (including Joanne) who are miraculous seamstresses and who gracefully combine fabric and threads with mixed media for an incredible ethereal look.

As you can see, mine are all pretty simple and follow my joyful life principles. For color and texture I used washi tape on the burlap, Scrabble letters, paper clay embellishments and a few naturals. I'm very into nesting these days so I made two of those!

Guess I'd better "trust" they'll be OK!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cork Poppers: The Taste of Bordeaux

Sure, I love the malbecs and the pinot grigios. A nice Chianti is always good. But if I had to choose one "group" of wines to have those and only those for the rest of my life, it would be those from Bordeaux.


This region in France is noted for its fine wines, both reds and whites -- and they were the featured wine at our September Cork Poppers gathering.

First, the whites, and the first of those was Montieur Touton 2013 Sauvignon, using 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Bordeaux and offered by Dick and Cheryl. When tasted the words heard were "Yum!" and "Oooh!" It was very cold and crisp. Rick noticed a strong grapefruit flavor. I found it very "clean" tasting and smelling and Cheryl said "This is the best wine so far. (Generally, that's Barb's line!)

Roger said he was going to get this while Dick added he served it first because he felt the second wine, another white from Roger, would be better. That question was up for debate. And at $11, the price was clearly right!

So, it was time to see if Dick was correct in his assessment of Roger's offering -- Chauteau de Fontenille 2012, a blend of sauvignon blanc, sauvigon gris, muscadet and semillon grapes.

I think we all found it a little sweeter than the first. I found it as heavier and not as light -- I preferred the first. Rick, on the other hand, preferred this one. "You could use this as a pillow," he said. "It's feathery." Other comments included "It's stronger but softer" and suggestions that it would be good with cut-up fruit or fish. It's possible I liked this less because it was served a bit warmer than the 53-57 degrees recommended. At $14.99, it's still a good buy. If you prefer a lighter taste, I'd recommend the first, a richer taste, this one.

For the first time since we started individually bringing wine to Cork Poppers, we had a duplicate from both Barb and from Anne and Clayton. It was Chateau La Lauzette 2010, a combination of Cabernet and Merlot. This is a Haut Medoc wine from the Medoc region of Bordeaux. and a Cru Bourgeois wine. They aren't in the top group of Bordeaux heavy hitters like Margaux or Mouton-Rothschild, but nonetheless delicious.

Clayton called it "One of my favorites," while Barb noted it was sharper on the tongue and suggested "You have to have something with this -- cheese or bread." To which Clayton replied, "Or another bottle!" At $25 (Clayton paid $20 on sale), it was a very good buy.

I was up next with Chateau de Trousse, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux AOC 2010. This red blend combined merlot and Cabernet sauvignon grapes and was from the Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux region. This was dry, very mellow and with good legs (the drips down the side of the glass when you swirl it). Rick noticed that it had a lot of tannins, which he liked and said "This is the best I've had today by far." At $12.99 it is an excellent buy and would be wonderful for sipping, dining or used in a recipe.

(Barb said the highlight of my presentation was, after handing out my two-sided description of the wine and region and introducing the wine, said "You folks know how to read, whatever!" Well, I wasn't going to read the whole thing to them!)

Pat wrapped up the tasting with Beau Mayne Bordeaux 2011, a combination of Merlot and Cabernet sauvignon grapes -- the same as in the wine I brought -- but with a different balance. This affected the flavor. This wine came from old vines (vinable) and I felt was in the same league as the others, definitely dryer than Barb and Anne/Clayton's wines. Barb said it was very good and Clayton offered he would be "happy to drink the whole bottle by myself." Rick replied, "Not the whole bottle -- after the third glass I'd be really sorry." Pat acknowledged that "In my opinion, it's not very good." This one cost $14.99.

We must have gone through four pounds of cheese during this tasting! The cheeses were outstanding, including a triple cream Carabanzola, Loyn Wide Cheddar, Abbeydale yellow with rye and Comte were delicious!

While Meredith was getting the stew started the rest of us set out on the Grand River for a boat ride with Captain Roger.

The river rides never disappoint. A heron was on view and it was a gorgeous day. Perfect for a cruise!

We saw the earliest bits of autumn and celebrated the beginning of fall -- even if it isn't official!

And of course everyone was having a glorious time!

Then it was time for dinner. Frogmore stew and a dazzling salad!

Fortunately, there were a few of Rick's baguettes left from the tasting!

It was beautiful sitting at Meredith's fall table. Our takeaway was a jar of homemade salsa!

And of course, dessert was delish -- summer berries over sponge cake with apricot sauce and whipped cream.

We wrapped up the day with a birthday celebration and a grand toast to hostess Meredith who that week learned that she was officially in remission from her cancer!

What's not to love -- time with the Girls of the Grape (below) and Men of the Vine, a wonderful afternoon with Rick and a boat ride and dinner to die for!

That I'd enjoy any day of the week!

I'll be linking this post with Paulita's Dreaming of France project this week. Come back here once she gets the link up for this week's posts to find fun posts from other bloggers about France.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes

This Saturday, September 13, marks one year since I retired. On that last day of work, my health was dodgy at best. A year later, I feel better than I have in several years before. I suspect it is the lack of stress and the sublime happiness I feel every day. The blessings are bountiful indeed.

A dear friend who will soon be undertaking her own retirement journey sent me a list of questions this week, all of which I answered in probably way more detail than she wanted! How did I know when the date was, how did I tell my colleagues, what's my day like now -- that sort of thing. Her last question was something like "What would the Jeanie of Now tell the Jeanie of pre-retirement?"

It was a hard question, in a way. But then the words just came.

"For more than 32 years you have gone to work, stretched your mind, expanded your horizons, developed your creativity, met amazing people from all over the country and made wonderful friends. You have loved most of it and you have learned from all of it. But you have paid a dear price for that. 

It's time that you thought of yourself, that you released yourself from the stress that takes its toll. Your life will not stop. Your friends and contacts will not disappear and in fact, they will expand if you choose to let that happen. You will continue to expand those horizons, develop that creativity, make new friends and meet new people. 

But now it won't be through going to work, it will be because you are living the life you worked hard for and deserve to live. You will relax and in relaxing you will release stress. In releasing stress you will begin to heal your body and your soul. Do it if you can. Finances will always be a factor for anyone making that choice. But there are often ways to work with that. The most important thing is to take care of yourself so you can have the life you want. And you can do it -- and you will not regret for a moment that you did."

What a difference a year makes.

I wake earlier than I did when working -- probably because I sleep so much better. After that morning twilight moment of Lizzie-cuddling and listening to her amazing purr, I get the day going. Knowing I need some structure, I begin with computer time -- time to check your blogs, facebook and get my own blog posts in order.

I'm also going through the thousands of photos on my computer and deleting the so-so or downright bad ones and get those I keep categorized in folders like "Lizzie," "Jeanie and Rick," "Tea," "Lake" and various travel sites. It's surprisingly organized and will improve more as I pare things down.

I'll return to spinning and the gym this month. The summer has been too travel-heavy and we stopped the gym membership till September.

That will kick off the "new year" with a calendar already filled with Cork Poppers, a shower, an art sale, a few more road trips. In other words, carrying on with lots of the things I enjoyed in my first retirement year.

Of course, the best event of that first year was the wedding of Kevin and Molly. And feeling good enough to fully enjoy ever second!

Since I've retired, I've traveled (Nashville, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Canada, New Harmony, IN, Cleveland and Columbus -- along with time at the lake). On some of those trips (along with day trips, classes and house guests) I connected with several blog friends, some for the first time!

I've tried lots of new recipes (including cooking with friends). At the top of the list was macaron making with Kate! We made a mess -- but boy, it was delicious!


And I've tried lots of new recipes on my own -- Easter's Pavlova was a treat and the cracker recipe that came from Marilyn was the best of all I tried!


I've participated in several art swaps since retirement and taken several art classes, learning new techniques and making new friends. I also did a couple of sales (more to come this fall!)

I've explored new places with friends, like USArtquest where I picked up great tips from Susan Pickering Rothamel (and plan to attend her open studio classes beginning in the fall).

I've read 33 books this year alone and am reveling in having time to read on any number of topics. Look for more book features here and on the long-neglected Chopsticks and String.

Several "long lost" college friends came to town and for once there was time to really connect. Patty lives in Maryland now and her husband was performing in Lansing-area. Jim is now in North Carolina -- a wonderful potter. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at former MSU theatre professor Gretel's home.


One of the words of wisdom shared with me last year when speaking other retirees was to volunteer. So, speaking of MSU's department of theatre, my alma mater, I've been enjoying working on the Friends of Theatre board. Our big project has been raising funds for a new and permanent outdoor performing space for the Summer Circle plays. Construction is almost done -- and we are almost to our goal!

I have loved connecting with my only relative on my dad's side, his 90-year-old cousin Marie. I hope I look as good as she does when I hit 80! And now, I feel confident that I just may! (I didn't feel that way a year ago, and it was pretty darned scary.)

We had the coldest winter I can remember in my lifetime. A visit to Niagara Falls (the day before it froze over) was so chilling we stayed only a few minutes.

Our Christmas holidays were somewhat marred by a massive power failure and other not-the-best things. But the cold didn't stop us from enjoying the season and making friends with a family from Japan as we introduced them to that holiday tradition, cutting down the tree. (That was a mighty cold and snowy day, too!) But despite the cold, I stayed well!

But best of all, in this past year I have had the chance to become all the closer to Rick, my fabulous baker (and biker) boy. As I wrote in THIS post, he was afraid I might become a wet, sticky leaf, clinging to him as the job that was once part of my personal and professional identity ended.

He needn't have worried. Our times together have been all the better, all the sweeter. Just as he has his bicycle friends and music buddies, I have my GGs (great group of women), my book club and more activities to do than I have time for. I'm not sure how I managed it all before. The lack of stress, of day-to-day angst makes our time together all the sweeter..

So, I celebrate. This was a big anniversary for me. The last two years before I retired were terribly difficult in ways personal, physical and professional. I saw changes that brought about terrible stress and exacerbated my illness. I'll always have chronic breathing issues, I'll always be at great risk for infections and another round of superbugs. I get that. It's my "new normal." (Or old normal, as the case may be.)

But I've cleared a year without major problems. When the biggest problems are a leaky sink, a few must-be-fixed cottage issues and some good old fashioned worries-about-other-people, I can clear another and another year after that with good docs and the best partner ever.

 Celebrating life, joy and nesting. Yes, life is good.

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