Wednesday, 18 February 2015

It All Came From A Box Of Cornflakes

Do you enter contests? Why not? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I was sorting through some keepsakes and came across a cereal box I had saved. It may seem a strange thing to keep, but it changed the direction of my life. ~

Let me set the scene for you. It is 1981. The recession I call The Great One (because that's the one that affected me the most)  is in full swing in Canada. Mortgage interest rates have risen to 20% and the mortgage on my new house in the city is up for renewal. We have to sell it and find something cheaper to live in.

We buy a crappy, little house in the country because the seller will hold a mortgage at the bargain basement price of 15%.  ~

The house is so small I have to give away a lot of my furniture. It is ugly, dark, cramped and spider infested.  The hydro service is so inadequate that I can't run the dryer and the oven at the same time.

Still, we are lucky that my husband's employment is secure. He works for childhood friends in an area that takes his unique expertise. We can afford to renovate and add on to the house.

Or so we thought. A month after we moved, the business went up for sale and we were officially unemployed in a market where there are no jobs of any kind available. Just feeding the kids is a daily struggle.

When you are that far down, you cling to any possible hope. I started filling out contest forms. Back in the day, that meant collecting UPC codes from products, filling out forms, addressing an envelope, stamping it and putting it in the mail. It's so much easier today with the click of a mouse and auto fill forms!

At the same time, I got the crazy notion that we should buy the business he had worked in and then he'd have a job again. All we needed was someone to loan us $500,000. I've had some crazy ideas in my life, but that one takes the cake!

So, I drew up a business plan, told my husband what to say and sent him out to get a loan. Of course the banks wouldn't touch us. We could only raise $5,000 in a second mortgage on the house. Hmmm - where to get the other $495,000?

Well, a friend of a friend knew a very rich and very kind man, who liked to help people get started in business. He would loan us the money if we could come up with $20,000 as a show of good faith. Remember, I can get $5,000 in a second mortgage. Coming up with the other $15,000 is a bit of a problem when you are out of work. It's two weeks from the closing date and we haven't found one penny of that money.

That's where the cereal box comes into the story. I had been given a stale box of Cornflakes and told they would be okay if I toasted them in the oven. They weren't, but I did send in the contest entry form. One box top, one entry. It won the grand prize, an Oldsmobile 98, a two week luxury cruise and $1,000 spending money! I picked up that car, drove it off the lot and went straight to the bank. They loaned me $15,000 with the car as collateral. I had my 20K and we were in business.

From the depths of financial despair to celebrating New Year's on a cruise ship is a long way for a box top to take you. ~

I took me from stale Cornflakes roasting in the oven to my very first taste of Dom Perignon champagne. ~

The very rich, very kind man told us to drop in for a visit when our ship got to Acapulco. He would be staying in his condo there. So, I stood on the balcony of the penthouse condo, that took up the entire top floor of the largest hotel in Acapulco and wondered at how it had all come to be. I was still wondering when a real contessa offered us a ride back from the condo to our ship and chattered away to us as if it was the most natural thing in the world for us to be there.

I rarely buy lottery tickets, don't bet on the ponies or gamble away my paycheck in a casino. But, I certainly do enter all the free contests I see.

I have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

ps - That crappy little house did get renovated and enlarged and I'm still in it today.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Love Of Lavender Linen Water

I'm not a fussy housekeeper, but I have a thing about bed linens.  I want them to be pretty, feel great and smell heavenly.

Here's where the lavender linen water comes into play. ~

When you grow up in a big family, you live with mismatched sheets that sometimes are so thin you can see through them. At least, that's what I remember. I distinctly remember putting my knee through one on the double bed my sister and I shared  She tells me it only happened once, but it must have been a horribly scarring experience, because I splurge on bedding today and even iron my sheets.

I know some of you are gasping, but it's rather relaxing to iron flat fabric. In fact, that's the only kind of ironing I like to do. I'll gladly iron all your pillow cases, sheets, tea towels and tablecloths; just don't hand me a man's dress shirt to do! I put the linen water right in the water reservoir of the iron and the steam pushes the scent into the fibres.

Even if you can't see yourself ever ironing your bedsheets, you can have all the advantages of a classic French lavender linen water with a little spray bottle.

Lavender is the best natural sleep aid you can find and essential, to my way of thinking, for children's beds. My grandson suffered from night terrors, those dreams you can't be awakened from, and a native woman told me to spray his bedding with lavender water before he went to bed each night. It became a game for him to spray his bed with 'ghost buster magic' before he went to bed and the nightmares disappeared. 

In the linen closet, it keeps everything smelling fresh and is a natural deterrent to moths and other insects. 

I think Lothantique makes the finest lavender linen water but it is rather pricey at $20+ for a quart size bottle. Not to worry, you can easily make it yourself for pennies a jar. There is a little initial outlay but the supplies will last you for eons.

You need a vial of lavender essential oil (available at health food stores and aromatherapy counters), distilled water and alcohol. As we all know oil and water don't mix and the alcohol acts as a binding agent and also allows the mixture to dry faster on fabric.

The recipe is so simple!

To four cups of distilled water (this stops minerals from being deposited on your fabric, iron or steamer),
Add 25 drops of lavender essential oil
Add 1/4 cup of clear alcohol (you can use vodka, witch hazel or rubbing alcohol)

Spritz it on draperies, furniture, pet beds (great for deterring fleas), bath towels, and bedding. A few squirts from a spray bottle works as well as a room freshener aerosol.  

I did a little winter gloom chasing retail therapy this week at my local Salvation Army Thrift Store and found some beautiful linens that were brand new. ~

The tablecloth was $3 and a set of six matching napkins was another $3. A linen towel was $1. ~

Look at the detail! I wonder why they never were used? It seems such a shame to me. ~

A little run through the laundry and some ironing with my homemade linen water (I keep it in a Lothantique bottle I saved) and the tablecloth is ready for dinner.

Or, more likely to become a favourite cat sleeping spot in this house. Cats really love the scent of lavender!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Framing A Decorative Plate

I came across an antique Coalport plate in the Indian Tree pattern and was transported back to my childhood and special family dinners.

We had one covered serving bowl in that pattern and it only graced the dining table on the most special of occasions.  Mom would send us to the china cabinet to fetch the dish that we children always referred to as the pretty dish.  Oh, so carefully we would carry that bowl, eyes turned to it and fingers clamped on it in a death grip.

We knew that it was no ordinary piece of china. It had been a wedding gift to my parents from a real author! In my house, anything that had belonged to an artist, was prized above a gift from royalty.

It was even more mysterious to me because I knew the abandoned, ruined cottage that he and his wife had lived in when they retired.  There was a scandal attached to the dish because my, oh so Victorian minded grandma said he wrote, "dirty books", though she did say his wife was a most genteel British lady!

I've never forgotten the author's name, though he died in 1956 and I've never read one of his books. Finding this plate gave me the nudge to do a little research.

Frank Pollock was a science fiction writer, which completely surprised me. I had visions of Lady Chatterley's Lover, not threats from outer space. Grandma was right about the 'dirty book' part though. It must have been shocking in 1906, when he wrote his best known work Finis', a tale of the end of the world, where the protagonists, facing certain death, make love. Uh huh, they did and that must have put my grandma into a swoon!

My parents gave the dish to my brother as a wedding gift and he scoured auctions and antique stores until he put together an entire dinner service in that pattern.

I only need to have one, little luncheon plate to remind me of the story but it did look rather unimportant just plunked on the wall.

It needed a frame!

I found one in need of a paint job in my stash and gave it a coat of light blue paint to pick that colour up in the plate. ~

Far too boring for Frank Pollock and his dirty sci-fi books.

Let's dab at it wildly with gold leaf foil! ~

What do you think, Frank? I like it! It's classic and edgy at the same time.

I think that little plate holds it's own on the hallway wall now. ~

Now, I'm off to find Frank Pollock's books and short stories. This just may spice up these cold, winter nights!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cream Of Celeriac Soup

January is all about comfort food for me and nothing is as homey as a pot of soup simmering on the stove. I'm trying new soup recipes all the time and saw this one for Cream of Celeriac Soup in the January 2012 issue of Victoria magazine.

Gather up a few ingredients and remember, soup is very forgiving. If you don't have the exact ones, go ahead and improvise! ~

For the first stage of making your soup you will need:

3 slices of bacon
3 Tsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 shallot minced
1 clove garlic minced
3 lbs. celeriac (celery root) washed, peeled, diced
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups water

Bouquet Garni:

In a square of cheesecloth put 3-4 sprigs of  fresh thyme, 3 sprigs of fresh parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, and 1 bay leaf.  Tie the cheesecloth to make a packet for the herbs. If you use dried herbs, you can add them directly to the soup, without tying in cheesecloth. Just be sure to cut the amount of each back when you are using dried so you don't overpower the flavour of the celeriac.

In a dutch oven, saute the bacon until cooked through. All you want from this is the drippings. ~

That's about 4 TBS., if you are like me and save bacon drippings in a jar in the fridge. The recipe said to discard the bacon. I assume the author lives in some kind of parallel universe where you throw out bacon. If you don't want to use it as a garnish for your finished soup, just eat the darned stuff while you are waiting for dinner!

Remove the bacon from the pot, reserving the bacon fat. Add the butter to the pot and melt. Add onion, shallot and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is translucent and tender (about 5 mins.).

Add celery root, chicken stock, water and the Bouquet Garni. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer, covered, until tender, about 45 mins. ~

Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool a bit. Take out the Bouquet Garni and discard. Puree the soup with a food processor or immersion blender.

Here's a trick for making cream soup ahead of time. Once the soup is pureed, and before you add the milk, you can freeze it as a base. It works great with all the usual cream soups. Just thaw it and add the dairy when you reheat it.

For the second stage of the recipe you will need:

1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper (if you don't have white on hand just add more black)
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/4 cup heaving whipping cream

On medium heat, bring soup back up to a gentle simmer and add the salt, pepper, half & half and whipping cream, stirring occasionally to make sure the cream doesn't separate.

The finished soup had a delicate, celery flavour and a thin consistency.  If you like a thicker cream soup, I'd cut the water back by at least half.  ~

I loved the 'spring like' flavour of this soup and it would be perfect served at a luncheon with quiche.

It makes about 2 quarts and serves 6 generous portions.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Keep Up The Momentum

With temperatures hanging around the -19 Celsius range, it's a battle to keep the chickens warm and comfortable.  I run a heat lamp in the coop on very cold days, but the waterer has still been freezing up in about an hour.

My world looks like this right now. ~

I'm tempted to put hot water in the coop, even though I know hot water will freeze faster than cold. It's something called the Mpemba Effect and was baffling scientists as far back as the 4th century BC,, when Aristotle first observed it.  Experiment results were too irregular to come to a definitive on what caused hot to freeze faster than cold.  With today's scientific equipment, we have the answer.  In VERY layman's terms, it's caused by friction between atoms, creating energy.

I trudge to the coop, once again, and think about those atoms creating energy and building momentum until ice crystals form. ~

That makes me remember sitting in a coffee shop way back in the '70's, listening to a self made millionaire tell me how he became so successful.

He told me that it was easier for him to succeed because he had come from so far down. He and his wife came from poor families.  They had no education and jobs that barely gave them subsistence wages.

When an opportunity arose for him to go into business without a cash investment, he went for it all the way. He and his wife worked day and night. They studied other successful business people and incorporated their philosophies into their lives.

He said, "By the time I caught up to everyone else's starting point, I was at a flat out run and sailed right past them."  He had used his energy to build momentum and that momentum would carry him farther than he had ever imagined he could go!

Taking a paper napkin and starting to draw, he told me what most people do wrong as they go after their dreams. ~

One line showed the effort we expend heading upwards. We are full of energy in the beginning. The second line depicts our results. Nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens. We are discouraged and our effort begins to drop off.  But, that's right about when our results catch up with us. Whoa, something happened! So, we put some more effort in, thinking we are on our way to success.

Oh but, didn't we have a period when we didn't keep our effort up? Yes we did and our results are going to show it in the next cycle. Down go our results and we get discouraged all over again.

"That", he said to me, "Is why people fail. They don't keep their feet steadily climbing up the mountain path."

They lose momentum!

I get it! 

Whatever dream you are chasing, remember that simple graph on a paper napkin. We're not sprinting here folks, we are climbing the path to our very best life!

Monday, 5 January 2015

My Downton Abbey Is Back!

Sunday night was the long awaited Season 5 premier of Downton Abbey in North America and my friend Wendy and I were glued to the TV.  

I admit it!  I'm addicted to that series and it was agony not to be able to catch up with all the doings, upstairs and downstairs, in the Abbey.

While I was waiting for the new season, there were some minor dramas I could follow.

In a shocking lack of correctness, that would have appalled Carson, a publicity shot was published that showed a plastic water bottle sitting on a mantel.  Now, I'm against plastic water bottles at any time, but I'm even more against one showing up in a 1924 setting!

But, the cast good naturedly turned the fiasco into a positive by posing with water bottles to support the international charity, WaterAid, ~

There's lots of merchandise available to keep us in the Downton spirit, too.

PBS has a Downton line that ranges from jewellery 

to baby onesies, aprons, snow globes of Highclere Castle, and Lady Cora's favourite night time tea. 

I have two Downton cookbooks on my Kindle.  Check out the site for the author of Downton Abbey Cooks, Pamela Foster. You can check out her recipe blog here.

The biggest drama of the preseason has been the rumours that this would be the last and I'm sure they could hear me cheering all the way to England when they signed the deal for a 6th season.

So don't  bother phoning me on Sunday nights for awhile.  I'll be too busy to answer it.

Someone has to keep an eye on that cheeky, radical, teacher Sarah Bunting.  I dislike her intensely, can't figure out what the heck it is she's being radical about and just want her to leave that poor Irish chauffeur, turned husband of a lady, rebel barred from his home country,widower with a baby and manager of the estate, alone.  Hasn't the poor lad dealt with enough in the last few years? No wonder he wants to run away to America!

I'm also a little curious about how young that dog is looking, when he's supposed to have been there for more than the 12 yrs. the show covers. Those daily walks he takes with Lord Crawley must sure be great for his health!

Think I'm getting over involved with this show? Nah.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Invite Yourself Into Your Home

There is a let down that happens once the Christmas decorations are down and packed away. Gone are the sparkles, the reds and greens, the mice in stocking caps and manger scenes.  The company has all gone home and winter is ready to settle on my house.

Only the wreath on my bedroom closet door remains. ~

I love those old, board doors and their original hardware.

The wreath really stayed up because I have such a crush on the white birch and glitter stars I tucked in among the pinecones.  I simply could not bear to pack them away yet. ~

When a Canadian winter day sends you something like this ~

You have to develop strategies to keep your spirits up.  One year, I decided to treat myself as well as I would treat a guest in my home.

I decided to make everything as clean, pretty and welcoming as I could.

Now, on these icy, grey days, I light the candles.  All of them! ~

In the evening I take long, hot baths and use every nice potion I have on hand. ~

There's no danger of me running out of bath products. Ever since my divorce people have been giving me bath potions by the basketful.  I'm not sure if they think my husband left because I didn't bath often enough or if they think I need to smell like an English cottage garden in full bloom to attract a new mate.  I ponder these things while I soak in the tub.

I use all my prettiest things to make the day special.  

Tea is served in my grandma's special teacup; the one that fascinated me as a child because of the beautiful rose inside. It has to be a strong tea to fight off the gloom.  An Oolong or Earl Grey is called for and not some insipid herbal concoction. 

Tiny, fairy lights in plants give a bit of sparkle. ~

You can buy strings of battery operated fairy lights at Ikea for $2 and they make me feel like I'm in Disney World.  Sometimes I'll ask the florist for damaged roses or a single carnation to float in a bowl of water.  It only costs a dollar or two and does wonders to lift the spirit.

Stacks of books wait for me to curl up in front of the fire and travel through time and space to live all the lives I can cram into a few hours. ~

Magazines, seed catalogues and cookbooks are beckoning me to flip through pages of promise for things to come. ~

It's odd that I'm such an avid reader of cookbooks when I rarely ever use one to cook. I'm more of a make it up kind of girl in the kitchen. I guess they are like Pinterest and I use them for inspiration.

Yes, I think I have been a good hostess to myself today.  It didn't take much more than looking at it all with the same eye I would use for an honoured guest.

Though the winter has given me this outdoors, ~

I'll quote Beverley Nicholson, commenting on the home of Syrie Maugham ~

"Her house was as pretty as a narcissus in the snow,
As pretty as a silver feather on a pane of winter glass."

In fact, that quote has inspired me to take some of the chicken feathers I am forever gathering and saving from the coop and see if I can make them silver.

Invite yourself in to your home.  Be good to yourself.  It won't cost a thing and you'll feel ready, maybe even anxious to go into the season of stillness, while the earth takes well deserved rest under a snowy blanket.

photo courtesy of Wallpapers On Web