Same Stars, Different Sky

One of the hardest things about leaving Montana was knowing that it was likely I would never see another night sky like the one just outside my front door. Although I never could identify anything other than the big and little dipper I would spend hours watching the night sky. Just last night RangerSir came in and said “I just looked up and saw Orion in the sky.” He was so pleased and I think a little surprised.

Photo by Roberto Nickson from Pexels

The night sky where we lived in Montana was black, not dark blue or navy. Twilight lasted forever, but once it was dark, it was pitch dark. That black sky made the Milky Way stand out and was always easy to see. In a black sky, a person could understand why it was called the Milky Way with the long wide band of stars that created it. One of my favorite things to do was to get up in the middle of the night for every forecasted meteor storm or possible northern lights. I would set my alarm, so I could go outside at the peak hour and watch for meteors streaking across the sky. Even on nights when the forecasted storm was a bust, there were always a few meteors to be found in the night sky of Montana. Set against that black sky everything showed up. It was calming for my soul. It was one of those things that made a person realize how little you are in this universe.

We were aware of the impact of light pollution on star watching and we were sure once we left Montana we would not see many stars at all living near urban centers. What we have pleasantly discovered is there are still stars, but they are set against a blue night sky. The street lights and light coming from distant cities erases the faintest stars in the distance, but the biggest and the brightest still shine here.

When we walk Zip after the sun goes down we always take time to look at the moon and the stars. The stars in the sky remind us we are but a very small piece of the universe, but the very same universe as the rest of you. It is an amazing place and we are all here together. It may seem like it is all very different, but actually it on how we see it that makes it different. I hope the next time you are out at night you take a minute to stop and look up into the sky and see what show nature is giving you.

A Day of Gratitude and Thanks

Today I am taking a moment to publicly express my gratitude and thanks. So often I get caught up in life that I don’t appreciate what I am given.

I am thankful for my family. Though my family is not geographically fit, technology allows us to continue to stay close. I am probably closer to my brothers as an adult than we were as children, which is unusual for many. This summer I was able to renew connections to a few of my cousins. Cousins were a holiday connection growing up, but they have grown up to be some of the coolest human beings I know. I am thankful for my sister-in-law, because she is a dear part of my husband.

I am thankful for my friends who are like family. I am fortunate I have more friends than I can count on my hands and toes. This year I am missing the Thanksgiving dinner with my Montana family. I was given the honor of being included with that special family for the last 15 years. I am thankful for the friends I have made over the years who continue to work with me to keep our connections strong with calls, email, text, video chats, and snail mail. I am thankful for those few lifetime friends, who I have made, who no matter how long we go between connections when we do connect, it is like we just talked yesterday. They are sisters of my heart.

I am thankful for the home I have made with RangerSir. We are blessed with a roof over our heads, heat running water, and a full larder. Not only, do we not go to bed hungry, we are able to pick and choose what we will eat each day. There are many folks in this country who are not so fortunate. These are not just third-world problems. It is a problem for working families, the unemployed, people on fixed incomes, the homeless, and others I am not even aware of. I think that the homeless are sometimes the only ones thought of facing these challenges, but they are not. When I look at the percentage of kids in school systems qualifying for free meals it reminds me that many of the poor in this country hide behind closed doors that we don’t see. They appear on the outside just like us. So sometimes we fail to realize we are blessed when our neighbors appear to be in the same situation as us but are not.

I am in a safe, loving relationship. I know what the other looks like and I never ever forget it. Each moment with a spouse or partner who not only loves you, but respects you is priceless. No relationship lasts without lots of work. You both have to want and strive to support the other person in becoming all that they should be. You may not always see the same path to the end, but you both know and see the same endpoint. It is that single moral compass of life that will sustain your relationship.

I have my health. There have been some serious challenges in the road, but each time I have come out the other side. I am lucky because I feel I have adequate access to health care. I am thankful for the health I currently have and try to be a good steward of my body.

Today I will be joining my sister of the heart and her husband as she makes her first Thanksgiving dinner. I will be reflecting on all my blessings, some of which I touched on here. It is not all about food, football, or even the folks you gather with. It is a day of gratitude for your blessings. Some have many. Some have few. I hope you take a moment to reflect on yours as I will on mine. Wishing you peace, kindness, and a year with many blessings.

Life Continues to March Forward

Life just doesn’t move forward at a steady pace or in the way that you wish or plan for it to do so. I had imagined that by now I would be writing about being in my new home and unpacking. Finding things I missed. Rediscovering things I had forgotten about and a few things that I would wonder why I moved it. None of that is true. We have closed and moved into our new home, but are still living the “Craig’s List/Dorm” style.

We closed on our house here in NC at the end of October. It was a bit of a challenge because in all of our other moves and selling of homes once you left closing you were done. Here in North Carolina, you may have signed the contracts and exchanged money, but nothing is real until your deed is filed. So you leave closing and wait for the word your deed is filed to get your keys. For us, it was about 5 minutes to 5pm on a Friday. You can imagine how crazy it was for a person who likes things neat and tidy when it comes to finances to hand away money and not have what she paid for.

We initially elected to continue to stay at the apartment after closing since we were all set up there. The date our refrigerator, washer, and drier we had ordered six weeks ago was due to arrive the Wednesday after closing seemed like a good date to move to the house. That was two days before our furniture was due to arrive.

It did not work out that way. It was not long before the utilities and contractors wanting to complete punch list items were asking us to be at the house for them to complete their jobs. We in the end moved into the house three days before the appliance arrival date. We figured a few days of carryout and cooler lifestyle would be ok.

RangerSir looking at refrigerator #2. All is well. The delivery crew working was A1.

Our appliances arrived on schedule only to discover when they took off a perfectly good box my refrigerator had been thrown down a set of stairs. It was dented and broken in ways the box did not foretell. It went back and fortunately of the 11 refrigerators of that model that arrived the day before my delivery only 10 of them had been sold. I got the replacement a couple of days later. Once again it was a day full of disappointment but also so much thankfulness that I did not have to go six more weeks waiting for a refrigerator to arrive.

I love that look. It was really nice that there are only two people living on our street. He could park that big old van out there and unload all our jazz. The construction crews had to work around him, but honestly they jam the street some days with trades to I figured this one day they could work around me.

Our furniture did not follow the schedule either. It left Montana four days late. The truck broke down for several days and things were at a standstill in SD. Then the driver choose to sit out a day when there were high crosswinds on one leg of the route where semis were being blown over. Our belongings arrived completely intact. The driver and the local unloading crew were professionals and kind. They told us over and over how much they loved the one floor of our home. Our house was completely unloaded in four hours and now we are left with boxes upon boxes to open and clean and put away.

None of this is on the schedule I planned but honestly, we are moving forward and so all is good.

Why Aren’t We Searching for A Connection?

A card I recently made

I suspect the trolls will come out looking for me but oh well here goes. If we don’t speak up people assume that silence means we agree with them. Here goes…

I know this may appear to be Pollyanna or simple-minded but why in all this craziness are we constantly looking to be a life of us vs them? Don’t we have more in common than what separates us? Even if we have significant fundamental differences I still would argue we have more in common and most of that actually impacts on a daily, hourly and in minute by minute basis. I hate that we can look at our Christmas list and realize that there a few folks on the list that we are “dead” to because differences stirred up by people in distant lives on the internet, in cities far away, and people who don’t even exist. How did we get to the point that there is only one point of view?

RangerSir and I are ethically and morally exactly on the same page. Though there have been times the method to the end result was to each of us a very different path. We both wanted and believed in the same thing, but the policies to get there were divergently different. A couple of times so much so that we voted for different presidents. We did not agree on the method, but we could see another point of view. We could see how one another’s life story made them look at the means to the end through a different lense. It was all of this that has allowed our long marriage to endure, grow, and be so strong.

It is the same thing for some of our longest lasting friendships. We respect how they look at things. We value them enough to consider them friends and so why would we not listen and value their point of view when it is different than my own. I like to think I’ve grown, matured, and even changed when listening to another person.

I have written a previous post that brought out the trolls, and it wasn’t pleasant. It resulted in me taking it down for fear of becoming viral or altered and then viral. So in spite of the fear of how trolls can come out of the woodwork because of this post possibly aiming to treat me wickedly and prompt others to do so here it is my point of view. I think that this is worth saying. As a person, not as a group of people, but as a single person we have a lot in common and a lot to fight for together. I don’t expect everyone to agree. I expect you to have come decently to look and say I wonder what kind of life she has lived that would prompt her to look at the world through those glasses. Possibly reflect on your point of view. Then think about all the things that make us a like you never thought about before.

Thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time to read this post. I appreciate it and truly hope today is a good one for you.

Arting

In my last post I talked about arting. A person left a comment asking me about arting. This inspired me to talk about arting. Arting is being creative. Any type of creative activity is arting. There were lots of reasons for this tag I use and I am going to share with you my thought process. I hope you will give me a few minutes to share my thoughts on arting.

When I was a child I went to a school where we had an art teacher. All children had art activities twice a week from first grade through fifth grade. This is where my art instruction began and ended until adulthood. I consider myself lucky because thousands of people will never even get that much art opportunities in public school. I don’t remember much about those days, but I wasn’t left with the idea I was untapped potential. As a result I never felt I had creative ability or skill.

Oh the power of a child with a few crayons.

When I left home after high school, I moved to the city. I lived in a brownstone near the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). Thursday nights were free nights. Perfect for a young person who was living on the economic edge in my first apartment working my first post college job. I was there every Thursday and got to know not only the permanent collections but also got the opportunity to see so many visiting collections. I was exposed to the fine arts. I got to see the Old Masters, Picasso, painters from the Hudson River School, traveling exhibits from other museums, sculptures, textiles, and so much more. It was here I began my art education. The exhibits were inspiring even if I could not imagine myself ever creating anything near such a talent level. As I got older, I found I could afford community education classes. I started to dabble in the arts because of the evenings I had spent at MIA.

When I took a class, the teachers considered to be the artists, and we were the students. The more classes I took I discovered that art was broken down into fine art and craft by most folks. People had personal criteria of what made art and who were the artists. This threw me for a loop. Who decides? What makes them the decider? I had seen traveling exhibits of historic art that included quilts at MIA, suddenly quilting was classified as craft no matter how intricate the work. Yet there were paintings that were great art that I never understood. Who decided Andy Warhol was a great artist? I found it fascinating and some pieces very interesting to look at, but never met my criteria for great art. Yet it was.

The rebel in me looked up the definition of art. I pull the most recent definition from the online dictionary for this post and it hasn’t changed much. Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. By this definition there is lots of art out there. Most of it is not great art, but it is art in its purest form. It was at that moment that some things changed for me.

I create art. I work in watercolor, paper and fabric for the most part. Most of my art is a creative output that brings some emotions with it for me. None of it would come close to qualifying as fine art. I am not comfortable saying I am an artist. When I create I refer to it as arting. It brings me joy to create. Sometimes I am happy with the output, more often I am looking at my work seeking to improve my technique, design or other facet of my work. Yet by definition is is art and I stick to that.

I work in a studio. My studio is where I keep my creative stuff and the stuff I use to create art. It has space for my stuff to be organized in a way that works with my creative/analytical brain. I surround myself with things from friends and family that make me smile, let me know I am loved, or that someone cared enough to share something with me. It is a haven of encouragement. It is where most of my completed work is at. I never refer to my room as a craft room. Two reasons. One, somehow we as a society view the results of crafts as something lesser or possibly more disposable. Anything created there could never be more a craft. I get to decide the personal value of what I create, not some outward definition. Two, I have never heard of the corner of a garage referred to as a craft room where a man putters in wood. It almost universally is called his workshop. I think of this as a gender stereotype I refuse to perpetuate. If it is a workshop, I get to have a studio.

So now you know about the word arting. Here is my second word that there was a request for further clarification. Racetrack Art. Almost every fine art class I have taken has had the students do warm up exercises. I have done them many times and wonder other than getting my supplies all out and ready to go and starting my creative juices running, what is the purpose? I can never remember looking at them and saying….yeah my contrast of light and dark is working, that green I mixed on my pallet is perfect, no the #8 round is not the right brush today…now let’s get going and make real art. I make cards using up paper scraps not thinking much about the design or what is working and what is not. It is an exercise of creativity that I don’t think much about before and almost never afterwards. All of this is racetrack art. Art you made, but when you were done, you moved on without thinking about what was the purpose, did I learn something, did it expose a shortcoming, did I finally master that problem…. Race track art is one and done. Something you make and let go of not to really think more about it. It is one of those things that can reinforce bad habits. It on the reverse it can help develop new positive things if you are a little more conscious and purposeful of what you are doing and use the exercise as such. Lots of classes I have taken recently talk about intuitive art. Most of the times for me it is a hot mess. Because I let something go and don’t consider color, texture, contrast or anything else. I assume my brain is right. It could be, but it could be lost and not right at all. If you haven’t learned the elements of the medium then I am not sure you should be marching to your own drum yet. Here is a place where I fully understand Picasso.

This may be too much information on arting and racetrack art. It may even be considered a rant, but I was asked a question. Here was my answer. In my eyes all you creatives are making art. Embrace the joy and emotions it provokes and march to your own drum.

Odd Things That Give You a Happy Moment

Last week I really hit a wall. I am sure in some way this transient lifestyle caught up with me. I did what I call “went to ground.” I just stopped. I just become even more of a introvert and only did things that make me smile. Most of them alone. No apologies for my choices of activities. No embarrassment about what I chose do. I lived each moment in the here and now.

So for those of you regular readers, don’t worry. I am sure it was some kind of mental health bump. A really good mental professional once said, as long as when you hit a bump you use the tools you have and you make good forward progress then you are good on your own. When your tools are not helping or you refuse to use your tools then you need to make sure you reach out for help. I did not stay in bed and do nothing. I wasn’t blue, sad or feeling depressed or hopeless. I just needed to slow down and do what it took to recharge and get my feet back under myself. I think it was just some reckoning of life in upheaval as we passed week 12 in the apartment.

So what did I do?

I had two firm commitments and I attended both of those, my book club and my watercolor class. I enjoyed them both and the people in them. I am the youngest person in my book club, but this group takes me into places I would not normally travel. This month’s book was The Warmth of Other Suns. We did our meeting via Zoom. Everyone wanted to meet in person but we all wanted safe more. My watercolor class is taught by a local artist. She is so talented. We meet at the local cultural center. There are only four students and we all mask up for the hour and half class. This week we did a beach scene. I got my ocean wrong, but for a quick first painting of a seaside it was a fun exercise.

I’ve never done a watercolor landscape before.

I watched two movies in just a few days. For me this is like watching a 1,000 hour TV marathon nonstop. I can’t remember when I last watched TV for more an hour in a single setting. I liked the movies and sat still for both of them. Not my usual cup of tea, both were documentaries.

I also played Kitchen Crash. For those you not familiar with this TV show, it was a reality show, where some chef/food professional came to your house and made a meal out of what you had in your refrigerator and cupboards. My refrigerator and asking Google for a recipe using X ingredient meant I was cooking up a storm. Cooking is calming, creative and an expression of my love for others. I made a zucchini cake, rhubarb crumble, homemade tortillas that became pork street tacos, homemade pizza using tapas leftovers, mini cheese cakes, a kung po inspired vegetable crisper dump with chicken and tried brining and roasted fresh dug peanuts. This required some serious eating here daily, but fortunately I have become the master at cooking for two. So there were no leftovers.

Doing something in the kitchen is one of my creative moments.

I did not art during my down time. I had been doing mega doses of art since we moved in the apartment. I was arting overtime daily. I needed to step back and I did. I had reached the point where I was not enjoying my art. One should never get to that point. Today I am half a week behind in year long class, but I am ok with that and will catch up in the next few weeks. I gave myself permission to art for me until I get into the house and start setting up my studio space. I do what I do. No more racetrack art.

This was the most unexpected thing I did during my down time. I embraced wild and crazy socks. I get cold feet, even during the summer here in North Carolina. I have a nice collection of sport socks and dress socks My dress socks are gold toe black socks that are exactly the same. Now you know how boring I am in the sock department. Enter 10 pairs of Halloween socks. I was checking out at Marshalls, walking down that aisle of impulse items that you have to go down before you get to the cashier. There was a packed of low profile Halloween socks 10 pair for $6. They went into my cart. I thought that they would be a great cold toes addition. Those of you familiar with me know I have no use for the Halloween holiday. I don’t hate it only because it is not worth expelling that kind of energy that hating it would take. Suddenly every evening I have on a different pair of socks with some crazy design. What is even stranger is I am hoping for the next set to be either Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, or autumn. Each evening when I settle down in a chair with a book, these wild Halloween design socks just make me smile and what better way is there to end the day than with a smile.

I have ten pairs of these wild socks that do nothing but make me smile….oh and yes keep my toes warm.

So my words to you is embrace what makes you happy. Small things. Big things. Let there be no such thing as a guilty pleasure, just let it be a pleasure. Look for what will bring a smile to your face. Acknowledge those wonderful things inside you and don’t wait for someone else to tell you that you are wonderful. Treat your body well. Let those around you love you, but also love yourself. You take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Embrace each moment. Live in the here and now.

Celebrating What You Can Control

I have been gone a couple of weeks perking on a couple things I can NOT control. Even went to far as to draft a post on this line of thought. I wanted to share it, but feared internet trolls would make an example of me because my opinion was contrary to theirs. Well today that stops. I am going to write about things I can control and things in my life that may be helpful, bring a smile to your face or give you some input or insight. So I am back on track and writing again.

Summer is coming to an end and for the first year in memory I have not put a single thing by for the winter or to share with others. This is not me. I have been canning, freezing and drying food for as long as I can remember. In a normal life, in a normal year my freezer would be full of things I had froze for the long winter months. I would have ran the dehydrator for hours to save our special recipe fruit, leathers or jerky. I would have canned something to use as gifts for friends during the holiday season. Living in this apartment made any of this seem impossible. Enough of that woe is me. It might not be easy or “normal” but anything was possible.

Muscadine & Scuppernongs

Last week at my favorite roadside market got in their first batches of grapes. They stopped me in my tracks because they almost looked like a miniature plum. I asked the owner what you did with the grapes and was told most people make wine but that some people also made jelly with it. I was game for the jelly, not giving a lot of thought about how I might do that. I bought two quarts of grapes, one dark and one light. I tasted my first grape as I put them in the car to take home. The skin is tough, seriously tough. I think even more so than the Concord grape I grew up with. It was clearly one of those grapes you were supposed to squeeze the grape out of the skin into your mouth.

I got home and asked Google about my new grape purchase. I learned North Carolina has tons of grapes. They even have a state grape. It is a grape that has two names Muscadine when it is ripe to the reddish purple stage and Scuppernongs when it still yellow. Never heard of it? Neither had I. The mother vine here in North Carolina is estimated to be over 400 years old. It is an indigenous grape that grows quite well here and resistant to pests. There are several wineries across the state that use this type of grapes to make wines. I am going to have to make a roadtrip to do some up close and personal investigation into that. Of course, I was able to find a recipe for small batch Scuppernongs jelly on the internet and I was off and running.

I apologize for not taking pictures throughout the process. It wasn’t on my radar as I was making the jelly that I would blog about this. One of the things I learned online is that you slit the skin when cooking down the grapes so that they would not explode as you cooked the raw grapes to extract the juices. I also spent some serious time thinking about all the canning supplies I had in storage back in Montana that I did not want or need to duplicate. I did not mind buying jars but the tools I was going need would require some serious workaround hacks. I found some old fashion methods to help me and some inventive hacks to make my jelly.

I got some good old-fashion muslin to drain my cooked grapes in to separate the pulp for the the juice. I put two layers of muslin in my colander for spaghetti and rinsing fruits and veggies and poured my cooked grapes in it it over a bowl. I allowed it to sit overnight so that I was able to get two cups of juice the next day for my jam. Problem one solved.

I got jars and lids at my local discount store. I was perfectly okay with that. I always seem to be buying some jars each year to replace what I give away or the customize the size for what I am canning at the time.

7-4oz jars fit perfectly in the bottom of my crab pot.

My next problem was the hot water bath to properly sterilize my jars and then cook them for sealing once they were filled with jelly. I have perfectly size pots for just that along with a couple of funnels with marks for proper head room when filling them and jar lifting tongs for working with the hot jars. I did not want to duplicate what I already owned. I found the perfect hack, a crab cooking pot. I now live close to the coast and could use something like that. I had nothing for cooking crab back in Montana. No big call for cooking fresh crabs there. The insert to put in and pull crabs out of hot water was perfect for getting my new jars in and out of the hot water. I put the jars and lids in the bottom of the strainer pot and let them boil to sterilize them. I would later put the jars of jelly with seals back in that same sieved pot insert and use it to immerse the jars in the water bath for my final step. It was a hack but it worked.

For such small jars I could use plain old steak tongs to pull out my finished jelly jars.

I have now nested and completed a ritual that is part of the changing seasons for me. It makes the fact that after 11 weeks in the temporary quarters while our new house is puttering along with construction, but we are still without an end date not so overwhelming. I have a collection of little jars of bright fuchsia jelly that looks like jewels to share with others. I have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I am ready for fall, whatever it looks like in North Carolina.

This doesn’t capture the jewel fuschia color of this jelly, but it is there.