February 28, 2013

No Regrets

Two Thanksgivings ago, I stood in my kitchen with my older brother Matthew, waiting for my mom's pumpkin pies to finish baking. Matt explained to me a little of what the doctor had recently discovered, and I so clearly remember saying, 'Cancer cells? That's ridiculous. We don't have cancer in our family,' and I went back to checking on the pies.

This past Thanksgiving I stood in that same kitchen, and thought back to how different this holiday was from the last one. 

We did indeed have cancer in our family -- my brother was living proof. Christmas came and went, along with 2012, and Matt still trooped on. 

Over this past weekend though, my brother passed away at the age of 40. 

Cancer (and indeed any and all disease...) sucks. I'm not the first person to say it, nor will I be the last. Nearly every person I know has been touched in some way by a relative, friend or colleague who has had cancer. Some have lived, many have died.

When I first discovered Matt had cancer, I went for a walk with a childhood friend. Walking is, after all, the cheapest form of both exercise and therapy. She had recently listened to a radio special on cancer -- and she mentioned how many of the people they interviewed said the disease brought them closer together as a family. 

I was a little skeptical, but as 2012 carried on, those words stayed with me. My brother and I definitely had our differences, especially as we grew into adulthood. I wasn't totally convinced that him having cancer would cure us of our relationship woes. In fact, I thought it might make them worse. But in the end, while it was no doubt one of the most difficult years of my life, I am forever grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Matt. The radio broadcaster was right. Cancer had brought us closer. Cancer still sucked, but good can occasionally spring forth from a bad situation. 

While we continued to pray for a miracle of healing, I think the true miracle was the reconciliation that occurred in our family.

I told Matt how much I loved him while he was still alive. I even wrote him a letter (because I often stink at actually verbalizing my true feelings) and then I read it to him. The letter contained 10 things I wanted him to remember -- I'll share just one with you:

"You were always braver than me – whether it was with a roller coaster, bungee jumping, buying a house, fighting fires, pulling people out of vehicles and now going through cancer. You have definitely trumped me with guts. (I know I gave you some lame excuse about not wanting to hurt myself for an upcoming cross-country race when I didn't go bungee jumping with you, but really, I was scared sh*tless.) The only time I remember you being a chicken was when you had a spider in your room at the A-frame and you wanted me to get rid of it. Now that I think about it… maybe that was just your ploy to get me to do your dirty work?!"

We hugged through tears and sniffles and even a few giggles, and then we had eight more months to reminisce about our childhood. Those were the best moments I shared with him. They are the memories I will cherish in the years to come. And in the moments after he died, I thought to myself, "I'm so glad I gave him that letter so many months ago."   

No regrets about anything left unsaid.

But I know life will never quite be the same. C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Four Loves

"If, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A, but ‘A’s part in C’ and C loses not only A, but ‘A’s part in B’."

I have always appreciated this poignant quote, because whenever death occurs, it not only affects you, it affects those around you who also knew that person, and therefore it changes your relationship with those people, even if only slightly. 

I will feel my brother's absence not only in my own realm, but in the lives of those he touched throughout his life. 

Matt and me -- circa 80s

Watching my only sibling deal with cancer changed me. Life really is too short. Live with no regrets. Forgive. Move on. Get in touch with friends you have been meaning to get in touch with. Write a letter. Encourage someone. Tell and show others how much you love them. 

And the next time you encounter someone going through something as big as cancer, remind them of their bravery, and then let them know they are not alone. Matt would have liked that.

February 23, 2013

Drink Up

Last year, to celebrate the Sailor's success at passing a HUGE navigation exam, we went to Abu Dhabi. We met with friends, laid around the beach and the pool, and I drank far too many of the green slushy type beverage pictured below -- frozen mint lemonade. 


I haven't quite figured out how to make it yet, although I do know that fresh mint and lemonade (clearly) are involved.
This week, the Sailor ordered a frozen ginger lemonade at a coffee shop... and somehow he ended up with a frozen mint lemonade. I'm still not sure how that happened, since I didn't see that combo anywhere on the menu. The Sailor didn't share my passion for the drink, so needless to say, I enjoyed the rest of it.

I was definitely back in Abu Dhabi, if only for the few minutes it took me to slurp the drink. 

This photo was taken right before the Sailor arrived -- on a day out with two of my dearest friends (yes, I am blessed. A trip to Abu Dhabi AND my friends are there?!) I entered the photo in the most recent camera club competition -- it tied for second in the color category.

I only wish a frozen mint lemonade was the prize, rather than a red ribbon.  

February 21, 2013

Successful Socks

Sometime in between putting a hole in the blue cardigan and starting over on it, I knit a pair of socks. I need to diversify, especially in the middle of a knitting frustration (like the cardigan). I occasionally need to remind myself that I know how to knit. 

And while I know South Africa doesn't get the same crazy snow and weather that we get back home, I do know how cold it CAN get here -- especially at night. 

So I made my mother-in-law some fun socks for the winter. I used the same Paton's pattern book as before. I must confess that I haven't experiment much with any other new pattern for socks. (Why mess with what seems to work?)

I do think that I need to start branching out though -- I think my socks need a cable or lace pattern at some point. But for now, I'm sticking to the basic pattern. 

I should also confess that I never really thought much about socks before, especially to give as a gift. (I think I conjured up images of children ripping open gifts to discover plain blah socks, when they expected toys instead...)

However, since I learned to knit to make socks... and since I've gotten fairly good at this basic pattern, I've come to appreciate how wonderful hand knit socks feel on my feet. Now I feel I need to share the joy. They are definitely fun to give as gifts -- and I'm going to bet, just as fun to receive.

February 19, 2013

Stop and Stare

I mentioned in my last post that my father-in-law has some amazing peaches from his trees. What I didn't mention is that there is one growing right outside our window.

No matter the season, I have always loved looking at this tree. Now that it's summer here, the sun always seems to hit it spot on -- you know... that moment when you see the light hitting the leaves and all of the world seems just right. I need a little of that most days. (Oh, who am I kidding here -- I need that everyday!)

I'm trying to soak up as much of the blue sky and greenery surrounding me as I can. I know that in only days I will be back to a very snowy Northern Hemisphere. There, I will at least have Ted, Ned and Red (if they are still alive, that is...) to give me my daily dose of green until the trees start to bud. 

The old adage, 'stop and smell the roses' sometimes doesn't get my attention. I like to stop and stare at them instead. It's amazing what kind of beauty surrounds us on a daily basis.

It's not only roses either. My mother-in-law pointed this flower out to me my first evening here. I have no idea what kind of plant this is... but I love it. How can you not think that is cool?!

Stop and stare once in a while... and marvel at the wondrous details in nature. 
(And if anyone knows what this plant is actually called... please fill me in.)

February 17, 2013

Peach Smoothies

I'm making progress on the great cardigan remake. (This isn't the first time I've had to remake a sweater -- more on that later -- nor do I think this will be the last!)

This morning, while I was vigorously knitting the waist decreases, my father-in-law emerged from the garden and sat with me under the tree to cut up a giant bowl of peaches. 

Coffee, knitting, a cool breeze in the shade... and the smell of peaches -- what better way to spend a Sunday morning?

I couldn't resist eating a small bowl myself. While Pa peeled and chopped his way through what seemed to be about 55 peaches, I remembered a summer years ago in Ukraine, when I sat under a similar tree with Babka Dina. 

Dina wasn't related to me, but she was known as Grandma to anyone who came near her. 

She was large, and rather slow when moving about. She used a cane, but insisted that she didn't need help whenever someone would offer an arm to her. 

One of my first days in her town in Eastern Ukraine, we sat at a table (where we spent most of the time actually). An unusual number of bees swarmed us. Babka Dina was unfazed. She spent the latter part of the lunch we shared trying to capture bees in a cup, or smashing them with her spoon. Occasionally she dumped scalding hot tea onto them when they landed on the table. (I'm going to guess she never saw the Bee Movie...)

Watching Pa peel peaches reminded me of Babka Dina -- not because she was old, and hobbled about, or because she happened to be a bee killer -- but because one of the only photos I have of her, she is sitting cross-armed, very stoic, next to a bushel of peaches, not unlike the giant bowl Pa had beside him.  

The photo is a shoebox, in a closet, on the other side of the world at the moment, but I can still see her face.  

It's been years since I saw Babka Dina -- I don't know whatever happened to her. I like to think that she's still smashing bees with the same spoon she uses for the honey. And I hope her peach tree is still thriving. 

After we consumed enough peaches for the morning and left the rest in the fridge for a smoothie later, a bee started to hover around the Sailor. He too was unfazed, but unlike Babka Dina, he let the bee live. 

Because I've been eating so many peach smoothies lately, I thought I should share my recipe (which honestly just fluctuates depending on the fruit that I happen to have on hand, but this has been the standard for two weeks now.) 


2 ripe peaches, chopped (preferably just picked) 
1 apple, chopped
1 banana, peeled of course, and chopped
Either a few splashes of milk, or a few spoonfuls of plain or fruit yogurt 
A small handful of almonds *

Throw all together in a blender. 
Pour into a glass and enjoy! 

This smoothie is quite thick, so I like to use a spoon to scrape out the last of it from the glass. Or, you could just add more liquid. 
* Omit the almonds if you married a picky eater like the Sailor.

February 14, 2013

Feeling Blue on Valentine's Day?

Valentine's Day brings up a myriad of emotions. Me? I'm not really a big fan. I think I'm still a little scarred by a former job.

Years ago, I worked as a temp at a local flower store for the Valentine's Day rush.

Now, before you get all excited with images of quaint flower stalls crammed between meat and veg vendors in open air markets in Europe, or even your local florist with the fresh, wrapped roses you may have already bought for you sweetheart, let me first tell you the honest truth. 

I never even TOUCHED a flower there. 

Eight hours on my feet daily, surrounded by roses, carnations, baby's breath, Hershey Kisses and teddy bears -- I got to spend the majority of that temp job stapling cellophane.  

Cellophane. Cello-PAIN. 

I hate cellophane. It's the first thing I rip off of flowers when I buy them. And it is usually the first thing most people rip off before they place their flowers in a vase, but the cellophane's job was to keep the flowers neat, clean and alive, apparently. My mundane job on the other hand, was to fold and staple countless sheets, so that someone else could actually wrap the arrangements. 

I didn't get any flowers from the Sailor that year. He was halfway around the world, and I told him not to bother. I saw enough flowers in that 'factory', even if they weren't mine to keep. 

This year, thankfully, I didn't spend the week leading up to Valentine's Day at the florist. (Nor did I make use of any cellophane, whatsoever... although I did battle with some plastic wrap this afternoon when I covered the potato salad.

I did however get fairly far knitting my blue cardi.

Then, as I started to weave in the ends, I noticed that the ones in the back didn't look so neat. The sloppy weaving was right in the middle of the back, where I had joined a new ball of yarn. 

I never join a new ball of yarn right in the middle of a sweater. But because I added some length to this sweater, and since I neglected to buy an 'extra' ball of yarn, I was so afraid of running out of the blue, that I joined a new ball in the middle. 

The thing is... I never really joined it. I always put a double knot where I join my knitting. Some people say this is the worst thing to do -- if you're not careful, it leaves a lump right where you weave in the ends. This time, because I couldn't hide the lump (small as it may have been...) in the seam or at the side, I decided not to knot the balls the together. I just left a few inches and weaved the ends in. 

Then when I saw the sloppiness of my weaving, I pulled one out. And somehow (I'm guessing because I didn't tie a knot in there!) I managed to put a hole in my knitting.

 I gasped. Then I stared at the hole for a while. 

 Then I decided to make an even bigger hole, in my attempt to fix the damage. It you're going to mess something up, you may as well go whole hog, right?

(Ironic, isn't it, that my knitting needles have formed a frown?)

I made an effort to graft the stitches together, but in the end, it didn't look very nice. Plus, I had the mess at the back to contend with. The Sailor took one look at it and suggested I start over completely. I resisted the urge to take the long circular needle to his neck... and decided he was right. 

So I ripped out the knitting. And ripped. Then ripped some more. The whole monotonous ripping and winding reminded me of that temp job stapling cellophane. But before I knew it, the sleeveless portion of my cardigan was back into balls. 

By now perhaps you're wondering why I ripped the WHOLE thing out?? Well, because I had already sewn the button band on (not pictured in the above 'vest' photo), I had to rip that out too. And in my carelessness, I started to rip out the bottom of the cardigan by mistake. So I figured that I may as well rip the whole thing out while I'm at it. 

I was so frustrated by the whole thing, that I was ready to throw the yarn into the trash. I felt like the color of the yarn. The Sailor reminded me that we learn by our mistakes. He's right. And sometimes things look pretty ugly before they become beautiful. 

I decided to take my mess and try out the yarn ball winder my mother-in-law just gave me. I love that she taught me to knit and she's passing along to me a vintage item that she herself used for years. 

I enlisted the Sailor's help to wind the balls. (I know they're in balls above... but this yarn winder makes them into center-pull balls, which is infinitely better. It also means the yarn isn't rolling around in dog hair on the floor while I knit.)

I explained to him how the ball winder works, and he just looked at me while he calmly reminded me that he helped his mother wind numerous hanks of yarn when he was a kid. 

By about the fourth ball, I realized that cellophane or not, I didn't need any flowers from the Sailor on Valentine's Day (I get plenty during the rest of the year...) 

Hanging out with him for the day was enough. Having him believe I could create the cardi over again was even better. Helping me wind the balls of yarn was just an added bonus. 

February 11, 2013

The Sailor's 'Braai' Rules

There's nothing quite like the smell of a BBQ... or as it's known in South Africa, a 'braai'. 

The first time I ever spent the day with the Sailor, we were on a beach in Sierra Leone, West Africa with another South African family. Somehow, they had acquired lamb chops, and a small grill, and we spent the day swimming, getting tanned, digging holes in the sand and acting like kids, and of course we ate. Lots. I still remember licking my fingers clean of those amazing chops. 

I felt sorry for the vegetarian who was with us that day. Seriously, I ached because she didn't taste how yummy those lamb chops were. 

Since then, the Sailor and I have lost count of the number of places we have had a braai. No matter where we are though, the Sailor has a set of rules to abide by when grilling. 

1. Use wood and charcoal. Gas grilling may be quicker, but the Sailor swears by the taste of wood and charcoal. It takes longer... but that's kind of the point of a braai. You get to hang out with your friends and family while the fire cooks. 

2. Make sure the grill is clean -- just scrub it with a wire brush beforehand.

3. Meat tenderizer is acceptable to use before you grill, however do not salt the meat until it’s on the braai. The Sailor says it sometimes makes the meat tough if you salt it too early.

4. Braai at least three types of meat (burgers and hot dogs not allowed... get creative!)

5. Always leave a little piece at the end for the eldest dog -- in this case, Rex.

And before you say it's too cold to braai... even the Sailor has grilled in sub-zero temps, in the snow. Just think of it as an early summertime treat.

February 9, 2013

Dexter, the Wonder Dog

One of the things I most look forward to whenever we return to South Africa (besides hammocking, of course) is seeing Dexter. 

Dogs are plentiful in SA. The Sailor's parents currently have three of them, but Dexter is by far our favorite.

I think Dexter is actually smiling a little here, while sitting in his guard dog position.
You see, he was our wedding gift to the parents years ago, but somewhere along the way, he became 'our' dog. We took care of him in those early weeks and helped him adjust to life with the other dogs. Now, even though we can't take him with us across the ocean, he seems like 'our' dog whenever we visit. When we first got him, we thought for sure he was a Fox Terrier, but along the way, we figured out that he might be actually be a Jack Russel.

We're still not completely convinced of his lineage, but one thing is for sure, he's definitely still Dexter. 

And with a face like that, who wouldn't love to be greeted by a dog like Dexter daily?

I think he also knows he's a Wonder Dog. His only quirk? He sheds a ton. My blue cardi I'm knitting is full of white fur. It's definitely getting a good wash before I wear that thing.

February 7, 2013

Shades of Blue

Sunshine, shorts, sandals and hammocking... I must be in the Southern Hemisphere. I am trying to soak up as much Vitamin D as possible -- what a contrast to the snow and ice the Sailor and I left behind only a few days ago!  

For the trip, I specifically picked this cardigan pattern to knit. It’s not at all complicated (handy when trying to knit AND carry on a conversation when you're somewhat jet-lagged), plus it’s made of cotton (essential in my book for summertime knitting). I already made this same cardigan before, years ago, in a shade of green for my mother. 

I decided to make myself a blue one, so I ordered the yarn online. I realized later that it’s the exact same shade of blue as the first sweater I ever made -- one I knit and put together in Cape Town, the year I learned to knit. In fact I was wearing that first sweater the day the yarn arrived -- and I even chuckled a little to myself when I saw how similar the shades of blue were to each other. 

Apparently I'm drawn to all things blue when it comes to knitwear
(although I prefer my hammocks in pink and green...) 

Fitting then, that yesterday I set-up my trusty hammock and decided to float for a bit under the bright blue sky, while working on the blue cardi. 

Everyone should hammock. It's good for the soul. It's also the perfect way to see some shades of blue without feeling blue. Here's where to find your own Color Cloud Hammock. Even if you're still experiencing winter, if you order your hammock now, you'll have it in time for sunny skies and hot weather. 

* Full disclaimer... while I am friends with the fun and fabulous gals behind Color Cloud Hammocks, I received no compensation or goods from this post. Hammocking however, is contagious, so I do feel compelled to spread the word. 

February 1, 2013

Grease Jar

A few weeks ago in Tennessee, while paying a visit to the same antique store where I found this glass rolling pin, I noticed a gorgeous Jadeite 'grease jar'. For $25, I passed it up. I confess I have a slight obsession with vintage Pyrex, but I'm no expert on Jadeite. I wasn't even sure if it was the real thing.

But I was still intrigued by the thought of a grease jar.

In all of my travels, I've never been one to collect souvenirs, thimbles or frankly anything else except memories and journal entries. However, recently, I noticed that the top of my fridge is actually lined with cookbooks from many of the places I've visited. Not all of them actually come from the country, of course. My former proficiency in Russian may have helped me to barter in the Ukrainian market daily, but I'm not fully convinced of my ability to accurately translate a pelemeni recipe from Cyrillic.

One afternoon I stared at those cookbooks and realized that I didn't even have one from Pennsylvania Dutch Country... the very place where I grew up.

I decided to remedy that when I saw a review in a magazine for Ian Knauer's cookbook, The Farm.

I ordered the book and proceeded to devour it. 

In the book, he describes 'master fat' -- and how people used to (and still do!) collect the fat drippings from any meat or bacon products they use. I often make Yorkshire Pudding with meat drippings, and I have been known to use the same oil to fry things like onion rings more than once, but collecting the drippings all together was a new concept to me. 

I love to recycle and reuse all kinds of things -- of course I was on board with this idea.  

So when I saw the 'grease jar' in Tennessee, I knew I had to add something similar to my kitchen.

Although I passed up the Jadeite, I did manage to find a drip can when I returned home. On an antique outing with a friend a few weeks ago, I found a gorgeous enamel pan with a lid (above), as well as this drip container. I squealed a little when I saw the price was only $2.50. 

I had to use it right away, so I actually went to the farm market the next day to purchase some bacon. Only a few minutes after I consumed said bacon, I was already straining the grease (I didn't even think to get a photo of the 'clean' jar before I put it right to use!)

I've already added more drippings, and even the Sailor seemed impressed when I showed him the jar and how quickly it was filling up. Not everything agrees though. A good friend emailed me and said the whole concept sounded 'gross'. 

Maybe it does to some people. Then again, maybe it's a little strange that I'm so excited about it?