End Of Summer Canning

Well, I want to be canning but it seems that I can’t get there from here because my schedule is overflowing with work things to do. However, it appears there may be canning opportunities next week!

What to can? Well, I’m not completely sure what will be on the menu, though apples are likely. Barber’s Orchard is just down the road and they’ve got some delicious apples! I found this article about what kinds of foods are in season in North Carolina throughout the year and it seems, logically, that what’s in season is what’s eligible for preserving. I’d like to freeze some things but I have extremely limited freezer space so I couldn’t really do much with that.

Although I’d be happy to not deal with apple sauce for a while (due to the relatively recent apple sauce extravaganza at the church with over 21 gallon bags to freeze), I’m still quite likely to do something or another with apples. I’d like to make stewed (not sauced) apples or something like I usually put into apple pies so that I could have canned apple pie filling. I’ve still got some of these spiced apples that I canned a couple of years ago and they’re pretty yummy but not exactly what I wanted to do.

Hopefully more posts and photos of fruity veggie goodness will follow soon!

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Freezing Fresh Basil

Last week I joined several ladies at the church for a “Canning Bee” as we sliced, cooked, squished, and bagged countless apples into over 20 gallons of applesauce. It was all spooned into plastic bags and frozen and it made quite a windfall for the Community Table! While I think it is really great to give food to community organizations that provide meals to those who need some assistance, I also think it’s pretty awesome to give them really GOOD food–good tasting and good for you, too!

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That same day, the woman with the proliferation of apples brought an equally abundant harvest of basil. In fact, it was so much basil that the whole church smelled deliciously of basil even the next day long after the apples were gone.

Ultimately, I was the recipient of the lion’s share of this harvest (two gallon sized bags crammed full!) and was delighted but clueless as to what to do with it all. My hope was to make pesto at some point but that point was not any time soon, so the only option I could come across was freezing.

However, I’ve never frozen basil before. One suggestion I had been given was to place them flat in a ziplock and freeze them that way. Then they could be crushed when frozen and wouldn’t have to be chopped. I was pretty worried that they would turn brown or black if I did that. I did a small sample of leaves in this way and while it was super easy to “chop” them by simply squishing the bag, they did indeed turn quite dark.

Even though I was willing to use a small portion of the enormous bounty of basil for that test, I wasn’t willing to risk it all, so I found a solution on Pinterest. (see my Pinterest page for my boards.) Here’s what I found and it really does a super job and it’s part way towards the pesto I want to make, too, because it involves olive oil.

You will need: fresh basil, olive oil of your choice, some kind of container to freeze it in that is (my suggestion) no larger than a 1 cup size.

Wash the leaves, trimming off any flowers and long stems. Let them air dry on a paper towel or clean dishtowels. This took about 20 min for me and I wasn’t super patient about the drying part! It was really late at night and I’d been chopping and squishing apples all day!

There seem to be several options at this point.

Chopping: fine or coarse. I chose coarse because, as I said, I was tired. Plus, my little tiny food processor would have taken FOREVER to do this much basil–if, of course, I could find the blades!

Containers: some people choose to freeze the basil in ice cube trays. I thought that was a brilliant idea! I didn’t have any, though, and I did have a few of those ziplock type small plastic containers. I think you could use anything you wanted but I’d guess it shouldn’t be more than about a cup size since you’ll have to thaw the whole container when you’re ready to use it.

Pour a layer of olive oil in the bottom of the container and swish it to cover the sides. The OO is what keeps the leaves from turning dark, so you want as much of everything covered as possible. Pack in the leaves, covering with the oil, and stick in the freezer. I did mine in layers since it was a rough chop: put in a bunch of basil, pour in some OO, squish, repeat.

Yummmy! I’m looking forward to making pesto soon!

Creative Impulse

Often, we seem to think that creativity is an uncontrollable impulse. It seems that all kinds of creative endeavors, from photography to painting or fabric arts to sculpture or writing to metalwork, are dependent upon the fickle and capricious appearance of this impulse. It comes and goes as it will and we are at this muse’s whim.

However, this may not be exactly as full an understanding of creativity as we might think. I’m not convinced that we are utterly at the mercy of creativity’s impulsive nature. Ray Bradbury’s book, Zen In the Art of Writing,  gives many good ideas on how to tame the muse or, put another way, find ways to stimulate creativity and not be continually at the mercy of its appearance (or absence).

A recent post on a chainmailing blog I follow has some fantastic ideas as well. Actually, they are ideas that come from some seasoned artists. The post summarizes the various suggestions and recommends some good books to read. It’s an excellent post and well worth the read! And these are good ideas and suggestions whether your vocation includes a creative component or if you need creative sparks in any area of your life.

For me, the very best things that have helped me remain creative personally and professional are simple: write every day even if it is a seemingly uninspiring journal entry, read both fiction and non fiction as much as I can, put intentional focus on the details, patterns, colors, people, animals and natural elements of the world around me, and when I realize I am stuck with a project(which usually occurs about 3 hours into stuck-ness) I get up and do something completely different for a while.

Of course, sometimes creativity simply won’t flow. There’s a reason why people sometimes equate a time when they cannot get moving creatively as dry and desert like. It seems that these times are a little like the times when people come to see me for pastoral care. In a crisis, even a mild one, our vision becomes narrowed. We see fewer options, see less support, help, and connections to our world around us. It is as if we are seeing, thinking and feeling with blinders on.  We remove those, or at least shift them out a bit, when we move out of ourselves and broaden our vision. The same is true for creativity.

Got ways you spark your creativity? I’d love to hear about it!

Chainmail

In April I finally got a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do: learn how to make chainmail*.

For most all of my life I’ve had a fascination with warriors and particularly the warrior girl/ warrior woman archetype. Some day I will have my own suit of armor! Unfortunately, for all kinds of logical and rational reasons, that day is not today. However when that day comes, I can now make the chainmail portion myself if I wish!

Actually, chaimail is a bit more than just that. Historically, it played a significant role in warfare and the survival of battle participants including dogs and horses as well as humans. It’s also the grandfather of Kevlar and other kinds of modern day body armor used by military and police.

And it’s awesome.

Tiny rings of hard metal woven together into something fluid and as flexible as cloth. Little insignificant round bits that are worth next to nothing alone become strong and beautiful together. There is something a little magical about it. There are tons of different kinds of chainmail and all are based on the small jumpring; a little link of metal.

When people think of chaimail, they usually picture something they’ve seen in a movie. Think Lord of the Rings, Kingdom of Heaven, A Knight’s Tale, or even Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Usually (though not always) this is traditional European 4 in 1 mail. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg!

These are images of things I’ve made. On the whole, it’s jewelry and I’ve really enjoyed making it. There’s even a little bit of scale mail! By far my favorite piece is the dog collar! Doesn’t she look like a regal little warrior girl? I’ve even opened an etsy shop which can be found here.

The thing I like the best about the chaimail is it’s interdependence. That’s its strength. Remember that old saying about how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? For the most part, that’s not true for chaimail. With so many rings linked, no single ring holds the piece together. There’s always a back up link. They always work as a team and so the strength of the piece is greater than the sum of its parts.

The guy who taught the class I took at the Jackson County Green Energy Park was Brock Martin. Brock is a blacksmith and all around awesome person with infinite patience even with people like me. He owns WarFire Forge and makes amazing things! If you’re interested, there are often chainmail classes at the larger craft stores like Michaels or A C Moore and a search on their sites will point you to classes in your area. Also CG Maille and Maille Artisans International League are both full of great information and The Ring Lord is the best place on earth to buy supplies.

*Or you could say chain mail or chainmaille. It’s all the same thing, just different spellings.

An Assortment of Items, Things and Stuff

Somehow or another I’ve managed to miss a bit of a milestone in this blog’s life. Two posts ago, the one called Art Artist Artsy Artisan, was in fact my 200th post. Not too bad if I say so myself!

Granted, in September of 2011 I merged my craft blog (Random Act of Grace) with this one which rocketed up the post total to 174 at that time. I started Life in a Mountain Town on August 8th, 2009 but it was definitely not my first blog. Random act of Grace was started as simply a crafty blog over at (shudder) blogger in 2006. I’ve got two others as well: Mental Scrapbook (May 2010, 262 posts) and The Shepherdess Writes (November 2005, 161 posts). If you add it all up, since 2005 I’ve posted just over 620 times on my personal blogs.

Some of my favorites on Mountain Town have been:

The DMV My first experience with one of the most fantastic things about small town life!

First Random Act of Grace This is the first box I made from an Altoid tin. And it’s still my favorite.

Handy Tips For The New In Town  Ok, I’ll admit it’s too snarky, but for some reason I love it.

ICU One of a few posts I did around the death of my mother in September of last year.

No Other Word But Halleluiah And there is no other word.

In other news, I opened my photography show on Friday and it went really really well! I was terribly nervous and so pleased at the turnout and support. Also, here is a great blog post from a friend about art in this area and noticing art around us. Ok, I’ll confess that I’m linking this because she mentions me, but how cool is that anyway? Additionally, it’s a fantastic blog written by a person who is full of joy–and I don’t mean that foolish kind of vapid nonsense joy but real, grounded, genuine joy at being alive–and well worth the read.

Shortly, I hope to post images from the chainmaille class I attended and the pieces I’ve been working on recently as well. In the mean time, I leave the blogging world with this little bit of halleluiah because really, there is no other word.

Beautiful Whole

Yesterday, I woke from an afternoon nap with crazy dreams about moths and butterflies, held my hands in the air above my head and saw my red nails. Red nails at the end of plump, pink fingers. How strange. So many years spent pretending that nails and hair did not matter and that I didn’t care if I wore make up or not. Pretending that it didn’t matter how I looked. Doesn’t hurt, you see, if it doesn’t matter. And now just look at those red nails. I’m already pondering the next color.

It’s all part of one of my New Year’s resolutions. Now I know you, gentle reader, are preparing to roll eyes and launch a feminist tirade.

I’ll wait….

And believe me when I say that I have breathed every syllable you are uttering. But this isn’t about shallow facades or pretending princesses. It is about being flesh and blood. After all, it’s what all of us are. It is about identity—who I am.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts. That’s what they tell fat girls. That’s what they tell plain girls and ugly girls. And it is true, of course. The inside does count. You are not merely how you strike the eye of others.

It doesn’t matter how you look. It only matters how you think. Your personality is all anyone should care about.

That’s great. Really. Except that I am not a disembodied personality. I am not a fleshless mind that hovers through the world exuding philosophical beauty with every turning thought. I am not mere spirit floating gracefully through life. I am also flesh and blood. Real flesh and blood.

My theology teaches me that God became flesh and blood in order to redeem it. The leaves, wind, spiderwebs, cat fur, smooth rocks in the water, my fingernails and all of creation matter to God. The inside and the outside matter. Maybe the inside and the outside are not separate at all.

So I am painting my nails not because I need to look a certain way but because I want to honor my fingertips. I brush my hair and put on make up not to look different but so, with each stroke, I can tell the body it matters. And it is loved. By God and by me.

Loved is beautiful. regardless of the arrangement of features, size or shape of limbs and curves, pitch of voice or smoothness of gesture. Loved is beautiful.

I have learned a lot about what it means to be me in the mind and the spirit and the will. I know a good deal about what my heart feels like. Most women my age are beginning to see their insides for the first time in years. I, my outsides.

Once, after a long night of consistent drinking, a brilliant but esoteric friend of mine spent a great deal of energy and time explaining the word beautiful. In the philosopher’s language, beautiful includes the whole being. I asked if it meant pretty or if it meant something better than appearance. He said it meant the whole being. Flesh, bone, blood, breath, light, life, thought, memory, heart, grace. Beautiful is the whole being.

The whole—and inseparable—being. Beautiful.

Christmas Roundup 2011

So it’s that time of year again. Time for the Christmas round up!

I’ve already posted photos of some of the gifts I made but here’s a pretty bowl that I finished in time for Christmas but not in time for that post.

Gave my aunt framed photos of lady-slippers in her yard. One of my

favorite gifts I gave this year!

As for gifts I’ve received, they were all awesome! One of the neatest gifts was from my friends in

Charlotte who sent me a box of tiny little spice boxes and two cook books one of which is cooking for one! And some really pretty snowflakes cut out of wood.

They weren’t the only ones who gave me books. I got two more, though they were officially Hanukkah presents.

Across the Universe

Hardcover and autographed which is awesome.

and this one, which is out of print.

Fifth Life of the Cat Woman

 Looking forward to reading both of them. And, while I’m at the Hanukkah giftlist, I also got a  beautiful locket. It’s copper on a pretty copper chain and there are bits of rosemary inside the locket.

Rosemary for remembrance…..

There were other gifts too, including some Creative Memories things, gift cards, cute note cards and a pretty carved cross. Everything was really great. I’m a lucky girl!

All the gifts I gave this year were either hand made by me, hand made by someone else or purchased locally. I don’t think I had to purchase a single thing outside of my county. So, the goal for the upcoming year will be to do the same thing for every other gift giving occasion in 2012.

Now, it’s time to watch all the Christmas specials I’ve DVRed including the Dr Who special: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe. Wonder whose going to destroy the world this year.

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