Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day

Today marks one of the corrective features of the Gregorian calendar: February 29th is "Leap Day," which also means that this is a "Leap Year."

To review my summary from Presidents Day, the Gregorian, "Western," or "Christian" calendar is based on a solar cycle of approximately 365 days, and is a modification of the Julian calendar, which was based on lunar cycles.  With the Gregorian calendar, the holiday Easter occurs closer to the point in the seasonal year that the holiday occurred when implemented and celebrated by early Christians (near the March equinox).  This was achieved by adding an extra day to February every 4 years (sort of--the Gregorian calendar also has to be corrected every 400-year "Leap Cycle" by leaving out 3 leap years).

Another interesting result is that in most consecutive years, the day of the week that a given date occurs advance by 1 each year.  On a Leap Year, the day advances by 2.  To quote Wikipedia: "For example, Christmas fell on Tuesday in 2001, Wednesday in 2002, and Thursday in 2003 but then 'leapt' over Friday to fall on a Saturday in 2004."

Various traditions, like "Bachelor's Day," have been a part of Leap Day lore (and even law) in the past.  These days, it seems like the main impact of this holiday tends to be felt by people who were born on Leap Day.  While their bodies are 4 or 8 or 24 years old, many people joke that these people are really toddlers, because they have only celebrated 1, 2, or 6 official birthdays...

A recent Leap Day "tradition" that caught my attention and made me laugh was Neil Gaiman's "Take A Writer to Dinner" post.  This whimsical practice makes as much sense as any other Leap Day behavior I've seen.  And it encourages writing, creativity, socializing, and altruism!  And eating!

Happy Leap Day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

ROW80 Update (July-February)

Let's see.  This is sort of a summary of the last 8 months.

Last April, I switched my type of ROW80 goal-making.  Instead of having a dozen specific goals in multiple categories, which just stressed me out and/or got ignored, I made 1 general goal for each category.  I wanted to be satisfied when I met a goal, rather than disappointed or ashamed when I hadn't addressed something several weeks in a row:
 I did something a little different with this block...Instead of focusing on numerous, specific goals, many of which felt like chores to be avoided, I chose the 2 categories I'd given the most attention and interest to during the Jan-March block, and I assigned a frequency to them.  Instead of "3 sets of 3 exercises 3 days in a row, and get outside" I settled on "Exercise/get outside 5 times a week."  Blog, sketch, and crafting-related goals merged into "Do something creative 5 times a week." 
[X] 1) Do something creative: 5x a week. 
[X] 2) Stretch, exercise, or get outside: 5x a week. 
[   ] 3) Do something towards a futuristic goal: 2x a week. 
[X!] 4) Hit 100th blog post for the blog's 2-year marker on May 3rd!
I also finished and published a whole ABCs sketch series on my blog in April (see my Hedgehog series, above)!

So, how have the last 8 months gone?

Future Goal/Planning:
I have recently been doing a lot of research into some online classes and programs, and it's time to make some tougher decisions. I am looking at a spring intro class in a program field I have been researching, to see if I feel suited to that type of work and willing to invest the time.

Apart from some days where I get an extra spurt of energy, I have largely been sticking to my earlier "3 sets of 3 exercises at least 3 days a week" mantra.  I still hope to keep that up, and maybe increase it to 4 or 5 exercises per active day.  But, I am happy to say, I am currently on Day 20 of a walking streak (with only a few days missed the 2 weeks preceding), and I have been slooowly increasing the distance.  I discovered that I am much more eager to walk if I have generalized cabin fever or anxiety paired with a wish to see refreshing blue skies and sunlight, a chatty walking companion, or musical accompaniment (the 3 days I walked by myself without any music, I felt like I was walking against an invisible barrier).  Perhaps I will be able to turn this into a regular habit, after all!  However, here in Southern  California, we have already had a few weeks of 85 degree weather...So I have already had to play around with my walking time, and I may have to start supplementing my walking with swimming again, just to survive the oncoming heat (in March!  I know!).

During the fall, I made a couple baby shower plushies (dragons), and  discovered that one of my more popular plushie designs online was actually my bat.  Maybe because they are a more specialized animal?  I also started designing fabric ornaments as Christmas approached.  I am particularly pleased with the 2 flower ornament designs that I came up with, especially because flower ornaments can be kept on display throughout the year.  I would like to experiment with these designs a little more, as well as post tutorials for the original 2 designs on the blog.

I can definitely trace when I was busy with "real life" by when I stopped writing up longer blogs last winter.  But I got another spurt of writing energy in February.

I've been mulling over the notion (hah) that I should re-visit a sketch series idea that I had last year involving sewing and textile notions (the little gadgets and tools that make different kinds of textile crafting possible).  The challenge, I think, is that quite a lot of notions start with the same letter, or fall under the same category (for example, "quilting supplies," "quilting awl," "quilting tape," etc.).  So should I limit each letter to a single notion?  Or try to address them all?  Additionally, would this be a sketch series?  Or a writing series?  Not all of these notions may be familiar to the amateur sewer, who could benefit from a short description.  But I definitely slowed down production of my ABC sketch series last year as I got further into the alphabet.  I started out with a couple weeks scheduled, and by the last few letters, I was publishing the day's sketch the night before or even the same day.

Other Creativity:
I am continuing to Instagram my walks and my crafting, and my experiments with baking.  The cooking definitely ebbs and flows, depending on budget and season.  I also altered thrift store and personal clothing into 2 costumes for costume events --a steampunk Lady in Red (in my bridesmaid gown with a handmade satchel and a tiny handmade steampunk hat!), and a Browncoat/Space Rebel.  And I have 2 or 3 dozen sketches that I have not posted anywhere.  But there have definitely been many weeks where I felt tired and uninspired to create anything.  And that can feel very discouraging.

[X?] 1) Do something creative: Every week (Bonus: writing & crafting).
[X] 2) Stretch, exercise, or get outside: 5x a week (Bonus: 3 KINDS/day).
[X] 3) Publish blog post: Every month (Bonus: 2-4x a month).
[ ~] 4) Do something towards a futuristic goal: Every week.

It sure looks like you've done a lot when you only summarize it a couple times a year!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Some Trivia About Presidents Day

Okay, so I'm trying to use this not-very-accurate sketch of Mount Rushmore (which in no way captures the original, grave, far-seeing, "Leaders-of-a-Nation" stone rendition of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, completed 1941), as a reference to United States Presidents and yesterday's holiday.  President Roosevelt is clearly wondering, "who is the gentleman that has replaced President Lincoln?"  But let us proceed.

Presidents Day (which is actually the federal holiday known as "Washington's Birthday," but is usually called "Presidents' Day" or "Presidents Day") is another one of our holidays that has evolved over the years.  The third Monday in February, Presidents Day originally marked the birthday of our first President, George Washington.  It has since come to represent, for many states, a conglomeration of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays (both of whom were born in February), George Washington and Thomas Jefferson's birthdays, or "U.S. Presidents" in general.

The holiday is furthered complicated by the fact (thanks, Wikipedia!) that the United States marks presidential birthdays by the Gregorian calendar, even though some of our presidents were born under (and lived during) a time period when "the colonies" and the newly-formed United States of America were actually still using the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar).  The Gregorian/Western/Christian calendar is a solar calendar that fixes Easter closer to the time period of the year in which the holiday occurred when implemented by early Christians (Christians had previously used a lunar cycle, and the date for Easter had a lot more drift during the 19-year Julian cycle, if I am summarizing this correctly.  See the related Wikipedia articles, or visit your local library, for more information).

President's Day is also treated by many as a holiday honoring veterans.  George Washington is frequently referred to as the "Founding Father of our Country," and a "unanimously-elected president."  But he was also a military general.  He is credited with creating a medal of merit for common soldiers, and it is his face that is featured on the Purple Heart medal which is awarded to soldiers injured in battle.

Washington and Lincoln's birthdays used to be separately marked as federal holidays.  These days, dependent on the state, many people do not have to go to work or school on the third Monday in February that is known variously as "President's Day," "Presidents' Day," or "Presidents Day," while some students get the entire week between Washington and Lincoln's birthdays as a mini-vacation from school.  For many of us, the day also represents one of our multiple long weekends marked by outdoor barbecues with friends and family, and heavily-marketed blowout sales.  Political figures give speeches, and it is up to us to individually decide what the holiday means in terms of our community and civic identity.

Galentine's Day 2016

"What's Galentine's Day? Oh, it's only the best day of the year! Every February 13th, my lady friends and I...just come and kick it breakfast-style.  Ladies celebrating ladies. It's like Lilith Fair...minus the frittatas." --Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

As promised, here are the photos of this year's Galentine's Day.  This year we hosted, and I was able to document a lot more of the food and the decorative themed stations (beautifully arranged by my intrepid co-host).

We had a Chocolate Station next to a table with name cards where guests could leave Galentines for the other guests.  

Our Scone Station.  My friend made berry scones and chocolate chip scones, which were offered with fresh fruit, whipped cream, lemon curd, and passionfruit jam (it was all suuuuper yummy when piled together).

Our seating area featured a beautiful glass and roses theme.  We served food on glass dishes and "crystal" plastic party trays to match the place settings.  In addition to the scones, we offered cucumber sandwiches, lox sandwiches, a caprese salad (fresh mozarella, basil, and tomato drizzled in olive oil), and a cheese plate.

My place setting:

After brunch, we watched "A Tell-Tale Vlog" on YouTube (featuring Edgar Allan Poe, aspiring vlogger, as well as Lady Ghost Lenore, and a random girl scout), while we digested.  

Then it was time to open our Galentines. 

All of the Galentines were super sweet, and some were also funny.

This homemade Galentine features a cut-out of a teacup that functions as a pocket and holds a packet of "Well-Rested Tea"--and a caption with a related play on words:

Another of our friends bought used books and wrapped them in brown paper as her Galentines.  She wrote a different quote on each cover, and added fun stickers.  We each chose a quote that we liked and gained a mystery book:

My mystery book ended up being "The Blind Assassin," by Margaret Atwood:

My beautiful Galentines (complete with a bag of dark chocolate!):

We had a lot of fun, just hanging out and talking about books and catching up.

By the end of the day, I had eaten so much rich food that I was a bit queasy (have I mentioned that I'm lactose-intolerant?)...  My breakfast of leftovers the next day was much more restrained, but still delicious: Lox and tomato on bread, and whipped cream, lemon curd, and passionfruit jam on the penultimate scone (a word I will always remember, thanks to Lemony Snicket!):

So that was our beautiful and tasty brunch!

Already craving scones and looking forward to next year...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Galentine's Day Cards

"Galentine's Day" is a time when ladies get together to have brunch and socialize and show their appreciation for each other.  This unofficial holiday of "ladies celebrating ladies" was started in the  TV show "Parks and Recreation," by the character Leslie Knope (see Leslie's explanation in this helpful YouTube clip).  Galentine's Day is celebrated on February 13th, the day before Valentine's Day (although last year we celebrated it Valentine's Day morning because that morning worked best. So you do you.).

For this year's Galentine-making party, I decided to go with a more retro ocean/space/patchwork theme (you can see last year's card-making blogs here and here).

I started out by cutting out rectangles of cardstock that would fit into my envelopes:

Next, I set up a crafting station with cardstock, fabric, blue, and scissors.  And I knew from last year to have a couple sheets of scrap cardboard to protect the table from glue!

I cut out scraps of paper and fabric and glued them onto my cardstock. I found that by working on multiple cards at once, I could play around with my space-meets-patchwork theme.

I decided to use the polka dots from my rocket ship fabric to add some eyes/satellites to some of my planets (always important to up the cuteness factor...).

I then added scalloping along the sides of the cards, for a little extra flare.

The final products:

In honor of Galentine's Day, I wrote an affirmative quote from one of the "Parks And Rec" ladies on the back of each card:

In Part 2, I'll show you this year's cute Galentine's Day set-up.  Enjoy your Valentine's Day and President's Day Weekend!

Fox says, "Happy Valentine's Day!"

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chinese New Year: Vegetable Dumplings!

This past week at the Pomona College Organic Farm, the food coordinators lead a dumpling workshop for Chinese New Year. College and community participants gathered together to chop veggies and shape dough wrappers for the evening's farm potluck.

Below, see some of the progress shots of the dumpling-making process (the full recipes (and links) that these dumplings were based on can be found at the end of this post).

First, flour and water were mixed together and kneaded to create the dumpling dough. The mixture was then wrapped in a cotton cloth and set aside to rise (we used farm t-shirts).

At the same time, another team of people washed and chopped the onions, garlic, ginger, and assorted vegetables. We were gathered around various tables, chatting and dicing:

Some of the chopped scallion, garlic, and ginger was set aside for the dipping sauce.  The rest was sauteed in several oiled pans at a camp stove station as part of the vegetable filling. The pan of vegetables was sauteed in batches and seasoned:

By this point, the dough was ready to make into wrappers.  Strips of dough were cut off and handed around to volunteers.

Using fingers, rolling pins, and plastic cups (as substitute rolling pins), we shaped little round dumpling wrappers, adding flour as necessary to control the stickiness level of the dough:

As the last of the first  veggie filling was finishing up, we began to assemble our dumplings.

Filling was spooned into a wrapper.  Then the circle of dough was pinched closed (forming a half circle). Dumplings were pinched together in varying degrees of complexity, according to the skill level of the participants (I used a pleated folding technique I had observed in a YouTube video):

The assembled dumplings were placed in a greased pan, where they could be fried and/or covered and steamed:

The delicious, finished product, ready to be served with a dipping sauce!


Cooking Workshop: Dumplings! 2/5/16
Pomona College Organic Farm

Dumpling Dough
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons tepid water

Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the water to the flour and knead into a smooth dough. This process should take about 10 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest for half an hour.

Gluten-free Dumpling Dough
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose gluten-free flour
3/4 cup hot water
1-2 tbsp cold water

Mix all but 1/3 cup of dry ingredients, and then slowly add hot water to the mixture. Knead the dough well, and then add the cold water.

Vegetable Dumplings – makes 20-24
3 tablespoons oil, plus ¼ cup
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 1/2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 1/2 cups carrot, finely shredded
1 cup garlic chives (Chinese chives), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoon soy sauce
salt, to taste

In a wok or large skillet over medium high heat, add 3 tablespoons oil and add the ginger. Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the onions and stir-fry until translucent.
Add the chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid released by the mushrooms has cooked off.
Add the cabbage and carrots and stir-fry for another 2 minutes, until the veggies are tender and all the liquid released has been cooked off. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.
To the bowl, add the chopped chives, white pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Season with salt to taste (though the soy sauce will usually add enough salt to the filling), and stir in the last 1/4 cup of oil.
To assemble the dumplings, cut the dough into small tablespoon-sized pieces. Roll each out into a circle, and pleat the dumplings. Continue assembling until you've run out of filling and/or dough.
To cook the dumplings, steam them or pan-fry them. To steam, put the dumplings in a steamer lined with a bamboo mat, cabbage leaf, or cheese cloth, and steam for 15-20 minutes.
To pan-fry, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat. Place the dumplings in the pan and allow to fry for 2 minutes. Pour a thin layer of water into the pan, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow dumplings to steam until the water has evaporated. Remove the cover, increase heat to medium-high and allow to fry for a few more minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are golden brown and crisp.

Serve with soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, chili sauce, or other dipping sauce of your choice!

Egg and Green Bean Filling– yields about 30
4 large eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. toasted Asian sesame oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
green beans
grated/chopped ginger
soy sauce

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.
Steam or boil green beans until tender and chop finely.
Heat the vegetable and sesame oils in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
Add the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally, until large curds form, 30 to 40 seconds. 
Add the scallions and ginger stir to mix evenly. The eggs should be just soft enough to hold the beans together.
Mix eggs with green beans. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
Add toasted sesame oil and soy sauce.

Dipping Sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon finely shredded fresh ginger, or 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic (or both)
1 small scallion, thinly sliced

Mix together.


Happy Chinese New Year!