Friday, February 24, 2017

Do You Know What A "Sercy" Is?


This week as I have moved off the sofa and out the door, I stopped by the post office on a round of errands and mailed a couple of small packages to friends. Just a little surprise.

In college that little surprise gift was called a "sercy." I didn't know that word until my freshman year. And I'm still not sure how you spell it. It was never written down. But I'd hear a shriek of delight every now and then, "Oh, I got a sercy!" Or, even better, I'd hear, "I brought you a little sercy from my vacation." Yes. It's fun to be on the receiving end. 

A sercy is just a small gift—even a tiny one—given for no particular reason. No special occasion. Not given as a thank you or a get well gift. Just an unexpected little treat. It might be a favorite candy bar. Or, maybe a jar of pepper jelly picked up at a farm stand. Last year I got a jar of sorghum when I met up with a friend at a knitting retreat. Perfect sercy for me! It certainly doesn't have to be edible. It might be a cute notepad or even some fun socks.

Now, my question for you today is about the word itself. It might be spelled some other way--any way you can do it phonetically seems to be acceptable. But I'm wondering if the word is purely a Southern thing. If you do a google search for the word, one site you'll find is this one from the Georgia Gardener. One of the replies to his post included this:
I’m from NJ and my first thought when I received a sercy was “OK, so what do they want from me?” Nothing is the answer; it’s a no-strings-attached, feel good gesture to give one just to make someone smile. I love the South.
Or, maybe you have a similar tradition with a different name. Tell me. And maybe this week, we'll all give a sercy to someone who might least expect it.






Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Week That Wasn't


I'm back. Maybe you missed me here. Maybe you thought I was on vacation or doing something fun, which had been the original plan. (I missed the annual "beach girls" weekend.) The week before last, I was at Mommy's helping with all of their sick ones. As I drove down there, I had a quick phone chat with Jessica and told her I was heading into the "hot zone."

After a week they were all better and I headed home. I walked into the house from the three hour drive home and parked my suitcase and crawled into bed. One of those nasty bugs had come home with me. So for the next 10 days, I did nothing but hang out on the sofa, snuggled under a blanket. I didn't cook a thing. I didn't touch any knitting. For the most part, I didn't even get dressed. I slept through most of the TV shows I thought I'd watch.

The doctor that I saw agreed with the pediatricians that treated the granddaughters (they made several trips)—this winter was an unusually rough one for sicknesses like flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, and such. If you escaped all of that, be thankful.

Well, things are getting back to normal. One of the first chores I did yesterday was to clean out the refrigerator and take stock of what was left. I had not been grocery shopping in over two weeks. What was left was milk, sour cream, a red pepper, and a lot of apples. A LOT of apples.


So last night I made a treat for Daddy-O. Meals here for the last week were whatever he could find here or something picked up in town. And our choices for takeout are slim. But he did keep us from staving. He deserved a treat.

I have an apple crisp recipe (a healthier version) that I've used for years and we love it. But I found a different recipe online that was even easier. Don't laugh, but cutting cold butter into flour and oatmeal makes me tired. This new recipe used melted butter stirred into the dry ingredients. And I only had to peel three apples and not five or six. This newer recipe is one I probably will tinker around with later. But I'm giving you just what I did last night (including the modifications I made to the online recipe.) It was delicious.


APPLE CRISP

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup melted butter
3 cups chopped apples
1/4 cup white sugar (or more, depending on apple tartness)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or, to taste)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease and 8x8-inch baking pan.

In a bowl, stir together oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter and mix until crumbly. Put half of oatmeal mix in the bottom of baking pan. Spread chopped apples evenly over the the oatmeal mix. Sprinkle apples with sugar and cinnamon. Top with remaining oatmeal mix.

Bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm. Ice cream is a nice topping.


This was so good. Not like our old favorite recipe. Daddy-O said, "This is different. The topping is more chewy." Yes, this melted butter version was easier to mix than cutting in cold butter. But I didn't end up with true crumbs like I do when I cut the butter in. The butter and oatmeal mix was more solid. So I just spread the bottom part as best I could. Interestingly, by the time I had peeled the three large apples, the crumb mixture had cooled some and I could crumble it (somewhat) over the top. I'm wondering if I didn't melt the butter quite all the way, would that make it more crumbly? And I might even try using less butter next time. And yes, there will be a next time.

Should you find yourself with a refrigerator full of apples, keep this recipe in mind. If I do other interesting things with my excess of apples, I'll let you know. Top of my to-do list today is grocery shopping. I really have to feed Daddy-O something this week besides apples.






Friday, February 10, 2017

Easy Slow Cooker Supper

Pineapple Chicken

The doors to this "infimary" are closing. I am packing my car, ready to head back to the farm. I'm praying that everyone here will stay well. For a few days at least. And fingers crossed that my sniffly nose is only allergy related and I haven't caught something here.

I thought before I get in the car for the three hour drive to the farm, I would share one of the easy recipes that got us through this week. No one felt like cooking but we still needed supper. This is a good recipe to save for that kind of day. It's only four ingredients in the slow cooker. Can't get much easier.

The teriyaki sauce you buy will make a difference in the final result, so pick one you like. Once we used one that was too salty. From now on, I'll stick with one of my usual brands.

PINEAPPLE CHICKEN

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 breasts, about 2 lbs.)
1 red bell pepper, cut in a large dice
15-20 oz. jar teriyaki sauce (I used Archer Farms Teriyaki Grilling Sauce)
20-oz. can pineapple tidbits, drained

Cut chicken into large chunks. (I cut each breast into 3 strips lengthwise, then into large chunks)
Add chicken pieces and peppers to slow cooker. (I used a 3-1/2 qt. size.)
Pour sauce over chicken and stir.
Cook on LOW for 6-7 hours.
Add pineapple tidbits during last 20-30 minutes of cooking time.




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

WARNING! A Cautionary Tale


Yesterday morning I woke up early, and in my typical fashion, I picked up my phone to check emails, to see if Mommy had left me text message directions for the school drop-off, to glance at the headlines. And a couple of minutes into this process, my phone froze. Then it went black. It looked exactly the photo here. (Which happens to be a picture of Mommy's dishwasher front, by the way.)

I plugged it in, knowing that the battery was charged, so that didn't help. And I knew it wasn't going to help but one can always hope. I tried restarting it. Nothing happened. There wasn't much time for total panic right then because I had to drive the older girls to school. Driving in the rain and fog to the second school I realized I needed to tell Daddy-O that I was without a phone. "I'll call him when I get back home."  Then I remembered there is no house phone here.

When I got back home, the reality of life without my smartphone began to set in. It contains my calendar. It holds my contact list with phone numbers for everyone from family to doctors to the car service manager. It has all my photos. (I'm not admitting to how many, although I think it's way less than many of you.) And on and on and on.

The last time I was in the phone service provider store, Daddy-O was getting a new phone. The salesman set his phone to back up "in the cloud." I asked him to show me how to set mine that way, too. But I have never been sure that I did it correctly.

So I sat here at the kitchen table. With no phone. Thinking of all the information that I might have lost forever. I do use apps like Evernote and Dropbox to store some things. But I surely have not been faithful about utilizing them. Now I was kicking myself for being lazy.

I did bring my computer this time, so I was able to find an Apple store about 15 miles away. While I was reading about making an appointment, I had to go through several screens to narrow down my problem to schedule an appropriate appointment. With each big problem, there were several sub-topics listed with some help suggestions. Long story short—I found one that described my problem and tried what they said and my phone restarted. I really thought my phone was dead, but it turned out to only be a coma. Oh happy day!

BIG LESSON LEARNED. BACK IT UP. 
Here is my take away from yesterday's near disaster: 

  • Be sure your phone is backed up. And understand your backup method. I need a trip somewhere for a better explanation of iCloud backup. I think my phone is backed up to the cloud. But I'm not 100% sure.
  •  If you are backing up your phone to your computer, back up your computer.
  • Take advantage of programs like Evernote that let you save and store nearly any kind of information in the cloud. After my phone came to life again, I moved about two dozen photos to my Evernote, so they (hopefully) will not be lost forever. I realized many, many of the zillion photos aren't so special and need to be deleted. And there are are some that are priceless. (Evernote and Dropbox both offer free basic versions.)
  •  My phone calendar would be a critical loss. If my phone truly needed to be replaced, I would be without a phone for a few days. So I need to learn about a calendar system that will sync between devices.
  • I use the TurboScan app (you make a photo of a document and it saves it as a PDF, just like you scanned it on the computer) and I've kept some of those documents stored in the app. I need to be diligent with sending them to Evernote. (For the record, mine are not sensitive information., but it's useful information.)
  • My phone contacts? Maybe I should pull out the trusty ol' Rolodex and at least have a written record of the important numbers.

So, the big take away here. Know what's on your phone that could be lost forever. Have a plan for replacing that information. Use your plan. I know that most of what is on my phone is not terribly important. So if it were lost, it might be like a forced housecleaning. But there is a certain amount that I do need. Next time, I'll be better prepared. I got a second chance this time. That might not be the case again.





Tuesday, February 7, 2017

This Is Why I Knit

 

Pattern:  Ribbed Socks For Kids by Susan B. Anderson
Yarn:  Knitpicks Felici, Mosaic colorway
Needles:  size 2

When I came down last week to help, I was able to deliver Little Sister's new hand knit socks in person. It might have been more fun for her to get a package in the mail, but it was more fun for me to see her get them. She loved them. But this time she added, "Next time would you make the legs taller? I think I would like them better that way." A sure sign that she's growing up—she's beginning to develop her own fashion sense.

Of course, I knit things for myself, but a large portion of what I make is for someone else. Often for someone in the family. Sometimes, for strangers (to me) when the daughters ask me to make a gift for their friends or co-workers. I love seeing the happy face of a delighted recipient when I deliver a gift in person. I love seeing them wearing the item later.


Pattern:  Kid's Fruit Hat by Ann Norling (minus the "fruit part)
Yarn:  Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, Ecru colorway
Needles:  size 6

And I love it when the parents of babies I'll likely never meet share a photo. This adorable boy is one week old. "Fresh born" as one of my friends says. Although I've made plenty of pink and blue hats and a few gray ones, I am beginning to love the white and ecru color for babies. They just might be the sweetest of all.

Handmade gifts are a sure sign of love. We treasure the name paintings from a friend that both little sisters received as babies. And Little Sister and Baby Girl still love riding the rocking horses that my daddy made years ago when my own daughters were small. We have a stash of his wooden toy cars, too. And there are crocheted blankets that have been stored in drawers for years. They were made by neighbors for our own newborns. A baby hat that belonged to Daddy-O is safely put away. Many of these handmade items have outlasted the maker and now they are a beautiful reminder the person who made the gift.

I've said before that there is love knitting into the hat or the socks or the blanket I make. But I've been rethinking that statement. I've figured out that the love is not in the yarn. Or the wood or the paint and paper. The love in in the time it took to make the gift. Love is the time.









Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mimi On A Mission

Balsmic Chicken Sliders

Yesterday before the sun came up, I loaded my car with foods from the freezer, my suitcase, my knitting bag and my Kindle. I headed down the interstate on another "Mimi mission." I was halfway there when the sky began to light up. It seemed like every winter bug had attacked Mommy's household. One by one, they succumbed—each one with something different. My phone call to tell me who was sick now always ended with, "Don't worry. I've got everything under control." Until the last message. "Maybe you'd better pack a bag, just in case" which was followed shortly by, "I think I need help." When the Mommy gets sick, it's time for reinforcements. Me.

From my freezer stash, I brought Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup, chicken stew (that our church makes and sells), homemade Sourdough Bread, and spaghetti sauce. I don't think I'll be here long enough to eat all of those meals, but Mommy will have some meal boosters in her freezer next week. It takes time to fully get over these nasty bugs.

Mommy is better at planning meals ahead than I have ever been, so she had bought groceries before she got sick and her plan for last night said "Balsamic Chicken Sliders." This slow cooker recipe is one of my favorites. I've made it several times. The sisters all like it, but Mommy has never been around when I've made it. Needless to say, she still hasn't tasted it. But she did say, "It smells really good."

This is one of the very easiest slow cooker recipes. And one of the most delicious. And I cook it on high for 4 hours, so it was perfect for me yesterday. I didn't have to get the ingredients in the crockpot until I had put Baby Girl down for a nap. Baby Girl is on the mend but still plenty cranky from her illness. Getting her to take a nap was a battle of wills, so I was thankful for an easy recipe.


Last year at the beach we had this chicken as an entree and the following night I used the leftovers to make chicken sliders. The sliders were a bigger hit than the chicken. Just know that it's good either way. It makes plenty, so you might be like me and have it both ways! You can also pop the leftovers—the whole pieces or the shredded version—in the freezer for later. Just make sure you include lots of the liquid in the bag with the meat. The added liquid helps maintain the quality of the frozen meat.

SLOW COOKER BALSAMIC CHICKEN 

2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used 2 tsp. jarred minced garlic)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (we had 10 this time)
fresh chopped parsley

Combine the first five dry spices in a small bowl and spread over chicken on both sides. Set aside. Pour olive oil and garlic on the bottom of the crockpot. Place chicken pieces on top. Pour balsamic vinegar over the chicken. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 6 hours. Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.

To make the sliders like ours: Shred some of the chicken pieces and added a little of the cooking liquid to the shredded chicken. Lightly toast slider rolls. Add Provolone cheese to each half of toasted rolls and put back in toaster over to melt cheese. Add fresh spinach to each sandwich. Pile on shredded chicken.


The night before I got here, Big Sister was sick and sequestered downstairs. Mommy had been attacked by the worst bug. The daddy of the house was out of town. So Little Sister took charge. She fixed supper for herself and Baby Girl (who was feeling better by that point.) She set the table and poured cereal and milk for both of them.

You might be able to guess what my first chore was here after checking on the patients. Little Sister, who is in kindergarten and so far the only one who hasn't been sick, really did step up and keep things going until I got here. But her kitchen clean-up skills are not very well developed yet. The kitchen looked like a six-year-old had been in charge. But we were all thankful for her help.




Monday, January 30, 2017

Birds Of A Feather



Birds of a feather...that's what we were. (See the birds we made from our yarn scraps?) Knitters from several states who came together for a few days to be with others who share a passion for creating with yarn. We unloaded our cars and hauled our suitcases and knitting bags into the lodge at the lakeside camp. A camp where there were no meals to cook and no dishes to do for a whole weekend. We could put on makeup or not. It was fine to linger the morning in our pajamas with an extra cup of coffee and visit with friends while the fire cracked and popped gently in the fireplace. The friends might be ones we had known for many years or ones we had just met. But there were hugs all around when it was time to head home.


There were knitters who were masters of the art. There were knitters who were just moving out of the beginner category. There was always someone to respond when a knitter shrieked "Oh no! Something's wrong! Help!!!" Thankfully, the conversation was typically less dramatic. It was usually more like, "Oh, that's gorgeous! What pattern is that?" Or, "I've never used that yarn. Do you like it?"


At the end of every day, I read this sign that hung on the wall over my bed. And what a reminder it was each morning. For me, this is what a retreat is about. It's about being in community. Being together with those who share a common interest. Being with women who encourage each other. In their knitting journey. In life's journey. There were stories told in the mornings that had us rolling in laughter before we'd brushed our teeth. There were gentle voices to say, "I understand" as the conversation turned toward more serious topics late at night.


And yes, there IS knitting at a knitting retreat! So let's talk about some practical considerations. I have been to enough of these retreats over the years to know that successful "retreat knitting" means choosing a pattern that can be worked on while talking and listening. It also helps to use a lighter colored yarn. Dark yarns are always harder to see. (I tried that once. Lesson learned.) And you may not know if good lighting will be available.

It helps to have a system to keep up with where you are. I know, I know...you think you'll remember where you were when you laid the knitting down to go check out the snack table or go see a beautiful shawl that someone pulled out of a knitting bag. But the odds are not in your favor. A tracking system helps.


My own system of keeping up is just a simple piece a graph paper stuck on the side of my pattern. I check off each row as I finish. But as simple as it is, I didn't think of doing this until I saw a photo of someone else who uses this method. There are wonderful apps available, like knitCompanion, if you are a tech lover. (Debbie, I'm looking at you!) There are plastic click counters and row counter bead bracelets and digital ring counters and magnetic boards to try if you like gadgets. I think I've tried them all. Just find what works for you.

For social knitting (that's what you call knitting in a group where there is lots of chatter) I go even one step further than I might at home.  This time you can see that I wrote the stitch count out on the right side of the graph paper. Every repeat added 18 stitches, so it was easy to calculate the changing totals. And sure enough, when I counted stitches at repeat #9, I was off a few stitches. You can see a section where I didn't bother to count the stitches. I marked the places where the count was correct. I don't count every time, but at least and now-and-then count lets me make a correction before I've gone too far.

You might also notice the red lines marking off row 4 in the pattern. Row 4 is the single row of purl stitches in the repeat. The red lines are there because a couple of times near the beginning I forgot to purl on that row. A red marker took care of that problem. I'm by no means telling you "my way is best," but after lots of experiments, this IS best for me. We all need to find our own way.

Now, this morning I'm happy to be back doing laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and making a grocery list. A break was good. If your life doesn't allow a weekend get-away, maybe take a few minutes to give yourself a recharge. Play one song on the piano every day. Go outside and walk around your house one time. That might take less than three minutes. But you'll feel the difference.