Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The heart of the American Mid-West in October - Pumpkinland

The change in seasons here is a little like turning off a paved tarmac road onto a gravel farm path - you can really feel the difference, and it's very sudden.

Today at school my children spent 25 minutes in a mandated fetal position while the tornado sirens wailed. It was their first time. I was at home in my pyjamas wondering whether to crawl under the house. After the storm passed, I felt uneventfully, I saw a huge tree in our neighbour's yard had blown down just like that.

Despite the adrenaline rush of the Fall arriving (or Autumn, as I really WANT to keep calling it, please), there are many much more gentle signs of the season which are probably visible in most Western countries at this time of year, but are celebrated in a particular lavish bounty in these rural American parts.

Yes it's the pumpkins. Huge ones, tiny ones, white and the all-important orange, lumpy and smooth, striped, flattish or roundly fecund. If you visited here only once at this time of the year, you would be convinced it was the only thing they grew all year. 

Now, something has made me very pleased and grateful. In England, they "do" pumpkins at Halloween, and then they feed them to the pigs (or the garbage truck). Some very resourceful, recycling types may make spiced pumpkin soup. But, in essence, British people do not believe pumpkins to be truly edible.

In Indiana, I believe they have come up with every possible way to cook a pumpkin. Now this seems very practical to me, considering how many people's porches are currently lined with them, and at $3.99 a pop, you could spend your week's food budget for the week right there in one big orange blow-out. So why not make the most of your seasonal display's nutritional value? (By the way, I am not advocating this at Christmas unless you are into edible Christmas tree decorations - dried fruit is apparently very attractive).

The reason I have been extolling the virtue of the cooked pumpkin is because the Americans are not only using their resources wisely (yes, I said it), but they are also doing it deliciously. I will share my favourite local recipe with you shortly, but if it doesn't take your fancy, do a Google search for some of the following:

Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pumpkin Brownies, Pumpkin Cookies, Pumpkin Cobbler, Pumpkin Torte, Pumpkin Meringue Pie, Pumpkin Bars, Pumpkin Pudding, Pumpkin Mash, Pumpkin Preserves, Pumpkin Butter, Pumpkin Cupcakes and Spiced Pumpkin Latte (yes you get this last one at Starbucks).

My favourite recipe was served by a dear friend at Sunday Lunch, after a delicious main course of Cheeseburger soup. Yes, we are in America, and I couldn't get enough of it.

Pumpkin Crisp (or Crumble in English).

2 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crisp Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped or dried coconut (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease an 8" square baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla until smooth. Pour into prepared dish.
In medium bowl combine brown sugar, oats, walnuts, flour and cinnamon. Add melted butter and stir until combined.
Sprinkle topping evenly over pumpkin mix.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until center is set and topping is golden brown.
Serve warm with whipped cream and cinnamon if desired.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Why do writers write? In fact, why does anybody write?


I am having an inner struggle with the time it takes me to write anything, and whether that time is truly worthwhile. The irony of this is that I love to read. It is my favourite pastime, and I devour books. You would think, therefore, that I am the answer to my own question. However, there seems to be a gap in my brain, or my heart, or my will, between my hunger to read and my motivation to write. Perhaps the problem is that I don't believe anyone would really want to read (or hear) anything I have to say. "Well," you might argue with me, if you were in the room, "then you shouldn't speak, either!"

When you are speaking to someone, you can gauge their reaction to your words immediately. You have instant gratification, and you can change what you are saying to keep them interested, or at least try to obtain the reaction you were hoping for using more than just your words. When writing, your audience is mute, dark and uncontrollable. Perhaps that's what is ultimately comes down to - control. I know that some writers would defend their medium by saying that they can be perfectly in control. They can take hours or days over each word that they choose, so that the reader's reaction can be fine-tuned.

However, I know one thing. The reader has a mind and a will of his own. I know this because I often read books, and then look up reviews or interviews with the writer and am amazed at how different people's reactions were to mine, or how different the writer's intended outcome was. A book in my hands, as a reader, has become my own. The writer has lost control over it completely. I can skip pages. I can read the end first. Most particularly, the characters, the plot, the landscapes, the emotions all ultimately belong to me. It matters not how brilliantly illuminating the descriptive prose is; my imagination can only be made up of images and senses that I have experienced or constructed from my own life. This means that although the writer uses the common medium of words, in fact the true material of the writer's work is the soul of the reader. And that is unique for each one.

So I have not really answered my question. Perhaps a writer is there to provide the raw materials for vicarious experience. I could not write for that purpose. It seems too functional for me. One thing I do know is that my purposes for writing something may summarily match the purposes of the reader for reading it. Going deeper, though, once the adventure has begun and the reader has left his world and embarked onto the page, my purposes are tangential. They are trivial. My work is a setting for the reader's imagination to play. It is mere skin and bones for the soul of their story.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Finally, from America.

Forgive me for my great tardiness in keeping you all abreast of our move to the New World. It has been five weeks, and yet it feels scarcely a fortnight. And yes, I have been watching a Jane Austen film this evening, in case you thought the rest of my email would be unintelligible.

I write from Upland, Indiana, an extremely small University town in the very middle of the State with wide expanses of blue and bright skies, corn fields, clumps of natural forest, lazy brown rivers and sparkling lakes, and HECTARES of freshly-mown lawns.

I suppose it is a good time to be writing, as we are coming to a milestone tomorrow. Our furniture and "effects" (who came up with that word?) are arriving tomorrow after a long wait in a rather empty house. As we have not had a dishwasher, it has been somewhat of a blessing to have only four place settings to wash, along with a few plastic cups.

Despite the transient nature of our decor, we have settled in surprisingly well and I (at least I speak for myself) have not had any bouts of homesickness. The reason for this partly is that we have been caught up in a whirlwind of social engagements, classes to teach (and study), formal events and informal events, church services, chapel services, informal worship services (if they can serve it, you name it they will serve it). Three separate Sunday Schools for the children (one on a Wednesday, just to keep us on our toes), women asking me to tea, men asking Nicholas to exercise (they don't drink beer here, so they just run around instead). Football matches to watch, icecream socials, Bible Studies, homegroups, lunches, picnics, swimming, apple-picking, apple-coring, apple-cooking, apple-eating...

They do everything together.

This is a great thing when you may at some point feel homesick, because you very rarely have the space and time to think about yourself or anything else.

Our main challenge, you may have guessed at this point, is finding some balance and learning to say no. We were warned when we arrived, but it is something you can only learn through your mistakes.

In practical terms, Nicholas is enjoying teaching. The students are great, and one of the best things about being here is that the majority of the local young people are the kind we would like our children to grow up into. They are kind, polite, thoughtful, devout, responsible, hard-working and happy. And amazingly attractive too, probably because they wash their hair and don't wear too much makeup. The neighbourhoods are so safe that friends of ours leave their keys in the car in the driveway (then they don't have to look for them madly on their way out). Everyone leaves their front doors unlocked all the time. The other day, I let myself into a friend's house while she was out, made myself a cup of tea and spent half an hour relaxing before she arrived. Her neighbour's son (a nine-year-old), playing on his own in the nearby forest, watched me park my rusty old van outside the house, and go in. He told his mom "I knew Gwen was out, but I didn't worry because the lady looked nice". This story illustrates two things - 1. I look nice to children from a distance and 2. everybody knows everything you do here and a third actually - there are still places in the western world where children can play safely on their own in the forest.

I am taking two classes (Logic and Expository Writing) and finding them a hell of a lot of hard work. Since when was University a breeze? I was trying to compare this experience to University of Cape Town. I cannot decide whether the accountability there was lacking, or whether I just managed to get away with a lot of free time, but I feel like I always have an assignment due here, and I guess the difference is now it competes with children, animals, laundry, housework, cooking, grocery shopping, and the three hundred or so social events in any given week. In terms of the direction of my studies - at this point I am trying to find fifth-gear in brain function, and then hopefully I will have a creative hiatus and discover my "unique voice" (thanks Megan). So watch this space.

Some of you may be wondering whether a third child is in the planning. Well no. Have you read any of the above?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Haven in the Manor

Our friends have lent us their Manor House while they are away. What a blessing it has been for us! There is wild, historical beauty at every turn.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The beauty of produce

Well, my children are very clever. They discovered our friends' vegetable garden, went picking, and laid out a beautiful still life, without me even asking! It's quite beautiful.

Blogging Identity Crisis

I'm sure you've noticed my post regularity has dropped significantly in the past couple of weeks. Well, it is partly to do with moving countries, but really that's no excuse.

The main reason is that I am having a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to my writing. This was precipitated by my week in Oxford where, among many other things, I met an eminent young blogger of the non-mommy kind, namely Matthew Anderson, who writes Mere Orthodoxy. He is also a "proper" author in the process of writing a fascinating book, and I would like to say (although he may deny it), an itinerant philosopher.

Meeting him, hearing him speak and reading his work put a magnifying glass on my own rather wishy-washy attempts to write. This blog is very much a patchwork of the many things that interest me. The problem is that on the days when nothing is interesting me, I have nothing to write. Many of you may think this is a good thing, that it is "being real". However, when you have a problem with self-discipline, as I do, "being real" can very easily look like "being lazy". So I am aware of the need for some structure and focus in my writing that can get me over the hazy troughs of unproductive unease that strike unannounced at least twice a week.

The next chapter in the story is my friend Megan, who I have introduced before. Boy do I miss having Megan around. I wish she would at least join Facebook! She is naturally a creative person's muse. She has a gift for seeking out the vision in others. I had the joy of a weekend with her recently, at which she said to me, "Cathy, you need to find your unique voice".

There it is again.

Now, as a final stamp of authority on an already clear message, I was told via an email to my husband by a dear, esteemed, and extremely eminent friend that the next step in my development as an outstanding young leader is to find a speciality to focus on.

Having heard the message, I have yet to figure out what to do about it, except that I have been swanning around in a mist of uncertainty, perhaps hoping that the focus, the vision, the unique voice will jump out at me from behind some bush and present itself in all its glory.

As that has not yet happened, I ask your patience. In the absence of immediate and exciting revelation, I may have to waffle on about various things until I stumble upon the thing. I invite you along for the ride.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Keep my coffee warm baby!

I don't know about you but I hate cold coffee, and always seems with coffee made in a plunger that by the time it has drawn to be strong enough to wake me up in the morning, it is also lukewarm. I found this free pattern on Ravelry, and it was a super-fast knit, using half a ball of natural unbleached wool yarn. It is so stylish, and practical too!

This would make a great gift, especially at the last minute.

I connect to these great linky parties.

Laundry Love

My sister-in-law has recently moved into her dream house. She deserves it too, after 16 years of tiny London apartments. Visiting there last week, she proudly showed me the large section of her kitchen which is going to become the "Utility" as they call it here in England, or the laundry. I expect she will put quite a lot of thought into how it is going to be organised, and so looking at that blank space I thought, what would I do if I could design my laundry area from scratch?

What a fun project! I know that a lot of people have to make do with the space under their kitchen sink, and haul the ironing board out of the wardrobe in a panic in the mornings to get the shirts done. Well, what if we could all have our fantasy laundry room? It can't hurt to dream a little...and then once we're inspired we can see what little touches we can bring from our fantasy world into real life, just to make things a little more enjoyable.

So the first thing I did was start drooling over the great stuff you find all over the web on design sites, and in magazines - you know those laundries that have been put together by a stylist and will never be touched by tumbledrier lint or bits of grass from inside your son's socks.

This is my dream fodder...

Hirondelle Rustique

Style At Home

Centsational Girl

Now, having waded through hundreds of inspiring photographs (after a while, you think you don't really want to do up your laundry room anymore...) I have to ask myself, how on earth does a normal person do ANYTHING inspiring with a real-life laundry? I mean for goodness sake, please tell me who has enough space in their house to have a laundry room like this?:

Hampton Design

So, back to the real world. Now, I did find a couple of normal, real-live women who have attempted pretty fantastic laundry-room makeovers. Here are a couple of examples:

and made this

Not bad right?

However, I think I would tire of this after a while. It's smart, and pretty but after a while I would forget what it looked like before.

No, what I am going to need to make laundry interesting are some unusual touches. I am going need the things I use to be beautiful. So, what about some handmade laundry soap?

un arc-en-ciel dans lavabo

Yes it's lovely, but it may get a little tedious having to grate all that soap. However, having a couple of bars next to the sink with an old grater ready to wash your pretty lace that's practical and stylish. And how about getting an old wash basin too...vintage utility items have an immense beauty, unique to each item because of the years of hard work put in on them by women just like us.

Not sure my white shirts would like the rust though...

Practically, though, it is quite easy to find the more old-fashioned laundry accessories, brand new. Wooden pegs, for example, are gorgeous and sturdy. And of course, you can go mad with storage items.

Country Living

So, to finish off, I did a bit of leg work for you to source some beautiful and practical laundry-room basics which you can buy online. So get yourself a cup of coffee (or tea), maybe a yummy piece of cake, and using these basics, build yourself a dream laundry (or at least just dream it).

Gorgeous Ironing Board Covers (you could get two and change them seasonally) are $25 from Etsy.

This cotton drawstring bag with pegs is on sale at Raw Edges Studio for $12.80

Isn't this sunshine yellow tin wash tub gorgeous? Guaranteed to brighten even the rainiest washdays. It's $40 from Sigmosaics.

And this is my favourite, because I have always used an old Ikea bag to keep my lost socks until their partners show up again.

It's $18 at Handmade By Bette.

Well, I could go on forever. Let me know if you use any of these ideas, I'd love to see what you're up to!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Let's get to know one another again...

Seeing as I have been away from my blog for almost nine days, I thought I would use the great opportunity from Chic Click to meet some new people around the web, and also remind you who I am...

I am Cathy, the Wandering Woman. We are currently living in my in-laws home, our household is packed up in a crate waiting for the big boat to the USA, and we have three weeks left in England before we move over to Indiana to start a new life in a farm house with 30 acres, a barn with seven cats, a horse, chickens, a University, a sixteen seater van, two kiddos, and our home-grown Springer Spaniel, tabby cat and kitten in tow.

I write my blog to encourage women to be all they can in life, to follow their dreams and to keep their feet firmly on the ground. We all need a little bit of heaven, and a little bit of earth. I wrote more about this in one of my favourite posts Monday Morning Mindfulness - Heaven and Earth.

I'm back - everyone needs a holiday!

Well, most of you would call it a vacation, and it isn't really what I've had, but thank you for your patience while I have been absent here. Sometimes life just runs ahead of you and you can't keep up any more. We moved house and I went away on a week's conference, and when I got back I had completely lost my routine.

So here I am, and I am excited about some new ideas for my blog, and my life in fact. Looking forward to being back with all of you!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Melissa from Wife in Training writes...


Melissa from Wife in Training says

Monday, 5 July 2010

Chalkboard Paint and Bedding

Image:  Anthropologie

Melissa from Wife in Training says:

This is a pretty good indication of what preoccupatioins plague me at present. WHO CARES ABOUT THE CHALKBOARD PAINT, WHAT ABOUT THE BEDDING?


I have some very distinctive visuals for my ideal bedroom design. For lack of a better way to phrase it, we'll call it "eclectic boho gypsy global chic with a splash of paisley meets Alphonse Mucha in a Turkish Harem." Of course, the ideal falls quite short of the reality, which is more along the lines of "shambled trash can and nauseous closet throw up contents and meet Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth." 

Needless to say, I've got a long way to go before I meet the ideal. And it all revolves around the bedding, which I can't seem to find anywhere. It doesn't help that I don't know if my bedding even exists. All I know is I want some beautiful bedding with purples and indigos and fuschias and maybe teal, with some paisley thrown in for good measure. And once I get the bedding down, then I can move on to wall art, and lamps, and floral arrangements, and candles, and all other sorts of fripperies.

Tragically, this Anthropologie bedding is perhaps the closest I've gotten to my ideal bedding, but it's no where near what I want. If any of you come across bedding that might fit my imaginary bedroom's description, please let me know. In the meantime, I might have to apply for FEMA aid.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Melissa says...

But...what if rain comes and washes the ink on the tags away?

(Of course, if it rains the day of an outdoor wedding, they've got bigger problems).

Also, I wish my handwriting looked like that. Does anyone out there practice their handwriting to make it look nicer, or am I the only Crazypants that does that?

Visit Melissa's blog at Wife in Training. Thanks for filling in for me while I'm away Melissa!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Facing your Fears

Good morning! Hope you enjoy the first of our guest series - responses to random images from my Pinterest boards by Melissa from Wife in Training!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Please welcome....Melissa from Wife in Training!!

I am in the superb chaos of house-packing for our move. My dear and new friend Melissa, fellow-blogger extraordinaire, is kindly guest-blogging for me so that you lovely readers have something to read while I am engaged profoundly in moving my family overseas.

Melissa writes a wonderful, funny, fascinating, insightful blog about her life and interests over at Wife in Training. I love her wry sense of humour, the fact that she is really well read, and that she has a unique and poignant interaction with her daily life. Also we have in common...Indiana! She fell in love with the state when living there a few years ago, and is insanely jealous that I am moving there soon.

Melissa is doing something fun for us - a series of responses to one of my Pinterest boards, kind of stream of consciousness, and a great way of getting to know her as well as comparing your response to gorgeous images.

Here is the board. Check back every day for Melissa response to each picture, and go say hi to her over at Wife in Training!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

CHA CHA CHA - the art of retro and vintage

I have told you once before about my very talented friend Megan (remember the great photography site!). Well, there is no end to Megan's creativity. When I visited her in London two years ago, I discovered that the living room of their very gorgeous Victorian semi was full of...yes you guessed it...STASH!! Fabric, lampshades, vintage retro finds. I think Megan's husband Hugh is a saint to be not even bothered by the loss of a room in the house to eye candy.

The purpose behind the stash (there always is one of course!) is Megan's online shop which sells the most unique and original retro and vintage finds, including lighting, furniture and clothing. Let me give you a little taste...

An original 1950's Lloyd Loom chair re-upholstered in original Alexander Girard fabric.  Is it not a thing of true beauty?

Megan sources original vintage fabric, and can upholster furniture and lampshades as request. Doesn't this just take you right back to the seventies?

The great thing about Megan's store is that she has taken the hard work out of sourcing vintage. She has a fantastic eye, and you can be guaranteed that anything she has chosen will have that stylish "kick".

I am the proud owner of a vintage wallpaper-covered scrapbook, and address book. Isn't this a great idea! Especially if you are not courageous enough to cover a whole wall in it!

Take a look at her shop and be inspired!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

It's official - I'm addicted to bags

It does not happen to me often that I can make something people actually admire. My craft experiences in school were always of the order of "Highly Commended" (in other words, quite nice, but not good enough for a real prize). My mother sent me on a sewing course as a teenager. Unfortunately the project was to make a SUIT out of KNIT fabric. I mean how ridiculous. It was horrible. Once I had finished, I threw it away.

So you can see why I got so excited when I first tried out this bag pattern from Vanessa Christenson, and everyone started commenting on my bag:

Friend: "I love your bag. Where did you buy it?"

Me: (smugly) "I made it."

Friend: (incredulous) "What!"

Me: (faltering slightly, at the fact that my friend couldn't believe I actually made it) "Yes, it turned out well didn't it?"

Friend: (proudly) "If you sold those, I would buy one."

Me: (incredulous) "Really?"

So you see, I have now been encouraged by my stroked ego to make more of the bags that caused a temporary buzz of  fame amongst my social circle. In fact, I have made four in one sitting. I might even open an Esty shop...(one step at a time).

In the meantime I am making them as gifts. This is the one I made for my children's teacher as a goodbye gift.

The pattern was not free, but it has more than made up its value already. You can also buy the flower pattern separately if you have a thing for fabric flowers.

What I love about this bag is that the lining peeps through, and co-ordinates with the flower. It's not too fussy, but just that touch of glamorous.

I shared this on these great linky parties.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Help! I need a girl's birthday gift, now!

This Friday evening I panicked. I suddenly remembered that my daughter had a birthday party to attend the next morning. And we were going out that evening. And I had forgotten to buy a gift.

Yes, in the past, I must confess, I have grabbed the newest looking book off my children's bookshelf and wrapped it. But this party was for my daughter's best friend, and I couldn't get away with something, well, less than the best. Knowing the birthday girl is feminine and loves vintage dresses and hair accessories, I went online and found a great, easy (and free) fabric rosette pattern.

In the morning, I spent twenty minutes over breakfast making the rosettes, and then attached them to one of my daughter's pink headbands. Popped into a pretty gift bag with some tissue paper and sparkly sprinkles, it made a gorgeous, handmade gift (that would have cost a lot of money at an uptown boutique).

So if you have a girl's gift emergency, here is the pattern for the rosettes. If you don't have a headband handy, you could attach them to a hair elastic, or you could sew a little square purse and attach them to that. They make anything fabulous.

I shared this on
The Girl Creative Making Keeping It Simple  BWS tips button  UndertheTableandDreaming   Simpsonized Crafts

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