Gifts

Months ago one of our children sent me a message asking if I would give her a gift list for Christmas.  She wanted to know what to get for not only me, but also other members of our family.

My immediate reaction was slight annoyance.  First, while I know it is somewhat unreasonable, I really love for people to know me well enough that if they want to give me a gift, that it be one that made them think of me.  A gift that is personal means so much to me, and I don’t like making lists of things I want.  Mostly because if I know I want it, quite honestly, I’ll usually get it myself.  Second, I have all of those people and more to think of gifts for that are from me, and considering how I feel about gift giving, it’s a lot of work.  I don’t really want to do that work twice.  I already have enough of a list myself.

I didn’t answer the message immediately because something in me was giving me a warning that I was wrong, and so I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.  I was contemplating the message while I was working out one morning, and the thought came to me, “I have a big list, too, and you still ask me what you should do for other people.”

I almost fell off of the treadmill.

Oh boy.  Okay then.  I love how my Father knows me.  I love how he knows that all he has to do is give me one little key and it opens the gate to a new perspective.  A window appears and I can see a little bit more.

I started to think about the perspective God has of us and our requests.  And our choices.  We aren’t wrong to ask for his guidance in sharing our gifts with those around us.  After all, he knows the full picture, including all of our needs and wants.  Who better to direct our efforts to truly be a blessing to each other, and to genuinely show love and meet needs?

I started to think about what I’d been asked.  Do I know the needs and wants of the people in my own family well enough to even answer the request I was asked?

And we aren’t wrong in taking some initiative from time to time either.  After all, his list is pretty long, and intense, and we are capable of coming up with a few good gifts of our own.  We are his children.  We do have in us the capacity for knowing and loving our fellow man on a very personal level.  It also seems to me that if we are striving to be more like him, to follow his lead and example, then perhaps we shouldn’t need to be directed in every action.  What would he give?  What would he do?

Had I really set a good example of what it meant to give a good gift?

Then the first part of my complaint, and let’s face it, it was a complaint, hit me.  I expect other people to know me well enough to give me a gift that matters to me.  That is personal.  That is special.  Really?  Okay.  Let’s break this down.  First of all, the keyword here is expect.  Does he expect us to know what to give him without ever giving any kind of a clue?  Ummm, no.  He is pretty clear about what he wants from us.  In fact, he’s had several prophets and apostles jot it down for him.  Or rather, for us.

Have I been clear about what I want?

Of course that doesn’t mean that we have to stop there.  Certainly we can get to know him better.  Certainly we can refine the gifts we give him as we come to know him better.  Certainly he smiles when we do.

I responded to her message with a message of reassurance that she always gives good gifts, and that I felt confident that she would do well.  I also reminded her of things that I enjoy and that might inspire her.  I didn’t give her a lot to go on for the rest of her list because, to be honest, I realized I didn’t really know.  I hadn’t really taken the time to understand the needs and wants of the people on the list as well as I should have.  I was concentrating so hard on what I thought I should give them that I was caught up in the “I” way more than the “them.” But I am working on it, and I am grateful for all that he teaches me.  I just hope one day I’ll actually learn it.

In the end, our daughter gave beautiful, thoughtful gifts, as she always does. And she’s probably none the wiser for all that this little interaction taught me, but I am aware, and I am grateful.

The Beauty of a Ballgame

I love baseball. I don’t really know why. I don’t follow it closely. I don’t know the names of all the teams, much less all the players. I don’t even know all the rules and ins and outs of it. But I LOVE going to a game. I sometimes like watching it on television, but never more than in October. I even like listening to Braves games on the radio in the car, but that’s another story for another day.

I love that things like this happen at a baseball game. I love how it feels on Memorial Day and Independence Day when they bring out a ginormous American flag that covers almost the entire field. It makes me cry every single time. I love the respect that is shown to my country and to its heroes. I love baseball.

I love that so many memories with this man are tied up in baseball. “Hey! We have kids here. Clean up your mouths!” “Did she just barf?!?” “Knock a homer, Chpper!” “I think we are in the old people section. Again.” “Can we borrow some sunscreen?” “That is one happy and agile old usher.” “Let’s try staggering the grandkids between us.” “Hey. The Wrigley Field usher just gave me a Reds baseball card!” “Beer.” (I suppose you don’t have to be too enthused when selling certain products at a game as they tend to sell themselves.) But I think my favorites are the trips to watch the Cubs on the 4th of July. Again, another story for another day.

Attending a Cubs v. Braves game at Suntrust Field brings up so many conflicting feelings.

First, there’s the teams. Here’s the thing. I’m first a Braves fan. Second a Cubs fan. Third a fan of whichever team is playing against the Cubs on the 4th of July. I was worried at this May Braves home game that I wouldn’t know who to cheer for, but throughout the game it was clear that the Braves will always be my favorite team. Conflict resolved.

Second, while I love going to Braves games, I go begrudgingly to Suntrust Park. The deal that was struck to get that ballpark built where it was built still stinks, and there just isn’t enough about the park to love in order to squelch the stench. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad ballpark, but it’s not great either. Unless you’re loaded. In which case it’s a great park with tons of perks. But that’s not what baseball is about. That’s what Cobb County is about. Conflict definitely not resolved.

Back to happy thoughts. I love food. I love food at a baseball game. Especially hot dogs. With lots of mustard. Or Italian beef sandwiches at Wrigley. But just say no to the nachos. And does any ballpark anywhere sell boiled peanuts as well as roasted?!? I mean we have a Waffle House and Chikfila at Suntrust, so why not boiled peanuts?!? Popcorn is always good, but really, too expensive considering you can bring some from home. I almost made my own, but this tempted me at the store before the game, so I grabbed a bag. Pretty good, but seriously, nothing tops fresh Garrett’s.

The moral of the story? There is none. Just that to me, a night at the ballgame is beautiful.

Sugar Sand?

Recently the hubs and I had the chance to get away for our own version of spring break and went on a jaunt down to Clearwater Beach, FL. We stayed at the Wyndham Grand right down on the beach- perfect view, accommodations, and weather.

We arrived on a Monday, right after the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival ended. While it would have been fun to see the sand sculptures, to be honest we were glad that the crowds were light.

It was a quick trip, but a much needed break for Jeff. We really just relaxed, ate too much, and got a bit of vitamin D. It was just right.

During our travels he keeps his eye out for auto repair shops, and I check GPS for quilt stores and donut shops. On this trip we stopped in at Rainbow’s End Quilt Shop for a quick look around, and on the last day we went to a donut shop I had spotted earlier in the week.

Admittedly, I had my doubts about this place. I mean, how good does a donut shop at the beach actually have to be to be successful? There’s an ice cream shop on every corner in Clearwater Beach, and every restaurant has the best grouper sandwich in town, but as far as I could see, there was only one donut shop.

As soon as we walked in the door, I knew this was not your average donut shop. There were no donuts. That’s right. Not a single one.

This place makes your donuts right in front of your face. No need to watch for the “hot donuts now” sign. And thank goodness because these are fabulous cake donuts, not the ultra sugary stuff from Krispy Kreme. And if you don’t know, I do NOT like KK. But I digress.

After a somewhat confusing order form involving a wide selection of donuts, icings and toppings, we watched as our donuts were fried and dressed to our liking. We got plain donuts, but prepared differently. Chocolate with sea salt, lemon with coconut, and lemon glaze.

One bite and that was it. Light crisp on the outside. Warm squishy cake on the inside. And hello. Lemon glaze that is actually lemon and not pretend lemon?!? Yes, please!!! How about the chocolate and sea salt? Jeff thought he only wanted a lemon glaze, but one bite of the chocolate sea salt and he ended up eating half of it. But only because that’s all I would give him.

Clearwater Beach- you have lovely palm trees, tasty grouper sandwiches, and beautiful white, sugar sand beaches, but I love you for your donuts. That’s my kind of sugar.

#520in2018

A couple of years ago I had a goal of doing 520 hours of service in a year. I didn’t make it, but it was still awesome. Then I got distracted, and even felt like people thought I was bragging with the hashtag. After reassessing a few things, I’ve decided to return to this idea. I’ll be posting my progress along the way, not as bragging, but more as accountability, but also an easier way to keep track of it myself as well as let others know that I’m available to help if I am able.

What does this mean to you? It means that I am offering up to 10 hours of free quilting each month. No strings attached, but a few rules to keep things fair.

1- Edge-to-edge/panto quilting only. I will show you some options and you can choose which you like best. Once the quilting has begun, you can’t change your mind, so make sure it’s what you want!

2- The Green Apricot/Angela Gubler are not responsible for costs of materials- backing, batting and thread. They either need to be either provided by the client or purchased from TGA.

3- Shipping costs are solely the responsibility of the client.

4- TGA is not responsible for loss or damage to the quilt top or quilted quilt.

5- To submit your quilt for this offer, simply send at least two pictures of the quilt top- one of the whole top and the other a close up, and the measurements of the quilt to thegreenapricot@gmail.com. You do not need to send any info about why you are submitting the quilt. I will respond to let you know if I will be able to schedule your quilt.

6- If I am able to fulfill your request, I will schedule your quilt for quilting, and it is your responsibility to get everything to me by that date. I am using a scheduling system for quilting and have limited time slots available, so you may lose your spot if I do not have everything in hand on time.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful new year, and I hope you are, too!

Knit Along, Baby!

Or, maybe it’s a baby knit along? Or maybe a knit along for babies? It’s so much work to come up with a catch hook. Just sayin’.

So how about we just get to the point. (If you want to skip the story, scroll down for important dates.) Do you see that super cute tiny human up there in that pic? She’s the latest addition to our family, and I’m totally using her cuteness to draw your attention to the buttery blanket she’s modeling!

I first saw this Baby Gradient Kit by Feza Yarns at the beginning of October and fell in love with the softness of the yarn and the fineness of the knit. She won’t stay small for long, so I dropped everything and got to work. I finished it in about 3 weeks, and it was both relaxing and rewarding to work on. Plus, she loves it.

I really wanted to make another to have on hand for any future babies in our family, so I got with my friends at Intown Quilters Fabric & Yarn to get another kit. I ended up buying two, because, well, two.

I’m so excited!!!! The kind of excited where I want other people to be excited, too! So, why not join me in a knit along? This is a fabulous project for starting off the new year. It’s a relaxing, easy knit, and with a little encouragement, it can be a pretty quick finish.

So here’s the deal- visit Intown Quilters Fabric & Yarn and/or The Green Apricot on Facebook or Instagram (@intownquilters @thegreenapricot) to see how to earn 15% off of your kit and be entered into a drawing for a $40 gift certificate at IQF&Y. (Opportunity ends 12/25/17.)

Then, cast on your first row on 1/20/18 and get to knitting! The kit includes 4 cakes of hand-dyed viscose/cotton yarn and the needed pattern, which is basically a garter stitch edging with a stockinette body. Each section is intended to gradually change color from one cake of yarn to the next. I didn’t follow the color change in the pattern for the one I made for our granddaughter, but I will for the next one.

And how about an incentive to finish? Post a pic of the first completed section on or before 2/3/18 with the hashtag #iqfykal and tag The Green Apricot/@thegreenapricot (so I can find it) and IQF&Y will have a reward for you! We’ll keep going every two weeks, and before you know it, you’ll have a completed bit of seriously soft and sweet on your hands. It might even be difficult to give it away.

IMPORTANT DATES:

12/25/17 Deadline to earn 15% discount and enter drawing.

1/20/18 Cast on!

2/3/18 Finish first section!

2/17/18 Finish second section!

3/3/18 Finish third section!

3/17/18 Finish!!!!!!

Stay tuned for more info, and be sure to check out both Intown Quilters and The Green Apricot on social media.

Mom was right.

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It’s about 10:00 am, and while I’ve been out of bed since about 5:30 am, I am not yet dressed, and that’s my breakfast in the Ninja cup on the table.  So what exactly have I been doing for the last four and a half hours of my life?

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I didn’t take this sweaty selfie this morning because I didn’t know I was going to writing about this, but it’s accurate anyway.  Each morning it takes me about 30 to 45 minutes to wake up.  During this time it is best if no one asks me any questions or expects me not to walk into any walls or furniture.  I don’t drink coffee, and I have to wake up on my own.  It means brushing my teeth, putting on my workout clothes, drinking some water, making my bed and perusing social media for a few minutes.  This morning I also threw in a load of towels and put some clothes for handwashing to soak in the sink.

Then I work out for a little over an hour.  During part of my workout, I listen to talks from the recent LDS General Conference.  I like the idea of strengthening both my body and spirit at the same time.

Then I clean.  Years ago I followed FlyLady.net, and I learned a lot about cleaning and organizing from it.  Over the years I have modified what I learned from it to fit my own needs, and basically it comes down to dividing the house into sections and working on a section each day.  (I actually only do this Monday- Friday.)  Our house is generally not messy, so that’s never really been an issue, although we do have a problem with piles that I have to work on.  The biggest problem our house has is the details, but I find that if I commit a couple of hours each week to each section of the house, so many of those details get taken care of.  This morning it was the kitchen.  Appliances, backsplash and cabinets are all on the list, but don’t all get attention every week.  Oiling and rotating my coveted cutting board as well as cleaning the floors really well are a weekly task.

Then I make my breakfast, hit the shower, get fully dressed (my stint with Mary Kay years ago also taught me a thing or two), and hit emails, bills, and other to-do list items.  Which reminds me I need to do something.  I’ll be right back.

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I don’t especially like working out or cleaning, so I do it every day, first thing in the morning.  I really hate cleaning the shower, so I keep a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser in the shower and literally clean the shower every day while I am in there.

I’ve heard people say that you should begin your day doing things that get your creative juices flowing so that you feel energized and ready to face the day.  For me that is, as my Nanny would say, bunk.

In the past I have started my day by going straight to the studio, or by sitting down to write, or by cozying up with my latest yarn project while binge watching Netflix, all the while thinking, “Oh, I can wipe down the kitchen when I make dinner tonight.”

What.Ever.

I’ve learned the hard way that not only do I not wipe down the kitchen while I am making dinner, but I also like to snack a lot while I am “being creative,” and oh, I actually am remarkably less productive creatively while I have in the back of my mind the list of things I should actually be taking care of for the day.

When I choose creativity over responsibility, everyone loses.  It’s just the facts.  My family loses out on my undivided attention.  My body loses out on the attention it needs to function properly.  My spirit loses out on the joy of accomplishment.  My clients lose out because I am not efficient or dependable.  Even my projects lose out because I bring so much garbage to the table by not cleaning it up beforehand.

It may seem like I end up with a late start to the studio, because reality is that I rarely get there before noon anymore, but it is also very real that I am much more productive once I hit the studio doors than I ever was before.  I get the same amount of work done in an afternoon that I used to get done in a day, and it all goes back to putting everything in it’s proper place, both in space and in time.

I’d have to say that it really is true that it’s best for me to get my chores done first thing, even if it means I have to admit my mother was right.

Keeping the doctor away.

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I learned how to do some home canning several years ago when I lived in south Georgia and had access to what is, I suppose, the breadbasket of the state.  There were a plethora of you-pick farms within a 30 minute drive of where we lived, and I spent the summers that we lived there knee-deep in produce.

Canning, or bottling if you live in the western US, is not something that I grew up doing.  My first experience with it was as a young Army wife stationed at Ft. Lewis near Tacoma, Washington.  I had four small kids in tow, and not a lot of budget, but a whole lot of a sense of adventure.  I had always loved blackberries and remembered picking them with my mom in Georgia when I was young, but the blackberries I saw in Washington were about three times the size of the ones I remembered, and were not only delightful, but incredibly prolific.  They grew wild everywhere, and it made me nuts to think of all that fabulous fruit going to waste.  So, I learned how to make blackberry jam.  By the time we moved from Washington to south Georgia, I had been bitten hard, and I wanted to can just about any fresh produce I could get my hot little hands on.

But these days I’ve learned that our family doesn’t really eat jams or jellies, so it’s not worth the time and money to make them. Pickles are more difficult to get right than one would think, so we just eat all the cucumbers out of our garden.  Freezing things like beans and peas is just as good as canning, and really much easier.  However, I am a stickler for bottled tomatoes, peaches and apples.  I am really picky about how ripe the tomatoes and peaches are when they are picked for canning, and it makes a big difference in the final product.

I’m also particular about apples, but it has less to do with ripeness and more to do with variety.  I like variety.  I like how mixing different types of apples gives even applesauce a little bit of complexity.  The funny part about buying apples in Georgia is that at the time we moved to Washington, I really didn’t know that there were apple farms in Georgia.  In fact, I was really excited to take the kids to show them where all their apples came from in the grocery store.  Of course, I didn’t realize that the apple orchards were quite a trip east from Tacoma, and we never did get to go and see them.  But, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

This year I wanted to do a little shopping to see what the price difference really was between buying at the local markets and driving up to north Georgia to the apple houses.  In the photo on the left above with the red apples, you see what a box of Zestar apples from Your Dekalb Farmers Market looks like.  They cost $46, and are from Minnesota.  They are also absolutely delightful, and might be my favorite.  The apples on the right with the mix of red and green are from some of the north Georgia apple houses.  There is a mix of Arkansas Black, Pippin and Braeburn.  Of these, I like Arkansas Black the best to eat raw.  But the Pippin is a nice, firm, tart apple, and is good for baking.  The Braeburn is a smaller, softer, sweeter apple, and adds nice balance to the mix.  The basket on the right cost about $17, and is probably about 1/2 to 2/3 the number of apples on the left.  At the apple houses in fall of 2017, the apples ran about $6 per 1/2 peck, $11 per peck, and $17 per half bushel.

I generally preserve apples just two ways.  One is to bottle pie apples using a recipe in the Heritage Cookbook, which is a community cookbook my sister-in-law gave me about 11 years ago.  It’s a fat little thing full of input from residents of Parowan, Utah, and the recipe for Apple Pie Filling is the one Judy used for the apples that grew on their property in Parowan, and the one two of my stepdaughters helped her to bottle.

I have plenty of pie apples on hand from past years, so this year I bottled just enough to send some to each of our kids as part of a November care package.  Conveniently, there are 7 kids, the recipe worked for 7 jars, and the canner fit 7 jars in a single swoop.  Done.

Apple Pie Filling

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cups water

Mix together dry ingredients in large cooking pot and add 10 cups of water; cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Slice tart apples and pack into quart jars.  Leave 1 inch head space.  Fill jars with hot syrup.  Process in water bath 30 minutes.

Other fruits and berries can be used in like manner, but when using peaches, add 1/4 cup more cornstarch.

The other thing I do with apples is to make unsweetened applesauce.  In past years I have made a lot of different kinds of applesauce and have tried lots of recipes.  However, I find that I like to preserve food as plainly as possible so that I have more options down the road.  If I want cinnamon applesauce, I can for sure add cinnamon to it after it’s been made.  Heat it up on the stove even.  But once it’s in there, it’s in there, and you got what you got.  Plain, unsweetened applesauce is a reasonable snack, is easy to dress up, and can sometimes act as a replacement for oil or eggs in baking recipes.

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I set things up pretty much the same every time I bottle something.  Some of the tools are different based on the produce, but basically, the kitchen always looks the same.  In the fall I don’t mind working a little later in the day, but in the summer, I’m usually at work canning by about 6:30 am before it gets very warm.

I know, there are lots of cool gadgets out there for peeling and coring apples, but for some reason, I still prefer to just use a simple vegetable peeler and an apple cutter.  Half of the time I don’t use the cutter- I just cut the apples in quarters, set them on a flat side and slice out the core of each quarter.  I also make sure I have some form or another of citric acid on hand to help keep the applesauce from turning brown too quickly.  As far as I know, turning brown doesn’t have a huge affect taste or nutrition, but it just doesn’t look very appetizing.

The beauty of making applesauce is the ease of the process.  Really, all I do is peel, cut, drop in a large cooking pot, and mix in some citric acid.  When my pot is almost full of apples, I add about 2 -3 cups of water and set them to boil.  It is important to watch them and stir them often for a couple of reasons.  One is they have a tendency sometimes to boil out of the top of the pot.  The other is they can burn on the bottom while the ones on the top haven’t even softened up yet.  Once I can see that they have started to boil, I turn them down to medium heat and cover, still stirring often, until the apples soften and simply begin to break down into applesauce.  I am happy with it at this point, but it is also possible to put them through a food mill for an even smoother product.

I like to bottle applesauce in single serving sizes, and it’s how I use up all those jelly jars that I don’t use for jelly anymore.  They stack very differently in the canner than their older cousins the pint and quart jars, so I have to make sure that when they are submerged in the water bath that the water covers the jars completely.  Also, while you can’t see it in the photo, the jar I am holding in my hand is chipped along the lower rim.  It went straight to the recycling bin as that one chip could cut someone pretty badly, and even if it didn’t, I worry that the chip could affect the integrity of the jar.

When my kids were younger, I used to make Red Hot Applesauce.  We would get Red Hot candies at the store, put a few in the bottom of the jar, then fill it with applesauce and process in the water bath.  The candies would melt up into the applesauce, and it had kind of a cool effect.  Plus, it added just a little something to an afternoon snack.  I tried to find Red Hots this year, just for nostalgia, but all I could find were Hot Tamales.  I figured they would probably work, and it was worth the try.

It worked exactly as I remembered.  Now I am all stocked up on applesauce for the season, and gratefully so.  If you would like to try to bottle your own applesauce, be sure to check out guides from places such as your local extension office, or booklets such as the Ball Blue Book of Canning.  The Ball Blue Book is where I started my canning journey, and I feel confident it will help you along the way, too.