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Cross-Stitches, Bitchez.

 

Stitchin’ It Up Right

 

Yeah, that’s right. I’m bi-craftual, yo. Actually, I’m multi-craftual if you want to know my dirty little secret. I like ’em all.

Before there was knitting, there was cross-stitching.  My aunt got me hooked in high school and I had one project or another in the hoop for many years after that. Something about the counting, the neat and tiny stitches, and the beautifully glossy flosses appealed to me from the start.  I know. I’m a weirdo. But then, wooly true love and pointy sticks came along and I dropped it quicker than bargain bin yarn in baby poop brown.

So what’s up with the cross-stitching? I needed a gift. And I needed the right gift.

Let me tell you a little story.

Once, I was in my 20’s working hard on my mad scientist street cred at WSU (I used to be a microbiologist at a university before having my son).  It was a good time; friends, lots of free time, making my own money, youth, all that fab stuff. Then I met the love of my life and I had to decide between a job and a life I loved and the man I adored.  Of course I chose love (wouldn’t you?!). So I had to say goodbye to that life and it was hard, but not as hard as I thought it might be.  They had a little party at my boss’ house to send me off and a surprising amount of folks showed up.  Many brought cards or a small gift, which truly surprised and touched me.  I hate being the center of attention and it was all a little uncomfortable, though undeniably thoughtful and sweet.

One of the post-docs I worked with frequently, let’s call her Maggie, brought me a little gift. And to this day, it remains the most perfect gift I’ve probably ever received. Not the best gift, or the one I loved most, but the most perfect gift.  I’ll explain.

Maggie and I worked together frequently as I mentioned.  Though we were friendly, I wouldn’t say we knew each other particularly well.  But we chit-chatted daily and shared a lot of lab equipment and reagents and buffers and stuff. One of the things we passed back and forth often was a timer.  A lot of the procedures we were running required varying amounts of time in various solutions or apparatuses, so careful timing was necessary to run an experiment well.  At least once a day I cursed at the timers in the lab.  These timers could only be set in increments of 1 minute.  Meaning, if you had a 45 minute experiment, you had to push the damn button 45 times to set the timer.  I’m getting pissed just writing about it. What kind of IDIOT makes a timer like that?!

When I opened Maggie’s little gift a huge smile broke across my face.  She had given me a timer that could be set manually to any increment of time I wanted at the mere touch of a couple buttons.  I was stunned. It was the perfect gift! It was personal, yet not extravagant or too unnecessarily intimate. It showed forethought and highlighted the fact that not only had Maggie been listening to the nonsense I spewed from day to day, she understood and sympathized. It wasn’t expensive, so I didn’t feel abysmally undeserving, but it was exactly what I wanted and needed. Truly a perfect gift.

And now I needed one too.

This little project will be a set of jar-toppers for gifting canned foods.  A mom friend I know from preschool (not too well, but well enough to meet for coffee now and then with a few other moms) just had a birthday on Monday and we have a group coffee date coming up next Tuesday. I wanted to bring something not too big or expensive, but still thoughtful, personal, and useful. We taught her how to can this summer and she gave canned items as gifts for Christmas this year.  Jar-toppers, I thought, would be something she could use. And she could keep them for herself is she liked them, or gift them away if she hated them. Win-win. As she’s a single mom with very little free time, instead of gifting the kit itself, I decided to stitch these up for her. They’ll be ready to use whenever she wants them.  I hope she’ll find these to be the perfect gift (not best, not most loved, but just right).

 

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In The Land of Autumn-Fall

Outside it is the Land of Autumn-Fall. Inside, it is just the beginning of Maketober.

I spent all Saturday canning. Let me tell you, canning is not for everyone. You stand on your feet for hours, lift heavy things, do a bunch of mindless repetitive stuff, sweat a lot and – if you’re like me – burn yourself a few times. There should be a way to count this as some kind of workout, right?

It was a beautiful autumn day on Saturday. October is truly one of the more spectacular months here in the Pacific Northwest and it almost angers me to have to spend a day inside canning. But when you have apples sitting in your garage for two weeks waiting to be processed, you do what you have to do. Don’t get me wrong. I like canning. I like feeling that connection to women in my past. My Mom and second Mom Vicki (whom I miss dearly) canned during my childhood and I have warm memories of the smells in the kitchen, their chatter, and the wonderful things we consumed all winter long from those colorful jars they so reverently stored away for the time of need. I remember helping them from time to time, but then drifting off out the screen door to some more enticing childhood adventure. I vaguely understood, but did not appreciate, all the time and love they put into the food we ate.

For many years I did not think about canning. I went to college, then grad school, but didn’t feel the desire to make a home anywhere. Shortly after my husband and I were married, Vicki passed away from cancer. I’m ashamed to say I was an awful “daughter” and lived in denial for a good portion of her sickness; until it was too late to sit with her and get to know her, provide her some comfort. I was so selfish. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life. But I found a way to make peace with this broken bit of my heart. I honor Vicki’s memory every time I can something in my kitchen.

It started with Pickled Beets. These were my favorite things from Vicki’s kitchen (my Dad’s was her blackberry jam). She would give us crates of canned goods at Christmas time. Foods she had cultivated from seed to jar. Always a labor of love: grown with love, made with love, given with love, and received with love. I craved those beets, those gifts of love, when she was no longer with us. To feed my hunger and honor her memory, I decided to make pickled beets using her recipe. I’d like to say that I had a transcendental moment the first time I made these, but I’d be lying. It was messy, hot, frustrating, and yet ultimately rewarding. And every autumn when I make pickled beets, I get one step closer to forgiving myself, because I know that I honor Vicki every time I do. Somewhere she is watching over me and loving me despite the way I failed her so abysmally when she needed me most.

The beets will be coming in tomorrow and I expect to spend the upcoming days pickling. Saturday was Caramel Apple Butter, a first time recipe for me. Like Vicki, I make these with love. And every Christmas, with that same love, I gift them in baskets to everyone in our family. Thank you Vicki, for leaving me with this lasting legacy. It is truly priceless.