Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Christmas Bonus.

I work for a living.  I spend my days in a beige cubicle staring predominately at a computer screen,  sometimes at documents, and other times at spreadsheet data.  Occasionally I meet with clients or the public and largely these are thankless meetings.  While I do my best to balance conflicting wants, often at the end of the day no one is happy, and I’m exhausted after being yelled at. Yes you read that right – yelled at. It is then that I look forward to the next time I can stare at little numbers in the silence of my spreadsheet without my phone ringing. 

No one ever thanks me for a job well done, and there are no Christmas bonuses.  In fact downsizing and budget cuts took out my last job while I was on maternity leave and I was lucky enough that there was a vacancy in another branch I could slip into.  Others haven’t been so lucky.  More than a few folks in my office will find themselves out of work come the new year.  Some have over 15 years of service… but it doesn't seem to matter. It is the “new” way of doing business we are told. 

My life as an artist – is one of pursuing a passion.  It is not a way to put bread on the table.  So I will not be giving up that beige cubicle any time soon.  However there are moments when I do manage to sell an original painting where upon I jump up and down and run to my husband and say… “GUESS WHAT???!!??”  “I sold and original!!!”  Some one actually likes what I do enough to want to purchase it for what it is worth and put it on their wall!   These are my bonuses.  These are moments of redemption – but they give me hope in a world driven by the economic bottom line.

So to whomever made my Christmas a little bit brighter, I thank you.  I really do hope you enjoy your new piece of art.  It was made with love and brought me joy in it’s creation – I hope it will bring you pleasure in it’s new home.

So you ask – what was it that sold?   It was a winter scene – so apt given the recent weather.  

When Snow Came A Falling
Watercolour on Cotton Rag Paper
Original: SOLD!! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind

Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions

It is not thanksgiving, and yet it is the time of year I am the most thankful for family, for friends, for health, for the safety, warmth and comfort of my home.   I will not wade into the debate about Christ in Christmas or the modern debacle of rampant consumerism.  I have instead chosen to embrace the muddle.  A blending and melding of traditions, celebrations and faith.   

I love the story of the nativity.  It is symbolic for me on so many levels, it is about family, and love, and giving to those less fortunate.  It is about being thankful for what you have and celebrating life.  While candidates for virgin birth include Osiris, Mithras, Dionysus, and Krishna, it is Mary and Joseph that have found their way into the songs I sing to Chicken Little and the traditions of our home.
©RiverWalker Arts
Watercolour on Cotton Rag Paper
Original Sold 
I also enjoy the more heathen rituals of winter solstice, of feasting with family and friends and the dragging in of a tree into ones home and festooning it with lights and ornaments, not to mention the pagan practice of adorning houses with lamps and wreathes of laurel and evergreen.  This all blends quite  nicely with the Persian winter celebration of Yelda and the shared feasting, reading  of poems out loud, telling of stories, dancing, and the serving of fruit in the form of pomegranates, nuts, and dried fruit.  The red of the fruits, symbolizing the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life,  in several cultures and for those celebrating the splendour of Mithra (a deity once popular with Roman Legionaries).  These traditions are further evocative of other ancient mid-winter customs invoking various deities  to request protection of the winter crop.

©RiverWalker Arts 2009
Pen and Ink on Paper. 
Living in  21st century North America I also get to luxuriate in the more modern fantasy about Santa  (a blend of Christian crusader, pagan god, commercial idol, not to mention really great marketing by Coca-Cola.) and how this benevolent man spends his time crafting toys for all the little boys and girls the world over. Maybe I love the story of Santa so much because I wish it could be true that all over the world children could wake up to a little something special just for them,  no matter what country, no matter how poor, or how disadvantaged. 

My heart is thankful, my door is open, my glass is raised, and I toast to families everywhere, to your health and mine, to the virtues of love, peace, joy and giving.  

May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace,
The gladness of Christmas give you hope,
The warmth of Christmas grant you love.

Merry Chirstmas to all.

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukkah' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank.  People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukkah!'  or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the wall!'  ~Dave Barry, "Christmas Shopping:  A Survivor's Guide"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rediscovering the Pot Roast.

I work a 40 hour work week.  I am also a full time 24 hour a day mom to a one year old boy,  I’m a girl guide leader to 8 or so 12-14 year olds, I’m vice president of the local Community Arts Council, and somehow I manage to squish arts and crafts in there.  What I am not is Superwoman. 

I don’t exercise enough, the dog doesn't get walked nearly enough, and my new philosophy is that if I can get the closet doors shut – it’s clean enough.   I’ve hired a housekeeper to come for 3 hours every two weeks to help me cope.   However in the time between when I get home from work around 5ish and when Chicken Little gets thrown into bed at 7:30.  I somehow need to get a meal on the table.  My solution has been breaking out with freezer meals (mass produced casseroles that I can freeze and pull out at any time to pop in the oven which are largely assembled on weekends or when Chicken Little is in bed)  and Crock-pot meals assembled in much the same fashion.   It’s working.  We are fed, we even get vegetables on most nights. 

I do still like to cook,  and so it was when hunting for slow-cooker meals I dug up my mother’s Pot Roast Recipe, with the thought of turning into a crock-pot meal.   It’s an old one.  It’s a Pot Roast.. Do people even make pot roast anymore?  Some dinners get a bad rap like tuna casserole, meatloaf and pot roast  The stigma may come from bad experiences or maybe because those meals are just ugly to look at. But I’m a mother without enough time on my hands...  

When I re-read the recipe... all I could see was caramelized onions and beer... this has to be delicious... I decided I’d actually spend the time, and make it in the oven on the weekend.  I sent DH out for the meat.  I sat Chicken Little on the counter,  I sliced onions,  Chicken Little tried a few.. but spat them out, and was shortly after pacified by Christmas Oranges – followed by playing in a sink of soapy water.   I stirred, and caramelized those onions.... stir and wait.. they will eventually get brown and yummy... wait for it, just let them do their thing... wait for it.... browning up. It is sooo worth it.  I added beer, and tomatoes.. and threw the works in the oven. 

Eating dinner that night and watching chicken little down those stewed up onions one after another, I wondered why I have not done this more often – back when I had time to cook.   But even better than the flavour was the gravy – a thick stew of onions, carrots, turnip in beer and tomatoes.  Yum. 

I could not bear to throw out this deliciousness.... I put it on the stove. Added 4 cups of water, an assortment of vegetables, the left over roast cut into bits, and called it pot-roast soup.  It will serve as lunch for the coming week... and voila! Almost instant homemade soup -  this is the stuff I need to get me through the time crunch of the coming week!  Delicious. 

Pot Roast  with Beer and Caramelized Onions 

3-4 pound boneless beef pot roast
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 -3 tablespoons oil
4 med onions halved lengthwise and sliced thin
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon pepper
3 large garlic cloves chopped finely
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 bottle beer
1 can tomato sauce (213 ml) (or some puréed tomatoes when you realize you have no tomato sauce)
1 ½ pound carrots
1 small rutabaga

On a large plate, roll meat in  flour to coat, shaking off excess…reserve excess flour.
In a large Dutch oven heat  half the oil over medium - high heat.  Brown meat on all sides about 8 minutes.  Transfer meat to a plate.
Reduce heat to medium  Add remaining oil to pot.  Add onions, brown sugar, bay leaves, salt  cinnamon, ginger and pepper.  Cook 12- 15 minutes or until onions are tender and  golden, stirring often.

Add reserved flour and garlic.  Cook  30 seconds, stirring.  Add vinegar, cook until evaporated.  Pour in beer and tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil and  cook  1 minute or until thickened, stirring.  Return meat  and accumulated juices  to pot. 

Cover and stick in oven at 325 for two hours, turning meat occasionally.

Meanwhile, peel carrots and rutabaga  cut into 2 x ½ inch strips.  Add to meat and cover and simmer   for another 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.

Remove roast from pot, spoon sauce over meat and serve remaining sauce separately. 

After dinner.... make  Left-over Soup– Chop up remaining roast into bite sized bits, return to pot, with 4 cups of water, and a host of vegetables – green beans, corn, potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, kohlrabi or whatever you can find in the bottom of your fridge. 
Bring to boil. 
Voila!   Lunches for the whole family for the week. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart.

December is really a special month.  It is a time of year to quit complaining that it is cold outside,  to take a deep breath and settle down a little more into the inner warmth.  Thus, when the snow began swirling wet and heavy outside my window on December 1st, and the fury of the wind set the vents to rattling, and the hot watertank exploded …  (oh wait… the hot water tank disaster had nothing to do with it…. )   I began to feel the urge to stare in quiet contemplation at small white twinkle lights,  to watch the flicker of a candle reflected in a glass of red wine… er.. I mean.. mulled apple juice.   To cozy up beneath thick warm blankets amid the glow and sparkle of Christmas décor. 

When Snow came a Falling
by RiverWalker Arts. 

And so it was that I set out to create the space that I wanted to enjoy.   Having never really done much more than string a few lights, pop up a tree I had a few things to acquire.  This town will provide if you look hard enough and are willing to improvise.  Home after raiding every store in town, I walked upstairs with my bag filled with sparkling miscellany and DH just laughed at me.   Reminding me how silly all this temporary décor really is and how taking it all down in a month will be a chore, and that we will have to then store it all somewhere for the next 11 months…. .  I didn’t care, and told him as much. 

Across the mantle I laid dark green garlands with shiny baubles and glittering red ribbons, I strung lights around the windows, and pulled out the beautifully crafted stockings my grandmother had quilted for us.   I tucked more garland and plaid ribbon around my chandelier, tied bows on the backs of my dinning room chairs.   DH indulged me and set up our lovely fake tree.  (I will not wade into the fake vs. real tree discussion – suffice to say I love them both,  but have chosen for the mean time to have a fake tree if for no other reason than it can stand for longer indoors without going brown and dropping all it’s needles) 

Photo ©RiverWalker Arts 2012
When DH plugged in the tree and in the dimness of the living room it exploded into light, Chicken Little who had been busy putting a shiny purple bauble first on and then taking it off the tree sat back on his haunches and exclaimed in his little one year old voice “ woooooaaahhhhh.”  He then proceeded to spend the next 30 or so minutes talking to the tree in his loudest gibberish.   I wish I had captured this on camera – alas it was not to be and I shall have to suffice with the memory.

Later that night, Chicken Little tucked into bed, DH admitted the place looked festive and lovely, and that we should have friends over to play games and enjoy food together as a way of embracing the festive nature of this special season.  

Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for - I don't know what exactly, but it's something that you don't mind so much not having at other times.  ~Kate L. Bosher