Sunday, 9 December 2012

Preparing for Christmas

We went to our local Christmas fair yesterday, a large room above our local bookstore. Perhaps 40 vendors filled the long room. The baking tables were the busiest by far. They were laden with stollen and Christmas cakes, mince pies and shortbread. We bought a lovely stollen and tucked it into the freezer for Christmas morning.

Later with a hot cup of tea I sat surrounded by recipe books planning what to bake for this year's Christmas baskets. We usually do up about a dozen baskets for friends and neighbours.  This year we will put a jar of honey in each one, as the bees gave us our best crop yet, over 200 pounds of wildflower honey.
I decided to bake a few different quick bread recipes so I will have an assortment. The older ladies like traditional quick breads like date and nut loaf, or banana walnut bread, but younger set like lots of chocolate, so I'll have to see what I can find, perhaps a marbled cocoa cake.
I spent the evening making an assortment of Christmas tree decorations.  I took crepe streamers and cut them into long strips and ran a thread through the top to draw them into a circle and then pasted a pretty piece of Christmas ephemera into the center and dipped the edges in glitter. 

Then I made a series of little framed pictures using little brass frames I purchased online. Each one comes with it's own glass, and I put a two pictures back to back, so no matter which sides faces the front, there's something pretty to look at.

 This morning I finished a beaded necklace, a Christmas gift to a friend. I like to make as many of my gifts as I can. I knit, sew, crochet and do a bit of beadwork.  If none of these things seem appropriate there's always something from the kitchen that will do. 

 For the gift baskets I have been making raspberry jam from my frozen raspberry crop and later on perhaps a few bottles of chutney too.  I have a lot of black plums set aside, so perhaps I can make something using them.

I have about 100 pairs of beeswax candles that I made in the early fall and I have been wrapping each pair in white tissue paper and using a bit of ribbon and a pretty picture that I use to glue the paper closed. I  think all that's left to worry about are a few batches of Christmas cookies and perhaps some truffles for the chocolate lovers.
Trying to split my working days between research and writing for the website, which is pretty much ready for its debut and keeping up with Christmas preparations.

But weekends, especially Sundays are set aside for pleasure: driving to the beach to watch the waves roll in while wrapped up in a warm coat; hot cups of tea or apple cider; a soothing bathe, an evening by the fire, a new book to savour,  starting a new book.  Hope you have time to relax and do something enjoyable too!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Have sorted out most of the layout of my website. Not perfect but I'm happy with it so far.

I am now concentrating on inputting recipes, trying for 4 or 5 a day. Depends on how short the recipe is and what life throws at me.

Today I rose early thinking first a shower, but D. was in the shower, getting ready for a meeting 50 miles away. Then he had to print something off. Guess what, printer error! So I did some trouble shooting and found the wireless router was unplugged. Okay, great, plug it in. Then I get an error that the printer driver cannot be found. (How do things delete themselves?)

So I downloaded the printer driver, it took 30 minutes. Installed it, presto, one page printed. My tea is cold, I am feeling funny because I haven't eaten and Dad is hovering because he can't find the Vitamin E ointment he's been putting on his scraped arm. At 90+ you need all the help you can get growing new skin, it's just like tissue paper.

I find the Vitamin E, job done. Then D. leaves and says on the way out the door, "Oh, I forgot to walk the dogs. Sorry."  So, clothes on, dogs out.  We get halfway across the lawn and Nico takes off.  What's up? The goats have gotten out of their paddock and are frolicking in the long grass.  Yikes!

Get dogs into the trailer and shut the door.  Lure goats back into the paddock with some fresh oats. I release the dogs from the trailer and we're off for our walk.  Finally at 10:00 I get in the shower. Joy, hot water, clean soap, heat and comfort. I get out and notice all the towels are damp or grubby. Laundry, I wasn't planning on laundry.

So the laundry's in and the dogs are resting and Dad's got his Vitamin E and D. is halfway to his meeting and it's nearly noon and here I am just sitting down to input the first recipe for the day. Sigh.

On the upside I have learnt so much this month about setting up websites, backing up documents and databases, installing widgets and small applications and programs, testing them, deleting them if they don't work, asking for support, tweaking layout, creating menus, changing colours, tweaking photos. It will all stand me in good stead. I think the folder on my computer labelled Wordpress Tips and Tricks where I've stashed all this info probably contains more files than my website. Maybe one day I can teach someone else how to do all this, save them from reinventing the wheel.  Go ahead, make your own mistakes, but here are 50 I made that you can skip altogether!

In spite of setbacks, delays and problems I still feel successful. I may be progressing in small steps but I am progressing.  The most important things are the small ones anyway: 5 minutes of sunshine on your face during a cloudy day; a chance to hug Dad and kiss the top of his head while he's reading (how many people still have their Dad at 90?); the smell of wet dogs resting by the fire; the hot pink (true cerise) of the fresh blooms on the Christmas cactus; the funny song of the chickadees at the feeder....chick-a-dee-dee-dee; laughing at the goats as they race about the lawn playing hard-to-get, until they see the bowl of oats; the comfort of an ancient cashmere sweater and old jeans. I think this is why we're here, to enjoy these small things, to savour them, to appreciate all the precious tiny things that make up our lives.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Rest and relax before the Christmas rush...

Have been working so hard on my website that I have worn myself to a frazzle. Time for a break.

So I took a couple of days off.  I have been working in my studio making jewellery that I sell on Etsy. Not ready to put anything up yet, would like about 10 items. Have sketched out about six designs and have the first one nearly completed.

Saturday I'm taking the day off. No chores, to shopping, just visiting with friends, maybe an hour in a teashop, a drive in the country, relax and rest. The Christmas rush is just around the corner, the tree, the decorations, the food, the gifts. Women seem to take care of most of these things and I usually enjoy it. But I have to pace myself this year, I've been so tired.

The goods news is since we are planning a month away in Portugal in February and March we have all agreed to keep Christmas small, no big gifts, no major feasts. We'll decorate the house and invite friends and make Christmas baskets for the neighbours full of home made preserves, cookies, truffles and all the fun things we make all year.  We bough about a dozen baskets at the Goodwill and I have ribbons and decorations put aside I've been buying all year at yard sales.  It's just a matter of figuring out what we'll put in the baskets this year.

For now, though, just enjoying a quiet time by the fire. The dogs sleeping, Dad sleeping, D. sleeping. A good book to read later.  Hope your December starts and ends well.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Website work, steep learning curves...

My Brain Is Full

Since this blog is about how I want to work for myself, I thought I would do a post now and then about how I actually plan to make a living from home, from my computer, and document how I am doing it, as I go along.

If it works for me, maybe it will work for you. And you'll have all of my posts to check so you don't make the same mistakes I do. You'll make lots of your own of course, but at least you won't make as many as I have.

So, here's the story so far:

I know more about computers than some, but failed my programming classes, well Javascript and C++ anyway. I did learn HTML but never learned CSS and PHP because I was busy at a different kind of job when they came along.  So coding is not my thing. I am not a newbie, I guess, but I am definitely a writer, not a hacker. 

I have been working on my website for about six weeks.  I am using Wordpress theme twenty-eleven, because it is older and has all of the kinks worked out of it, well, for the most part.

I decided on Wordpress because it is free, it is a stable platform and more importantly, there is a great deal of support on line for tweaking it (if you can find it). 

A few months ago I purchased my website name and setup an account with a hosting company.  At that point I simply parked my name. This means that if you had searched for my website you would have seen a site where the name was unavailable but my web host had a page advertising their wares.  Why park your website when you aren't using it? Because any company that uses that empty space to place an ad will pay you revenue, they'll pay for the ad they put in that empty space. Okay, it's not a lot of money, but every penny counts!

Next thing I did, before signing up with Wordpress was to begin my research and writing for the website. You don't need anything but a plain text editor to write with and research can be done online, or at the library, or both.  I used online resources and my local library for my research.  I wanted to have about 20 pages of text ready before I signed up with Wordpress.

Original image by shawncampbell.

While I was writing and researching I also planned out my website structure using just plain paper and a pencil. High tech huh?  I wrote down topics I wanted to cover in different areas of the page. Then I re-organised things into main topics, subtopics, things I might just post about, etc.  This gave my research direction. I knew what I had to research, where to start and what to leave until later.

I went out and bought two books about Wordpress, one about websites in general and one about AdSense. I prefer to learn by reading. Nothing wrong with learning online too, but I find reading the computer screen for hours can be really hard on the eyes. (Note: being online an hour or so before bedtime can give you insomnia because of the backlit screen, it interferes with the production of melatonin, which helps you sleep.)

 I bought: Wordpress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson;WordPress 24-hour Trainer by George Plumley; Build Your First Website in Simple Steps by Joe Kraynak and The AdSense Code by Joel Comm.

About two months ago I began creating pages, just text to begin with.  I created about 5 pages and then ran into a page that really needed a table to set out a lot of information that would look better in a table than a list. That's when I decided to setup Wordpress and explore a bit about what I had been reading.

I went to my host site and installed Wordpress right from the host site. It took less than 15 minutes, including creating a database (that's where my text files will live).  Once that was done I had a working website with nothing in it.  So, I created a couple of pages by simply cutting and pasting the pages I had written in my plain text editor into the Create a Page forms.  Now I had something to work with.
Using Build Your First Website I went to a site called bannerfans  and created the banner for my site. It was quick and easy. I saved two or three different banners to try out and uploaded my favourite.And that was about it for the first stage. 

I did some searching to find a way to create a table in Wordpress. I discovered I could use a Plugin. I found one that seemed to have a good rating, so I downloaded it from inside my Wordpress dashboard and installed and activated.  I entered my data and presto I had a big beautiful table. I wasn't happy with the size of the text, and I couldn't figure out how to make it larger, so I started a list of 'things to fix' for later on and moved on to writing again.

For the next few weeks I created pages, uploaded them (with no photos yet) and made notes on things I wanted to figure out how to change: like changing the text in the footer of every page, creating a different menu, removing the one from the top and putting along the side, getting rid of the big white space above my nice header, etc. 

Next time I post about my website in progress I'll try to outline some of the tweaks I made and how I made them. This will definitely save you a lot of time if you decide to create a Wordpress site using the twentyeleven them. Just figuring out how to make a tiny little bit of text smaller took me over 2 hours and 13 visits to different websites before I found the answer that worked!

In the meantime I'm still writing and still learning. I can't remember where I first heard it, but I think it might have been a cartoon of a little boy who just got home from school complaining to his mother, "My brain is full."  That's how I'm feeling right now.

The Fun Stuff

If you've read my profile you'll know the reason I'm making websites is to make money from home, so I can live anywhere in the world and make a living. My hope is a lovely home somewhere in Portugal and the good news for today is that I have booked a month's vacation in Portugal mid-February to mid-March 2012. We're planning two weeks in the mountains and two weeks in the south on the beach. This is what makes all the work worthwhile.
Silves castle Portugal

 Never give up your dreams!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Baby it's cold outside!

Baby it's cold outside!

This has been an amazing autumn here in our little corner of the countryside.  The grass is still verdantly green, although the trees have finally lost all their leaves and stand skeletal against the cerulean sky.  Until this morning the temperatures have been lagging two months behind the calendar giving us warm September days deep into November.

 This morning that changed. I put on a winter coat and rubber boots and call the dogs. As I open the back door a blast of wind strikes me with such force that I have to catch my breath. The dogs race to the gate that leads to the hayfield and the woods beyond and, as they turn to wait for me, I can see their breath steaming in the cold air. 

I jam my hands deeply into my pockets, despite their cargo of dog treats, and put my head down as we head off. The wind quickly finds the spaces between the buttons of my coat and wraps cold fingers around my ribs.  The dogs charge forward their fur flattened by the wind, their tails flags of delight as they race across the field.  At the edge of the woods we are startled by a rifle shot and both dogs stop short and let out low growls. 

I have only eaten venison two or three times and have enjoyed it's gamey taste, especially when served with home-made chutney and corn fresh from the field, but I could never be a hunter.  I wonder how many of us would become vegetarians if we had to kill and butcher our own animals? As a child I remember my grandmother plucking chickens in her yard, a growing pile of white feathers at her feet, but I was too young to connect what she was doing with the delicious roast chicken we ate the next day.

The paths through the boggy land near the woods are full of deer tracks, their sharp hooves cutting V shapes through the soft mossy earth. A little father on we find  five or six flattened circles in the long grass beneath the cedars where they have slept.  There is a patch of fresh earth nearby that they have scraped clean to lick the salt and minerals from the soil.

Our land is clearly marked as a no hunting zone, but the woods are dark and deep and a bullet's course is set, it cannot shift or turn away because a dog, or a woman in a brown coat, stands in the path between it and the deer.  So, I whistle to the dogs and we come out onto a farmer's track and head home again for a game of fetch behind the house.

Later the dogs snooze at our feet as Dad and I sit in chairs beside the wood stove.  Each chair has a large sheepskin draped down its back, for added warmth and cosy comfort. The kettle is singing on the hob and a tray of freshly made cookies are cooling on the counter.  The weekend papers are piled up on the low table beside our chairs and my laptop waits nearby for me to continue work on my website.

I'll work on the website a little later, maybe after I am warmed through, maybe after tea and cookies, maybe after the fire has burned low, maybe after the sun moves around to the back of the house, maybe later, but just not right now....

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Wending towards winter....

I've been having problems with a website I've been building, so I've been doing nothing but restoring databases and other boring technical stuff for days.

muddy creek
 The only bright spot has been walking the dogs every day. The weather is still fine, although the forecast says the last of the lovely days will be tomorrow and then temperatures plunge down to normal, maybe around 4C or so.  So the dogs and I are making the most of things. I've been walking in the woods, the dogs have been chasing rabbits (they never catch them) and running in the creek getting muddy.
into the woods

Dad and I filled the wood box today and cleaned  the ashes out of the wood stove. We're ready for the cold weather.  We have two 1930s chairs, so comfy, high backed and angled just right for leaning back. We've put them in front of the wood stove and put two big sheepskins on the backs. Perfect for fire watching, reading and snoozing in the afternoon.  Nothing better than being by the fire with a warm drink (mulled apple cider anyone?) on a cold afternoon.

I've harvested a bunch of leeks and onions and planted out garlic bulbs which will soon freeze and then start putting down roots in early spring.  Otherwise the garden is mostly asleep.  Winter gives me more time for knitting, art, reading and writing, so I try not to grouse too much about the weather.  Although my favourite winter sport is still climbing on a plane headed south.

Lunch was late, problems with getting the car back from the garage. I seem to have a curse concerning car mechanics, they are never ready when I arrive and are always a day late returning the car. Sigh.  However, after two trips to the garage I got the car back and made some onion soup and an endive salad.  Dad loves rice pudding (it's a childhood thing), so I made some of that as well. 

 Then, fed up with the computer I lay on the sofa and read all afternoon and managed to finish The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.  An interesting read. The book discusses ways to work for yourself, starting with a little money, a big idea and whatever natural skills you possess. I found it was slanted towards internet business models, although many of the folks he interviewed worked at regular jobs: a horse farm, a knitting shop, a wedding consultant, artists, a coffee shop, etc. I think the best part about it is that Chris's writing gives you a kick in the pants. If you have been sitting on the fence about a new business idea he really tries to encourage you to give it a go. As long as you are not risking life and limb what's to lose?  Worth a read but really aimed at self starters. If you need handholding you'd be better off using the $20.00 for half an hour with a life coach.

Oh yes, have also moved on to Part II of my Portuguese lessons.  Building vocabulary but it would be so nice to have someone to practice with. The only local Portuguese I knew, a fellow named Mano, returned to Portugal for the winter. So I'll just have to carry on as best I can.  Até à próxima vez.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Just a little honey....

Spent some time bottling honey today.  If you can't read the label is says "Beewitchingly Good Wildflower Honey".  I filled about 60 small jars, washed and labelled them. Enough for Christmas gifts and good eating for awhile.

Remember when honey used to come in little tin pails?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

First frost

In one of the fallow fields, never farmed because it is too wet, the bedrock only inches below the soil, the first frost of the autumn burned off in the morning sun The air smelled like winter, no odours of earth or plants, just cold, clean, frosty air. The burdock and mullein have died back, leaving only the teasels standing tall.
The goats supervised as I cleared out the trailer, my writing room in the summer months.

 We bought it for a song a few years ago, and tore everything out of it. Then, using the top of a old oak desk for the counter-top and building in benches and a folding table it became my writing studio. Over time D. added a gas cook top for making tea and snacks, a little sink that takes water from a reservoir, a cable to tap into the electricity in the barn, a little fridge and even a little sofa that folds down into a bed. In the summer I usually leave this made up as a bed with lots and lots of pillows and cushions. When I'm blocked, I lie there and daydream and nap.

In the winter I adapt and write in any corner of the house that has a comfy chair and a bit of sunshine but I miss my cosy retreat.
 With all my books and papers back in the house I knew I ought to be working on my website. There are pages and pages to be rewritten or reformatted. But when I went to the fridge for a glass of juice my eye fell on six black plums sitting on a lower shelf and I suddenly remembered my mother's plum cake, a treat from my childhood. 

I put on St Germain's Tourist CD and began to gather the ingredients.

Streusel first

Fresh nutmeg from a friend in Barbados

Cake ingredients

Stiff cake batter

Plums on top of the cake batter
Streusel on top - ready for the oven
I thawed a batch of corn chowder for lunch, served with pate, homemade pickles, cheese and bread. When Dad saw the plum cake his eyes lit up and he said, "I haven't had plum cake in years."  Certainly not since Mum died in 2006 I suppose.

With the dishes done there were no excuses left, so I opened the laptop to start work and found this note inside.
Out here in the country a lot of folks are poor. They're hanging onto their farms and homes by the skin of their teeth. Trucks and tractors are held together with duct tape and baling wire, clothes are bought at the discount store and nobody looks at you funny if the only boots you own are the rubber boots you muck out the barn in.  But when things are going well, the harvest is in and there's a great meal on the table, and friends and family to share it with, and maybe something like plum cake or fresh pie for dessert, well, there's a sense of well being and pleasure that just bubbles up.  Often someone at the table will look up and say, "I wonder what the poor folks are up to just now."

Christine's Plum Streusel Coffee Cake

For streusel:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For cake batter
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound plums (5 to 6 medium), sliced
confectioners' sugar for sifting over cake

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 9-inch round or square baking pan at least 2 inches deep.
Streusel:    In a food processor pulse together streusel ingredients until combined well and crumbly.

Cake batter:  In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter with sugar until light and fluffy and add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and vanilla. Sift in flour with baking powder and salt and beat until just combined.

Spread cake batter in pan, smoothing top, and arrange plum slices over it in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle streusel over plum slices and bake cake in middle of oven 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake slightly on a rack and sift confectioners' sugar over it. Serve coffeecake warm or at room temperature.

Note: I have never used the icing sugar on top, but this is Mum's recipe and I am sure it was served with icing sugar carefully sifted through a stencil in a lovely pattern for optimum presentation.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Okay....two steps back

Beach near Olhas de Agua Portugal
Starting my post with pictures taken on our last trip to Portugal to lift my spirits. Warm still, way above normal temperatures here, which we are all enjoying, but nothing like the Algarve's 300 days of sunshine annually.

View from our flat in Olhas de Agua Feb 2011
Beach at Albufiera 8:00 a.m.
Needed a bit of cheering up as I had to 'rollback' my installation of Wordpress at the server level. Rollback translates to dumping everything you've done back to a point before the errors occurred. So I have lost several days work.  Yes I have most of the text on my computer but not all of it. Also have lost all the work I did turning pages into posts, and CSS updates. Sigh.

The good news is that there are new updates not only for Wordpress but my particular theme as well, and some of the new functions are exactly what I was looking for. Yay.

Refuse to be depressed by lost work. Instead feel that it is part of the learning curve and that I will continue to get better and better at this.

Roman ruins at Vilamoura Portugal

 I began to lose my hearing about 8 or 10 years ago. After visiting a number of specialists it was determined that German measles from my childhood had caused nerve damage. As I began to age the nerve damage became more obvious and the hearing loss progressed.  I can still hear, with the aid of two hearing aids, but I'm not supposed to use headphones, or listen to loud sounds (no jackhammers for me) and I now use a $500.00 telephone to make phone calls easier.  The short story is that I can no longer work at jobs I used to, almost all of which involved using headphones and a telephone. I was fired (let go - don't you love that expression) from two jobs in the last few years when my bosses realised I had hearing issues. My work wasn't affected, but they felt 'it might be'. Yes, I could try to sue but hardly worth it, who wants to work where they're not wanted?

Simple beaded necklace made Feb 2012
So for now I sell my beadwork and knitting.  But if I want to support myself properly I need a regular income. So I am learning Wordpress and building websites about things I love: chocolate, herbs, honey (I am a beekeeper) and with luck they will find an audience and I will be able to place adverts on the webpages for books and other things people might find useful. If it works I have a living.  If not: well, back to the drawing board.
Shawl knit and sold last year

So, back to Wordpress. Time to begin rewriting the lost content and reformatting the lost posts.  But before that a walk with the dogs. Did you know even a 15 minute walk can increase your sense of well being for up to 2 hours? 
Nico and Lucy ready to go
Any dream worth having is worth working for!