Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Whimsy: Cosmic Garden Cowl Review

Cosmic Garden Cowl in Cascade Yarns Heritage Dark Plum.  
It hasn't taken me very long to become completely enraptured with using hand-dyed yarns, and I have Laurinda's Hooked on Hand-Dyed series to thank. The Cosmic Garden Cowl is a perfect entry into this series, though it was the second pattern she released for the project.

I've made two versions of this cowl with two different types of yarn: Heritage in dark plum by Cascade Yarns and an Alpaca-Bamboo space-dyed by Sheared Delights. Both turned out lovely.

The pattern itself is simple to follow and would be good for crocheters who have a working knowledge of basic stitches. The most difficult part of the pattern is creating a loop out of the beginning chain at the beginning. It took my several tries to get a loop without a twist, at one time not realizing I had a twist until at the end of the second round.

The method I finally used, and which has served me since, is to fold the chain in the middle to match up the sides all the way down to the ends, then connect them. This has worked for me on the first try several times since. 

Lattice pattern.
The pattern is a two-round repeat that lends itself easily to memorization. The finished cowl, however, has a sophisticated look that belies the simple repeat stitches. It drapes long and winds up nicely for a tighter fit. A multi-colored yarn will create interesting patterns in the cowl, while a solid color yarn will show off the elegant lattice pattern that the stitches create.

Sheared Delights space-dyed Alpaca-Bamboo. Love the pattern in created!
Lattice pattern with the cowl doubled-over.
This is a single skein project, making it a great entry for anyone who wants to try hand-dyed yarn without a costly investment. Although the recommend yardage will create a wider, fuller cowl, a narrower cowl made with less yardage can be stitched simply by watching the remaining yarn and ending on the proper round before stitching the final round. My second cowl was created in this fashion and looks just as nice as the first that I made with the recommended yardage and following the pattern the full number of rounds. A wider cowl could be created in the same fashion by adding a second skein.

The pattern is available for purchase on Laurinda's Ravelry page. More information about the project and about the yarn that she used for her cowl can be found on her blog

Friday, October 24, 2014

Frugal Friday

Boardwalk to the beach, Port Aransas, TX

Frugal Friday blog post

On Fridays I post how my family is trying live more frugally and sustainably.

Lunchtime has become an integral part of my evening and morning, with a husband and two kids now taking lunches with them each weekday. To make lunches frugal, I pack everything myself, which means sandwiches or leftovers with chips or crackers, fruit, a vegetable, and a treat (homemade cookies are the current favorite). Both of the kids have their own water bottles to take with them.

To keep lunches even more frugal and sustainable, I have reusable containers for Buggie and my husband and my favorite paper snack bags from If You Care for The Boy. Buggie has been using the same lunchbox since kindergarten and The Boy got one with his first-ever backpack. My husband has been using bags that came with the kids meals from Subway—which are actually pretty clever and handy to have around since he tends to forget them at work, so I have a handful around to use.

Other frugal doings this week:

Buggie’s long pants, which I purchased at my favorite thrift shop a couple months ago, are too long, so I’m hemming them.

I made homemade ranch-style beans this weekend and have since used them in a recipe that called for the canned version. They turned out so tasty and are great on their own.

I also made a breakfast casserole to feed a large gathering of board gamers this past Sunday. The leftover beans and casserole have kept me in lunches most of the week.

I baked a batch of cookies.

My husband continues to make his own coffee before leaving for work and makes a little extra so I have some when I get up.

I made my own t-shirt to wear for the day-long board game event on Sunday. I used a white tee I already owned and iron-on transfer paper that was a gift from a friend last year. She had gotten it from a storage shed auction sale her husband attended. I love my new shirt.

The kids begged me for pizza the other night, so we picked up a take-n-bake rather than opting for delivery. I know homemade would have been more frugal, but that would have meant a trip to the grocery store with tired, cranky kids, so I opted for the lesser of two evils.

The few other times this week when I've been tempted to eat out, I've remembered something I had at home to make instead.

I've been crocheting quite a bit lately. Some of my completed projects will no doubt become holiday gifts.

I've been taking my reusable mesh bags along with my reusable grocery bags when I go shopping. I love having no plastic bags to dispose of after my bi-monthly shopping trips.

I've also continued using jars to store snacks and other staples in. The family loves the ‘snack bar.’ The next step is to buy more of these items in bulk so I can continue to reduce waste, especially plastics, as much as I can. I think every little step helps. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Whimsy: Fingerless Mitts Crochet Kit by Craftwich Creations

I love crochet kits. I picked up this one for fingerless mitts two years ago at a TKG/CGOA Knit and Crochet Show in Reno. Unfortunately, it was buried in one of my yarn stash bins, and I just rediscovered it.

The kit, cleverly packaged in an easy-to-carry or pack bag with a full color tag.
I bought it for several reasons. First, it features a pattern written by the talented Laurinda Reddig of Recrochetions. Second, it's a crochet kit. Third, it was put together by my then-new friend Monica of Craftwich Creations. Fourth, it contains one of her splendid handmade, wood-carved crochet hooks.

Kit contents!
The kit contained a large ball of cotton yarn, the color featured by the yarn tag on the bag handles; a smaller ball of cotton yarn; a size-J handmade, wood-carved crochet hook; a set of instructions for basic crochet featuring photos for both left- and right-handed crocheters; a pattern for the fingerless mitts; and a pattern for a decorative, crocheted flower.

Mitt Pattern

Beginning Crochet booklet with full-color photographs for both left- and right-handers.

A gorgeous hand-carved hook!
The pattern was simple to follow and would be suitable for beginning crocheters. The only detail I found missing was a suggestion for how to decide which way to stitch the completed mitt together to place the thumb-hole. I found placing three safety pins, one at each end and one of the middle, the best way to connect the mitt to try it on. For me, having the starting chain row at the top made the mitt fit snuggly around my knuckles and allow more stretch at the bottom for my wrist.

I did like the multiple suggestions for decorating the mitts. I made the large flower by following the pattern, then made a smaller one on my own. I placed the smaller over the larger, off-setting the petals, and attached them using the long tails I left for weaving. I sewed a button in the center when I was finished.

On the second mitt, I added three different types of buttons.

My completed mitts. I love them!
The entire project took perhaps 2 hours to complete. I love the way the mitts turned out, and I'm looking forward to wearing them this Fall.

If you'd like to see more of what Monica has to offer, please visit her Etsy site at Craftwich Creations. She has hooks (I own 3 now), buttons, and dryer balls made from re-purposed wool sweaters (I own a set and love them). I understand she soon may feature hand-carved knitting needles, too, and hopefully more of these lovely kits.

For more patterns by Laurinda Reddig, visit her website at ReCrochetions. She also has two published books: Rowan's Learn to Crochet Sampler Afghan in both right-handed and left-handed editions is perfect for those wanting to learn crochet or new to the craft, and her newest book, Reversible Color Crochet, available online or in stores, is for more intermediate to advanced crocheters. She also has patterns for sale on her Ravelry page and has been featured in several magazines and is currently featured in Crochet! Winter 2014 issue as the cover designer.

I just happened to be the one who crocheted the cowl featured on that cover, so it is a great honor for me to be on the cover with Laurinda for her design. I am most humbled (and quite thrilled).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Homemade Breakfast Sandwich

I have been searching for a good breakfast sandwich to cook and freeze at home. Fast food breakfast sandwiches are a favorite breakfast of mine, but when they are inexpensive, I wonder about the ingredients, and when they are all-natural, locally sourced, I fret over the spending the money.

Today I stumbled across the perfect recipe. The Breakfast Sandwich from the Demarle at Home website is easy, adaptable, and quick. And while I would highly recommend investing in one of their perforated baking sheets, the round tray, and a Silpat, I'm sure folks could find a way to make them without these items.

I made a batch today using Tillamook white cheddar sliced cheese, Trader Joe's English muffins and apple smoked bacon, and eggs from our local grocer. While the eggs were baking in the round tray, I fried the bacon. Then I built the sandwiches, baked them a few more minutes, and enjoyed! I think the whole process took 30 minutes, which is how long it would have taken to drive to a local fast food joint, order the food, and bring it home. Better yet, I saved money (I spent approximately $12.00 for the ingredients, not including the baking trays, which I already owned and use often), and I know exactly what is in each sandwich.

Best of all, however, is that one recipe makes 6 sandwiches. Only two of us in the house eat them, so I individually wrapped four of the sandwiches after they cooled and put them in the freezer. We have two more breakfasts waiting for us!

Next time I intend to add to the eggs before they bake. I'm thinking saute onions and mushrooms with baby spinach mixed in, like little quiche patties. Maybe source local sausage for patties and try a different cheese, like pepperjack or provolone. And double the recipe to make even more to freeze.

Oh, the possibilities!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Frugal Friday

I adore this skirt. It fits my daughter, but I do wish I had one, too.

This week's Frugal Friday post is all about thrift shopping. It's back-to-school time, so I rocked the thrift stores for clothes and accessories and whatever else jumped out at me while browsing.

This year I went to two stores, Red White & Blue and the Goodwill Outlet. The first is by far my favorite with great selection, awesome prices, and usually a surprise or two. The first time I went, I found a package of gorgeous day-planners. I like to use them for day-by-day journals. They are outdated now, but I cross out the old date and add the new, which is usually off by only a day or two.

The second time I went, I found a couple of goodie bags full of interesting office supplies: a couple cans of air for keyboard cleaning, a business card holder, a couple more journals, and a lovely wall calendar full of historical photos of Oregon. It was current for the year and still hangs on my wall. Some of the images are breathtaking.

The Goodwill Outlet is an experience. If you've never been, you should give it a try. Rather than racks and shelves displaying clothing and home goods, the entire floor contains huge bins. Each bin is about ten feet long and four feet wide and filled with items. Some might hold clothing, others electronics, some filled with books, and still more with a variety of things from pottery to magazines to bedding. You are literally searching through the piles to find something of interest. And when a new bin is brought out, shoppers flock to it like seagulls to a crust of bread.

Red White & Blue's clothing is laid out by color, so to find the size I need, I gravitate to colors each of my family would wear and then start looking through each for the right size. For the Goodwill Outlet, where there is no order except selection of bin type, I walk the aisles, looking into each bin until something catches my eye. Then I'll stop and hunt through the bin.

Both shopping styles served me well this year. For less than $150.00, I picked up:

New clothes for Buggie
*Back-to-school clothing for Buggie, who grew this summer, skipping a clothing and shoe size. She needed pants desperately. I found seven pair of pants, four shirts, and a skirt.

*Shirts for adults. I found four for me, one work shirt for my husband, and a shirt that I think my brother might like for camping.

Books and magazines!
*Books and magazines. I found the first three books in hardback from Series of Unfortunate Events, three magazines on knitting (which I have picked up again recently), an interesting novel set in the Civil War, and a magazine featuring an article on a research topic a friend of mine is focusing on for her next novel.

Clothing, books, and magazines are always a given when I go thrift shopping. The treasure this year was the huge package of knitting supplies I found.

A bevy of knitting supplies
Twenty straight needles, three circular needles, stitch markers, two tools for cable knitting and knitting keepers, stitch counter, and a needle size measuring tool. It was an amazing find.

Someone put a lot of work into this blanket.
The last little treasure I brought home was one I didn't find myself. I was walking the first aisle of the Goodwill Outlet when an older lady approached me. She asked if I crocheted. Rather surprised, as I didn't have anything with me that proclaimed "YARNER," I admitted that I did. She handed me a bag full of granny squares and a couple skeins of yarn. Not a crocheter herself, she said she didn't like to see such hard work left behind. She was going to donate it to her local hospital where a group donates blankets but realized she didn't have time to do so before leaving on a trip. She offered it to me. I gladly accepted, telling her that I was also part of group that made blankets to donate to our area NICU. She was pleased and left happy. I brought home this bag of blue and green yarn and squares, which I will happily finish and add to our donation blankets.

It was an eventful thrift shopping experience. I look forward to my next trip in a few months when The Boy starts to outgrow all of his clothing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Frugal Friday

I haven't written a Frugal Friday post in awhile, mainly because we weren't being so frugal. I've recommitted to living frugally, however, and we've made some wonderful progress in the past few weeks.

Our first move was to cut all eating out. It's been difficult, as I'm still readjusting to meal-planning weekly and cooking daily, but I'm proud to say that we've resisted well.

Our second move was to take all the grocery budget out of the bank and leave the debit card at home. This has been amazingly useful. I'm loath to spend grocery money on unnecessary purchases.

At home, I've continued to declutter and downsize and also to incorporate fun storage solutions. One I've wanted to try for some time uses jars to store snacks. I've been collecting jars all summer.

Jars of snacks, ready to grab. 
I pulled out all the snacks that would work well in the jars. I filled the jars, labeled the ones that weren't obvious, and arranged them on my now-spacious bookcase, which has stood empty since I culled mercilessly through our books. I also saved berry baskets from the berries I bought at our local farmer's market this summer to hold larger snacks. I have a variety of nuts and dried fruits, granola bars, and crackers in easy reach for the whole family. I also have chocolate chips to add into homemade trail mix, but I keep the chocolate in the pantry so it isn't as easily accessible. It is, however, also stored in jars.

The latest cucumber harvest.
I harvested a dozen cucumbers this week. I gave some to our neighbor and the rest are waiting to be eaten or pickled. I'm hoping to can next week. Seems like a lot of cucumbers, doesn't it?

Play 'find the cucumber.' There are three in this photo.
There's more to harvest. I must have four to six nearly ready.

Two zucchini coming along.
I also have more zucchini coming. Unfortunately, only one of my zucchini plants (out of six) is producing. Or maybe that is fortune. I don't have zucchini coming out my ears and have been able to use what I harvest before the next one is ready.

Two pumpkins.
My great joy is my pumpkins, though. After many years of trying, I finally have some growing!

Two more pumpkins.
And two more pumpkins. 
Each week I've discovered a new one. Yesterday, my count was at six, though one is in the neighbor's yard and I'll gladly gift it to them.

Surprise! There is one more pumpkin.
Then today I found this one. The actual plant is behind the zucchini plant in the upper right corner. The pumpkin vine grew around two zucchini plants, then across the front to end up producing this cute little pumpkin on the opposite side from where it started. The vine itself must be six to seven feet long. Industrious little thing, isn't it?

The cucumbers have taken over the garden!
Here is why I have so many cucumbers. I may have over-planted.

Bite-sized goodness.
I have several variety of tomatoes. I can't remember what these are called, but they are the smallest tomatoes I've ever seen. And they pack quite a burst of flavor--like eating a miniaturized beefsteak.

Mutant cherry tomato plants.
These are my Sweet Million plants. The three of them took over this bed. They stand taller than my four-year-old and as wide as our bench swing and are bursting with ripe tomatoes. They are sweet and bountiful, just as their name implied. It's like eating candy. Healthy candy.

Magnificently, I also have several small bunches grapes this year. I planted the grape vine as a cutting from a friend's vine seven years ago. Then I thought it had died. Two years later, I found one single vine shooting upward and have urged it along each year since. This year it has taken over the entire side of our porch and blossomed several bunches of grapes. They are just now turning purple. I can't wait to try them!

Our other frugal accomplishments:
* Movie night on bargain Tuesday to see "Guardians of the Galaxy," which was awesome.
* Baking zucchini bread and stuffed zucchini using our zucchini and ingredients from the freezer and pantry.
* Using our refillable water bottles and taking them out with us so we won't be tempted to buy bottled water (frugal and eco-friendly).
* Packing Buggie's lunch each day of drama camp. Great practice for the start of school.
* Packing snacks for me and the kids when out on playdates and park visits.
* Purchasing discounted tickets to the county fair in July to attempt last week.
* Purchasing a discounted yearly zoo membership.
* Sold back two boxes of books to a local used bookstore from the books I culled and received over $30 in credit.
* A friend gave me a couple yards of two different fabrics in exchange for some zucchini and cucumbers.
* My husband makes his coffee at home before work each day and takes it with him. He also discovered that his workplace offers fruit-infused water, so he takes a water bottle with him, too.

It's been a good month so far. My plans for the rest of the month include a couple of crochet projects, a couple of sewing projects, thrift shopping, and as many park trips as we can fit in before school begins!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

I'm usually saddened to hear of the death of a celebrity, even one whose work is unknown to me. I can't help but think of the person's friends and family and the grief they face, having faced it myself. But I'm rarely moved to tears.

Yesterday's new of the death of Robin Williams was different.

I didn't know him personally. Of course, don't we tend to think we know celebrities we admire? They put so much of themselves into their work, bringing to life characters and personas with such vividness that it is deceptively easy to fool ourselves into thinking we know the real person. I didn't know any more about Robin Williams than the next fan, and while I enjoyed his work, he wouldn't have my first thought when asked to name my favorite actor or comedian.

My sorrow comes from the fact that I could never thank Robin Williams enough for how two of his movies helped me during times when I needed help and didn't know where to find it.

I could break down the movies and the events, spill parts of my life into this and make it all about me, but that isn't my point. My point is that I'm sad and I'm grieving his loss. I'm sad for the grief his friends and family are facing.

But I'm so thankful, so very thankful, to him for those movies and for sharing his gift of joy and irony and laughter. I wish I could have told him what it meant to me. I will always remember him kindly for it and smile when I think of him.