Tuesday, May 28, 2013

They really mean what they say...

How often can you say that when it comes to a company REALLY standing behind their product?  Not often, that's how often.

A few years ago, I purchased a hummingbird feeder to put in a pot near a house window so I could watch the gorgeous birds feeding.  The store that it was purchased from assured me that this was a great product.  Not only did the birds love feeding from it, but the company's customer service was stellar.

They were right, the birds love this little feeder and it has provided countless hours of viewing enjoyment for me and 5 little furbabies.

This spring when it was time to put the feeders out, I discovered that the center plug thing that the hook screws into had cracked and the perching ring had been broken.  I called the number listed on the paperwork that came with it and discovered that, yes, they are true to their word.  No questions other than what parts are broken and where can we send you replacements.  Period. The end.  Wow.  A week later, brand new parts arrived.

So what kind of feeder is it?  A Humm-Zinger Mini manufactured byAspects, Inc.

Feeder filled and in its new spot off the back porch ready to delight me with bird sightings.


They very cleverly put the recipe for "food juice" on the bottom of the feeder so you never have to try to remember it.  However, it is very simple:  1 part sugar to 4 parts water.  

Here birdie birdie birdie...

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Summer of Salvaged Sandals

Why is it that you find a pair of sandals that you love, with the cutest little gems on them and one of the gem/beads falls off?  You would think that if manufacturers can provide you with extra buttons on clothes, then extra bedazzling beauties could also be included with jeweled shoes.

Enter one of my favorite pairs of sandals that keeps losing parts.  There is NOTHING wrong with them except for the obviously poor glue holding the embellishments on.  Considering what I paid for them, it pains me to think of just throwing them away.  After spending a great deal of time in craft stores looking for replacement jewels, I figured, what the heck, I've got nothing to lose.

Before:


Step 1:  Using a knife or flat head screwdriver, pop out the remaining jewels (trust me, it took almost ZERO effort for them to pop right off!)


Step 2:  Fill in with brightly colored fingernail polish.  I went to the Dollar store and picked up colors that matched almost perfectly (the blue is different, but I like the brighter version anyway).  Using the brush, paint the inside of the jewel spot.  Then, load the brush with a lot of polish and let it flow off and "flood" the area.  Depending on the depth of the jewel spot, you may have to repeat this step after the first layer dries.



Step 3:  Use your high tech mad skills and slide pens/highlighters under the strap to help it stay level.  Who needs specialty tools???


Step 4:  Let it dry.  This is the fun part.  You know, literally watching paint dry.


Ta Da!  Side by side, not bad and the summer of salvaged sandals can begin.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Just say Kno



Who do you knit for?  Is it just yourself, your kids/grandkids/significant other, friends or charity knitting?

In the short time of my knitting life, there have been many instances where someone has admired what is on my needles and uttered those scary/unrealistic/unknowing, yet innocent words..."do you think you could make me ___________?"  That question is almost always followed by, "I'm sure it wouldn't take very long and would probably cost less than what I could buy it for ready-made."  On what planet those assumptions were formed escapes me, but I would like to visit for the experience.

Admittedly, I am a yarn snob.  There is a time and a place for certain types/brands of yarn, but not on my time and not where I am.  If I am going to go to the time and effort to MAKE something with my own two little hands, then it is going to be quality work with quality materials-certainly nothing that will be the only thing left besides cockroaches in the event of nuclear annihilation.

There have also been circumstances where someone has asked me to make something for them, I do, it turns out perfectly, given, and then it is never to be seen again.  Lesson learned...there is a list of banned people to knit for in my head.  The same theory goes for any sort of handcrafted gift...especially for those for people that "get it" and are crafters themselves.  If I ask for a favorite color or style and am later met with condescending/snarky jabs, then you better believe "the list" gets updated.  On the flip side, the lesson has been learned (the hard way), that gifts of this handcrafted nature are often not appreciated or acknowledged.  However, these negative experiences are far outweighed by the multitude of positive handcrafted gifting/commissioned knitting & spinning moments.  And for that, I am thankful for and appreciative of the attitude of people that can appreciate the art used to create the object.

Let's not even get started on the ongoing debate of why knit socks when you can just go buy them in a big box store!  If you have to ask, then you deserve to get to spend time and money there and get what you get.


Friday, May 24, 2013

But I'm NOT old enough to wear a shawl!

Knitting + Spinning + Shawl = you are perceived by your offspring as being a little old lady.

Truth be told, I have resisted shawls like the plague for that very reason.  I am NOT old enough to wear a shawl or a shawlette or whatever you wish to call it.  That was my thinking until the Ravelry and Pinterest gods conspired to make it painfully clear that just because it looks a little lacy and is sorta triangular shaped does not mean you have to channel your inner Laura Ingalls to wear it.  Hence, the neck wrap/drape/slouchy/totally hipster and cool look.  I'm hooked.

What you are about to see is my very first shawlette.  That's right, prior to this I was a shawl virgin.  

Knitters Nook suckered me into particpating promoted the participation of fellow fiber freaks shop customers in the Skacel KAL through Confessions of a Knitaholic.  Ridgely was the pattern, color was my game.  My dear hubby comments frequently that I have a tendency to wear A LOT of black (usually covered by cat hair on the back, but I can't see it so who cares!), so my plan of late has been to try to incorporate more color.  This Spring my eye has been repeatedly drawn to the combination of purple and green.  When I chose this yarn, several people commented what an odd combination that was, but gee whiz Mother Nature didn't think so when I look at my blooming purple flowers with green leaves/stems.

While this was my first shawl, it was not my first foray into lace and multiple strand knitting.  Those two techniques can be a bit of a stinkeroony for those not accustomed to their fiddliness.

Do I like it?  No.

I love it.

The other nice thing about knitting shawls is that for people like me that have a documented problem with buying sock yarn willy nilly just because of the pretty colors, that yarn lends itself well to the requisite drape and weight of a shawl.

Now for the reveal:

Bella thinks it is lovely...


But, she's not so sure about being a shawl model..


Uh-oh, Amos is nosing around, better separate those two and save my shawl!


Purple and green...take that all black clothes!


**********

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Findlay Pizza

Every few months I make a trip to Findlay Market and Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati to restock my freezer with meats and restock the pantry with pure cane sugar grape soda.  Why in the world would I drive a little over an hour to buy meat and soft drinks?  It honestly is not that far for me, considering it takes me 30 minutes just to get to the grocery store from my house and I drive about 45 minutes one way to work.  The justifying reasons are as follows:  the meat I purchase comes from fabulous butchers and is always better quality/better prices; the Market is a fun place to hang out at and nosh on yummy nibbles; Jungle Jim's is an adventure in itself; and I go with friends so it is social time as well.

This past weekend was a Findlay run weekend.  We shopped, made a trip back to the car to unload into coolers, then walked back for some more shopping and lunch.  My friend and I shared a brick oven cooked white pizza.  The pizza planets were in alignment and the taste bud tempters hit a home run.  It is oh so good!  Tuesday night I set out to replicate it at home, minus the brick oven (darn it) and by George, I think I've got it!!


I made a half batch of my go-to pizza dough (below is the full recipe):

1-1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
2 packages dry yeast
1to 1-1/2 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine the water, yeast, honey and olive oil in bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook.  Let it sit for at least 5 minutes, or until very frothy/foamy.  Add 3 cups flour and the salt.  Mix on low speed.  While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour to make a soft dough.  Knead with dough hook and mixer set on low for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the bowl.  Place dough in a well oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil.  Cover the bowl with a towel and allow it to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.  

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Place pizza stones in oven to preheat.  

I wanted to have a thin, crispier crust, so even though I only used a half recipe, I split the dough again to make 2 pizzas.  Being very careful with the smoking hot pizza stones, stretch the dough on each stone.  I use a small pastry roller to help (and so my fingers stay unscorched).  

Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the stretched dough, spreading with a pastry brush.  Crack fresh pepper on the dough and lightly sprinkle with kosher salt.  Fresh herbs would be better, but none were in the kitchen, so dried it was.  For each pizza, crush about a teaspoon of dried rosemary and sprinkle, then lightly sprinkle with dried thyme and garlic powder (fresh minced garlic would be better, but I was feeling lazy).  Top with roughly 1/2 to 3/4 cup each of fresh grated parmesan and mozzarella.  (be sure to allow the fresh mozzarella to drain well before using to avoid weeping of liquid).  Bake for 7 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.  

I dare you to try to stop yourself from eating the whole darn thing yourself!



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A bad case of Startitis...

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss:  "Oh, the knits you can knit if only you try!"  Apparently that has become my guiding mantra resulting in bedlam in the WIP world.

Last night I was thinking about everything that is currently on needles, everything that has been...be it ever so briefly before being ripped out...on needles and my bad case of startitis.  This is a condition that is quite common in the handcrafting world.  Sometimes you literally have to be in the mood to work on a particular project, so it is helpful, nay, REQUIRED, to have multiply projects waiting in the wings for their time in the spotlight of in the mood.

The flip side of this condition, in my case, is that I have a bad habit of organizing all my projects into the craft cabinets/baskets/drawers/bags so incredibly well that I forget where they are.  Consider this a personal WIP intervention.  Perhaps actually listing them all will shame me into searching for and showering them with dextrous attention.  Honestly, the search for all the lonely projects will more than likely result in yet another reorganization of all said hiding storage spots, which will lead to discovery of forgotten hibernating yarn that begs to be started into something yet unknown.  It's a vicious cycle, but super de duper fun!

Here we go with the soul baring confession:

Mondo Cable Pulli-this will be finished before the Fall, assuming I can figure out where the heck I am in the mondo cable that I lost row count on.

Thrummed Mittens-technically these are done, but my need for "just right" is nagging at me to fix the second one so that the thrums are exactly the same as the first one.  Again-will be done before the need for thick, BFL lined mittens.

Swirl Shawl-three of the gorgeous swirls done and hooked together, forty bajillion more to go.  It is really an easy pattern, but it is a tad bit fiddly and frankly, my brain is not tolerating fiddly right now,

Inside Outside Scarf-being made to go with the above mittens.  So close, yet so far to being done.  It is mocking me so it is being ignored.

The Beekeeper's Quilt-duh, this is obviously like crack for the procrastinating knitter.  Oh, just knit a few a year and eventually you might have enough to come back and sew together before you DIE!

South Seas Table Runner-well, first I had to spin the yarn...done last summer.  Started it also last summer, but the yarn is Masham and still smells a bit sheepy, even after its post spin/ply soak.  As a result of the subtle smell, it is like a cat magnet.  'nuff said.

I have lost track of the number of socks started/ripped over the last few months, but suffice it to say it is embarrassing.  However, that didn't stop me for signing up for a sock class (starting in a few weeks), balling up the yarn and doing my gauge swatch for these:

Philosophers Walk Socks-my oh my, I can't wait to cast on!

Absorba, the Great Bathmat-I seriously need help people! Making this out of tarn (t-shirt yarn) that I started more balls of on Sunday after I felt the need to stop what I was doing and make tablecloth weights!

Miniature Sweater and Socks-don't ask, it's not a miniature story.

But what is actually in my knitting bag du jour?

The Slink-it's going to be gawgeous, but the beads are a b*&%h.  Araucania Ruca Solid in Light Fuchsia


and, last but not least, for this week anyway...

Moss Grid Hand Towel-yummy.  Sublime Egyptian Cotton DK in colorway 321.  Yes, please.


Sorry for the less than stellar photog work, but too many yarny distractions took quality precedence.  

So, my dears, until next week when there is sure to be an entirely new and improved list, knit on.

********


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's a tie...

When someone asks me what my favorite time of the year is, I have to admit that it is a tie between Spring and Fall.  Spring brings renewed life and the bright greens of new growth.  Bright, happy flowers opening up to get their fill of sunshine.  The whole season always brings to mind passages from one of my favorite books from my childhood...The Secret Garden.  References to checking to see if the plantings are "wick" always pop into my head when wandering around the yard this time of year.

Fall is a close tie for favorite with the gorgeous changing colors and crispness to the air.  If you look closely, it seems as if the sunlight actually changes color as well.  The downside to both seasons is the horrific allergies that plague me.  Odd that two seasons that cause me such discomfort, also offer such pleasure.

Looking around my very well hydrated yard (April showers to May flowers and all that), it appears that all my plantings are verrrry "wick"...and beautiful.




Enjoy your day!

*************
One Project at a Time
The Creative Spark

Monday, May 20, 2013

(Not) Blown Away

Our back porch and sleeping porch are such wonderful places to enjoy.  Both are screened in, have ceiling fans, and are rarely impacted by the elements.  The architectural gods were smiling when, on a wish whim of my husband's, we added the sleeping porch to the remodel plans.  It is accessed only from our bedroom and is set up exactly like an indoor bedroom...just outside.  People are always wondering about rain, snow, wind, etc.  For some lucky reason, the position of this porch (unless there are gale force issues going on) is such that precipitation does not blow in through the screens onto the bed linens.  Situated on the back corner of the house, it is protected by the jutting out depth of the back porch and, because of where the house is on the lake, the ridge of trees of the surrounding hills/wooded acreage.  Light winds are all that blow through the screens, making sleep a pleasant event.

This is not always the case on the main back porch.  It stretches across the entire back portion of the main body of the house and fronts the lake.  We are at the back of a cove on the lake that regularly gets the brunt of winds that blow all sorts of things back to us...floating docks, boating tubes, and fun-noodles to name a few.  If you are outside, the breeze is most always welcome, unless you are trying to eat at the table.  I dislike vinyl tablecloths and plastics of most sorts and prefer to decorate the porch with natural materials.  They are all washable and take, perhaps, a bit more time for care, but the end result is so worth it.  The porch dining table is an antique farmhouse drop-leaf style table made of solid walnut.  Vintage table linens are used to dress it.  In years past, I have tried wooden clothes pins to weight the cloths, but the cats always manage to pull them off and turn them into toys.

Sunday, as I was vacuuming and dusting the porch and changing the table linens, I had an epiphany of craftiness.  Must.drop.everything.and.do.NOW.  So, I did.  The result being lovely shell and bead tablecloth weights.  They were super easy and could be adapted to many different combinations to suit your decor.  How does one put the beauties together?  Follow along and I will tell you:

Gather your supplies.  I chose 1) 4 staggered sizes of shell buttons that were repurposed from a knitted summer sweater made a few years ago that has long since been ripped out and remade into several different items 2) glass beads from my bead stash 3) 2 needles double threaded with quilting thread and 4) small safety pins.



Thread your needles and make a small knot in each end.  Thread the first needle through one bead and slip the tip of the needle back between the thread to secure it to the bead.  Repeat with the second needle.


Run the needles (one through each hole) through the buttonholes.  Then slip both needles through a couple of beads that wind up being stacked on the button.  Repeat this process, starting with the button, to the desired length.


For the top, I strung 5 beads and then tied securely through the bottom loop of the safety pin.  Repeat for however many weights you want.  Laying down flat on the counter, they sort of remind me of a fish skeleton.  Considering the fish theme in my home, from the hand stamped fish in the ceiling plaster to fish cabinet knobs and hand cut/carved fish in the porch staircase railing, would have to say these are keepers!  


Now all I need is a good strong wind and a curious cat, or five, to really put these to the test. 


******

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

You say contacts, I say cake...

It's all the same isn't it?

This afternoon I stopped into Sam's Club to pick up my re-order of contacts. (thank you very much NOT allergies for causing rapid use of lenses)  While my eyes might have been swollen and red from the offending pollen, they were able to focus on some gorgeous strawberries.

My intentions were good.  Go in, pick up contacts and leave.  Somehow a box of luscious berries landed in my arms.  I am choosing to not share the rest of the story where my feet overtook my brain and led me down several other aisles where other items also mysteriously jumped off the shelves with the intent of coming home with me.

Back to the berries.  Only two other words need be spoken (this time anyway, since the last time berries overtook my brain, sponge cake was involved).  Pound cake.  But not just any old pound cake.  Rich, tender, sweet and that perfect mixture of density and lightness.

Here's the recipe that will rock your berry world:

German Gold Pound Cake  

   2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3-1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup milk
6 egg yolks
1-1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10" Bundt pan or two 9" by 5" loaf pans.
2.  In large bowl with mixer at high speed, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
3.  Add flour and  rest of ingredients; at low speed, beat until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula.  Beat at high speed 4 minutes, occaisionally scraping bowl.
4.  Pour batter into Bundt pan (or loaf pans) and bake 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center, comes out clean.  Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan; cool completely on rack.

(recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, 1980)

This cake is wonderful and has been my go to for pound cake for many, many years.  It never fails to deliver.  Its only downfall is the cook that sometimes gets distracted and maybe forgets to check on it and/or hears the timer go off and wonders what that noise was.  Even with, perhaps, a slightly browner crust than should be allowed, it is perfect...


We have CONTACT with fork to plate.  Do you SEE what I SEE??

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tales of the Marmie, the Grannies, and a Grandmother...

Marmie...if you have read Little Women, you readily will get the reference.

As a girl growing up, my sister and I often used different terms of endearment when talking to our Mother.  Mommy, Mama, Mother, Mom, or when we were hoping to get whatever we realllly realllly  wanted at the moment...Marmie.  It always made her smile, but the success rate of its effectiveness is questionable.  Carrie most frequently called her Mom, but Mother was my moniker of choice.


Our Mother was a woman of strength, comedy, a little quirky irreverence, beauty, and patience.  She offered honest answers to questions posed (even if it was not what you wanted to hear).  She taught the lesson of "time is of no importance" to many people, that lesson being that one should not be so caught up in schedules but enjoy the moment you are in for what it is.

This summer will mark the sixth year that she has been gone from this earth.  However, she is with me at all times.  Frequently I will "hear" her voice whispering in my ear, even in times of certain stillness and quiet.  Her laugh will jingle in the wind and wafts of her two signature scents will sneak up on me with no logical explanations.  She is within me for sure and certain.  And without a doubt she is with three young men that adored her as well.


In this day and age, it seems to be less and less common for children to grow up with one or even two sets of grandparents to influence their lives.  Carrie and I were lucky, we had grandparents from both sides AND a set of great-grandparents with us for many, many years.  The influence of these grandmothers on me is very distinct.

Granny Grammer (my father's mother) was an incredible woman.  It was by her side that I learned to sew, cook, crochet, garden and so many other things.  The concept of working hard was passed to me through her.  Afternoons spent in her house nearly always involved a little cleaning, a little crafting, a nap--including whispered stories of her childhood, maybe a walk over to the local drive-in for a coke, and cooking a wonderful, basic, good down home meal for the rest of the family to come enjoy before taking me home.


Granny Phillips (my mother's mother) embodied a gentle spirit.  Sometimes we called her "Granny Phillpsy".  The smell of Dove soap immediately brings images of her to my mind.  Her home was always a place of quiet refuge.  Her cooking was superb and her organizational/planning skills were models for my life.  Spice cake was a frequent treat found on the counter of her kitchen, but my all time favorite was to reach for graham cracker squares that she stored in a cast iron tea kettle.  Kept in the kettle, out of their wrapper, these sweet treats were always ever so slightly soft and would mush and dissolve in your mouth.   To this day, crispy crunchy grahams are a no go for me, have to have the softened texture to truly enjoy them.


Grandmother (my father's grandmother) was sweet and funny.  The blessing of having great grandparents as an active part of your life well into your twenties is almost unheard of.  Grandmother (and Granddad) lived a short walking distance from Granny Grammer.  We would walk over to their house and Grandmother would usually be puttering around in the kitchen or doing something with flowers.  To this day, I regret not writing down her killer recipe for popcorn balls...her Halloween signature treat.  Sunglasses often make me giggle with the memory of riding out to the family farm with them.  She was sitting in the front seat complaining that something was wrong with her clip on sunglasses.  The level of frustration in her voice was clearly rising, but gave way to peals of laughter when it was noticed, yes, there WAS something wrong, one of the lenses had popped out so she had one green lens vision and one clear no lens vision.


So, on this special day, Happy Mother's Day to Marmie, the Grannies and a Grandmother!  You are missed, but very deeply loved and remembered every single day.

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