Monday, January 26, 2015

Around Here

Around here it's been quiet but busy -

I really want to write up the tutorial for a blanket I created "the Rainbow Trellis," but I just haven't gotten to it yet.

Here are a few snapshots from the past few weeks....

Had breakfast out (him, chocolate chip pancakes - me, food with much smaller sugar content!) with #4 child before taking him back to college.

Visit to my friend Madeline (we've known each other since we were in Kindergarten together) in Gettysburg.  I haven't seen her for two years! Much too long!

Madeline owns two houses that are right on the Gettysburg battlefield.  The homes are on opposite sides of the field.  We left her house just before dusk to take a stroll through the National park.  We basically just had to step outside her door and were right on the park's property - so cool.

The sun was setting just as we left the house and we had the most amazing light show.  I only had my iphone camera, but I think you can get the feel of the beautiful scene and gorgeous light as the sun took its plunge behind the horizon.

 After our walk, we drove over to the 200 year old farmhouse that she owns on the other side of the park.  She rents it - but it is the cutest little place with it's original floors and timber beams.  From the master bedroom with cathedral ceilings, it is possible to sit right between the windows and see both the sunrise in the morning and the sunset at night.  Beautiful.  It was super cozy.

 Before the holidays I started in on this Cozy Stripe blanket along with Lucy at Attic24.  It a giant!  I used many bright happy colors or acrylic (worsted weight).  It's a gift for us, here at home - just a cozy blanket to snuggle beneath during the winter months.  As soon as the kids went back to college, I pulled the blanket back out and attempted to finish it.   Here it is in progress.

 Living in the suburbs outside of a major US city, you'd be surprised how much wildlife shows up in my yard.  Can you see the big hawk in the tree?  He comes often.  We also get raccoon, foxes, deer, blue jays, cardinals, squirrels, chipmonks, etc.... it's a very well visited yard.

We've also had a stray cat living on and around our porch since this summer.  Until this winter, I basically greeted and petted him and provided him a little bed on the porch chair, but when the temperatures dropped very low, I let him in a few times and I've bought him food.  He comes every morning for food, sometimes coming in, sometimes not.  He follows us all around the neighborhood when we take the dog for a walk - he's just 10 feet behind.  We've named him Milkshake.

We think he'd like to call our home his own.  What does it look like to you?

We've had some snow off and on.  This past weekend we had dinner out with friend and then went back to their hot tub and sat outside in the heated water with snow falling on our heads.  The next morning, I forced myself to sleep in and ignore the shoveling that was needed - I'm often the first one up on the block, clearing away the snow from my walks and my elderly neighbor's.  The snow was still there when I got up.

Speaking of snow - the first of the flakes started falling again this morning.  It's supposed to continue through tomorrow.  Our forecast where I live is currently 12 - 24 inches.  It's supposed to be 30 inches a few hours north of us in NY.  It looks like all my kids will get snow too - but a more manageable 3-5 inches for most of them.  I've got all my shovels lined up on the porch, hubby has the firewood piled high, we've done a little grocery run and there are plenty of indoor projects for when we get stuck inside.

Until then, I'll walk the dog and enjoy the limited light that comes through the windows between bouts of snowy clouds to light the tulips by the window.

Oh yeah, and the cozy stripe got it's last row of stitches this morning - a bit of a border left and then I'll do a reveal.

Keep checking back for the Rainbow Trellis blanket pattern - it just might happen soon!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sweet and Special Soapies

Today a little lesson about how to make a "soapie" - my own invented word.

To me, a soapie is a little cotton crochet holder for a small bar of soap.  It can be used in the shower as a soapy scrubber or alternatively as a drawer sachet.  The holder is made from 100% cotton yarn so even if it's used in the shower, it should hold up decently well and can probably be popped in the wash if need be.

This soapie is made so that the soap can be replaced either when it's been all used up in the shower or it's lost its scent in the drawer.  Don't toss the soap that's lost its scent as the unscented soap may no longer work in the sachet, but can still get you clean in the shower.

I made the holders to fit a box of small square soaps that I purchased at Trader Joe's before the holidays.  The soaps came in three neutral colors and were all scented Lemon Verbena.  The small giveaway soaps that you find in hotel rooms or B&Bs would also fit in these little holders, maybe not EXACTLY but certainly a good enough fit.

Three out of the four holders have buttons.  I left one without a button in case its owner opted do use it in the shower and didn't like the idea of having a button on their body scrubber.

Here's how I made them: (I used Knit Picks Dishie yarn and a size H (5mm) hook)

Step 1: Find a pattern for a small crochet square.  I chose THIS PATTERN.  You may want to have a wander through my pinterest board "Crochet Granny and Squares."  I selected a pattern that would result in the approximate size square to fit my soaps.  The pattern I selected had three rounds and in all cases, I did the first two rounds of my square in the same color and then changed to another color to complete the third round and do the joining.

Step 2: Make TWO squares from your pattern.  They can of course be identical or a mix-matched colors but they should be the exact same size.

Step 3: Hold the two wrong sides together.  Then starting on the upper left side of your sandwiched squares, single crochet around 3 sides.  Go through both loops of crochet and through both squares (that's going through a total of 4 loops) Do not cut the yarn.  It doesn't matter which corner you start in to join the squares, as long as you go in the direction of the arrows and don't finish off your yarn when you've joined the third side.

When I joined, I made two sc in the first corner where I started.  Then, I made one sc in each side stitch of the final round of my square.  When I got to the bottom corners, I made 3sc in each corner.  You may need to modify how many stitches you use in your joining based on the pattern you choose for your square.

Step 4: With the remaining 4th side open, sc across the top of the front square only.

In the photo above you can see that the soap is inserted into the open 4th side of the squares - the one that's not joined.  The arrows indicate where I single crocheted just across that top open edge of the front square.

Step 5: Continue single crocheting around the corner and then across the top open edge of the back square.  If you don't want to add a button loop, just continue around to the corner of the front square.  Finish off and weave in all ends of your joining yarn.  If you didn't weave in the ends of your squares at an earlier time, you can flip your entire soapie inside out and complete that task.

Step 6:  Optional.  If you intend to add one or two button loops to your soapie, you'll want to complete step 5 just a tad differently.

You can see the buttons that hold closed the top of the soapie in the photo above.

To create a button loop (or loops) see the diagram below.

My diagram is not accurate in terms of the number of stitches I show and in the fact that my front square has a bunch more stitches than the back square - the two squares will have the same number of stitches.  I just wanted to show how to skip a stitch and instead make 3 chain stitches to form a button loop.  Obviously if you need to make more than one button loop, you will need to space out where to make them along your square and then skip a stitch for each loop and add 3 chains above the skipped stitch.  Hopefully that is not too confusing.  I didn't photograph my process while I made the little soapie so I had to resort to the diagram instead.

I'm sure you could also insert a round soap into this little pouch.  Or, you could make a larger rectangle shape and join two of those together to cover a full sized bar of soap.

Last Christmas I made a bunch of little draw string soap holders for a standard sized bar of soap - you can see my post about those by clicking here.

Enjoy - Sher!

PS.  Next up - the Rainbow Trellis blanket (a photo tutorial of a blanket pattern I created - free of course as all the fly the coop crafts blog patterns are!)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pin Some Loving Hearts

Do you like Valentine's Day?

I realized last year whilst doing a bit of blog reading that some people really dislike Valentine's Day.  Not me.  It also happens to be my anniversary (#26 in 2015 to be exact).  And on the year I got married Valentines was a Tuesday to boot!  Yes, I got married on a Tuesday night.  I do not like to do what everyone else does and I don't not like my holidays and celebrations defined by what the rest of the world thinks is the right way to go about it.  But I do, bottom line, like Valentine's Day.

So for me - I love to make Crochet Hearts!  And I happen to have a pretty nice collection of heart patterns for crocheters on one of my pinterest boards - aptly named, Crochet Hearts.

Above in the photo you will find just a snippet of those crochet heart patterns, but you can go to the REAL board and save all your faves on your own pinterest board.  If you make any of them, please share them with me - I'd LOVE to see your LOVELY creations that are all about the day of LOVE.  Simply click the picture of the board above in this post and it should whip you right over onto my Crochet Hearts Pinterest board.

Enjoy - and happy hooking.  Sher

PS - while you are over there, take a look at my other crochet boards.  They are decently well organized and give me loads of pleasure to scroll through them and pick and choose which ones will be next on my DOING list!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Roasty Toasty

This post title has nothing to do with the roasty toasty feeling I got when we FINALLY had our first fireplace fire last night (It was 61 degrees F on Christmas eve! so the holidays didn't see a single fire).
I also woke up this morning to the first snowfall of 2015.  It was just starting to salt the yard in white when I woke up and it's continued all day tho. with minimal accumulation.

And, it's quite cold now - truly feels like winter.

What I actually mean by Roasty Toasty is a bit of kitchen talk here.  Do you roast? I mean vegetables?

To me, roasting veggies is like the cooking secret that makes superb vegetables seem almost too easy. If in doubt - roast it out!  I mean, I roast every vegetable I can and when I serve it the reviews are nothing short of rave.

What do I roast? Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Broccoli, Zucchini, Eggplant, Squash, Potatoes, Peppers (yes, I know, some of those things are not technically a vegetable).  But seriously, there is no better taste than a roasted veggie.

I am not a big cooked carrot lover but roast me some carrots and I could eat a bushel.

Don't know how to roast - well here are few tips:

TIP#1: keep it simple
TIP#2: there aren't many rules and those that there are can be altered
TIP#3: don't be afraid to try
TIP#4: roast different types of veggies separately because some cook at a different speed

Last night I made roasted carrots, potatoes and onions to accompany our salmon.

Here's what I do:

Grab some carrots.  I find skinny ones work best.

Give their tops a chop.  I use my kitchen scissors.

Give them a little bath to free them of any excess earth.

Add them to a baking pan.  I have used cake pans, pie pans, cookie pans, jelly roll pans, etc.  I find they do best in metal.  I have also started using parchment paper and they work well on the paper which saves a bit on the cleanup as well.

Drizzle them with oil.  I'm sure you can experiment with oils, I tend to use Olive Oil.  And they don't need a ton, seriously just a drizzle.

Give them a bit of flavor.  For the carrots I simply ground some pepper and then ground some pink salt.

Since I also did potato and onion, I'll show you those as well.

Peel the onion and give it a rough chop.  I cut my potatoes randomly and try to keep the sizes similar.  I don't bother to peel the potatoes unless the outside is really bad looking or they are a bit older than they should be.  And any type of potato does fine - these are organic redskins.

For the onion, it was just oil and a tad bit of sea salt.

For the potatoes it was oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and a little dash of granulated garlic powder.

(by the way - the potatoes do well with all types of experimental flavors - I love to do them with curry powder or mexi-spices - just add whatever goes nicely with your dinner, I'm sure it will work).

Then, just pop them in the oven.

I usually put mine on convection roast but I've also done just the bake setting as well.  If I have to cook something other than the veggies at the same time, I adjust to make it all work but for the most part I roast at 425F.  I'd say 400F to 450F is all good.  I also try to keep the roasted veggies etc on the top rack but when I use convection it really doesn't matter.

I try to keep like veggies together because potatoes take longer than zucchini for instance and if they are all mixed together, it's harder to pull out the ones that are done.

Timer? Well, I rarely use one.  I just look at them from time to time.  I do usually pull them out about 10 minutes in and use a metal spatula to give them a shuffle and flip them over a bit.  I'd say around 20 mins is average, a bit less for zuchini, a bit more when it's potatoes.  And by the way- the browned and burned bits are super yummy so don't worry about them.  They add to the flavor!

At the end of their cooking time they should look a bit like this.  These guys all cooked for about the same time which wasn't much more than 20 mins.  And bonus that the salmon took about the same time in the rack below.

The dinner was DELISH and so easy!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Filled Up Fall Fresh New Year

BEWARE! A bit of marathon writing happening here.

There's something about January 1st that makes things seem fresh, new and possible.  The overwhelming past few months make that concept all the more lightening for me.

There's something about the last three months of a calendar year that seems just too full!

In the US, I feel like we all live in a blur which begins with September's annual back to school time and ends with New Year's Day.  There's so much good stuff in between that you can hardly take it all in.  I say specifically in the US because once the summer vacation ends and the schools open again for a new fall year, we jump from one holiday occasion to the next hardly able to breathe in between.  At least that's how it is for me.  In this post you will find my own personal take on the busyness of the end of the year season - the things I like and the things I don't - the opinions are only my own and I don't hope to make others feel bad if they like things about the season that I don't.  Everyone should celebrate as it best fits him or her.

Once our family vacation to the beach ended in August, it was time to take my kids to college and then the busy craziness began (wait - what? am empty nest is busy and crazy?)

I love the fall season, the fall weather, the anticipation of winter and snow.  It's one of my favorite times of the year.  I love the fall colors and the new views out the windows as the leaves thin from the trees and fall to the ground painting my yard in an abundance of colors.


I love the cooling temperatures and the lowering of the humidity.  I love how quickly the clothes dry on the line.  I don't love how short the days get, but after a while I get used to it and give in to more time inside.  I love it when I can wrap myself up in hand made blankets, planning and making and getting a head-start on gift giving.  But it all goes just too fast for me.  There are too many good things all trying to race their way into a few months at the end of each year.

This year, the fall seemed even shorter.  Since hubby and I found ourselves in an empty nest this fall for the first time in our lives, we took a vacation sans kids in September. We went to San Francisco and the north western coast of California.  I've got tons of lovely photos I haven't even had a chance to peruse and I really want to make a photo album of this vacation time.

Fort Bragg, CA

Chinatown, San Francisco

Cable Car Museum, San Francisco

Giant Sequoias, Avenue of the Giants, CA

Super steep street in the city - view from the front of our hotel
Coming home from California at the beginning of October, we found the neighborhood already totally decked out in Halloween decor.  It's a big thing in the US to decorate the outside of one's house for the entire month of October in anticipation of Halloween and trick-or-treaters.

Here are some extreme cases

Add to that, I got invited to two Halloween parties so costumes were in order for hubby and me.

Bank Robbers for Halloween this year!
I made a cute little Halloween crochet bunting for one of the party hosts since her birthday is also in October and she's one of my in-home crochet students -  That was a fun to do.

Check my Halloween Pinterest board for the sugar skull pattern.   The ghosts came from Simply Crochet mag.
On Halloween night, we put our movable fire pit in the front yard, and sat outside enjoying a few beers whilst handing out candy and chatting with neighboring families.  We also decided to dress up in Harry Potter costumes (ones we already had from dressing up to help at my nephew's 8th Harry Potter theme party).  I'm surprised at how many of the younger kids identified that we were costumed as Prof. Trelawney and Mad Eye Moody.  It seems like some of the younger kids aren't as familiar with the JK Rowling stories as the kids were back in the 90s.

As soon as Halloween is over, its a rush to get the Halloween decor down and deck the house out in fall themed trimmings to prepare for Thanksgiving.

I waited til Halloween day to shop for a pumpkin - the only one left was yellow and I couldn't have loved it more!

These ghosts made from thrifted sheets with sharpie faces have been in my Halloween decor since my kids were little

Likewise, the egg carton spiders were made by my kids when they were in elementary school.
Thanksgiving is a big travel holiday for families and stems around a traditional meal.  Typically, that meal includes a turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc etc depending on the variances one's family is accustomed to.  In our family it's a bit different and it also includes TWO Thanksgiving meals, one with my side of the family and one with my hubby's.  We hosted my husband's family at our house - 19 in all - a big, big crowd!  But, we don't have a typical Thanksgiving meal, we have a big Italian meal.  That's his family's tradition.  We used to make homemade raviolis together early in the day and them eat them later, but some years that's just too much work.  This year, I made 5 lasagnas instead of the raviolis (1 vegan, 2 regular, 1 zuchini and 1 zuchini with spinach) and a BIG pot of tomato sauce.

If you are in need for an awesome vegan lasagna, I have a great recipe in my pinterst board: Food Etc
I also made bread and a big harvest salad.  It's a long and busy day.  The preparation for it all seems to take a lot more time than the celebration itself but it was a good day for all.

We had three tables, in two separate rooms to fit everyone.  I kept the table scapes very simple.  We had to use plastic utensils as I didn't even have enough forks to serve the whole crowd.

The very next day we headed down to my sister's house (1.5hr drive) and had a second family Thanksgiving with my side of the family down there.  Although our 2nd meal involves much more of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, we don't have turkey.  This 2nd Thanksgiving is totally a vegan meal.  Instead of the turkey, my brother-in-law made individual pot pies, I made mushroom gravy and the rest of the meal is pretty standard but just avoids dairy, eggs and meat - and of course, is all organic.  People wonder what we eat at a vegan Thanksgiving but honestly, the table is so full I often don't get to sample some things because my plate is too crammed with goodness.

Heading home from Thanksgiving #2, I felt a cold coming on and I dreaded the idea of losing any days being sick.  I rarely get sick and I don't like to give myself too much down time but I did give myself a full day of bed and TV to recuperate.

The day after Thanksgiving is BLACK FRIDAY - I mean the US goes nuts on this day with shopping and stockpiling and buying - I do not participate.  Some stores open on Thanksgiving Day at 6pm - it's crazy.  Online sales continue thru the week with Cyber Monday etc. etc... It's a tradition I simply don't care for and it encompasses all the things I don't like about the Christmas holiday.  From Thanksgiving on, the newspapers are filled with advert offerings from stores and the TV advertisements are enough to make you nuts.  Its usually the time that I sit down to review the gifts I plan to make and see how many I can tick off my list as complete and assure that I have the supplies to make the things not yet finished.  I like to sit affront the TV at the end of the night stitching away in front of sappy Hallmark Christmas movies which I find humorously entertaining if overwhelmingly sugary sweet - somewhere between nice and nauseating.

And of course, in the US, the day after Thanksgiving is ALSO the time when all the fall decor is removed and the inside and outside of ones house are decked out for Christmas.  And in the US people go seriously berserk with the outdoor decorating and not just with lights - there are giant blow up Santas and reindeer riding motorcycles and snoopy on top of gingerbread houses.  I call them Blow Up Shits - I can't stand them!  The hum of electricity blowing them up every night and then they sit in a crinkled pile on people's lawns during the day.  Some peoples yards are so filled with lights and statues that they triple or quadruple their electric bill during the month of December.  Again, overdoing the outside lighting is not something I like about Christmas season in the US!  When we finally got our tree up this year just over a week before Christmas, my son came in late one night and knocked on the bedroom door asking if we had intended to leave the Christmas tree lying down on the couch in the living room - UM NO!!!!  Nothing broke when it fell but what a doozy it was to upright and reset a huge 7foot tree that already had all it's lights and ornaments.

This year there were only  a few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas so every caroling party, holiday bunco, Christmas Open House, etc all had to take place in a few short weeks.  It's all crammed up with hardly a chance to breathe - it does little to make me feel calm.  I am not a religious person but rather a spiritual one but I was really glad I didn't also have to add churchy things into the holiday mix.  I prefer simplicity and calm at the holidays. I prefer home made instead of store bought I prefer celebrating the season and noting the outdoor changes and enjoying the weather, etc... to hustling and bustling through the stores with the loud Chrismtas music blaring through the speakers.  I find Christmas preparations exhausting and I do what I can in my own life to minimalize the craziness yet enjoy the things I like.  Someone did a holiday posts about Samhain and Winter Solstace, the pagan celebrations of seasonal change.  I was both surprised by how many of the non religious traditions cross paths with religious ones.  It was interesting to note some of the age old customs and how they have evolved into our current traditions.

All in all - the three big events of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas that occur at the end of October, November and December seem a raging blur of activity and decorating and rushing and planning and cooking and buying etc etc etc... I wish I could stretch it all out for 6 months, not 3.  I wish I could spend the time enjoying the posting of my holiday cards instead of speedily sticking stamps on the outsides of  envelopes and slowing down many other details.

I miss doing a lot of holiday baking.  So much of the family who visits at Christmas is vegan, I don't really bake much which I miss.

It probably didn't help that during this busy three months we also re-did a bedroom, experienced two, yes TWO pipe explosion floods in our basement laundry room, dealt with two leaking toilets, hundreds of dollars of plumber visits, installed a clothes dryer for the first time in more than 6 years and more.

Tho I've always had a washer, I've not had a dryer.  I have really mixed emotions about owning it - but it was rather handy for washing masses of sheets and blankets and table covers after the family had gone, those big things were always a challenge to hang inside the house.  And the very expensive new plumbing is just to the left of the washing machine, first a faucet valve and then another valve (that now doesn't exist) a few inches from the faucet both exploded - about 3 weeks apart from one another and flooded our laundry room TWICE! One time it was so bad, insurance had to be called.
I finished several jobs for clients in my photo organizing businesss, taught two weekly crochet classes and hosted 15 students for a Kronum tournment.  Kronum is a sport that 3 of my 4 kids have been playing since 2011.  Kronum could fill a whole blog post on its own!

I'm tired just remembering it all...

For those of you who wondered what happened to my posting between July and January, you will now understand that many other things simply took over and my blog sat quiet while life flew by.
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