Monday, December 27, 2010

More. Bunting.

This time for the niece and the nephew for Christmas. (Nana already bought Brendan an apron, and Ani will just have to wait.)  The bunting spells out their names and adds a couple end flags for extra festive fun.

Red, blue, and yellow for the boy.

With stars.  (And buttons, beads, and embroidery.)

Pink, purple, and sage for the girl.

With flowers.

(And buttons, beads, and embroidery.)

I don't know that kids love wall hangings for Christmas (it probably ranks up there with socks), but hopefully they'll cut me a break.  I just assumed that they have all the plastic noise-making toys they could ever dream of.  And everyone needs a little decor now and then.

Merry Christmas you two. Your auntie loves you!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas presents, or how I made 11 aprons in two weeks

This year, 11 people close to my heart received an apron for Christmas.  I was so impressed with that one I made for Joe that I couldn't fathom not making more.  (I am officially over it now, though, so don't you worry.)

I picked out custom fabric for each recipient, right down to the coordinating pocket fabric.  That was maybe the most fun part--picture me and Joe in the fabric store, arms piled to eyeballs with bolts of fantastic patterned fabric, trying to keep them all straight for the woman unlucky enough to be working the cutting table at the time.  And then the hardware. And then the twill tape.

Once home, after pre-washing, of course, I measured, cut, ironed, pinned, and sewed until my fingers were raw and the dogs were covered in errant scraps of thread.

And then, because I love customization--the idea that something was made just for you--I embroidered a little swatch for each one bearing the initials (or nickname) of the recipient.

In keeping with the kitchen theme, Joe and I mixed up some amazing hot cocoa, made our own vanilla extract, and made more marshmallows for our gift list as well.  But more on that later.

Merry Christmas all.  And here's to peace and abundance in the new year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I'm obsessed

with bunting.  Ob. Sessed.

But it's just so jolly and cute.  (And, if you'll remember, it brings the party.)

This year for homemade ornaments (a yearly tradition I forcefully gift upon my family and friends), I have made tiny tree bunting in delicious holiday colors.

Simple as cutting up a heap load of triangles, sewing their sides, turning them right-side out, ironing flat, and stitching into skinny bias tape. This required much patience, as the entire project was very small.  This caused a lot of squinting and hunching over my sewing machine, and a few exasperated seam rips, but the end result is definitely worth it.

For fear that my gift receivers would have no idea what tiny bunting is for, I crafted these instructions:

And then, because I can't leave Christmas scraps in my possession, I made each bunting its own tiny draw string bag, fashioned from this expert tutorial from Skip to My Lou.  (Note: these bags are neither as easy or as fun to make as they might look.  They are, however, as CUTE as they look, so I persevered.)

Merry Christmas all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Arizona Christmas

Christmas in Arizona is going to be a bit understated, since we're playing it low maintenance style.  And it's just us until late on the Day of the Tree, when Joe's folks will fly in for some super-fantastic family time.

Since there's never too much of a good thing, I crocheted a passel of snowflakes, using that same pattern for the packages, in a variety of festive colors, and chain stitched them together to make a garland.

In a fit of sweetness, Joe's folks bought a four-and-a-half foot scotch pine for our merry pleasure, and it was waiting for us to unpack when we arrived.  It's covered in real pine cones and pine cone-shaped lights, which is adorable (and which you can't see in the photo below. You'll have to trust me.).

Add a few boxes of shatterproof ornaments (important when you have the following deadly mixture: 1) stone floors, 2) no tree skirt, 3) two tall dogs with happy tails) and you've got instant festivity.

Here's hoping that your house is also festive but that the decorating didn't make you frantic.  I'm sort of in love with low maintenance Christmas.

And now I'm off to take my second walk of the day and hunt for quail, roadrunners, and rabbits.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Road trip

This year we're taking a much needed holiday away from Seattle. We have available to us a home in northeast Scottsdale, Arizona, and because it's not supposed to rain much there, we packed the dogs in our little red car and drove down.

Drove? Yes.

Roody and T show off their road trip skillz
The dogs turned out to be fabulous road trip companions.  We laid the back seat down, packed it with two dog beds, and the dogs were thrilled to enjoy the ride.

I bought the Roadside America app for my iPhone, and am currently trying to cross off as many "offbeat tourist attractions" as possible.  The first one: the sundial bridge in Redding, CA.

It rained through the bulk of our drive through northern California. (Except the tiny sun break we got on the second morning, above, where we raced to see the bridge.)

12 pm marker.  It should be noted that this sundial only works on June 21, the summer solstice.

But the rain didn't stop there.  It rained over our entire drive through state of California, through the Olive Capital of America and the Artichoke Capital of the Universe.

[It should be noted that if I never again have to drive through Las Angeles in the pouring rain, I will be forever grateful.]

Southern Californians don't actually know about driving in the rain at high speeds.  And the steering-wheel clutching, lip-biting, I-can't-see-the-road-from-all-the-spray driving didn't make the mood worthy of pulling over and photographing the offbeat.

And thus, we checked off only one item from Roadside America on our three day drive.

Oh well, there's always the drive home.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's a wrap

This year I went with wrapping paper in non-traditional reds and greens.

For each package, I crocheted a gorgeous snowflake (using the best step-by-step pattern on the internet; thanks Lucy!) using white yarn from my stash. (They're supposed to be blocked to get their full lacy goodness, but I went with a softer, lazier version.)

The packages are tied with 99-cent twine from IKEA, which comes in black and white.  I told Joe we were going to use the black twine on the Christmas presents and he was incredulous.  I convinced him that it would be okay.  And look--it is. Trust me.

For the tags, we used artist's shrink plastic. (Remember Shrinky Dinks? Go to your local art supply store and get your own adult version!)  (OR, a quick googling will teach you to make your own shrink film out of #6 plastics!)

Take out your decorative scissors (they make lovely edges), your hole punches (we used a circle and a star), and your permanent markers.  Draw trees and snowmen and snowflakes and swirls.

Bake. Let cool. Thread your twine through the hole, and have some more egg nog.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Anika turns one!

And, in a act of universe turning in just the right way, I got to see her smiling face for 19 hours this weekend.  She is newly mobile--walking, standing, falling, walking again. A really good sport about it all too.

In fact, this baby is the best sport I've met in a long time.  Exhausted from an early flight into Seattle, and working from something like four hours of sleep, this little girl smiled all day, even on Santa's lap. (Okay, for the first few photos...and then she was done. Very done.)

Because she received a knitted mobile from me on the occasion of her birth, she hadn't yet been the recipient of a knitted sweater (unlike her boisterous big brother, who received a sweater while still in utero, which I can't link to, because it was created before the inception of this blog!).

This one-year-old present should rectify that situation.

This is the knitted kimono sweater, from this pattern, which costs money but is definitely cute enough to spend the few dollars to have it for your very own.  Knitted in KnitPicks superwash merino, allowing it to be both warm and woolen and WASHable.  This is important when you're still learning how to walk, feed yourself, and generally keep your hands clean.

A fun little project to knit, including the adorable flowers.  I have had no idea how big a one-year old is was (and I know that this particular one-year old is a bit tall for her age), and I have no idea how big this sweater is, but it's the one-year-old size, since I started on the two-year-old size, but it looked big enough for a kindergartener half way through.  [But it was perfect, as you can see!]

(Just once I'd like to knit something just once. Not once and a half, not twice, not three times.  I've learned though: my propensity to start things before actually measuring the gauge coupled with my perfectionism means that I have to rip things out a lot.  To deal with this fact, I repeat this mantra in my head while I'm ripping: I will be infinitely patient with myself. Infinitely.)

But back to Anika. Happy first birthday sweet one!  Thanks for stopping by to smile at me!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For Joe

He cooks, and by cooks I mean crafts, a meal for us every night.  And because he's an elaborate chef, he gets his clothes dirty in the process of splashing homemade chicken stock here, and reducing with red wine there.

And so, with heartfelt love and a bit of humor (I mean just LOOK at the fabric!), I made Joe an apron to wear with pride and to protect his duds from grease and flying au jus (complete with embroidered initials, lest anyone wonder to whom it belongs).

So far it's working. He wears it nightly, and no longer complains of phantom greasy spots appearing on his shirts.  Also, he looks adorable in it.

And, as you can see above, even Roody approves.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And now for the part

where I apologize for making things behind the scenes but not sharing any of them with you, my dear Internets, until after the Jolly Guy comes.

It actually physically hurts a little to think of all the swell stuff I'm making...and how I can't tell you about it.  Just know this: when it's all said and done, you'll get to see, and you'll be jolly too.

In the meantime, I have only one more month to finish the list.  Must get a move on.  And then, I'll have to create a new list.  Thirty-three things and all that.  That's a lot of things.  Get your submissions in early, in case you want to tell me what to do next year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

if i had a magic wand

I wouldn't whisk myself off to Paris or ask for a mansion or a Porsche.

Instead, I would wave my magic wand and--POOF--this would be the result:
  1. My house would sparkle.  Glisten.  The magic wand would have cleaned beyond human ability. All the cracks and the crevices and the four-year build up of ick that I can't even see--gone, and in their place--shine.
  2. The laundry would be folded. Not just once, but as soon as it came out of the dryer. The magic wand would create self-folding laundry.
  3. I would own another off-street parking spot. Fewer hit-and-run accidents would be perpetuated on the car that has to sit nightly on the street like so much forgotten recycling.
  4. There would be a few hundred more pounds of pea gravel in my back yard.  I have a tiny back yard, and right now I have three huge (HUGE) dogs pooping in it a few times a day.  Every time you pick up dog poop (sorry for the TMI) you pick up a handful of rocks. And then you eventually (four years later) need more rock.  However, it isn't prudent for my husband or me to carry 80 pound bags of rocks up the 17 stairs it takes to get to my house in order to re-rock the back. (See 9 and 10, below.)  So there's not enough rock, and the ground is beginning to appear below. This is Seattle, and the rain has started.  Now I have 12 (HUGE) muddy paws and no energy to wipe them.  Should I just pick up a day laborer at Home Depot to carry my rock? Put an ad in Craig's list? How do people manage these things? 
  5. My credit card debt would disappear.  And magically, in my savings account, would be that pile of money that Suze Orman now says that we all need stashed away: six month's salary.  Then, when the car gets hit (for the third time in six weeks), or the dog gets sick, or I have to have surgery again, we won't have to put it on the credit card.
  6. My house would be well-constructed. Turns out in the housing boom not all the Ts were being crossed, nor the Is dotted.  It also turns out that our condo developer had a less than adequate insurance policy, which means we were less than adequately compensated for the less than stellar construction. Which means we can't afford to fix all the problems.
  7. I would be able to refinance my home. Turns out too many of my neighbors have been foreclosed upon, and the lenders don't see our condos as worthy investments, which means that the Fed can lower interests rates until the free-range cows come home, but I can't lower my monthly payment.
  8. My depression would lift, and in its place, a happiness and contentment would settle in.  With all the free time I have now that my house is clean and my laundry folds itself, I would make more art.
  9. My husband would be well. Free to climb mountains and practice martial arts and run the hounds around the neighborhood. [he has this. and the outlook is grim.] 
  10. I would be well. Mentally (see number 7, above) but also physically.  Too many physical issues to get into right now.
What would you wish for?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

sweetness sneaks in

One of the few delights in my life right now is my semi-monthly produce box from Klesick Family Farms. I get the Northwest box, which provides me with a veritable medley of local organic produce all ripe and ready and sparkling twice a month.  It's nothing short of amazing to learn for the first time what's in season when, locally, and to hold (and eat) stuff you'd never find (or buy) in a store.

Meet Seckel pears, tiny and adorable, sweet and juicy, while still providing that crunch you want from a pear.  Where do these things come from? Why can't they be at my ghetto Safeway? 

And where can I get more?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm not waving, I'm drowning

When I check the health insurance bills from my psychiatrist, down at the bottom, under where all the money stuff is spelled out, there's a diagnosis code: Major Depressive Disorder.

And it's never been so major as it is right now.  It's all I can do to keep my head above water.  I'm deep in the throes of mourning--and for what isn't really important. The important part is the process of letting go--something for which we have very few play books in this country.

My therapist has encouraged me to learn to "live in sadness."

And so that is what I do.  I cuddle my dogs and my husband, I make soup and try to give myself a break about the dog hair balls in every corner, the pile of dirty laundry that's now so big that the foster dog thinks it's his bed, and the dusty dusty shelves.  And I cry. A lot. Every day. For about six weeks now.

I'm a believer in feelings as energy.  They must be released. They must be moved. I've experienced first-hand how stuck energy can become illness and physical pain.

Want to live in sadness with me?  First things first. You'll need to start clearing your schedule. Try not to do anything that forces you to pretend that you're okay unless it pays your mortgages [read: go to work. try to work. take sick time if you have it when the work is too much].  Otherwise, plan to hang out at home.

Here's my living in sadness soundtrack:

  • Joshua Radin (not his new stuff. only old)
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Joanna Newsome
  • Iron & Wine
  • The Weepies
  • Alexi Murdoch
  • The Decemberists

Living in sadness foods:

  • Chewy red wine
  • Wild rice soup
  • Hot spiced apple cider
  • Golden Grahams
  • Bread pudding

Living in sadness itinerary:

  • Cry
  • Knit
  • Spoon with a greyhound
  • Spoon with a spouse (until one of two greyhounds forces himself between the two of you)
  • Stare at ceiling, wall, or floor 
  • Cry more
  • Walk the dogs [even in the rain; even though the sun sets an hour before you get home from work]
  • Contemplate doing some laundry
  • Get out the crayons
  • Talk about the sadness, the grief, the fear
  • Watch mindless television
  • Go to sleep 
  • Repeat

One of the crappy things about depression is that it makes everything un-fun. There is absolutely no pleasure left in my life.

My favorite things in the world--sitting amongst my friends eating really great food, having really great conversation over really great wine, and I'm floating above it all thinking, Is this fun?

Nope. Not un-fun. But not fun.  There is no such thing as fun.

For now.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The party starts here.

Take out your old magazines (or the catalogs you got in the mail today. Pick a color or two (or don't). Cut out triangles of said color(s).  Attach to string (or the yarn your foster dog unraveled and dragged all over the house).  Hang on mantle, over doorway, or across bookcases.  Instant party.

P.S. This is from the non-book by Keri Smith, who, by the way, has a new book out too, beautifully titled Mess.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Number 29: or how I got blisters on the tip of my middle finger

the croquembouche still life

The croquembouche.  (Croak-em-BOOSH.)  A French dessert made in honor of our (better late than never) Octoberfest-themed dinner party.

Ten people in our tiny kitchen.

A pile of caramel cream-stuffed cream puffs coated in crunchy caramel and stacked with care.

A cascade of spun sugar sloping down the side.

One word: yum.

It's work though, I gotta tell you. This is no one-bowl cake recipe.

There's the pate au choux, which makes your arm ache from stirring in egg after egg after egg.  Then there's the piping of the choux paste, into tiny cream puffs, which are baked for twenty minutes, during which you must lower the oven temperature and keep believing that they're going to rise and be amazing.

the puffs, fresh from the oven

The puffs cool while you make the caramel cream--which starts as carmel (candy thermometer anyone?) to which you add heavy cream and then more heat. Off the heat you add sour cream and vanilla and then cool the contraption for at least two hours (which is just long enough to clean up your dirty kitchen before making it sticky again.)

After the cooling, you whip more heavy cream until it's stiff, and then you fold the chilled carmel into it.  Again comes out the pastry bag, and you are piping cream into the puffs using an improvised decorational tip since you can't find your filling tip. (boo.)  The cream is separating in the pastry bag because your hand is too hot.  You panic. You whip the cream some more; you think you have saved the day.  You haven't. You must continually hand-whip the cream. You feel your arm may never recover.

You pull out an ice water bath for the cream and think that you are brilliant--until the whole thing goes to hell.  And then you're whipping cream to add a bit of the failed, runny caramel cream to, hoping that it will be thick enough to stay in the tiny tiny puffs. It is. You are triumphant, momentarily.

And then you are making more caramel, on the stove, which you are swirling and watching but not stirring, because you have already learned today that stirring is no way to make sugar caramelize.  And then you are dipping the filled puffs in the caramel (their top sides first) and even though EVERY recipe you looked at online warned you not to burn yourself, there you go--burning. Blistering. On the top of your middle finger.

Luckily, you just happen to have an ice bath prepared to stop the caramel from cooking, so you dunk your finger into the bath and feel a bit of relief. You use the tongs for the rest of the dipping.

the spun sugar waterfall, or the result of the attempt thereof.
You dip the 50 puffs head-first.  You let the caramel set on parchment paper. You have to keep running back to the stove to warm up the caramel lest it leave whispery-fine spiderwebs of sugar behind itself as you move across your workspace--and then you, and everything around you, is wrapped in sugar strands.

When the caramel hats on the puffs are set, you dip them bum-side into the caramel, and this is when--finally--you begin to construct the cone of puffs that is the final dessert.

And this is where your ingenuity from earlier (whipped cream with a bit of failed caramel cream added) begins to fail--the heat from the caramel is making the puffs that house the lesser cream melt and puddle unto themselves.

Don't worry, just dab up the drips and proceed. This dessert is gonna rock your guests' socks.

Crunchy, creamy, and such fun to eat, we at first pretended to be civilized and use forks, but eventually abandoned them in favor of our fingers.  This is a tactile dessert--get your hands on a puff and yank it free, then crunch down the hardened caramel and let the cream fill your mouth.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Roody's sweater

Just chillin in my new sweater. NBD.
Finally!  After two huge frogging sessions, the greyhound coat (that is hereby an XXXL and an XX-long--is finished!  And, most importantly, it fits!

Stupid flash, but adorable dawg.
Here you can see the six buttons I added to the side panel. His side is long...and it requires a lot of buttons!

Also, I feel that I should note here that Roody is a very difficult subject to photograph. He rarely holds still, thus the roll of film (okay, it's digital, but you get the idea) showcasing three blurry dogs and one blurry sweater.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

ugh. and also dogs.

Depression sucks. Can I get an amen?

I'm deep in the throes of it again.  And this time, instead of giving up, I'm trying to push through.  Find a tiny speck of joy in each day.

It's not always easy, but I've got this to say: it's a whole lot easier with dogs around.  (It's hard to sit and wallow with such a hilarious tongue around the house.)

I think I forgot to mention that we got a new dawg, who we've come to call Roody.  I did start knitting him a sweater, but I never properly introduced him. 

Meet Roody

At six years old, he's just about middle-aged. He's a retired racing greyhound, and probably the softest dog ever.  (He also radiates heat, and loves to spoon, so he's an ideal winter bedmate.)

He loves to cuddle, play tug-of-war, and pull like hell on the leash (life is very exciting).  Originally named Bella Knight by his breeder, his racing nickname was Rogue, but when he came to us in late June he didn't know his name.  Fearing that Rogue sounded a lot like "no," and running on the theory that dog names should have two syllables (commands have one), we changed his name to Roody.

Greyhounds aren't really barkers, but they do howl when the fire trucks race by with their sirens on.  Greyhound enthusiasts call this howling "rooing," thus the spelling.  Roody, however, is not much of a roo-er.  (Oh well.)

He sleeps about 20 hours a day, and spends the rest of the time allowing you to scratch him, eating, and going on long walks.  He loves a tennis ball and a stuffed toy. He loves bones. He loves people. He loves other dogs. He would really really love to chase a squirrel or rabbit.

Joe and I adopted Roody after doing a considerable amount of research into greyhounds. If you remember, we used to be home to a saluki/husky mix, and while we loved the fur out of Roxy, she was a challenging dog.  The things that made her lovable--the cuddling, the rooing, the fierce loyalty--these are all qualities of sight hounds (her saluki side).  And, knowing that we were never going to pay for a pure-bred dog, adopting a greyhound sounded like the next best option.

For a donation fee, we can give a home to a dog in need. We also get the pure-bred guarantee of personality traits (greyhounds are bred to be friendly, social, pack animals), health traits (they're the only breed with no evidence of hip dysplasia), the zany puppy-spirit that lasts into old age, and the two best traits of greyhounds: the side tongue (see top picture) and the cockroach (see most recent picture).

It's those things that help me keep my perspective. Love from things that are soft and furry, and time spent sticking my tongue out at the world.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Number 4: Toy Society Drop Number 3

In the shadow of Calder's eagle at the Olympic Sculpture Park, in Seattle, I left this tiny amigurumi owl, wearing his lovely scalloped breast feathers and hoping for a fun home.
Here he is all dressed up and ready to go, tied to a comfortable and coordinating chair. Below, you'll see an artsy shot depicting Mr. Owlette's view of the fantastical sculpture.