Monday, February 20, 2017

February Pinks

For two glorious weeks in February, my favorite camellia blooms.  There's no tag on the trunk, unlike some of the others, and the landscaping plans don't mention specific plant variations.  I've looked at websites and gone on forums, and I think the variety might be Spring Sonnet.  An appropriate name!  During their brief window, I pick bunches every day.

Little bouquets...

Big bouquets.

They remind me of peonies and stay fresh in water for several days.

The helleborus are going strong...

The Snowflakes in Summer are coming up...

...and the rest of the camellias, more long-blossoming than my favorite, are still going strong.

Since it's been so warm, we decided to go to the Botanical Garden this weekend.  I'm glad we did...many of the magnolias are in bloom and look amazing!

Their daffodils are up, too.

And lots of things just on the verge!

The birds are out...

Some insects, too...

...and lots of lazy kittens in the sun.

We had a simple Valentine's Day, with small-batch chocolate cookies and board games.

Now we're opening windows, eating in the sun room, and just enjoying the weather and spring display!  The frogs have started singing in the evening.  Not the spring peepers just yet, but they're due in a couple of weeks.  It's one of my favorite sings of spring...listening for the Eastern Towhee song and the spring peepers.  Their song is pretty distinctive!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Smitten Mitten

The days are warm, the windows are open, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing...

...and my selected photos file overfloweth!  My recently completed craft projects have gotten buried, so I've decided to do a quick recap.

First, I finished knitting a pair of quilt-inspired socks.

The first sock was knitted toe-up.  I love the toes of toe-up socks - none of those irritating side flaps, a quick foot, and then you can try them on to decide how long you'd like the leg portion to be.  But oh, those heels.  I despise the heels on toe-up socks and this was no different.  I knitted the whole sock and discovered, as usual, that I had trouble pulling it up over my heel.  Only major blocking enabled it to be worn properly.  It was such a painful process that I knitted the second sock cuff-down and just made a simple checkerboard pattern on the sole.  They're both different...

...but I don't care.  Normally I refuse to knit patterns with long "floats," or strands of yarn that you have to carry over 7 or more stitches.  If you "catch" the float as you knit, it usually shows through.  If you let it go and hope for the best, it can affect the tension and toes/fingers get easily caught in the long strands.  This pattern had a 9-stitch float, but I loved it so much I pressed on.  I'm very pleased!

I've been wanting to do more with felt, so I ordered a felt ornament kit and have made 2 of the 3 ornaments.  The first is a vintage wool coat with real tiny buttons and a gingham ribbon.  I used interfacing web to trace the pattern and attach it to the wool felt.

Cut out the pieces...

...and start sewing them together.

This is one of my favorite crafts, ever.  The details are so charming, and those teeny tiny (1"!) Scandinavian mittens...

I have it hanging by my computer because I just can't believe that I made it!  100% love!

The other ornament was entirely different.  You affix a piece of cross-stitch fabric to your wool felt and cross-stitch the design...

Here was another new piece of crafting technology.  I like to cross stitch but am not very fond of the stiff fabric that you seem to be limited to.  But with this, you simply soak the whole design in cool water for a minute, which softens the fibers.  Then you pull out the individual strands with tweezers.  It sounds time consuming, but it only took a minute.

Then cut out shape and sew sides together.

These weren't quick projects.  The coat took several days of "a few minutes here, a few minutes there" and a few longer sessions.  The mittens took several hours to cross stitch over multiple evenings.  But...I think they're amazing and I'm absolutely delighted!

A quicker project:  a simple envelope pillow cover for the bright orange pillow that appeared on our couch one day (Todd:  "I just found it in the basement!").

I had some heavier-duty fabric and it miraculously matched the other pillow, although that isn't really important to me.  More important - and a bit more difficult - was making sure the lines on the fabric were continuous.

Envelope pillows are easy....hem both ends, overlap them, and sew.  This was a 30 minute project.

And...I've started a new quilt!  Actually - and I can barely believe this myself - I am nearly done with it.  I had noticed a quilt online that I really liked - grey gingham with a mustard border.  I immediately ordered the fabric...1.5 yards of white and charcoal, 2 yards of grey.

I cut the fabric (3.5" squares) in one night and started sewing together my "four patches."  It was incredibly quick, because the fabric was pre-cut and you only sew 3 lines per patch.  I had them done in no time.  Here they are, all laid out, with the mustard fabric for contrast.

After this, I "squared up" my blocks so that they were all exactly six inches.

I learned a really valuable lesson.  About 25% of the time, my squares would be off-kilter a bit.

I pinned and pinned and pinned, but no luck.  It wasn't until I started pinning perpendicular to the top and even with the center seam that I started having amazing accuracy.

The rows of the quilt are already sewn together!  Now I have to sew together the strips of rows, and the top of the quilt will be DONE.  Normally this color combination would be too subdued, but I love the pop of color that the mustard color will bring (Kona Cotton Curry).  It's one of my favorite colors.  I have a ton of yarn in various shades of mustard!

Another lesson learned:  when I ordered the fabric for this quilt, I ordered a yard of the main fabric I'd wanted to use for my next quilt.  I was surprised when it arrived...the swans, which I'd thought were small (around an inch), are HUGE.  Here's a pen for scale:

This won't work at all.  I would be dealing with tiny bits of fabric, many of which wouldn't have any peach from the swans on it at all.  The image of the swan itself would be bisected multiple times.  Oh, well, live and learn.  At least I didn't order all the fabric to make the quilt.  It's back to the drawing board for this one!

I did another craft project for Valentine's Day, but it was a bust.  I'm saving the idea, though, for next year.

I've been slowly knitting a scarf/shawl over the past few months, very sporadically, and have just run out of yarn.  I'm lukewarm about the pattern so not sure if I'm going to order more.

February Fancy Baking was last week!  I made Danish pinwheels with homemade apricot spread and almond cream.  I chose apricot because it's not a fruit that I like, but I discovered that adding lots of sugar and butter to even an unpleasant fruit makes it a lot more palatable.  ;) The dough was similar to a yeasted pie dough, only with larger cuts of butter.  The pinwheels were surprisingly easy to make - just fold up every other flap.

I had some extra dough/fillings so made little fruit roll-ups.  You can see how flaky the pastry is here!

This is a Julia Child recipe, and she recommends eating immediately - "or at least within a few hours." I had to add a This is day-old pastry, beware! disclaimer to the container that Todd took in to his office!

And finally, to corgi lovers and non-corgi lovers alike...HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Oooh child, things are going to get easier...

As the 70 degree days increase, the days dipping into the 50s decrease, and the February days fly by I will say for the first time this year but not the last:  there's no place like spring in the South.  The camellia trees are overloaded with blossoms.

The trumpet flowers are just on the verge of opening up, with a few early faces:

Forsythia buds are swelling...

Crocuses are popping up at the feet of daffodils all over the yard.

My main New Years resolution was to get organized, because getting organized gave me the time and means to pursue other goals.  One such goal is mindful living and meditation.  I regret to say that I'm terrible at meditation, don't enjoy it, and haven't seen any benefits from the few minutes a day that I've given it.  The mindful living component, however, has been incredibly fruitful.  A simpler way to phrase it is living in the moment and enjoying the little things.  I used to be quite good at this, but work got so busy, and I developed a lingering and discouraging post-antibiotics complication, so 2016 really went out with a whimper. 

It was surprisingly difficult to get back into this.  Spend two minutes contemplating an object in your office, my guide said, but I found myself spending more time glancing at the clock than analyzing my stapler.  For me, it was better to get outside. Once I really started looking, it was easy to find things to contemplate, and to find joy.

Water droplets on leaves.

A lone mushroom with ruffled edges, forcing its way up through the mulch.

The brilliant blue/purple of my rosemary bushes, which are all flowering now.

The rich colors of the lenten rose leaves.

A chatty jay, scolding me for disturbing the peace.

I brought in armfuls of flowers and made bouquets.  Just catching a glimpse of a little bouquet through an open door, even in a room I rarely use, is a pleasure.

One of my Christmas gifts this year was an ANTA vase, something I'd wanted for a long time but hesitated to buy because of the price.  I choose a color scheme that I thought would look nice with all seasons and filled it with white camellias.  Again, it's the glance through an open door, just seeing  a glimpse, that's such a pleasure.

Seeing a cat curled up in a basket...

...or in our cheerful snowman sheets... a moment of pleasure.  Buying a $2 primrose at the grocery store and seeing how perfectly the yellow centers match the yellow of the trumpet flowers I brought in from outside...another moment of pleasure.

It's not just a visual practice, though.  Mindful living involves all the senses, and I'm slowly making progress on smell (using essential oils in daily life), touch (working with different textiles - felt, cotton, wool, fleece), taste (trying new food experiments), and sound (slowly starting a music study this spring).  Being organized has given me the time to do all of these things, and even though it's only early February, I'm ready to declare this experiment a success!  It's becoming second nature to work from my planner every day and to notice all the little pleasures that make up a happy life.

I've made great progress on many craft projects (more happy news!), but just don't have the time or space to fit them in here.  Hopefully next week!

Until then!