Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sew Close...

I am not ashamed to admit that I have been absolutely terrified of sewing machines.  I had an old Brother sewing machine for years that never worked right.  The bobbin took at least a half hour to wind and thread, and the tension was wonky.  Yanks on the tension adjustment wheel would move the wide, loopy stitches from the bottom to the top.  I dreaded using it and eventually it was pushed further and further back into a deep closet to gather dust.

Then, I bought a new sewing machine.

It was a cheap model, under $100, but it received many glowing reviews on Amazon.com.  There were several sewing projects I wanted to do, after all, and maybe a new sewing machine would work better. 

The new machine was amazing.  The drop-in bobbin took minutes to wind and thread, and the machine miraculously produced small, even stitches.  I felt ready to tackle my first major project:  hemming the curtains we'd purchased at IKEA earlier this year.  They were currently dragging the floor in the bedroom, collecting dirt and providing a soft sleeping place (and hair repository) for the cats.

I carefully measured the distance from the floor to the bottom of the blinds, removed the curtains, and folded/pinned up the fabric.

Taking a deep breath, I started stitching across the bottom. 

Success!  The stitches were even, the length was even, and all four curtain panels matched.  I was confident enough to cut some lengths of oatmeal-colored linen...

...and stitch them up on either side to make curtain ties.  They fitted easily around the curtain panels and added a nice contrast, I think.

I am so pleased by the finished curtains.

Alas, I became overconfident and tried to sew up a slipcover for my overstuffed craft room chair.  Five hours and ten bloody fingers later, the slipcover resembled a tossed-over sheet with Frankenstein monster-like ridges running in unnatural formations across its various parts.  

I think I'll stick with curtains for now.

In other news, I kept seeing large birds in the trees behind the house.  They almost looked like ducks, but I never knew ducks to roost in trees.  

Well, Carolina, or Wood Ducks, do.

Wood ducks are extremely colorful and were once hunted almost to extinction for their feathers.  They've made a nice recovery, though.  We have five or so here and I frequently see them flying from tree to tree in a lighthearted manner.

Speaking of local fowl, I noticed something strange on the neighborhood turkeys recently.  It's a long, feathery protrusion on several of their chests.  

 I learned that it's called a beard.  The older and more powerful the turkey, the longer and fuller the beard.  Naturally, hens are drawn to turkeys who would seem to be the best protector and provider, and a long, lush beard is a visual clue.  Interesting!

The squirrels here have been discovering our feeders.

They aren't fat, slow, and unconcerned like the big fox squirrels in Indianapolis.  They scare easily...

...and run quickly to safety.

Another interesting thing:  we had our first winter storm here in South Carolina.  I was expecting something a little different when I heard "ice storm", but we got a few ice pellets and a little sleet, nothing more.  Strangely, the only evidence of it in the yard was the strange ice formation on this bush:

When I inspected it more closely, I saw that the ice had formed a multitude of thin, flaky layers that for all the world reminded me of a day-old croissant.

The layers were delicate and melted quickly when touched.  Within an hour, the whole thing had melted.

Temporary ice outside, but inside, my hyacinths are blooming.  They're so wonderful to have, because even when they aren't flowering, the green plant is so pretty.

Then it blooms.

Purple Muscari are probably my favorite spring flower, but you can't beat hyacinths for cheer and delightful smell.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Southern Frost

The weather was unusually warm, and then we had several days of vigorous rain.  That passed, and now winter has come to the South.  Not winter as I know it, with ice and snow and freezing fog, but a kinder, gentler sort of winter with its own sort of beauty.

We had frost.

My car windshield was covered in long, elaborate ice "feathers", which were formed when a strong wind blowing water turned cold, then colder. 

Ice formed in the bird bath for the first time this year.

You'll note that the ice formation is different, based upon the wind on the southern side of the house being a bit more gentle that night that the wind on the northern side.

Water droplets formed in the trees...

...and turned to diamonds in the sunlight.

Frost edged the leaves of the helleborus...

...and all the bushes.

The autumn leaves were frozen.

The pond steamed in the early sun.

In this growth zone there is still a lot of green.  The little white buds that had formed on one of the 10-foot bushes outside opened up...

...and proved to be white ruffled camillas.

They only live for a few days, and then drop their petals to form a romantic little path along the edge of the yard.

The few Mahonia bushes that I hadn't gotten around to cutting down bloomed briefly before falling to my hedge clippers.

Of course, I've done my best to 'bring the outside in'.  I have cut many fir and pine branches to put in vases around the house.

Holly is *everywhere*.

I bought several hyacinth bulbs from the store and they're sprouting nicely in narrow-necked glass vases.

I've been bringing in near-armfuls of fallen camilla blooms.  I have them in white dishes and egg cups.

Bosewichte heartily approves.

I need all this cheer around me, because making friends in a new place when you work from home hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be.  I tried to volunteer.  I tried to get more information about the local League of Women Voters.  I contacted multiple people in my new town via Ravelry to see if anyone was interested in starting a knitting club, and the same method on Gardenweb to see if anyone wanted to form a gardening club.  I didn't get any response from any of my efforts.  I tried to find other community groups/clubs via meetup.com and through the local library with no luck.  We're looking for a church, and I joined the gym and am taking an upcoming Master Gardeners course, but I'm still alone most of the time.  It's easy to become discouraged, and being out in the yard and enjoying the natural beauty of the area helps.

So does spending more time on my hobbies, like knitting.  I knitted this pillow recently and it was really enjoyable.  The pattern is free on Ravelry.com and I believe it's called Handspun Cushion.

I've also been doing a little baking.  Here's a fun tip:  instead of chocolate chips in your next dessert recipe, try making Nutella chips.

I just filled a piping bag with Nutella and piped out rough chocolate blobs.  Be sure to freeze them overnight...they melt really easily.  Then just mix into your batter like you would chocolate chips.  Yum!

Have a great week!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Early Arrivals

It's raining, and the cats are passing the time by watching sodden squirrels and chipmunks scurry around in the leaves, just out of their reach.

Rain is not out of character for January, but 65 degrees F sure is.  I've been astounded at the warm temperatures in South Carolina.  We've had a few light frosts and chilly nights, but no daytime temperature so far has been below 45 degrees F.  And, of course, the local flora is reacting to it.

This bush is changing by the day, ready to put forth some sort of bloom sometime soon.

This tall bush - name unknown - is getting ready to bloom white.

The tangled vine that covers our side arch and fence - honeysuckle?  Jasmine? - is budding out.

This wasn't here last week...

The berries on this bush are turning...

This small tree - dogwood? Cherry? - is starting to bud out, too.

I noticed some tightly-furled buds on some bushy growth by our front door.

Several days later, the buds opened up.

Flowers!  In January!  They're Helleborus, the Lenten Rose. 

The neighbor's shrubs are all blooming...

...and so are ours.

Our camilla (?) bush is starting to bloom nicely.  Well, actually, it's been blooming the whole time we've been here. 

What's really delightful is that the buds eventually fall to the ground, still as good as new.

I pick them up and float them in shallow dishes of water.

They make a beautiful addition to my desk.

While out and about, I've seen daffodils and other bulbs coming up.  I don't know if this is normal for South Carolina, but it seems awfully early.  Still, I'm going to enjoy it!

I haven't posted much about knitting or baking because I've been so busy.  Not having a working oven for 6 weeks caused a delay as well.  But now, at least, I can post a few recent knitting projects.

I knitted this sweater for my sister-in-law's Christmas.

The arms seemed too long, but she assures me that they're perfect.  It's got a stranded-knitting yoke...

And, if you'll notice, the motif is small birds.  She loves birds, so I thought it would be a good fit...no pun intended!

I also knitted a cup cozy for a friend.  I've always been suspicious of the utility of these types of things, but I read up on it and apparently they really do keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold.  I had a small bit of beautiful yarn, just enough to knit one.  The bottom fits smoothly over the bottom of a standard-size coffee cup...

...and an i-cord strap fits snugly over an attached button on the side.

I hope to have time to knit - and bake - more in the coming weeks!

Have a great week!

P.S.  The Marine Biology Department at the University of Oregon was able to identify last week's mystery creature as a salpHere's a link to read more about it!