Monday, June 30, 2014

Eek! My First Steek

It's been a busy few weeks here, preparing for company both this past weekend and next.  The pictures that have been leaned up against various walls for weeks have finally been hung.  Final coats of paint have been applied to waiting surfaces.  And, I finally found a coat rack!  I've been searching for months, but the only ones I've found were at antique stores, and they were not quite the right style or price ($65 and up).  Then, miraculously, I found one on clearance at Target for $17.  Simple, and it fits right in!  At last, I have a place to hang my bag!

A surprising source has taken care of my fungal gnat problem, too.  Because I'm completely inept at caring for houseplants and ALWAYS overwater (or, conversely, never water at all), we've struggled with the pesky fungal gnats that love to lay their eggs in wet soil.  I bought a carnivorous plant last year (a pitcher plant) that never seemed to do much.  This year, though, sundews came up from the same soil.

See all the gnats caught on their sticky stems?   Hooray!

I've been keeping an eye out for new wildlife, but all I've spotted so far is this really cool hawk - variety unknown - that perched in a nearby tree for a quick rest.

Inside, I've been a baking machine.  I've been baking bread (recipe here):

A 3-layer lemon cake with vanilla bean frosting and mascarpone filling (recipe here):

One of my favorites:  pull apart bread, this particular variety being cinnamon and sugar.  Lovely rise...

The moment of doubt when the dough, buttered, seasoned, cut, and stacked, doesn't fill the pan:

Relief!  The first rise takes care of that:

It bakes up beautifully:

A little icing seals the deal!  Recipe for lemon variety here - switch out lemon for cinnamon and sugar to make this particular variety.

I've been knitting, too, but I'm afraid it's been a real exercise in frustration.  I am not content to knit the same easy stockinette patterns over and over again - I want to continually challenge myself.  I decided a few months ago that I wanted to knit myself a sweater.  Not just any sweater, though - a stranded knitting sweater with sew-in sleeves and a steeked neckline.  I picked my pattern (Aunt Fred), ordered my yarn, and got to work.

The first issue I had was switching my dominant yarn color after a brief knitting hiatus.  The result?  The background color changed, and I didn't notice it for SEVERAL INCHES. 

I frogged it down to the mistake and then proceeded to knit it incorrectly, AGAIN.  I had to frog it all the way back to the blue ribbing at the bottom and start over.  Nice progress on the body, the sleeves knitted up nicely, but I attached them incorrectly:

You can't see here, but I knitted several inches above what is shown here before I realized my mistake.  I frogged and re-knitted it TWICE before I finally got it right.  Next came the shoulder shaping.  Again, I knitted it incorrectly TWICE before I finally got it right.  My stitch count was off by 10 stitches, but by this point, I didn't care.

I was ready for my steek.  I had put in 7 lines of "waste yarn" in the middle of the sweater, where the "placket" (V-neck) was going to go.  I spent a night watching youtube videos on how to crochet up and down the sides of the waste yarn to secure the edges...

...and then made my cut down the center, between the reinforcement.

Curses!  I didn't properly secure the top or bottom stitch, so I had little 1-inch pieces of yarn flapping.  I grimly tied them up and kept moving.  I was confused about the shoulder-seaming directions (now WHERE does that fourth needle come from?!?) so ended up grafting them together.  They look shoulder-like, but I'm not sure how they'll hang.

I picked up the stitches for the collar...

...but was confused AGAIN.  Pick up stitches along each side, and then short row wrap and turn along back of the neck...ugh.  Short rows.  I got hopelessly confused and ended up putting the sweater aside, even though I'm in the home stretch.  I need a break from it.  I started another sweater - just one color, and what I thought were detailed directions, but soon I saw the dreaded "Follow this same pattern, changing up x and y as needed, for 28 more rows."  I'm not someone who easily sees patterns, and I really prefer to have each row written out - especially when you have cable rows and seemingly random placement of knit and purl stitches throughout.  I put that away, too.  I think I'm going to take a knitting break for a while!

Phew!  I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Have a great week! 

Monday, June 23, 2014


Finally...finally!...I settled on a color for my office.  It's called Betsy Ross House Moss, and it's a light olive color.  I love it.  It felt so good to paint over all those sample colors!

Now my office is completely done, except for a few pictures I haven't hung.  So here it is:  first, my work station, which has a lovely view of the woods and the pond.  The two tables make an "L" and give me lots of space for both work and crafts.

The green is not as bright as it looks here, but you can see my 'craft corner' (binders, acrylic rubber stamps, paper punches, glitter, glue, blank cards, embroidery and embossing supplies, etc., etc.).

This is my knitting space.  The tall cabinet holds my yarn, and I've got supplies on both shelves of the little table, formerly an IKEA kitchen island.  My yarn winder is attached to the corner, and the chair - also from IKEA - is my favorite knitting spot.

Another craft corner view (again, the walls are not pea-green like they appear here...they're more olive and very muted):

This table is just to the left of my work station.  It holds my sewing machine and supplies, and beneath it I have my fabric organized by pattern.  The white cabinet holds a TON of patterned construction paper, and the structure on the wall, which is a bit hard to see here, holds my rubber stamps.

Finally, my favorite art - three pages from a 1920s children's book, each depicting a different insect (or arachnid):


Although we've been busy, it's been very peaceful here.

Still seeing lots of wildlife, like this barred owl.

The geese have returned to our pond, and they make a pretty picture on the water.

We stopped by the local farmer's market this weekend and picked up some fresh eggs.  I love the different colors!

Speaking of eggs, I was cutting invasive vines out of our berry bushes this weekend when I spotted an abandoned bird nest.  I knew it was abandoned because it contained one empty eggshell and one half-empty one with a deceased chick inside. 

I sterilized the nest with a bleach solution and attempted to boil out those egg fragments to clean them.  Boiling rotten eggs does not make a pleasant smell, and I'm afraid the dead-chick egg had to be tossed.  The other was able to be cleaned and placed back in the nest.  I am building a collection of bird nests and have them displayed on a table in our front living room.  That space isn't quite done, but I'll post a picture when it is.

I've been baking a lot.  This peach-blueberry pie was amazing.

I made challah for the first time, too.  It's an annoying dough...sweet egg bread is, for me, the most difficult to get a good rise out of.  After two rises, you spit the dough into two unequal parts - say, 1/3 and 2/3 - and braid them.  You then stack the braids and give it another rise.

To give it that dark finished look, it gets a very generous brushing with egg white and water.  Then, voila!

It reminds me again not to be afraid to tackle a baking project.  It's just one foot in front of the other to get to the finish line!  Full recipe and fantastic step-by-step directions can be found at Bakingdom.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Just Peachy

Did I say that we won't have any flowers until fall?  I forgot about the gardenias...the heavenly gardenias.

We have six or seven bushes and they're all in the last stages of blooming.  The flowers don't last long in bouquets, but at night, outside, they perfume the air.

I forgot about this bush, too, with its little white trumpet-shaped flowers:

And the lovely purple butterfly bush...

...which has its own tiny trumpet-shaped flowers, in purple.

My 3 astilbe plants are blooming...

But alas, my hydrangea isn't going to do much, just like last year.

These purple flowers are popping up all over.  I'm not quite sure what they are!

The fir trees are setting up their cones...

...and the oaks have the small beginnings of acorns.

I've been keeping an eye out for wildlife, of course, and was rewarded with the sight of a red fox, just beginning to eat the squirrel he'd caught for breakfast.

Later, he boldly came into the front yard to bask in the early-morning sun.

I also spotted this caterpillar, which will hopefully live long enough to become a giant leopard moth.  Those red bands you see become readily visible when he curls up into a protective ball, and are meant to warn away predators. 

We're in the midst of a South Carolina summer, with temperatures in the mid- to upper-90s every day.  I am usually outside only in the mornings and evenings, but have been taking advantage of my 'inside time' to get some sewing done.  I took a piece of old linen and hand-stitched around the edge in red embroidery thread...

...and made it into a bowl liner.  I then filled the bowl with pine cones that I'd gotten from the yard last fall.  It's a very "fall" color scheme and I'm going to replace the red plaid with a blue one for summer, once I get around to it.

I also bought some old pillows at the thrift store, thoroughly washed and heat-blasted them (I have a great fear of getting bedbugs!), and sewed them into fabric I'd also picked up at a thrift store.  They make nice, soft throw pillows.  Of course, they're plaid - my favorite.  I'm going to add a third pillow soon, but right now these two are very cozy on our sun porch atop a big wicker trunk.

I've been baking like crazy, too.  I recently made my favorite cupcakes for Todd's work - the delicious chocolate chip cookie dough-filled brown sugar cupcakes with brown sugar cookie dough frosting.  We each had one, and the rest were packed off to Todd's office.  Recipe here

Every morning on my way home from the gym, I pass a local open-air fruit and vegetable market.  I stop there multiple times a week and pick up local seasonal fruit and vegetables, and I'm addicted to their raw honey.  Last week I bought some peaches (did you know that South Carolina produces many more peaches than Georgia?  95,000 tons to their 36,000 tons in 2012), intending to make a pie.  Once they were peeled and sliced, I realized that I didn't have enough, though.  I had also bought some cherries, so I thought I'd add the cherries to 'make weight'. 

 It worked - and the resulting cobbler was phenomenal!  Much better than I expected.  That sweet crust...YUM.

The original recipe is here.  The only changes I made:  used peaches AND cherries, used vinegar instead of lemon juice, and added a pinch each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamon to the cobbler.

Hope you give it a didn't take long to whip up, and it was so good.  Today's haul included fresh blueberries, so we'll see what I end up with for dessert tonight!

Have a great week!