Monday, January 30, 2017

Lots of scraps and turkey chaps

I love picking flowers in January.

The camellias are beautiful, and the Lenten Roses, or Helleborus, are now in bloom.

Just like animals, flowers have distinct personalities.  Lenten roses are the Victorian ladies of my garden. They're shy and blushing, with faces bent toward the ground, but with delicately colored apparel meant to attract attention (in a modest way).  They last forever as a cut flower, too.  An all-around winner.

My favorite camellia bush is blooming right now, too.  I love it!

Richly-colored fungus has started to sprout all over our biggest tree stump.

Have you ever wondered why mushrooms sprout on tree trunks or trees, for that matter?  They're opportunists and look for entry points on wood.  They eat the tissue of a tree, so if you see a live tree with mushrooms sprouting on it, it's in trouble.  It's a good thing to see them on stumps, because they accelerate the decomposition.  People actually order spores to shake onto their's cheaper and easier (although not quicker!)  than digging them up.  

The sun is shining and the creatures are out and about!

The turkeys are out every day.

Beautiful feathers!

This turkey was separated from the group and slow to notice me.  When he did, he fled.  But look - because of his agitation, his head turned blue!

I started and finished a quick but satisfying project this week.  I have piles and piles of fabric scraps - wrinkled, balled up, trailing shreds.  I read somewhere that when you have scraps, you should immediately cut them into squares (2", 3", 3.5", 4", and 5") or strips (1.5", 2.5").  Then they're already in the most commonly-used sizes and when you accumulate enough, you can make a scrap quilt. 

I had two piles of scraps this size:

I set up a station and worked on cutting about 15 minutes a day.  Before too long, I had my nicely-organized group!

I am excited to see what kind of random combinations will show up!

I also practiced machine applique this week.  I am not very interested in applique, but I thought I ought to learn, especially since applique is used on my block-of-the-month quilt.  A few Youtube videos later...

My first try is on the left and second on the right.  I thought I'd improved enough to move on to my quilt square.  I decided against the snowman design given in the pattern and traced out a snow-covered branch.  I added a little bird and appliqued things into place.

I don't know...there's something not right about it.  It's just not appealing to me right now.  Until I have some inspiration, I'm going to put it aside and just think about what I might want to do with it.

Last week I was halfway through the work day when I realized that I had a headache.  I took some medicine and curled up on the couch with my quilt for about 30 minutes.  I was walking by it later that afternoon and had to take a picture.  It's going to get a lot of use!

Also, there's a cat under that quilt.  She curled up with me while I was resting and stayed there the rest of the day. 

Speaking of quilts, I've been feeling a little antsy lately.  I've been knitting at night, but have felt like something is missing.  I realized that I haven't done any sewing for a long time.  I finished my quilt blocks months ago, and the only real sewing I've done is the less-than-pleasant machine quilting needed to secure the quilt layers.  It's time to start a new quilt!  I pulled out my notes, but some of the fabric I'd chosen is now on backorder or discontinued.  This week, I'm going to try to pick the right fabric to go with my chosen quilt pattern, and hopefully make an order.  I can't wait to get started!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Quilt I Built

January showers bring January least in South Carolina!

The camellia trees are in their element, absolutely dripping with flowers.  The smaller shrubs will be coming into flower in the next month, and we're about due for Lenten Roses, too.  I can't wait! 

Tabitha loves a rainy day.

I went outside with my camera last week despite the drizzle, and it seems that it was 'fowl' weather, indeed!  A flock of turkeys was feeding in the side yard.  I startled a big heron at the pond's edge, and also a few ducks...

...and "our" goz!  A group of ten...the original eight plus the two parents.  I expect that the flock will separate soon.

They're already acting a little testy, constantly chasing each other around aggressively.

Breeding season begins in February, and then...babies!!!

Part of my master organization plan is to do some things that I've been meaning to do for years but never took the time to do.  Last week I scheduled in time to make some household products with essential oils.  I made a general household cleaner, window cleaning spray, conditioner, shave gel, and a shower spray for the tiles. 

The real winners are the general cleaner and the window cleaner.  I have always cleaned with either vinegar or bleach.  I added some water, essential oils, and dish soap to the vinegar.  It doesn't clean any better than just plain vinegar, but it sure smells good!  The window cleaner (with vinegar and witch hazel) works and smells great.  The conditioner (basically water, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils) was kind of a bust.  I've used vinegar on my hair for a long time, and the essential oils added to the vinegar/water mixture are all but overwhelmed by the vinegar smell. And the shave gel...sigh.  I know you can get a bottle of aloe vera at the dollar store for a buck, but I read that the stabilizers and thickening agents used there weren't great for your body.  I ordered cold-pressed organic aloe vera gel ($12) and, with olive oil and essential oils, made the most expensive shave gel ever.  It makes my skin soft but it's runny, so it's hard to shave with.  I think I'll go back to the spray stuff after this. 

I tried a new recipe this week, since I had some leftover pumpkin puree.  I have a great pumpkin bread recipe, but I was intrigued by a recipe that uses raw honey instead of sugar, and Greek yogurt instead of oil/butter (I left out the optional millet).  I didn't expect much, but whoa! 

It was just as good as my regular pumpkin bread recipe.  The regular recipe is 400 calories a slice, and this is just 200 calories a slice.  I highly, highly recommend it! 

This was a great week for finishing projects.  I finished my crewel work, sewing anemone flowers onto some blue linen fabric, and made it into a pillow.

I'm pretty pleased with it and ready to move on to the next crewel project!

I also...drum roll...finished my quilt!!

It was a great milestone for me, finishing this quilt.  I'd always had a desire to learn how to quilt, but I didn't even know how to sew.  I had to take local classes, and online classes, and watch Youtube videos, and make a LOT of mistakes (I didn't even understand what seam allowance was on my first practice quilt!).  I had to learn that a quilt isn't sewn in a day.  It's a process.  I had to snatch 15 and 30 minutes when I could.  I had to recognize that a quilt will never be perfect.  There will always be wonky seams and squares that don't match up as they should.  I'm a perfectionist and it's hard for me to continue working on what I consider to be a flawed product.  But many flawed products helped me to end up with a pretty pleasing first quilt!  

It took me a while to sew the binding (edge fabric) on.  I used clear nylon thread so that the sewing won't show through.  It's very soft, very cozy, and just the right size for cuddling on the couch!  Now if only we could get some cooler weather here so I can actually use it! 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Guernsey Socks & Doggy Walks

Earlier this year we had some beautiful frosts, with white-edged leaves...

...and shimmery spider webs.

But it's been in the 70s lately, and the forecast shows a string of 65 degree days, so now we're seeing more signs of spring...yes, in January!  Bulbs are sprouting all over.

Birds are out and about.

 It's the perfect temperature for dog walks...

 ...or to curl up with a book beside the water.

It's been busy here, though - a little too busy for relaxed afternoons by the pond - so I've had to be content to photograph our pets enjoying the sun.

I have been amazingly productive so far in 2017, thanks to my plan of being ultra organized and also of moving out of my comfort zone a bit.  Fitting these things into my life means that I'm constantly moving and working in order to fit in workouts, my regular job, keeping the house clean, and everything else.  I will admit to being a little frazzled last week, and I made two mistakes with orders, which I almost never do.  But I'm slowly getting used to the new schedule.

Behold, fancy baking for January!  I finally made Sweetapolita's four-layer sweet potato and ginger layer cake with torched marshmallow filling and Swiss meringue buttercream.  It made for a frantically busy Tuesday and I didn't get the cake finished until after supper, but what a cake!  So rich and moist.  Lessons learned:  Swiss meringue buttercream should be beaten for 8 - 10 minutes, not 5.  Also, I don't like it.  Torched marshmallow filling is amazing.  Sweet potato cake is delightfully different than the usual pumpkin.  Pay attention to the instructions when the amount of filling per layer is specified.

Here it is, day 2, sliced up for Todd's work.

Behold, new craft skill for January!  Crewel work, or working with both embroidery floss and wool yarn.  When in Germany years ago I bought some beautiful indigo-colored linen.  I never used it, and it became dust-stained after about a decade (dust can discolor fabric just like the sun can).  Last week I unrolled the fabric and cut out the pieces that were unaffected.  The largest piece was big enough for a medium-sized pillow, so I started working on it.

That white fabric square is Silky Sulky and it's amazing!  You can run it through your printer or hand-trace a design on it, then peel off the backing.  It will adhere to your fabric, but dissolves in water when you're finished.  I hope to have the pillow done by next week!

Another cool accessory I've discovered this year is fusible web.  I used it this week on my quilt applique project.  Basically you trace your design on the paper side...

 and iron it onto the back side of the fabric.

Then you can cut out the shape and have it exactly match the intended piece.

Now how to fuse these pieces to my quilt face before finally being secured by a blanket stitch?  I guess I have a little more work to do!

Behold, a completed knitting project!  Irish guernsey socks.

I knitted them on a size 1 needle, which is quite small.  Still, I wish they were a tiny bit more fitted, but they stay up when I walk and I think they'll be fine.  I love the pattern! 

I have also finished 4 1/2 books so far this year, gotten into a rigorous housecleaning/organizing schedule, started a twice-weekly Bible study and also a twice-weekly mindful living/meditation study, and branched out with healthy food for both myself and Todd (best discovery so far:  an amazing cauliflower crust pizza!).  I love the feeling that being organized and getting things done has given me, but it's a compromise.  There's no more goofing around on Facebook multiple times a day, or getting lost "down the rabbit hole" of various web sites.  There's no lingering over lunch or lost afternoons on light work days.  No prolonged T.V. evenings.  I'm fully dedicated to 2017 being the year of being ORGANIZED and PRODUCTIVE, and that means being more intentional about doing the things I love and less time on being unfocused because I am unprepared, or doing things that aren't really important.  So far, so good!