Thursday, January 30, 2014

Six Things I've Learned About the South...

A little diversion from my norm for the day. The week of Thanksgiving my family and I packed up everything we owned and moved half-way across the country to a place we'd never been for a job my husband was given. Over the last eight weeks I have learned a few things worth sharing. Things that might save you a whole heap of trouble if you move, visit, or even consider the south as a northerner.

1. Red lights mean nothing. NOTHING! Are you driving down the street? Are you approaching an intersection with a light and your car is still in motion? Just keep going. Don't even look up. Just drive. I swear, this is what they teach in Driver's Ed here. Conversely, if you are sitting at a red light pay no attention to the color of the light. Your best bet is to sit and wait for the first cars at the lights crossing your lanes to be stopped. It doesn't matter if your light is green. If you go as soon as the light turns green odds are you are going to be T-boned or T-bone some one running a red light. 
2. Snow- even forecast snow- is like unto an F5 tornado. PANIC! This was one of the most shocking things to me as a northerner. 12-18 inches of snow in less than 24 hours was perfectly typical where we came from. School was rarely even delayed for such weather. But here? Here there is a forecast of 1-2
New York Normal
inches of snow and schools and businesses close preemptively, and Kroger's shelves are cleared of milk, bread, and bottled water. Likewise with temperatures under 40.
3. NEVER Say to a Southerner that #2 is different from what you know. Truly. It's highly offensive blasphemy. You might as well have told them that their baby is ugly. Stating that where you just came from this is not even noticeable, and that the response to the weather from the natives gives you a chuckle is a personal insult to Southerners. Which kinda' irritates you as a Northerner because they're angry that YOUR normal is different from THEIR normal and it just ends up being a whole, "I'm offended because you're offended" circle, which is just generally ridiculous and unproductive. So learn from me: just don't say it. (And follow that link. It raises an excellent point with side-splitting laughter and fact. No, it's not me. LOL! )
4. Chipotle and Chick Fil A are in, McDonalds and Burger King are out. This I can totally be on-board with. THIS is a refreshing difference. Where I come from McD's and BK have the corner on the market on fast food, and even their "healthy" options are sickeningly UNhealthy. Leaves a mama in a bind when she strives to feed her kiddos healthy, but sometimes family life requires a quick stop to snag food and
chuck it into the back rows to be nom-nommed in carseats. I was SO excited when the town 20 minutes from me in NY got a Chipotle(CFA was not happening), so when we were moving I decided to search for them in our new city. I was shocked. Twelve. Twelve Chipotles within 20 minutes. And Chick Fil A? SIXTEEN! Sure, fried chicken is fried chicken, but the more wholesome ingredients and natural lemonade are superior, in my opinion.
5. Homeschooling is ALMOST normal! If we dared to leave the house between 9am and 3pm on a weekday in NY, we heard non-stop questions about, "Are your kids sick?" and "Why aren't you in school?" Which are inevitably followed by, "But what about socialization?" or "How will they know how to stand in line?" and "Are you in a religious cult or something?" Down here it is refreshing for a cashier to look at my two obviously school-age kiddos and say, "Are you guys homeschooled?" As much as I DON'T care about being "normal," it's pretty cool to not have to defend my kids' education any time we hit Food Lion for almond milk and yet another 2-pound brick of cheese mid-week. 
6. Starbucks is rarely a drive-through. WHAT?! WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT?! Maybe it's a New Yorker thing, one of those "the south is not in a hurry" things, but if I'm going to treat myself to a venti caramel brulee latte with skim milk and an extra shot of espresso hold the whip, I'm out with the nuggets and I need something to sustain me. Requiring me to get out of the car, unbuckle four children from 5-point harnesses, cross a parking lot, go inside, keep said brood quietly in line while we wait for my perk-me-up, then juggle a piping-hot beverage AND Mr. Grabby Mc30-pound-9-month-old while I usher the fore-mentioned brood back out the door, across the parking lot, and buckle everyone BACK into the car, it's not worth it. On the bright side, at least on the rare stops at Starbucks my kids get the line-forming lesson they're missing in their absence from public school.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The San Francisco Treat!

There are a few things that are really nostalgic flavors to me. One is Moosewood's Mexican Pepper Casserole. It reminds me of childhood on the farm with bountiful pepper harvests and using up what didn't sell at the farmer's market. Another is German Chocolate Cake- my dad's favorite birthday cake that we had every year. But one of my favorite's of all was homemade rice-a-roni. It's easy, tasty, and really stretches a super tight budget with low-cost ingredients. It also lends itself nicely to substitutions to make it vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free. I still make it for my own family.
   The line-up of ingredients is simple:

  • 2 Tbsp butter(or EVOO)
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice*
  • 3/4 cup uncooked spaghetti noodles, broken into 1-inch long pieces
  • 3 cups chicken stock(or water + appropriate amounts bullion)
*Brown rice can be substituted, but liquid and cooking time will both need to be doubled
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the uncooked rice and spaghetti to the butter and stir frequently until the rice is opaque white and the spaghetti noodles are lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. 
   Add the chicken stock(learn how to make your own for PENNIES here!) and bring the mixture to a busy simmer. Turn the heat down to medium-low heat and cover, stirring occasionally for 15 or so minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed completely and the rice is cooked to your liking. 
   Let it rest for 3-5 minutes before serving. For those of you with small children: this retains its heat VERY well. Might want to let it sit for 10 or more minutes, stirring it every few minutes before serving. My kids love this and dive in spoon-first, always finishing it before anything else I serve with it. Well, so do my husband and I. 
   If you like it a little wetter or rice more well-done, add more liquid and simmer a few minutes longer. Sub EVOO for the butter to make it dairy-free. Sub EVOO and vegetable stock for a vegetarian/vegan side. Use brown rice and whole-grain pasta for a little kick in the healthier direction, just make sure you remember to adjust the liquid and cook times as necessary. And don't forget to humm the jingle while envisioning a trolly rolling through the streets as you cook. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Pits

   I love supporting small business. Even more, I love supporting family businesses. WAHM businesses. Knowing MY hard-earned dollars are directly helping a person or family support themselves is amazing. I'll spend a bit extra for that. It's worth every penny and then some. That's why you'll see me posting links to my sources, suppliers, and favorite shops for things at every chance I get. I am always trying to spread the love for handmade, local goods.
https://www.facebook.com/LearningPetals
   I also love sharing information. I'm a bit of a crunchy, natural-is-best, "just try it" kind of girl, and when I see a good piece of info I love putting it out there for others to read and possibly better their own lives for it. Recently it's been this informative piece circulating. It's FANTASTIC information that all women(even men!) need to be aware of:
   "This is a vital information - literally of life and death - Be sure to read it and send it to those who will appreciate it.

WATER AND SOAP IN ARMPIT BEFORE BEDTIME
We spend the night with armpit deodorant in order for our armpit to smell good and fresh.
Some time ago, I went to a seminar on Breast Cancer, led by Terry Birk with support from Dan Sullivan.

During the discussion, I asked a good question: why is the most common place to develop breast cancer tumors near the armpit?.
My question could not be answered at that time. This information was sent to me recently- I'm glad it has been answered.
Now I want to share the information with you.!  One of the main causes of Breast Cancer is the use of antiperspirant.
Most products on the market are a combination of antiperspirant/deodorants. Look at the labels! Deodorant is fine, however ANTIPERSPIRANT can be very harmful because of the concentration of toxins that causes cell mutation: CANCER.
Here's why:

The human body has few areas where it can eliminate toxins: behind the knees, behind the ears, the English areas and armpits. Toxins are eliminated through perspiration. The antiperspirant, as the name says, prevents you from perspiring, thereby inhibiting the body to eliminate toxins through the armpits-these toxins do not magically disappear. My question to you all-where does the toxin go?

Most breast cancers occur in the upper outside quadrant of the breast area (see pic). More common in women however men are not free from this sickness too. Breast Cancer can develop due to the use of antiperspirant instead of soap and water. The difference lies in the fact that when men use antiperspirant, not applied directly to the skin, they do so in large part on the hair of the armpits. Women who apply antiperspirant or aftershave- shaving the underarms, increase the risk due to tiny injuries and skin irritations which allows harmful chemical components to penetrate more quickly into the body." 


   That is why I quit manufactured deodorant two years ago. I just could not stand KNOWING I was putting aluminum and other carcinogens directly into my body at least once a day. At first I listened to the people in my crunchy circle saying anything was unnecessary, that it takes a couple of weeks for your body to purge its underarm pores of the build-up of toxins, then you would be fine. Their definitions of "fine" and "need" must be different from mine... MY POOR HUSBAND! 
   So I started looking for a natural product to use. My first purchase was at Sheri's Soap Opera on Etsy. Her all natural vanilla-lavender deodorant was very nice during the winter and spring, but as summer weather with its 90+% humidity and temps of the same number rolled in I found I needed something more. Maybe I'm just smelly. So I did research on what natural deodorizers and deodorant recipes(though I was not willing to make my own- can you believe it?! ) were out there and began searching for a product with exactly those components. 
   That's what led me to Relax Naturals at Daribums. Her cream deodorant had everything I wanted. The initial, "Wait, I apply it with my HANDS?!" factor was intimidating, but I figured wash my hands after putting on deodorant vs. substantial risk of breast cancer. Hmm. I could probably handle washing my hands. So I gave it a try. I will never go back. Seriously. Best stuff ever. Smells incredible(scent is customizable with essential and natural fragrance oils), goes on so easy, and lasts ALL day- even for a mama like me who exercises, gardens, does lawn work, carries fat-fat babies around, and quite frankly does not have the luxury of a shower every day, or even every other day most times. The ick factor: gone. A swipe of my finger in the little tub, then rub it over my armpit with two fingers like I'm swiping on lotion, then five to ten seconds to rinse anything lingering really is nearly as quick as stick form. Plus it works better. And did I mention no cancer risk?! You really truly cannot beat that.

*Yep, I know something's wrong with the background on this post. No idea what nor have any of my attempts fixed it.... * 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Can it Really Be? Something for ME!

   I never do things for myself. EVER. With one exception: Absolute need. Like a quick repair or alteration,
or the realization that the kiddos put MY winter hat on the snowman which is now buried beneath 18 inches of snow SOMEWHERE in the yard. Then and only then I'll make the time to whip up a quick something for myself.
   Three years ago I decided to change that. For my birthday in 2011 my parents gave me a new Bible. I was so excited, and immediately began searching Pinterest for a pattern for the perfect cover/carrying case for it. I had a vision in mind, though, and I was not about to settle. I mean, if I'm going to do something for myself, I'm going to do it right so I'm not flooded with regret over the time and resources wasted every time I see or use it. It had to be sturdy. It had to be customizable. It had to have room for my pens and church notes and announcements- pockets, preferably- and it had to look nice. Beautiful, even. And in its beauty it needed to be able to stand up to a beating of tramplings when it's forgotten on the floor of the van where I will inevitably forget it from time to time when I am buckling four kids into car seats. It also needed to be convenient for carrying when I drop the purse(aka diaper bag) off with the baby in the nursery, and EASY enough for any of my children to carry should I need to hand it off while juggling a baby, a mammoth purse stuffed with anything the kids might need, and a coffee cup. Finally I found exactly the right thing: the Scripture Cover tutorial by Delia Creates. Perfection! I even pulled some of my hoarded Kumari Garden Holiday fabric from Dena Designs in my stash for the project. And then it sat. For two long years.
   Until this Christmas, that is. As of November I am no longer a work-at-home-mom, so my creations are exclusively for US- whether it be my friends or my family. It has been such fun to make things solely for loved ones without a concern about them selling, being the right size, the right season, or risking a favorite fabric I'd love to use for MY kids on inventory that may or may not sit, and just in general not feeling the love for something I literally put my whole heart into creating. This Christmas I decided to do a gift for me: my Bible cover that was forever being pushed further and further down the "To Sew" list. I'm so glad I did. It's beautiful. It's exactly what I'd wanted. It's a snippet of my favorite fabric collection just for ME to look at. It feels good. Now to find another project for myself to take ANOTHER three years to make...

Have you recently made anything for yourself? 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Pattern Love

   I've always been a big fan of ruts. I find a nice, comfortable one and I stay there in every way I possibly can. Recently my older sister half-joking, half-seriously stated that I am "CEEEE-MEN-TED" into one of my ruts. I'd venture to say I am that way to most. I just like the predictable, the routine, the things I know are a sure thing. Occasionally, though, I branch out and try something new. Most of the time it's a one-time-thing, but I give myself credit for trying something new. Sometimes, though, I LOVE what I've found. Sometimes it makes its own new rut.
   One recent "new" thing I tried: The Made-By-Rae Geranium Dress sewing pattern. In fact, I liked it so much I bought it in every size, birth through girls 12. Immediately I sewed a size 8 for my big girl with some fabric she'd found during the fall, and she loved it to. Every morning that she sees her "Foxy" dress hanging clean in her closet, she puts it on with either a brown or red tee underneath(it is winter, after all). And she wants more. Makes a mama's heart squeal when one of her babies so loves a creation like that. That's probably why, aside from the fact that it's a quality, well-written, easy to modify, tons of options and frills pattern, I love it so much. And it's why if you invite me to a girly baby shower or have a girl and invite my kids to her party, you're likely going to end up with one of these in a gift bag.
12-24 months Pepo Pie vest
   Another "new" rut I am working on working into coziness: The Pepo Pie. Nope, not food. The vest pattern by Joeli Caparco. It is a snappy, dapper little garment, a quick knit, SUPER easy, and ridiculously adorable. Not to mention: It's a fantastic excuse to use a less expensive solid or semi-solid yarn and go all-out with some stunning custom buttons like the ones made by my all-time favorite button maker, Tessa Ann Designs. The pattern is a little obscure and could easily be confusing for an extreme novice, but once you've knit it once it all comes together, makes sense, and you'll knit it again. And again. And again. I knit my first the first week of October. I'm now working on my fourth, three months later. It's one of those quick, easy knits that everyone gasps over, amazed that "you knit that?!" and is a fantastic little show piece to go with every outfit. My own littlest guy wore his for Thanksgiving dinner with my family in Durham, and my grandma who has been knitting for decades and taught ME to knit 23 years ago adored it as well. THAT takes the cake above all. Well, maybe not ALL. The BEST was when my 5-year-old last week asked if I'd knit one for him with some "Silly Mr. Mustache buttons" we spotted on sale at the craft store.  It always thrills me when my kids request handmade goods. THAT is a sure sign of raising 'em right: when your kids love handmade and are "Vocal for local" of all kinds. In my opinion, anyway. ;-)
   Have you tried a new pattern lately? Doesn't matter the craft. I'd love to hear about it. Maybe
it'll even inspire me to step out of a rut and try something new, too. :-)

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Ukrainian Irishman: A Rough Tutorial on Lining a Knitted Hoody

My goal for this 2013/2014 winter season was to provide my youngest with an entirely hand-made wardrobe. I was so excited. All summer long I shopped sales, used coupons, and placed co-op orders to get everything I could possibly need at the best possibly prices. While his fancy sets of wool pants and
matching embellished lap tees were SO fun and get him oodles of ooh's and aah's everywhere we go (and everywhere I brag them online :giggle: ), my special prized piece is his winter jacket. I planned it first and searched for the supplies for months. I had two of the three skeins of worsted Peace Fleece in Ukrainian Red needed in my stash, and searched high and low for a third without resorting to retail. I support the company, but the shipping for one skein costing more than the skein itself defeated the purpose of my frugal wardrobe mission. Finally I found a kind woman on Ravelry with the skeins I needed, and she sold them to me at a serious bargain to boot. I could've hugged her. (Thanks again, michellerene!!!)
Step 1: Knit the sweater
   So I had the yarn, and I had the lining. My goal was to make a jacket that was both beautiful and functional. Warm enough to withstand serious winter cold, but not so bulky it became dangerous in a car seat. (Yep, I'm one of THOSE crazy car seat safety nuts. And proud.) I chose the Pippin pattern by Gretchen Lichtman of Three Irish Girls because I'm a sucker for cables and it seemed to have the ease I wanted to accommodate the knit cotton interlock lining.
   So on the tutorial of sorts. Step 1: Knit the sweater. I followed the size 12-18 months pattern, with a few modifications to make it the way I wanted. The design is knit from the bottom up and very different from any other sweater pattern I've followed. It was fun to try something new. Unfortunately I did not notice there was an error in the numbers of this size until I was too far into the raglan decreases and nearly to the hood so it was unfixable. Thankfully, no one has noticed but me and the few knitters I've pointed out the error to. I'm sure knitters can spot it in the picture to the left, if they try. :giggle:
Step 3: Cut the body lining
   Step 2: BLOCK THE FINISHED OBJECT! Can't forget this step. Must not. Ever. No matter what you're knitting. Especially if it has cables. See why and how here.
   Step 3: Cut the body lining. I laid the desired lining fabric on my cutting mat, then laid the blocked garment on top, then cut the body shape out with a 1/2-inch seam allowance, tracing(then cutting after moving the garment) the raglan line with the same allowance.


   Step 4: Cut the sleeve and hood linings. Lay the blocked garment on the appropriate fabrics and cut with a 1/2-inch seam allowance just as you did the body.
   Keep in mind, however, with the sleeves that you can fold the fabric in half so there's only one seam, and on that side you do not need a seam allowance.
   Also, on the fabric cut for the hood, it's easiest to lay the hood sideways so it is flattest and most proportional.
   All your pieces should now be cut out.
   Step 5: Sew all your lining pieces together at the seams.  It will be obvious what goes together wear. Just lay it out flat and sew up the seams. Remember to sew it inside out because odds are you want the print to show inside the jacket.
   When you're done, you should be able to turn it right side out and see a jacket pretty much identical in shape and proportions to the knitted one.
Step 5: Sew all the lining pieces together
   Step 6: Sew the lining into the sweater. Loosen your tension a couple notches to about a 6 or so, and lengthen your stitch to about a 2.5 or 3. This makes the sewing nearly invisible from the outside of the jacket.
   Making sure the lining is inside out, push the sleeves into the sleeves, the hood into the hood, and pin it along key seams that will keep it lined up. I turned the 1/2-inch allowance under at the hems and cuffs, and using thread that matched the yarn color, I sewed along key seams and stress points: the cuffs, the hem, all the way around the button band and hood border, as well as at the top seam of the hood and the back of the neck.
   Make sure when you sew up along the button band you are not covering the button holes! I sewed JUST beside them and used the line of button holes to guide the very edge of my presser foot.

   Step 7: Attach the buttons. I chose so inexpensive buttons made of coconut, of all things, that I'd found on sale. They were the perfect little contrast to the red of the sweater, but matched the browns of the inner.
   Step 8: PUT IT ON! Lasso the little chubster your creation is made for and give it a test run. Then try to take photos for Ravelry and Facebook while he laughs at you, finds a scrap of paper to chew on, and just in general tries really hard NOT to cooperate with your process.

TOTAL COST: $18.00 in yarn, $6.00 in fabric, $1.50 in buttons
TOTAL TIME: A week of spare knitting time and an hour to do the lining
Seeing my Badger Boy wear the coat all winter long that I brainstormed over for months and put my heart and soul into: PRICELESS!!!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chronic Start-Over

I used to blog several times a day. For YEARS. Now I'm lucky if I have time once a month. The New Year of course is a great time to recommit to blogging, right? RIGHT?! I say yes.
   For starters, what have I been up to for the last 6 weeks? Oh, not much. Just a move half-way across the country, two holidays away from everything we've ever known, and a four-week battle with RSV running through our entire family from the youngest to the oldest. Aside from that? Some knitting, of course. A flouncy, ruffled, cabled skirt for my oldest for Christmas using the beautiful Sea Anemone pattern by the supremely talented Elena Nodel. Did the math for a free-handed hoody for my son and LOVED it, so I'm working out the numbers and simple
instructions to make it a freebie on my pattern shop. Other ideas for more fun knits are always brewing, but the determining factor is how much time my littles allow me for brain function AND knitting. That kind of time comes at a serious premium these days when homeschooling kids who are 7, 5, and 3, and keeping a handle on my 9-month-old Mr. Go-Go-Eat-Every-Crumb-and-Pebble-I-Find.... who is currently sitting beside me gnawing on a sheep from his Little People nativity set and a silicone bracelet from SmileSunshine Designs. The sheer fact that I've typed this much this quickly with him awake is a miracle in itself.
   In preparation for our move, I downsized my stash by more than half. I'm sure a 30-gallon tote of mixed woven fabrics, an 18-gallon tote of knit fabrics, and a 30-gallon tote of yarns is obscene for some, but, well-
I'm a hoarder when it comes to fibers. This is tiny for me, and everything I have has a purpose. One special splurge from my stash: dipping into my collection of Dena Designs' Kumari Holiday wovens for a over for my bible. I found a fantastic tutorial on Pinterest that will work really well for a cover and convenient for carrying when it's not in the diaper bag.
   Next on the needles is a Pepo Pie vest for my big guy using KnitPicks DK Swish and some clearance buttons I found that he fell in love with, then one last pair of longies to round out Little Guy's winter woolies stash. Last but not least on my list for this first month of the New Year: A pair of socks for my nephew's upcoming 7th birthday. *If you have any pattern suggestions for  Fingering or DK weight yarn, I'd love to have them!*

   So what are the crafty plans for the New Year? What's in the queue for this year? Or just this month? I'd love to hear from you!