Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Yarn Along: Finished Gifts

Joining Ginny today for the yarn along.  Since she is sharing finished handmade gifts at this last yarn along of the year, and since I haven't been around to post a yarn along since Dec 10th, I thought I too would share what Christmas creations kept me busy in the 'missing' weeks of this month.

more mini mittens

I made five pair of mini mittens in all, one pair in blue for a friend who loves the color blue, and two sets of pink and blue for family members who have both a young daughter and a young son.

the fingerless gloves for DD1's long-time boyfriend

He was quite surprised that I had knit him something, and, according to DD1, he wears them all the time.

Lego mitts

I saw these earlier this fall, and just knew I had to make a pair for DS2.  He was a huge fan of Legos growing up, still has all his Bionicles sets in their original containers, and isn't too cool to admit that even in college he likes to build with Lego blocks.  I'm betting these mitts get shown off on campus once he gets back to school for his final semester.  Because he's in his senior year at an engineering college, and everyone there will think his mitts are the coolest.  Even the grad students.

Then there were several non-knit gifts that I also made.  I forgot to take a picture of the several pounds of peanut brittle, but I did get photographic evidence of the sewn items I created this month.


This, too, was a gift for DS2.  He likes to cook, and did not yet own an apron.  Being that he has secured a job after graduation with Ford Motor Company, I thought that an apron in Ford print fabric would make a good gift.

flannel nightgown

K3 came to Michigan woefully lacking in warm winter jammies. Grandma to the rescue!  I made this simple nightgown a bit long so that she can get several winters out of it before it gets outgrown.  (Full disclosure:  I had planned to make more than one, but ran out of time, so finished just one for Christmas.  One or two more will be made before this winter is over; the fabric is washed, ironed, and waiting to be cut.)

fabric box

I saw a tutorial for cute quilted boxes this summer, and decided to try my hand at making one.  Being my first attempt, it isn't perfect, but it was good enough to gift holding a baggie of peanut brittle.  In the above picture, it holds a jar of mint sugar scrub, which had been my original intention of what to put in the box, but I decided it looked better with a bag of candy sticking out the top than a jar of skin scrub nestled down inside.

baprons, front side

baprons, reverse side

Poor Toad is teething, and subsequently drooling all over every shirt he owns, soaking it within fifteen minutes of putting it on.  So, I hunted up the tutorial for making baprons--baby aprons--that I found back in 2012 and made him a few of his own.  In my hunting for the tutorial, I discovered that the free pattern I downloaded 2+ years ago is no longer free as of summer 2013.  Which made me scramble through my file cabinet hoping I hadn't thrown away my paper pattern and printed instructions!  Thankfully, I was able to locate both, and Toad now has his very own baprons and his chest stays dry.

burp cloths
 (or, as they are known less genteelly around this little place here: "spit rags")

spit rags unfolded to show their 12" x 15" finished size

So, all that is part of what kept me from blogging for most of the second half of December.  The other parts have nothing to do with knitting, sewing, or other crafting, so they'll have to be blogged about on some day that isn't a Wednesday.  ;0)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Goal Met

I don't believe I mentioned it here; in fact, no one in my family even knew until earlier this month, but last January I set a goal for myself for 2014.  Well, I had several goals, but this one was something that I alone had control over (compared to, say, my goal of getting my horses home this year; which required $$, labor and cooperation on DH's part).

And, interestingly (or maybe not interestingly) enough, it is the ONE goal I actually met in 2014.  Okay, not the only goal I achieved, but the only one on the list I began this year with.  A few others cropped up part-way through, so I'm not counting them on the  same level as this one.

What was this goal?

Don't laugh.  Because it probably sounds pretty dorky.

To not buy bread this year.

Meaning, I would bake all my bread this year, instead of running to the store and buying bread if I didn't feel like making it.  Because in late 2013 I found myself often taking the easy way out and spending $3 a loaf for (somewhat) comparable bread to what I make instead of taking the time to measure, mix, knead, roll, and bake my family's weekly bread.  $3 a loaf times two loaves a week for something that a) cost more than twice the price of the ingredients I would use, and b) was not nearly as good in taste, texture, or nutrition as the bread I made.

It bugged me that I was spending our grocery money this way, and that I was finding it easier and easier to rationalize store bought bread even though every time I ate a piece I was totally disappointed in it (not to mention disappointed in myself). So, I challenged myself to not buy a single loaf of bread in 2014.

And I did it!!  Or, rather, I didn't do it.  Buy any bread, that is.  Even when going on a road trip, a weekend canoe/camping trip, or on vacation. I planned ahead, made my bread(or planned a menu that didn't include bread), and did not spend a single cent on store bought bread this year.

Such a seemingly little thing, but you know what, it feels like a major accomplishment to me.  It took dedication, and quite a bit of elbow grease, to make our bread week in and week out all year.  Especially when DS1 and family moved in and our bread consumption went from 1.5-2 loaves a week to 4 loaves each week.

That's somewhere in the realm of  110 to 130 loaves of bread, all kneaded by hand. No laughing matter.  And a savings of $165 to $195 if I figure it cost me $1.50 in ingredients for each loaf, which I know it didn't.

Not so dorky of a goal after all.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Tree

What do you get when you take
  • a potted Norway spruce purchased at auction in October,
  • an old plastic milk crate acquired from nobody remembers where,
  • a black rubber grain pan not used since the pony died in 2005,
  • a red, green, black and gold plaid table cloth from the oval table we owned (that sat six people, maximum, with it's leaf in full time) before getting our larger, oblong table (seats six w/out the leaf, up to 12 with leaves)
  • and a tree skirt made with Christmas print fabric and an out of style women's wrap skirt sewing pattern

Answer:  a live Christmas tree that doesn't leak water on the floor, fits plenty of gifts underneath, and can be planted outside (landscape your yard!) after the holiday is over.

With so many people in the house this year, I hadn't wanted to get a full-size cut tree. Takes up too much room that we definitely needed for seating and just for being able to walk through the living room.  And I swear I will never, ever, do a fake tree (just a personal over-my-dead-body kind of conviction; no offense to anyone who prefers an artificial tree).  

So, when I bought a bunch of Norway spruce at auction during the fall for planting across the front of our property, I saved out a nice symmetrical one and designated it as our Christmas tree for 2014.

Having a live tree meant that we did not put up and decorate our tree right after Thanksgiving. In fact, we didn't bring it into the house until Monday Dec 22nd, and it went out again yesterday, Saturday Dec 27th.  I got a whole lot of flack for that from pretty much everyone I ran into who asked, all during the month of December, if I had my tree up yet.  But I had good reason for waiting so long:  this gave it the least exposure to indoor temps, and the best chance at survival when we did plant it (yesterday afternoon).  Having an incredibly warm spell lately, with temperatures in the upper 40s and soft, moist ground for planting in will also (hopefully) help this tree live on for many years to come.

(In the past we've tried potted trees twice; both bought from nurseries selling live Christmas trees, and neither one survived more than about 6 months after Christmas.  Both were kept in the house longer; one even lived in the basement until spring when the ground thawed.)

Being that the tree was only in the house for five days, and those were busy five days, I forgot to get a picture of it until right before I took the decorations off so that DH could relocate the tree to the row of other Norway spruces planted in October.  Hence the not so great picture, above.  It was taken in haste with my cell phone, and a whole lot of light coming in the sliding door behind the tree.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Goose is Cooked

Remember these guys?:

They grew up to look like this:

And one of them was the main feature of our Christmas dinner.

None of us had ever eaten goose before (duck, pheasant, squirrel, bear, and elk, yes, but not goose) so to say we were a little nervous when we sat down to the table on Christmas would be an understatement.

A nice, browned, roasted goose, mashed potatoes, slow-cooked green beans (w/bacon, onion, garlic, chicken broth, and tomato sauce) and applesauce were laid out on the table in front of us.  Every single dish made with ingredients we had raised (or, in the case of the bacon, that Mother-in-Law had raised).  It was a pretty cool realization that we had brought about this meal not with our pocketbooks and grocery shopping skills, but with our own hands and labor.

But still, we were a bit intimidated by the thought of eating that goose.  Goose.  New territory.  Was it going to be edible, or awful?

Then we each took our first bites. And declared that goose needs to become a staple of our diet.

The flavor and texture are hard to describe.  Goose makes a lot of grease (it should be cooked on a rack in a roasting pan, but I couldn't find mine, so I just sucked the grease out with a baster every half hour or so); yet it is not a fatty, greasy meat like bear.  It is all dark meat, unlike chicken or turkey which provide both light and dark meat on the same bird.  It has a rich flavor, somewhat like chicken livers in certain muscles.  And the texture is very firm, sort of like beef.

Of course, different methods of cooking might produce different results on the texture, but I still think it is totally unlike the texture of other poultry such as turkey and chicken.  I roasted my goose in the oven, with a mixture of sage, thyme, salt, and pepper.

The grease I had taken from the pan during roasting I saved, added water, salt, pepper, and a little cornstarch, and made a very delicious gravy with.  Goose gravy!  Have you ever heard of such a thing?!?

We had a fair amount of meat left on the carcass at the end of our Christmas dinner, so I saved it in the fridge and made goose soup for dinner yesterday.  I couldn't find a recipe using a whole goose; most I saw called for deboning the goose before putting in the soup pot--probably because the goose is too long to fit in a pot (I cracked the carcass in half and stuffed it in my 8qt pot), so I just used pretty much the same recipe as when I make chicken or turkey soup from carcasses.  Water, salt, pepper, sage, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder and the carcass brought to a boil, then simmered until the meat falls off the bones.  Remove bones, add a few diced carrots and potatoes, a chopped up stalk of celery, more water if needed, and a double handful of egg noodles.  Once the veggies are soft, it's ready to eat.

Roasted goose, goose gravy, and goose soup.  I foresee more goslings arriving at this little place here in the spring, for more future goose dinners next fall and winter!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Yarn Along #17: Whoops!

Joining in with Ginny and the Yarn Along again this week.  This time, to fearless show the world my first attempt at fingers in a glove. Or, more specifically, partial fingers in a fingerless glove. Capisce?

No? I don't blame you.  DH asked me, while I was knitting, why I was making fingers if it was fingerless.  And, if it were truly fingerless, how could it be called a glove?

Anyway, to try to shed some light on this very confused mess (and believe me, glove #1 was a confused mess before I knew it); I am making this pattern.  It will be for DD1's boyfriend, aka my 3rd son (they've now been dating a year longer than DH and I knew each other before we got married!).  I had consulted DD1 on the idea of fingerless gloves for 3rd son's Christmas present, and she told me he would wear them, but only if they had 'partial' fingers instead of the kind that is a tube with a thumb hole.  So, I found a pattern that looked appropriately manly, was large enough, and had finger beginnings.  And I commenced to knitting.

Until I got to finger #3, which was actually supposed to be finger #2 and things were not making sense and my fingerless glove looked like it was for an alien rather than a human being.

palm side of glove

back side of glove
notice anything strange?

Umm, yeah.  My brain and the pattern obviously were not communicating here.  So I frogged back to where you slip stitches onto stitch holders for the fingers.  And I re-read the pattern.  Like five times.  Then I went on Ravelry and read all the notes I could find on the pattern.  None of them mentioned having alien hands.  Then I googled how to make fingers in gloves and came up with some YouTube videos.  

And suddenly it all made sense.  Never having made gloves before, I had followed the pattern, but it assumed that the knitter in question (me) knew that you put the stitches on one stitch holder in the opposite direction as the other.  Something I had not known.

So, I tried again, making sure the second stitch holder was opposite of the first.  And, viola!  A fingerless glove fit for a human!  (Once I get the yarn ends properly woven in, that is.  They are just tucked under for the picture).

I did notice once it was finished, however, that I kind of messed up the pattern on the back of the glove.  There is supposed to be parallel zigzags, and, well, they zig but don't zag quite right.  But you know what?  It still looks okay to the uninformed (the intended recipient), and as long as I make the same mistake on the right hand glove, nobody will be the wiser that it kind of deviated from the original pattern.  I had all ready decided to make the fingers several rows shorter than the pattern anyway, because I only wanted them to go to the first knuckle rather than halfway to the fingertips.

Meanwhile, I also have a little pink pair of mini mittens to show off.  They, too, need their loose ends secured and cut.

mini mittens and cuff of glove #2

And I have finally found a book (I've 'tried out' three or four in the last few weeks) that I will definitely read all the way to the end!  I went and grabbed one by an old favorite mystery author, Donna Andrews, and am enjoying every minute spent reading the past two days.  The Good, the Bad, and the Emus. . . feels like a welcome and much needed rest after figuratively bashing my brain against a few books that weren't my style.

Monday, December 8, 2014

This Happened

I had a birthday over the weekend.

It was a good one, as birthdays go.  No big fanfare, just my favorite flavor of cake (chocolate), my favorite flavor of ice cream (mint chocolate chip), my favorite meal (beef pot roast the way my grandma used to make it).  I got to spend about three or four hours doing my own thing (a little horse time, a little sewing, a little crafting), without kids or grandkids tagging along, and without DH interrupting me to ask where this thing is or where that thing goes, or when such and such is going to get done. Probably the most satisfying day I've had in a long time.

Which made yesterday all the more frustrating to get through:  interruptions, people wanting me to do things for them, grandchildren foisted on me "for a minute or two" that turned into closer to an hour when I was all ready fairly busy. . .

Blah.  I feel like a grumpy old lady.  Which, sadly, is nothing new, but in the last several months it's gone from an occasional thing to just about every day .  I'm not sure if it's just that time of year (short days, dreary skies, the craziness of the holiday season) or if it's due to the housing situation (having DS1 & family living here with us), or if it's what happens to women in their forties (hormones, you know).

Most likely it's a combination of all three.  I suspect, however, being 43 itself has something to do with it.  You see, many years ago, I figured out I would be 43 when my youngest child graduated from high school.  43 when I had an empty nest.  43 when my time would be more my own, rather than decided by what kid needed what when and where.  My 'retirement', of sorts.

I've looked forward to being 43.  Motherhood has been, truthfully, a long haul.  I've been at it for 25 years now.  Almost 26 if you count from when I first got pregnant with my eldest.  Because that was when I started to relinquish myself to the needs of my offspring: eat right while pregnant.  Get adequate sleep while pregnant.  Stop riding unbroken horses while pregnant.  Stop barrel racing horses at 4 months pregnant.  Stop riding all together (even on the most trustworthy horses) from 7 months pregnant to 6 weeks post partum.  And then, with DS2: no drinking on 21st birthday (pregnant). No drinking at all while pregnant for DS2, DD1 (22nd birthday!), DD2. . . No medications at all while pregnant with any of them, not even a pain reliever (I was a purist).  No "dangerous" behavior, no matter how fun it sounded. (Okay, I confess, I did gallop a horse while pregnant for DD1, but I rode in two-point, so not to jostle the baby!)

Not to mention the school functions and the sports events I went to; all of which I wouldn't have attended had I not been the mother of a participant.  And with four kids, there have been hundreds of them.  Have I ever said that I am not a sports fan?  I really, really, have no desire for spectator sports.  Yet, I've been to soccer games and football games and basketball games (girls and boys) and baseball games and softball games and track meets. . .

43 has sort of stood in my future like a shining beacon of freedom.  Of accomplishment.  Well done, good and faithful mother. Nearly 26 years of being 'on the job' 24/7.  Who wouldn't be ready to retire after 25+ years of service?

43 has represented completion: no more mandatory attendance at crap  things I would not, on my own, choose to go to.  My time my own.  Days that stretch on with the promise of no more rushing here or there, endless time to do the things I have always wanted to do, but yet didn't fit in with raising a family, so I put off until that magical time in the future when my kids were all grown up.  When I was 43.

But now 43 is here. I am little more than five months away from my youngest daughter's high school graduation.  Little more than eight months before she leaves for college.  And my house is fuller than it ever was.  It will not be empty when I'm 43.  And I will not be done raising children or putting off my desires in order to make time for their needs.

I'm in a strange place.  I cannot begrudge K3 and Toad their need for me when their parents are not home.  Nor can I deny that I feel just as strongly about their being with a parent (or grandparent) rather than a babysitter as much as possible, as I did with my own children.  I want what I want for them, yet it means more self-sacrifice on my part.  Yet on the other hand, I don't want to let go of the dream of what 43 is supposed to be for me.  I did my time.  I gave it my all, and then some.  I'm tired.  I want to be done.  I want to move on, to get to do all the things I've waited years (or decades) to do.

I'm afraid 43 is not going to be an easy age.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Challenge #42: String Some Popcorn

When I was a small child, say under the age of 10 or so, we used to string popcorn in December.  Maybe you've done it too; taken a big bowl of popped popcorn (no salt or butter), a needle and a long piece of thread, and made a popcorn string to decorate your Christmas tree. Sometimes we used to put our popcorn strings on the trees outdoors, as food for the birds and squirrels.

If you've never done this before, I challenge you to give it a try!  It's really easy, all you do is make some popcorn, and after it has cooled off, use the needle to poke a hole and string each piece through one of the biggest, strongest parts.

If you have done this before, I still challenge you.  Do it again.  Do it with your kids, if you have kids of school age.  Don't be afraid they'll get hurt with the sewing needles.  They might prick their fingers a time or two, but they'll get the hang of it.  And I doubt a few finger pricks will kill anybody.

Even if you don't have kids, if you are a young single person or an older person whose children are all grown up, string some popcorn.  Drape it on a tree somewhere, either inside or outside where you live.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Yarn Along #16: Even Less Knitting Happening

Another Wednesday has snuck up on me.  At least this one is sunny with big puffy white clouds and temperatures above freezing!  Joining in with Ginny and the Yarn Along once again.

Last week, when I finished those socks after working on them for two months (I don't think even my very first pair took me two months. . . ) I thought I was going to jump into a bunch of smaller knitting projects and have tons of things to share this week.

Ha.  That didn't happen.  I did a couple of small projects, all right.  So small they might have taken a total of three hours to get all of them finished. But do I have a bunch of them to show you?  Nope.  I have two.  Two, tiny, tiny things.

The other mitten of the pair of small mittens I was knitting as tree ornaments to give to someone, and a matching small sweater which is also a tree ornament.

That's it.

After finishing those, I did a gauge swatch to see if maybe, just maybe, because I'm a tight knitter, I could use my size 7 dpns for a pattern that called for size 6's (which I don't own--yet).  But, it didn't work out in my favor.  So, I shall either have to spend time searching for another pattern that I like that uses size 7's (which I'd rather not do, I like the pattern I had chosen), or stop in my LYS  after work tomorrow and buy a set of size 6 dpns (yes, yes!).

And since I can't start on the pair of fingerless gloves I was planning to make next (the reason for the gauge swatch), last night I decided to cast on for another pair of mini mittens, this time in pink.  Because, you know, if you are going to give a blue pair to someone who just had a little baby boy this year, it would probably be nice to also give them a pink pair to represent the toddler daughter they also have. 

little pink mitten, 1/3 finished!

Hopefully next week I will be able to post pics of finished pink mittens (and maybe a pink sweater), and a pair of men's fingerless gloves, and maybe, just maybe a third project that I have yet to pick off my Christmas Presents To Make list.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's Over

Firearm deer season, that is.  Sundown tonight ended Michigan's firearm deer season.  And boy, did it suck.

That's what I'm hearing, so it's not just based on my own dismal hunting experience this season that I make such a negative judgement.  Two straight weeks of hunting, with only one day that I didn't go out (more on that later).  No deer for me, even though I hunted twice a day on weekends and (just about) every evening during the week. No deer for DH, who hunted morning and night, every day for the entire two weeks.  No deer for DS1, who hunted a handful of times.  No deer for DH's buddy who lived with us the first week of deer season.

The only one who can claim a harvested deer to their name is K2, and she shot hers on opening morning.  It was kind of small, by our standards, only weighing in at 100 pounds dressed.  But, apparently, that is a decent size for deer where she comes from, or so we've been told.  And, since she has been the only one to put venison in the freezer this year, we can't tease her too much about taking a 'little one'.

But really, the deer were few and far between.  Where we used to see a dozen in one sitting quite easily, and herds of two or even three dozen on a really good day, this year I think six was the daily record for deer sightings.  I saw those, and they came in two groups of three, staying far enough away that I didn't have a shot at any of them.  Most days, we sat and saw nothing, heard nothing, not even shots in the neighborhood (which, around here, could be several miles away).

I sat and watched the sun come up. Which, when you are surrounded by trees, doesn't look like much.

 I sat and watched birds wake up and come out to feed.


black-capped chickadee

northern flicker

downy woodpecker

red-bellied woodpecker

And on days when not even the birds came out, I sat and looked at evidence of where they'd been.

woodpecker holes in a tree trunk

woodpecker holes in the railing of the 'playset' blind

Other days I looked at things the birds hadn't managed to eat yet.
inchworm, incredibly still alive after a week of temps below freezing
(this photo was taken on the first warm day)

spider with a leg-span no wider than a pencil eraser

rose hips

Sometimes I watched squirrels.

gray squirrel

fox squirrel

fox squirrel

gray squirrel

One morning, there was a black squirrel who had found an apple under some leaves, and it scampered up a tree with it's prize.  However, there were two gray squirrels nearby who either had seen the apple, or could smell it.  One of them followed the black squirrel up the tree, where it proceeded to jump on the black squirrel, making it drop it's apple.  Those three squirrels spent an hour chasing each other in circles and up and down trees stealing that apple from each other.

Sometimes there were no birds or squirrels to watch, so I took pictures of fungus and mosses that appeared on warm, moist days.

yellow fungus on a stump

orange 'jelly fungus' on a living tree limb

moss on some decaying wood

Many days, it was cold, with high temperatures that did not get above freezing.  Some days it snowed.

snow collecting on the top of the door to the apple blind

One day was so bitter cold that I froze to my gun and my tree stand.  Yes, literally.  What little bit of moisture was on my gloves froze to the metal parts of my shotgun, and the bottoms of my boots froze to the metal platform of the tree stand.  I was so bundled up, only my eyes were showing.  I took a selfie, and sent it to DD1 at college.  She said it looked like I was wearing 'some kind of hunting burka'.

very unflattering selfie on a frigid day

Other days, it was warm, and there was either fog, or rain.

just a light mist

rainy evening

While waiting fruitlessly for deer to come my way, I pondered things like how far up it was into the maple tree.

And how far down it is from the platform of the maple to the ground.

And how it's my balance, alertness, and one little nylon strap (connected to a harness under my coat) around a tree limb that is keeping me safely in the tree instead of falling to certain bodily harm.

I didn't just contemplate the maple stand.  I also thought about the little deck we have at the bottom of the ladder to the double stand. How it came to us in one of those scrap lumber 'junk' piles given to us a few years ago by our friend the junk man, and makes a nice stable base for the ladder.

I also thought about things most people never get a chance to see, like a puddle in a small hollow on the top of a tree limb about fifteen feet up in the air.

And how the light reflected off the water held there.

And when I got bored with that, I looked at the mud on the toes of my boots, one warm muddy morning.

Sitting in the deer blind or tree stand in the late afternoons sometimes provided a view of a pretty sunset.

In the past two weeks, I have been in the woods at least once a day, every day, with the exception of the afternoon we were having 25 mph winds with gusts up to 45 mph.  I wimped out.  Too windy; the wind carries your scent too much, and, well, it's just plain miserable being out in that, whether you are in a tree or in an enclosed blind.

All in all, the hours I spent in the woods weren't a total waste even though they didn't result in any meat in my freezer.  For the most part, they were relaxing.  Except for the one morning when, after the sun came up, I noticed this:

my footprint from the evening before, lined in green
deer footprint over my footprint, lined in red

Those rotten deer!  They had been by the apple blind in the night, between the time I came in from it after dark, and when I returned to it just before dawn.  That morning there were deer tracks over my own footprints, right up to the door of the blind!  I sat there and stewed all morning hunt, imagining the deer thumbing their noses at me and saying "nyah-nyah nyah-nyah, you can't catch us!"  And, apparently, they were right.  Because they are in the woods somewhere and not on my dinner plate.