Monday, February 23, 2009

Latest Creative Pursuits

Remember this sweater? Well, the picture above is the first teeny little cable section on the way to this yarn being recyled into this: the Kepler pullover, a free Ravelry download. It's a bit short for my body type, though, I think. I'll likely add an inch or two to the body for length.

I'll confess that it has taken me a little while to get the hang of unravelling and begin to do it well. It's hard to imagine that unravelling a sweater would be at all a challenge, but if you want to achieve one long piece of yarn instead of many separate pieces, knowing how to de-construct a sweater is essential. After struggling for quite a while with the navy blue sweater, I finally did a search on YouTube and found the answer to all my problems. The link is to the first of a two-part series.

Hmm... I haven't quite figured out how to post a video from YouTube here yet. I'll post it if I can.

In the meantime, more knitting/crochet news.

The crocheted blanket is coming along nicely. The colors scare me a bit sometimes (so many!), but I have been craving color, so I'm just going with it. The colors in my living room are rather subdued, but I am wanting more brights lately. I'll post pictures the closer I get to finishing it up.

Other than the blanket and the sweater, I'm also working on a scarf made from some bamboo fiber given to me this past summer. I'm pretty close to being done with that one and will have photos of that to post soon too.

In the meantime, Eve has been improving on her own skills and doing some designing of her own.

This little, red, cotton scarf is a pattern that she came up with herself (though I'm sure the idea has been tried and is out there in the knitting ether somwhere). First she used crochet to chain an entire ball of the yarn and then she knitted her chain! I think it made such a pretty pattern and she was thrilled with the result.

Speaking of craving color, I picked up these two pillows this weekend at Goodwill. The orangey pillow is made with really cool fabric that looks more pink from certain directions and more orange from the other. The nice thing about having a neutral couch is that you can change the look with the accessories.

I'd planned on picking up a few more, again, to add some punch to my living room, but after taking a closer look at the budget, we may need to be practicing being satisfied with what we've got for a while. :) Oh, well. Maybe I'll figure out some other ways to add more color. Necessity is the mother of invention and it has always proved to be an impetus for me in nearly all my home decorating.

Hope you're finding ways to get creativity into your days. What have you been up to creatively lately?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Notes From a Shopping Trip

Whew! Just got back from Whole Foods and I'm seriously hungry! You always have to be careful when you're in that state and grocery shopping; I think I did alright.

Whole Foods is a half hour drive away for me and I used to go once a month to pick up essentials that our regular grocers didn't carry or for items that were over-priced at those same grocery stores. While it is true that Whole Foods charges a ridiculous amount of money for conventionally grown produce (read: the same regular produce at the regular grocery store), they do, generally, offer better deals on things like crackers, jellies, etc. because they have their own store brand. Their organic brands are definitely less than any other place I've seen.

Recently, however, I have been pleased to see how many other store brands have been offering their generic brand crackers without trans-fats. WF won't carry any items with trans-fats and that has always made purchasing easier for this label-reading mama. But I have been pleased - especially in this precarious economic environment, to find that the negative effects of trans-fats seem to have finally reached the ears of the larger companies and prices for those items are coming down.

So, I haven't been to Whole Foods in a little over two months at this point and there are still things I needed that I can't find anywhere else nearby to me. One, is a supply of homeopathic remedies.

Remember all my activities this past weekend, spurred on by my decongestant? Well, that same night I was watching the Batman: Dark Knight with Paul. I had taken the Allegra D that my doctor had given me samples of (in the past I had used Sudafed a few times) earlier in the morning and this was around 9:30 at night. Part way into the film (not the best, by the way, in my estimation; waaaaaaay too long), my heart felt like it was racing a bit and I felt really uncomfortable - woozy - not so good. No more Allegra D thankyouverymuch.

But what of the fluid behind my ear? I really don't want another ear infection. Since this happened the same time last year, and pollen is coating the windshields of our vehicles every time we get behind the wheel now, I am guessing it is some sort of allergic reaction or sensitivity to some blooming plant around here. It doesn't seem to affect my nose, but seems to plug up my ears - in particular, my left.

So, I hopped on over to ABC Homeopathy to input my symptoms into their online remedy finder and see what it could tell me. Other than having great success using arnica for bumps and bruises on a regular basis ever since my older daughter was born over 12 years ago, I have not had a great deal of success in figuring out which remedy to use on my own. That's not to say I don't believe in its efficacy. I've had wonderful success with my Doctor of Oriental Medicine who, in addition to treating with herbs and acupunture, also uses homeopathy.

So, I thought instead of trying to figure it out on my own this time, I'd use the free program over at ABC and see how well it words. I input my symptoms and the remedy that matched most of my needs appears to be Graphites. So, I picked that up at WF and we'll see how it goes. I love that homeopathy has no side effects. I have never been a fan of over-the-counter meds and every single time I give them a try again, save for ibuprofen and other painkillers, I remember why.

Another couple of things I found at Whole Foods were:

Their own brand of 365 organic maple syrup in the 32 oz jug was actually $1.00 cheaper than the conventional maple syrup in the same size jug at Sam's Club. I comment on this, because have you seen the price of maple syrup these days?! This 32 oz jug I'm talking about is $18.99. CRAZY. BUT, for as long as I can I will continue to get real syrup. I would rather thin my real syrup with water than use the corn-syrup alternatives. Especially considering all the bad news coming out on high-fructose corn syrup.

In the January issue of Vegetarian Times, they asked readers to comment on what foods they were not willing to give up in this recession. For me, it's maple syrup and nutritional yeast. I use these foods so often and despite the fact that maple syrup has gone up as much as $2.00 a bottle more than it was at this same time last year and despite the fact that nutritional yeast is $6.99/lb in bulk, I use both of these things way too much in my cooking to skimp on those. I would cut out treats before I'd cut out these, what I'd call, essentials.

What are some foods that are your go-to foods that you would be hard-pressed to give up when times are tight?

I did find a few new things to try and to treat us with this trip. Given that my trips there are few and far between, I do sometimes look for something new and interesting. This time I bought some hazelnut milk that I am excited to try and finally our Whole Foods is now carrying Sheese!!

I tried a taste of this vegan cheese - I got the medium cheddar flavor - when I got home. At over $6.00 for the package, this will be a rare treat, but I can say that in my opinion, it lives up to the hype. To me, this is the closest thing I've tasted to cheeses since giving it up. Generally, I don't even particularly miss cheese. I do like Vegan Gourmet brand of vegan cheeses... think they taste pretty good, but I still don't think they taste like real cheese. This medium cheddar Sheese, though, was different and really, really good! I'd highly recommend giving it a try if you are dairy free and would like a nice cheese alternative now and then.

Well, I had more to talk about, but this hunger has only increased talking about all this food, so I'm going to post this and get something to eat!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Busy, Lovely Valentine's Day

Hello, Friends! Long time, no write, I know. I just haven't felt up to it the past week. I can say, however, that my friend, HS (that's Holy Spirit to you and me!) has been up to a great work this week in me. I have had a major attitude adjustment and am so thankful for God's gentle guidance. (See my preivous post for details).

So, this morning, my girls awoke to Valentines 'a la Daddy:

and Mama:

Paul has an annual tradition of getting each of us girls at least one rose on Valentine's Day. This year we are watching our pennies particularly closely, but that didn't stop him. He watched a tutorial online of how to make tissue paper ones and that's what we got! So cool! Those are mine at the top in my needle vase. He gave the girls' each their favorite color: Maia, yellow and Eve, pink.
I gave everyone a personalized, Valentine haiku that I wrote on the heart-shaped doilies. And I whipped up the little hearts after seeing them on Soule Mama's blog yesterday. She's got a link to the pattern over there.
This time last year I was in bed fighting a cold and the resulting ear infection. To my surprise, the cold is not here, but the plugged ear feeling is. I had my annual visit to my doctor on Friday and asked her to take a peek in there and, indeed, there is fluid. Something in the air, perhaps? She sent me home with some samples of decongestants. I've had decongestants before, but not very often. I'm taking them, because I don't want another infection and it does seem to clear my ear for the greater part of my day.
It also gives me lots of (artificial) energy!
So, artificial or not, I decided to take advantage of it. I'd planned on having this day be for some non-knitting related projects that have needed tending to.
A "Before and After":

The decade-old plain and dirty chair fabric that I never liked from the beginning and now...

a pretty, striped pattern with all the colors I like to decorate with: creams and various shades of blues and greens.

I've also been painting the Adirondack chairs to match the picnic table I painted last year in homage to Monet's Japanese bridge in his garden. Love, love, love that dark-turquoise color!
I'll have before and after photos of that too when they're done.
I've also made pizza for dinner and a special Valentine cake for my sweethearts. I'll have photos of the cake and a recipe to share (if it's as yummy as I hope it will be!) in my next post.
One of my favorite parts of today has been with these two:

There is a little dock across the pond from our back yard. The folks that own the property never use it and don't mind the neighborhood children coming and sitting out there or fishing, etc. Only recently have I let the girls head over there and now they are over there nearly every day!
Occasionally, they will holler to me from across the water, "Mama, come over here!" But inevitably I am in the middle of making lunch or cleaning up or something. So I decided to take a break from all my busyness and spend a little fun time with my two littler Valentines.
So, equipped with my camera and our current book we're enjoying together for school, Charles Dickens', Great Expectations, I headed over and basked a bit in the sun with my girls and read a chapter aloud. It is nice over there, sitting just above the water. I can see the draw for my girls and I'm thankful they have this opportunity at this time in their lives.
It also was a fresh perspective of our own home for me. It was a nice view, I thought. I've always worried a bit, because we have so much activity always happening over here and various things always going on in the yard. I strongly believe that this is what a home should be. We truly live in and around our home. But I do wonder from time to time just what those on the other side of the pond (some of whom really are from the UK! ;) ), see. Does it look cluttered with the rope swing, the hammock, the compost, the laundry line? The trampoline is currently in storage, but the rest remains the same.

And what I saw made me smile. From this point, you couldn't see all the bare patches under the well-loved swing set and around the base of the equally as loved (and climbed-in) tree. You couldn't see that the house really needs a power washing - just as it did 5 years ago when we moved in! :)
No, all you could see was what I thought was a friendly sort of looking place, usually filled with many children, busy doing what children do. And I had the advantage of knowing that it is a friendly place and behind those walls are where many good things happen, many sweet things are created, and where much love is shared every day. It was a very sweet Valentine, indeed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grumble: Humble

I sent an e-mail to some of my family today and decided I might as well share it with all of you too. It's a beneficial message for me and perhaps it will be to some of you as well.

(A special note to Tonia: I wrote and sent your letter this weekend... when I was feeling in a grumbling state. I hope you will forgive my bit of complaining in the letter you will receive from me and know that I am, with God's grace and with hope, moving on to a more joyful place. ) :)

Hello my family,

It is with some humility that I share with you something God showed me last night.

I had a challenging day yesterday for the first part of the day. Nothing out of the ordinary. But I awoke feeling glum and began listing in my head all of the things that were not right for me and how I had been done wrong. I visited and re-visited these thoughts. Then, with a hearty dose of righteous indignation, I also listed just why this should not be so, for all my efforts. :( I was very unhappy; angry, a bit resentful, and upset even with myself for feeling I could not change the course of my feelings.

Things improved in the afternoon and evening, thank goodness. I felt more myself just before bed. Paul was on the computer and I decided to have a look at some verses our pastor listed for us to look up this week in regard to next week's lesson. These, of course, were unrelated to my own dilemma... supposedly. ;)

We were looking up references to Jesus in the Old Testament. Numbers 21:9 is the verse I was looking for. But the whole of the passage struck me, as well as the commentary in the margins of my Bible. Here it is:
Numbers 21: 4b - 9 (emphasis mine)

"But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke out against God and against Moses, and said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!'

Then the LORD sent venemous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, 'We sinnned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.' So Moses prayed for the people.

The LORD said to Moses, 'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived."

I'd like to believe that I wouldn't be a grumbler after God had so brilliantly shown Himself to be real to His people by the miracles in Egypt, the parting of the sea, the pillars of cloud and fire that went before them, and the gifts of manna and quail, along with many other evidences of His provision.

But I don't really know. 40 years is a long time... my own entire lifetime. Would I trust God to bring me to the promised land?

I too am on the way and I have my own ideas of how I think things ought to go and ought to be going for me. I have my own ideas of how the kingdom should look and feel. My present circumstances fall short of those ideals and I have been a grumbler.

One commentary in the sidebar of my Bible asks, "Why was God so strict about complaining?" And then answers, "The people's complaining was symptomatic of a much deeper problem; distrust of God. Their verbal barrage assaulted God's character. Israel refused to take God at His word."

My circumstances haven't changed. And I confess that I still want to hang on to a bit of righteous indignation. But I am asking God, this week, to help me let that go; I know I can't do it on my own.

Jesus said in Luke 12: 32, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."

Notes from my pastor this Sunday say that the kingdom:

- is ours, it is, it really exists
- is ours, we, together, not just me
- is ours, given to us
- is ours, not to be taken away
- is ours entrusted to us for our safe keeping
- is ours, we will be responsible for the outcome

God is pleased to give us the kingdom and despite my frustrations and fears of trying - of exerting myself, reaching out and making myself vulnerable, I am not to be afraid. Even though I feel wounded and burnt, I am not to be afraid. Even though outcomes are not what I would anticipate, I am not to be afraid.

I am trying hard now to see the kingdom unfolding around me as God would have it - not as Nicole would have it.

I am trying to practice gratitude for everything He has already given me and remember the joy I had in first receiving His various gifts. I don't want to take anything for granted. I don't want to be a grumbler.

I know that different things strike us at different times in our lives as being important and what one person finds a powerful message from God may not be the same for others; you may not be at this place in your life. But I still thought I would share. I know that generally, as a nation, we are all struggling in one way or another. I think we have come to believe that we are a blessed nation and that comfort and ease are our rights. We may all be tempted to grumble. I hope there may be something in here that you will find useful. :)

Hope you're having a good start to a great week!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sweater Recycling

Nope, these aren't sweaters I've knitted. These are sweaters I'm unravelling. Last week when I was on the prowl for a planner, I also stopped in at Goodwill and spent a bit of time looking through the men's sweater section in order to buy some yarn. :)

This one is actually a bit greener than it shows in the photo. It's a really soft cotton blend.
One of my knitting goals this year is to knit myself a sweater. I knit a cardigan for myself last year and while it turned out pretty nicely, I have learned more things and I feel like I could make a sweater with a nicer fit. I'm HOPING to do that anyway.

I'm prett sure this sweater is acrylic. I'll need to do a burn test on the fiber to be sure.
Of course, when you live as frugally as we do, purchasing a sweater's worth of inexpensive yarn can cost $40.00 and finer quality yarn will cost you even more. Someday, perhaps, I will treat myself to that kind of expenditure, but it is certainly not a priority at this point in time. Still, I want to knit a sweater, and guess what? The men's sweaters at Goodwill cost me $3.99 a piece and $2.99 for the vest above!

This one is 100% cotton - 3 fibers twisted together - a nice oatmeal color

And just why men's sweaters? Well, the first thing is that you get more yarn. I am guaranteed to have enough yarn to make a sweater for myself. Another thing I spotted in the women's sweater section was that, while the women's sweaters were generally in better condition (we seem to treat our clothes a bit more gently on the whole), many of the sweaters were made with incredibly fine guage fibers. That's fine for a machine to knit, but not for me, personally.

I followed the directions here for beginning to unravel a sweater. The only one I've done so far is the sleeve of the oatmeal-colored sweater above. From the sleeve alone - and not even the whole sleeve, I've already gotten about 200 yards. This sweater is 3 very fine strands, twisted together. Given that this is cotton, though - and recycled - some of those very fine fibers have broken in the unraveling. I'm not too concerned about it; there will be tiny knots holding these fibers together. I won't be using it for my sweater, but it will be fine for washcloths, hats, and/or a casual throw.

Another 100% cotton. This is the one that I have the greatest hopes for knitting into a sweater.
I'm going to try unravelling this navy blue sweater next and have higher hopes for it; it is definitely a single fiber and very soft.

Of course, another thing that men's sweaters provide are darker colors. While I'm fond of neutrals and do enjoy wearing browns, blacks, and grays, the next step for me in being able to knit with more feminine colored recycled yarn will be dyeing. I did see white and cream colored sweaters there, but that will be something I try in the future. I have a lot of yarn, still, that was given to me last summer, with which to make plenty of gifts - the pinks and lavenders not really being colors I wear.
Like the first sweater, this color is greener than the picture shows. It looks like it will be another one with fibers twisted together.
I may use it combined with the oatmeal fiber.

I don't know how these will all turn out, but the price is right for having some fun experimenting for a while. When I first learned to knit, this was one of my original goals: to be able to knit with recycled yarn. I wanted to feel confident in my skills before I tried it, but now I am ready for this next phase and it feels really good to be able to have one of my passions align so nicely with my values of voluntary simplicity and living lightly.

Monday, February 2, 2009

DIY Planner

In my quest to find the planner just for me I did some perusing this past week at office supply stores, Target, etc. I found the office supply stores to be the most expensive, with the least expensive price being around $30 for the planner size I wanted (a medium, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2") all the way up to $80 - yes, $80! Target had more reasonable prices - around $22 - for the style I wanted, but by that time, I had discovered something hiding in a cabinet at home and had decided to make my own.

After returning home from the office supply store I got to thinking that I knew I had a little binder the same size as the planner I'd wanted. In looking at the planners at the stores I knew that they had quite a few more and different categories than the ones I really wanted. So at home, I went ahead and took a look for that little binder and found that not only did I have one...

... but that I'd also, at one point in time, used it as a little planner. I'm sure this was right before making my homeschool planner, which I'd thought would replace it by being an all-in-one sort of thing, but as you'd recall from my previous post, it has proven to be to unwieldy for carrying around with me.
The one I had already had plenty of paper for notes, which is one thing I definitely needed, as I have found that my to-do list has become my Brain-on-a-Page. An aside here: While I do know that our memories become more challenged as we get older, I also think that - at least at this point in my life, as a newer forty-year-old - that essentially, my mental hard drive is just OVERLOADED. I feel like I have SO many things to keep track of at one time that if I don't write down all the minutiae of my day, little things easily get overlooked. Thus the Brain-on-a-Page.
I even had an address book already in there too! Now all I needed was a monthly calendar for starters and I would be set. I say, "for starters" because I plan to add categories as I decide I need them, just as I have done with my homeschool planner. I have thought about having a section for books titles that I come across and want to read. I think I will have one, because something I like to do when I am out shopping is to write down titles that I see in gift shops, bigger discount stores like Target, or even book stores. I am not much of a book buyer unless I find it is a title I want to come to again and again - reference books, books on design, or art techniques, and a few, rare pieces of fiction. Mostly, I use the library or will occasionally pick up something at the Goodwill bookstore. I find the book list is especially helpful when I am looking for titles for the girls. Children's toy stores or book stores are especially helpful in this area, pointing me to new and popular titles I might otherwise miss.
It's not that I never buy books. I do like to buy books for gift-giving, but for myself with my budget and my space, I prefer to borrow rather than buy. And with the looks of my regular library fines (sigh) - even at $0.50 here and $2.00 there - I actually do spend money on books.

Back to the planner. I knew I wanted my planner to be pretty. I like pretty things around me - especially if I am going to be using them daily. I don't need things to look "professional," which is a nice thing about being a homeschooling mama. So, I can make them look how I please.

I picked up two sheets of the top paper at .59 a piece and one page of the dotted paper on sale for .39. I got these and the alphabet stickers, $2.99, at Michaels. Then I got the calendar refill pages at Target for $6.99, the most expensive thing on my list. I thought about making my own monthly pages - and I might do that for next year - but I wanted the tabs and I couldn't think, off-hand, how to do them myself. I found a few plastic ones that I could use for other categories, but they were $3.99 and weren't that pretty, so I didn't want to spend the money on that this year.

I happily set to work when I got home. I covered the front and back with the paper. I glued it to the cover with some matte medium and covered it with contact paper. I had planned to used the dotted background page to cut out a little rectangle to have on the front cover with the title of my little book - I was going to call it, "Every Day," but once I'd gotten in on there, I decided I'd preferred the look of the cover plain and so just used the stickers to add my initials to the bottom corner.

And then I added the dotted paper to the binding just for an added touch.

I really like how it has turned out and hope to put it to good and steady use. It makes me happy to see it when I use it and even happier knowing that I put it together myself.
My mom, bless her heart, actually found an old (1999) Palm Pilot for me at a garage sale this weekend for $2.50! Of course, it couldn't be hooked up to either of our computers. It would have worked on its own just as a calendar and address book. It was confirmmed for me, though, when looking through the instruction manual, that this type of system isn't for me. I have a bit of an aversion to the tiny type - the tiny keyboard and having to learn a new alphabet to input the information with a stylus. I thanked her, of course, and after looking it over, decided my older daughter would really love it and so she has a new toy of sorts to keep track of whatever a 12 year old might want to keep track of - mainly her friends' phone numbers and addresses.
Thank you to everyone who shared organizational ideas with me! It was fun to read how you keep your lives running smoothly. Marie mentioned a product similar to an iPhone, but that would require having a cell phone and another monthly bill - neither of which I have or want at this time. I'm pretty happy with my old-fangled phone card for long-distance, costing me all of $60 a year. I buy 1000 minutes twice yearly and this seems to work quite nicely for us. That's not to say that I won't ever, ever get a cell phone someday. But right now my home phone and answering machine are all that I need. I've only ever thought it would be nice to have a cell phone when I'm running late for something and am stuck in traffic or something like that. But then, I just show up late and explain and apologize and it's free. ;) And mostly, I don't always really want to be found. The people who really need to get ahold of me usually know where I am and others just leave me a message and I call them back. Since cell phones have been invented I have never been in a situation in which I have said, "If only I'd had a cell phone!" Again, that's not to say I won't ever have one, but every time my husband and I consider it, we still maintain that things are pretty comfortable without one. It's similar to living without a microwave... but that's another post for another day! :)

Hope your week's off to a good start!

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