As I have mentioned in other blog posts recently, my husband and I are trying to live a little more mindfully. This means we are trying to pay closer attention to what we eat and from where comes. We have always enjoyed going to our local farmers' markets, but sometimes its hard to know what to do with so much fresh produce and only so much time to eat it. The natural progression seems to be canning (and freezing).
I will admit, nothing about this journey has been cheaper than just going to the grocery store and buying a jar of jam, but it certainly has been very satisfying. It also has been a way to use up some of the things we don't eat fast enough. The picture of my Dutch apple preserves is certainly smiling about it. (Granted, I should have cut those apples a little smaller- I really thought they'd cook down a little more than they did.) Especially with my kids' ever-shifting tastes in food, one week green apples are all the rage, the next week nobody wants to touch them. It's hard to keep up.
I think maybe the better I get at canning and the more confidence I gain, the more I will start to see the benefits financially. If nothing else, it will be fun to eat some strawberry jam in the middle of winter that the kids and I picked the strawberries for in the spring. So far, I have only ventured into the acidic canning territories so that I could use a boiling water bath for my jars. I am looking at a pressure canner, though, so that at the end of the summer I can do fun things like salsa and things that are not acidic but can be preserved. Important discovery: A pressure canner is different than a pressure cooker. You can use a pressure canner to do pressure cooking, but you cannot use a pressure cooker to can. My adventures to date include strawberry jam (there was more sugar in that jam than I'd like to admit and I feel a little guilty eating it), spicy chai jelly (looks a little weird but tastes great), dijon mustard, pickles, and my latest Dutch apple preserves.
Canning was a little scary for me. Nobody in my family canned while growing up. I have no memories of a grandmother dutifully storing food away in jars. My husband comes from canning, but he himself had never done it. I feel like if it is not something that has been part of your life, you feel it is not safe. What about bacteria? Botulism sounds very scary. What if it doesn't keep? How will you know if something is bad? There are a million thoughts like these that held me back for a long time. But really, there are enough resources out there that if you are careful, read all directions and follow them, and exercise common-sense cleanliness while canning, you will be fine. I think the most important thing, especially as a beginner, is to find reputable recipes and follow ALL of the directions, especially the size of the jars and the time you boil them. Don't try scaling recipes up and don't use larger jars- the recipes are written to help prevent unwanted visitors such as botulism, if you use larger jars, you might not be heating the contents all the way through to the proper temperature. Also, if you try scaling recipes up, you might not get the results you want. Simply doubling ingredients won't get your strawberry jam to set.
I have found a few invaluable resources for my canning. One is the book Not Your Mama's Canning Book by Rebecca Lindamood. She has great recipes, clear instructions, and answers to a lot of canning questions. And as the book states, the recipes are a little more modern. That means there are lower sugar recipes, fun things like masala, and a whole sections of recipes to use your canned goods with. Nothing you make from this book has to sit on a shelf unused. There is a lot of shared wisdom in these pages. Better Homes and Gardens has also been a great resource. The have multiple books and magazine in print that contain tried and true canning recipes and tips. And the National Center for Home Food Preservation (yeah, that's a thing, who knew?) has a great website that is worth reading before you get started.
Really, it has been a fun spring/summer of learning to can. I feel good about it, it helps my family with our quest for mindful living, and it's a lot of fun. My kids are too young to be part of the canning process, but they have already really enjoyed being part of the "collection" process. Picking strawberries in a field and then seeing them on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich is pretty neat. Growing cucumbers in our small garden keeps the kids checking daily because we are going to make pickles. It's very rewarding. I think a lot of things will have to fall into place, and perhaps Mars will have to be lined up with some other planet on the night of a full moon, for this to be a money saving venture, but it might get there and in the meantime it is a life-learning, appreciation inducing, joy bringing endeavor. That might be priceless.
It is finally done! I have decided that quilts are a cruel beast. Don't get me wrong, I love quilts. I'd love to get better at making quilts. But man, are they mean. First, you get all excited when you finish cutting the many pieces that will make your quilt. You've measured and cut carefully, feeling confident everything will work out perfect. Of course it doesn't. And once you've struggled through all the weird piecing mishaps, you feel quite grand thinking you are very nearly finished. Except you aren't. Once the quilt is pieced you have to actually quilt it...go figure. Months later you once again start to feel the glimmer of hope that you are very nearly done. You've finished quilting it, but then you have to bind it! Will it never end? I'm happy I haven't made anything larger than a sizable throw/ nearly twin size blanket, because hand stitching that binding all the way around it slow going and not super satisfying until the very, very end.
But I am done! It took much longer than I had planned, it turned out to be trickier than I expected, but I am done and very pleased that my son loves his quilt. Technically I finished it before winter was over, too, so I feel a little good about that. Nothing like giving someone a blanket in the dead of summer- nobody wants that.
This quilt was a special one. My son moved up to his big-boy bed and needed a quilt that would actually cover his bed. I asked him if he wanted me to make him one and he was delighted at the idea. Then he gave me the requirements.
1. It had to be a Mario quilt with nothing but Mario fabric.
2. It had to have Toadette on it. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the cast of characters in the Mario world, but, while a great character, Toadette is not a leading lady. This was a troubling requirement.
3. For reasons known only to my son, the back of the quilt needed to be yellow.
However, with the help of the internet, I was able to find enough Mario fabric to create a quilt top that was fun for him to look at. (I had to buy fabric from a lot of different sources, but Etsy actually turned out to be a lifesaver on this one. I didn't know there was so much fabric available on Etsy.) I also, thank goodness, found some fabric with Toadette on it. Mustaches were allowed because Mario and Luigi both have mustaches. And thankfully I was allowed the red solid and blue solid colors (because those are Mario's colors) to help fill out my slightly crazy palette. I think the quilt is wonderfully ugly. It is busy and the colors sort of slap you in the face, but my son absolutely LOVES it and that was the point. I also got to try out free motion quilting for the first time. I had to be very forgiving of myself, but I think if you take the quilting as a whole, it looks nice.
I am proud of myself for finishing this project and being able to give my son something really special. It is a quilt that has his favorite characters all over it and it was made specially for him. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to hide this thing away in a closet somewhere and hope he would forget about it, but I am very glad I didn't.
I did not start drinking coffee until my late twenties, after my second son was born. I am still not a coffee junkie, but I have found I really like starting my day with a cup of cold brew over ice with a splash of cream. Then I switch to tea, because any more coffee makes me feel bonkers. I suppose cold brew is a bit of a fad, but I do really like the taste of the coffee and am convinced it doesn't make me feel quite so...crazy. (The "cold" in cold brew reflects the way it is made- it is steeped for a long period of time in cold water opposed to a quick steep in boiling water like with a french press or drip coffee. This produces coffee with lower acidity, though the caffeine content is actually greater.) The only pitfall to my choice in coffee is that it is expensive. I particularly like "Stok," which is $5.00 a jug, already diluted. (If you are unfamiliar with cold brew sold it grocery stores, it often is sold in a concentrated form where you have to add water or milk before drinking. These concentrated versions often stretch longer, having more actual cups coffee per jug, but the cost reflects this as well, capping out above $10 a jug.) While it is not an outrageous price, it adds up quickly. If I have a solid cup of ice coffee in the morning, every morning, I need at least two jugs. I can stretch- I don't need coffee every morning, but I do like it. So, by the end of the month, that is a potential $40 on only coffee for only me. Add to that my husbands established and more substantial coffee habit, and we've broken $100. While cheaper than buying a fixed coffee drink at the coffee shop every day, it is still more than what we would like to be spending.
This cost is what drove me to investigate making my own cold brew. And oh my goodness, it couldn't be easier. So now we have started making our own cold brew coffee and it has cut our snooty cold brew coffee habit down to about $20 a month for the both of us. All you need are some coarsely ground coffee beans, a jar, water and some time. Seriously. We are still shopping around for coffee beans we like the best as a cold brew, but we have gotten some great results. The recipe below will make you a concentrated version of cold brew coffee that will need to be diluted before drinking. I recommend a 1:1 ratio of the cold brew with water, but you should experiment and find what you like best. If you have a quart mason jar handy, that would be perfect, as it has three cups marked right on the side, a lid ready to go, is easy to store and is very easy to clean.
3 cups water
2/3 cups coarsely ground coffee (like what you would use for a french press)
In a quart-sized mason jar, or similar container, place three cups of water. To this, add 2/3 cups of your ground coffee. Screw the lid on the jar, making sure it is secure, and give it a good shake. Set the jar on the counter and leave it be for 12 hours or overnight. After it has steeped, filter the coffee out of the mason jar (I filter it right into another mason jar using a flour sifter and a coffee filter) and store it, sealed, in the refrigerator. Dilute the coffee 1:1 with water and/or milk or dilute it to meet your personal taste.
Wow, is it possible that 2017 is over? I am having that strange sensation where I feel like this year has just begun but also that it went on forever. It certainly was a busy year. I, however, am very excited for 2018. I am not one for New Year's resolutions, it seems silly to wait to begin work on goals, but this year I am guilty of having a whole list of New Year's resolutions. Trust me, it was quite by accident.
A lot of them have to do with personal health and happiness. I'm not setting out to lose weight or only eat kale smoothies, but I am going to work to make sure I feel my best. Part of this comes from the fact that my son started preschool in August and since then, at least one person in our house has been sick at any given moment. It has caused a lot of things to sort of slip. Another part of it comes from the fact that when I feel my best, I can do more and do it better. Seems rather like a "duh" statement, but sometimes I forget. I am a better person, better wife, better mother, better friend when I take care of myself and I shouldn't make excuses not to just because life feels a little hectic right now.
I'd also like to start expanding my efforts to find something outside mothering to give me feelings of success. I have my blog, which I love because it is all about my favorite thing-fiber, I'm going to open my Etsy store, I'm going to keep writing and sending my work out into the world- so these aren't really new goals but more "keep it up" goals.
And lastly, I would love to look outward a little more this year. As a stay-at-home mom with young children, it is very easy for me to just live in my daily bubble of life in the Simmon's household. I want to make sure I make an effort to reach out to those with less or to people who are struggling. I am not sure what form this will take, but I want to be part of the change I would like to see in the world. Caring should always be a goal.
So, that is my plan for 2018 in a nutshell. I hope you have had a good 2017 and have some positive things to look forward to in 2018. Thank you for going on this journey with me. You have my love and appreciation.
So, if you thought one was enough...you were wrong. I wrote another book. You know, to go with the first one. It is called Half Right, Book 2 in the Half Mortal Series. It is available on Amazon, I have linked it here. On a typical day, it is $2.99...but this Wednesday, August 16, 2017 it will be free. (Book 1 will also be free that day, so you can go crazy and get both if that tickles your fancy.) If you do find time to read my book, please be forgiving...it is self-published and not at all meant to be a serious, hard-hitting literary work. I think it would safely fall in the "beach read" category. I wrote it because I enjoy writing, even if it is fluffy. If I had a dust jacket for my book and it included a blurb, this is what it would say:
Helen and Al are ready to get back to work. They choose to dive into an easy weekend case at a swanky retreat to get their feet wet after the grueling affair with the notorious Zane. Of course, nothing ever works out the way it is planned. The "easy" weekend case quickly devolves into a murderous affair. It wouldn't be Helen if there wasn't also some crazy shenanigans, a little love, and of course Bigfoot thrown in the mix. Will the Half Mortal make it out of this one alive? She will certainly test her chances in this humorous urban fantasy, Half Right.
Mind you, this fantasized dust jacket would also include a line that said "New York Times Bestselling Novel." It's fun to dream big.
Do you have any secret hobbies outside of fiber craft? I would love to hear about them and support them as I can. We are dynamic people and that is wonderful.
I am not an accomplished quilter. To be honest, I do not find quilting to be particularly relaxing. However, I really like making fun blankets for my family. I say fun, perhaps I really mean nerdy. The last quilt I pieced was a Star Wars quilt. (The quilt kit was available from Keepsake Quilting. They are clearly licensed for Star Wars, so while this particular "Force Awakens" quilt is no longer available, they have more Star Wars fabrics and quilts...right now the kit is for "Rogue One.") I chose a red minky fabric for the back to make the quilt extra snuggly. My oldest son and my husband use it as their "lounging around on the couch" blanket. My mom was generous enough to quilt it for me on her longarm...which turned out to be WAY easier than my latest endeavor, which naturally was supposed to be really quick and ended up taking forever. FOREVER. But in the end, it was well worth it.
I felt a little bit like a cheater getting my mom to quilt the top for me- even if she was excited to use her longarm. My mom is a very accomplished quilter: she gets excited over quilting like I get excited over knitting. To each their own. I decided that my youngest son also needed a fun blanket and chose a panel quilt thinking it would be very straightforward to piece and I could focus more on the quilting. I wanted to stretch my horizons on my little sewing machine and do something new...but not overdo it. I wanted to quilt this one myself.
Well, right out of the gate, I completely messed up cutting the border fabric. It was a directional fabric and I cut the short piece before the long piece and then didn't have enough. So, I decided I could make some small adjustments to the pattern and keep on. Adjusting the pattern turned out to be a little trickier than I thought, but I managed to make all the borders work (and go in the right direction) by adding little orange accent lines.
The top was pieced, the bubbles cut, all I needed to do was quilt the top. I have a picture of what the quilt was intended to look like once quilted- I pinned the fun bubbles on the border to get an idea of palcement before I quilted the blanket. I watched an online course by Jacquie Gering on creative quilting with a walking foot. She did a really wonderful job with her lessons and should you be interested in walking foot quilting, she would be a great resource to look up.
I learned that slow and steady wins the race. I like slow. Slow is nice. However, I moved very, very slow. Like a knucklehead, I decided it would be fun to try multiple techniques on this quilt, one of which was a curved echo with the walking foot on the ENTIRE border. I am very pleased with the results, but man did that take a long time. My biggest struggle was with quilt bulk management as I quilted. There is a lot of fabric that has to be hauled, pulled, squished and turned as you go. Walking foot quilting, unlike free motion quilting, is a one direction operation. You travel in straight lines (or slightly curved lines) but the foot itself only trudges forward on your quilt with a double feed-dog system to "walk" your quilt on both the top and bottom. It produces very nice, consistent stitches, but that foot knows what it likes and you would be silly to try to convince it otherwise.
When I finally finished the quilting, I decided to leave off the bubble flaps and simply appliquéd a few accent bubbles in the corners. It felt cruel to put so much work in the border quilting and then cover it up with a bunch of circle flaps. With that said, it is safe to say my quilt looks nothing like the quilt I thought I was going to make when I started. And what I had intended to be a quick, throw together panel quilt took months for me to finish. The important thing, though, is that my son loves it. I backed it with a nice bright orange minky. (Minky is really very soft and my kids really enjoy its texture. It also washes really well. The Star Wars quilt is over a year old and has been washed many times. It has endured the best efforts of a three-year old to snuggle it to death and it is still a nice bright red. I have high hopes for the orange, too.)
I hope I am not setting a precedent for the rest of my fiber crafting year, but somehow, half the year has almost gone by and very few fiber crafts have been finished. Especially this spring- pretty much nothing has gotten done. Nothing by way of knitting needles, anyway. I am happy to report other things have been finished, but somehow they don't really count in my head. That seems totally unfair of my brain. While feeling bogged down and behind in all of my knitting and weaving, my husband and I, with the help of our two favorite tiny people, made a flower garden in a crate palette.
I am not sure what the correct term for this is...I'll go with up-cylcing. Many home improvements stores will give these palettes away for free if you ask, which is what we did. Generally speaking, I think they get so many, they are happy to see a few of them towed away in a minivan. Nine times out of ten the wood from these palettes is oak, too, which is pretty nice considering the price of hardwood. With some ingenuity, the possibilities seem endless. I've seen pictures online of people who have made deck furniture, headboards and end tables with this wood. It is remarkable. We were not, however, pioneers in creating art from palette wood. We turned ours into a planter by stapling some garden cloth to the back and sides. Less impressive, but still a nice addition to any porch, patio, or deck.
It's still early in the season, but so far, so good. The idea is that these flowers will start to cascade down the palette and really create a wonderful waterfall of floral color. The whole project, flowers and dirt included, probably cost about $40. If you feel compelled to create your own palette garden, there are a few things I learned as the process was underway.
Staple the garden fabric with abandon. You don't want any of your dirt falling out the sides or, worse, out the back. The stronger your fabric, the less worry you have when you prop it up against a wall or rail. Also, fill the palette to the brink when it comes to dirt. You want the flowers you plant in there to be snug. Try to allow as little dirt to show through the holes when the plants are in as possible. That means you want to choose plants that are happy growing in close quarters. If you space your plants out too much, the dirt will fall out the front (which I guess reduces the stress of it falling out the back or sides).
Lastly, and this is the hardest tip to follow, leave the palette with the plants in it laying flat on the ground for about two weeks. I know, I know, you want to prop it up right away. But it is worth waiting to allow the roots to all settle out and grow together to help hold everything in place. I waited just shy of two weeks and did not have any dirt spill from the openings. (I did have some dirt come off the wood where I was messy when planting, which tidied up the whole look from the front.) If you do need to tip it up earlier, maybe give it a steeper slant. A little dirt lost probably won't hurt anything.
My children and I go to the public library once a week, each time refreshing our haul of new books to enjoy for the next seven days. (After the library, we go and get a couple of donut holes. It's always a good time.) My oldest son is especially fond of books. For example, instead of having a stuffed animal to snuggle with when he lays his head down at night, he has a stack of his favorite books next to his pillow. Reading is important, and my husband and I have tried to emphasize it in our family as something to love. So far, so good. This post, however, is not on the merits of reading. This post is for me to geek out in excitement about children's picture books that have some kind of knitting theme.
I'm crazy, I know. But these books make me very excited for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it is an easy way for me to share my love of knitting with my young children in a format that they, too, enjoy. Yes, they see mommy knitting away and I allow them to assist when practical, but they are still a little young for me to really teach them about the craft. We are at exposure age, not knitting age. These fun knitting themed books are nice because my sons get excited because they are about knitting. "Like you, mommy!" they gleefully giggle at me as we pick out our books.
The second reason I love these books is because they encourage inter-generational exchange. I learned to knit when I was a young girl from my great grandmother. She didn't speak english and I didn't speak german, but we figured it out nonetheless. She gave me a priceless gift. These books often include charming tales of older people teaching younger people. Even if this exchange between generations is not directly in the story and a young child or a grown adult is simply knitting, it could spark inquiries in real life about where and whom to learn the craft from. Knitting is an old art. I sometimes think of it as the ancient oral traditions where histories and lessons were handed down from one generation to the next. I love that these books introduce small children to the art with great illustrations and memorable tales. A small child might not want to pick up knitting needles right away, but it could plant the seed for a later date.
So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the next time you are in the market for a book for a young child, consider a knitting themed book. (The two I have pictured here are lovely, if you need a suggestion.) It may seem like a topic that would not interest tiny tots, but just think of what hand crafts are usually all about- love. Any story about love and taking the time to share it has to have some merit, don't you think? And just think, if you buy a knitting themed book, you are likely supporting a knitter somewhere out there. Perhaps you're even encouraging the birth of a new member to the craft.
This is still a Rachel Simmons page, it just has more of my world outside of knitting. I hope you enjoy!