Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feeling Groovy

I’m learning to crochet!  Why did I wait until now?  My mother crocheted.  She made doilies, afghans, those granny square vests from the 1970s.  Oh yeah, I was groovin' those vests in junior high school.  They were quite the rage with a pair of hip huggers and a wide belt.  I had two lovely purple and lilac ones.  (Hmmm, wonder if they're in the attic.)

But for me, as a (mediocre) knitter, crochet has always seemed so baffling.  There is only one hook!  How can that possibly work?

When the local community college advertised a beginners crochet workshop for this fall, I jumped on it.  We had the first class last night.  There were eleven of us, all women, mostly over 40, there to learn.  Several of the women had taken an earlier class, so they had some familiarity, but even they struggled.  I'm telling you, it's hard!  The lady across the table from me must have been in her 70s.  She said people had been trying to teach her to crochet for years.  I could tell she felt like she was the only female of her generation who couldn't crochet.  What did her children do in the 1970s?  Who made their granny square vests?  It doesn't bear thinking about.

Our little class, though, is not jumping right into crocheted clothing.  As our instructor, Diane (who is also a published mystery book author!! this is so exciting in so many ways), said, you have to walk before you can triple crochet.  (What?)  After finding out I didn't know how to make a slip knot and feeling like I was 99% thumbs, I finally made a chain.  Then Diane said we had to rip that out and start over in order to make a dish cloth.  Because a dish cloth doesn't have to fit and doesn't even have to be square in order to work!  Diane kept us going through all the missteps by promising that next we'll get to make a carnation.  (I'm so glad I chose pink yarn.) How cool that we'll get into some hippie flower power vibe next!  So I remade my chain and managed to get two more rows crocheted.

Yeah, it's a little wonky.  My chain was too tight, so the whole piece is curved.  (You'll notice there is no close-up photo of my work; this is deliberate.)  But here's the thing: This is the result of a two-hour class!  It took two hours to make that little rectangle!  As I walked out of the room, I realized that my vision had blurred from looking so long and so hard at my crochet.  When I drove home, I was literally seeing double of all the car lights and traffic lights.  Which made for a groovy 1970s pyschedelic ride.  If only I'd had my granny square vest on!

Photo of the Rib Ticklers is from a 1971 Coats and Clark pamphlet found on Ravelry; there is also a free pattern, but you do have to join Ravelry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Easy Peasy Pesto. Presto!

My basil plant has been giving me the evil eye for a couple of weeks.  We've had a dry September, and I've only remembered to water the basil and parsley intermittently.  For the last two days, though, the skies have opened up.  We've had two days of rain and cool temperatures.  The basil plumped up, full of yummy basil aroma and flavor.  And with October right around the corner, a killing frost can't be far away.

Time to do a little basil harvesting.  And that means an easy peasy pesto dinner.

My pesto recipe is adapted from Nikki and David Goldbeck's American Wholefoods Cuisine.


1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3 3/4 cups lightly packed basil leaves
1/4 cup parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil

Toast the almonds in a medium pan until fragrant and golden.  Put the grated cheese and toasted nuts in the bowl of a food processor; grind finely.  Add basil, parsley, salt, and garlic and puree to a thick paste.  (Add the herbs a bit at a time.)  With food processor running, gradually oil until the sauce is smooth.

So easy, so yummy!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Can You Make from Two Banana Skins?

A pair of slippers!

No, I don't have a cool banana skin craft for you, but wouldn't banana slippers be great?  After thinking about banana slippers, I found these on the web (designed by Kobi Levi).  They are crazy and fun, but I'd be more inclined toward soft and cozy myself.  Something for slipping around the house.  I may have to try to knit some.

Instead of shoes, I offer food.  We had some sad bananas on the counter this morning, so there was only one thing to do -- banana bread!  When I make banana bread, the son always says, "Why do you make banana bread when carrot cake is so much better?"  Well, the answer, of course, is "Sad bananas."  This is a simple, quick recipe and a great way to use up three over-ripe bananas.  I especially like this recipe because it is also chock full o' nuts.

Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large, ripe bananas, mashed
2 whole beaten eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs and bananas.  Mix well.  Sift flour and soda together and add to butter mixture.  Mix well.  Stir in nuts.

Bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Printable recipe

To see more Kobi Levi footwear, go to his blog,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Adventures in Shrinky Dink: A Cautionary Tale

A year or so ago, I saw an article in Country Living about making a bracelet from Shrinky Dinks.  (I saw it in the print version of the magazine, but the online version is at Yep, they misspelled shrinky in their url.)   Wow, I thought, this looks like fun!  I could make a bracelet for the daughter out of photos we took on our ramble in Ireland a while back.  

She did a study abroad semester at University of Limerick her junior year.  She went over about two weeks early and let me tag along.  We rented a car and drove up and down the west coast of Ireland, narrowly dodging cows, sheep, rock walls, roundabouts and, once, a crowd of knackers.  Not to mention the “Hey, look at that!” stops.  We stayed in bed and breakfasts where we dutifully admired grandkids and dancing awards, we saw an inordinate number of cemeteries and abbeys, and we enjoyed lots of seafood chowder.  It was fabulous.  Really fabulous.

So what better idea than to commemorate the trip with a fun Shrinky Dink bracelet?  I should mention that I didn’t grow up with Shrinky Dinks.  While, according to Wikipedia, they were invented in 1973, they didn’t become really popular until the 1980s. I was very busy in the 1980s being “A Student.”  Those were the grad school years, when English and American literature seemed very important and there were deep meanings to find and pontificate on – finitude, patriarchy, and the impact of empire.  Was I really that stuffy?  Yes, I was too busy for Shrinky Dinks.  But now that I’ve outgrown my stuffiness and embraced my inner free spirit, I was ready to learn about Shrinky Dinks.  I have to admit, though, that I was afraid of Shrinky Dinks.  I bought the package of inkjet Dinks probably eight or nine months ago and hid it in a drawer.  So many worries.  How do I lighten the pictures?  (Eventually got PhotoShop Elements to handle that worry.)  How do I put multiple pictures on a page?  Most important: What if I goof it up???  Finally I realized, it’s a $2.00 sheet of plastic.  It’s okay if I goof up.  And as you’ll see, I did.

I picked out the photos I wanted to use and lightened them waaaay up in PhotoShop.  The green grass of the Emerald Isle turned a kind of sick chartreuse.  That’s okay, it’s supposed to darken up when it shrinks.  (Not back to grass green, boyo.)  Copied the photos into a Word doc (not ideal) and eventually printed it onto the Shrinky plastic.  I say “eventually” because I didn’t notice that the plastic sheets are 8”x10”, not 8 ½”x11”.  I had set the printer to print on transparencies and shortened the dry time, etc., all good, but my printer kept giving me a paper mismatch error message.  Aaaah!  Technology makes me crazy!  Oh, wait, I need to take out the 8 ½” by 11” paper underneath and reset the guide in the printer tray?  Oh, that was easy!

Then I cut out the images and punched holes with a 1/8” hole punch as per instructions from both Country Living and Shrinky Dinks.  I also used a rubber stamp to ink a cool Celtic knot on the back of each piece.  

Before and during shrinkage
So tiny!

Put them in the oven and presto!  That part was super fun and amazing for a first-time shrinker.  Loved that.  Got so excited that I didn’t get them all pressed flat, so a couple of images warped, but no big deal.  After they cooled, I sprayed them with 25-year-old lacquer I found in the basement.  Mistake.  Should have sprung for a more recent vintage.  They dried kind of funky and the ink stamp on the back ran.  Did I give up?  Not yet.  

No longer a ring . . . 

Got out my trusty little 4 mm jump rings and twisted the heck out of those babies trying to force them through the holes.  No camel going through the eye of that needle!  So I read around on the internet and found that many people recommend a ¼” standard size hole punch, even for Shrinky jewelry.  I wasn’t happy with the photo quality or the finish quality anyway, so take two!

The second time, I lightened the photos, but not nearly so much.  I even bumped up the color saturation on a few images.  Then I pasted them all into a PageMaker document.  (I had forgotten I still had a copy of it.)  Wow, that was much easier.  Love PageMaker.  Cut the pieces out, rounded the edges, and used the ¼” punch.  
I omitted the Celtic knot stamp – why risk the bleeding ink?  Baked, flattened, cooled, and sprayed (with new, 21st century clear acrylic sealer).  Oh and a heads up, don’t use Diet Coke boxes to line your cookie sheet.  Recycling, so smart?  In this case, not really; some kind of glue cooked off and gooped up my pan.  

The only real snag the second time around came with the jump rings.  Some of the holes were maybe a little more than ¼” from the edge of the original, unshrunk image, which made the rings pretty tight.  Plus, those 4 mm jump rings are small!  Still, it all came together after a fashion.  You may see in the close-up that my jump rings are not as securely closed as they should be, but, hey, in real life, no one will be looking through magnification!

All in all, it was a fun project.  I’ll try Shrinky Dinks again.  In terms of quality, there’s nowhere to go but up!


Monday, September 19, 2011


I love, love, love this dish!  We're trying to eat healthy; I don't know if this qualifies, but it sure is delicious!  And isn't it colorful and gorgeous?  I've made this several times, and always love it.  This is Giada De Lauentiis' recipe for Penne with Brown Butter, Arugula, and Pine Nuts.  I alter the recipe by using toasted slivered almonds instead of the pine nuts and half the salt.  It's so easy to make, but it has complex flavors. One bite might be more buttery, another more tangy, depending whether you get a tomato or capers in that forkful.

You can find the recipe at:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Ultimate Fall Cake

I finally got around to making a cake with the apples we picked at the orchard two weeks ago.  This cake is very popular in my family.  It is my mother's recipe that I have tweaked just a little.  And because it contains apples, it must be healthy, right?  That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Fresh Apple Nut Cake

3 cups flour (I use 2 ½ cups unbleached and ½ cup whole wheat)
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 ¼ cups oil
3 cups pared, chopped apples
1 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans, but walnuts work well too)
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, salt, soda, and spices; set aside.  Beat eggs, then gradually add sugar and beat in dry ingredients and oil.  Stir in apples and nuts.
Put mixture into lightly greased tube pan and bake at 350 for 1 ½ hours (check when there's 15 minutes left just to be sure you don't overbake).  Cool about 5-10 minutes in pan; remove and cool on wire rack.

This also tastes great warm.  Just sayin'.

Printable recipe

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Finished Object?

For the last several weeks, whenever I found the time, I've been knitting this hat.  It was supposed to be for my son -- he even picked out the yarn -- but I don't know. . .   Too goofy?

I must say, this hat was a lot of fun to knit after I got the hang of it.  I learned the loop stitch (the brown part of the hat), which gave me trouble at first, but now I love it.  I think a loop stitch scarf may be looming in my future!  It also feels fabulous with the flaps made of baby alpaca yarn.  I want to wrap my whole world in baby alpaca!

My hat, though, seems too big and doesn't have as much crown as the pattern pictures.  Maybe I didn't follow  the pattern correctly and left out a round or two; who knows? Next time the son comes home, we'll see if it fits (and if he'd be caught dead wearing it).

There's at least one member of the family the hat looks good on.  You know who that is!

Don't let my version put you off.  You can check out the "real" version for yourself.  The pattern, Mackinaw Knitted Hat, is available for purchase on Etsy from Worldknits or on Ravelry at

Friday, September 16, 2011

Permanence in an Ephemeral World

I have never been big on shrines, not much for memorials.  I’ve never seen the point of flowers and teddy bears stuck into a chain link fence by a murder scene.  I think the crosses beside the road are weird and kind of creepy.  I sometimes wonder if the bereaved would notice if someone moved the cross a quarter mile down the road.

If everywhere someone died became a shrine, what would the world look like?  You couldn’t even get in the door of a hospital for all the stuff.  Battlefields in the South would be filled with markers of Civil War and Union dead.  Gettysburg would be a sea of 40,000 ticky-tacky crosses with fading fake flowers half tied on.  Battlefields do need a few monuments and markers with information, but for the most part, battlefields are just open fields.  You can stand in those fields and imagine the tragedy and the waste of life.   Without a lot of gimcracks.

All this is by way of saying that while I dislike makeshift memorials and shrines, I love cemeteries.  Always have.  Cemeteries are altogether another thing.  (Hey, I’m not saying I am consistent in my likes and dislikes here.)

Cemeteries make me wonder about the lives of people I never knew.  Look how long Mrs. Smith lived after the death of her husband – twenty years.  Did she move on with life?  Did she miss him until the end?  Here’s a man who died in the prime of life.  Was it a flu epidemic?  A farm accident?  My goodness, Mr. Jones certainly had a younger wife!  Was there an earlier Mrs. Jones who died in childbirth?  And then there are the head-scratchers.  Once we were scrambling around a rocky cemetery in Edinburgh when we came upon a memorial to Abraham Lincoln.  Huh?

This has to be in color because of the roses.

Cemeteries can even occasionally give you a chuckle.  In my local cemetery, someone placed two plastic pigs on the gravestone of a farmer.  I also saw the McDonald's arches carved into someone's stone.  Not sure if he owned a McDonald's franchise or just ate too many quarter pounders.  My favorite: In an abbey cemetery in County Clare, my daughter and I discovered the Saint in a Bubble.  I don’t know the real name, but that’s what they are, little statues of saints inside water globes.  We loved them! 

Mostly, though, I love cemeteries for their beauty.  Veterans’ cemeteries have majesty with the vast swath of identical headstones, but I prefer a local cemetery with its hodge-podge of markers and monuments (and increasingly, shrines).  Big stones, small stones, the heartbreaking lamb headstones of babies.  The older headstones are my favorites – the carving, the patina, the lichen.  Where so much in the world is ephemeral, the permanence of the massive stones and the painstaking work that went into making them, this is a lesson for me.  The quick and easy, makeshift thing is not always best.

More photos from my recent walk through a local cemetery.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Irish Eyes (and Tummies)

It was cold and damp this morning, a real Ireland-type day.  So after my morning walk, I made some Irish soda bread for breakfast.  It's worth eating late!  I make plain soda bread, no raisins, so at lunch, it also worked for a special turkey sandwich.  Did I mention?  YUM!

I got a request for the recipe, so here it is:

White Soda Bread

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly grease and flour a 9" cake pan.

In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough, making sure all the flour is incorporated.  (May take a little more than 2 cups buttermilk.)  Place on a floured surface and knead lightly for about a minute or two.

Shape dough into round flat shape in cake pan.  Do not worry about making it fit the pan; it should be a little smaller in diameter than your pan.  Cut a cross on top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another cake pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove lid and bake additional 10-15 minutes.  The bottom of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped.

Printable recipe

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Go Vols!

Usually when I say “Go Vols” I am cheering for my alma mater, The University of Tennessee (Go Vols!), but today I am cheering for volunteer plants.  I mean, how can you not love this?

This sweet autumn clematis has been lurking in our spirea bushes for years.  Off and on I fight against it, pulling it out and cutting it down where I can’t pull it out.  Every year when the clematis starts popping up its leafy vines, a little fear pops up in me that it will choke my spirea.  I adore spirea in the spring when those bridal wreaths are in full flower just looking for a wedding to crash.

So I become a scissor-wielding, vine tugging vigilante.  Except when I don’t.   Some years I am too lazy or too busy to put my vigilante hat on, and the sweet autumn clematis has its own way.  And its way is lovely.  It looks almost like the spirea is blooming again in September.

In general, I don’t coddle my garden.  Plants have to be hardy to survive in our walnut-shaded, Midwestern-wintered, dog-trodden yard.  I rarely think to fertilize and only occasionally think to water, but I throw around compost and have recently embraced mulching.  (I use cocoa hull mulch.  Oh my god, the yummy smell when I spread the mulch is heaven!  Plus it looks great.)  So like most of my plants, our spirea is hardy.  So why do I worry?

Volunteer flag with volunteer vine

My goal for next year is to let nature take its course a little bit more.  I'll say "Go Vols" in the spring even when there's no football or basketball to cheer.  I’ll try to let the sweet autumn clematis alone and only fight with the wild grapevine and Virginia creeper.  

But these guys? 

Where's my RoundUp?

Well, let’s just say I’ll keep my vigilante hat near the door.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Up Through the Atmosphere/Up Where the Air is Clear

The kite flying scene in “Mary Poppins” was never my favorite part.  Even as a kid, I was kind of fascinated by the rum punch medicine.  And flying with an umbrella as Mary did is way cooler than flying a kite.

But all that aside, kites are pretty fabulous.  Especially when you go to a kite festival like I did today.  Amazing!

Inside a kite tent

There were small kites, big kites, gigantic multi-line kites (and even multi-kite kites!), stunt kites, animal kites, windsock kites, a tent kite, kites in the air, kites on the ground, kites for sale, and little kids with handmade kites that wouldn’t fly.  Whew!  A riot of color and activity.  Alfie LOVED it!

Multi-line kite. Note the people by the tail.  Super big kite!

There were also some kites that I guess I would call yard kites.  A kite on a stick.  A if-you-tied-raffia-on-it-you-could-sell-it-at-a-craft-fair kite.  (Do you remember a few years back when yard “art” on a stick was very popular at art/craft fairs?  Like a wooden sunflower on a stick that you were supposed to stick in your yard?  A scarecrow on a stick?  Well, these were big in the Midwest anyway.  I used to say that if you put it on a stick, some yahoo would buy it.  Hey, we have tacky here in the middle of the country just like everywhere else.)  I thought this little school of blue fish yard kites were fun and colorful.  They made me think of carp kites, the really cool Japanese windsocks.  Carp kites are small enough to make great colorful decorations in your house.

But even cooler is making your own carp art!  So easy and so striking!  My kids made these fish prints when they were in preschool or early elementary school.  Local university art ed students had a booth set up at a festival where kids learned to do this.  So easy.  You just need paint, paper, and a dead fish.  Seriously. 

To make a fish scroll: Lay out a large dead fish and spread different colors of paint over it.  Then take a long piece of paper (rice paper is ideal for this – can be found affordably online) and lay it carefully on top of the fish.  Press gently all over to transfer the painted image of the fish to the paper.  Carefully lift the paper off the fish and lay aside to dry.  The fish can be washed off and reused with different colors/patterns.  After the print dries, attach border paper to each end.  Run a string through the top border for hanging.  Affordable and impressive!  Just don’t eat the fish afterward.

If a 6-year-old did this, think what you could do!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Shopkeeper Extraordinaire

She started it!

I made my first Etsy sale!  This lovely lady in the yellow dress was my first listing, and she sold within twenty minutes!  That must be some kind of Etsy record.  I was so surprised and not at all prepared.  I had even forgotten to set up my Sweet Posy Dreams PayPal account to receive the payment!  I checked my personal PayPal account and wondered why the payment wasn’t showing up.  Duh!

It all got sorted out, and the lady wrapped and bubble wrapped and shipped to her new home.  She’s heading south, and I know she’ll be happy there.

If a little overdressed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pity the Poor Hydrangea

You might think these hydrangeas are drooping because it’s September, but that’s not it.  They’ve just heard that Madonna “absolutely loathes” hydrangeas.  Even the gorgeous Venetian one given to her by a fan.  Wouldn’t you droop if you learned that Madonna loathes you?  No?

And really – how can anyone loathe a flower?  Poison ivy maybe, brussels sprouts for sure, but hydrangeas?  They are fluffy balls of flowery goodness.

Alfie doesn’t get it either.  He’s even been known to take a bite of hydrangea.  (Ok, he’s been known to take a bite of almost everything, but still.)

What was Madonna thinking?

Hydrangeas are the flower that keeps on giving.  Colorful or white and fluffy in the summer, green and then brown to provide some fall interest in the garden.  And they can even help out at the holidays!  One year when my friend PK and I were chairing a Christmas event at the local house museum, we gilded a couple of buckets full of dried hydrangea blooms with gold spray paint to use in the decorating.  We (just barely) managed to survive the paint fumes, and the golden hydrangeas looked fabulous.

Hydrangeas are a workhorse of my garden.  If I could grow hydrangeas here in the Midwest that were as gorgeous as the one given to Madonna, you better believe I’d be exhibiting that seventh deadly sin.  I’d have a snootful of pride!

Perk up, hydrangeas, who cares about Madonna?  Alfie and I still love you!