Friday, July 31, 2009

OWLS Vest :: Refashioned

The title of by blog testifies to my love of knitting, but knitting has been somewhat scarce round these parts lately. I thought of changing the name to Mamie Makes but that takes a lot more effort than I am willing to make. So, instead, I decided to knit a bit more than I have in the past few months.

I gave a sneak peek at a project that I completed just this week. It is a vest for Mason that I am calling his OWL Schoolboy Vest as he and his brother are headed into the great new vista of preschool come September.
OWLS Schoolboy Vest

It is technically a pattern I imagined, but it was heavily inspired by the beautiful sweater by Needled and her O W L S sweater. Initially I though I would write up the pattern to post on my sidebar, but man, pattern writing is HARD.
OWLS Schoolboy Vest

I was first moved to self design projects when I read Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Workshop. Her approach to knitting is so logical and delightful and it made designing pieces for my family fairly effortless. The execution of these projects has been fun and rewarding, I love watching an idea become a functional piece of clothing that will likely last for years.

Not so with pattern writing. What happens so organically on the needles does not translate easily to paper. I gave a go at pattern writing with my cowl because it was a tube of st-st with some easy patterning involved. This project, the vest, has quite a few components to tackle and though I have excellent pattern notes, it is so challenging to find a good way to translate them.

I may still get it down on paper and into a post of itself, but I am not sure it is really necessary. The vest idea is simple enough, the details I added can be figured out by looking at it and the OWL chart is readily available online.
My (almost) Schoolboy

I am curious to know though if you are an experienced knitter, do you see projects online or in Ravelry and think that you could do that and go about making your own refashioned project? Do you appreciate having a person write up a free pattern even if it is not multiple sized? Where do you stand on pattern writing? I am still on the fence as to whether it is something to add to my already full plate of making and fashioning.

Regardless of the pattern and its status, the finished object is one of my favorites to date. The simple cabled OWLS are perfect for a little boy, the button eyes a fun addition for little fingers to touch and count.
My (almost) Schoolboy

It is a little roomy which is always good for growing boys. And as with anything I make for them, when I see their genuine smile and the pleasure they show in the wearing…well, it just brings home that the skills I have honed in the knitting world bring so much more than a finished object.
My creation

I am thinking school is going to be a blast. Already this young man is learning to 'read' quietly to himself. And lately his drawing has taken a great leap into the world of people. Here is a pair of 'guys' in a 'school bus'. Mace's figures have such great character already. They also seem to be heavily influenced by their current obsession with "Nightmare before Christmas".
My (almost) Schoolboy

Mace's Friends
(He drew that spontaneously with no prompting from us. And he keeps drawing them. I want to take a picture of every single one. Arg. So Cute.)

Well, onward to the next vest. Owen is requesting OWLS but I have an idea for his involving a road and buttons shaped like tractors, fire trucks and school buses. And if he still insists on the OWLS marching across his chest, I think I could handle a re knit. Might even solidify my pattern and its writing. Hats off to you ladies and men that seem to crank out patterns without a blink. I have much respect for you and your efforts.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer Eating in the Heat

It seems appropriate to follow up a garden post with one listing some of the recipes sparked by the garden and its offerings. There is not a huge harvest yet, but we are well into summer eating. Last week a heat wave mugged this area and it was all I could do to even think about food. Nothing like day of 100 + weather with high humidity and crabby boys bouncing off the walls because it was too hot to go outside and Grandpa's pool was on the fritz. We did manage to come up with some good meals and ideas that I will share in case the heat wave comes to your town.

The key to hot days is to try to cook very little, and if one does need heat, to do it outside. This panzella salad takes 5 minutes and is filling enough to get you through dinner.
All I do is rough chop tomatoes in a bowl, preserving the juice and seeds, chop tons of fresh basil and douse generously with olive oil and balsamic. You will need a good sturdy bread loaf, we always pick up the La Brea bakery bread, it keeps for a few days, but is actually better used in this recipe when a little stale.
Chop up the bread into rough chunks, toss with the tomato mixture, add salt and fresh ground pepper and you have your meal.

My Mama picked up a great recipe while watching Emeril's show but she put her own spin on it, as she is wont to do. It is a cilantro based marinade/dressing that packs so much flavor. Tangy and fresh with lots of good cilantro flavor. I find it irresistible.
Cilantro Dressing
This is the basic recipe we used::
1/2 sweet onion
1 clove garlic
2 bunches cilantro
Juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime
1/4 c. sweet chili sauce
1/4 c. canned pineapple chunks
Juice reserved from pineapple

Chop onion, garlic and cilantro and add to blender with juice, chili sauce and pineapple. Blend until mixture emulsifies, add pineapple juice or water to thin mixture until it is pourable.

I have used this on salad with a little added olive oil for flavor, on fish and chicken as a marinade and today I mixed a spoonful into rice and beans with a little yogurt to make a delicious creamy saucy rice dish. We were out of pineapple the second time around, but it seemed to come out just fine.

One way to get dinner done when it is hot is to turn to the grill. I love grilling fish in a packet with a side of grilled vegetables.
Fish "Fry"
For this meal, I made a simple marinade with lemon juice, chopped fresh herbs including basil, oregano, marjoram and thyme, olive oil, a crushed garlic clove and salt and pepper. I fashioned long pieces of foil into packets for the fish and veg, poured the marinade over each, dotted the fish with butter and grilled until tender. Easy and fast and very yummy.

I finally had a chance to try my hand at making spring rolls, but I am calling them my 'summer' rolls. I love these, always order them from a local Thai restaurant. We have been trying to eat at home to save money and these can cost a pretty penny. I picked up a package of rice wrappers at our local Asian market, I think they cost $1.29.
rice paper wrappers
They are simple to prepare, you just dip the sheet into warm water until the pattern disappears, then place it on a piece of wax paper.
I filled mine with whole basil, mint, cilantro and spinach leaves, shredded carrot, cucumber and green onion and shrimp. They tasted great, but I found the rolling process really difficult as the wrappers get extremely sticky once wet. Not pretty to look at, but very good to eat.
'summer' rolls
I mixed up a quick peanut dipping sauce by combining peanut butter, agave syrup, hot chili sauce, lime juice and water. Double yum.

Hope there is something that calls to you, especially if you are dealing with the heat of the summer. Happy eats.

* I have a few exciting posts coming up : A knitting 'recipe' for the littles and a great project I 'unvented'. Look for them this week and next.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lessons in the Garden

I am learning so much this summer out in my garden. I have always wanted raised beds and our journey towards home growing started in earnest this year. After we set up the beds it took me some time to figure out a plan. I have always been a lackadaisical gardener at best, planting a few squash and tomato plants and hoping for a few successes.

This year we took a more structured approach, placing some permanent beds in a place I felt would be fortuitous and there they sat as I collected seeds and dreamed about what to plant. It took awhile for me to decide then what to do, but now in July, I am slowing figuring out what works and what does not. And that it might be good to read up a bit more and pay attention to some of the plethora of gardening forums and podcasts out there. So far, I feel the success outweighs the failings and there has actually been some edible results so far.

Want to know what I have learned?

:: That sometimes it is okay to let things go to flower or seed on the off chance that I can gather those seeds and use them again.
GaRden Progress July 09

Our artichoke exhausted itself in one season, giving about 20 artichokes, all of a medium to smallish size, but all equally delicious. And we might be able to grow another. Maybe. I have heard that is hard to do, but I like to dream big.
GaRden Progress July 09

:: Reading the seed packets is a good idea. If the packet says bush beans they will not grow up your scaffolding. They will grow as bushes. So then you will have to move the beans to make room for actual climbers.
GaRden Progress July 09

And that if you hand your little boy a seed and he loves the dirt as much as you, he will plant his own. And make it grow. Even if it is in the row that is designated for the chard.
GaRden Progress July 09

:: Gophers make me mad. Really really mad. Especially when they eat the roots of a heirloom tomato and then disintegrate my tomatillo plant. Gopher, you gonna' die. Or least go away.
GaRden Progress July 09

:: Seeing your plants make food is magic. Lemon yellow round cucumbers, Japanese cucumber, slowing ripening tomatoes hanging on their vines. Lesson from this is when you pick it is is best to just eat it. Right then in a salad.
GaRden Progress July 09
GaRden Progress July 09
GaRden Progress July 09

:: Follow seed packet instructions for thinning. Otherwise your beets stay baby size. But still pretty delish.
GaRden Progress July 09

:: Plant lots of lettuce. Every day I come out in the morning to harvest....every morning next there is more to take.
GaRden Progress July 09

These seem to stand not being thinned much. And taste very yummy lightly braised or tossed into a sandwich or just eaten so that I can say I got my greens for the day.

Gardening is both harder and simpler than I thought. It rewards me in small measure and large. The boys experiment more for the caring of the food. They know about seeds and what happens when you place one in the ground. They know about growing of the plants, the need for water and for weeding (sure, they choose the wrong thing to weed, but I planted a lot). They taste more, though they still spit what they do not like.

As for me, I know the time it takes to grow food and marvel at the tables and stacks of produce at the grocery. I think twice before buying. And I realize anything grown at home tastes three times better than that organic bit you picked up at the market. It really does.

So, it is not too late. Go get some seeds, a small space and good soil and plant. Make your own food. The benefits far outweigh the costs...and make up for the damn gophers eating your roots.

Some crafting/knitting up next. Here is a sneak peek at a project that I reduxed to make a School Boy Vest in anticipation of September.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leaving and Coming

That man of mine. I know I can craft, but he can create. Many people have asked me how it is that I take 'good' photographs (a statement I sometimes find dubious but flattering). He is the reason. Tim taught me all that he learned in his schooling, patient and generous and always the one with the better eye. He taught me by example and I still study his shots and try to find out what he did.

Last weekend he took a much needed break to travel up to Mammoth and Bodie, a man and his dog and his camera.
Mammoth and Bodie

We visited Bodie many years ago, our equipment then was medium format and film and my completely manual Canon that he bought for a song at school. Those cameras stayed home, but there was no less magic to the photos he brought back.

Bodie is a strange place, willfully frozen and cursed, to boot. Seeing it again, some shots with very little difference than those years back, altered only by angle and light...
Mammoth and Bodie
Mammoth and Bodie

I would not call it timeless, you can see it age and the dust layer thicken. Eerie and lovely in its own stark way.

Mammoth and Bodie

Tim was away for the three days, spent it mostly alone hiking and shooting. He used to be a solitary person, easy in being alone. The years with me and our family seem to have grown on him because he reported back that being alone made him feel lonely this time. I am so glad he had the time, the opportunity to find that out for himself. I sometimes wonder at the way he was sucked into my huge family, a part of it due to vows and commitment to home and relationship. He chooses this family and for that I am so very blessed.

Distance can be good for a couple, bring to the forefront just how much a partner does for you and with you. The last few months spent in close proximity have been good ones, there is some challenge and some new effort that has to be acknowledged, but it has been good.

This weekend passed with the empty side of the bed for a few nights, the solo kid wrangling and the telling of stories with only one voice. It strikes home how very glad I am to have this man, with his creative eye, slow temper, deep patience and lasting love.

Though I would let him go at least once a year if he keeps coming home with pictures like these. Next time switch it to TIFF, honey, then I can really frame some of them.

Mammoth and Bodie
Mammoth and Bodie

Love you forever, MCD.

Full set of his pictures here. Slideshow here. Take a moment to peruse them if you can. I find them all quite lovely.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Vacation Recap :: Summer at the Cabin

I wrote up a whole long rambling post last night, but I was kinda inebriated because of the crazy Belgian beer I bought for myself. I spent last night alone, Tim is off in the wilderness with our dog, camping and shooting pictures. It is the first time he has been alone in many many years. And the first time in awhile that we will be apart for more than a day. Not to sound terribly codependent, it is just that he is not that guy that needs to escape with his man crew for deep sea fishing, I am not a girly girl with a group of girls wanting to get away and he and I are pretty good friends. But, uh, this post was going to be about our trip. I just really hate re-writing things…I feel like I already wrote it and put it out there, but instead I let the computer battery die and it ate my writing. Might be a good thing as I am speculating that it was highly sentimental and drunk sounding.

So, the Cabin. What can I say? I write these posts so that in a year or two I can click on an archive link and find something like this. That post is a record of the first time we brought the boys to the Cabin and reading it brings back the moments with a rush of emotion so strong. This blog has become my link to their lives and our lives as they run their courses…my memory has never been a strong point and I always jumble people and experiences and events up into a mixed mash of mistakes. But here, with this, I remember. Better than ever before anyway. As long as there is a server and Google is around I can find those memories recorded here. Hmmm, thought it was the drunkenness that made me all sentimental. Such a character flaw.

This trip was exceptional for me. Exceptionally wonderful in so many ways, but also exceptionally challenging. There is always an easiness to our trips up, we never really plan anything, just knowing the Lake and the place will bring us what we need. This time the garage held a pair of kayaks and a small portable grill. And so our plan became all lakeside for the most part.
The boys are getting better at not drowning themselves voluntarily at the shore edge, we had PFDs for them, lots of sand toys and sunscreen. It was a joy to watch their first kayaking experience, they sat so still and just observed. In and out we went, ride after ride, not easy work on my arms but worth every stroke. Owen and I witnessed an osprey dive for fish 10 feet from us…he missed his prey and I think he gave us a dirty look for disturbing his fishing area.

The boys made their first real Cabin hike, going almost a mile into one of our favorite trails. I am pretty sure it was a mile because we had to carry them shoulder style all the way out.
riding home
his ride home
But their determination on the uphills, hearing their little bodies breath and strain to make it, their joy when they did. Awesome. It was the same trail we once took them on in their Bjorns, weighing in at no more than 8 or 9 pounds. Now we marvel as they hold our hands, charge ahead or lag behind to pick up some sticks to tap out a beat. Really just awesome.

We had our first lakeside BBQ too with some hot dogs and hastily eaten ‘gourmet’ hamburgers for the grown ups. That did not go over too well, but at least we tried. And the Smores were a total failure, completely rejected by our guys who do not seem to be advocates of the assembled dessert. They will come around, I am sure.

A trip to the giant Sequoias. Here they are last they are more sure of foot but they still look minuscule next to these tress. i have seen these trees so many times but the awe never diminishes, never lessens. They make me feel tiny but not insignificant, and so so young.

At twilight pond-side every night we tried to spot the loud bullfrogs that croak out their greetings. We were having no luck, the skittish frogs jumping in before we could spot them. The boys were manic about it, demanding to see ‘froggies’ ‘froggies please’ to no avail, we just could not get close enough. Then we went out mid morning, our last short pond walk before heading home and there they all were, sunning themselves in lazy fashion, floating just offshore and going nowhere despite our approach. The boys had no idea what they were looking at until I explained that those were the frogs. Then the excitement came and they chanted ‘bye froggies bye froggies’ all the way back to the Cabin.

It was far from idyllic, there were the evening meltdowns and endless requests that accompany toddlerhood. And yes, they watched more Thomas DVDs than they ever do at home and had a tough time getting to sleep due to the lack of ‘blackout’ conditions in our shared bedroom (yep, we are those parents, the ones that blot any bit of light out to persuade them to sleep). I truly love our time when it is the four of us, but also realize how I much I need our shared home. There is always a willing adult to shunt them to when dinner needs making or we just need some breathing room. Not so at the Cabin, and it reminds me to be grateful for the ability to experience both sides of parenting.
me after 45 minutes car screaming
(Me after quite some time in the car whilst they begged to 'go home' 'have cookies' or 'dot-chaaaaa' Mace's whine for his paci...argggg).

But this leads me to anticipatory excitement because in August we are having our first official Bout reunion, all siblings will be present with spouses and partners, the three grand kids, everyone. This has not happened since our wedding day in ’03 and I am so very glad it is happening in my most favorite place on earth. Nothing like 20 of your closest most beloved gathered in one spot to grill, swim, dance and sing the time away.

Until then, I will just hold onto the images from this trip. It always amazes me when those earlier elusive imaginings come true. So many things about this trip brought me fulfilling joy.
Watching Mace swim in his fashion, belly down and chin up in the shallow water as he furiously kicked. Watching them navigate the once dangerous stairs, now taking them step over step without help, legs sturdy and confidant. The new does not replace the old, just layers and layers and layers are starting to be created, odd moments of near deja vu when I think this was yesterday, was it not? And now he runs down grantie rock faces. Huh?

You might have noticed I am video heavy here. Tim has the SLR and we broke down and bought a point and shoot with video. Love the video and having a hard time with the camera aspects. Not bad, just not mine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stitching Again

I seem to be having a love affair with this book. Once my Alabama stitch skirt was completed, I started turning pages again, so many that the book has a frayed and broken binding. I love thumbing through this book and imagining all the wonderful projects in there coming to fruition under my busily stitching fingers. There was a bit of a lull after the skirt, mainly because I could not figure which project to try next.

I flipped to this page and had a feeling I should try it.

I was feeling the need for a little top, something on the sexy side. This seems to fit the bill. I have heard from a few that the neckline dips a bit low, so sexy it is.

This was one of those impulsive starts, where I grabbed a spare black tshirt and the thread I had on hand. The cutting took place in one nap time and the sewing during SYTYCD and a during the next nap.

It is really quite simple with five panels in front, three in back then joining with stitching up the sides. I will get to the end results in a minute, but I wanted to leave a few tips here if you decide to try some of the great projects.

The book is written with wonderful instructions on choosing knits, cutting etc. The first time around I used a traced paper pattern and a rotary cutter and struggled a bit to keep the pattern in place while I cut. This time, I cut the pattern pieces out of the grided pattern fabric you can find on the bolt at any JoAnns.

I love making pattern pieces out of this stuff as it is a little ‘sticky’ and clings to the fabric when you lay it out. I placed my cutting mat on the floor and used the rotary cutter again, making sure to keep the blade perpendicular to the fabric so it would not ‘push’ it out of place.

I really loved how quick this method made the cutting. I also came away with really precise points and curves which seems to be important in this project.

The fabric came from a plain black tshirt I thought about embellishing, but I really wanted to see how this would come together so I avoided anything fancy and got to stitching. Like I said, it stitches up fast and I had the end results to try on the next day. And I am quite glad I did not invest too much effort because I am not really loving the end result. I made a few mistakes that made me less than happy with the finished piece.

First, I used a cheapish tshirt. Not a good idea for a top. The cotton is that almost sticky knit that does not feel good on the skin and kinda’ smells. So now I know to splurge for the organic yardage over at the Alabama online store. This uses very little yardage and would be well worth the extra pennies.

Second, I am not loving my choice of cream thread. I should have gone with the grey thread, the cream makes it all a little too Black n’ White, it just feels a little trashy to me. I think the low top sexes it up enough.

Speaking on the front cut….I meant to readjust the low neck line but forgot when cutting out the pattern. This front is cut low, folks. I think I would be more comfortable if it were about 1.5 inches higher. That way it would not cover up the girls, but they would not be on such, um, display. Remember, the knit stretches as you wear, so it gets lower as the day goes along.


I am glad I made it, though. I plan on making another with modifications. I used the largest pattern size and it is a bit too generous once it stretches, so I will likely use the next size down, lift the neckline a bit and also shorten the back a bit. Overall, it is a great and flattering pattern and I look forward to trying it once more.

If you want a wonderful and inspiring book that focuses on hand sewing, the Alabama Stitch book is your friend. She sure is mine. And the next book is coming soon. So, happy sewing, folks.

Next up…reports from our lakeside vacation. I wish we never had to leave.