Sunday, April 23, 2017

How To Create a Wildlife Habitat

visitors to our back yard

We are Just a Family of Four

In 1992 our family of four moved to a farmhouse in a small town in the Puget Sound area.
Directly east and south of us is the Army base Fort Lewis, to the north is a natural pond, and to the west there is a wetlands area--10 acres which will never be developed.

But, we have many visitors

coyote
Our bird feeders are a swirl of activity all day. Squirrels and chipmunks pick up the fallen seeds from the ground, and chase each other back and forth in the hazelnut trees. Rabbits munch on the clover in our lawn. Possums and raccoons live in brush piles and waddle through the side yard every day. Deer graze on the native shrubs, nestle down and chew their cud in the early afternoon in our backyard, and at night slumber in the cedar grove.
Coyotes certainly announce their presence. I want to hate them but I can't--I know they are part of the circle of life that keeps everything in balance (and their babies are soooo cute!).
And occasionally, in the wee hours of the morning, a brown bear ambles through.
We live in paradise (and the animals agree).

male pileated woodpecker

But (you say), I Don't Live in the 100 Acre Woods!

You don't need to have acres of property to invite and enjoy wildlife. Even if you live in an apartment, you can enjoy a bit of Creation if you have access to a balcony or window from which you can hang a bird feeder, hummingbird feeder, or plant a flower to attract butterflies.

Here's What to Do

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are four basic elements that need to be provided to invite wildlife:
  • Food
  • Water
  • Cover
  • Nesting
I will give you two different plans--one for small house or apartment dwellers who have limited space, and one for those who have a large(r) outdoor area.

If you have a small space

Everyone needs to eat! Even birds. (It's not just about the worms). Hummingbirds and butterflies can be enjoyed in small places too--even from a space as small as an apartment balcony. Here's how:

BIRD FEEDING TIPS

  • Place bird feeders in locations where cats and other predators can not reach them.
  • Place feeders ten to twelve feet from low shrubs.
  • Clean your feeders regularly with hot water, and let them air dry completely. Also keep areas under and around the feeders clean.
  • Keep seed clean and dry, and watch for mold.
  • Use a seed blend designed for your feeder and the types of birds you feed. Avoid blends that contain filler seeds and grains (sorghum and red or golden millet)--birds usually do not eat these, so they end up on the ground and are wasted.
  • Black oil sunflower seed is a favorite of just about every seed-eating species.


HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING TIPS

  • Hummingbird feeders can be purchased an your local hardware store for as little at $10.00
  • Special nectar is not needed--simply mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts hot water. DON'T add red food dye and don't use honey. White sugar only!
  • Empty and refill the feeder every 2 or 3 days to insure that the sugar water is pure.

Monarch butterfly

BUTTERFLY FEEDING TIPS

Butterflies have three basic needs:
  • a source of water (a saucer of water, damp puddles, or damp sand)
  • native flowers for nectar (they are attracted to red, orange, yellow, pink, purple)
  • Butterflies are not shade lovers--they need full sun to warm their wings and to help them navigate; they need feeding flowers that receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Also when planting for butterflies, choose flowers that are native to your area.

If you have a large space

If you live in a larger space, you have even more options for wildlife habitat. Have you thought about creating a space, not only for birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies, but also for:
  • amphibians
  • bats
  • bees


Amphibians

tree frog
I love the sound of the frogs singing in the pond next to our property. As soon as the sun goes down their chorus begins. At first a low melodic tone, that crescendos--and then amazingly comes to a complete stop! "Why?" I wondered. And then I realized.....they need to stop to turn the page of sheet music.
What are amphibians? Frogs, toads, and salamanders fall into that category. So what differentiates an amphibian from a lizard? Amphibians hatch from eggs laid in or near water. They begin their hatched life with gills, and then as adults live mostly on land, returning to the water to breed.
The only thing they need is a pond--natural or created.
  • If there is a natural pond or stream in your area, keep it healthy.
  • Create a pond if none exists.
The National Wildlife Federation has resources to provide further information. (See "Garden for Wildlife") below.

Bats

Bats need a house.
Yes, I'm suggesting that you construct a house for bats (but not in your attic).
No, they are not evil vampires nor will they nest in your hair.
What they will do is consume insects. Large, copious amounts of insects (would you believe up to 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour?!)
You might be surprised to learn that bats don't always live in caves. Some bats winter in caves, but most spend the summer in trees or under bridges. Unlike bird nests, bat nests are very narrow--they prefer tight spaces (which keep their babies warm).
So, why would a bat need a house (from you) rather than a tree (from nature)? Well, as more forests are clear-cut and housing developments are established where groves of trees used to grow, bats are losing their natural habitat.
Bats need us--and we certainly need them!
The ideal location for a bat house would include:
  • lots of sun;
  • be at least 15 feet off the ground (to protect against predators)
  • have a water source nearby (so the mother bat doesn't have to leave her babies for too long).

Here's a link on how to build a bat house:


Bees

honey bee
There have been many stories in the media that our Nation's honeybees are dying off. Pollution and pesticides are decimating their colonies.
Why is that important? Bees are needed for pollination. But it is not just honeybees that are in trouble. Many "wild" bees, butterflies, and moths are also threatened, and without them you and I will not be able to enjoy the fruits and flowers in our local neighborhoods.
Bee houses can provide nesting and protection for the bees species native to your area.

This is where the action is!

The National Wildlife Federation has a wealth of information on creating habitat (little or large), and how to attract, encourage, and support the fauna in your part of the country.


By providing food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young--as well as incorporating sustainable gardening practices--your garden can join the more than 136,000 Certified Wildlife Habitats™ across the country.



I hope you can find ways to discover the wildlife in your corner of the world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Little drum Roll Please...


My new book is available at Amazon. 

My labor over this was longer than April the giraffe's, but well worth it. I'm happy (and now I can get back to the garden).

Monday, April 10, 2017

How to Chop an Onion

I love to watch cooking shows on television--Master Chef, Chopped and the wonderful chefs on PBS. I'm pretty confident about my cooking skills, but am always in awe of how quickly a professional chefs whips through dicing/mincing an onion.

Do we need to chop onions like a pro?

If you are going to be a professional chef, create amazing dishes for an innumerable list of guests, you need to know how to whack through those onions in a hurry! But that doesn't describe me, and probably isn't you either (I'm guessing). We just want to prepare a lovely meal for ourselves, our spouse, our family, our friends or neighbors.
So what's the hurry?

This is all you really need to get started:

  • good-quality cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • firm onion

The Cutting Board - You can "fake" some kitchen tools (for example you can use a mesh sieve in place of a flour sifter, or use a drinking glass as a cookie cutter), but you must have a real, honest-to-goodness cutting board to save your counter tops, your knives, and your fingers and thumbs.
Cutting boards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Before making that purchase, consider that wooden boards need to be seasoned with oil. They don't hold up well after being washed in the dishwasher, and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. I avoid them.
My favorite cutting board is the plastic variety. They are easy to keep clean (sterile), don't splinter or chip, and typically have grippers on the bottom so that they will not slide away from you.
The Knife - There are only a few features of a knife that determine its quality. The most important part of any knife is the blade. Although ceramic blades are now the "in thing" and have an amazing sharpness, they are also fragile and can break easily. I prefer forged stainless steel.
The next consideration is the shape, material, and structure of the handle.
  • The shape of the handle should be comfortable in your hand. Pick up the knife, hold it, and imagine using it in your kitchen. Is it comfortable? I'm petite (5 feet tall) and so large tools feel very unwieldy for me.
  • The material of the handle is also very important. Plastic handles will splinter and shatter easily. Look for a polycarbonate--dishwasher safe and sturdy.
  • Another common feature of the best quality knives is that the tail of the blade, called the tang. It should be solidly riveted into the handle. The length of the steel should be visible from tip of the blade to the butt of the handle. If the handle solidly encases the blade, walk away.
But (you might ask), what is wrong with using a cheap knife? Less expensive knives are made from a much lighter gauge of steel which means that they will not keep a sharp edge for very long. The blades of cheaper knives are also often very thin, making them brittle and more likely to break or for the edge to chip. Handles made from wood or plastic perish very quickly and are usually not dishwasher-safe. Also, the blades are not always set into the handle very securely. All of this makes cheap knives more likely to be blunt which forces you to use more force when cutting with them which in turn makes them more likely to break or for the blade to come loose from the handle.
It's important to keep your knives sharp. Dull knives are a safety hazard and can be very dangerous.
The more blunt a knife's edge is, the more pressure it takes to cut something. The more pressure your hand and the knife apply to a piece of food, the more likely you are to slip and cut your finger instead. Sharpened knives also reduce the time it takes to prepare your meals, since your cuts will be faster and more accurate.
The onion - This might seem a little obvious but.....you need to have a firm onion. Any signs of mildew (the black stuff), large soft areas, or serious sprouting means that you should probably send your onion to that great compost bin in the sky.
A squishy onion is not a good onion to chop/mince/dice or slice.

So, are you ready to get started?



  • Begin by placing the onion on the cutting board and slicing off the top and bottom ends. This is a good thing--it now has two flat sides and isn't so likely so roll around and slip away. Flip the onion over to that it is resting on one of the flat ends.
  • Now place the blade of your knife across the center of the upward-facing flat end. The edge of your blade should aim for the center of the onion. Slice straight down.
  • You now have an onion approximately cut in half. Set one half aside (for now).
  • Peel off the skin from one half and then place it on the cutting board, flat side down, curved side facing up. The top and bottom ends should be pointing left and right.
  • Next you are going to slice through the onion from right to left (if you are right-handed) and left-to right if you are a lefty. You will end up with semi-circular sections. (No fingertips please!
  • (For the sake of brevity and my sanity, lets assume from now on that you are right-handed. Only 10 percent of the population--like me!!--is gifted with being left-handed).
  • Now take a moment to read and understand this next step before you proceed.
Depending on how thin or thick you made your slices, you are now looking at one-half of an onion that has been turned into maybe 8, 10, or 12 slices. Take 3 of those slices and lay they down on the cutting board. Turn the stack of slices so that the flat side is near you (south) and the round side is to the north.
Working from right to left, cut through the semi-circles and turn those long curves strips into little chunks. Be careful when you get to the end, because there's not much room for your fingers.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Unloved Vegetable

Each Wednesday during Lent, our church has a mid-week service at 6:30 pm. And, like all good Lutherans, we use this as an opportunity (excuse) to have a potluck dinner in the hour before. I asked my friends at our table "What would you like to see on my blog? I'm looking for inspiration."

"Rutabagas" was the reply. I don't know if they were sincere in their desire to see a recipe for that humble, under-represented vegetable, or if they tossed the name out as a challenge. Whether a joke or an urgent plea, I'm feeling up to the task. Here's my idea for what to do to add rutabagas to the list of hits coming out of your kitchen:

Roasted Root Vegetables
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 pound red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound rutabagas, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  1. Position 1 rack in bottom third of oven and 1 rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. 
  2. Spray 2 heavy large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Combine all remaining ingredients except garlic in very large bowl; toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Divide vegetable mixture between prepared sheets. Place 1 sheet on each oven rack. Roast 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reverse positions of baking sheets. Add 5 garlic cloves to each baking sheet.
  3. Continue to roast until all vegetables are tender and brown in spots, stirring and turning vegetables occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Let stand on baking sheets at room temperature. Rewarm in 450°F oven until heated through, about 15 minutes.)
  4. Transfer roasted vegetables to large bowl and then serve.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Enjoy Life

I drafted this post several weeks ago when I assumed that Spring would be "just around the corner". On the first official day of Spring, our weather was anything other than "spring-like". In fact, we have broken all records for rainfall, receiving one year's worth of precipitation in just the past 4 months. 

Despite the lack of sunshine (or even a bit of warmth), I know that Spring is on the way. The rhubarb is starting to pop up from its winter slumber and daffodils are blooming in the flowerbeds. So, it's time to...




Live.
Love.
Enjoy.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do


My parents were young adults during the Great Depression of 1929-30. For them the words "Use it up, wear it out, make it do" was more than a catchy phrase or casual mantra. It was a way of life that they carried with them each and every day until the end of their lives in the latter part of the 20th century.

In my growing up years, we were frugal long before the concept of living "green".
  • We re-used aluminum foil.
  • We saved the heels of loaves of bread to make our own bread crumbs.
  • We didn't purchase oil for frying--mom had a little pot sitting on the back of the stove into which she poured the grease that remained from frying bacon. (I still hold onto two of these three habits).
  • We drank water from the tap (not a plastic bottle).
  • Laundry was hung on the line to dry.
  • Diapers were washed, not used once and throw way.
  • We used a push lawn mower.
  • We had and knew how to use maps, not GPS.
  • We recycled milk, soda, and beer bottles.

Leftover Spaghetti Sauce

Too much to throw away. Not enough for even one serving of pasta. So, what do you do? I have a freezer container just for this purpose. Pour the that last little bit of sauce into the container and pop it into the freezer. Next time you have leftover spaghetti sauce, repeat, repeat, repeat. Spaghetti sauce stored in an air-tight container will last for a year at most, but at least 6 months.



Cooked Vegetables

One cooked carrot. A couple of parsnips. A handful of green beans. They could be tossed out (and usually are, right?) But why? Are they spoiled? Or are you just weary of them?

I save most (not all) of my vegetable leftovers. Yes, I toss out (into the compost pile) the sulfurous veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, but the carrots, celery, and parsnips are saved in a zip-lock bag that stays in the freezer. They love being tossed into a pot of stew or vegetable soup.



Cheese Rinds

If the only cheese you consume is Velveeta or shredded cheese in a bag you can skip ahead to the next topic. However, if you occasionally purchase hard or semi-hard Italian cheeses (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino-Romano, etc.) then this is for you.

Although cheese rinds are difficult (if not impossible) to chew, they can be shredded on a micro-plane and used in any dish. But the rinds can also be saved in the freezer for use in soups, sauces, and chowders. Just toss chunks of rind into the pot as the mixture slowly simmers and, in a few hours, the rind will be smaller or perhaps disappear and the flavor of your dish will be enhanced. Remove and discard any leftover pieces before serving.

And they can also be used to make stock--yes, instead of chicken, beef, or fish you can use leftover cheese rinds to begin a flavorful stock. Here's how:
  • Simmer about 1/2 pound of hard cheese rinds in 8 cups of water for 3 to 4 hours. The resulting broth can be used in any soup or chowder typically flavored with cheese--for example potato, broccoli, or cauliflower.

Storing Cheese Rinds

  • To keep the rinds from molding or becoming harder, start a cheese rind bag in your freezer. Use a zip closure bag and toss in rinds as they become available. Cheese rinds will keep for up to a year in the freezer if stored in an airtight bag or container.

Rotisserie Chicken Leftovers

Our local grocery store (Safeway) features $5.00 Friday--for just 5 dollars you can purchase a whole chicken already seasoned, roasted, and ready to go home with you for dinner. And Costco has roast chickens for $4.99 every day. My frugal bones don't allow me to take advantage of even this offer very often. (My own version is shown below.)

However, if you find yourself in possession of an already-cooked chicken, and you have feasted from it's succulent thighs, legs and breast portions--what do you do with the leftovers? I'm going to assume that most of you toss them into the trash.

Here's another idea--place the leftover skin and bones into a medium-sized saucepan. Toss in a carrot, some celery (if you have it--if not, that's OK), and an onion. Add water to cover and then simmer for 3 or 4 hours.

What--you don't have that much time? Well, do you have a crock pot (i.e. slow cooker)? Store your rotisserie chicken scraps in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning place them, with the aforementioned veggies and water into your crock pot. Set the cooking level to low. Go to work, and when you come home you will have an amazing broth that you can use for soup.
Now, here's that do-it-yourself rotisserie chicken recipe that I promised (and you don't need a rotisserie!)
1 large whole chicken (about 5 to 6 pounds), washed and patted dry with paper towels
1 medium onion (leave it whole--just remove the dry papery skin)
2 tablespoons seasoning salt, or make your own with
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Place onion in the cavity of the chicken.
  3. Liberally apply seasoning to all surfaces of the chicken.
  4. Place in oven-safe container.
  5. Don't add water!
  6. Allow chicken to cook for 5 hours (no peaking allowed!)
Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous--no cover and no water? Surely it will go up in flames, but I promise you that it won't. After 5 hours you will have the most succulent, moist, flavorful roast chicken.



Mashed Potatoes

Is there anything less inspiring that a bowl of cold mashed potatoes? My mom used to stir in an egg and some flour and cook mashed potato cakes. Mine never taste as good as Mom's. (Perhaps because I don't keep that little pot of leftover bacon grease on the back of my stove).

Here's a recipe for potato soup:

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dried parsley and shredded cheddar cheese for garnish

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat, then add in onion. Cook until golden brown (almost caramelized)--10 minutes.
  2. Once the onions are golden add the all-purpose flour and mix well until the onions have been coated with the flour mixture. Add the whole milk and stir for one minute.
  3. Then add in the mashed potatoes, mixing until all the potatoes have broken up. Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are smooth. Taste the soup and add salt and black pepper if desired.
  4. Ladle into bowls and top with dried parsley, shredded cheddar cheese, and cracked black pepper.

Shrimp Shells

OK, by now you probably think I have completely lost my mind. Just humor me for a moment. Do you ever prepare clam chowder and need a bit of broth? Do you ever cook seafood risotto? You probably reach for a can or box of chicken broth, right? But, I assume you have heard of fish stock. Maybe you have even made it a time or two. Why not stock made from shrimp shells?

I save my shrimp shells in a zip-lock bag which I keep in the freezer. When the bag is full, I place the shells (still frozen) in a stock pot with onions, celery, and a carrot or two and then cover with water. Simmer for about 20 minutes then strain. You have a lovely seafood broth which you can use immediately, or store in the freezer.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Homemade Almond Pasta




I love Saturdays. Every other day of the week is filled with work and routine, but Saturday is my one day to really spend time in the kitchen. That's the way it was for my mom. 


Early Saturday morning I would awake to the aroma of yeast dough proofing in the pantry, waiting to be formed into loaves of bread, rolls or coffee cake. And while waiting for the dough to rise there would be a pie in the making--apple, peach, maybe apricot, rhubarb, or (Daddy's favorite) gooseberry.

And then, in the afternoon while the bread was baking and the pies were cooling, mom would make pasta dough for egg noodles.

Mom made the most amazing noodles. They were rolled by hand--paper thin and light as air. And when she wasn't looking (or so I thought) I would grab a bit of the raw dough and pop it in my mouth. Flour-y, eggy, salty wonderfulness!! As the years passed Mom's arthritis made it impossible for her to wield the rolling pin that formed those thin layers of pasta dough. So Daddy bought a pasta machine for her.

I have Mom's pasta machine now, and whenever I use it I think of her. Today with the help of Mom's pasta buddy I made noodles. But these were no ordinary noodles. In my pantry is a large (I mean REALLY large) package of sliced almonds. I found them in our local warehouse store, and they were just too great of a bargain to resist. They have appeared in salads, cakes, and cookies.
And today they served as my inspiration for fettuccini. Almond fettuccini.



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Free Pattern -- Flower Power Granny Square Quilt


Granny square afghans have always been a favorite of mine; not only are they colorful, but they satisfy my thrifty nature. 

As a child of parents who were young adults during the Great Depression, "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" was more than a saying--it was a way of life.

I made this afghan to use up the leftovers from other knitting projects. As I worked, I jotted down the steps I took so that I could share the pattern with you.


This is what I call the "Rose block". I prepared the samples with just one color of yarn so that you could easily see the stitches and how the blocks are made.










This is the "Daisy Block". 






And this is a close-up of the afghan.



To complete this project you will need to know how to create a chain stitch, single crochet, and double crochet. Just those three stitches.
Here are the directions for completing the two blocks:

Abbreviations:
SC – single crochet
DC – double crochet
YO – yarn over

Materials:
Worsted-weight yarn in colors of your choice
Crochet hook size G


Block with 6-Pointed Rose in Center
Chain 6. Join with slip stitch to form ring.

ROW 1 - Chain 3 (counts as first DC), then work 2 DC, holding back last loop of each stitch. YO and pull through all loops as once to form a cluster stitch. *Chain 5, create cluster stitch by working 3 DC in next stitch, holding back last loop of each DC. YO and pull through all loops at once to form a cluster stitch. Repeat from * 4 more times. End with Chain 5 and join at top of first cluster stitch. Change yarn to different color.

ROW 2 - Slip stitch to first Chain 5 loop. Chain 3 (counts as first DC). Work 4 more DC’s in Chain 5 loop. *Chain 1. Work 5C’s in next Chain 5 loop. Repeat from * 4 times more. Chain 1 and join at top of first Chain 3. Change yarn to different color.

ROW 3 – Slip stitch in any stitch. Chain 3 (counts as first DC). Work 1 DC in each DC in the round below and 2 DC in each Chain 1 loop. Join with slip stitch at end of round. (42 stitches) Change yarn to different color.

ROW 4 – Slip stitch in any stitch to begin round. *SC in the first 2 stitches; 2 SC in next stitch. Repeat from * all around to complete row.  Join with slip stitch to join. (56 stitches). Change yarn to background color.

ROW 5 – Slip stitch in any stitch to begin round. Chain 3 (counts as first DC). Work 1 DC in each of the next 2 stitches. Chain 1, 1 DC in each of the next 3 stitches. *Chain 4, skip next stitch. *Work 1 DC in each of the next 3 stitches, chain 1, 1 DC in each of the next 3 stitches. Repeat from * 4 times. Chain 4. Slip stitch to join. Break off.


Block with 12-Pointed Daisy in Center
Chain 6. Join with slip stitch to form ring. Chain 1.

ROW 1 – Work 12 SC in ring. Join with slip stitch to join. Change yarn to different color.

ROW 2 – Chain 5 (counts as 1 DC and chain 2). *1 DC in next stitch, chain 1. Repeat from * 10 times. Chain 1. Slip stitch to join. Chain yarn to different color.

ROW 3 – Slip stitch to first chain 2 loop. Chain 3, then work 2 DC in same stitch, holding back last loop of each stitch. YO and pull through all loops as once to form a cluster stitch. *Chain 4, create cluster stitch by working 3 DC in next stitch, holding back last loop of each DC. YO and pull through all loops at once to form a cluster stitch. Repeat from * 10 more times. End with Chain 4 and slip stitch in top of first cluster stitch to join. Change yarn to different color.

ROW 4 – Slip stitch in any chain 4 loop. Work 4 SC in each loop. Slip stitch to join. Change yarn to background color.

ROW 5  – Slip stitch in any stitch to begin round. Chain 3 (counts as first DC). Work 1 DC in each of the next 2 stitches. Chain 1, 1 DC in each of the next 3 stitches. *Chain 4, skip next stitch. *Work 1 DC in each of the next 3 stitches, chain 1, 1 DC in each of the next 3 stitches. Repeat from * 4 times. Chain 4. Slip stitch to join. Break off.

A granny afghan can be made any size--from lap quilt up to California King bed (if you're really ambitious). Here is a layout of the afghan I made--in each hexagon R stands for the "Rose block" and D stands for the "Daisy block".


To complete the afghan you can sew the blocks together, or join the blocks as you complete Round 5

You may single crochet around all 4 sides of your completed afghan to create a smooth, finished edge, or if you want your afghan to look like my example, use the chevron method to add 6 rows of single crochet for a wide border.

Good luck! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Happy Valentines Day

A few years ago we awoke to find a light dusting of snow on the grass and trees. What a beautiful sight. And then we looked out onto the driveway. 

The tire tracks from our newspaper delivery had created this amazingly perfect design--two intertwined hearts. 

What a perfect image for the start of Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"Best" Homemade Chocolate Cake


Last week we celebrated our older daughter's birthday. Today we celebrate...ME! Needless to say, this post will be rather short -- there's a cake to be baked! This recipe (from the back of a can of Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder) was my favorite when I was growing up, and is still in my Top 10 today. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or one 13x9-inch cake pan and set aside.
  3. Combine unsweetened cocoa powder and boiling water in small mixing bowl. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, cream sugar and shortening in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. Stir in vanilla.
  5. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda; add one half of these dry ingredients to the shortening/egg mixture. Beat until blended. 
  6. Add one half of the buttermilk and blend in. Add the remaining dry ingredients and remaining buttermilk. Beat 2 minutes.
  7. Blend in the chocolate mixture and stir until thoroughly combined and no streaks remain.
  8. Pour into prepared pan(s). Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cake is done when cake begins to pull from sides of pan and toothpick inserted in center of cake is not wet--just a few moist crumbs should adhere to the toothpick.
When the cake is completely cooled, ice with your favorite frosting or dust with powdered sugar.



Saturday, February 4, 2017

Super Bowl Sunday


Super Bowl Sunday - When my team is playing, I love Super Bowl Sunday. Unfortunately, this year "the other guys" are the star of the show. But not all is lost. We can still enjoy the Puppy Bowl, Kitty Half-Time, the Budweiser ad, and (best of all) the food.

Here is one of the dishes that will be in my oven on Sunday:


Seafood Nachoes


On a heatproof platter, layer the following ingredients in the order given:



  • tortilla chips
  • chopped green chilies
  • chopped, seeded tomato
  • sliced ripe olives
  • minced green onion
  • canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • cooked shrimp and/or imitation crab flakes
  • shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese
Repeat layers once. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until heated through and cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thought for Today



Having a daughter is God's way of saying 
"I thought you could use a life-long friend."


Happy Birthday to my firstborn.

I love you Beth!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pattern for a Valentine's Day Gift from your Sewing Basket

In just a few short weeks Valentine's Day (February 14) will be here, and it's time for me to start sewing something for my daughter. (Don't worry, she doesn't read my blog so the secret is safe).

I found a beautiful heart pattern in Pinterest. The creator/author is a fellow blogger on Blogspot. The link to her page, and to the project is HERE.

Her photo is what first caught my attention. 

Isn't that a gorgeous pillow? You could also (following her directions) turn this into a table runner or wall hanging. 


I have some teeny tiny scraps in my "use it up" bag, and so will be making a set of potholders. If you would like some help in understanding how to construct this heart design, I have redrafted it so that it can be foundation pieced.

And here is my finished product. 





Friday, January 20, 2017

My "Use it Up, Make it Do" Quilt


In the years since my retirement, I have designed and fabricated many banners for my Lutheran church--I think there is a set for every major and minor holiday and festival:
  • Advent
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • Epiphany
  • Baptism of our Lord
  • Liturgical Green
  • Transfiguration
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Lent
  • Palm Sunday
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • Easter 
  • Ascension
  • Pentecost
  • Holy Trinity
  • Reformation
  • Last Judgment Sunday
  • Saints Triumphant Sunday
  • Christ the King Sunday
  • Thanksgiving
Whew! I list them not to brag but to emphasize just how many banners there have been and (as a result) how much beautiful fabric has found its way into my studio--batiks, tone-on-tones, and amazing, dazzling jewel tones that otherwise would not have been a part of my collection of scraps. 

Many of the banners that I designed were created to give the appearance of stained glass--hence the brilliant colors and batik swirls. On the other hand, the quilts that I typically create for my home and friends tend to be muted tones of green/blue/violet. 

Those banners really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and presented me with an amazing stash of bits and pieces that I simply could not ignore.

So...I designed this quilt. It was fast and fun, and I will share the patterns with you here.


The "W" on the two diagrams below indicates which pieces will be cut from the "White" (background) fabric. All others will be your choice of colored/printed fabrics.






If you want to make this quilt larger than twin-size, you will need to arrange your blocks like this:

Double/full-size = 11 blocks x 13 blocks
Queen-size = 13 blocks x 15 blocks
King-size = 15 blocks x 15 blocks


Suggestions for other color combinations:
  • pink background and print prints for a little girl's quilt
  • black background and solid bright colors for an Amish-style quilt
  • find one stunning small-print fabric and use that as the background--use coordinating solid color fabrics for the other pieces


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Kitties of Italy

In 2006 our family traveled to Italy--we spent a week in Vernazza, one of the five cities that makes up the Cinque Terre. All of us immediately fell in love with the place and the kitties who live and roam there freely.

When we arrived back home I began to work on a children's book--a story of the kitties we had met; I gave the book to my older daughter as a Christmas gift.

I thought it would be fun to share the book (and photos) with you:

My Aunt Carol lives in Italy--Maniago to be exact--a town about 1 hour north of Venice.

Three girl kitties live with Aunt Carol.

 Cindy

 Bianca


and Lola.


In the Fall of 2006 my parents, sister, and I went to Italy. We visited Cindy, Bianca, and Lola, but we met lots of other kitties too!

First, we went to Cinque Terra--5 towns linked by a rugged footpath on the west coast of Italy. We stayed in the town of Vernazza.

And there we were greeted by "Katie." Katie is the ambassador of Vernazza. She greets every newcomer.


Katie

Then we met Lily, so named because she "lives" in a flowerpot.


Lily

Lily has several friends who like to hang out with her--Marmalade, Marbles, and Chandler.

Marmalade is the leader of the pack.

Marmalade


And the most photogenic.


Marbles is the most colorful.


Marbles

 Chandler loves to pose.

Chandler


As we walked a little further, we found Tuffy. No, she doesn't like Sprite, but she DOES love head scratches.

Tuffy

Closer to the beach we found Oreo.

Oreo
And Nemo, who lives on one of the fishing boats.


Nemo

And on the rocks we found Gus.

Gus

"Bobbi patrolled the breakwater.


Bobbi

Bobbi and Gus are friends.


Bobbi and Gus

This is Jasmine. She lives with Giani, the man who owns the restaurant. He specializes in seafood, so Jasmine is a very lucky kitty.





But sadly, not every kitty has a home and a warm bed.




Others sleep in very dangerous places.


We enjoyed our stay in Vernazza, but it was time to move on. Katy came by our apartment to say goodbye.


There were other places to visit. And even more kitties to see, like this gentleman who greeted us near the church in Aquileia.


We don't know where he lived, but he was certainly friendly.



We had a wonderful time in Italy. Maybe some day we'll return. I know that the kitties will be waiting for us.