May 28, 2016

Shut the Front Door!



      The sun is shining and it has been a busy spring. Everything in the garden is doing well despite or perhaps because of the rather constant rain we have been getting for weeks. I believe I have watered only once or twice, including helping along some new grass seed. The roses came under attack by some evil worms and I have been plucking the ugly buggers. The rose leaves look a bit battered but the blooms are beginning to open anyway.

Pesky worms!

     It did dry up enough for the front door painting I have planned since winter. My house is sided in a soft grey that I like well enough. I had hoped for an old fashioned shade of a soft butter yellow originally but after a conversation of how much bees like yellow houses and the recollection of a very bad yellow jacket invasion one year, I choose the grey. We painted the trim in a shade of medium gray and the doors in a very deep shade for consistency. In the fall last year I hung a wreath with a bright plum ribbon and added some purples to my porch display. From there the plan developed and this week I painted the front door. What fun!

Just beginning to paint.

     First I removed all the numbers and the knocker, but I left the knob since I was sure it would be a huge ordeal to replace, and the mail slot since it was easy to paint around. I taped off the edges, as well as the knob, filled in some scratches and set to work.

Wet paint.

      The paint dried surprisingly fast, even though it was a thick as whipped cream. Soon it was ready to have the numbers back and my beautiful wreath and wreath hanger.

 All done! Please pardon the blurred numbers.

It's a bit brighter than I expected, but fun. It took only an hour or so, including drying time. I might try repainting it seasonally!


After I had gone out the following morning I returned to find this note:

 How fun!

I guess one of my neighbors likes my color choice!


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May 21, 2016

Eating Like a Bird

  
   I got a lovely letter from my sister-in-law last week and, as with all the handwritten cards and letters I get, I was thrilled. She shared her love of baseball and bird feeding among other topics. She wrote that she had converted from the standard bird seed mix to a “no mess” blend. They're also called “no waste” or “patio” blends. This mix of bird seed is designed to put into feeders over decks and garden areas where you don’t want shells and hulls from the seed leaving a mess or growing odd millet grass and such. Anyone who has ever set out a bird feeder knows that they are a dirty fixture. Over time my feeders have eventually migrated to the very back of the yard into a tree covered area beyond the driveway. There the fallen shells can be raked up easily without spoiling my roses and annual flowers. The birds are happier there as well where they can reach safe cover quickly from local red tail hawks and various free roaming cats.

My bird world

      I looked into the no-mess birdseed in the past and, however nice it sounded, discounted it because of the cost. My sister-in-law wrote that she was seeing all kinds of lovely birds and said that in the long run this seed was more economical. So I got serious about considering this type of seed.
      I began by looking at what I was currently paying for bird seed. I ordinarily buy it at the supermarket on my usual shopping trips and I buy a bag that weighs about seven pounds. I have two large, squirrel-proof feeders and I dump in the seed and it lasts the better part of a week. That is my “allotment” in bird seed. A bag that size costs me somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to ten bucks. The last few weeks I have been unable to get the usual seed mixes and instead was forced to buy black oil sunflower seeds only. This mixture makes the cardinals that visit my feeders quite happy as well as the chickadees and the squirrels. I don’t think the lovely cooing mourning doves care for it as much and neither do the finches. There was something else as well - the terrible mess. The shells piled up in hills beneath the feeders and with the frequent rain we've been getting it was a job to maintain. After spending two hours raking and shoveling shells, my sister-in-law’s suggestion sounded better all the time.

A big mess!

     In one seven-pound bag of black oil sunflower seeds it was clear at least half of it, maybe more, was all shells. Not only were the castoff shells a mess, but sunflower shells are a natural herbicide. Nothing grows beneath my feeders. I learned that lesson years ago after planting dozens of impatiens out there to brighten up the rather wild space. I've accepted that I can’t grow flowers beneath the feeders but it did make me wonder what other problems all those shells might be causing. I looked up the price of no mess seed blends.
     My calculations showed that the husked no-mess seeds figure out to be about twice the cost of the ordinary mix, assuming it is purchased in bulk, at least in 20 lb. bags. Most companies ship free so that makes a difference. I could purchase it in smaller portions, but then the cost would be higher. But I would not be paying for shells at all. From there I began reading reviews.
    Nearly every review I read was very positive. There were descriptions of cleaner surroundings at the feeders and a larger variety of colorful birds. I enjoy the birds I do see at my feeders so this is a bonus. Most people did complain about the price. No surprises there. But then I thought if every single bit of seed was eaten, even every crumb that dropped, it might be worth it. I ordered one twenty-pound bag.

The seed.

      It was scheduled to arrive in a couple of days and while I waited I scrubbed and cleaned every feeder and raked up the space underneath until there was nothing left but hard packed dirt. The birds were befuddled and disappointed. The mourning doves strolled around in circles looking for anything at all to forage. The other birds avoided the area completely and didn't even look into the feeders. The squirrels were absent as well. I figured they went off to a regular alternative food source. Like me, a few of my neighbors toss out day old bread and an occasional pizza slice. Once the new seed came I filled the squirrel proof feeders with the new mixture and got out my camera and sat back. Nothing.

      I wondered if maybe the birds were spooked by a couple of days of no seed and the completely well-raked area devoid of any leftovers. I know bird-watching demands patience so I waited. After a few more days still practically nothing. Then the new situation began to reveal itself. Some birds were coming, but very few.

What happened?

     I watched several sparrows try to go to the feeders but now the starving squirrels had gone full bully. In their hunger they turned just plain mean. If they couldn’t have anything to eat then neither would the birds. A few hungry doves tried roaming beneath the feeders and were disappointed. Without any birds visiting and tossing seed at the feeders nothing fell at all, not even the less preferred seeds. No birds, or anything else were eating. My regular cardinals came to visit and braved the bully squirrels but turned their beaks up at the new seed. My experiment was over. Yes, there was no mess, that was very true. But there were also no birds and the squirrels looked about ready to arm themselves and storm the castle. That wouldn’t do. It was time for another plan.

We are starving here!

      Now I have a huge bag of “no-waste” seed that will not be eaten. It looks tasty enough. It has bunches of shelled sunflowers seeds and peanuts and it shouldn't go to waste. When I shopped this afternoon I bought a good regular bird seed and a bag of thistle. I knew that is a mix that the beautiful birds and silly squirrels have liked at my feeders for years. I dumped them both into a big bin with the no-waste stuff, mixed it all together, spread a bit about on the ground and filled the feeders and waited.

Nothing but weeds.

     The following day the birds came back in their regular numbers with the addition of one pretty blue jay and a few starlings. The squirrels are happy, the birds are chirping and all is right in my bird world again. Now I know, no-waste seed might be fine for some folks, but not for me and my usual visitors!




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May 14, 2016

Stitching Details


     After my post a couple of weeks ago about my cross stitching I have received many messages from readers here and on my Facebook page. There are clearly many cross-stitchers out there and a few have requested a list of the tools I use for my stitching. Although I am a huge lover of beautiful crafting tools, one of the things I enjoy most about cross-stitch embroidery is that it doesn't require many tools. Since I am currently working with kits, most of the things I need come all together in the package. However, there are a few tools that make the project more fun and stave off frustrations. Here's my list and why I like my tools:
    For Seeing: Before I can stitch anything I need to see what I am doing. I have tried several methods of magnification, ranging from a huge magnifying glass that hangs from a cord and sits on my chest, to lighted, standing lamps. Here I have found that keeping it simple works best for me.  The economical, large chest-balanced magnifier is tough to stabilize, is a tangled mess if you get up from stitching and it gets very easily scratched when stored. It also prompts my husband to ask if I am hunting giant ants. The jeweler’s style head goggles give me a headache and look a bit silly as well. For me the best is a cheap pair of magnifying eyeglasses I got at the supermarket. They are easy to keep with my stitching, right on the stand in fact. They're very economical and don’t require me moving in and out from my work to focus. I got them in a bright pink so as not to confuse them with my regular reading glasses. They are a bit prettier than an ant hunting device too.

My stitching tools: magnifying readers, LoRan board,
refrigerator magnets and my stitching block on my old oak frame

     There are magnifiers that come with lamps as well. The popular Ott-light, natural lighting lamps, are fine, if a bit expensive. I have nice freestanding lights, but it is difficult to direct onto my work and it keeps me limited to working where the lamp is located or else dragging a big stand around with me. For my taste, the little clamp-on version is great. It can be bent to direct its beam where I am working and has a small magnifier included which I use if I have a knot to untangle.

     For Stitching: Until recently I was not too fussy about needles, until I ordered some online and found that some brand name needles are terrible! They bent and broke and the eyes were ragged and clogged. Now I invest in good needles and have found that Bohin brand are great. Most kits include a needle and in my limited experience they are fine.
     To keep track of my pattern I use a metal LoRan brand board I have had forever and two refrigerator magnets which I've painted bright pink with nail polish. I put the board over my frame and attach two industrial magnets to the back to hold it in place.
      If my pattern has a grid, I either mark my canvas with quilting pencils, that wash out fairly easily or, as in my current project which only needs marking to find the center, I use a colored thread.

Quilting pencil grid

Thread marking the center

     I own two type of frames: my old oak frame that I have had for several years, and my sit-on-hoop stand. I don’t use a hoop often, except for small projects like bookmarks and such, but the sit-upon style is nice to hold the hoop and keep your hands free for stitching. For larger projects I love my oak frame. I moved the legs on the side to the inside of the frame so that it fits easily over my lap in my easy chair, or on my lounger, and since it holds my project, pattern, light, magnifiers etc. I can take it anywhere in the house, or even out onto the screened porch or the deck by taking only the frame and my holders.

My hoop holder

A closeup of my pewter sewing block

     For Love and Fun : I also use a pretty, pewter “sewing block” I got from a quilting shop years ago. It holds my scissors, needle and a thimble and I have glued magnets to the bottom so it sticks right to my pattern board. To hold my threads, I use a Pako brand thread sorter  which is a recent purchase and worth every cent. Before I begin my project I transfer the stitch symbols onto a list that slips into the holder and then sort out my thread colors. From there I can pull out the thread I want, one strand at a time if I like, and it stays snug and relatively tangle free, even when tossed into the kit bag.

The Pako thread holder in use

      Lastly I have my lovely little needle minder. It's magnetic as well and I keep it on the corner of my project where I can park my needle. I can drop it there at any point while I'm stitching, or when I am finished for the day, and it stays safe and secure.

My needle minder

     That’s it! I am fairly portable, and am able to turn out lovely pieces with few tools. I hope that answers some of your questions. If you have more, please ask!

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May 7, 2016

Mom's the Bomb!


      For Mother’s Day this year I have decided to make some bath bombs for my daughter and one of my friends. I have seen several recipes on Pinterest and thought it might be fun and a perfect gift. I love that hot, scented, bombed bath to luxuriate my aching bones and soak away the day’s worries. My daughter bought me my first bath bomb and I loved it.

     Making them was an experience that involved plenty of trial and error, but in the end I did manage to produce a nice collection of bath concoctions. It was a fun journey I would definitely take on again. It began with assembling the required ingredients. There is a chemical reaction that must be created in order for the bomb to fizz when you drop it into a hot tub, releasing the scent and magic. I needed baking soda and citric acid. I ended up ordering citric acid online since I couldn’t find it in any local shops. Next I wanted a soothing ingredient. For this I added some good old Epson Salt, great for aches and pains and a bit of dried lavender blooms from my garden. The fizzy bombs must smell delicious and I got some essential oils as well, rose scented for my friend who simply adores anything from roses, and lilac for my daughter to remind her the scent of the lovely lilac bush blooming beside her window. Even though they are called bombs, they ought to be pretty as well, so I included a few drops of food coloring and some sweet dissolving glittery hearts. I also invested in a lovely candy mold made of silicone. That item I should have done without as you'll see. I put together a recipe from several I found online and started with the basics. My recipe is at the end of this post.

Ingredients

      First, the liquid ingredients are in very small amounts. I had set out much too large a bowl for them. A small glass was fine, so I used that for the second batch. For each batch I melted the coconut oil for a few seconds in the microwave, added the water, scent and color. The dry ingredients were mixed in a large bowl and whisked together, then I poured in the liquid mix and whisked it all. Every recipe made it clear that the mix had to be rather dry. For the first batch, the pink rose bombs, I used only one teaspoon of water and then misted in more water and whisked it in. I tested it often to get it just damp enough to cling together when pressed into a ball. I put some of the glitter into each of the hearts in the silicone mold and filled it, pressing in the mixture very tightly. Then I flipped over the mold onto waxed paper. Nothing. No matter how hard I tried the bombs broke apart, leaving behind some of the mix in the molds. After several attempts at getting the things to work, including dusting one with cornstarch, I gave up on the mold and rolled the bombs into balls. It was not my vision but it worked. In the future I will look for a rigid mold, more like a melon-baller type of thing. For this first attempt I settled for hand-formed balls. I then touched each ball into some of the glitter and set them to dry. They hardened very quickly and I set them aside overnight.

The silicone mold filled. This mold does not work for bath bombs.

     For the next batch, the lilac bombs, I didn’t have the patience for all the misting while mixing and put in more water at the start. Big mistake. The concoction was too wet and it set up the fizzing reaction so that the balls I made started growing on the wax paper after I rolled them. Not quite an I Love Lucy moment, but disappointing nonetheless. I figured I would have to toss that whole batch. I decided to wait and after about fifteen minutes I picked up one ball and squeezed and re-rolled it. I found that as they dried if I re-rolled them every few minutes they stopped getting larger and after about four rounds of re-rolling they finally kept their shape and dried nicely. I had set aside a bit of leftover mix for a small test ball and later when I dropped it into a bath for myself it was heavenly and fizzed well. The whole batch was not wasted. In the future I will calm down, take my time and make better bath bombs for the effort. And I think I will make them again and again.
      I let the balls dry for twenty-four hours and fancied up some canning jars with paint and ribbon to store them, pink for rose bombs and a more earthy jar for my daughter's lilac bombs and her decor.

A jar of rose scented bath bombs

Bath bombs in the jar. One batch filled a quart jar perfectly!

Lilac for my daughter

      They are not perfect, but they will be appreciated because I made them with love and I like knowing that every time they are dropped into a hot tub they will be enjoyed by the recipients, Moms who never get enough appreciation.

Bath Bombs:
1 Tablespoon melted coconut oil
1-2 teaspoon water
6 drops of food coloring
6 drops essential oil
Water in a spray bottle
1 cup baking soda
½ cup citric acid
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup Epson salt
Edible sprinkles
Mix the melted coconut oil, water, food coloring and essential oil in a small container. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk in wet ingredients and mix well. Add water by misting and testing until the mixture is just damp enough to form into a ball when squeezed in your hand.
Form into shape and allow to dry for at least 24 hours. Store in a dry, closed container.

Happy Mother's Day!

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