To observe, enjoy and create in everyday life

Stitching & Listening - Hand Pieced QAL Block 5

This week's block for the Hand Pieced Quilt Along with Simple. Handmade. Everyday. and Elm Street Quilts turned out to be one of my favorite blocks so far. It is a variation of the traditional Ohio Star block and incorporated many of the piecing skills we have practiced over the last few weeks. The cutting instructions asked for some of the fabrics to be cut to 2 and 7/8 inch square, which made me nervous. I prefer to cut fabrics at quarter inch increments as they are easier to line up correctly on a quilting ruler. So, I was thankful my ruler had a smaller grid in the corner to help me cut the squares to the 7/8" mark!

All cut and ready to be pieced. I pulled some different fabrics from my stash to be included in this week's block. The fox fabric is my favorite part of this block. I picked it up on a trip my husband and I took last year. 

My husband and I had gone on a week long trip to Maine to celebrate our 20th anniversary. While we were there, I of course stopped in many different fabric and yarn stores. One of my favorite stops was at Alewives Fabrics in Nobleboro, Maine. This is a fabric shop that I had seen mentioned in various blogs and magazines, so I was pretty excited when I saw how close the cottage we rented was to their shop! The women in the shop that day were very friendly, and I had a lot of fun picking out some special fabrics to take home with me. It was fun to pull out that cute little fox print out and remember the great trip Brandon and I had this fall. 

While I have been stitching this week, I have been listening to "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" by Bill Bryson. This has been a a very interesting book. The author looks at history through the filter of each room in a home. I feel like I should be listening to the book with a notebook by my side, because Bryson will mention something that I would like to look up more about later. I may end up checking out a paper copy of this book just so that I can go back through and reread particular sections. Thinking about how homes began as more communal living spaces with one large hall and have evolved into places with more private quarters is fascinating. The chapter on the kitchen and different needs of servants over the years made me want to go back and watch episodes of Downton Abbey. If you are looking for a new book to read or listen to, this is one I would recommend.

My plans for Friday fell through, and so I ended up with a 'free day' at the end of the week. It felt a bit like a vacation day, and I loved every minute of it. My husband's work trip was cut short due to snow in Las Vegas, so he ended up with a day at home as well. We took a nice walk with the dog while snowed a bit here, and then I came home and hopped under a quilt to work on my piecing. Sadie decided there was not enough room on the couch for her and watched from the other side of the room. Unfortunately, the snow turned to heavy rain in the afternoon. Regardless, it made for a cozy afternoon with some stitching and my audio book. 

Here it is all finished. We are officially past the half way point with the Quilt Along and only have four blocks left to piece. Isn't the little fox the cutest?!?

A Landscape Built by Friendship

Today you will find me writing over at Suburban Garden Life about how much of our garden has grown through the gift of plants from friends. We have lived in our home for over ten years now, and our landscape has certainly shifted and changed over those years. Many shrubs and trees needed to be pulled because they were shaggy and overgrown or they were simply the wrong plant for our lot. The cost of landscape trees and shrubs and plants can add up quickly, but thanks to many friends we have been given so many perennials, shrubs, fruiting plants and even trees to add to our garden. Not only do we have a garden full of beautiful plants now, but we also have the added reminder of our many friends. Head on over to Suburban Garden Life and read about our ""Landscape Built by Friendship".

Winter Mornings

Most mornings, before I have even had a sip of coffee, I tighten up the tie on my fuzzy purple bathrobe and head out the back door. I slip my feet into the chicken themed gardening clogs and walk past this sign my husband and I purchased on a trip to the Redwoods last summer. 
A couple of years ago, our family decided to ratchet up what we grew in our backyard. We already had a small vegetable garden, and we had some fruit trees and shrubs: cherry, blueberries and raspberries. But we wanted to do even more. So, we dubbed our backyard the "Micro Farm" and got to work. We have since doubled our vegetable gardening space, added a few grape vines and some columnar apple trees, incorporated more blueberries and planted some new-to-us-berries called Honey Berries. We also added chickens back into our landscape. Our family had kept chickens in the past and then took a break from them. But a year or so ago we decided it was time to get another flock. 

So with the moon setting on my right and the sun rising on my left, I cross the yard to greet these feathered ladies each day. I love that they are always waiting at the door to be let out each morning. And even though I am cold, I grateful that the sun rises later in the winter so that I don't have to get out there so early!

Their coop is one we constructed for very little money. Friends of ours had just bought a house and there was an old coop on their property that they were planning on getting rid of. We asked if we could take it off their hands, and they were more than happy to oblige. For the cost of a bag of screws, my guys salvaged the best pieces of the old hen house and made a very sturdy new house for our chickens. And since this was now our "Micro Farm," I thought the girls' coop needed a barn quilt block. I painted this little Churn Dash Block and attached it to the front of their coop.   

It's been nice to have chickens in our yard again. There is the obvious reason in that we have fresh eggs again, but they are also great characters to have in the garden. The hens are pretty social, inquisitive and talkative. You certainly know when they've laid an egg because they stand at the top of their ramp and cluck their announcement to all who will listen.

See what I mean by inquisitive? She will stare you down until you hand over her morning ration of scratch. Or, on especially cold mornings, we will fix them up a bowl of oatmeal. They love those mornings. 

Once their feed is set out, their water dish filled, and a few handfuls of scratch tossed on the ground, they are content for the day. I move back inside and pour a cup of coffee. Our pup Sadie joins me on the couch while I snuggle under a quilt, and we enjoy the rest of our morning.

Hand Pieced Quilt Along - Block 4

I realize that this bunny has nothing to do with quilting...but she's just so dang cute! Our rabbits were out running around one of the nights I was working on my quilt block this week. And Meep, the bunny in the photo, was kind enough to let me pick her up and hold her for a few minutes. We own two dwarf rabbits that are Lionshead - Netherland crosses. They are the boys' bunnies, and these critters just celebrated their fifth birthdays! Meep and Fluffy are very quiet little bunnies. I jokingly refer to them as the cutest-worst-pets-ever. But in reality, that nickname is not accurate. My perception of a pet rabbit was what was inaccurate. I thought they would be more cuddly like a cat, and these two are not sit-in-your-lap-cuddly. They are very cute and fun to watch skittering and jumping around the family room. Meep and Fluffy do not ask for much as far as pets go. They love to crunch on carrots or apples, they will sit still (when they are in the mood) and let you pet them, and they love to run around with our cats. So, I suppose they do actually qualify as a good pet. 

I had a couple of nice weekend evenings sitting by the fire and piecing my block for the week. This week's block from Elm Street Quilts Hand Pieced Quilt Along uses an hourglass shape, which is a quilt block I have pieced before. It's a cute little block that always reminds me of one you would find in a baby's quilt. 

Probably because it's exactly the block I used for one of my niece's baby quilts! I loved the cheerful colors in this quilt.

Here is my finished block for the week. I am happy with how it turned out. I kept my points on my triangles, and I like the smaller scale fabric print for the small triangles. 

But the real question is...did I hit the mark on finishing with a 6 and 1/2 inch square?!? I have honestly been hit and miss with these measurements through the quilt along. My first block landed somewhere between 6 and 1/4 inches and 6 and a 1/2 inches. My middle two are about spot on. Block number four is just a smidge off. Thankfully fabric cut into triangles have a little stretch in them, so I will be able to make this block fit when I pull the whole thing together.

Sending Love in the Mail

Last week a friend of mine invited myself and a couple of other women over to her house to write Valentine's for some of the women in our lives. We spent the afternoon sipping tea, nibbling on cookies and writing sweet messages to our friends. 

I have been trying to be more intentional in reaching out to my friends either through a text message, email or a private message on Facebook to let them know I am thinking of them. When a person simply pops into my mind, or I know they have some heavier things they are dealing with, I take the 30 seconds it requires to send a text. It can be as simple as that!

But, there is something special about receiving a piece of mail. Especially when one's mailbox is typically full of bills or advertisements. Whether you're five or fifty, mail addressed to you is always fun to open. So, this week, I sat down for a couple of hours and wrote out Valentine's cards to some of the women in my life. 

Writing out these Valentine's reminded me of  Valentine's Day at school with our shoe boxes or paper sacks all decorated for the occasion. They would sit out on the corner of our desks waiting to be filled by our classmates. Our teacher would slip in a piece of candy for each of the students as well, and we would end the school day with a Valentine's party.  

As a kid, I honestly would probably be more interested in any of the candies that landed in my box. But now as a grown up, while I would not turn away any Valentine's chocolates, I would happily open a little note from a friend. So, that is my hope for these as I send them out. I would love for the women who receive these little cards to know that they are noticed, they are loved, they are special, and they are amazing. 

I close today with a Valentine's wish for you...

I would love you to know that you are noticed, you are loved, you are special.

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:9-11

Blueberry Pruning 101

It's February, which means it is time to prune your blueberry bushes before the weather warms up and they begin to leaf out. If you have never tackled this particular garden chore before, have no fear! It's simpler than you think. By the time you are finished, you will know a fruiting bud from a vegetative one and a young whip from an older cane.

Today you will find me blogging about all things blueberry pruning over at Suburban Garden Life. This is a new space my fellow Master Gardener friend Laura and I created. Hope you will check us out there.

Stitching & Snow

Heading into the weekend, we had warnings of a snow storm coming to the Pacific Northwest. It seems that most years we see snow in February. Knowing snow was coming, I headed to the store Friday afternoon and stocked up a bit for our weekend meals not knowing how icy and slick the roads would be getting. Often we will have snow flurries that turn to rain that turn to ice overnight. We woke up Saturday morning to a lightly dusted, sunny winter scene. Fresh snow is always so beautiful!

The kitties were out exploring in the snow this morning!

The morning sunlight lit up the fern fronds under the snow. 

Our Korean Silver Fir looked just as beautiful covered in snow. I love how the snow left little mounds on the stems of last year's cones.

Even the hens enjoyed the snow! Butters is always up for a pose. She never minds being picked up or pet...or having her photo taken. The downside to the snowfall was that our temporary roof over the chicken's run fell a bit. So, my husband and one of our boys spent a couple of hours Saturday morning repairing that. We have plans this spring to construct a true roof for them that will keep the chickens shaded in the summer and dry during our wet seasons.

The snowy weather meant we had an excuse to stay home and relax. I spent a couple of nights working on my hand pieced block while watching movies with my guys. This week's block for the Hand Pieced Quilt Along with Elm Street Quilts and Simple. Handmade. Everyday. was the Flying Geese block. Each of the big triangles in this square is a goose, and the smaller triangles are the sky. All of your 'geese' can be arranged different ways to make different blocks or patterns.

Our family had not had a 'free' weekend in quite a few weeks. It was so pleasant to have nowhere to go and no obligations to fulfill. We read books, watched movies, walked the pup, baked, and took naps. It was wonderful.

I really enjoyed this particular block. I probably enjoyed it simply because it came together nicely. I didn't stitch over any of the triangle's points, and it finished at exactly 6 1/2". While stitching this block, I began to wonder how or when it originated. It is a very traditional block that I have seen used in many quilt designs, but I had never known much about it. I decided to do a little reading and found that the "Flying Geese" block has been used by American quilt makers since the 1700s. It has also been identified as one of the quilt blocks used as part of the quilted code of the Underground Railroad. This block has a fascinating and long history.

By the end of the weekend, our snow had melted, and I had my third block pieced. Looking forward to this week's new block pattern. I hope you had a relaxing weekend as well!

Saturday Breakfast

In our home, we often like to have a sit down breakfast around the kitchen table on Saturdays. Something beyond the weekday bowl of cereal or yogurt smoothie is preferred by my guys. However, I value two things on a weekend morning that can prevent me from making that nice Saturday breakfast....sleeping in and sipping a cup of coffee in peace.

The solution to allowing myself a slow start to a Saturday AND a nice breakfast as a family is what our boys call "Egg Pancake." Most people would know this recipe as a Dutch Pancake. A wonderful, egg rich, high rise pancake  that can be kept simple or dressed up. It can be baked in a cast iron skillet, a tall sided CorningWare dish, or even a Pyrex baking dish. This recipe can be created as is or it can be doubled to feed a crowd. There is no standing over the stove flipping pancakes or waiting for one waffle to finish so you can pour the next one on. It's a simple measure, blend, pour and bake.

I love the ease and versatility of our family's "Egg Pancake" recipe. When our boys were first learning to cook, this is the recipe I taught each of them. They had mastered the fine art of making a bowl of ramen or mac n cheese on their own and were ready to move on to following a true recipe. Each of our boys now make this on a regular basis, which means an even slower Saturday morning for me!

There are various recipes for Dutch Pancakes online that call for different amounts of eggs, flour or milk. But they all produce essentially the same results. The recipe I follow is one given to me by my friend Josie. Before we had kids, I worked for an after school and evening program for kids. This meant my mornings were pretty free. My friend and co-worker Josie would come over, and we would take my dog for a walk. One morning, we were hungry for breakfast after our walk, and Josie taught me how to make a Dutch Pancake. Our family has been making them regularly ever since.

Some times it puffs higher than other days. It's a bit of a guessing game to see how high it will puff up the sides of the pan. Looks like I wasn't a big winner today. Either way, puffed high or barely rising above the edges, it always tastes delicious!

To finish off your own "Egg Pancake" there are many, many options. My boys' favorite is a splash of lemon juice and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Syrup, either maple or fruit, is a tasty choice. You can saute some apple slices in butter and cinnamon while your pancake bakes and use those as a topping. Or, you can go the savory route and saute some mushrooms, bacon, and top with a little cheese. It really is up to you, and what you feel like!

"Egg Pancake" 

1/4 cup butter
5 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2) Cut the 1/4 cup of butter into small chunks or slices and place in your chosen baking dish. Place the dish in the oven while it preheats.
3) Crack five eggs into a bowl and blend for one full minute with an immersion blender. Alternately, you can blend the eggs in a blender.
4) Add the remaining ingredients (1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract) into your bowl or blender and blend batter thoroughly.
5) When your oven is preheated, pour the batter at once into your baking dish.
6) Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Your pancake will be golden brown on top and set in the middle.

I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as ours has over the years! What is your family's go to weekend breakfast?

Winter Birding

During the winter months, the garden is pretty quiet. Many of the plants and flowers are sleeping underground, and most of the trees are bare. I find that the winter months are great time to watch birds in our backyard. They are easier to see among the bare trees, they are frequent feeder visitors, and they add a punch of color to the winter landscape. 

When our oldest son was about four years old, he became fascinated with birds. He and his brother had gone through the train phase and the construction vehicle phase, and Jackson chose to move onto bird watching. Because of his interest in birds, I became pretty good at identifying the ones that came in our backyard. He amassed quite the collection of bird identification books, even ones that had recordings of the sounds different birds would make. As a teenager, he may have moved on from his bird interest, but I haven't. I keep one of his ID books (with his permission of course!) by my kitchen window, so I can look up any birds I do not recognize. This particular book has become my favorite. It is specific to the region we live in. As you can tell, it has been well used. 

Here are a few snapshots of the birds we find at our feeders. Among the cute little Juncos and the cheeky Black-Capped Chickadees, I will sometimes catch these little guys. These are Townsend's Warblers. I love the flashes of yellow they bring to the feeders.

Downy Woodpeckers are very common at the suet feeder. We have some large trees on the property behind our home, and I imagine these little woodpeckers have found a cavity in a dead limb of a tree to call their home.

The Varied Thrush is a beautiful bird. This one in the photo has more muted coloring, so I believe this is a female. The males are a very vibrant orange and dark gray. We typically only see them in the winter and very early spring. I have read that they breed higher up in the mountains in the summer months. I see them often under the feeders or scratching for insects at the leaf piles under a nearby Hydrangea bush.

These two cracked me up. The Northern Flicker, a frequent flyer at the suet feeder, waited somewhat patiently for the squirrel to finish up eating so he could have his turn. The Flickers are beautiful, big birds, and I love seeing them at the feeders. They always catch my eye and cause me to stop and watch them.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we see two different Hummingbirds, the Anna's Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. The Rufous migrates south for the winter, but the Anna's stay around here throughout the season. These guys are constantly talking to each other with their little chipping sounds. They get very chatty when their feeder is empty or frozen! I found this Anna's Hummingbird on our front deck this week. I think it was trying to save up some energy, since we were having a bit of a cold snap that day. He flitted off to the nearby Douglas Fir a couple minutes after I took this photo.

This is just a snapshot of the bird life we have in our backyard. I imagine you see many birds in your own neighborhood as well! I hope this has encouraged you to look out your windows and see who visits your garden in the winter. If it has, the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a fantastic event coming up this month that is perfect for bird watchers of ALL levels, and you might be interested in it! It is called the Great Backyard Birdwatch, and it happens in the middle of February every year. Our family has participated for a number of years. It's really quite simple. You record the birds that you see in a given time period on the GBBC's's as easy as that. You can spend 15 minutes or 5 hours, it's up to you. The site has some great tools for helping you identify birds as well. All of the bird sightings are used to monitor winter bird populations here in North America. You can go to the Audubon's page to learn more about the 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count.

QAL Week Two

This is the second week of the Hand Pieced Quilt along hosted by Elm Creek Quilts and Simple. Handmade. Everyday. It is surprising how it truly can take a week to produce one, simple block. Life can have you running in many directions, and finding time to sit and stitch can be a challenge. Yet, I keep finding that I am able to sneak in those moments each day. Hand piecing is such a simple process that does not require many tools or much space...or even much time. Five or ten minutes each day, and my block is completed in a few days time!

This week's block incorporates half-square triangles. I love half-square triangles because they can be laid out in a variety of ways and each time you have a completely different look! I also appreciate that you can cut the blocks just a smidge bigger than suggested and trim them down to the perfect size for the given pattern. 

I kept laying the little blocks out each step of the way to make sure I had all of those little triangles facing the correct way. 

While stitching this week, I have been listening to a story on The QuiltFiction Podcast called "Friendship Album: 1933." In short, this book is about a group of women from different social circles who form a quilting bee and end up creating a very close friendship with each other. I have really enjoyed this story, and I love that it is available as a podcast so I can listen while I sew. It's the best of both worlds being able to use my hands for sewing and continue on with a story at the same time! 

The blocks really do build quite nicely over little bits of time. Listening to this story has made me wish for a bee of sorts. Maybe not specifically for quilting. But, time set aside regularly to gather with a group friends and craft. I should put a date on the calendar and call on some crafty friends. Any good ideas will only remain ideas unless an action is taken! 

Here is the finished block for week two! The tutorial for block three came out yesterday, so it is time to pick fabrics and cut the pieces for the next block. It is not too late to join this Hand Pieced Quilt Along. We are only beginning the third of nine blocks!