To observe, enjoy and create in everyday life

Spring




It's been one of those perfect spring week's here in the Pacific Northwest. One where there are a few days of warm sunshine separated by a day of rain. That combination of sunny days and rain make for easy working in the garden. The bonus of it all was that my schedule allowed for multiple days of being outside this week. I tried to soak up as much of the outside time as I possibly could. 


While out on my daily walks, the air smelled so fresh. All of the flowering cherry and plum trees are in bloom. They have such a nice light scent. The daffodils are finishing their blooms, and the tulips are gearing up to bloom next. The lilacs are starting to bud out and will be blooming later in April. You can't help but breathe deep and smile. 


Living in the suburbs often means living on smaller lots. Which means that I can't possibly grow every tree/shrub/flower in my own landscape. So, I am thankful that my neighbors have many of my favorites in their gardens, so I can enjoy them on my walks. There are multiple camellias in bloom throughout our neighborhood right now. Many of them are the common pink variety, but then there is this red beauty. 

Our warm Spring weather has also brought up some of the new plants I had added to the front garden last year. However, I do not remember what some of them are! For example, I can remember where I bought this plant and even who I was with...but I do not remember what it is. I am waiting for it to bloom, so I can identify it. I am sure there will be others popping up soon that will need to be identified as well. Maybe this is the year that I map out my garden?


Not only have the bees come back to the garden, but the garter snakes as well. I found a couple of these little guys under my Japanese Laceleaf Maple this week. The warmer weather seems to have brought them out of hibernation. I hope they are hungry and gobble up all of the slugs that are also out in the garden!
So far, Spring has been off to a great start here in my garden. I have added a new strawberry bed as well as some new perennials. There is still some clean up to do throughout the garden and a bit of pruning. But all of that will get done in time. How has your Spring been? Have you been enjoying sunny afternoons and time outside?

Learning to Ask



In March of 2018, my father-in-law, Gale, suffered a massive stroke that has since left him unable to fully communicate verbally or through written means. For a man who built his career on his ability to think outside of the box and be the life of any event he attended, this stroke has impacted him significantly. Many things he previously loved to do have had to be set aside in the last months. His life has changed dramatically.

When his stroke occurred, my husband was staying at his dad’s house for a work meeting. My husband will tell you that “in the time it took to brush his teeth, everything changed.” And, it’s true. He was down the hall getting ready for bed, when my father-in-law had his stroke. As we come up on one year since his stroke, I have been noticing how those in our family are different now. Because one man’s stroke has had a ripple effect of change on many people.


There have been obvious changes like my husband filling in not only his own role within the family business, but also his dad’s. But there have been other changes as well. Refocusing of family relationships and time spent with family holding more of a priority. And just as my father-in-law is learning who he is now in this post-stroke season of life, we are all learning with him.


In myself I have noticed more internal changes. My husband’s time, both physically and mentally, this last year has needed to be devoted to operating the family company. I am grateful that he is able to manage this all for not only the company’s sake, but for its employees and our family. This time away is not always easy for any of us. But I have been looking for the silver lining in all of this, as is my nature, and I think I have found it.

I am typically a pretty independent person who prefers to just take care of things myself. But, I am realizing that I have not been able to maintain this do-it-myself attitude this last year. I have had to learn to ask for help from others, and that is a humbling experience for me. It is easy to ask my husband for help in many areas, and he is always willing to step in with help or sound advice. However this past year, I have had to ask friends to pick up our boys or take them to different school events on many occasions. In the past, I would have only asked this of friends or neighbors if I was in a predicament like a dead car battery or something along those lines. I have also had to ask to step out of some of my hosting duties for church gatherings in our home. I love having people over, but this year it has felt at times more like an obligation than a joy. A dear friend recognized this and graciously offered to open her home for a few weeks at a time to take the task off of my hands. Lastly, I have learned to ask for prayer from friends. It can make you feel vulnerable to ask for prayer. To admit to a friend that you are struggling to keep things together or badly want healing for a family member has not always made me comfortable. 


Through all of this asking, I have learned that friends and family are always willing to help. You literally just need to ask. They won’t grumble or complain. They won’t put you off. They will set down what they are doing and help. They will pray for you and then follow up to let you know they’ve continued praying for you long after you asked. So my silver lining self has found the most beautiful message in this last year in my friendships. Specifically, by recognizing that God has placed these friends in my life for a purpose beyond coffee dates and fun conversations. Friends fulfill an important role in my life, and I am learning to see that even more so now.  

As our family rounds the one year mark of Gale's stroke, we are all so grateful that he is here with us today. Any number of events could have made his outcome far different. But it didn't happen that way. He is here with us, and we can continue growing closer together as a family and creating new memories with him. All of us learning, shifting and adapting together.

Stitching and ....


As I picked away at my quilt block this week, I realized how many times I was stitching while doing something else. Obviously it is easy to work on a hand project while watching a movie or TV. And, if you wanted, any handwork could be brought out to work on while having coffee with a friend. But, I found myself working on it most often this week at the kitchen counter. Earlier this week I had made a big batch of turkey broth, so I wanted to can some of it. When pressure canning, it is important to stay in the kitchen so you can monitor the canner. This made for a perfect time to work on my block for the Hand Pieced Quilt Along.


My son also had a friend over this week to cook dinner. And, while the teens are very competent in the kitchen, it is nice to be within earshot if they have a question. So, I set myself up at the kitchen counter with my sewing and got quite a bit done while they cooked dinner. I was then able to sit down to a steak dinner with roasted potatoes and asparagus...that I didn't have to cook!


After a week of stitching and watching a movie, stitching and canning, stitching and visiting with a friend, stitching and supervising teens, I have a finished block! It was nice to be able to blend some creative time with other activities. 
How about you? Do you find that you can blend some of your creative pursuits with your daily activities?

Dogs in Sweaters - A Quilt for a Friend


Sometime last year, a friend of mine posted a picture of Elizabeth Hartmann's "Dogs in Sweaters" quilt to my Facebook page and suggested I should make it for her. My immediate response was, "Yeah, right. Unless you have a baby, I am not making you a quilt!" I conceded that I might, one day in the very far flung future make her a throw pillow. Six months later while fabric shopping with my husband's aunt, I ran across the pattern. On a whim, I threw it in my shopping basket. 


The pattern sat in my sewing hutch for a couple months before I pulled it out to actually look at it. When I saw that the fabric requirements for a throw sized quilt could be made with fabrics I already had on hand, I decided I would make my friend the quilt. At that same time, my friend's dear little dog Luna was hit by a car and killed. I knew then, that I really wanted to make the quilt for her as a sort of memorial for Luna. 


I chose to make the dogs black as little Luna was a black pup. I also picked out fabrics that reminded me of my friend's family. I remember seeing her boys wear orange plaid shirts one year, so of course one of the dogs needed orange plaid! And, I remember her sweet girls coming into my Sunday school classes all decked out in pinks and purples. So, I included a dog wearing a purple sweater. 
With each of the dog blocks being made up of about 60 different pieces, I was bound to make a few mistakes. Thankfully they were easily fixed! Twice when building the blocks, I missed the piece of background fabric that made their little back ends slant down. You can see the difference in these pictures above between the dog wearing an orange sweater where I missed the piece and the blue sweater wearing dog. I can't seem to sew without a seam ripper nearby!  


Whenever I am making a quilt for someone, whether it's for a new baby or for a friend, it's a chance for me to think of that person and pray for them while I sew. On top of the loss of her dog this last year, I know that my friend has been going through a lot of difficult health issues. She has been in pain daily which keeps her from feeling like herself or able to do the things she would like to do. And yet, even through all of this, she keeps a smile on her face and doesn't complain. She is one of the most amazing and humble people I have ever met, and I feel pretty lucky to be her friend. 


I had set a goal for myself of finishing the quilt before I would see my friend at our monthly Bible study meeting in March. The weekend I was finishing up the binding on the quilt, I was also dog-sitting for my sister. Auggie seemed to think the quilt was made for him instead of my friend! I must say he looks quite cute here! When I saw my friend on Sunday, I was able to surprise her with the quilt. I had not told her that I would actually be making it. I think this was a good kind of surprise! 

P.S. The quilting was done by my friend Heather of Quilts on the Fly. She always has great patterns to choose from, like the dog paws in this quilt! Heather always does a fantastic job on my quilts and is great to work with!

Feeding the Masses...of Teenagers


For the last number of years, I have been on the hunt for a good all around bread recipe. On that journey, I have made many, many loaves of bread. Some have been absolutely delicious...and some have been failures. But the bread recipe that gets the most rave reviews is one I found online a few years ago. I started with Alexandra Stafford's recipe for a Peasant Bread that her mother had made for years. You can find her post and recipe here. The original recipe makes two small round loaves and uses all purpose white flour. For our family, I have made a few modifications to the recipe found in her original post. Alexandra Stafford has also since published a beautiful cookbook, titled Bread Toast Crumbs, with many variations of different no-knead breads. It would be worth checking out at your local library!


I wanted a recipe that would be able to stand in for morning toast, lunches for sandwiches and at the dinner table as a side for soups. This bread does all that! I also wanted a recipe that could incorporate whole wheat flour, and this bread does that. And, lastly, I wanted a simple bread that I didn't have to think about starting the night before or that would need multiple steps or risings. Again, this bread fits the bill. 


I have also found that this bread is popular with the teens at my son's school. For weeks he kept packing two sandwiches in his lunches, and I just assumed he was a hungry, growing boy. But the reality was that he had been sharing his sandwiches with his friends at school. He said that the other kids at school really liked the bread "his mom made." We had also served this bread alongside some soup one night for dinner when my son had friends over. One of the girls loved the bread so much, she begged to take some home for breakfast. We now have begun sending home loaves of this bread with her whenever she comes over for dinner, and she eats hunks of it on our drives home.

I think if this bread is a hit with teens, it will be a hit with your family as well!


Simple No Knead Bread (from Alexandra's Kitchen)

Ingredients:

6 cups flour - I use a mix of up to 4 cups whole wheat flour and then 2 cups all purpose flour. 
3 teaspoons salt
3 cups lukewarm water
3 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons instant yeast - Instant yeast does not need to be proofed before using.
Room temperature butter

Directions:
  • In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast and stir to combine. 
  • Pour in the 3 cups of lukewarm water and stir well. Make sure that you have stirred well enough to incorporate all of the flour.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and set in a warm place until doubled in size. I either set the bowl on top of my fridge, or if I am running a load of clothes in the dryer, I set it on the dryer. It will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and half for the dough to rise.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease two loaf pans generously with butter. Using two spatulas (or two forks, or your two hands slightly damp) stir the dough down in the bowl and then divide evenly between the two loaf pans. Be forewarned that this is a very wet dough.
  • Allow the dough to rise until it has crested the top of the loaf pan. This second rise usually goes much quicker, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 15 to 17 minutes. You are looking for an internal temperature of 190 to 200 degrees.
  • When finished baking, immediately turn the loaves onto a cooling rack to cool. Allow to cool before slicing.
That's it! You now have two beautiful loaves of bread.
This is a recipe that would be great to make with your kids, because they would be able to make most of this from start to finish. And, if you happen to have teens in and out of your house too, you could put them to task making the bread for your dinner. They would be pretty impressed with themselves to say they baked a loaf of bread. 



And if you happen to be on the way to your friend's house for a sewing day AND also in the middle of rising your bread dough...please know that the seat warmers in your car are the perfect temperature to help your dough rise. Although when borrowing your friend's oven to bake your bread, you may want to leave a loaf of bread behind as a "Thank you!"

Happy Baking!

Changing My Mind


 After last week's fiasco of a quilt block, this week's pulled together rather quickly. I finished it over a couple of nights this weekend, and I am happy with how it turned out. This block was the seventh block in the Hand Pieced Quilt Along with Elm Street Quilts and Simple. Handmade. Everyday. There are two more blocks to go until we are finished. I have found that I really enjoy the process of hand piecing, and I can't wait to see all of the blocks pulled together into a quilt. I am still not entirely sure what I will do with this little quilt, but I am sure I will find somewhere or someone for it!


I did remake one of my blocks this week as well. I figured as the quilt was not all sewn together yet that it wasn't too late to change my mind! Each week when I would choose fabrics for the newest block, I would also lay out the blocks that I had already pieced. This process would help me make sure I was using a variety of blues and grays and not end up repeating too many fabrics. For the last few weeks, the Hour Glass block shown in the bottom right of the photo kept sticking out to me. The gray and blue fabrics had too warm of an undertone I think. 


So I picked out a couple of different fabrics from my stash and recut the pieces. By the end of the evening, I had a new block pieced! I am much happier with this block and how it looks with the others. It think it was worth the little bit of time it took to remake the block. Now on to the next block!

Meeting and Maintaining Goals



At the end of last year, I found myself in an unhappy state. I was not happy with how I felt, how I looked, what I was eating, or how little I was moving. I had let myself get into a funk, and I now feel sorry for anyone who had to associate with me last fall! It wasn't one of my better seasons. However, in hitting that point, I recognized that the only way out of it was to do something about it. I knew that if I made healthier choices about food and exercise, that I would in turn feel better about myself and how I looked. By moving in a healthier direction, I could tell that nagging voice in my head to "Shut up!" because I was actively doing something to make me feel and look better. 


In order to make these steps, I had to identify what areas needed work and what my long term goals were for myself. I know in my head, that I want to be functionally fit for life. I want to be able to enjoy my favorite hobbies of gardening, hiking and walking without fear of injury. And, I want to participate in these activities for many, many years to come. This meant that I needed to add strength training to my weekly routine. In the past, I have done so poorly in maintaining any sort of strength training program at home. I would follow an exercise program for a week or two and then just let it slip. And so on January 1st, I did what thousands of others did....I enrolled in a local gym. I knew I needed the accountability of the coaches and other members. I have now passed the two month mark, and I am still maintaining at least three visits a week. I feel stronger every week, and that strength is not just a muscle strength. I am mentally and emotionally stronger as well.  



I have also been outside more for longer walks these last couple of months. I have been getting beyond the blocks of our neighborhood and out to the trails that are all within a short drive of our home. I find I do better when I invite a friend to join me or have my husband come along. Talking to someone while I walk makes the miles pass by faster. And there is the added bonus of enjoying natural surroundings with a friend. This last week alone I have seen evidence of beavers at a local trail, a gorgeous rainbow, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons. I would have missed these opportunities if I was inside being mopey!


Another piece to meeting my goals has been to track what I eat throughout the day. Taking this step helps me to ensure a more balanced and healthy diet. Doing this requires some will power on my part. I am partial to all baked goods, and cheese and crackers are my all time favorite snack. But, I am learning that I do not have to say good bye to these things forever. I do though need to limit them, pay attention to portion sizes, and learn to recognize when I am actually hungry or when I am just snacking for the sake of snacking. Bypassing sweets has gotten easier over the last couple of months. If something looks especially good, I allow for a smaller portion than what I would have taken in the past. This way I can enjoy a delicious treat made by a friend, but not feel that I have ruined my day's eating plan at the same time.


As I began this journey at the beginning of the year, I set some numerical goals for myself to help in my tracking of progress. I set a weight loss goal and a number of weeks to reach that goal. Now that I am just a couple pounds from my goal, I am working to shift my thinking from "I want to reach this number" to "I want to continue these healthy habits because they make me feel good inside and out." I have been telling myself both of these things over the last couple of months, but sometimes numbers are easier to rally behind than feelings. They are more concrete. There is also a difference between the short term goal of weight loss and the lifetime goal of maintaining healthier eating and exercise habits.
But, I don't want to lose my momentum. I have fallen into that trap before. In the past I have spent a few months working earnestly to lose weight, and then I watched it creep back on over a couple of years. So, this is where the shift in goal setting and maintaining needs to happen. My overall goal is not a number on the scale. It is a goal to stay healthy for a lifetime. That means recognizing that strength training needs to be a part of my weekly routine...for life. Just as I wouldn't give up brushing my teeth or cleaning the house, I can't give up exercising either. Choosing healthy foods needs to be a daily choice...for life. There are so many delicious and healthy foods to choose from that there is not an excuse for me to choose otherwise. I know that my body functions better when I have stepped past the junk and picked up the healthy foods.

This is where it begins for me. How about you? How do you make that shift from focusing on short term goals to lifetime maintenance?

Practice Makes Perfect, or Does It?



Someone recently told me that "Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect." I have been sitting on that for the last couple of months wondering how accurate of a statement that is. This person's reasoning was that if you practiced doing something wrong, and made that same mistake repeatedly while practicing...well, then all of your practice would never provide perfect results. At first I wanted to dismiss what she said, because I had always been taught the opposite. But the more I thought about it, I thought maybe she could be right. Well, that is until this week.


This week, as I have continued practicing my hand piecing skills, I have made mistake after mistake. I misread directions and cut triangles that were too large. So when I went to join sections, one section was far too big. This resulted in my re-cutting and stitching many of the pieces. I didn't stitch close enough to my points and left a hole in the center of my block. Or I flipped blocks so that triangles were going the wrong direction. Every time I sat down to work on my block, I made a mistake.


I made so many mistakes while practicing, that I missed my personal deadline for finishing the block. I thought about setting it aside and moving on to the next block in the quilt along. I thought about scrapping it and starting over. But, instead, I kept picking it up, picking out stitches and practicing putting the pieces together.


Even though I kept making repeated mistakes, and sometimes even the same mistakes, I could recognize the mistakes. I knew I was not producing the results I wanted, and I knew I could do better. I think this is where the woman's advice falls apart. When we are working on learning a new skill or improving some area of our life, it takes practice...and mistakes. We don't always get it right the first time. And I think that seeing those mistakes, and choosing to pull something apart to make it right, is what helps us to learn and improve. 


And so after a week of cutting, stitching, re-cutting, re-stitching, flipping, tearing out seams, and reassembling, I have a presentable block. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn close. I will keep practicing each week of the Hand Pieced Quilt Along from Elm Street Quilts and work toward perfect. Thank goodness quilting is forgiving!

How about you? What have you made enough mistakes on while practicing to get closer to perfect?

Spring is Near



Despite the fact that when I walk the dog in the morning it is so cold my eyes water, the calendar says that Spring is just a few weeks away. This means that in a couple of weeks some of the early crops of vegetables can be placed in the garden. In the Pacific Northwest, we can start many of the 'cool season' crops in early to mid March. Vegetables like carrots, spinach, kale, peas, potatoes, onions and others will be placed in the soil by area gardeners. After weeks of there not being much to do in the garden, this is an exciting time of year. This week I took some time to walk through our backyard and notice how many of our fruiting trees and shrubs were beginning to bud out. I was happy to see that our plants agree with the calendar...Spring is just around the corner!



As a Master Gardener here in our county, I have been trained to help resource and educate the public with accurate and researched gardening information. One of my roles that I truly enjoy as a Master Gardener is helping different groups get their vegetable gardens up and going. Last spring I was asked to help with the county's Juvenile Justice Center's new vegetable garden. I helped them design a plan for planting and went in to teach gardening lessons to the teens who were currently staying there. They have asked for my assistance again this year, and I am looking forward to another growing season with them. 
We sat down a couple weeks ago and talked about what worked last year and what did not. Which vegetables the kids loved and which they did not. From this input, we generated a new plan for their garden. It includes less leafy greens and more peas and carrots. Less varieties of squash and more peppers and cilantro for salsa making. The staff and teens want an entire bed dedicated to growing potatoes, because they all thought they were fun to grow last year. We will also be adding blueberry bushes to their garden plan, and I know the teens and staff will love those for years to come.


Early spring is a great time for all of us to sit down and think over the last growing year, what did we enjoy growing...what could we do without. At the Juvenile Justice Center and my own backyard, our gardens are contained in raised beds. A lot of food can be grown in raised beds, but it's also wise to focus on growing what we actually enjoy to eat. For example, last year our family grew some eggplants. They grew beautifully, but we also discovered that we didn't love eating them enough to give up garden space to grow them. We will use that garden space for a different crop this year. 



In our garden, we have an entire bed devoted to growing strawberries. We chose to grow strawberries, because they are a high price item at the grocery store. If space is limited in your own garden, think about which crops are expensive to buy at the grocery store or farmers market and choose to grow more of those. Crops like berries, tomatoes, and specialty fruits can be quite pricey at the store. So opting to grow those over the less expensive crops, like leafy greens, makes good use of your space. 



The benefit to growing crops like the blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb pictured above is that they are all perennials. They will come back year after year to fill your kitchen with tasty food for your meals. It also saves you time, in that you will not need to plan or plant these areas of your garden each year. They simply need to be maintained to produce well for you. Another perennial option for your garden is asparagus. Most of these plants (strawberries excluded) will produce for decades. It's exciting to think that planting something one time will give our family many years of harvest.


It's also fun to try something new in your garden. Last year added two Honey Berry bushes to our back garden. We had redesigned an area of our yard and found that we had space to include a couple more plants. We wanted something that would look good as a landscape plant and produce food for us to eat. We chose Honey Berries because they are said to be similar to blueberries in taste. They also can be picked and eaten fresh, preserved, or frozen all without a lot of prep work. This will be their second season in our garden, so we may have a few to pick and try. The adventure of trying a new plant in your garden is that you do not always know if you will like it or not. I can't imagine something that is supposed to taste like a blueberry tasting bad...but we'll see in upcoming months! We currently have a Goji berry plant sitting in a pot in our side yard. This came from a friend who was trying a new plant in her garden and decided she didn't like the taste of Goji berries. So, now our family will be giving them a try. Who knows? If we don't like them, our chickens might!

Have you been able to venture out into your garden yet to see the signs of Spring? Are you making any changes to what you grew last year or adding something new to your garden? It's an exciting time of year for new beginnings in the garden. I hope you enjoy every minute of it!