Christmas Blooms at Easter

A few years ago, I started a Christmas cactus from a cutting. The cutting languished, pretty badly, I must admit. It didn't get enough water. It probably didn't get enough light. It didn't put down roots for at least six months, and then just barely. It moved across the country, which was stressful for me, and much more so for my plants that were stuck in a baking car on the back of a trailer. But here it is, at Easter, and beginning to bloom. Ironic, and yet appropriate for all it's been through.


Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.

            -Albert Einstein

And Now, a Sweater

I've finally finished the sweater. The one that's given me so much grief with the sleeves. Like everybody else on Ravelry, the sleeves were way too big for me as the pattern was written. I had to totally re-knit the sleeves to get it right. Now, they're just right - the fit and the length. I just wish I hadn't taken out as much length in the body of the sweater. It feels almost short. And the ties are a bit long - I have to wrap them around my body two or three times to get it right.  But, on the whole, I'm loving this sweater. I especially love the v-neck, since I've never liked things against my neck.

Where better to wear a cozy wrap sweater than in your own personal library? (Okay, it might be better if there were a blazing fire too, but still.)

The only problem? Which book to choose...

Of course, now it's warmed up and I rarely need a sweater anymore, but I still have big plans for this guy. They just might have to wait a while.

Vintage Hankies

What with my harebrained new project, maybe it's no surprise that I've suddenly become a collector of vintage hankies (something I've secretly loved forever). Here are a few of my latest finds:

I'm pretty sure that no matter how hard I try, my hankies are never going to look this amazing.

Of course, that's part of the appeal.

These things are works of art, but made to be utilitarian objects too.

 So then, all sorts of other questions arise.

Do I wash them? Some of them have clearly never been used. Many are folded into this lovely square shape, designed to fit in the box and still show off the whole pattern.

Or do I just keep them like this?

Old to New

My new obsession is taking old sweaters from the thrift store and turning them into new, exciting things. 

Luckily, sweaters are coming cheap right now, since everybody's gearing up for spring. I found a bunch of 100% wool sweaters at a local thrift store for three bucks each (they were normally six dollars apiece).

So, without further ado, I ran them through the wash (hot water to felt them), and chopped them up.

The trimmings go into a separate pile...more on that later. Then cut shapes from them - like a big rectangle and a smaller rectangle for this needle book:

And embroider. This is a design of my own making. The picture above is the outside cover opened out so you can see the whole thing, but this is what the front looks like:

Then the first "page"

And the next...

And finally, the back cover:

 On the first page, I store sewing needles:

And on the second, pins:

I'm really in love with this - it's attractive enough to leave on the coffeetable (because we all know that I'll leave it on the coffeetable one way or the other, so why not make it pretty), but it's also a little bit more portable than your average pincushion. I can totally see myself throwing this into a bag to take on a roadtrip, but a pincushion, not so much.


After all that joy of spring coming, we had quite the snows this week. Nothing like what kept me glum all winter, but nothing to sneeze at either.  (Speaking of sneezing...seasonal allergies bite.)

This is what it looked like from my office window. All that gray and haze is snow.

The ducks didn't seem to mind too much. Luckily for them, their feet don't get cold.

Luckily for me, the snow is all melted after just a couple of days.

First Screenprint

I've been toying with the idea of screenprinting for's my first one:

I used speedball drawing fluid and screen filler. The screen was just a large embroidery hoop and a piece of polyester fabric. Interesting for a first try...glad I didn't destroy a real screen, since they're pricey. This method has you draw your image directly on the screen with the drawing fluid, and then give it a once-over with the screen filler. A once-over is crucial, since any more than that will dissolve the drawing fluid. You let it all dry, and then mist the whole thing to dissolve the drawing fluid, leaving empty spaces for the ink to go through. I didn't get enough screen filler over the design, which is why there are more dots than there should be - the ink got everywhere. I'm thinking the shape of the screen (a circle instead of a rectangle) made things a lot more difficult...

But I'm absolutely hooked. On to try it again!


Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.


It's finally spring. Finally. This winter has been absolutely brutal, and miserable, and now it's technically over. It's been warming up in fits and starts. We've started to have rain instead of snow, and I couldn't be more delighted. Seriously. The rain makes me smile. I want to dance in it. And sometimes I do.

A couple of weeks ago, though, there was still snow on the ground, but the sun had finally come out. I don't know how many times this winter I passed these rose hips, but it was so dark and dreary I hardly gave them a second glance. But this time, the sun was shining, and it was just so gorgeous I had to take a second look.

I've always had a thing for seedpods that hang on to their parent plants all winter. The shapes, the colors, the reminder of what once was and what will come again.

Finally, spring has come again.

Cranberry Orange Salad

This one's not really much of a recipe:

Saute some bacon until it's crispy. Remove the bacon. Add to the bacon fat some sliced onions, and saute until soft.

Toss salad greens with fresh-squeezed orange juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper, and some herbs. Sprinkle the bacon and onions over the salad, add some cranberries and pieces of orange.

Not much of a recipe, perhaps, but an excellent way to spend lunchtime.

Squeaky Clean

Remember how I made soap? It didn't turn out so well. Luckily, in soapmaking there's this thing called hand-milling (aka French-milling or rebatching). You just melt down your soap, add some more liquid and maybe some scent, and give it another go. I've still got a long way to go before I'm a master soapmaker, but this batch was a vast improvement over the first. 

One thing's for sure: I'm not going to run out of soap anytime soon!

Getting better

The sweater sleeve is getting better. I had to redesign the entire sleeve, more or less, to get it to fit. Luckily, it didn't take as long (fewer stitches = faster) and gave me some extra leftover yarn for other projects I'm cooking up (again, fewer stitches = less yarn).

And, I've learned that those airplane tray tables are great to prop your tablet up on, as long as you have a case that lets you do it. There's not much I love more than knitting and reading at the same time. I have to admit that I used to think people reading on their tablets were sort of silly (books are made of PAPER!), but now that I don't have to struggle to keep a book open to the right page, I'm a total convert.

If only I could read while I seamed the sleeves, but alas, that requires actual concentration...


Don’t bail; the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap.
            -Randy Pausch

Poking Up

Spring may not be here yet, but the daffodils are on their way. If you haven't heard me complain about it enough, we've had one heck of a rough winter this year. (And yes, that's snow and ice in the picture above...)

For a long time, it seemed like I was never going to see the dirt (or the sky) again, much less flowers.

They're even starting to push up through all the landscaping rocks I accidentally piled on top of them in other parts of the garden. Simply amazing. I can't wait for them to bloom, but just seeing green is amazing too.

More Bloody Cake

Remember how you have to ask? Well, some of my questions got me absolutely wrong answers. One guy just washes his dishes, and he was sort of rude about my questions. Scratch him right off the list. Even though his cakes are gorgeous, I need a cake that won't get me sick, preferable without an attitude.

The second cake baker was absolutely sweet and wonderful. She gets food allergies, and explained the exact layout of her kitchen and why she couldn't guarantee gluten-free, even if she bought all new equipment. Basically, even if she bought new equipment, she wouldn't have anywhere to keep it safe from all that gluten-y flour dust. I absolutely appreciated her candor, but I was still no closer to a wedding cake.

Cue the emotional breakdown. Over cake. Yes, I know. So trivial, so ridiculous.

To make a long story short, the groom has now assumed all cake responsibilities - at least until we find a baker to meet my needs, that is. Then little miss design nut over here will jump right in. But finding a baker from across the country is not easy at all. Luckily, Mike is really good at asking all the right questions, and he's not one to get emotional over a friggin cake.

He's found at least one dedicated bakery that can do it, and we're ordering some cupcakes to test it out.  Until those arrive, we'll have to make do with this:

This cake with a blood-orange buttercream frosting and a blood orange sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and nutmeg, then broiled and cut up to top the cake. Not too shabby.

Love Your Mussels

I have to admit, I didn't give mussels a second thought until I had a magical dish of clams and mussels steamed in a chardonnay broth with fire roasted tomatoes. Before that, mussels always seemed finicky. You had to clean them. You had to be careful to check that they were alive. I always passed them off as too much work, and just left them out of any recipe that called for them.

Not so much anymore. 

Mussels are work to clean, it's true. Lest that scare you off, it's totally worth it in the end. Mussels, known as the "poor man's oyster," are sweet and delicious. And unlike a bony little fish that a waiter once insisted was the poor man's lobster, mussels are easy to eat - just tip them back into your mouth with a little bit of broth, and you'll be happy in no time.

Here's how to get them ready:


While mussels can live for several days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it's really best to eat them the same day you buy them. The longer you wait, the more will have died, and the more money you'll have wasted. As soon as you get them home from the store, take them out of their packaging, place in a bowl big enough to fit them, and cover with a damp paper towel. You want the mussels to breathe, but also have a little bit of moisture. They're sea creatures, after all.


Soak the mussels in cool water for about 30 minutes. This helps them release any sand or grit they might have been hanging on to. There's nothing worse than gritty seafood, if you ask me. Once they've soaked, sort through them. Throw out any mussels with a broken shell, or that are open and do not close if you rap on their shell lightly with a knife. These are dead. You want the mussels to have tightly closed shells that do not budge when you try to slide the two sides of the shell against each other.

Next, scrub the shells under running water to remove any remaining grit.

Just before you are ready to cook the mussels, debeard them. The beard is a little stringy thing hanging out of the side of the shell. Not all mussels will have them. They're not inedible, so it's okay if you don't get every last string, but they don't taste that great, so you want to remove as much as you can. Remove them by tugging side to side a little and yanking them out. I usually use a pair of tweezers to help me with this, but you can use your fingers too.

Now the mussels are ready to cook! The basic recipe for cooking mussels on the stovetop is to drop them into simmering liquid, cover, shake the pan, and leave the whole thing alone for 5-7 minutes. Check to make sure the mussels have opened up, simmer for a little longer if they haven't. Once it's all done, discard any mussels that didn't open up, and enjoy.

In my most humble opinion, the best way to enjoy mussels is cooked in wine and butter, because that's how I fell in love with them, after all. Recipes like this one form the basis of what I'm doing, but honestly? I usually just wing it.

Mussels in a wine broth are excellent paired with hearty (gluten-free) toast smeared with butter and roasted garlic.

Don't love mussels already? Give 'em a shot. You might just be glad you did.

Now It's the Sweater...

Remember a while back when my mittens were killing me? Well, I got those all straightened out, and was feeling pretty proud of myself, so I decided to embark upon a sweater-knitting adventure.

I've had a few false sweater starts over the years. I got halfway through one tedious design before I realized the yarn wouldn't wear well, the fit was totally unflattering, and I didn't particularly like the color. I got all the way through another, only to realize it was way too big and my modifications were totally unflattering. But that was all a long time ago.

This time, I decided to knit Ivy. I'm a total sucker for a ballerina wrap sweater, although I don't think I ever had one during all my years of dance. So I figured it was time for a grown-up version. All in all, the pattern wasn't too difficult to follow, and was actually quite enjoyable.

Until it was time to sew it up. Somehow I got a front twisted, so after I seamed the shoulder and side seam, it looked like something M.C. Escher might have dreamed up. That wasn't such a big deal - I just ripped out the shoulder seam and set it right, which wasn't so bad since there were only about 20 stitches at the shoulders.

The real issue was the size of the sleeves. I should have paid more attention over on Ravelry, where nearly everyone who made the sleeves complained about how big they were. I made my length modifications, and wrapped it around my arm as I was knitting it to check the size, and everything seemed ok. Until I seamed it up. The sleeves were so baggy, I don't know how to describe it. Knitters usually worry about things being too small, but the real problem is when things are too big.

See those rough pink lines of stitching on the sleeve? That's where the edges should be - I've got as much as 3 inches of extra ease in some places!

No amount of seaming can fix that unless I'm willing to   do some machine stitching and cutting (which I'm not), so there's only one thing left to do....


Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.
            -Donald Miller


I know enough of life by now to know that if I say, "I can do ten of these a week and get it done well before the deadline," there will be quite a few weeks of me doing absolutely nothing until the eleventh hour.  It's something I try to work on, this procrastination thing, but in the end it usually gets the better of me.

Well this time it just can't. Get the better of me, that is. It's just too big a deal. There's a roll of twenty yards of linen (twenty!) waiting for me to get to work, and get to work I'd better.

Here's the latest:

I happen to really like the way this little guy looks, and luckily it doesn't take nearly as long as some of the other ones I'd been doing. It's a start at least.

And the Kitchen Sink

We all have those recipes, the ones that are the basis of our culinary repertoire. The ones we go back to when there's not much in the pantry, when we really don't feel like cooking.

For me, one of those recipes is simply buttered noodles. A little salt, a little garlic, lots of butter, and I'm happy.

Later on, I learned a recipe that added shallots, crushed red pepper, breadcrumbs, and a sunny side up egg to that mix. It's still a favorite. Here's that recipe, dressed up with some spinach and cheese. It was everything that was in my fridge that night.

Everything Pasta

Everything in this recipe (especially the spice quantities) is a suggestion. Don't like something? Leave it out. Like it a lot? Use a little more. Want to serve more people? Use more pasta, and figure one egg per person. You'll also need more breadcrumbs. The only thing that's really not negotiable is to salt the pasta water really well. Like a tablespoon of salt, at least. Trust me, if you do, the pasta will taste so good you'll be running back to the pantry to make sure you bought gluten-free pasta. It's that good.

Serves Two.

  • 1/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3 ounces gluten-free noodles (I like these)
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup spinach, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ounces cheese, grated
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread the breadcrumbs out on a baking sheet and season with parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Toss with one tablespoon olive oil. Put in the oven, checking every three to five minutes and re-spreading the contents of the pan each time you check. Remove when the breadcrumbs are starting to brown.

Meanwhile, start the pasta water. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add in the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring frequently. Strain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta water.

While waiting for the pasta water to boil, heat one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper, sauteeing until the onions begin to be translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add in the spinach, stirring until it just begins to wilt. Remove the contents of the pan to two bowls, then wipe down the pan. Sprinkle lemon juice over the shallot mixture.

Add remaining olive oil to pan and cook the two eggs sunny side up.

Toss the pasta with the shallot mixture, breadcrumbs, and cheese. Top each bowl with one egg. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

You Gotta Ask

When asked, "What is jazz?" Louis Armstrong reportedly answered, "If you gotta ask, you'll never know."

Now, there is something to be said for intuition, for just knowing something at the core of your being. And those sorts of things are often so difficult to put into words because they're based on pure emotion. You know it or you don't. That's what art, music, and dance are for - expressing things were words are just inadequate.

Unfortunately, I seem to have let this quote influence me a little too much. I just don't ask. I'm afraid to ask. And when you (and I) don't ask, you (and I) often miss out.

Recently, I've been stressing out about my wedding cake being gluten-free. So I decided to suck it up and ask. I researched gluten-free bakeries in the area where the wedding will be, and came up with this list of possibilities some of which aren't dedicated gluten-free, and some of which are, but I'm not sure if they do wedding cakes because I haven't asked:

There's just one thing. None of them are on the "approved vendors" list for my venue. I haven't asked the venue yet...but I thought I'd check with the approved vendors and see whether they can do gluten-free.

Out of five, one plainly stated on its website that it could not do gluten-free. Another I knocked out simply because I know what their kitchen is like, and didn't feel comfortable with a gluten-free cake coming out of it. A third emailed me back saying she couldn't do it safely because of cross-contamination issues. She was really nice about it, and I can totally appreciate her honesty.

To my surprise, the last two emailed me back to say they can do gluten-free! I'm still getting information from them (how they prevent cross-contamination being the big one), but if I hadn't asked, I would never have known.

Sometimes you just gotta ask.

It's the Little Things

It's a little early for irises, I know. But I saw these at my Whole Foods, and for a reasonable price. ($5 for 10 stems. I bought 2 bunches, for a total of $10.)

When I got them, they were still wrapped up in tight little buds. Mike said he would never have picked them out because he had no idea what they would become.

But in just a matter of days - hours, even - they opened up into their full glory.

I wish I had a garden full of these, but for now, I'm content to do with the occasional pleasure brought home from the store.

It really is the little things that brighten our days.