Summer to Fall

>> Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The signs of fall -- namely leaves changing and crisp, chilly mornings -- have arrived. There are still lavender flowers in the front yard (I have no idea what kind they are). And when the sun is out, it can still look summery.

What you may get a small glimpse of in the bottom of the picture is a bee. These flowers attract buzzing bees like no others.

They didn't seem to mind me getting close to take pictures but I don't love having a stash o' bees in the front yard. If they would start stinging the squirrels and getting those pests away from the roof -- where they like to run relay races in the morning -- I would like the bees more.

But there's no question that autumn has arrived, a little after the fall equinox.

Which is great because fall is my favorite season. It's only Wednesday but the week has already been jam-packed, what with Yom Kippur on Sunday night/Monday and then scurrying to get back into the work groove. I'm still struggling to get down a good daily and weekly rhythm, but I'm hoping that being home this weekend will help. And maybe I'll get to sew a little more -- I have a long list of projects I want to move forward with, but classes and teaching is pinching the time available right now.


Vegetarian Winter Boots

>> Thursday, September 24, 2009

To the best of my knowledge, it is not yet winter anywhere. As I love fall (or autumn, if you prefer), I'm quite happy with this state of affairs. Actually, it's been more summery than fall-y near me of late, though tonight's temperature suggests inching toward fall. A few leaves are starting to change color and I've seen apple cider in the grocery store. Nevertheless, while the calendar claims fall has arrived, I'm not completely convinced.

And while the inevitable snow is, I hope, many months away, I've spent years looking for warm, stylish (somewhat?), and vegetarian winter boots. It's very challenging to find boots without leather or suede. I have a pair of winter hiking boots, all rubbery and thermo-something-lined. They are excellent for walking in snow, preferably on hiking trails covered with snow. But they are heavy and clunky and just not pleasant for day-to-day trekking about. A friend of mine recently pointed me toward Bogs Boots, which, after a little investigation, do appear to be vegetarian.

At least the Classic High version seems to be. They apparently keep one's feet toasty through -40 degree weather, which I hope I don't encounter this winter. They look kind of fun (and certainly not drab). And it's possible to get them for at least $10 cheaper on non-Bogs websites. So here's the real question: are they comfortable? Do any of you have experience with Bogs footwear? Are they worth the investment? Inevitably, given the lack of available options, I'll probably order them and find out, but before I do, I'd love to hear if any of you have tried these boots before. Love them? Hate them? Feel they're fine but nothing more? Tell me!


Business Cards! Logo?

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As a general rule, I check email way too often and regularly keep up with the blogs I follow via Google Reader. Except when life gets crazy, which captures the last 10 days very well, between schoolwork, teaching, going away for a conference, going away for Rosh Hashanah, and all the little things that needed to (or still need to) happen. Like grocery shopping. That needs to happen really soon or else it's rice and rice alone for dinner.

In any event, my delinquence meant that I didn't realize I had won this giveaway from Sew In Stitches. I won 500 business cards -- and I get to upload the design. Which begs the question: what design? More importantly, what logo? I've been meaning to make myself some type of two hippos logo for a while -- and then get a stamp, some labels, some business cards -- but didn't. Now I have a deadline (2 weeks) and need a logo, snap snap.

I'm a terrible illustrator, so I need to figure out a cool logo that doesn't depend on my control of a pen. I welcome all thoughts, suggestions, and advice. If you've seen some cool hippos, like to play around with some line drawings, or otherwise want to point me in the direction of some modern, clean-lined business cards, comment away.


Filigree Quilting

I made this challah cover as a companion to the chuppah I just finished. The center square was left over from the chuppah and, with the exception of the white fabric, all the other strips and coins also came from the chuppah-making process. I'm enjoying the challenge of taking fabric bought, cut, and used in one project and finding ways to reappropriate it. Here, I deliberately sought to echo the chuppah design without just shrinking it and redoing it. That wouldn't be too fun!

I used the ends of the strips from the front on the back and created three columns, each moving from lighter to darker fabrics. In Hebrew, shabbat is spelled with three letters, so one could say the columns abstractly represent those letters...or not. It's a thought that crossed my mind but I think it's up to the viewer to decide if that works.

I've been using challah covers to practice free motion quilting, and this was no exception. I was going for a delicate chain look, so some loops and meandering rather than a strict stippling motion. Like always, there are imperfections, but overall I felt more confident and comfortable than ever before. Perhaps because I finally figured out the best tension (between 4 and 5) on my machine to keep the stitches tight on the front and back. No loops anywhere this time!

I'm glad I opted for small sections of white in between each round of color on the front. I think it draws out the color and I'll have to remember this for future blocks. Also, the blue swirl fabric above (a Michael Miller wave print) is one of my favorites. The dragonfly print (below) is one of the first fabrics I ever bought, while the tiny scrap of Amy Butler is one of my more recent purchases.


Shana Tova!

>> Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova!

A happy, healthy, and sweet new year to all who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) this weekend. In a couple of minutes, I'm off to the airport to head home to my family for the holiday. I know my mom and some of our guests have been cooking. When I get home, I'll make my vegetarian soup and kneidels (matzah balls) for everyone.

It's been a busy week, sandwiched between 2 weekends away, so not much crafting has occurred. I worked for a few hours last night on a small gift for a friend I'm seeing this weekend, but didn't quite finish. Ah well. My carry-on bag contains the chuppah for Beth & Harley, and I'm excited to give it to them while I'm home.


There in Spirit

>> Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Bike the Barns this past weekend. I very much appreciate that it did not conflict with Rosh Hashanah (coming up this weekend), but a conference pulled me out to the Rocky Mountain west. And that was really fun: I saw a ton of friends, looked at big, beautiful mountains, and even presented a paper.

Back to BTB 2009, my good friend and champ BTB rider Jenny, sent me her photos from the event. Lo and behold, we are both on the MACSAC partner shares poster (hint: we're on bikes). So while I was nowhere near Madison, not on a bike, nor eating delicious CSA food this weekend, I was in fact there.


A Quickie...Challah Cover

>> Friday, September 11, 2009

Some days (nights) I just need a quick, finishable project to start and complete. Last night was one of those nights. I wanted to make something but couldn't get into the Miracle Foundation quilts. I just wanted the satisfaction of designing, making, and ending a project.

I almost succeeded.

I have a list of people for whom I need (or, would like) to make challah covers. I like giving challah covers as gifts because they're something my Jewish friends use and they offer me a chance to experiment with design, colors, and quilting. Here I opted to make a couple square-inside-square blocks that I first saw in Denyse Schmidt's book, Quilts. She uses solids but I thought these 2 prints worked well together. I initially intended to place them side-by-side, but ultimately decided that off-center worked better.

I pieced the back from the scraps from the front and some additional strips. Had I not pieced the back, I might have finished the whole thing. Then again, I could say that had I not free-motion quilted (challah covers = small = good practice), I might have finished. In any event, I got through quilting but need to pack and get to bed as I'm off to Colorado for the weekend.

But back to the challah cover, I'm still working on my free-motion quilting, especially stippling. There are definitely some imperfections in this challah cover, but I'm pretty confident that they will not harm the look or disrupt the use of it, so I'm ok with that. It's part of what makes it handmade and a step in my works-in-progress. I'm starting to learn the best ways to hold and move the quilt under the darning foot, and I think (hope) this information will help me improve and, eventually, feel comfortable stippling and otherwise free-motioning larger projects.

If my flight goes according to plan, I'll be in the Mile High City when this posts. Have a wonderful weekend!


All Bound Up

>> Thursday, September 10, 2009

I spent the morning binding the chuppah for Beth and Harley (it really needs a more catchy and descriptive name...I'm still waiting for the epiphany or the revelation in the form of a comment by one of you!).

I wasn't sure what fabric to use for the binding -- to be honest, I didn't have enough yardage of many of the dark fabrics (the binding required a touch over a half-yard) so I only had 2 dark options from which to choose. Which raised the question of whether one of the medium or light variations would work, or whether a multi-fabric binding would be better. I decided that a medium or light binding might distract too much. While it might pull the eye toward the light center, I thought it might frame the chuppah too well, and stop the eye from meandering across the chuppah which is more interesting to me. I've used multi-fabric bindings before, but I thought it would be too busy here. There's so much going on in the center that I want viewers to see that I decided the quilt needs a single fabric binding. So I was back to 2 choices, and I'm really glad I opted for the green dots. It fits well in the medium/dark range and pulls the whole design together.

I'm going to wait until after the wedding to post any more full pictures so you're stuck with several views of the binding for now. I had fun playing with my camera and the little sunlight peeking through the clouds this morning.

The blurred effect.

Were it not for one of my hairs poking out from the middle of this picture, I think it would be my favorite. As you can see from the little bits of white showing through, I backed the chuppah with white flannel. I like using flannel for chuppah backs because it allows the stained-glass effect to work its magic, it's not too heavy to be supported by poles, and it allows the couple to use the chuppah as a warm quilt after the wedding.

Sun-dappled and showing a little snippet of the light center.



>> Tuesday, September 8, 2009

photo from IBOL guy

I'm still working on the Miracle Foundation quilt log cabins and have a few more ideas for a couple more quilts. As I looked over the pile of fabric I'm using, I realized 2 things:

1. I have way more pink fabrics than I ever would have imagined, not being a pink person myself.
2. Even if I make 2 more quilts after the log cabins, there will be fabric left over.

So I decided to send off another IBOL package. I eyeballed (bad pun) the pile, estimated how much I should save for future quilts, backing, and binding, and took the rest, along with some fabric my stash, and marched over to my local post office. Ok, I didn't march. I biked, in the drizzling rain, to the post office filled with people mailing books (university town + start of school = lots of books being mailed), confusedly trying to send things abroad (which form? which box? which stamps? that much?!?!), and attempting to rent p.o. boxes.

I crammed my bundle into the priority mail box, filled out the customs form, got a hold of some priority mail tape to secure it well, and twiddled my thumbs as I waited, hoping I would make it through the line in time to get to class on time. Luckily, the line moved, and I had plenty of time before my seminar. I've learned to allow extra time at the post office because it can a slow slow crawl to the counter. By the time I left, it was pouring again. I keep telling the rain that I'm fine with the water but I'd like it to restrict itself to the evening; for some strange reason, the rain has not listened to me. I'll keep trying.


Embracing the Mess

>> Monday, September 7, 2009

I hate messes and messiness. I straighten, organize, put away, and neaten on a regular basis. I make my bed every morning, I do the dishes while I cook, and I can tell you exactly where to find any book I own (crazy, I know).

But improv quilting is a messy affair. Last night I started the second quilt for the Miracle Foundation, another improv log cabin quilt. I cut strips, ironed them, and placed them into piles by color and length (did I mention I organize things compulsively?). And then I started making the blocks, at which point the neat piles turned into a disaster. I'm resisting the urge to straighten and reorganize the piles, knowing full well that they'll return to the messy mountain-like pile in minutes. Instead I cleaned up all the rest of the fabric that had strayed from the bins and took pictures of the mess.

So it's a good mess, and I'm trying to embrace it as I make progress on those log cabins.

Speaking of which, if you're looking for a tutorial on wonky log cabins, head over to Quilt Dad's blog where he's posting a variety of ways to make blocks (starting with the basic improv log cabin block). I'm a little more inlcined toward finger pressing and a little less dedicated to ironing each block every single time I add a log, but otherwise my steps follow his.


My Friend Primer

>> Sunday, September 6, 2009

Every time I manage not to move, I think that I'll be saving money on outfitting a new abode. And, in general, this is true. Yet while I'm staying in one place, there are still things I need. I spent much of the past year thinking it would be really handy to move those manila folders stuffed with articles and papers out of a bankers box and into a filing cabinet. Every so often I'd stop by the local recycling center and check out the filing cabinet options. I'd see decent ones but always find a way to talk myself out of it (the box isn't soooo bad and, besides, that filing cabinet is bulky/ugly/too big/rusted and won't fit in my little car).

Then, a couple weeks ago, a friend was over for dinner. We were eating, talking, and all the sudden, BAM! The chair collapsed, sending my friend to the floor (unhurt, thankfully). I'd known the chair (and its chair friends) were not doing so hot, but I didn't anticipate a crash landing and a totally unusable chair. I needed to replace it and didn't want to spend much. Although I'd been thinking of buying 4 chairs and painting them different colors, I now needed one new chair for sure and the others, well, I'm a little too cheap frugal to buy 4 chairs at once.

My local Buddhist temple was hosting its annual yard sale this weekend, and I went by to peruse the offerings. I found a chair for $5 that needed a little love and a filing cabinet for $20 that I bargained down to $15 (hey, they had a sign saying they welcome bargaining). I decided I would paint both yellow because a yellow chair would work with the warm colors in the dining room and a yellow filing cabinet would match the decor (including my sort-of-new corkboard) of my study. I scanned some websites and figured out that spraypainting both the chair and the cabinet should be pretty simple, and wandered over to my local hardware store to buy some paint.

I jumped right into the chair, following the online directions to turn it upside down to start. That moved along smoothly, with the paint adhering nicely to the somewhat scuffed (no need to sand!) chair. Then I turned to the filing cabinet. I got out the masking tape and covered up the handle, I wiped off the dust, and I roughed up the smooth areas. Then I started to paint. According to one online tutorial, 1.5 cans of spray paint would take care of a 4 drawer filing cabinet. I figured 2 cans should easily take care of my little 2-drawer cabinet and the chair.

Midway through the 2nd layer of painting the cabinet, I realize 2 cans would not be nearly enough. I couldn't figure out where I went wrong, and went back inside to consult my sources (here and here).


Occasionally, my close reading skills disappear. Scanning tutorials is a really bad idea because it is easy for one (me) to miss crucial steps. Like buying and spraying primer to start. I had a moment in the hardware store wondering if I should buy primer, but decided I didn't need it. One late night trip to the hardware store later, I was equipped with primer (1 can) and more paint (1 can). It turns out that if you use primer, 1 can of paint is more than sufficient for a small filing cabinet. It also turns out that I should read and reread directions, especially before inhaling lots of noxious chemicals that, I'm sure, will do terrible things to me later in life. In the meantime, I've got a nice yellow chair (no primer necessary) and a nice yellow filing cabinet (primer very necessary).


Not-Exactly-Friday Recipe: Easy Polenta with Spinach & White Beans

>> Saturday, September 5, 2009

I whipped up this dish for company last night. I had invited a few friends over for shabbat dinner, knowing full well that my day was packed. While they were bringing salad and dessert, I was still responsible for everything else. Which was fine, because it gave me a chance to test out a couple new recipes and see whether they were, as I thought, doable in a limited amount of time. The answer, fortunately for everyone, was yes.

Last night's menu:
*Challah (already made and frozen. I now divide the dough from my recipe into 4 which is perfect for freezing 2).
*White Bean dip (previously made and frozen, just needed a little defrosting and warming; I use this recipe and halve the butter)
*Corn/Tomato/Black Bean salsa (bonus recipe below!)
*Double Broccoli Quinoa from 101 Cookbooks (I didn't have enough parmesan cheese, but the recipe is delicious for those who, like me, love broccoli)
*Polenta (recipe below)
*Tossed Salad
*Dessert (my friends brought the Chocolate-Almond Tart from Trader Joe's; it's decadent)

Easy Polenta with Spinach & White Beans
~Serves 6-10 (depending on whether it's the main dish)

8-10 cloves garlic
1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
6-10 oz spinach
1 can white (cannellini) beans
1 polenta log (organic, kosher, vegan, and gluten-free ones availble at Trader Joe's)
herbs (your choice! I'd recommend oregano, thyme, rosemary, chili peppers)
olive oil

1. Chop onion and mince garlic.

2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and saute the onions and garlic.

3. Add the tomatoes. Stir regularly for about 10 minutes. IF you used diced tomatoes, use a hand blender to blend the tomato mixture into a sauce.

4. Add herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

5. Add spinach and mix in until it wilts.

6. Add the beans and stir.

7. Slice 2/3 polenta into disks. Form small balls (size of gnocchi) with the rest.

8. In a 9x 13 pan, spread about 1/2 the tomato mixture in the pan. Then arrange the polenta disks and balls on top.

9. Cover the polenta with the remaining sauce.

10. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

11. Enjoy!

*This is a recipe that can easily scaled up or down in terms of quantity and ease of cooking. To make it quickly, I used premade polenta, tomatoes from a can, and beans from a can. If I had a bounty of fresh tomatoes, I could have started with chopped tomatoes. I could have also made the polenta or soaked dry beans. Conversely, if I had even less time, I could have used prepared tomato sauce. I used fresh spinach but frozen could work too. It's all malleable.

*I prefer this dish warm, but my roommate ate it cold today and liked it. Eat as you please.

An extra recipe...

SIMPLE Corn/Tomato/Black Bean Salsa
~Makes one medium sized bowl

*8 oz corn (frozen, canned, or trimmed from fresh corn)
*4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
*1 can black beans
*Olive Oil
*Red Wine Vinegar
*Lemon Juice

1. In a medium bowl, combine corn, tomatoes, and black beans.

2. In a measuring cup, combine 1/8 c. olive oil, 1/8 c. red wine vinegar, and lemon juice to taste. Whisk well.

3. Pour oil & vinegar into corn/tomato/bean mixture. Mix well. Cover and let sit for an hour.

4. Enjoy!

*I used what I had on hand. Sometimes I'll add red onion, minced peppers, or avocado as well.


Scarves Times Six

>> Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sometimes I get ideas in my head and I just have to follow through, regardless of the consequences. Last Wednesday night, before I packed for my long weekend trip to Vermont, I decided I should make a little surprise present for the friends I would be hanging out with over the weekend. These aren't just any friends, but college teammates with whom I spent a lot of time back in the day. We're now scattered across the country but try to see one another once a year. Or maybe this year it will be twice? It's an informal thing, it starts with an email from one of us, and then all the sudden we're coordinating travel plans and getting excited to see each other really soon.

One of the things I love about spending time with people I've known for a long time is that we don't need to do anything. We hang out, we cook, we eat, we drink, we talk, we eat, we drink, we talk, and so on and so forth. There's no pressure, and we're all just ourselves in raw form. It's delightful.

A few months ago, one of my awesome former teammates suggested I should make us matching belts. I recalled this last Wednesday and opted for non-matching scarves, given the time constraints. So the consequence was not going to bed until 3.30 am last Thursday (and waking up at 6 am to catch a flight). The other consequence was the fun squealing about what could possibly be surprise #3 (we were on the same page about bringing surprises...and brownies. We consumed a lot of brownies). I wrapped the scarves in different fun papers, and since I did so at about 6.20 am, I had no idea what was in each one. Everyone got to pick a wrapped package and open it to a surprise scarf, myself included.

It was really fun to mix and match fabrics, using some of the same ones in different combinations and throwing in a couple of small pieces I was savoring until just the right moment. While making 6 in one night cost me sleep, it was totally worth it and I'd do it again. Although maybe next time I'll start a little earlier.


Giveaway Winners!

>> Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thanks to everyone who commented. I wish I could send everyone something. But, alas....

I divvied up your comments into a fabric group and a scarf group, and used the random number generator to pick a winner from each group. Those who read 2hippos on their blog reader got an extra entry, as did anyone who is a follower.

The Winners (please email me your address!)

*Of the fabric: Fiesta, who noted that she's "happy that in a few days I can display all my fall quilts and such." It's certainly turning toward fall up here in the Great Lakes area.

*Of the scarf: Ginny, who said her husband was recently in a bad accident but he's alive and, I hope, doing well.


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