I actually knit something -- a simple pair of toe-up socks. I even updated Ravelry with the info!
We're on the home stretch of the bathroom remodel with just one little leak keeping us from being done. We now have a new, working shower. The old, nasty, paint-peeling tub is gone!
The floors had to be replaced since all the plumbing was replaced. In the end, I didn't mind because I love the new floor.
And I'm glad that we found a little extra money to replace the vanity top (we kept the actualy vanity), because the new granite is beautiful!
The best part is that the plumbing is no longer leaking through the floor and into the ceiling of the foyer below. (But I'm sure you don't really want to see a photo of a plain white ceiling.)
Maddie will be going away to college in about 5 years. While we are fortunate that Pete has a good job, and I haven't had to work outside of the house since I was pregnant with her, I'm sure I'll want to do something when she leaves. When I was young, I would work up to 60 hours a week at the Dairy Queen. Then after college I worked at IBM and often stayed late and I even worked quite a few Saturdays. What I'm trying to say is that I like working. I like being busy and doing things.
So, the question is, what will I do when Maddie is gone and my time is no longer spent homeschooling her. Five years seems like a long time to figure this out, but I've already been thinking about it for a few years and I'm not all that much closer to figuring it out.
Last night was the last night of my first photograpy course, and by taking over 1000 photos, I discovered a little something about what I like -- at least when it comes to photography. I love to photograph nature.
And dead trees -- especially dead trees. And architecture.
And while I love being able to take better photography of my family... hey, look at that, a nature photo disguised as a portrait photo!
So, by taking the class, I found out a little more about myself. I'm getting closer to figuring out my future and I'm enjoying the process. I think it's time for another class!
Five years ago, we went through a bathroom remodel. This may not sound that trying, but when you really only have one bathroom (plus a mini powder room that was added to the top of the basement stairs at some point and a scary pseudo bathroom in the basement), it's a pain. In the end, it looked much nicer than the before photos.
However, the guy who did the remodel was probably not as qualified as he should be. Here is the ceiling of the foyer on the first floor, which sits directly below the bathroom...
The last guy who remodeled the bathroom also talked us into painting our tub. DO NOT PAINT YOUR TUB! Seriously. It started getting awful stains and then it started peeling. Total disaster.
So, this time we are going with the guy who did our kitchen remodel. (Before and after.) New tub, new flooring, most likely a bunch of new plumbing, and more. Since we had to tear everything out to get at the plumbing problems, we are also putting in a new granite vanity top. The marble top we bought last time was cheap and was already badly etched and stained. Lesson learned.
Here is the granite slab that will become the new vanity top:
More inspiration on my Pinterest board!
The yard sales have been weak this year. In fact, last Friday looked like it was going to be another sad day, but near the end of our rounds we found an estate sale where I found this great Cathrineholm bowl and platter set in a lovely pale turquoise blue and these awesome Swedish mid-century modern trivets made of stainless steel by Gense. While the prices were more than I wanted to pay, Maddie talked me into getting them and I'm glad I did.
I've been taking literally hundreds of photos each week since I started the photography class. Thank goodness for digital technology.
This past week we learned about composing photos, so I've been playing around with that a bit. It's a lot of fun to be able to get the camera to do what I want now. Being able to see the wings of the bee on this flower was awesome. (Click to embiggen.)
And last week's assingment was a lot of fun also -- taking photos in the dark. Since it was the week of the 4th of July, there were plenty of fireworks to photograph.
It was especially fun playing with long exposures so that multiple fireworks appeared in one photograph.
This week is portraits, which is much more difficult for me. At least learning about light is helping me to get better shots, but I'm still pretty bad at posing people and my teenager loses patience quickly when I'm fiddling with my settings.
Since I got my "fancy" camera, I've gone back and forth about taking a photography class at the local junior college. This past week, one day before the class began, I finally signed up for "Secrets of Great Digital Photography", which is the first class for the photography certificate.
After one class I'm already obsessed with taking photos. And surprisingly, I think I'm taking better photos already.
The instructor had us change all the setting on our cameras to manual and I find that I'm loving it! I'm not sure why it took me so long to sign up for this class, but I'm very glad that I finally did it.
Trees, trees, trees. I've lost track of how many they have cut out of our yard this past week. I know there were at least 7, but if you throw in all the little ones here and there, it's probably over a dozen. And then there is the pruning! So, much pruning.
A hard winter and an Emerald Ash Borer infestation in a huge part of the US and Canada, has taken it's tole on our yard. I'm sitting here with the windows open on a gorgeous Spring (nearly Summer!) day, and my ears are being assaulted by the sound of chainsaws.
Glad we planted a couple of apple trees earlier this Spring, although the 2 dwarf trees will hardly make up for what we lost. And thank goodness, mama Robin decided to nest in the lilacs, and not one of the trees!
Pete built me two more garden trellises over the weekend. These are a foot taller than the ones that he built last year becasue the cucumbers went crazy and grew right over the tops of the 4 foot trellises.
You can see the shorter ones that he built last year in this photo. I'm using them for the peas this year.
One thing I love about these, is that they fold flat for easy storage in the winter.
This has been a great year for birdwatching in our backyard. We've seen a few new birds and many of our old favorites.
Since I've been trying to improve my photography skills and learn more about all the many functions of my fancy digital camera, I've taken to photographing the birds.
Speaking of photography, I have a new photo up at my astrophotography blog.
I've been spending some time getting to know my camera better, which means reading the ridiculously long manual. I have to admit that I was overwhelmed by the manual when I first got the camera, so I mostly skimmed it and went on my way.
Now that I'm a little more comfortable with the camera, and I know a little more about what I want it to do, the manual has come out and I have found out that my camera can do a lot more than I thought it could. My photography still has a long way to go, but at least now I know the capabilities of my camera.
Well, at least I know more about it's capabilities.
In true Chicago fashion, the weather went from freezing and snowing to hot and sunny in the span of a few days. The bad news is that I got my first sunburn of the year over the weekend, the good news is that I spent a lot of time in the garden.
As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, my strawberry bed was looking a little rough. This is actually just one end of the patch, which is about 3 feet wide by maybe 12 feet.
I raked up all the mulch and straw that I could, then I got to work digging up all the existing plants. After that Pete helped me add some of our homemade compost as well as some store bought mushroom compost to the bed. I mixed it all up and planted the plants I had dug up previously, keeping them nicely spaced.
I also planted a few new strawberries which, as you can see, have some crazy pink blooms! The variety is "Tristan" which supposedly sends out few runners, so I planted them on the edge of the bed.
Two of the other raised beds were also prepped with more garden soil and compost. I'm itching to get some seeds in the ground, but I'm holding off since the weather has been unpredictable lately.
I woke up my whole family last night to watch the lunar eclipse. There hasn't been a total lunar eclipse since 2011, but there will be 3 more over the next 18 months! I'm planning on learning a lot about astrophotography, which marries my love of astronomy and photography.
The photo above shows the moon and Spica (the brightest star from the constellation Virgo). Click to see more detail.
This photo (which you will most definitely have to click to get a good view), shows the moon, Spica and up in the right hand corner is Mars! Celestial photobombing, huh?
If you are at all interested in following my Astrophotography adventures, you can find me at www.menelvagor.com.
Yeah, it's a mouthful --Joy the Baker's Blonde Brownies with Chocolate Chips and Marcona Almonds. I don't know if you read Joy's blog, but she makes some delicious looking stuff. This particular recipe caught my eye because I bought a jar of marcona almonds and Costco and I wanted to make something special with them.
This recipe came together easily, and didn't even require a mixer. They easily converted to gluten free with the simple replacement of gluten free flour blend for the regular flour.
Last year I started my seeds much too early. In fact, I started some in February! This means that they were ready to be planted in April, and my planting "safe" date is mid May. I suppose I was a little eager -- ha ha!
This year I set reminders in my phone both 6 and 8 weeks before my mid May planting date and started the seeds when they should be started. So last weekend, while battling a nasty virus that I still haven't fully conquered, I started a flat of tomato seeds. Since we loved eating the cherry tomatoes and found that they gave us by far the best yields, I planted three varieties of cherry tomatoes this year: Black Cherry, Bing Cherry and a new one for us -- Matt's Wild Cherry. Only a few days later I already see sprouts! It's amazing how quickly they grow!
It's been a long and terrible winter, so I'm happy to see Spring arrive. It even felt like Spring today with the sunshine and warm-ish weather.
In other news, I've started a new Wordpress blog where I talk about learning web development. Right now it's under the boogaj name over at boogaj.wordpress.com. In conjunction with that, I've decided to move my website for Black Sheep Bags over to Wordpress and I'm practicing all my skillz on it. You can check out the fledgling site at blacksheepbags.com.
I have always loved numbers -- I'm not talking about mathematics, in particular, although I liked that quite well too. I'm talking about how numbers relate to one another, how they are connected, how they combine to make new numbers. So, when a game like threes (or drop 7) comes along, I'm hooked.
One thing always bothered me about threes though, the computer geek in me wanted it to be twos. Of course, such a thing already exists and it's called 2048. Excuse me now, I need to go and play another round of 2048...
Here's a look at what I'm hoping was the last snowfall of the season. It was a heavy, sticky show that brought branches down all around the neighborhood. It was very pretty, but after the winter we had... well, enough is enough.
I always knew that I loved baking, but this winter has made me realize how comforting I find it. This past week I made some lemon curd and then decided that I needed some blueberry bars to go with it. I've had great luck with this Jam Crumb Bar recipe. I just used a half pint jar of the blueberry jam I made last summer. This is the second time I've made these and they have gotten rave reviews both time. (Bonus -- this is a gluten free recipe!)
... is on sale!
I love my Kindle Paperwhite. I wish that I could afford to read every book that I read on the Kindle (but seeing as I read about 60 books a year, that might be a little pricey!)
Why do I love it?
if you are contemplating purchasing an eBook reader, I highly recommned the Kindle Paperwhite -- I really, truly love using mine.
Ages ago -- like back in 2012 -- I joined the Great Granny Along. The blocks were a lot of fun to make and I stitched up most of them in a frenzy. Then they sat in a pile for months.
After much procrastination, I cut the strips I needed to join them together and got stitching. It took me ages because of an unfounded fear. I thought that when I stitched the blocks -- which were on the bias -- to the strips, there would be lots of stretching and problems. In reality, it took a few more pins then I usually use, but nothing bad happened at all.
Another 6 months or so passed while I contemplated a border. I knew I wanted one because of the bias thing, but wasn't sure if plain or fancy was the way to go. In the end I opted for plain and in only a couple of hours it was finished.
Thank you to Maddie for trying to hold up this quilt. She's been growing like a weed, but this quilt was still just a tiny bit to big for her reach.
As a side note... I tried to find the page for the quilt along, but things seem to have moved around in the last 2 years (go figure) and I ended up at a lot of broken links. The flickr group still exists here.
This has been a harsh winter in Illinois. I never used to be bothered by the winter very much. In fact, I used to think of it as my favorite season. However, the older I get, the more I dislike the winter.
In happier news, I ordered my seeds this week. I'm very much looking forward to this year's garden. Especially today, when the temperature is -1°.
This still needs to be washed and framed, but since my goal for January was to finish up a bunch of projects, I had to show off this finish. This is the Autumn Sampler from Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery and it was so much fun to stitch!
I stitched about one square each day, which kept the project moving along (well, until I ran out of a couple of the floss colors). The charts were clear and since they came as pdfs, I was able to bring them up in iBooks and zoom in on each square, which made following the charts easy.
I'm seriously thinking about stitching another one of their charts, but until I get this framed, I'm going to wait. If you are a stitcher, I highly recommend their patterns.
I knit up these little mitts in almost no time at all. Maddie chose this crazy yarn -- Liberty Wool in Sugar Spun -- which as you can see has some weird color changes. This set of mitts was knit all from one ball of the yarn. More on these over at Ravelry.
I just finished reading my first novel of the year, which is a bit surprising since we're already two weeks into 2014. However, there is a good reason for this. The book is over 800 pages long! What book was good enough to hold my interest for over 800 pages? The Luminaries, written by Eleanor Catton and winner of the Man Booker Prize.
When I first heard a review of this book on NPR after it was announced that it had won the Man Booker, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed.
If you are looking for a long, yet very engaging book, to get you through this cold, grey winter, I highly recommend The Luminaries.
A while ago, Theresa and I took a glass blowing class at Lillstreet Art Center. I never thought that at the end of a short workshop I would have anything resembling actual glass ornaments to take home, but I did!
In fact, we each made 5 ornaments during the class.
I'm a little late with hanging them, but hey, I got the up before Christmas, right?
The actual glass blowing was easier than I thought it would be and it was just amazing watching the ornaments form. I could really get into this hobby!
Here's ornament #5 -- my favorite, as it is orange -- hanging out with a little tomte.
Hope you have a great holiday!
We kicked off our holidays with an overnight trip to Chicago to see Wicked. It was a great little trip and makes me appreciate having a teenager. She loved the show and the fancy dinner and just being in the city, which made the whole thing even more exciting for me (who doens't get all that excited about visiting Chicago, since I lived there for most of my 20's.)
The next day we got our tree. Last year we ditched the artificial tree in favor of a real one. I still don't know which is better for the environment, but I'm loathe to buy another tree covered in plastic needles that will last a decade at most and then end up in a landfill. So, last year we visited a local farm and cut down our own tree. It was fun, and I'm sure we'll do that again in the future, but this year we opted to get our tree at Whole Foods and I'm sure happy we did.
Soon I'll be making homamade Irish Cream, fudge and cookies. (Obviously food & drink are the important part of the holidays for me!)
I have celiac disease, which means that one of the things I can't drink is beer. Well, there is gluten free beer, but in general I can't have beer. I can drink hard cider, however, and as the weather turns colder, I find myself wanting a cider now and then.
Since I love DIY food projects, and we had beer making equipment from back in the day, I decided it was time to try brewing up some cider. After consulting several websites, I found that this article from Mother Earth News was the most straightforward.
Basically you take some apple cider and put it in a pail with some yeast. Easier than brewing beer! I did take the step to heat the cider on the stove before adding the yeast and I have to say that heating 5 gallons of any liquid at one time is not exactly easy. Thank goodness I have a really large stockpot!
After a couple of weeks of fermentation, it was time for bottling. I skipped the extra clarifying step, so I'm sure we'll have some sediment in the final product, but that doesn't really bother me -- especially for my first time making cider. Since I wanted a bit of sparkle in my cider, I did add some extra honey and brown sugar before bottling.
Maddie was my helper since We did this final step while Pete was at work, and I have to say that she was a wonderful helper.
In a couple of weeks, this should be ready for drinking. I'll have to remember to post some photos of the finished product.
We just got back from a wonderful vacation in our favorite vacation spot -- Hilton Head, SC. The weather was pretty much perfect, making walks on the beach & afternoons at the pool thoroughly enjoyable.
There is actually a little yarn shop/used bookstore on the island (the ultimate combo for our family!) and I bought some new yarn for the first time in ages. I even started a new knitting project! I can't wait to get a little more knit up so I can post photos here, because the yarn is *wild*!
We came back to beautiful fall-like temperatures (and a broken washing machine, but I'm trying not to dwell on the negatives), and I'm feeling that cozy, autumn nesting thing.
I absolutely love vacationing, but I love coming home too.
And I didn't have my camera with me when I cut it up, but that's it on the right of this top photo. And the tomatillos that you see in the background -- never ending. I've made salsa -- 2 kinds -- and now I've taken to freezing them.
We also got a few carrots. I forgot that I had bought a packet of some multicolored carrots, so it was a surprise when I pulled these up. To tell you the truth, I've never had much luck growing carrots, so even plain old orange ones would have surprised me.
We're still getting quite a few tomatoes from the garden, but nothing we can't eat in a day. In fact, I have one lonely little paste tomato sitting on the counter right now. I'm glad to see that we are eating what we grow. Nice to know that my early Spring gardening decisions were pretty good ones. (Except for the many tomatillos. Note to self -- 2 tomatillo plants will suffice.)
I am growing watermelons! I can hardly believe that the tiny, struggling seedling I started back in April from little seeds are now huge and producing a bunch of tiny watermelons. I have never grown any kind of melon before and I didn't have high hopes for these. The plants were so small for so long -- then one day they went crazy. I'm ridiculously excited and check on the baby watermelons several times each day.
Tomatoes are just starting to turn red here and there. I love the bright green against the red-orange on this one. I think these are Brandywine, which I've never had much luck growing in the past. It looks like the wet Spring was just what they needed.
And we harvested the garlic! This was a new crop for us this year and I have to say it was crazy easy to grow. Pete stuck the cloves in the ground last autumn and we dug them up this past weekend -- that's it. We have laid them on a piece of fencing over the basement stairs in, what we call, our vestibule. They have plenty of air circulation, but I'm hoping it's not too hot in there. We shall see.
There is so much happening in the garden right now that I could go on and on, but I'll finish up with one last photo -- the first of many cukes is nearly ready for harvest. I think 2 cucumber plants will be more than enough to keep us in cukes for the rest of the summer. These things are prolific!
So Pete and I built these trellises at the beginning on June. You can see the little cucumbers and watermelons at the very bottom of each trellis.
Tiny, right? Well, now it's the end of June and look what happened...
I spent a total of $4, and $3 of it was for this green Hull planter. I love these old planters and am always on the lookout for a few to add to my collection. This one was a good buy as the piece was in perfect condition and is a pretty good size.
This unmarked planter was not in perfect shape, but I couldn't resist the amazing decorations (or the 25¢ price).
The other items include a little FireKing sugar bowl minus the lid, a cute tomato glass which I'm assuming was a jelly jar, and a nice measuring cup. I collect measuring cups and this was the second one I found already this year.
So, I'm still hitting the sales, but the boxes of Pyrex and FireKing in the attic mean it's time I got started on filling my Etsy shop -- especially if I want to have room for new things!
And soon we will have strawberries! Our strawberries apparently liked the wet Spring -- they look amazing this year.
I'm feeling pretty good about the garden this year. It's taken several years of trial and error to get to the point where I sort of feel like I know what I'm doing and I also know what I like to grow.
This will definitely be the year of the tomato since I planted a ridiculous number of plants, but it is also the first year I'm planting radishes, beets, tomatillos, watermelons and garlic (which was planted last fall). Old favorites are back too -- tomatoes (obviously), strawberries, raspberries (which are multiplying like mad!), potatoes, jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, herbs (flat leaf parsley, basil, sage, oregano, cilantro and thyme), carrots and lettuce. And I shouldn't forget the flowers which I grew from seed this year -- petunias, impatiens, marigolds, and sunflowers.
Whew. I really need to keep a gardening journal to keep all this straight from year to year, but I suppose the blog will suffice.
Our lilacs are in full bloom and look gorgeous. When we moved into our house, the lilacs were stunted and sickly as a result of a big, ugly fence which blocked much of their sunlight, and possibly hot bbq grill ashes which the previous owner appears to have dumped at their base. In the 8 years we've lived here, we removed the fence and improved the bed in which they reside. (We used to call it the gravel pit, because it was a nasty, weedy patch filled with gravel and broken up bits of asphalt.)
I like to look back at photos from previous years so that I can see when things bloomed. For instance, last year our lilacs were in full bloom on April 7th! A full month earlier. Crazy.
Coffee beans from Intelligentsia and The Bean, or Cloud Gate, at Millennium Park. Then on to the Picasso exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The exhibit was ridiculously inspiring. If you are in Chicago, get over there now, because it's only here until the 12th of May.
I'm all about gardening these last few weeks. The garlic is doing great despite the fact that I've done nothing but remove the thick layer of winter mulch from their bed. I can't remember if I grew a hardneck variety, so I'm not sure if these will produce scapes -- must figure that out.
Since I have a fancy new camera...
My seed starting set up is getting a lot of use -- in fact, three shelves are full. On the top are the tomatoes that I already transplanted into bigger pots. They are growing like mad! The middle row holds more tomatoes on the right and a variety of things on the left -- marigolds, jalapenos, tomatillos & sunflowers. The bottom shelf holds flowers on the right -- impatiens & petunias -- and on the left there are some cucumbers, watermelons and some pathetic flowers and basil that never got transplanted into larger pots.
We have uncovered the strawberries in the garden and the garlic is starting to peek up through the earth.
Can you tell that I'm excited about the garden this year?
Lots of things have been going on around here, including a lot of garden planning. I love this high radiator in my front hall, because it is perfect for two trays of germinating seeds. Who needs one of those fancy heating pads when you have one built right into the house?
The plants I started a few weeks ago are looking good -- actually they are much bigger than this, but I don't have a recent photo.
I am so excited about the garden this year!
I guess it might seem a little early to be starting seeds, but these are mostly petunias and impatiens which take forever to germinate. I'm still searching through seed catalogs for my veggies seeds, and looking forward very much to getting those started in my new seed starting tower...
This set up, using some sturdy steel shelving, 4 shop lights and a powerstrip with an automatic timer was our weekend project. As you can imagine, I'm itching to get more seeds started so I can fill these shelves!