Monday, 28 November 2011

Advent Wreath

For as long as I can remember, my family has set up an Advent wreath every year, lighting a new candle each Sunday of the Advent season until we reach the Christ candle in the centre on Christmas day itself.  This Sunday ritual is one of my favourites, so when I realised I'd be spending the entire season of Advent in my own place and not at home, I knew I needed to set up an Advent wreath for myself.

I could have bought one but I didn't like any of the options I could find in my price range, so I decided to devise my own.  I knew I wanted something rustic, unpolished.  My first thought was to use a grapevine wreath as a base, but all the ones I found were so rigid and densely woven it would have been hard to affix the candle holders.  But a trip to Hobby Lobby produced a hank of raffia and a coil of floral wire wrapped in green fibres.  

After some experimentation I formed the wreath by braiding the raffia tightly, then twisting and tucking the ends into each other.  (Conrad ran off with several strands of raffia during this process; he was convinced the whole procedure was for his benefit!)  Then I fashioned candle holders out of the wire, forming "cups" out of coiled wire, then using the ends of the wire to fasten the holders to the raffia wreath.  The final step was to wrap the wreath with a length of wide gold ribbon which I had lying around.

Purple or royal blue are the traditional liturgical colours of Advent.
I put my "Christ candle" in the middle on a glass candle base I already owned, and surrounded it with evergreens clipped from the bushes in the garden.  

I like the end result!  It's definitely "rustic" (perhaps a little too much so, but it suits me).  I don't know whether it will hold up to years of being packed up and re-used, but for this year, I love it.  I lit the first candle yesterday for a few hours; it was comforting to be carrying on this familiar ritual.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Music for the First Sunday of Advent

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent!  I love Advent; maybe because it hasn't been secularized by the rest of the world in the same way Christmas has, it's always been a really special time for me.  I thought that this year, it could be fun to share some carols and hymns which are suited to the Advent season, before we move into the true Christmas music.

Today, a lovely anthem, "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending."

Enjoy this first week of the Advent season!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

More for the shop

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving day with family and friends!  I wasn't able to travel home to be with family, but I had a good time with my landlords and got to help with the cooking.  (I'm really glad I did - I can't imagine Thanksgiving without spending a lot of time in the kitchen!)

I've spent the rest of the weekend doing some finishing work and listing things on Etsy!  Yesterday I showed you lots of socks; one pair was just recently completed but the others have been hanging around for a while, waiting for me to get my act together.  Today, I have two crocheted afghans and a set of quilted coasters.

First up, a granny square afghan from the stash.  I used up most of my scraps in the blue/grey colour range, with the centres of each square in a creamy white surrounded by robin's-egg blue.  It's not symmetrical but it all works together!

Then I made a set of quilted coasters, using part of a "fat quarter" of calico.  They're backed with muslin, filled with scraps of quilt batting, and quilted with silvery-grey perle cotton.  I'm slightly in love.

They come in a set of six, and they're reversible.  I like the grey-on-white side at least as much as the striped side!  So understated.  Find them here in the shop....

And finally, a big, squooshy, delicious ripple afghan, with plump tassels on all its points.  This is another stash-buster; I pulled out all the yarns I had in this understated, pink-and-tan colour palate, and supplemented with a couple splashes of brighter colours.  I love love love the stripe of turquoise at one end!

I also love how the sunlight gave such sharp definition to this last photograph.  You can see every stitch! This one is hard to part with but it is also on Etsy here.

I hope you all have a lovely remainder of your weekend, and a blessed first Sunday of Advent!  Maybe next week I will post something which doesn't have to do with Etsy ;-)

Friday, 25 November 2011

A quintet of socks in the shop

Finally the weather was clear and I was able to photograph my backlog of items for the Etsy shop!  Today, a quintet of wool socks:


 Check them all out in the shop!  And spread the word to your friends who might be looking for hand-crafted Christmas gifts :-)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Bus Stop

You meet the most interesting people at bus stops.  On Monday I went to the library by bus.  Coming back, the bus was late, and it was raining.  I had my backpack (enormous and heavy) and a tote bag (ditto) and a large red umbrella, and wet boots.  There were two gentlemen at the bus stop.  Both were smoking, one of them inside the semi-enclosed shelter.  Cigarette smoke does not do good things to my lungs, so I stood outside with my umbrella.

Smoking gentleman #1 (the inside one) decides to come out and offer me a seat.  It was very good of him, I say, but I'm extremely allergic to smoke, so I'll just stand out here.

He retires.  A moment later, he's back to offer to stand outside.  So good of you, I say, but even the lingering smoke would trouble me.

He turns away.  Then back.  "You say you're allergic... what does it do to you?"

I try to explain about deep, hacking coughs, and headaches, but I don't think he gets it.  He wanders back into the shelter.  I shift my umbrella, set the tote bag down on my foot so it doesn't get wet, and look for the bus.

Smoking gentleman #2:  "Is your backpack waterproof?  It's all hanging out in the back."

I allow that it is not, in fact, waterproof.  A certain amount of shifting about to get the largest possible portion of it under the umbrella.

Gentleman #1 emerges again, comes up to me, and asks, "'scuse me, but what is your race?"

I probably gave him a blank stare for a minute.  "Um... I'm American?"

Gentleman #1:  "Oh.  I just wondered... you look like one of them gypsy women, where they from?"

A further blank stare.  "Uh... I believe they're from eastern Europe.  And I don't think I'm a gypsy..."

He:  "I just wondered.  You look like one."  He turns away, then back.  "I mean, you look nice..."

Me:  ......

He wanders back into the shelter.  I shift all my bags around again, get water down the back of my neck, and wait for the bus.

Gentleman #2 asks if I'm a student.  I say yes.  He asks what I do, and when I say "music" he promptly starts suggesting that I join a touring group "like those women who play the violin."  I have no idea what he is talking about, but I smile and nod and say that opera is more my speed.

Presently a third gentleman, tall and distinguished and silver-haired, comes up, book in hand.  He stands near me.  We all four scan the road for the errant bus.  I start jigging up and down and singing, partly to keep warm and partly because I rarely go more than a few minutes without singing.

Gentleman #3 turns to me and says, "You're singing.  Why are you so happy?"

I wasn't entirely sure how to answer that, as my singing had not been prompted by extreme joy... "I like rain?" I venture.

Then he asks me whether I liked to sing (yes) whether I was classically trained (yes) and what I want to do with it (opera.)  Then he seems to run out of questions and subsides.

Finally the bus appears (twenty minutes behind schedule) and we all get in out of the wet.  Then the bus driver sings snatches of Christmas songs all the way to the transit center.

I still haven't gotten over being asked if I was a gypsy woman...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

I don't know about you, but I have a weakness for flavoured coffee drinks.  Specifically the holiday-themed ones Starbucks comes out with.  Their warm, creamy goodness can make the worst day seem better.  That is until I look at my bank balance.  At upwards of $4.00 a cup, they add up quickly.

So I decided I would try to make my own!  I stocked up on canned pumpkin the other week when it was on sale (as well as cooking down a couple of fresh ones), so starting with the pumpkin spice latte seemed like a good idea.  I took a quick look at a few other make-your-own recipes floating around the web, but I ended up just coming up with my own.  My goal was not only to save money, but also to make it a little more healthy!  I'm sure the commercial version is full of sweet syrups.  The most expensive item here was the Reddi-whip I used, which cost about half what a single latte at Starbucks would run, and will last for many drinks.  (Mine was enough to go with an entire apple pie plus three drinks.)  Everything else you probably have in your kitchen already.  So, here you go!

Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups of milk*
1 T sugar**
2 T (approximate) pumpkin purée (fresh, frozen or canned)
a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice***
1/3 cup strong coffee†
whipped cream

Combine milk, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin in a medium saucepan.  (Feel free to adjust the amounts of sugar and spice!)  Heat until just barely not boiling.  Froth with a whisk or immersion blender.  ††

Pour coffee into a large mug; pour milk mixture in and stir.  Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.  This makes one really large serving, or two smallish ones.


* I used skim milk because that's what was in the house.  This would probably be richer (and better) (but less healthy) with whole milk.

** I used white sugar, but I bet it would be even better with brown.  I just didn't have any.

*** If you don't have dedicated "pie spice", make your own with tiny pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and ginger.

† Espresso would be even better.  1 or 2 shots, depending how much caffeine you need and how strong you like the coffee flavour.  I only have a French press, so I made do with that, and it tasted fine!

†† Or, walk upstairs to pack your bags for school, leaving your pot of milk to boil merrily and slosh onto the stove.  Instant froth!


To make the whole process even easier, try this!  I know I won't make enough of these lattes to go through an entire 15-oz can of pumpkin before it spoils in the fridge.  So I froze the remainder in an ice cube tray, then transferred them to a freezer bag.  One cube is exactly enough pumpkin for a latte, so you have instant perfect portions.  Just grab one from the freezer and throw in the pot with the milk; it will thaw and incorporate as the milk heats.  (If you're concerned, nuke the pumpkin for 15 seconds before combining.)  You could do this with fresh pumpkin purée too.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Poor Conrad

Conrad went to the vet yesterday, and now, in the words of some famous author whose name I can't recall, he is an ex-gentleman cat.  He also got a microchip implanted - useful for if he gets out, and required if I ever take him out of the States.

He took it pretty well, though he spent most of the evening looking like this on a chair:

Later he perked up a little and looked out the window, and now he is chasing his feathers-on-a-stick toy around the kitchen.  I think he's feeling better.

By the way, it's incredibly difficult to administer syrupy pain medicine in a syringe to an alert and unhappy cat.  I tried wrapping him in a towel, but that only made him mad.  Eventually I just dosed his food -- and since he's been acting like I've starved him for weeks, he scarfed down the medicine with no fuss.  We'll see how this evening's dose goes...

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Case of the Mondays

1. To begin with, I'm still sick.  We've proceeded to the sandpapered-throat, hoarse coughing stage, accompanied by a voice which has dropped at least a fifth and which is threatening to give out entirely.  I probably shouldn't have gone to school today, but I decided to muscle through and go anyway.  Which leads me to

2.  I locked my keys in the car.  Normally I'm extremely careful about that.  I collect my things, holding keys firmly in hand the whole time, and I check three times before I actually shut and lock the door.  Today, possibly due to 1), my mind was elsewhere.  As I pushed the door closed I saw the keys sitting on the seat, winking at me.

3.  AAA is really a great convenience.  I am glad I am a member.

4.  I wish I hadn't needed to find out how convenient they are today.

5.  Conrad went to the vet to get neutered today.  I'm going to have a sad little kitten after school.

6.  We will probably spend the rest of the day feeling miserable together.  I don't suppose having company will really help a lot.

7.  Owing to my illness over the weekend I have not done a lick of work on my major research project, for which I'm supposed to have an outline and 3 pages of prose by tomorrow morning.

8.  I have a feeling they're not going to get done tonight, either.

9.  Maybe the good professor will let me reschedule?

10.  At least I had a good homemade pumpkin spice latte this morning.  Recipe to follow.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Still Sick

This whatever-it-is feels like flu, only without a fever.  In pretty much every other respect it is the same, though.

Thanks to Nyquil I slept almost 16 hours last night, which probably helped.  I have spent most of the day lying in bed contemplating my various ailments, which is not very pleasant.  However I did not even have the energy to knit (which is how you know I'm really sick.)

Then a friend recommended a remedy.  It involves green tea, honey, lemon juice, salt, and a splash of strong liquor (I used rum) and she said "don't skimp on the salt and the rum!"  (They are supposed to kill bacteria.  It is the most vile-tasting concoction I have ever swallowed in my life, but it seems to have helped.  I sat up, watched True Grit, and took out my knitting.  (I stocked up on movies at the library this weekend, which turns out to have been a good thing!)

A strange lineup.  Suitable for a witch's brew producing vile, unspeakable concoctions.

I do not recommend this brew to anyone with a weak stomach or a strong gag reflex!  However it does seem effective.

I am hoping I am well enough to go to school tomorrow.  I've got lots to do this week!

Saturday, 12 November 2011


I've been fighting off a bug for more than a week, but today it finally got me.  It's time for boxes of tissues, doses of Nyquil, and a lot of hot tea and pineapple juice.

And bowls of chicken soup.  What a good thing I decided to make a big pot of it yesterday!

Now, if you'll excuse me while I tuck myself into bed and sneeze quietly to myself.  Conrad has made it clear that he will accompany me.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Autumn Leaves

A bright, blustery day.

A day of crisp sunshine in which it is impossible to be unhappy, and which dares you to go out of your way and crunch in the fallen leaves.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

I may be slightly insane

A friend posted this link a couple days ago:

In case you don't feel like following the link, it's a relay race.  A 196-mile relay race.  And I'm actually seriously considering signing up.

If you know me at all you know how ridiculous this is.  I've done a couple of 5-K races, but usually with reluctance and a great deal of mental swearing.  The last one I only did because my sister needed a running partner.

But this looks... well... fun.  The thing is, you're running with a team of 11 other runners, and the most anyone runs is 20 miles, broken up into 3 sections.  The website also has a detailed training schedule posted, which would help a lot.  And the next one in our area isn't until next November.  I'd have a whole year!

So, I've decided I'm going to work on the training schedule.  Even if I don't end up doing the race itself for some reason - scheduling issues, or not getting a team together - it gives me something to work towards and a definite goal.   Also - a nice side effect - it will help me get into better physical shape.  The race website recommends that every participant be able to keep up an 11-minute mile pace, so that's another goal.  I'm also going to try to do at least two 5-K races between now and then, and work towards running a consistent 11-minute mile pace throughout the race.

Towards that end, I went out running this evening.  I gave myself 20 minutes and managed 1.7 miles (according to, which works out to an 11:45 pace... not too bad!  Of course I don't think I could have gone another step, so we've still got a long way to go :-)

I won't belabour the point on this blog - it's not mainly about exercising - but I'll probably mention it every now and then.  I wanted to post about it initially as a motivation factor; if other people know about my goals, then I'm more likely to keep to them!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Butternut-Apple Soup

I bought a smallish butternut squash last week and then realised I had no idea what to do with it!  After an appeal to my facebook friends, I had lots of suggestions.  I decided to try soup, and since I had some cooking apples on hand, I threw one of those in as well.  Below is the recipe, more or less - I didn't measure anything so amounts are approximate.  This was warm and satisfying; the perfect Autumn food in my book!

Butternut-Apple Soup

makes about 4 servings

1/2 a medium-small butternut squash
1 large cooking apple
1 large onion
1 carrot
about 2 T. butter
cumin and curry powder - a sprinkle each
2 peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 quart water
2 cubes chicken bouillon

Cook onion in butter and salt until soft.  Peel and chop the apple, carrot, and squash.  (My squash was in about 1"-square pieces; the apple and carrot were roughly diced.)  Add to pot with the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil; keep at a low boil/vigourous simmer until all the veggies are soft.  Ladle out and put through a blender in batches until smooth.  Serve hot.  I added a splash of Tabasco sauce to my bowl, but it certainly isn't necessary.

It's such a pretty colour! 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mischief Managed

Finally, I have a post about the costume I've been hinting about!  I'm so glad to have this project finished, but I had a blast making it!  If we're friends on Facebook, you've likely seen a few of these pictures, but here are lots more plus all the construction details.  At some point I would love to do a "real" photoshoot of this dress; I think it deserves it.  For now though all I can manage are some mirror shots and a couple of self-portraits done with my camera's timer :-)

I've wanted to copy Bellatrix Lestrange's costume ever since the trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out.  But I never had an excuse to wear it, or I couldn't find a pattern, and with one thing and another it's been nearly five years since that first viewing.  But this fall the boys decided they were going to take me trick-or-treating (the first time I've ever been!) and I felt that my sewing skills were finally good enough that I could tackle this project.

A couple still shots of the inspiration costume.  I don't know why I'm always drawn to the bad guys when I'm copying costumes!  I guess they just get all the cool clothes.

This is the first garment I've ever made entirely without the help of a commercial pattern.  I draped the bodice and skirt on Coraline, my dress form, and the sleeves on my own arms.  (This is complicated.)  A single mock-up of each was enough to work out the kinks, and then I sewed it up.  The sleeves are attached to the bodice with lacing cord.  There's a section about 4 inches long which is sewn up, but the rest of the sleeve is laced.  They come to a point over the back of the hand and are held in place with a loop which goes around the middle finger.

I love the sleeves.  Also, my silver spoon ring, which is imitating a snake for the night.

Hand-stitched eyelets and a badly-exposed photograph.

I couldn't find any fabric that reproduced the movie cloth closely enough (black with silver spirals), so I bought plain black broadcloth with the intent to "print" it myself.  I bought fabric paint, glitter, and silver metallic embroidery thread also.  But in the end I used a metallic silver marker, not originally designed for fabric.  It gave me the finest line and the best control.  I added the spiral patterning after the dress was put together, since I didn't want to spend time carefully drawing on fabric which would just end up as scraps.  The patterning on the skirt ended up a little larger than that of the bodice and sleeves, and I sort of "faded out" about halfway down the skirt.  This is not "movie correct" but I think it looks good.  Also, I didn't bother hemming the skirt since in the film it looks ragged and worn.  I just bunched it up and roughly trimmed the edge.

Two different sizes of silver swirls.

The corset I drafted from my measurements.  I made a simple two-layer underbust corset, out of leftover black broadcloth and some reddish-pink cotton I had in my stash.  It's boned with plastic cable ties and laces up the back.  (That accounts for 16 of the hand-stitched eyelets.)  Then, I traced the shape of the base corset and cut out pieces of faux-leather vinyl in random shapes, trying to roughly reproduce the look of Bella's corset from the film.  I think the original is probably made of *only* leather, and much heavier, but since the flimsy leather/vinyl was all I had to work with, I felt the base corset was needed.

Bunched-up leather.  Sigh.

I stitched the "leather" pieces together using a quadrupled strand of heavy thread and a leather needle.  (Pro tip: don't run a leather needle through your fingertip.  It hurts much worse than a normal needle!)  I overlapped them just slightly and used a modified overcasting stitch, with an "x" thrown in every so often for stability.  Then I whip-stitched the leather outer to the fabric corset on the top and sides (but not the bottom, since they didn't quite line up.)  The leather ended up bunching and buckling a little as I wore it, but it's a minor enough problem that I don't care to do anything about it ;-)

Of course, to be Bellatrix you don't just need a black dress and a leather corset.  I had to try to copy the wild hair!  To do this, I plaited my hair into tiny braids - I think about 12 altogether.  My hair was slightly damp at the time, and I used a wet-set foaming lotion.   Then I coiled them up and pinned them to my head, slept on them, and wore them all the next day.  When they came out my hair was tightly crimped.  I fluffed it out a little and then backcombed the entire top of my head to give it some volume.  I still didn't end up with *quite* the crazy mop Helena Bonham Carter had, but I suspect her hair is naturally a little more textured than mine!  I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, anyway.  For makeup I used my normal powder foundation, thick eyeliner in a dusky blue, and shades of grey eyeshadow.  Then I applied black lipstick and blotted it partially away.  I wanted to paint my nails black also, and I toyed with the idea of drawing the "dark mark" on my forearm, but time got away from me.  (And anyway I'm not that good an artist!)

(Trying to take a photo of my hair and makeup - Conrad thought I was crazy.)

A snakey earring and some frizzy hair.

All in all, this was a whole lot of fun to make and to wear!  But next year?  I think I'm going to be Danielle from "Ever After" :-D

I fuzzed out the mundane living-room backdrop.  This is much more dramatic ;-P

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Fall 'Mums

A glory of bright chrysanthemums in the autumn sunlight.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Fall Break, part 2

Officially my Fall Break was two weeks ago, but this past weekend I took a trip to Knoxville to visit two of my very best friends.  It was so relaxing -- more so in fact than my "real" fall break, which was spent driving to South Carolina and back to see my brother's graduation.

I got to spend time with Zack and Shannon, who I hadn't seen since August.  (That's William, too.  He's the one with the lovely fur coat.)

We went to Six Flags and rode roller coasters.  Like this one.

(photo pulled from the web, not mine!)
We were giddy with cold and adrenaline, and I think we all felt about ten years old again.  Which is nice, every so often.

They fed me meals that looked like this.

Their backyard is full of sunshine and bright leaves, like an autumn fairyscape.

(But Zack is a little large to be an elf.)
Most of all, it was a joy to spend a couple days with people I'm so comfortable with, whose beliefs and ideals are the same as mine, and with whom I feel surrounded in love and friendship.  Zack and Shannon, thank you for the beautiful weekend!