New life on the farm

October 7, 2015 at 2:25 pm | Posted in blogging, country living, family, free knitting patterns, gardening, health, knitting, Lace Shawl Knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, shopping, travel, yarn | 5 Comments
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imageThis summer was a very busy season around our farm.  We are in the midst of converting our farmland from leased cash-crop acreage to pasture managed by us.  That might sound simple enough but it requires cutting, mowing, fencing, draining, digging, and budgeting, planning, etc. and not necessarily in that order.

We are hosting a small herd of Black Angus cattle and have so far fenced in 12 acres of land for grazing.  Over the next few years  we plan to expand the fenced in land to 40 acres and the herd to 40.

So, that has been exciting.  Now that we are no longer leasing the land, we are able to hike around, explore, and make use of it fully.  We take daily walks and hikes around the pasture and the perimeter of the fields.  There is a small wooded portion along the northern border and we have done a bit of exploring there as well.

We have set aside an acre for me to use for my Daylily and Flower Farm, a new venture I started this summer.  It is so fun to have a little piece of land to use for flowers.  In addition to growing and selling daylilies and cut-flower arrangements I plan to have a small gift shop where people can purchase my various artistic creations such as original oil and watercolor paintings, fine art photography, prints, notecards, handmade books, Thistleonians, grapevine wreaths, and more.

It will take some time to put this all together and in operation, but I have started by planting my first 48 Daylily plants.  It will be three years before I can start selling the daylilies, but hopefully I can get some other aspects of the business going while the daylilies are establishing themselves.

I have also made strawberry, strawberry/cranberry, wild raspberry, blueberry lime, peach, peach pie and apple pie preserves this year … many, many jars of preserves.  Oh, and pickles … my son and I canned lots and lots of pickles too.  My oh my, so much yumminess.

And of course, in the midst of all of these other activities there has been knitting and painting and the routine demands of housekeeping.

On the knitting front, I have some new knitting patterns that have been released this summer and into early fall.  They are all available on Ravelry in my pattern store, and some have been added to my Etsy shop.  (Oh, and by the way … my knitting patterns and eBooks are all Buy One Get One Free in my Ravelry pattern store through October 31, 2015 with coupon code:  GETREADY used at checkout.  Free pattern will be the one of equal or lesser value; put two patterns in your cart for the discount to show up.)  Here is what to look for:

Two Night Cowl

Two Night Cowl Knitting PatternThis pattern is available for free in my Ravelry store through the end of October 2015.  It is a close-fitting, twisted cowl may be knit in two evenings, thus the name “Two-Night Cowl”. The ribbed, twist-stitch faux cable stitch pattern creates a two-sided fabric that looks great on both sides.

You will need any bulky weight yarn (gauge of 3 stitches to the inch on size U.S. 10.5 needles) in two colors, a main color and then a contrasting accent color for the edges. Optionally, you might want to sew a nice big button on the cowl … I like the way it looks with a button detail.

Agua Dulce

imageAgua Dulce is Spanish for “fresh water” or “sweet water”. There is a place in California named Agua Dulce, not too far north of Los Angeles. There you find Vasquez Rocks, a place of wonderful rock formations full of fantasy and dreams. I picnicked there on a perfect spring day with my daughter and parents and have treasured memories of the place.

You will enjoy the relaxing knitting of this piece, as the soft yarns of various textures slip through your fingers. Knit on large needles on the diagonal in garter stitch accented with occasional mesh inserts, a series of increases and decreases gives this asymmetric triangular shawl a bit of a curve to facilitate drapey wrapping.  Find this knitting pattern by clicking –> here.

This wrap may be made larger or smaller, according to your preferences. It is knit diagonally and works up into an asymmetric, elongated triangle with crescent shaped wings.

Barrow

imageBarrow is one of my very latest patterns, and I am very excited about it.  It has become chilly enough here that I can finally wear my Barrow, and I love how wonderfully cozy and versatile it is.  It looks great with jeans or a skirt or dress, and it pairs well with sweaters, jackets, or a comfy old hoodie.  I wear mine when we go hiking around the pasture.  I collaborated with Dream in Color Yarn on this piece and on Nore (see below), using several of their deliciously beautiful colorways in the Smooshy with Cashmere fingering weight yarn.  The yarn is absolutely beautiful, has a lovely sheen, and is a complete pleasure to work with … and of course, their  yarn dying methods and colors create amazing works of fiber art.

This one is knit from the bottom up; the bottom crescent shaped section is knit from tip to tip in garter stitch with super easy short row ruffles, then stitches are picked up along the upper edge of that piece and the rest is knit from side to side, working upwards to create an oval shape on top of the lower crescent.  It is a really interesting design, knit entirely in garter stitch but with short row ruffles, shaping short rows and eyelets to give some great visual interest.

Nore

imageThis large rectangular shawl was made with more than 2,000 yards of Smooshy with Cashmere fingering weight yarn from Dream in Color.  It can be sized down easily (directions included in pattern).  The middle portion features an easy to memorize and easy to knit lace stitch pattern and then a border is added at the top and bottom edges in two colors with some great textures.  The result is an elegant yet rustic piece that looks as if it came right from the Irish countryside, which is fitting because the inspiration for this piece is the Irish river Nore.

Barrow and Nore are also available as an eBook.

 

Dream Silk Cowl

imageEarlier this year I came across a bulky weight 100% silk yarn. It is completely amazing to handle and knit with. When you knit your first few inches with it, you will know exactly what I mean. My daughter and I both feel in love with this luxurious, thick yarn and I know you will too.  (I am selling a very limited amount of this yarn in several colorways in my Etsy store. The pattern is free with any purchase of Dream Silk Bulky from my Etsy store. After yarn purchase, I will send the pattern to you free at Ravelry as a gift, so it will be in your Ravelry library.)

While you may of course use this pattern with any yarn that will give you the gauge listed here, try to find a yarn with great drape so that your cowl or wrap will drape appropriately. If you use a bulky stiff yarn without great drape, I am not sure what the results will be. I would suggest looking for a bamboo, or perhaps a heavy linen, or a cotton. The key word is: drape.

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The return of the rabbit

April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Posted in art, country living, family, food, Holidays, inspiration, knitting, Life, love, marriage, needle felting, recipes, shopping, women | 6 Comments
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Three springtime’s ago I did quite a lot of needle felting, during the last trimester of my daughter’s pregnancy and for a while after my granddaughter was born.  Needle felting at that time was a substitute creative release for me, because I was on hiatus from oil painting for a bit at the time.

I am a professional writer and fine artist by trade, but there are many crafts I have enjoyed over the course of my lifetime, beginning with learning to knit and crochet when I was a little kid.   I was recalling the other day how much my mother inspired me to be creative with various projects she did with my brothers, my sister, and me.  We made Christmas ornaments, Christmas stockings, holiday candles, many Easter Eggs, birthday favors, doll clothes, embroidery … you get the idea.

My mother was and is a very fine seamstress.  In fact, her work was so fine she was able to take in projects to sew for a local business called The Button Shop.  She sewed all of my sister’s and my dresses, even our winter coats.  Growing up on a farm in post-depression era North Carolina she learned to be both creative and frugal in sewing her own dresses as she grew up.  She passed those skills along to my sister and I when we were teenagers, and we both sewed quite a bit when we were younger–my sister much  more so than I did.

My mother had a wonderful sewing table that my father made for her.  It was quite large (from what I recall), with plenty of room to handle the fabric of large projects without a problem.  She still has the same Singer sewing machine she used throughout my childhood to sew so, so many dresses and other beautiful projects.

Though I loved all of the clothes she ever made for me, there was this one corduroy jumper I felt particularly delighted with.  The fabric was a fine wale corduroy in white with little red flowers printed on it.  Each flower had a little brown stem and a couple of tiny green leaves.  She made a puffy sleeve red shirt to go under the jumper and boy did I feel special wearing that pretty little outfit.

Another favorite was this thing called a grasshopper, a two-flap skirt with sewn on shorts underneath it.  That was pretty awesome and I remember feeling like a little rebel because I knew I was really wearing shorts, even though to the world I appeared to be wearing a skirt.

There was this other little seersucker two-piece top and shorts outfit she made for me when I was in first grade.  One of my most vivid, fun filled childhood memories is of the last day of school that year.  I was so excited because the last day of school would be a half-day which seemed totally wonderful and magical in my mind at the time.  I wanted the day to go as quickly as possible so I could reach the magical half-day point that much faster and be released back into the wild for summer vacation.  In order to speed things along I slept in my little seersucker outfit the night before.  I remember telling my mother that I was going to wear my clothes to bed so that I could just get up and run right out the door to head off to school.

What I remember most vividly about that last day of school was running free and light from our house to school in my wrinkled clothes (from sleeping in them the night before) with the sunshine on my face and arms making my skin pleasantly tight in the summer heat.  I heard someone’s Dad mowing a lawn somewhere along the way and smelled a wonderful freshly-cut lawn smell (which always smelled to me like watermelon).  It was a joyous run toward the magical half-day of school, on my road to a summer of liberty and freedom.  And, it all started with my perception of that little seersucker outfit as a summer delight.  Thank you, Mom. 🙂

The needle felted rabbit you see at the top of this posts is one of my latest needle felted designs.  He is about 7″ tall when sitting, but from the tip of his toes to the tip of his ears he is about 10″ tall.  I loved making a piece of needle felted fabric which I then designed and made his little jacket from.  He is a bit too delicate to give to a toddler, so for the time being he is going to live in my studio, watching over me while I paint watercolors and oils of swans, turtles, fishing herons, and other scenes I photographed along our river last summer.

I find myself looking over at him from time to time, smiling at my little buddy.

Now that he is finished, I will make several others of a similar design and technique — a family of rabbits — and photograph each step along the way so that I can write some very detailed instruction manuals.  Needle felting is so enjoyable as a craft and can be done very crudely or to very fine results, but no matter what level you take a project to, it will have an inherent beauty that all needle felted works seem to be naturally endowed with.  That is what I would like to pass along to my readers and friends, the joy of creating sculptures in needle felting. They needle felting courses will not be ready for this Easter and bunny season, because these things do take time. But they should be ready in pleny of time for you to get a head start and really learn what you are doing and get one or more bunnies ready for next year’s holiday.

Another creation I would like to share with you today is my altered version of a German Stollen.  Normally a Christmas bread, I decided to make my own version of Stollen to take to our Palm Sunday brunch at church last weekend.  It is a beautiful yeast bread that is worth the effort required to bring it to life.

Back in California I would buy a traditional Christmas Stollen at Trader’s Joe’s every Christmas for the kids and I to enjoy.   Of course, we don’t have Trader Joe’s anywhere near where I live now, so I had to resort to making my own this past Christmas.  I began with a recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking, but altered it to suit my own tastes and baking preferences.

First of all, I chose not to use candied fruits, called for in the recipe.  Instead, I used golden raisins, dried cranberries and chopped dried figs. The recipe also called for a lemon glaze but I basted my bread with melted butter before and right after baking, followed with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar.

The recipe makes two large, beautiful loaves … and now I would like to share the recipe with you in case you would like to make it this holiday weekend.

Firefly’s Altered Stollen

6 to 8 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
1/2 lb. golden raisin
1/2 lb. pecan pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped dried figs (optional)
1 1/2 cups butter (softened)
3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon rind (freshly grated or dried)
1/2 melted butter
2 cups powdered sugar

In a good sized bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1 1/2 cups of water; whisk until blended. Let stand 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup flour; whisk until mixed well. Cover and place in a warm place until foamy (about 1 hour). [This is called sponge, by the way.]

In a separate bowl, mix together raisins, pecans, cranberries and figs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over this mixture and toss so that all of the pieces are covered with flour.

In large mixing bowl, beat the 1 1/2 cups of softened butter until light and creamy. Add 3/4 cups sugar and continue beating then add the eggs, one at a time. Next, add the salt and grated lemon rind. After this is all mixed well, take the sponge you made earlier and add that into the mix and keep mixing. If you have a dough hook on your mixer, change to that at this point. If you don’t have a dough hook, you might want to change to mixing by hand sometime soon, when you think the load might be too much for your mixer. Anyway, start adding the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until you have a nice smooth dough that is elastic. It should not be sticky to the touch, but it does need to be soft so you don’t want to add too much flour.
The thing is with yeast bread (if you don’t already know this) you don’t add an exact amount of flour when you are mixing it.

You just add some of the total called for, a bit at a time, until you get to the right consistency and then you stop. That is why the recipe calls for “6 to 8 cups flour”. So, watch that you don’t make your dough stiff and dry, but also don’t leave it wet and sticky.

Now, cover the dough and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour so it can double in bulk.

After it is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and gradually knead the fruit, nut, and flour mixture into it. It will be hard to knead all of that stuff in, but just keep folding the dough over the fruit and nuts and kneading and kneading and after a while you will have it all mixed in pretty well. There will still be fruit and nut pieces sticking out all over the dough, but but is okay as long as it is mixed pretty evenly into the dough.

Divide your dough in half. Roll each half out to a rectangle that is about 10″ x 15″. Roll this up staring with the 10″ side. Place the rolled up bread onto a greased or non-stick cookie sheet and baste it with some of the melted butter — just enough to make sure there is melted butter on the entire surface, but don’t try to drench it. Repeat this process with the other half of your dough (on a separate cookie sheet).

Let the rolled up, basted dough rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Thump the bread with your finger before you take it out of the oven to make sure it makes a sort of a hollow sound (kind of like thumping a watermelon to see if it is ripe). If it doesn’t sound hollow, you should bake it a little bit longer.

When you take it out of the oven, baste it right away with more melted butter, again covering the entire surface.

You can use more than the 1/2 cup melted butter I specified in the recipe for the basting part if you want — it just depends on how rich you want to make it. I only make this at Christmas and Easter because it is pretty rich and I don’t like to feed rich food to my family very often.

After basting the loaf, sprinkle it generously with lots and lots of powdered sugar. It is okay if it is piled up real high.

Let the bread cool completely; I left mine stand overnight if I finish it late in the day or in the evening.

If you are not going to serve it right away, or if you have to take it somewhere, wrap it up very tightly with plastic wrap, pressing the powdered sugar down against the bread. When you are ready to serve it, you can sprinkle a little bit more powdered sugar on top to freshen it up.

Cut in 1/2″ slices to serve.

This bread is wonderful day old (or older) with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

I suppose this is the end of today’s post, I hope you have enjoyed it. If you haven’t checked in with my son’s Etsy shop lately, have a look and see what he has going on that is new. Many people have been loving his Typography Maps, you might enjoy them as well. And of course, he is always coming up with new subway signs and bus scroll prints.

Hope you have a beautiful holiday weekend!

Best,
~firefly

Soon

March 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, faith, family, inspiration, knitting, Life, photography, shopping, women | 6 Comments
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To my regular readers … I have been away for quite some time, as you have seen.  The year got off to a bit of a bumpy start, and then I needed to take some time off and clear my mind.  Wanted to be sure that as I move forward I do so with a clear vision of the path before me in mind, rather than just continuing to do what I was doing before out of assumption that I my course was still correct.  Refreshed, I am here for you today ready to rock and roll.

On with Today’s Blog …

On my Facebook page yesterday I shared a photo of the first day of spring on our farm; quite a lovely day.  It felt great to be walking around, feeling the warmth of sunshine on my back and shoulders, my face…hearing the voices of hundreds and hundreds of birds, the peeping of peepers…seeing the river out front glistening brightly under open sunshine with a beautiful flow of water easing its way along downstream.

During my nearly 3-month long break from blog writing, I have been exercising my creativity in a variety of ways.  Something I don’t have much time for at this point in my life is fiction writing, although that is the writing I move love to engage in.    It used to be that I had to be prepared to “catch” my fiction as it poured forth from my mind, otherwise it would dissolve into the ether.  Often I found myself concocting a story during the middle of the night as I lay awake in bed, needing to get some sleep.  The clarity of those thoughts, the exact wording that flowed out of me so eloquently were gone nearly as quickly as they appeared.

As I have attended to some non-writing, non-business matters over the past three months, I have had quite a lot of time to reflect on various things and what has happened is that one story out of a few I have been loosely thinking of over the past few years, began materializing.  The five central characters began to step forward in my mind and tell me more about themselves, their thoughts, and struggles.  The setting has taken shape, the plot line has formed itself up … and I am retaining it all even though I have written little of it down.

Over the course of the past ten years, my writing process has evolved into a routine of living life, thinking of whatever my current writing project is (for clients or for my blog), retaining the ideas in my mind then writing them down later when I can I get some quiet time to myself.  The discipline of writing that way over a period of years has now segued into the process I now discover I can use to write my fiction stories.  This wonderful new thing of not losing the ideas that have formed so clearly in my mind is very liberating.  It will still take time to do the business of writing the entire story in typewritten words as opposed to thoughts of words, but I feel a deep a great sense of creative satisfaction at the development of this story in my mind.

I have also been needle felting, and this little fellow is one result of that creativity.  He is a pretty goofy looking rabbit, but sweet and someone I know who has tiny hands enjoys playing with him very much.  A number of readers over time have asked if I will publish and sell instructions for making needle felting items and I have decided I would like to do that (in addition to publishing more knitting patterns).  I am finishing up one more bunny rabbit and when he is finished I will start preparing written instructions for needle felting in general, then get into the specifics of how to make the characters I have designed.

I am also working on a series of paintings (some watercolor, some oil) depicting various scenes and settings along our river; currently I am working on swans but I have some beautiful photos I have shot of turtles sunbathing on fallen logs, heron about to pounce into the water while fishing, and other lovely river scenes I plan to paint.  As the paintings are finished, I will share them here with you.

My son continues to create his beautiful prints, maps, and photography.  He and my husband and I have made plans for some prints and maps related to New York history, and as we get those items ready for the public I will let you know.

In closing for today, I will share a few more photos reflecting some of what I have done and seen over the past few months.

See you here again soon.

Warmly,

~firefly

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