Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool, the Attack of the Dirty Towel Girls, and a Recipe, Too

A wonderful thing happens when women gather around the crafting table.  Conversation, laughter, and creativity make for a convivial afternoon.  Burdens grow lighter, moods grow happier, and everyone  leaves the gathering with renewed energy and purpose.  I was blessed to have the opportunity to participate in four solid days of such warm and wonderful crafty community at the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York.

While we had one rainy day, the remainder of the show was postcard perfect.  This Florida girl misses changing seasons, so it was a thrill to see the leaves!!!

These wonderful ladies refused to let a torrential downpour dampen their creative spirits!
The schedule was arduous...but the women were AMAZING.  We played with hand dyed wool and soapy water to create lovely felted soaps, bohemian chic felted hoop earrings, and nuno felted scarves and shawls worthy of a runway!

My pal, Monica Durazo flew in from Tucson to assist with the classes. We met in Tucson during the Gem Show several years ago.  I hired her to do a felting demonstration at my booth at To Bead True Blue because I was anxious to add Fibers to our product line.  I quickly became a fan of Monica AND felt making!  We make a great team and often teach together.  Her assistance is invaluable when navigating a large classroom with twenty students each at her own table, but there is an added bonus for the workshop participants.  Felting is a very organic, individual pursuit. The rules are somewhat fluid and there are many opportunities for experimentation.  Monica and I have very different styles and techniques, which we both share freely, so students enjoy the benefit of having two different points of view, which is always good. 

Nina Birnbaum's use of color and texture was amazing!
One of the highlights of the workshops was the ability to use spectacular Swarovski Crystal Elements in every creation!  Swarovski sponsored my workshops and the ladies were delighted to have the opportunity to bling their creations!  While many chose sew on stones to embellish their pieces, others were happier to simply iron on the glitz. I have to say, as a former embroidery snob, I have definitely learned to appreciate the ease of Hot Fix Swarovski Crystal!

The hardest part?  Choosing what sparkle to use!!!  The ladies had quite a palette from which to select: Swarovski Crystal Sequins, Chessboard Stones, De Arte Sew Ons and more.  It was a veritable treasure trove of Sparkly Crystal Goodness!

So many Crystals, So little time! 

 My favorite part?  Watching the gals step "outside of the box" to try colors that might be a bit bolder than their norm, to add crystal to a garment that they would previously have considered functional rather than ornamental,  to LET GO and push beyond their comfort level!!!  It takes courage to step outside of ourselves and these ladies had it GOING ON!

Check out the organic flow of Monica's masterpiece!

I wanted to steal Alice's creation for my was FABULOUS!
Jan uses Swarovski Crystal to sparkle to her dramatic fringed scarf.
Barbara Giguere's use of color was an inspiration but it was her ribbon embroidery that made this scarf really come to life.  The photo does not do it justice.  Check out the killer Bakelite buttons on her sweater. 

It was a thrill to see the ladies modeling their nuno felted scarves!
The nuno felting definitely created a visual BUZZ when the gals walked the fairgrounds, but there was other felting magic happening as well.  The fiber hoop earring class was a great opportunity to learn how to felt over a hard form, which left the gals with skills that would extend well beyond a pair of earrings!  It is the same technique that I use to felt lamp bases and candlesticks!  After all, Felt is a spectacular medium for home decor.  It was fun to hear the ladies in my Felted Soap class talking about all of the holiday presents they were going to make when they went home.  It is a good thing, because I sent each of them home with plenty of fiber, Swarovski Crystal and soap!
Cindy Perry shows off the soap she made in class.  I wish I had a picture of the beautiful shawl that she made the following day!
Felted Soaps with Swarovski Crystal make AWESOME hostess gifts!

Jane used drama in both her flowers and her scarf!

While the event was a resounding success, it wasn't without a touch of drama!  Monica and I decided to do some felt making in the hotel room but had forgotten to pack extra towels for the job.  I use Acid Dyes which will only stick to protein fibers such as wool and silk, so I decided to use the hotel towels.  They were 100% cotton and I knew that they would wash clean.  We were busy little bees buzzing around the hotel room at 2:00 in the morning making felt and reconnecting.  It was great!  Until it wasn't.

See, I forgot about the formerly white hotel towels that were now sporting shades of pink, purple and yellow.  The ones that I left on the floor of the hotel bathroom. The ones that caused the housekeeper great anxiety and forced her to alert hotel management.  RUH ROH!

 Imagine my surprise when the director of the show appeared at my workshop tent to discuss the "Towel Incident."   My room was stripped of linens and the hotel management was in an uproar.  YIKES!  I was the bad girl!!!!   I am NEVER the bad girl!!!! 

My first time at Rhinebeck and now Monica and I were known as "The Dirty Towel Girls."  Sigh.

Monica and I turned the hotel room into a studio!
 I offered to pay for any damage and promised that I would take care of it.  The workshop participants knew that something was going on, so I had to confess.  They all thought it was a hoot and there were lots of giggles as we imagined how we would negotiate the remainder of the trip without sheets or towels.  Happily, by the time we returned to the hotel, the towels had been washed, the dye DID NOT stain, and we were allowed to have linens once again.  The manager even provided extra towels for that night's In Room Felting Extravaganza.  WHEW!  The Crisis was averted, but I fear that I will forever be known as The Dirty Towel Girl.  It could be worse, I suppose!

I got back from New York late Monday night and am leaving for the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival in less than 24 hours.  I cannot wait ... I will be teaching three workshops and am lucky to have Swarovski sponsoring those as well.  The students are in for a sparkly treat!

Time is tight as I try to re-organize and re-pack for this trip.  Hubby is feeling a tad neglected and I want to make sure that he gets a nice home cooked meal before I leave again.  One of my Go To recipes when I have too much to do but want to create a meal that looks like I spent a whole lot of time in the kitchen is Shrimp Pasta. 

8 ounces of pasta
One pound of shrimp, cleaned and deveined
½ cup of olive oil
8 cloves of garlic, chopped (don’t be scared by the amount of garlic…it works!)
2 or 3 dashes of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup of white wine (I sometimes substitute sherry, or use a bit of each)
2 cups of heavy cream (I use whipping cream)
Tomato sauce (about a half a cup…..I eyeball this one)
Optional:  crab meat (canned is fine), red pepper flakes (if you like a little fire)
Cook the pasta until ALMOST al dente.  Drain.  Lightly saute the garlic in olive oil in large sauce pan.  Do not brown the garlic.  Add wine, soy sauce, heavy cream, salt, pepper, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if using.  I generally like the soft to be a soft pink, not a full on tomato red.  Stir.  Add the shrimp (and crab if you have it) and the linguine.  Stir gently and cook over medium high heat until shrimp are done and the pasta is cooked.  Serve at once.  The sauce can be a little runny, but don’t worry…it sets up beautifully.  A ridged pasta noodle works great because it “grabs” the sauce.  YUM!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Story Book Kitchen with a Side of Goat Poop

Oh, Boy.   I might have overdone it a bit this time around....I mean, I have always been one to fill my days to the point of bursting, but I usually juggle it pretty well.  Not so this go round, which has had me firmly entrenched between Chaos and Mayhem for months. You know how it are buzzing along, pretty much on cruise control and then BAZAAM!  One sucker punch right to the kisser and your carefully  planned life slides out of control.    The Chaos was Happy Stuff and the Mayhem was primarily Animal Stuff, with a wee bit of Family Drama thrown in for fun....Mostly it was all good, but it has been very busy as I have learned to navigate new challenges and life cycles.

First,  I had an opportunity to add a third goat to my urban farm.  I was a bit nervous about it since the Barn Yard Neighbor Hate Letter Incident, but I hadn't heard another complaint and I really, really, REALLY wanted a Goat that was "in milk."    Heidi-esque visions of  fresh milk and homemade cheese intoxicated me.  Hell, I might even learn to yodel!  I brushed off remaining trepidations about how I would fit "goat milking" into my busy life. Dolly is an angel...easy to milk and very affectionate.  She is milked twice a day, which is manageable, kinda sorta.  It has definitely taken more time than I had imagined, so schedules needed to shifted and expectations adjusted. There was a very real learning curve.  Truth be told, I spend a lot of time scraping goat poop off my shoes,  the 7 p.m. milking is occasionally done in my "going out" clothes,  and my back yard plants have been decimated by the girls, but I wouldn't change a thing!   

Unfortunately, goat pooped shoes are incompatible with a white tile kitchen.  Similarly, dogs who run through the  kitchen after a short swim followed by a quick roll in the dirt are equally incompatible with white tile floors. I have four large dogs, and usually a foster Rescue pup or two thrown into the mix.  This summer I also had Atlas, my son's energetic young Boxer.  Are you counting? 

7 dogs running in and out all day.  White Tile.  You get the drift.  So, after months of grumbling and mopping  I decided to take matters into my own hands, literally.   I laid a mosaic floor over the white tile in my kitchen and back porch.  I painted the worn cypress kitchen cabinets a happy green and had new tile installed on the counter tops.  The space now looks like an illustration from a vintage story book that has come to life.  It is probably too much color for most folks, but I love it.  Best part---I only have to mop three times a week instead of seven!  

The entire project took about six weeks and the visual pollution wrought by construction carnage damn near killed me.  The effort was huge, and I still have black grout under my nails, but the results make me smile every day.

I had the tile under control, and was developing a nice rhythm relative to animal care......until a friend turned me on to the Raw Meat Diet for dogs.  I was complaining about the dull, flat, itchy coat on Poppy.  Poppy is my latest foster dog turned adopted dog...a weird little guy, but I love him.  He has a high pitched  bark that is annoying beyond belief, he eats pillows, socks and Other Important Things with impunity, and he looks like a tootsie roll with legs. 

He has a neurotic, effeminate, showy personality and should more properly be named Liberace, but I really get a kick out of him.  Anywhoooo.... Poppy, a lab/whippet mix, has skin allergies and was sporting a number of bald spots.  My friend urged me to switch to the diet she was feeding her dogs:  raw chicken necks, raw chicken backs, rice, and hard boiled eggs.  She  promised shiny coats, clean teeth, healthy weight, and---best of all--- smaller poop.  Smaller Poop????  I have lots of big dogs so the thought of smaller poop was almost as intoxicating as the thought of fresh goat cheese!  Hmmmmm....How much trouble could it be???

A whole hell of a lot, at first!  Fortunately, I muscled through it until I got it  it down to a manageable routine...spending about two hours a week traveling to the meat packing place and another hour or so cutting up dead chicken parts.  A rice cooker makes rice production Easy Peasy and with twenty five chickens, the eggs are no trouble, either.  I have two shelves in the freezer  filled with dog food, and my refrigerator...well, that is another story!

My pups have lost  weight they needed to lose, Poppy has a bright, shiny coat, and ....[drum roll, here]....the poops are indeed smaller.  There is no tarter on any teeth and best is less expensive than the food I had been feeding them previously.

Once again, I have a positive outcome accompanied by extra demands on my time...but who has the time?  In between all of the above silliness, I had more company over the last three months than I have had in the last thirty years combined, as well as out of town celebrations and commiserations.  Throw in menopause and business deadlines.  It has been one whirlwind  after another forcing me to think long and hard about making some changes to simplify my life.  I contemplated ending my time as a Foster mom to little dogs in need of rescue.  I  briefly pondered getting rid of the goats.  I considered---for a nano second or two--- a hiatus from my weekly fiber group.  I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the crazy life I had created when my out of town teaching gigs heat up over the next few months.  The nagging doubts have turned into a clamor and I have been more than a little overwhelmed.  

What to do?  what to do?

I recently returned from a business trip and as I endeavored to restore order to my house and to my life,  the answer became clear.  I enjoy the whacky world I have created.  It can be stressful and overwhelming, but it is joyous and happy, as well.   I found my center again as I went about my business...filling feed buckets and mucking stalls, cutting chicken backs, and rubbing dog bellies....watching newly hatched chicks learn the way of the world and trying yet again to wean not so baby goats off the bottle.  I love it.  I gotta have it.  It gives me peace. 

Yup, it really is THAT orange!
Happy Sigh.

I think that I am simply going to do what I always do when things get out of control:  Slow down if I can, pray for more patience, and enjoy the rhythm of the chaos.  Laugh a lot and cry a little.  Bend when I need to bend and stand tough when I need to do so.  Oh, and try to remember NOT to go for a dramatic hair change when I am a hormonal mess. that's what I've been up to. 

It's all good....I am even contemplating adding a fiber goat to the barnyard...or maybe some purple highlights on my next trip to the salon! 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Barnyard Neighbor, Poppy Socks, and a Killer Salsa Recipe

Chillin' with Poppy and Cooper
Sometimes I stitch on fiber, other times I stitch with beads.  However, the most important stitching that I do is relative to the fabric of my unexpected giggle with my daughter, a shared moment with my husband, a bit of inane silliness with my dogs, or a chance encounter with the neighbors.  I haven't gotten much creative stitching done in the last week because it has been filled with those Life Stitches....and I have the bruises and the warm fuzzies to prove it.

Last Tuesday I was going through the mail and found a note from a neighbor.  It was mean spirited, awful and --worst of all---anonymous.

OMG!!!!  "Neighbors for Peace & Quiet"?????    WTF?????   Really?
It was a Gut Punch.  I probably don't need to describe the feeling that immediately came over me.  Talk about Harshing my Mellow!  The sun stopped shining, the rooster seemed to crow even louder, and every single neighbor became a suspect...who could have written such a hateful note?

Was the whole neighborhood really against me?   We don't have a homeowners association or deed restrictions.  Was I truly an inconsiderate Barnyard Neighbor?   I didn't think so...after all, I asked permission from my immediate neighbors before embarking on my animal husbandry adventures. Sure, my rooster crows.  I cannot hear him if I am inside my house so I am pretty certain that none of neighbors can hear him from inside their homes, either.   My dogs are always by my side and I have a fully fenced in yard.  They run up to the fence and bark at passersby, but they stop when directed to do so.   Ugh.   I like to live in a state of grace...happy with my life and at peace with those around me.  I felt as though I had been pushed from that place and I was riddled with anxiety.  Yuck...the angst was awful.

Sharing my picnic with my pals
I obsessed about it to an embarrassing degree for the next several hours, finally calming down enough to pray for a bit for guidance.  It is funny....I notice that when I am at my most emotional, my brain is at its least functional.  Does it work like that for you?

...but I digress....

The rules regarding animals in the area in which I live are somewhat gray, or at least enforcement is relatively lenient.  Six families on my street have chickens!  Most have at least one dog. Admittedly, I am the only one with goats, but what the heck...they are really cute, my husband lets them in the house more often than I do, and I love 'em!  They are family, for goodness sake!

So....I wrote a little note of my own.  It came from my heart and was certainly not anonymous. I hand delivered copies of both notes to every neighbor who could possibly have an interest in what happens on my little speck of dirt.
The  BarnYard Neighbor responds.....

I armed myself with fresh Bribery Eggs, put on some lipstick, and made my way around the 'hood.  I delivered 40 notes in all and then poured myself a big ol' glass of Merlot.  I was kind of nervous... I lead a rather hermetic lifestyle.  My husband and I stick to ourselves. We are more the "smile and wave" kind of neighbors than the "let's organize a block party" kind of neighbors.   It could go either way.  I drank another glass of wine and decided to Let Go and Let God.   It didn't take long for the responses to start pouring in....

People that I have never talked to picked up the phone to offer support.  Some proffered opinions on the identity of the mystery writer, while others shared neighbor horror stories of their own.  One lady told me that the rooster makes her smile every day, reminding her of her youth on a farm.  Another neighbor offered to take up a petition, while yet another did some quick legal research to bolster my position.  I even heard from one of the guys who had made my suspect "short list."  [True Confession:  It was a humbling phone call because my suspicions were so misplaced.]  He told me that while he "didn't have a dog in this fight," he did not like that an "anonymous coward lied about speaking for the whole neighborhood."  He thought it "only neighborly" to tell me that he didn't "give a darn" what I did on my property.  Call after call, email after email....all offered support and encouragement.  The local Neighborhood Watch guy even conducted his own informal investigation to see if I was, indeed, a neighborhood menace.  He assured me that his interviews revealed that HE was the only one who had a problem with the rooster, although he promised me that he was not the author of the note.  He admitted that he only heard the rooster when he was outside in his yard.  I mentioned that I thought his overzealous use of lawn equipment might label him a serial leaf blower.  He  laughed and backed off.  In an over abundance of caution, I delivered fresh eggs to his house this morning and will do so weekly hereafter, with fingers crossed for continued harmony.

So there you have it.
Oh!  ...and I think I know the identity of the fellow who penned the note.  Oddly, he was never on my suspect list at all.   Nonetheless, I received some eyewitness information from three different sources, all pointing in his direction.  Moreover, several other neighbors have received anonymous notes that spew hatred....a boat in the yard, a barking dog, an RV sitting in a driveway....each has been enough to earn a hate letter.   While the guy appears quiet and unassuming,  he yelled at one neighbor for her barking dogs and even went so far as to say that she "belonged on a farm."

Hmmm...I am no Sherlock Holmes, but.....She belongs on a farm?  I am a barn yard neighbor?  The agricultural references kind of point in his direction, but I will never know for sure.  I have never seen him smile and he has never returned my wave.  I have always felt a bit sorry for his wife, who seems nice enough, but now I feel sorry for him, too.  I cannot imagine living  with a heart so full of anger and I pray that  he finds his way.  Life is much happier with a peaceful heart.....  

...and chickens.

...and dogs.

...and goats.

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  It was great to realize that my neighborhood really IS the Nirvana that I thought it incredible oasis of Old Florida independence in a sea of concrete and busybody homeowners associations.  The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and the rooster is crowing.  All is well in my world...for the moment!

Poppy Socks?!!

My husband and I were in Atlanta last week-end and while he was getting dressed I heard him say

"Dammit!  I hate Poppy Socks."  

HUH?  It took me a second to clue in....

THIS is Poppy:

THESE are Poppy Socks.

Oops...Sorry, Honey!

 and SALSA, too!

Summer is coming and in our house that means that there is always fresh Salsa in the refrigerator.  This is a tried and true recipe that is easy, delicious and addictive!

Fresh Salsa

6 large tomatoes
2 avocados
1 red onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 large red, green, or orange pepper
3 sprigs of cilantro
3 basil leaves
ground pepper, sea salt
several tablespoons of lime juice (to taste)
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
jalapeno pepper (optional...very spicy)

Throw everything into the food processor and coarsely chop.  Chill before serving.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Color Drunk Kitchen, Crochet Obsession, and a Killer Peanut Butter Cookie!

Sitting area in my kitchen
I have a love/hate relationship with my kitchen.  I live in a 1952 ranch style home.  Nothing particularly lovely about the structure.  We bought the house for the amazing property upon which it is nestled...a veritable Old Florida oasis.   I have learned to love my home but it sure didn't start out that way.  The architecture is awkward....clearly designed before Feng Shui was introduced into popular vernacular.  Awkwardly placed entry ways dogged my efforts at furniture placement.  Poorly situated windows limited choices...there is only one spot to place the TV, the couch, the bed, and so on, and so on.  Fortunately, over the years I have been largely able to beat it into submission. 

...except for the kitchen. 

The kitchen was a nightmare!  Truly, it was a dark and unpleasant hovel of a room....the brown cypress wood cabinets and cypress wood walls made me claustrophobic.  The white tile counter tops and white tile floor were stark and lacking in character.  Living with the kitchen "as is" was  difficult for Color Lovin' me, and plans were eventually made for an Elaborate Remodel.

....and then the Tech Industry collapsed and our finances followed suit.

Plans for the Elaborate Remodel were immediately scuttled.  I painted the walls yellow  and life went on.  Yellow became Green and the contrast with the white tile actually worked.     In fact, when finances improved and there was again talk of a remodel, I realized that I didn't want another kitchen... My kitchen was just dandy, thank you very much!

Beamer and Hubby
....and then I got my first black lab, Beamer.

Dumb name, long story, but a heck of a great dog.  Beamer likes to swim.  We have a lake in our back yard so there is ample opportunity to swim.  Beamer has taught my other three dogs to appreciate the benefits of a daily recreational swim.    Yes, indeed, they  swim all of the least when they are not digging holes or eating furniture.   I have white tile in the kitchen, in the laundry room and on my back porch.  A sea of white tile and four muddy dogs.  Need I say more?

My hobby for the last year and a half has been mopping my white tile floor.  I do it at least once a day, usually twice.    Keeping the dogs out of the lake is an exercise in futility, so I mop...again...and again...and again!  Most of the time I do it with a smile because I really  like my little kitchen now.  My dark cypress cabinets are wonderful against the green walls and bright white counter tops.  It is warm,  colorful, and cozy. 

Broken tile is an EYESORE!
...and then my counter tile started to chip off..

 I can deal with relentless mopping, but I CANNOT deal with gaping holes and exposed plywood.  What to do?  What to do?

Game Room Floor
I have decided to mosaic the floor using yellow, red and green tiles.    I did something similar in a game room and it withstood messy teenagers for years.  The busy bursts of color will definitely hide muddy paw prints better than the white.   I looked for counter tops that would complement such a floor but kept coming back to tile.  I know it is not fashionable or trendy, but I love my tile counter!  I can cut on it, put hot pots and pans on it, and pretty much abuse it.   Accordingly, I picked out a pretty red to complement the floor.    

Although I am excited to get started, I do have some trepidation.  I tiled the game room floor twelve years ago.  My back and hands hurt at 38...I can only imagine how it will feel at 50!  I figure that I will be popping Tylenol and working fewer hours each day.  The project may drag on for the entire month of April, but I am only going to do what I can reasonably do.

This will be the color of my cabinets
Too Much Color?
The really scary kitchen is still dark and getting rid of the white tile will make it even darker.  The only thing that I can think to do in an effort to achieve some balance is to lighten the dark wood cabinets that I have grown to love.  My pretty natural cypress cabinets are scheduled to get a coat of Ochre paint before they are lightly distressed to allow some wood to peak through.  I am usually fearless regarding color but this endeavor has me more than a little bit nervous.  Is there such a thing as too much color?

What the hell..I am gonna JUMP!  Wish me luck....

Kinda sad, but functional
Early in December I picked up a great brass floor lamp at a garage sale for only three bucks.  As referenced above, my house is REALLY dark and I am always on the prowl for interesting lighting.  This particular lamp was definitely NOT interesting, but it was cheap.  I kept it in the studio while I noodled around a reincarnation.  Finally, I felted a lampshade and added lots of felted flowers and Swarovski Crystal sew on  and hot fix stones.  Life got busy and I ignored the project until inspiration struck again last week.  I went into a crochet frenzy and finished it off... and I am tickled with the results.  I had to do a fair amount of problem solving along the way and my next project, a chandelier for the dining room table, will be a bit better finessed, but I was pleased.  The folk arty lamp is a nice addition to my color drunk kitchen, don't you think?

In the Kitchen:

My kids will be coming home soon and in my house, that means PEANUT BUTTER SNICKERS COOKIES!  This no flour recipe is always a hit:

Peanut Butter Snickers Cookies
  • 2 cups peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Bite Sized Snickers candy
  • Small bowl of white sugar.
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat together peanut butter and sugar until combined well. In a small bowl lightly beat egg and beat into peanut butter mixture with baking soda until combined well.
Wrap dough totally around a bite sized Snickers bar and then roll the ball in sugar. M’mmm M’mmm….it’s gonna be good!

Place the little balls of goodness 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until puffed and pale golden, about 10 minutes.

WARNING:  These cookies are totally addictive.  Your friends and family will think you are amazing but your jeans might get a little tight.  Not that I know anything about that sort of thing.....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Workshops, Goat Envy, and the Shrimp Curry that saved my marriage.

Life has been busy, busy, busy on my little speck of dirt.   Lots of workshops, the construction of a goat house, another foster puppy come and gone. One of the highlights was my first Folk Art Pet Pillow workshop. I knew that the two day workshop would be very intense so I limited it to two students. Lucky me... I spent the week-end with Anne Shapazian and  Pam Beauchesne, and we had a blast!

Pam is a fairly experienced felter, but Anne had never felted before.  Fortunately, she is a creative and crafty gal who quickly came up to speed.  I am amazed by their projects!  Pam's pillow top features her Springer Spaniel, Lucy.  I dyed up some goat curls to get the curly texture that Lucy  required and Pam took some artistic license to fashion a Swarovski Crystal collar and a fuchsia 3D flower that POPS off the surface.  Adorable!

Anne's pup, Bunker, presented even more of a challenge.  His monochromatic coloring forced Anne to pay special attention to shading and detail in order to make his image truly lifelike.  Fortunately, goat curls make Bunker's crazy curly coat come alive, don't you think?

One of the benefits of hosting a small and intimate workshop is that I get to play along!  I haven't made as much progress as Pam and Anne, but I hope to have my Bella pillow finished in the next few weeks.

We were all exhausted and exhilarated by the end of the week-end.  If you are interested in creating your own heirloom pillow, I have another workshop scheduled for June 16 and 17.

In Other News

I have been suffering from Goat Envy for years.   Seriously.  I started to research dairy goats about three years ago, although my husband was steadfast in his opposition, joking that one Old Goat was enough for the family.  [ Hmmm...I always assumed that he was referring to himself, but....could he have meant ME?] During my youngest child's senior year I became the typical weepy mom....every little event came with the recognition that this was a "last of" occasion.  I was a mess....the empty nest that loomed closer and closer had me riddled with anxiety.   During a moment of weakness, my husband promised that I could get goats once Rachel left for college.  I bid her a tearful adieu and immediately put a deposit down on some Nubian Dairy Goats from Kristian Said, a local breeder whose award winning goats are shipped all over the country.  I was one of many in line for two does and since Kristian could not predict how soon I might be a goat mom, I put the matter on the back burner and forgot about it.

....until two weeks ago, when we got word that my girls had arrived and were and ready to go home.  Gulp.  I had two weeks week to build a goat house!  Unfortunately, there were no spare minutes available in Week One, so I put the project aside until Week Two.  The following  Monday was focused on connecting with contractors and soliciting estimates, all of which proved way beyond my budget.  By Tuesday afternoon I was starting to panic and regaled the gals at the Fiber Guild Meeting with my tale of woe.  These gals are kind and strong, generous and inventive, so I was not surprised when they offered to know, like an old fashioned "barn raising."  They were genuine and sincere and it touched my heart. 

Sweet as they were to offer, I had to decline.  This was crunch time...the goats were coming so this goat house needed this to happen within the next three days! Fortunately, the hours spent crocheting quieted my panic and I started to noodle around some alternatives.  My limited budget could work if I played contractor's assistant, so I found a contractor willing to work by the hour.  I cancelled all other plans for the week, and got busy: digging/sawing/hammering/sweating/and swearing.   My back hurts and every nail is broken, but the mission was accomplished!   Stella and Ruby came home on Sunday afternoon to a clean, dry, and secure shed.

They are as cute as can be...much more like dogs than I would ever have imagined.  They follow me around the yard, hopping and skipping and twirling as they perform a little goat acrobatic routine.  Their current favorite activity is to climb up and down and over the picnic table in the back yard.  They are fascinated by the chickens and the hens seem to be equally enamored.  In fact, I have already found a few eggs in the goat's sleeping area.

The biggest surprise has been how much like human babies they are...from the bottle feeding to the desire to have constant companionship.  Stella (brown one) is one month old and is already independent and adventurous.  Ruby, two months old, is the baby.  She screams (yes, it really is a scream!) when I leave her pen. It takes her some time to settle down when I leave and  I am like the nervous parent of a 5 year old on the first day of kindergarten.  I peek around the corners to make sure that she is really OK before I head back to the studio.  I sneak a look whenever I can do so without alerting her to my presence, because once she sees me, the drama will start again.

Ruby, the Drama Queen
John and I make it a habit to share a cocktail out in the backyard at the end of the day.  The dogs frolic in the lake and we re-connect after having been apart for the preceding hours.  It is one of my favorite parts of the day and it has gotten even funnier as the goats dance in the mix.  What a joyful addition they are to my household!

Stella has no fear.

...and the Shrimp Curry Recipe that Saved my Marriage.

My husband is a swell guy and he tolerates my nucking futz tendencies fairly well, as I do his.  One of the things that I have learned over the years is that he cares not a whit how much I choose to put on my Plate of Life, provided that I always make time for him AND cook him good dinners.  Seems fair enough and I can usually pull both off with relative ease, but the week of goat house construction was a bitch.  Late one afternoon I realized that I hadn't even thought of dinner and it was well past dinner time.  UH OH.

I mentally went through my list of quick and easy dinners and was missing ingredients for most, until I remembered Jean Upton's Shrimp Curry Recipe.   It is crazy simple and tastes like you put some effort into it...I served it over white rice with some steamed asparagus.  WINNER.  It took minutes to prepare and got complements from the Husband.

Curry Shrimp
by Jean Upton on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 8:26am
1/4 c. onion (I used 1/2)
1clove garlic 
2 T. fresh cilantro (I used dried)
1/2 T. olive oil
1 lb. uncooked shrimp
1 T. curry powder (I used more...)
1/3 c. nonfat Greek yogurt  (I didn't have any so I used Sour Cream and a splash of cream, and doubled it)
Salt and Pepper

1. Prepare ingredients: chop onion and cilantro and press garlic. Set each aside individually.
2. Sautee garlic and onions in olive oil over medium heat until tender. Season width salt and pepper.
3. Add shrimp and curry powder. Cook shrimp until pink.
Season again with salt and pepper.
4. Remove from heat stir in yogurt and cilantro and serve.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Free Felted Purse Tutorial

Felted Purse with Sunflower Pin.
Felted purses are quick and easy...almost instant gratification!  They  require ZERO savvy with a sewing machine and are virtually failure proof.  Accordingly, it was the perfect project for the Newbie Felters that gathered at our last Fiber Guild meeting.
The ladies in attendance shared the felting tables and worked out a synchronized rolling routine that had us all laughing....particularly when the shortest amongst us looked down and noticed that her ample chest was water soaked from the endeavor.    It seems that she had colored her hair that day and it was a "radical-for-her" look that had her husband teasing her about looking younger. Her plan was to go home and tell him that she had entered a wet T-Shirt contest.  You go, girl!
Hmmmm...who had the wet T-Shirt?  I'll never tell!
The evening was filled with fun, silliness, food, and a wee bit of wine.  The ladies were so pleased with their crafty creations that I thought I would share the tutorial with you! 

Basic Felted Purse Tutorial:
Materials List:
Bath Towel
Wool Roving/Wool Top  (I used Merino bits and pieces that I had laying around the studio)
Silk Top for embellishment
Bubble Wrap/Felting Mat (I used a piece of Pool Solar Cover that I cut to size)
Pool Noodle (Yup...a pool noodle.  I cut mine in half.)
Piece of Netting (I buy Toile by the bolt from JoAnne's using my 40% off coupon)
Plastic bag (a gallon size zip lock baggie will do the trick)
Olive Oil Soap Solution (I cut up a bar of Kiss My Face Olive Oil Soap,  put it into a jug, pour 1/2 gallon of boiling water into the jug and shake.  Voila!) 
An empty plastic bottle (I use a vintage glass bottle with holes punched into the lid, but a gatorade bottle is perfect, too.) 
Three ties (I used three strips of an old cotton shirt.  Old knee highs will work equally well.)

Ready?  Let's go!

Put your towel on the work table.   l use a high-ish table to make my back happy.  It is easy to convert a folding table into a felting table.  I cut some PVC pipe into 12 inch sections and when I am ready to felt I simply put the PVC risers on the table legs----cheap and easy!    Not that industrious?  No worries....your kitchen counter is probably the perfect height.  Put the bubble wrap on the towel, bubble side up.  Fill your bottle 2/3 of the way with hot water, and then add the soap solution to the top.

Now the fun starts!

1.  Pick up the wool top and lay the end of it down on the top left edge of the bubble wrap.  Put one hand on the wool to secure it and gently pull off tufts of fiber with your other hand.  If it is difficult to pull, then move your hands further apart. The wool should separate gently and easily…no major effort should be expended!   This is called “Shingling.”  The wool will shrink by about a third, so consider this shrinkage when determining the size of your purse.  The back of this layer is important as it will form the back of the purse as well as the purse flap, so make it real purty.
 [Note:  a bit about the felting process.....wool fibers are protein fibers.  They have teeny tiny barbs that you cannot see with the naked eye.  When the fibers get wet, they expand, and as we agitate the fibers using hand pressure, the barbs will hook up with one another, forming a durable fabric.  It is like'll see!]

2.  Lay down a second layer of fiber using the shingle method.  The second layer should run perpendicular to the first.  Now lay down a third layer, perpendicular to the second.    Your should have a fluffy bit of fibery goodness staring up from the bubble wrap.   Make sure that you do not see any "bald spots."  Bald husbands are acceptable, bald purses are not.   Do not extend the fiber over the bubble wrap.  This is one time where it is better NOT to color outside of the lines.
Third layer--puffy with no bald spots
Edges of fiber should be baggie free!
3.  You now have the basis for the back of the purse and the purse flap.  It is time to form the front of the purse.  The challenge is to create the purse Front without permitting the purse front to felt into the purse Back, which would leave you with a thick piece of felt but no purse.  This is where the plastic bag comes in.   You will use the baggie to create a resist, which will serve as a barrier between the two layers.   In the picture at left I taped two bags together to get the size needed.
Make sure the top of the bag is peeking out!
4.  Create three shingle layers of fiber, as described in Steps 1 and 2, covering the sides and bottom of the baggie.  It is important to leave the edges "baggie free" so that the fiber will seam together, serving to adhere the Front of the purse to the Back of the purse.  Be certain to leave the top of the baggie peeking out; otherwise you will wind up sealing the plastic bag inside the felted fibers, lost forever in a fibery version of Edgar Allan Poe's  "The Tell-Tale Heart."   This is the time to add any silk embellishment for additional sheen.     Remember that silk will not needs wool to serve as glue.  If you pile on too much silk it will fall off.  A little silk goes a long way.
5.  Cover the puffy pile with the netting and sprinkle liberally with warm, soapy water.  Press down on the fibers in an effort to push the water throughout the fibers.  Do not rub or pat.  Simply press down firmly to help the water migrate through the fibers.  The plastic resist will impede the process so feel free to cheat a little by gently lifting up the resist to add additional water.
I needed my right hand for the camera....Pretend the micky hand is mine.

Create a fiber jelly roll.
6.   Once the fiber has been fully wet down, it is time for the physical labor to begin.  Pick up the pool noodle and wrap up the entire project--bubble wrap, fiber, netting, pool noodle--like you would a jelly roll.  Secure with the ties. 

Edges are neatly tucked over.
7.Roll the bundle gently back and forth 100 times with light pressure.  Time to take a peak!  Unwrap the roll and gently pull the toile netting away.  The wool might tend to stick to the worries, just pull it off.  You are in charge.  Take a minute to smooth out any creases that may have developed and fix any stray fibers that have gotten out of place.  See how the colors are starting to blend together?  M'mmmmm....I usually feel kind of dreamy and color drunk at this point in the 'bout you?

 8.  Once you are satisfied with the positioning of the fibers, cover them with the netting, role the bundle, and secure with ties.  Roll another 100 times, using a bit more pressure this round.    If you are working at a low table, your back is probably starting to really hurt about now.  Move to the kitchen counter!
9.  Unwrap the package and take another look.  Felt shrinks in the direction that it is rolled so you will notice that while the purse is getting shorter, it is not getting narrower.  Wrap up the package from the side this time and roll 100 more times, exerting lots of pressure.    Unroll the package and re-roll from the other side.  Do another 100 rolls, continuing to exert a lot of pressure.  Tired yet?  We are almost done! 

Rub briskly with your fingertips

10.  The fiber should look pretty solid at this point but you still need to go through one more step---Fulling.  “Fulling” refers to the process by which you agitate the felt to shrink it.  The agitation forces the fibers to become more entangled, compressing them and forcing out the air between them.  This will cause the fabric to shrink and become stronger.  Start the fulling process by rubbing the material against the bubble wrap.  Squeeze out the excess water and throw the fiber against the bubble wrap.  You will hear a satisfying "thud" and relieve some stress.  I told you this was fun!

11.  Rinse out the soapy water and take a look at what you have created!
Ooooh!  Ahhhh! 

 12.  Considering turning the purse inside will have a very different look.
Wow!  What a difference!

Stay tuned---I will be adding handles, a pocket, and some sparkly Swarovski embellishments in the coming weeks.  Feel free to shoot me an email with any questions.

Crafting is uncomplicated joy---pass it on!