Monday, February 25, 2013

Rusty Springs, The Fine Art of Ball Squeezing, and The Envelope that Changed my Life.

People joke about the joys of Retail Therapy and I definitely get the joke....after all, who doesn't feel better after scoring  a pair of David Pliner boots on double markdown clearance?   I used to inhabit a world that was all about acquisition ---Power Shopping was kind of like a sport for me. My attitude toward money was a bit too cavalier because my life had been blessed with enough of it...I never went hungry and always had what I needed (and usually more!).  I had similarly situated friends and when we dropped the kidlets off at school we would  head to the mall and then Do Lunch.  Yeah, I know...weird.  Anywhoo, I was one of those idiots who figured if I had checks, then I had money. 

I shopped when we could afford it and I shopped when we couldn't afford it.   Feel free to judge me harshly...I deserve it.  My husband, a generous guy, was a good sport for a while.   He knew my demons, I knew his demons, but we love each other and endeavored to be tolerant.    However, there came a day many years ago when we experienced a period of interminable grumpiness.  Husband told me that I was "squeezing his balls" and that he "turned into an A*%# hole when someone squeezed his balls." 

Yikes!  So my SPENDING was what was causing his sour demeanor?  Good to know....

The Great Communicator handed me a copy of Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover , which has just been updated and re-released.   I became a believer.  Seriously, the book changed my life.  The idea is that you don't spend more than you can afford, period.  I know, I know....pretty obvious concept, yet it is one that many folks still don't seem to get, even in these fiscally challenging times.  Dave Ramsey's system is brilliant, simple to execute, and even EASY to stick to, as it has turned out!  I set up a series of envelopes for the stuff that I spend money on,  "hair salon," "groceries," "crafts," etc,  fill 'em with the budgeted cash, and that's that.  When the envelopes are empty, they remain empty until the next pay day.  I am very visual and find that this works for me.

We have been using the envelopes for years and the system has enabled us to reduce our debt, save for the Farm of the Future, and given me the resources to become the Crazy Neighborhood Goat Lady.   Irrelevant side note:  "Quit Squeezing My Balls" has  become part of our "love language,"  to be used when one of us is starting to step out of bounds and a funny reminder is in order.  Better than a poke in the eye, I suppose! 


Tramp Art Sewing Box

An unexpected benefit to fiscal responsibility is that it has opened a new window for me creatively.  The back story:

I have always been a  fan of Tramp Art and am forever on a quest for it when scouring flea markets and yard sales.   During the depression years, money was scarce and folks were going hungry.  Hobos would travel by rail in search of work or a hand out.  Generally these fellows were NOT the homeless you see sleeping on street corners today, many of whom suffer from mental illness and/or drug addiction.  These long ago Tramps were often regular folk who found themselves in a bad way because of circumstances beyond their control.   They were hungry so they hopped a train and went looking for food.   Those individuals who were more fortunate frequently opened their homes to these itinerant travelers, offering a hot meal and place to sleep for the night. If they were lucky, the hobos might even get a few days work, as well.   Hand carved trinkets became a way for the Hobos to acknowledge the kindness of the hostess.  Of course, the hobos did not have an envelope marked "crafts", so they worked with what they had:  a pocket knife and reclaimed wood.  Today these Tramp Art wood carvings are highly collectible.

Since committing to the envelopes, I find myself trying to make do with what I have on hand, so that my craft money can go toward goat feed, expensive yarn, or a spectacular piece of Swarovski crystal.  It is funny how little I have to sacrifice in terms of beautiful artistry if I just think outside of the box.  For example,  I wanted to make a necklace to showcase some special pieces of Swarovski Crystal and some great vintage beads from a broken Miriam Haskell piece.  It looked pretty, but something was missing...

...until I remembered the Rusty Old Spring!  While working in the yard a few months ago I found a Rusty Old Spring hidden in the dirt. The architecture and patina of it really appealed to me so I  threw it in a drawer and forgot about it...until this necklace was percolating in my brain.  I am so delighted with the results and think that the Rusty Old Spring pulls it all together.  Affordable luxury...I like it!

The Swarovski crystal is showcased by found components!


A big wooden bowl on my counter has been filled with sweet potatoes.  I had big plans for 'em when I bought 'em, but those plans never materialized and time is not on my side.  I could not bear to toss them in the garbage, especially on the same day that I have been bragging about being all thrifty and such.  So, I started peeling sweet potatoes....and was rewarded with  two Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Galettes for my freezer.  This is  a crazy easy recipe that is comprised primarily of Sweet Potatoes and Cheese....what could be bad?  Here ya go:

Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Galette

Ingredients for one Galette:
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup Gouda cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup goat cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 Tablespoons olive oil 
tart pan or spring foam pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and add chopped onions.  Cook until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.  Mix the cheese together in a bowl.  Grab another bowl and mix together the potatoes, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, onion, and thyme.  
Spray tart pan with Pam or equivalent.  Start at the outer edge and cover the bottom of the tart pan with potato slices, overlapping a bit.  Make another ring of potato slices, working toward the center, until the bottom of the pan is covered.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and then sprinkle with some cheese.  Add two more layers of potatoes, topping each layer with cheese.  Mmmm, Mmmmm...this is gonna be good!

Put pan on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil.  The tart pan will leak and make a mess, so make it easy on yourself by remembering the aluminum foil.  Bake for 35 minutes, then cover the top with a piece of foil so that the cheese doesn't totally burn.  Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until a fork can easily pierce through to the bottom.  Do not worry if the top is very brown, you want it to be kind of crunchy!   This freezes well and is DELICIOUS.

Uh Oh!  ...I just got a call from my neighbor who wanted to let me know that there were goats in her yard.  Gotta go!

Yup...they went to visit  my neighbor but at least they came running when I called!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Goat Drama, Resilient Chicken, and a Felted Heart Tutorial just in time for Valentine's Day!

Make a felted heart brooch for Valentine's Day! 
This sweet confection features Swarovski Crystal Yarn and Hand Dyed Velvet!


I have had some productive  time in the studio lately, but I gotta tell ya about my critters before we get to the Sparkle. I know, I came here for the Heart Tutorial and you shall have it!  All in good time, my pretty...

Meet Sophie.  She eats garbage.
See, it has been an unusually weird few weeks at Pat's Funny Farm.  First, one of my goats got scary sick.  Second, my  husband reached the end of his rope.  NO MORE CANINE MAYHEM! NO MORE FOSTER PUPPIES!    He requested a break from the noise, the shedding, and the expense until March.  OK, fine, I could wait until March. So what happened last week?   He sauntered home with a scruffy, hungry, flea bitten street pup, that's what happened!  The funny thing is, he loves her!  He is always the last to be smitten, but this silly thing has his heart.  He insists that we  find her a permanent home, but is doing nothing to make it happen.  This should be fun to watch. The third, and most delightful weirdness....Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen has been accepted by her peers and actually laid a Teeny Tiny Egg.  Seriously.


It started with Dolly, my milking goat.  Now, I am the first to admit that I am no Goat Expert.  I started pining for goats shortly after falling in love with poultry, so I did what I usually do....Charge Full Speed Ahead and Figure It Out as I Go Along.  The strategy has met with a modicum of success, thanks to Mama Google.


...sometimes I do not know what I do not know. and SOMETIMES that lack of knowledge can cause harm.  It is very humbling to realize that your ignorance caused someone you love to suffer unnecessarily.  Such was the case with my sweet Dolly, who has gotten thin over the last month or so.

It didn't cause major concern initially because I knew that Milking Goats are typically thin.  However, she started looking too thin, while the other goats were decidedly plump.  Her behavior had not changed, and her temperament was as congenial as ever.  Hmmmm....I decided to feed them separately to make sure Dolly was getting her fair share of the grain.  I added some high fat, high protein sunflower seeds to her regimen and continued to monitor her.

Dolly is feeling much better!
One day I noticed a slight tremor as she hopped on the milk stand.  Uh Oh. The breeder and I figured it was a Vitamin B12 deficiency, so I hightailed it to the feed store and got some into her.  She was noticeably worse the next morning---could barely stand, refused to eat---Freak Out Time!   Dr. Sarah came to the Funny Farm and figured out right away that Dolly was seriously calcium deficient.  HUH?  A lack of calcium caused THIS?  It had never crossed my mind.  The grain, alfalfa pellets, and hay that she has been getting have not been enough for her.  EEK!    It took almost two weeks, but  she is finally back to her silly self.  

It was a scary lesson, but I learned it, for sure.  No more calcium deficient goats on THIS farm!


Mutant Hen #1 with Mr. Fancy Pants, my favorite fuzzy rooster.

In another glaring case of not knowing what I did not know....I purchased two juvenile  Minorcan hens at auction and immediately put them in the coop with my youngest flock. Big mistake.  It didn't take long to realize that the Newbies were sick and I was lucky that they did not infect the entire flock.  They went into quarantine and it took several months before they recovered from the nastiness they brought with them. 

They grew healthy but they did not grow physically---the illness had permanently stunted their growth! The Teeny Tiny Mutant Hens were rejected by the other chickens and spent their days wandering around the property looking like dejected little crows.   Life went on and ultimately one became a dog toy before I discovered that there was a hole in the fence.   (Another lesson learned just a wee bit too late, but I digress...)

Life has not been easy for the remaining mutant hen.  There are three separate flocks on the homestead: The Big Ass Rooster and his Haughty Hens, Mr. Fancy Pants and the Not Quite Cool Hens, and finally, the Total Loser Hens.  Teeny Tiny couldn't find a home with any of them.  Every single rooster ignored her and even the Total Loser Hens pecked her brutally if she dared get too close. The poor thing was a really lonely critter.  It was like watching Middle School Mean Girls torment The Dork With Glasses! Ugh.  I wondered whether it had been a mistake to spend months nursing a $7.00 chicken back to life, if THIS was the life she was gonna get....

I spent extra time talking to her and feeding her special treats in a ridiculous attempt to give her some confidence and build up her Chicken Self Esteem, all to no avail.   She has dealt with her sad lot in life, but I am happy to report that we have had some interesting developments lately!

One of my juvenile roosters just appointed himself The Big Man of The Loser Group. He is reaching maturity and has the Street Cred to make some important changes.  He has granted Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen status as an official member of The Loser Group and the other hens know better than to peck her now.  She is permitted to hang at the outskirts of the flock ....never on the same perch, but at least in the same general vicinity. The rooster is very proud of his little harem and opens a Big Ol' Can of Whoop Ass on any rooster that gets too close to his gals...even Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen!  She is clearly aware that she is on his team.   They like her!  Right now they like her!  [Age Revealing Sally Field Reference]

The Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen is the one to the bottom right, near the Rooster
Yup, Teeny Tiny has finally found her place in the world.  She belongs! 

*Happy Sigh*

Another added bit of Totally Cool...after a barren year and a half she laid her very first egg!  I couldn't believe it! I had given up on that possibility a long time ago!

 For those of you whose acquaintance with poultry is limited to the packaged meaty parts found at your local grocery store, let me explain that there is a bit of ceremony involved in egg laying...the girls become very vocal and prance a bit as if to say..."LOOK AT ME!  LOOK AT WHAT I JUST DID!"   So...I looked.  Much to my surprise and delight, Teeny Tiny  was the hen doing the Happy Dance---a mutant no longer!  I ran to the nesting box and sure enough....there was a Teeny Tiny Egg laying with all of the others.  It took her an extra year, but she is now a working member of the team. Whew!

 Life has a way of finding a way, doesn't it?  *Happy Sigh*


I gravitate toward projects that are highly detailed, intricate, and time consuming.  Unfortunately, not every Crafty Gal has the time or the inclination for those sorts of endeavors and frankly, sometimes it is fun to have some instant gratification!  The heart pictured here can easily be completed in an afternoon.  Add a pin back and it becomes a brooch,a hat pin, or a component for a cuff bracelet.  Mine is destined to be a small element in a larger home decor project.

Felt making is a very forgiving craft with a great deal of room for individuality.  The directions provided reflect my technique and it works for me.  I think it will work for you.  You might have learned a different way to do things...go in peace, my sister.  There is no right/wrong way to craft.  Have fun and teach someone what you learned!  'Cause after all, it is all about spreading the crafty love....

needle felting, wet felting, bead embroidery, ribbon embroidery, and a wee bit of crochet if you wanna!

Bubble Wrap, 12 x 12 inch square
Toile netting, 12 x 12 inch square (get it from Joanne Fabrics, runs about $1.50 a yard)
Embroidery needle
Beading needle
Fireline Beading Thread
Soap solution (how to follow)
Hand Towel
Rubber Band

Note:   The Tools are available from the sources linked, and/or your favorite bead shop and/or big box craft store.

A few grams of Merino Wool
A gram or two of silk throwsters waste
A gram or two of silk top
4 inch square of hand dyed rayon velvet
A tiny bit of lace (I used a one inch square)
A tiny bit of cotton gauze (I used a 1x4 inch strip)
3.5 x 3.5 inch piece of ultrasuede
A yard or two of hand dyed silk ribbon
2 yards of Swarovski Crystal Yarn
18-24 Swarovski Crystal 2mm round beads (Article 5000)
18-24 Swarovski Crystal 3mm round pearls (Article 5810)
A few inches of Swarovski Cupchain
Assorted seed beads and nailheads
Embroidery thread

Note:  If the ingredients list looks intimidating, don't fret!  Raid your own stash and simply go where inspiration takes you!  Don't have the time or the inclination?  No worries, I can make it easy on you!  Check out my Etsy shop for the kit that includes all of the ingredients that you need to make the heart as pictured.  

The Recipe:

Part One:  Needle Felting
Place some wool on the felting foam.  Manipulate the wool into the shape of a heart by punching the needle firmly through the wool and into the foam.  These needles are wicked. sharp so do not take your eyes off of the needle for even a second.  They have tiny barbs and hurt way more coming out of your finger than they do going into your finger (and they hurt plenty going in, or so I have been told).  You will watch as the fluffs of wool take on a denser appearance with repeated needling.  [Note: I made my heart approximately 4 x 4 inches, because I wanted to wind up with a heart that was approximately 3 x 3 inches.  The wet felting process will shrink the piece by up to 30% so you should start with a piece slightly larger than you would like to see as the finished product.]  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and Out.  DO NOT LOOK AWAY!  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and out.  Gently lift the heart up and turn it over so that you can needle the back.  Lift up the heart. Do you see any bald spots?  Add some additional wool and needle it!

Look closely and you can see the needle holes....
Now for some color and texture....Cut a heart shape from the velvet.  Don't get too crazy over this part...a  heart-ish shape will suffice.  It should be slightly smaller than the wool heart.  Place the velvet on top of the wool.  Hold down one edge of the velvet with your non-dominant hand and very carefully needle the velvet into the wool.  You are working on a very small piece.  Your hands are very close together.  One hand is holding a sharp needle and the other is NOT wearing a protective glove.  Do not look away!  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and out.  The purpose of the needling is to get the velvet and the wool used to the idea that they are going to hook up.  This is an arranged marriage and the little holes you are needling will give the wool a hole through which to migrate so as to penetrate the velvet.  Yup, they will meld together and the two will become one.  Sounds kind of naughty, doesn't it?  See...Felt making is fun!

Now add a bit of lace and cotton gauze.  Put them where they tell you they want to be.  Seriously.  If you listen, your pretty pieces will talk to you.  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and out.  You know the drill.  Whoo Hoo! 

Part Two:  Wet Felting:

Cover with netting

Wet it down

Your fibers should now be connected, although the bond is somewhat fragile.  If you sew, think of what you have just done as the basting stitch.  Now you need to wet felt the heart to create a permanent bond.  Place the bubble wrap on the towel, bubbles side up.  Put the heart on the bubble wrap and cover with netting.  Sprinkle warm soapy water onto the heart.  I make a soap sludge by chopping up a bar of olive oil soap and adding it to a 1/2 gallon of boiling water.  You do not need to go to that degree of trouble for this project.  Simply squirt some dish detergent (Joy, Dove, Palmolive, etc.) into a glass of warm water.  Stir and sprinkle on your heart.

Press your hand onto the soggy heart so that the water is forced to migrate through the fibers. Gently roll up the entire project, excluding the towel, into a fiberlicious jelly roll and secure the roll with a rubber band or other tie.  I used a piece of t-shirt in my scrap pile.  Slowly roll the package back and forth the width of your work surface. Short, sharp rolls are not good.  Long, meaningful rolls that extend along your arm are what we want to see.

After the first 25 rolls, the heart is misshapen

Fiberlicious Jelly Roll

Roll 25 times,  up and back counting as one roll.  Take a peak!  Fiber shrinks in the direction that it is rolled, so you will see the heart is becoming a bit misshapen and elongated. No worries!  Simply rotate the heart by a one quarter turn clockwise and roll 25 more times.  You can remove the netting by this point.  Rotate and roll two more times until the heart is back to its original position.     It should have returned to its pretty heart shape.  Note that the more you roll, the more pronounced the wrinkles that will develop in the velvet.  Feel free to use scissors to trim the piece, if needed, but make sure that you rub the cut edges against the bubble wrap to seal the fiber wound that has been created by the cut.  Rinse the heart and towel dry.  Isn't it adorable?

Part Three:  Embellishment

This is the tricky part of the tutorial because no two felted hearts are going to look identical.  It would be silly for me to direct you to place your Swarovski cup chain exactly where I placed mine.  Who cares?  Felt Making allows you to take a kit project and truly make it your own.  So, rather than make this a color by number project, I will share with you the things that I consider when I reach the embellishment stage.  It is my favorite part of the project because this is where cute becomes sublime! 

Endeavor to pull out the stops by adding a balance of texture and color. I find that placement of the first beads is usually the most difficult decision for me, so I generally just bow to the pressure and follow a natural line of the piece.  Accordingly I stitched some 3mm Swarovski crystal sequins down along the left side of the heart.  The flash of sparkle against the warm and fuzzy textile is visually gratifying to me.  Once I committed to that initial bead placement, I found that the other beads told me where they needed to go.  I know, I know!  It sounds like kind of an artsy fartsy/hippie chick sort of thing to say, but I am amazed by how often that is the way it goes.  Plus, I am kind of an artsy fartsy hippie chick. 

I wanted the brainy velvet to stand front and center, so chose to use only a sprinkling of Swarovski 2mm round beads sewn into the rivulets created by the ruching.  Swarovski crystal cupchain is easy to stitch on to any textile and because it is a linear component, it made sense to follow the line already created by the crystal sequins. The cream Swarovski pearls and seed beads made a strong statement when I added them to the top right.  I liked them but found the bright spot disconcerting until I muted the color by balancing it a bit with the addition of cream pearls to the opposite side.  Additional texture is achieved by some well placed french knots made from hand dyed silk ribbon...

...and so it went for an hour or so as I listened to the sparkle direct my hands.  Occasionally my muse went silent,  so I simply walked away for a moment to pet the dog and throw on a load of laundry.  The process works for me and I hope it will work for you.

You can call the job finished at any point, but I like to cover the ugly backside so that the stitches don't show, you know, kind of like covering your tush so the cellulite doesn't show.  I mean, really, who wants to look at that sh*t?  I took a bit of ultra suede and traced my felted heart onto it.  I then used a blanket stitch to attach the pieces together. A whip stitch would suffice, but the blanket stitch makes it easy for me to crochet a little border around the heart.  I used Swarovski yarn, which is truly a decadent treat.  My favorite is the Dorado and, although it is pricey if you want to knit a sweater, a mere two yards will turn this project into something really special.  Add a pin back to turn it into a brooch, sew it onto a card for Valentine's Day, add a jump ring and call it a pendant.  Truly, the possibilities go on and on!

Have fun and send me a picture of your creation!

Crafting is uncomplicated joy.....Pass it on!