Back in bloom

Mom, Mike and I have spent a lot of time in the yard lately just trying to get it back in shape after “winter.” The last few months have actually been really restorative for the plants since they were struggling at the end of last summer’s drought.

We had also decided to make some changes to the landscaping and finally had time to do it. The previous owners had pretty ornamental plants and we wanted more edible ones. So we dug out all the hedges and some of the geraniums to make room for a berry patch. Most of last year’s strawberry plants survived, and we added a few more to fill in the gaps. They are going strong.


So excited for strawberries!

The blueberry bush we bought last year had basically turned into a stick by the end of the summer, but I’m glad to report that it did survive and it’s started to leaf out quite a bit.

We bought two more blueberry bushes and then two raspberry plants, both of which seem to be happy.


One of the happy raspberries. 

In order to keep the dogs and Harper from messing up the plants, Mike built a fence around them.

We did leave these pretty tulips in the middle, although we might move the bulbs later.

I actually didn’t know they were going to come up until I noticed them poking out from under one of our planter boxes. When I moved the box I discovered a little salamander family living under there. At first I thought they were newts, so I showed Harper and she kept going back to that spot yelling, “baby NEWT!” So funny.

On the other end of the berries there is a beautiful fuchsia plant that also looked pretty terrible a few months ago. I’m so glad to see that it’s back in bloom.

The other red and white fuchsia plant got sort of squished by another bush, so it’s taking a little longer to recover. But I think it will.

This mum that looks like daisies was another surprise.

I had planted it in the ammo box planter, and not only did it return, it jumped out into places all over the yard.

The mint that was growing in the box got this sort of purple trim around the edges, but it seems to be turning back to normal.

Our hydrangeas look really lush again, which is nice. We have one little and one big, but the little guy is catching up!

The calla lilies that were so pretty last year are popping through the soil again.

And I’m thrilled to see this orchid, the only potted plant I kept from the previous owners, produced these impressive blooms.

I forgot to water this plant I bought at the end of last summer and figured it was dead, but it has flowers on it again. Whew!

I had to trim a couple geranium plants because they became absolutely huge after the winter rains.

The side yard, where the dogs are supposed to do their business, got completely overgrown with shoulder-high weeds.

So I finally dug them all up, plus all the ground cover that was keeping the dogs from using the rest of the yard. We are going to regrade it a little bit to help with drainage and then plant new grass seed.


Just a bit better…

We dug up a LOT of weeds to make a little tomato patch, and then fenced it in.

We got a few more plants to fill in some open spots. And of course I can’t give up my dream of having dahlias.

I also can’t give up on our little mandarin tree, which has yet to produce an edible orange. It was happiest in the shade of one of our ugly hedges, so now that the hedge is gone I keep moving it around the yard trying to find a good spot.

It does at least have some small oranges all over it. The other orange tree, though, has totally flourished.

When we moved in it had one orange and no new blossoms. Now it is producing like crazy. It has fragrant blossoms and bees all over it.

It has some tiny green oranges and some that are almost ready to pick.

We pruned it a little and weeded around it, but mostly we are just waiting for those oranges to ripen. Exciting!

Our little front-yard garden got kind of disrupted when we had our sewer lateral replaced, but it still looks pretty good. And then mom dug out the little triangular spot in our driveway, planted some pretty flowers and decorated it with a cool rock. I’ll have to post some photos of that.

All in all we are feeling really great about the yard and just hoping it stays healthy as long as possible since another dry summer is pretty much guaranteed.

My first time making gumbo (and corned beef)

I used to be a pretty voracious blog reader, but lately my Feedly has been skimmed to a select few blogs I occasionally have time to read. I keep reading them, though, because I realized that even though that time is precious, it is mine. And I really like discovering new recipes, new crafts, and whatever else I find there. It’s kind of nice, actually, to have culled a giant mess of posts down to the ones I truly care about and will get something from. 

So, that is how I found this recipe for chicken and sausage gumbo from one of my long-time favorite reads, Iowa Girl Eats. Check out her post for pictures of all the steps. I was kind of intimidated to try gumbo, but it was not hard at all. And it turned out so well! We all wanted to lick our bowls after dinner. 

Changes I made (of course): I used chicken breasts cut into chunks instead of thighs so I wouldn’t have to shred it after it cooked. And I realized mid-week that I was out of tomato paste, so I just squeezed in a little ketchup and that seemed to work. Sometimes you gotta be MacGyver in the kitchen! 

For St. Patrick’s Day I also tackled a new-to-me meal — corned beef and cabbage. I used Martha’s recipe, which is not so much a recipe as an instruction to throw everything in the Crock Pot and let it cook all day.

I was surprised that it made a clear broth rather than a gravy after all that time, but the meat turned out perfectly and the veggies were good, too. I had so many left over that I ended up roasting them in the oven with a baked chicken yesterday and they were even better. 

Donut muffins

Speaking of recipes you have to make…

I found this recipe for donut muffins on Red Tricycle and I knew I had to try it. I first had one of these scrumptious breakfast desserts at Bette’s Diner in Berkeley and I immediately fell in love. The muffin itself is pretty plain, but then it’s dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar (a la Bubble Bread), which sends it over the top.

The only thing I changed was to scale back the cinnamon to a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. I feel like people have a compulsion to add too much cinnamon to recipes. Or maybe it’s just me. But I thought the batch of muffins I made turned out perfectly and they were gone in a flash!

Make this carrot cake!

Mom wanted a homemade cake for her birthday a few days ago, so I dug out some recipes I had been wanting to try. One of them was for “the BEST carrot cake,” and it sure looked like it. So we decided to give it a try.

Oh man, was that a good cake. I went ahead and made the full recipe even though it made way too much cake and frosting. I added pecans but no raisins or pineapple or anything like that. The layers baked up beautifully and I managed to construct a cake that wasn’t too lopsided.

Normally I like ice cream with cake, but this one didn’t even need it. It was rich, a little spicy, and perfectly spring-ish. I highly recommend giving it a try, maybe for Easter?

Arm knit cowl pattern

I’m happy to say that my first knitting class went very well. We had a huge turnout — 16 people. Which is a challenge as far as helping each person goes, but it was fun to see that many cowls come together in all different colors.

I put together a tutorial for the class and I thought I would make it available here in case anyone wants to give arm knitting a try. It’s certainly helpful to have the in-person instruction of a class. But there are a lot of helpful YouTube videos that are great if you are trying to teach yourself.

Download the PDF here.

The pattern shows you how to make either a single loop or longer double loop cowl.

I’m thinking that teaching more classes could be a really great next step for me in my business. So I’m trying to come up with more ideas for quick and easy projects. After churning out so many of the same design it’s fun to put on your super creative hat sometimes!

Finally, naps

I think it’s been about 2 weeks now that Harper has been taking a two-hour nap every day. I can’t express to you how revolutionary that is in our house!

She had been starting to enjoy her bedtime routine more at night, even to the point of asking to go to bed when she got sleepy. So I guess I had the sense that she might be ready to commit to a nap routine as well. One day I just said that if she wasn’t asleep by X time, I would put her in bed. So I did. And she protested a little, but I think she slept about an hour an a half the first day.

After that she pretty quickly got into a routine of going to sleep at 2:30 and sleeping until 4:30, sometimes later. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really stunned that it was that easy to get a child that was taking 30-45-minute naps at all different times of day to sleep consistently. Sometimes she had even been skipping her nap altogether.

What’s stranger is that the long naps haven’t really affected her bedtime or wake-up time. She does seem to be in a better mood than before. I can imagine that she’s been tired for a long time. So days have taken on a completely different rhythm, with an actual break every afternoon for both mom and I. Of course, Harper is still a 2-year-old, so it’s always an adventure. But it’s better.

This all hit me in kind of an unexpected way, though. At first it made me really upset. I just felt like it was the first thing I had done really wrong as a parent and I felt really dumb. Like the answer was always there and I just couldn’t figure it out. I felt I had tried everything to get her to nap and always failed. But I guess I had never really tried to get her to sleep at the same time and place every day with an established routine. Maybe because my days are always so different it didn’t seem possible to be consistent.

So I’ve had to work through those feelings and I feel a lot better now. All I can do is move forward having learned a big lesson. And who knows, she may have just needed to be ready.

We just heard from the preschool we were planning to send Harper to that they have an opening. So I guess she is about to have a whole new routine that will certainly require a nap. Good timing!

Fort Bragg glass beach

At long last Mike and I got away for a toddler-free trip. We decided sort of last-minute to book a place in the Mendocino area. Since it was Valentine’s Day weekend, a lot of things were booked. But he had President’s Day off, so we went for a Sunday/Monday trip and a motel in Fort Bragg rather than pricier Mendocino.

My favorite part of the trip (other than the couples massage we splurged on), was this glass beach.

It basically runs along the coastline cliffs, where trash used to be dumped into the water. Now these beautiful pieces of colorful glass wash ashore in the little inlets.

We climbed down a sort of ridiculously unsafe hill to get to the beach (note to self: do not wear a dress and Toms for this activity!). But once there it was totally worth it.

The ground is just covered with glass pieces shimmering in the sunlight. And the view is spectacular. It’s one of those places you can’t believe is real.

Though the drive there along the PCH made me carsick, I am so glad we took this trip. It was instantly restorative to drive through some redwoods. We bought too many souvenirs at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company along the way and we shopped and lingered and did all the things we don’t normally do. We really want to take a similar trip to New Orleans, so after this I’m super motivated to make it happen.

Homemade pastry pups

We made these for New Years and the Superbowl and they were SO GOOD. They’re basically just a homemade version of Trader Joe’s Pastry Pups. Which are like a fancied up version of a pig in a blanket.

I always liked the way they used puff pastry instead of plain bread. So I thought, why not just roll up some ‘lil smokies in a puff pastry sheet and call it good?

So basically all you do is thaw 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry dough and then unfold them (one at a time) on a cookie sheet. At this point you have the dough kind of naturally divided into thirds. So just cut along those folds so you have 3 pieces. then cut those in half to get six. Then cut diagonally across each piece to get 12 triangles.

No need to spring for any kind of fancy dog. These store-brand ones were great.

Then roll up a dog in each piece of dough and place them a couple inches apart on the cookie sheet. (You could sprinkle them with a little parmesan cheese here, although I didn’t and I don’t think they need it.)

I think I baked them at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. But just check on them periodically and take them out when the dough is puffed up and starting to brown. 

They are so yummy dipped in a little mustard.

Make both sheets because 12 will not last very long at all. Trust me.

What’s new for 2015

I’ve changed so many things in my shop lately that I can’t even remember what it used to look like! But really I have the same items I’ve always carried, just with some improvements.

For starters, all of my yarn poufs and stuff-it-yourself kits now come with a sewn bag rather than a drawstring bag. The bag makes a pouf with a perfectly rounded shape, and it has a Velcro closure that makes it easy to add more stuffing.

These poufs also have a drawstring closure on the knit cover so that the cover can be easily removed for washing and put back on. I’m still mulling over adding a similar closure to the wool cord poufs, but they are much easier to open/close to begin with that I’m not sure they need anything different.

Speaking of wool cord, I finally settled on a yarn that I really love for these poufs, and it comes in 22 gorgeous colors.

It’s been really fun making these poufs in a variety of colors for customers.


This is the burnt orange.

I also added some new colors to my regular yarn offerings, so there are 20 to choose from instead of 16.

What kept me crazy busy in December was having items in 3 local stores (see links on the sidebar). I’m almost to the point of having to reduce my online offerings so that I have time to make hats and cowls. So, to save that precious, toddler-free work time, I’ve been working on making bigger knits that work up really quickly.

These hats are made from super thick Peruvian wool. I love working with this yarn. I came up with a beanie, a slouch hat and a roll brim hat that are really cute and flattering.

And I’ve also been selling a lot of arm knit cowls at Studio 333 Downtown. They come in two sizes, small (single loop) and large (double loop).

Still on my to-do list this year: add a medium-size pouf to my Etsy shop, add more patterns to my pattern shop, and list baskets and rugs made of wool cord. They are pricier than the cotton rope, but I found after so much frustration trying to dye the rope and work with its inconsistency, that wool cord was the way to go.

Harper at 2

Sometimes Harper wakes up from a nap and my mom and I will go, “Does she look different?” She literally seems to change hour to hour.

She still has a tangle of strawberry blond hair (fine and mostly straight like daddy’s), but it’s a lot longer now. Sometimes I give it a trim, but she’s yet to have a real haircut. I’m a little afraid of that process…

The biggest change, of course, is language. She seemed kind of stuck on a few words for a long time. We were kind of surprised, given our communications backgrounds, that she wasn’t more verbal compared to her peers. But this week has been like an explosion of words and words turning into phrases.

Her favorites are “No, no, Sadie,” “Mommy, (where) are you?”, “Uh, oh, what happened?” and things like “Ready, set, go!”

I recently heard the phrase “three-nager” to describe the personalities of three-year-olds. But I have to say that Harper seems like a two-nager at times. She can change her attitude on a dime and you can see her not knowing what to do with her frustration.

Thankfully, she is spunky, giggly, and curious most of the time. Her energy is just astounding! Sometimes she will take off down our long hallway or the driveway outside and just do laps yelling “run, run!”

She got her first real shoes this month. She was tripping and falling a lot in her soft shoes and seemed to need more support. She’s a pretty fearless climber and I think she is about ready for a tricycle or a balance bike.

She’s less inclined to put a strange thing in her mouth now, but you never know when she is going to go digging through the trash, or stepping in dog poop or any number of destructive things.

Sleep has been a mixed bag. She had been sleeping pretty well at night and taking her usual scattered naps and then we hit a patch a few weeks ago that was far worse than the 18-month regression. I thought maybe she was getting a big molar because she was just so out of sorts and only pain reliever seemed to calm her down.

Now she seems back to normal and no new teeth. So who knows. I am pretty desperate for a break or a vacation and really wanting to travel more this year. I know now that breaks are key to mama happiness and that’s one of the things I really need to work on in the future.

The selfie photo reminds me that we actually had to take the iPad away completely because she became so obsessed with “Pen.” Now she is obsessed with Daniel Tiger on PBS, but that one doesn’t bother me as much. Hopefully we can bring it back in the future because I really liked some of the learning apps. But man was she attached to that thing!

Lately she LOVES baths. She practices counting with her toys and it’s so cute. She likes being in the car and it is about the only way she’ll fall asleep for naps. She loves to run wild in the aisles of a store. We’re working on finding more activities to do with her. I think the aquarium and zoo would be fun.

I do have the tiniest bit of sentimentality for her teeny baby days, but really each stage has been so much more fun and interesting than the last. And this one in particular with breakthroughs in communication is so big, I’m really enjoying it. And you better believe I indulge in sleepy cuddles as much as possible lately. Those are the best.