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Handmade Christmas 2011

January 4, 2012

I realize that it’s sad that only two posts ago I was posting Handmade Christmas 2010.  Life has been busy.  Though I have had a couple substantial, ideological posts swirling in my head for months, I just haven’t had the time or the real desire to sit down and put them up here.  I don’t know that I’m ready to open myself up to regular posting again.

This year, I decided to focus on scarves for my children, except the baby, because when we go out he’s either snuggled up in the car seat with a hat and blanket if we are in the car, or snuggled up next to my warm body in the Ergo or my arms if we are not in the car.  Though he didn’t get a scarf, his oldest sister crocheted two fantastic hats for him, which deserve a blog post all their own.

For my oldest daughter, I decided to do her scarf in a single color and I found a lovely scarf with open-work and a matching pattern for a pair of fingerless gloves.  Forget the Scarf and Forget the Fingers were both very easy to follow and entirely of double crochet.  The gloves whipped up very quickly.  I did the pair in less than an hour.  The scarf wasn’t quite that fast.

If you look closely, you can see the gloves on either side of the scarf.

For my second daughter I chose to do a scarf in black and red, which are her favorite colors.  I used the Neat Ripple pattern, which I have also used in a baby blanket.  I adjusted the pattern to make horizontal stripes.  This pattern always crochets up very quickly.  I had an issue with the color arrangement.  I had intended to do a random stripe width pattern, but after I started on my second color, I realized that it is very difficult to do a random pattern when you are working with only two colors and in the relatively small space of a scarf.  So, the initial strip is three rows tall whereas the others are one and two rows tall and it looks slightly off to me, but my daughter loves it.  When I finished the ripple pattern, it looked like it was missing something, so I did a black single crochet edging with picots in the peaks and valleys of the ripples.

For my youngest daughter I chose many colors.  She loves to dress in crazy patterns.  She might have on flowered tights, plaid skirt and a different flowery shirt some days.  This Scrapadelic Scarf just screamed her name when I saw it.  Because it was simple straight rows of half-double crochet, it was super quick; the quickest of the three.  That left me with a little time to do a repair job that has been sitting on my desk for nearly two years.  For Christmas of 2009, I made my two younger daughters chullos.  Shortly after, an incident ensued in which the yellow and purple chullo was left outside in the yard with a certain dog who did a decent job of chewing up the ties, pompoms and several lower rows of stitches.  Since I had altered the original pattern, I just couldn’t find the motivation to go back and try to figure out how to make it look like it originally looked.  Two years of sitting on my desk and looking at it can really lower expectations for a repair job and I was just determined to get it back into wearable shape.  I ripped out all of the damaged rows and ear-flaps and grabbed a hook that looked like it would make stitches of approximately the same size.  I grabbed the yarns that I used in her scarf and I added several rows, new ear-flaps and new ties.  It turned out that the hook I made was slightly larger than the original, but it ended up fine since her head has grown.  The ties are not the same as the originals and she didn’t get pompoms, but she did get braided ties with fringe that go nicely with the braided fringe on her new scarf.  They look like an ensemble now and most importantly, she was ecstatic to have her hat back and a matching scarf.  They look perfect on her.

My boy did not get a handmade gift from me.  I will have to start earlier next year.  Good thing he won’t remember!

Consumerism and Choice

November 28, 2011

All the consumerism that is infiltrating everything right now has given me the push I needed to get back on this blog that has been sorely neglected for the past year or more.

I love gifts, I really do, but the constant hammering that we need this and that and more and more really disgusts me.  Our family is very frugal and, to be honest, it was not only by choice when we started, but it is a choice we would make now given any sort of economical circumstances.  We purchase what we need, when we can and try to buy things that will last a long-time, be reusable or repairable and that will enhance our lives.  We try to buy second-hand when it is possible and logical.

When I think about frugality, I think not only about items but services and food.  It can be hard to strike a balance between the best price and quality. The balance between the two is what I call: the best deal.  Sure you might be able to buy 1 gallon of ultra-pasteurized, homogenized whole milk at Walmart for $2.50 or $3.00, but to me, this is not the best deal, only the best price.  The best deal to me, is the raw milk that we purchase from our local farmer for $12/gallon, because we can drink it without ill health symptoms, like my husband who gets gastro-intestinal complaints from pasteurized milk.  Or whipping cream, again, we can purchase one pint of ultra-pasteurized, homogenized from Walmart or Winco for around $1.50, but to me, the best deal is paying $2.50-$275/pint to purchase locally produced, low-pasteurized cream.  There are so many food examples I could list, that this will have to suffice.  I intentionally started with a food example, because food is the most essential thing that anyone could buy aside from paying for a place to live.  I believe to most Americans our family’s food expenditures are disproportionately large compared to our income.  However, it is vital that we eat well and stay healthy; we don’t have health insurance and I believe that many, though not all, health issues can be addressed through a healthy diet, consisting of whole foods purchased locally and organically, when possible.

For a non-food, services example, we could purchase unlimited data and text cell phone plans for our whole family and get fancy smart phones, but that just isn’t the best deal for us.  I don’t feel that having the constant stream of data in our hands all the time is beneficial for us and it’s not necessary, so having limits on texts and lacking the ability to surf the internet on on the go, is good for us and it’s cheaper for us, too.

When we purchase clothing and shoes, we nearly always look at our local clothing consignment store first.  The one exception to this is gifts.  When it comes to gift giving, clothing is big on the list, because then we splurge on something nice from Hanna Andersson or Lands’ End and those items last for many years, through multiple children and we don’t end up buying so many toys that may be used for awhile and then discarded.  I purchase cloth diapers used, if possible, and use them through multiple children.  The money up front is not insignificant, but for the price of several packages of disposable diapers, we have many years of diapering covered and that is the best deal and price for our family.  When we purchase tools, we try to buy things that don’t contain plastic and have parts that can be replaced so that we can use them for a number of years.  When we buy toys, we purchase them from our local toy store because I know that our business really matters to them and we buy toys that will last a long time and through multiple children, generally with not much plastic.  We don’t purchase many electronics or household appliances and when we do, we choose carefully.  Our TV’s are all more than 10 years old.  We use our computers until they nearly kick the bucket.  We replace our cell phones when they die, not only to get a newer model.  Two family members have ipods, one of which was a gift.  We don’t have a lot of fancy kitchen appliances.  The ones that I purchase are high quality brands that were well researched before purchase.  I recently got a deep fryer that my husband received used but free from a customer that is closing up shop.  It had been an item that I wanted, but not enough to buy because I couldn’t justify the cost or resources for something that would be used occasionally.  We saved this from the landfill, however, and that works out just fine for me.

This is how we live our lives, simply and frugally and when I see statistics that show Americans spending $52.4 billion over Black Friday weekend, I find it mind-boggling.  So many people can’t afford enough to eat.  So many people lament that they can’t afford to buy vegetables, meat or dairy either locally or organically, but they surround themselves with unnecessary items and services that drain their bank accounts. $52.4 billion!  How many of those gifts will be used a few times and discarded?  I’m not a grinch, I love to give gifts, thoughtfully. I make handmade gifts for my children each year, buy them books and toys from our local toy store and other things from stay-at-home crafters or small businesses and leave the big retailers for the few things I can’t get around here.  But we gift gifts with much restraint and moderation.

This is clearly a situational symptom of the greater disease of rampant consumerism.  We Americans have got to get our purchasing impulses under control.  We pay for it dearly in many ways:  our debt levels, over-flowing landfills, inability to nourish bodies properly, dependence on fossil fuels, and the emptiness that results from opening a whole lot of nothing.  Let’s re-learn the importance of holiday tradition, the happiness of a couple of meaningful gifts and the importance of surrounding ourselves with love rather than things.

Handmade Christmas 2010

December 30, 2010

Our family’s Christmas traditions are simple.  I always make at least one handmade gift for my children, they each get pajamas and one Christmas book that gets added our family’s Christmas book collection to open on Christmas Eve and they frequently get practical gifts that are nicer than they would normally get during the year (kind of our way to splurge but not fill our house with useless crap).

Some years it is harder than others to decide what to make.  They already have very special items I’ve made them, quilts, dolls, embroidered pillowcases and one can only wear so many hats and scarves.  This year was looking to be a difficult year to choose a gift, but as I was browsing for a practical item that they needed (slippers) and I was considering paying $30 for a pair of wool slippers that would need alterations after I got them (leather soles added to prevent the sad toe-wearing-through situation that we have experienced in the past), a light bulb clicked and I realized I should just make some nice felted slippers for them.  The main problem is that I don’t know how to knit, so a different approach was necessary.  After some searching, I decided to felt a sweater and use that to make slippers.  I used this pattern and basic technique, but wanted a bulkier slipper, so I went with the felted sweater rather than wool or acrylic felt off a roll at the fabric store.  I also added decorative blanket stitching with yarn around the openings and added felt appliques to each slipper using acrylic felt scraps I had lying around.

 

Large, medium and small slippers.

Flower and owl appliques

Bird applique

 

This was a really frugal gift as well.  I purchased a large women’s sweater at our local consignment store.  It was 88% wool, 6% polyester and 6% cashmere.  A sweater should be at least 80% wool for it to felt.  It was marked at $9.50, but when I got to the register, it was 50% off, so the cost of material for three pairs of slippers was $4.75!  I was just able to get parts for the three pairs out of this large sweater, but I wasn’t short on material.  I machine stitched all the seams.  As I mentioned previously, we have had wool felted slippers that developed wear holes in the toes and they were really not easily repairable, so I wanted to have a slipper with a sole.  My husband had some pieces of leather in his stash, so he cut out soles and adhered them to the bottom of the finished slippers.

The other gift I made was a pincushion for my oldest.  She hasn’t had her own stash of straight pins and her borrowing mine or her sister’s always leads to issues, so this was a practical gift.

 

Pin cushion

Obviously this has storage under the pincushion.  It was made using this tutorial and materials I already had at hand, except the grosgrain ribbon.  I used leftover fabric from my cargo pant purse.  M. loved the pincushion, because she is becoming more of an avid sewer.  Actually, she sews more frequently than I do!

 

2010 Pantry Inventory and Garden Review

November 6, 2010

Despite putting more effort into our garden this year than the past few years, we didn’t reap a whole lot more in terms of harvest.  This was just a strange year for farming and gardening.  It seems like summer didn’t really arrive until mid-August and then it stayed only briefly.  Any crops that relied on hot weather didn’t do so well; this was on top of planting out much later than was prudent.  We planted mostly a canning garden and still had to purchase all of our tomatoes from our regular u-pick farm.  Pickling cucumbers didn’t do well and one of my pickling cucumber plants ended up being a butternut squash plant, decreasing their output even further.  The only things that did very well for us were tomatillos, summer squash and calendula.  We have also had poor egg production from our pullets.  We aren’t getting any eggs right now and we got them only sporadically for a month and a half or so.  I have heard from more experienced chicken owners that they have also had difficulties with their new flocks.

It wasn’t a great year for farming either, so though we picked tomatoes from a u-pick, they were more costly this year and their quality was down.  It took much longer to pick useable tomatoes.

All this means that our pantry is a little more sparse than it typically would be.  Usually my shelves and freezer would be bursting right now, and they are not, but neither are they empty.

Here’s what we put up this year:

Canned goods

  • Ketchup – 7 half pints
  • Tomatillo salsa – 7 half pints, 1 pint
  • Cayenne salsa – 7 pints
  • Diced tomatoes – 9 quarts, 2 pints
  • Plain tomato sauce – 24 pints, 7 half pints
  • Strawberry jam – 5 pints, 3 half pints
  • Peach jam – 4 pints, 1 half pint
  • Peach butter – 3 half pints

Dried/Refrigerated

Freezer

  • Apple sauce – 13 pints
  • Tomatillos – 2.25 pounds
  • 15-25 pounds of each of the following:  blueberries, cherries, peaches and strawberries

Pantry (grown in our garden)

  • Potatoes – 28 pounds
  • Pie pumpkins – 11 (from a volunteer plant)
  • Butternut squash – 5 (from a volunteer plant)
  • Carnival squash – 3(from a volunteer plant)

Luckily we also put into the freezer since June:  one side of beef (purchased) and one local pig (bartered).

Though the weather and main growing season was not kind, we’ve had other great things going on.  We have had steady enough paying work to sustain us and we are thankful to have our home and garden that we can experiment in, while not actually being dependent on our own crops and animals for sustenance.  Another wonderful thing is that we are expecting our fourth child in mid-April.  I don’t know exactly what that will mean for next year’s garden, but somehow I suspect we will manage.  The girls have gotten to be great helpers around the garden as they get older, so they have played a larger role in helping each year.  They certainly need lots of direction and they gripe often enough, but when it comes down to it, they help when they need to and even sometimes when they aren’t asked.

Now, with the weather changing and the dark falling earlier and earlier, it’s time to focus on our home, which is always more neglected during the summer months.  Deep cleaning is in order and preparation for our new arrival will alternate with holiday activities and garden planning.  The focus of our days will shift, but we’ll still be just as busy now as we are during the summer months.

Sweet Wheels, Vintage Schwinn Sting Ray Fair Lady

August 15, 2010

For our middle daughter’s birthday this week, we gave her a vintage Schwinn bike.  She had outgrown her old one and had been asking for a new bike for months.  We had been looking for a new bike for months, scouring Craigslist religiously.  We had a specific style in mind.  We were leaning toward a cruiser style, because she really isn’t a mountain biking kind of girl, but we didn’t really want to pay new prices for a good quality cruiser and there really aren’t too many kid’s cruisers out there.  We were giving up on finding what we were looking for, but about 8 days before her birthday I saw an ad on Craigslist that caught my eye.  It was an older ad and I wasn’t sure the bike would still be for sale, but I emailed the seller anyway and arranged a meeting.  My husband went to look at it and not only did he love it, but he got it at half the price the seller was asking.  So, for $50 we got an excellent condition vintage Schwinn Fair Lady Sting Ray 20″ tire bike.  The nearest we can figure is that it was manufactured between 1969-1973; everything on it is original, including the tires, which still have plenty of tread.  It certainly isn’t in mint condition, but the original chrome has only minor rust spots that were easily removed with a little elbow grease and some Scotchbrite.  The paint job is original, with some nicks and it still has the  decals.  It’s a sweet little bike for this girl.  She thinks it’s a snazzy set of wheels and she looks wonderful riding it.

Vintage Schwinn Sting Ray Fair Lady

Original hand grips with a brand new bell

Decal on fork


Original seat and flared rear fender

Great Customer Service from A Footwear Company

August 12, 2010

I’m going to start by saying that this story was not solicited by Jambu Footwear, I just love to experience great customer service and I think other people should also support companies who are customer-service oriented because good customer service seems to be in short supply these days.

Here’s the background story.  At the end of June, I made a visit to our local consignment store looking for a pair of sandals.  I outfit myself and my children almost entirely from this store; they vet their shoes and clothing very well and I’ve always found a great supply of mint or excellent condition footwear and a large variety of clothing including frequent Hanna Andersson finds.  In just the past month, we found a new pair of these Teva sandals (priced at $36) for the 13-year-old and matching Keens for the younger two (both purchased one week apart, an incredibly surprising find) for $8.80 and $11.20.  But I digress.  I found a nice pair of new condition vegan sandals, manufactured by J41, a subsidiary of Jambu Footwear.  They were priced at $40, which I considered a good deal since they didn’t appear to have been worn.

J41 Vegan Sandals

I bought them, took them home and wore them nearly every day.  They were comfortable.  About 2 1/2 weeks into owning them I noticed that at the seam where the strap meets the sole, the material that the uppers were made out of seemed to be stretching and I crossed my fingers that they would last.  At the end of July as I was walking home from picking up take out, I felt the strap break free and the material came undone at the seam.  I was really disappointed and at first I thought, that’s what you get for buying a brand of which you know nothing.  But then I decided that it wasn’t right.  Even if I didn’t know anything about the brand prior to purchasing them,  I should expect a pair of sandals to last longer than one month, whether I paid $40 for them new or $40 for like-new on consignment.

Where the material ripped/came undone

Unwearable sandals

I decided to email the company and let them know the situation and at the very least I would have felt better for complaining.  I was honest with them.  I let them know I purchased them at a consignment store and not new and that they probably didn’t owe me anything since any warranty would be void.  I sent the email on a Sunday night and was surprised to see a reply on Monday morning.  I was even more surprised that Micki, the customer service rep, told me that I was absolutely right, the sandals should have lasted longer and that they stand behind their products.  She told me that they couldn’t guarantee that I would get the same sandals as a replacement, since they may be out of season, but instructed me to browse their site and send them at least three styles and colors that I like and they would send a replacement set out to me right away.  After a week when I hadn’t heard a response or received a new set, I started worrying that maybe they weren’t going to follow through, so I emailed Micki again and she told me that they had sold more shoes that they anticipated and had to wait for more from the manufacturing plant, but that a pair would indeed be on the way soon.  A little more than two weeks after my original complaint, I came home and found a Fedex box on my porch containing my new sandals.  I hope that these will last longer and I feel that they will, because the problem seemed to be a material issue rather than a workmanship issue.  I think the synthetic vegan material was too stretchy and that’s why the seams came apart, because the stitching holes completely stretched out and eventually broke.  My new pair has a leather upper, because I’m not opposed to wearing leather, a vegan sandal was simply what was available at the consignment store.  I have high regard for Jambu’s customer service, because I still feel that they didn’t legally owe me anything and it’s a wonderful thing when companies do the right thing because they stand behind their product.

New Jambu Taurus sandals

Blueberry Season, 2010

August 11, 2010

This year has been a wacky weather year and has impacted agriculture in many ways.  It certainly messed with blueberry season.  The farm where we typically pick blueberries for free, by leaving half of what we pick for the farm to sell, had issues with fulfilling their orders and having enough ripe berries left for u-pickers, so we weren’t able to pick there at all this year.  That left me scrambling because, typically, the main season for blueberries is late June-late July.  With the help of Craigslist, I found a no-spray blueberry farm that is about 45 minutes from us right outside of Gervais, Or.  Millers Bluberries is a self-service u-pick farm and they charge a very, very reasonable $1/pound.  Their u-pick arrangement was very clear (which is not always the case) and they have a nice little map at the front of the field where they have highlighted the areas that are good for picking.  Their map was accurate, because when we go to the highlighted area, the bushes were drooping with ripe fruit.  We picked 28 pounds in just under 2 hours.

The fields are very well maintained and there is enough space around each bush to comfortably pick all sides.  The berries were delicious.  They have Ivanhoes and Berkleys, and other varieties.  The flavor was excellent on all the varieties we tried.  I’m glad we made the drive out.

Millers Blueberries

28 pounds of blueberries

If you are local to the Salem area and are looking for delicious, no-spray blueberries, I would definitely recommend them.  Here’s their contact information:  Millers Blueberries, 5816 Saint Louis Rd., Gervais Oregon, 503-792-3516.

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