More homemade Halloween

When I was but a wee tot, I came up with my own vocabulary for the world around me, as children are wont to do, whether through mispronunciation, misunderstanding, or just the notion that I had a better term than the one that was already in place. Thus, the jack-o-monster was born. Growing up, my parents shied away from Halloweeny things, but they did allow us to carve pumpkins. I remember that being so fun, so of course I would want my children to share in that experience, too.

Well, somewhere between when I was a kid and the births of my own children, jack-o-monsters gave way to all manner of detailed and artsy pumpkin carving. The pros of that are that 1) it’s amazing to see what can be done with a large squash and 2) it allows for greater personal and artistic expression. I’m all for those things. (And for a prime example of both of those reasons, check out my friend Elle’s pumpkin display!) But the con, Good Gourd, is that the kids can’t do it themselves anymore.

In previous years, we let the kids choose any design they wanted and then Mr. Gren and I would painstakingly cut out their picture of choice. The kids were always thrilled with the results, but the only part of the whole process in which they could participate was the pumpkin gutting. And if you have a kid with texture issues who would rather die a fiery death than touch slimy pumpkin guts, then that means that you, the parent, are doing that part, too, while the child sits by hounding you to just finish already so that they can please light it patiently, offering up encouraging words like, “Ewww! Dear God, what is that thing?!” “It’s looking really good, Maman.” So, if you had any hope of doing a pumpkin for yourself or even getting done before the kids’ bedtime, that just went right out the window. And really, just the thought of spending the whole evening carving pumpkins made me tired. It had ceased to be fun.

This year, Rana insisted that she be allowed to carve her My Little Pony pumpkin all by herself. She is 9, you know. And I thought, “Yeah! She is 9! I know I was carving my own jack-o-monsters when I was 9. But, the knives, oh gosh, the knives… I’m going to be picking up fingers off the floor and those reattachment surgeries don’t always go so well, plus if we have to go to the ER, who’s going to watch the other kids? Oh, no… they’ll probably be with us. I just hope we can tell their fingers apart…”

Then I came to my senses: when I was 9, I was not carving cartoon equines; I was carving triangle eyes and toothy grins. And I sho nuff did that all by myself. But there was still the question of knives. Granota had given herself a pretty good slice a couple of months ago trying to cut potatoes (her idea, not mine) and I couldn’t believe that her manual dexterity had improved all that much. Rana, being older, of course is a little better, but still… Then Mr. Gren picked up one of those pumpkin carving kits with the little spade-shaped gut scoopers and the chintzy little carving tools that seem like they’ll snap the instant you look at them wrong. The little tools are sharp enough to cut through pumpkin, but the ends are rounded and they’re tiny; they just don’t have the deadly aura that knives do. So I broached the subject with the girls (because, Granota, having heard Rana’s plea, had chimed in with one of her own): I would allow them to carve their own pumpkins, but, because this was their first time (their first time? At 7 and 9?! Shameful), they needed to do something simple. Say, a face. With triangle eyes. And a toothy grin.

“Oh, yes, Maman! Yes, yes! That’s what we’ll do!” And if angels sing at Halloween, they did at that moment. I was freed from the oppression of intricate pumpkin carving! My soul rebounded, there was joy and light in my life again! I still managed to keep myself sufficiently busy cooking dinner that I couldn’t be called upon for assistance. I was present, just not “available.”

We gave the girls Sharpies and told them to draw on their jack-o-monster faces first before just diving in all willy-nilly. A little planning never hurt anyone. Mr. Gren cut off the tops of their pumpkins and the girls set to work scooping guts — yes, even Granota, with only a few whimpers. Their first carving experience was not without a few bumps in the road — Mr. Gren had to help them (at their request) even out a few cuts that had gone awry , but overall, it was so much more fun. The girls enjoyed it and they were so proud of their very own honest-to-goodness jack-o-monsters.

Rana's vampire pumpkin

Rana’s vampire pumpkin


Granota's true jack-o-monster

Granota’s true jack-o-monster


Now, Konik in all of this had decided that he was not ready to carve his own pumpkin, nor was he ready to give up the enticing thought of seeing Lightning McQueen glowing by candlelight. Props to Mr. Gren for patiently and carefully making his little son’s dream come true.


Next, Mr. Gren carved his own pumpkin — an homage to former Mariner right fielder, Jay Buhner.

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This year’s carving party was a success! We had a nice family evening, the kids were thrilled with the outcome, none of the little tools broke, and all fingers remained intact. Who knows? Next year, I might even be persuaded to carve one of my own again.

A family of pumpkins, minus Rana's which must have been out sucking the blood of an acorn squash.

A family of pumpkins, minus Rana’s which must have been out sucking the blood of an acorn squash.

More or less homemade Halloween

WordPress tried to get fancy on me and switched me over to the “improved posting experience.” Well… the improved experience ate my post last Wednesday and I was too disgusted to start over again. But, I suppose it’s time to stop pouting and get back on the horse. Problem is, I don’t even remember what I was going to write about. How about we take a look at our Halloween costumes?

There wasn’t a whole lot of crafting involved in our costumes, but there was a considerable amount of DIY.

First is Rana. She wanted to be Cleopatra, which is actually what she had intended to be last year before Joan Jett swayed her. The Joan Jett wig was hardly suitable for Cleopatra, so I looked and looked and the best I could find was a Snow White wig. Rana doesn’t know that I cut the red ribbon off. This wig had seen better days and I tried to tame it by soaking it in water and conditioner, but that really didn’t do a thing. To make it look appropriately royal and Egyptian, we needed some kind of headdress. I didn’t really have time to make something elaborate; I found this crochet headband pattern which turns out looking pretty good in gold crochet thread. The beauty of this pattern is that you can make it up in any weight yarn (well, within reason), just use the appropriate sized hook. One thing to note is that this was written with UK crochet terms, so for Americans — when she says “slip stitch,” she means single crochet. It will turn out to be kind of a lumpy mess if you actually slip stitch.

Rana’s Egyptian “dress” is actually a chemise I made from Simplicity 5726 (The Fashion Historian pattern by Martha McCain) which I’ve already talked about here . A gold and silver belt and some canning rings for bracelets finish off the costume. Rana was convinced that she was the spitting image of Cleopatra and we’ll just let her think that because she had fun, and isn’t that what dressing up is all about?

She wouldn't walk like an Egyptian for me.

She wouldn’t walk like an Egyptian for me.

Granota was a kitty cat. With purchased ears and tail, a painted face, and black clothes, her outfit was pretty easy to put together.



Beaten only by… Konik’s pumpkin suit. I crocheted the little stem & berries hat he is wearing, but apparently never blogged about it? I can’t find a post about it. I made it when he was just 1 year old and so now, it is technically Sprinkaan’s hat, but Sprinkaan is a kind and understanding baby and let his big brother borrow it for just one night.

Sugar punkin

Sugar punkin

So that leaves Mr. Gren, Sprinkaan, and me. Can you guess?


Yes, we were Doc, Marty, and Jennifer from “Back to the Future.” We outfitted Baby McFly’s stroller like a little cardboard Delorean, complete with glow-stick flux capacitor. It all started because Sprinkaan already had that little red vest and we went from there. If we had had more time between when we thought of the costumes and when we wore the costumes, we probably could have made a better Delorean. But that’s what you get for one rushed afternoon of work. Also, there was that little issue of making it baby-safe. Rather than being an exact replica, we’ll just say it embodies the essence of the real Delorean.

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need "roads."

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need “roads.”

The Delorean Motor Company probably didn't use cardboard and duct tape.

The Delorean Motor Company probably didn’t use cardboard and duct tape.



1.21 gigawatts!

1.21 gigawatts!


Great Scott!

Great Scott!

There you have it: Halloween 2014!



Boy sweater

That’s a boring title, isn’t it? But there won’t be any confusion as to what I’m writing about today. Boy sweater. A sweater for the boy. A yarny garment for a male child.

If you sew/crochet/knit, you probably already know that there are a dearth of patterns out there for the little boys in the world. And, considering that around 51% of the world’s population is male, you’d think there’d be more of a demand for this type of thing. Well, I should rephrase — there is demand, but the supply is seriously lacking. So, when I saw that there were THREE boy sweater patterns in the Winter 2014 (that would be this past January) issue of Interweave Crochet, I jumped all over that. And these weren’t embarrassing granny square 70s throwback sweaters; these looked like sweaters that boys of today would actually wear and {gasp} enjoy wearing.

I chose the “Jonas” sweater and Konik and I took a trip to the yarn store. Not a craft store — an honest-to-goodness yarn store. I often can’t afford all the fancy yarns, but I wanted this to be a nice, durable sweater for my boy. The original pattern was worked with Brown Sheep Company Cotton Fleece, which the yarn store carried, but I didn’t like any of the colors. Instead, we went with Cascade Yarns Cascade 220 Heathers; it’s a 100% Peruvian Wool. That should keep him warm! I let Konik choose the colors and he ended up choosing two that were quite similar to the picture in the magazine — a rusty brown and gray-blue.

This pattern was worked in Tunisian crochet. The last time I tried to make a garment for one of my children in Tunisian, I was a novice at it and very            very            slow. Working the Axl afghan changed all that and now I can go almost as fast as I can in regular crochet. I started right away and whipped out the front and back of the sweater in a week or so. And then I made the fatal mistake: I put it away. I can’t remember why now. But I did. And the little sweater languished in my yarn drum for months and months until I finally picked it up again earlier this month to do the sleeves. Aside from a little counting issue I had, the sleeves worked up just as quickly as the body of the sweater and sewing it together was no sweat (see what I did there?). Hurray! The boy sweater was finished! Well, apart from inserting the zipper in the collar, but I didn’t want to wait on that to try it on Konik.

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Still awaiting the zipper.

Still awaiting the zipper.

Close-up of the stitches. Ribbing along the bottom edge, cuffs, and collar of the sweater.

Close-up of the stitches. Ribbing along the bottom edge, cuffs, and collar of the sweater.

Konik was just as excited; he had been looking forward to this sweater for a long time. I helped him put it on and… he looked like a little wool-encased sausage. And the sleeves were at that awkward length in between “long” and “3/4.” Yeah, I should have expected it: in ten months, my son grew. It made me claustrophobic just looking at him and the poor kid couldn’t even get out of it by himself. We extracted him from the sweater and sadly admitted that it was going to have to be put away for a couple years until Sprinkaan grows into it. Hopefully I won’t miss that window! It looks like Konik and I are going to have to make another trip to the yarn store and this time, I’ll make it a size bigger. Maybe two.

Keep warm and well-fed

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16

Our neighbor has hit a bit of a rough patch. Actually, his rough “patch” has lasted a couple of years and so far there’s no real end in sight. Man, we know how that goes. Do we ever. With the memory of our own rough patch in the not-so-distant past, we’ve been doing what we can to help out Mr. S. He has some specific dietary needs and not a lot of extra cash, so I try to make him a good, warm dinner at least once a week, knowing that most of the time he just kind of snacks on stuff or eats whatever he can find on sale. As the weather started turning this month, I became concerned that he might not be all that warm. Let’s just say that his accommodations leave something to be desired. And you know what? It stinks to wake up in the morning and be so frozen that you can’t bear to leave your bed and start the day.

These thoughts happened to coincide with the nearby grocery/department store having a small bin of yarn marked at 50% off clearance prices. Oh boy, you know I can’t resist that! I got three balls of Lion Brand “Amazing.” It’s a 53% wool/47% acrylic blend and for a “cheap” yarn, it really does feel amazing. I got it in the manly colorway of “Rainforest” — a mix of greens and browns.

First, I crocheted Mr. S a hat. There are a billion and one hat patterns out there, which should make it easy to find a suitable one, but sometimes it’s just overwhelming. I searched for a little while and then landed on this one: Carmel by Drops Design. It is single crocheted in the back loops all the way around to give it some texture.


Close-up of the texture. The color isn't coming through right in the photo, though.

Close-up of the texture. The color isn’t coming through right in the photo, though.

For the gloves, I knew I wanted to make them fingerless so that Mr. S could enjoy the warmth, but still use his computer or phone, write, whatever. All those things that it’s nice to have fingertips for. There aren’t as many patterns for these as there are for hats, but there are still plenty to choose from. A lot of them, however, are awfully girly looking. Which is great if the future wearer is a girl. But my intended recipient is a man. Who works in construction. I wanted to be careful that there was no apparent sissiness. This pattern — Fingerless or Not — worked out great. The instructions were easy to follow and working the individual fingers was not as tricky as it seemed it would be. Mr. Gren was kind enough to model for us.





Creepy crawly hands

Creepy crawly hands

I put the hat and gloves in a paper sack, tied it with a ribbon and wrote “Happy Autumn” on it and left it where I knew Mr. S would find it when he got home. The next day, Mr. Gren received an email from him giving us an update on how he was doing — he was feeling pretty beaten up after some painful interactions with a loved one in his life, on top of the current financial stresses. Finding my little gift was a welcome pick-me-up. He said, “No one has ever knitted anything for me before. I will cherish them.” We’ll forgive him for confusing knitting and crochet and get to the heart of the sentiment: more than just warming his head and hands, my hat and gloves reminded him that not all is despair, he is worthy of care and love and someone recognized that.

So why am I telling you all this? Not to toot my own horn. Open your eyes to needs around you, especially as the weather is getting colder heading into winter. Make a warm meal for someone; volunteer at a homeless shelter; use your talents and abilities to bring a bright spot to someone’s otherwise dismal day. Go on, I challenge you.

So this happened…




I opened the closet in my sewing room Saturday morning and was greeted by the sight of a storage container avalanche. A jumble of small plastic tubs and caved-in cardboard boxes. Would you like that in paper or plastic? ‘Cause I had sacks of both persuasions falling over, dripping down the mountains of stuff like they were Dali’s clocks. In that moment, I completely forgot whatever it was I had gone looking for. In that moment… I transformed into my alter ego Purge-n-Organize Girl! Ok, that’s a terrible super hero name. But if you could have seen the blaze of outraged perfectionist fury chucking things out of that closet into the (not so ) vast expanse of my sewing room… you would have been awed by my powers. No longer would I stand for having painting supplies in three different places! No more would I have crochet hooks scattered about in some kind of haystackian needle hide and seek! But, it’s always darkest before the dawn and it’s always messiest before any discernible progress is made. The above photos document the mid-point of the process; you should have seen it when I started! Too bad I couldn’t find my camera then… As of this writing, I’m about 75% done and it’s already feeling better in there. All paintbrushes and paints are happily homed together; fabric bins are stacked together rather than on opposite sides of the room.

So why am I telling you all about my cleaning binge? Because there was no time for creating whilst I was destroying.

Wednesday should be better!

Bags for ballet

It has been a longstanding dream of Granota’s to take ballet classes. From the time she learned to walk, she was prancing about on her tiptoes, reading books about ballet, watching videos about ballet, and dressing up as a ballerina (courtesy of our well-equipped dress-up bin). She has a grace of movement that you don’t often see in young children and Mr. Gren and I have wanted to send her to ballet lessons for years, but just haven’t had the means.

Until this year!

We signed both girls up for lessons, beginning in September and surprised them by driving by the dance studio and letting it sink in. I had ordered their leotards, tights, and shoes, but then it occurred to me a week before their classes began: they’ll need something to keep all their gear in. Both girls were adamant that they have duffel bags, because that’s what they’ve seen on the movies and in books. Fair enough. They also wanted their bags to match the color of their leotards: pink for Granota and purple for Rana. I got close. I wanted to use home decorating canvas to help give the bags some strength and structure. There was no plain pink or purple but there were zigzagged stripes. I’m actually glad that was the “only option” because, in the end, I think they made cooler-looking bags than just a solid color.

I’ve never sewn a duffel bag before and, while I probably could have figured it out on my own, I only had a week to get ‘er done and didn’t want to take the time putzing around when surely someone else has already done all the legwork for me. It’s the internet age, of course someone has done it and posted about it somewhere. I found a man’s blog called Bag’n-telle that is all about sewing bags of various shapes and types. I’m sho nuff not going to reinvent this wheel when he has written such a thorough and detailed tutorial, so I’ll just show you a bit of how my bags went together.


The very first thing was to cut out the ends of the bag. The diameter of this circle piece determines the size of your bag. Of course, you can make the bag as long as you want. I kept the scale appropriate for young children by making the bag only 18″ long. The circle, as you can see, was just slightly larger than 8″ across. I think I used a plate or a lid or something kitchen-related for my template. The width of the bag is equal to the circumference of the circle. Ugh, I know. Where did all this geometry come from? Just know that if you make a duffel bag, there is some math involved. But hey, I did it and lived to tell the tale, so you can, too.


After cutting out the rectangle for the body of the bag, I cut out a small rectangle for the exterior pocket. Here’s the nifty thing: I only had to finish the top and bottom edges. The top, I folded over for a nice, clean finish because I would be attaching velcro to it. The bottom edge I was lazy and did the minimal amount possible which means: pink that sucker.


Positioning the pocket on the flat bag involves more math, as does matching up the velcro bits. I KNOW. (Can you even believe it, Dad?) It also involved, in my case, matching up zigzags. Actually, I had to do that first before cutting out the pocket so that I would be sure to have a piece of fabric that was the appropriate distance from the top and sides, etc. etc. while still matching. My head asplode. Notice how the side edges of the pocket are not finished — that is because they will be sewn down under the webbing straps. I almost wimped out and just made fabric handles for the bag, but then I decided to go ahead and get the webbing (which is pretty cheap, by the way). That, combined with the “sport” style zipper and D-rings for the shoulder strap really makes it look legit.


Slightly more math was involved in arranging the webbing strap (sewn into a giant loop), but having the cutting board underneath with 1″ squares marked all around really helped this step. The left and right ends of the bag in the photo will eventually be joined together via zipper. I had the webbing extend 3″ beyond those edges, but it is actually loose all the way down to the top of the pocket and the corresponding distance on the other side. Looks to be about 3.5″. Also, I confess that initially, after having bought the webbing, I was only going to make handles and not the giant loop. But upon further reflection, it seemed to me that having the webbing extend all the way under the bag would strengthen it and give it support. That also meant that I had to go back and buy another length of webbing for the shoulder strap because I had to use the entire first length to make the giant loop. Another one of those live and learn moments. Don’t be like me.


At the point where your handle begins, you’ll want to sew an X, like this, for strength. There’s going to be a lot of stress on the bag at this point, so it needs as much help as it can get.


I put in the zipper and then made teeny-tiny tabs for the D-rings and sewed those to the edge of the bag, being sure to miss the zipper ends. Seriously: legit. I mean, I made something with hardware. Next was to sew in the circle ends and, for a normal person, you would then be done. But I am not a normal person. I have to make things more difficult better. Lining the bags! So making the lining itself (I used heavy-duty nylon) was easy because it’s just the rectangular bag piece and the two end pieces — no straps or zippers or bits of metal. I had to go and mess with that, too, though, by inserting a small zipper pocket on one side (opposite the exterior velcro pocket). To attach the lining, I topstitched it around the zipper, which mostly looked ok, as long as you don’t look too closely at the ends where it got a little wiggly.


Photo courtesy of a small child with interesting perspective

But wait! We aren’t finished yet! Granota was concerned that her street shoes would dirty the inside of her duffel bag, which would, in turn, dirty her ballet stuff. She was probably right. So I made a small pouch-style bag with an elastic top for their street shoes.


NOW we are done!





Totally legit.

Autumn day

Today’s post (which was actually supposed to have been last Wednesday’s post) is taking awhile. Numerous interruptions, various other commitments, and I have come to terms with the fact that it’s not going to be ready for today. So, in order to prove that I am still alive and not taking another unannounced hiatus, I took some pictures of autumnal type things around the yard.

One of three scraggly old apple trees

One of three scraggly old apple trees

Moss and ferns growing on the branches of the apple tree

Moss and ferns growing on the branches of the apple tree

Just a few of the many, many oak leaves in our yard

Just a few of the many, many oak leaves in our yard

Acorn on the patio

Acorn on the patio

See you later this week!