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!

Paint a pineapple pot

Have you ever grown a pineapple?

I have to admit, the notion had never crossed my mind until reading a fantastic little book that I found in the library this past spring. I enjoyed this book so much that I even bought a copy for myself.

toad cottages

Yeah, I know it says it’s for grandmas and I am a long ways off from being one. But the ideas in here are so fun, I didn’t feel like waiting around when I can do them with my own kids. There are so many sweet ideas, many of them somehow related to gardening or the outdoors. Rana and Granota have had a lot of fun building a variety of fairy houses all summer out of pieces of bark, moss, acorns and whatever else they can find in the yard. I really love how the book encourages creativity and an appreciation for nature.

One of the long term projects is growing a pineapple plant. You start with a fresh pineapple from the store which, of course, you get to eat, so even if your plant goes kaput, you really haven’t lost anything. Before slicing into your pineapple, however, the first thing you need to do is carefully twist off the top bunch of leaves. It’s surprisingly easy to do. Remove a few of the lower leaves until you can see little brown dots in the nub of flesh; those brown dots are where the new roots will sprout! Then stick your pineapple top into a jar of water, making sure those little brown dots are always submerged. After a few weeks, you’ll have some healthy pineapple roots swirling around in the water.


At this point, the plant needs a permanent dirt home. I bought a large terra cotta pot for the job, but far be it from me to just leave it plain. I dithered around for awhile, trying to decide how I wanted to decorate my pot. Finally, I got inspiration from an iron-on transfer book I have (does anyone still use those?). Obviously, there will be no ironing on a terra cotta pot, so I got my pencil and freehand drew the pictures I wanted based on the ones in the book. It was a nice way to spend a hot summer day, sitting out on the porch, soaking up the vitamin D and being artsy.

The painting itself took place over the next week or so. Believe it or not, four kids provide plenty of interruptions. Who knew, right? Sometimes I sat out on the porch, sometimes I moved in to my sewing room if it was too hot, but all the while surrounded by my brushes and paints. Those were happy moments.


There are two large flowers and two birds encircling the pot


Flower #1 didn’t turn out quite as I had envisioned, but I like the colors



This side is my favorite


Now my pineapple has a fun and pretty place to call home. And now you want to go buy a pineapple.



Monday’s post was long, wasn’t it? Whew. I think all of us need a little breather after that behemoth. So look here: I sewed a tablecloth!


It barely counts as sewing. This length of fabric (a generous gift from a friend in France) — genuine Provençal, I might add — was perfect in width for our table and nearly so in length (that is, sans leaves). I let the selvedges be the long edge and then trimmed and hemmed the shorter ends. Ta dah! I know, I know, I have such a pretty table now. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to change things up! The bright blue and yellow and the smattering of sunflowers make me happy.

I heart craigslist, part 2

You probably thought I had forgotten about this, too, huh? Never fear! It was just waiting in the wings.

In part 1, I showed you our table’s amazing transformation and noted at the end the hodge-podge of chairs around it. I like the hodge-podge. One little nugget of wisdom that I took from years of watching “What Not to Wear” was “It doesn’t have to match, it just has to go.” And that suits me just fine. Too much matchy-matchy and it begins to feel a little sterile, a little cold, whether that be outfits or furniture. So in that spirit of “going” versus “matching,” Mr. Gren and I have been keeping our eyes peeled for old wooden chairs on craigslist. Our entire criteria consists of: must be wood, preferably unfinished, $10 or less. There are certain styles I just don’t like, so I’m not falling all over myself for every wood chair that hits the ads. This chair set the tone for our hunt:


This chair has been a part of my life for 26 years. It had been left in the shed of the house my family moved to when I was in 3rd grade, and, other than the gouge mark I made in it when using it as a sawhorse at the age of 12, it has always looked like this, even down to the paint flecks on the leather seat. I don’t know what its history was before it became part of our family, but I’m glad it was forgotten so that I could adopt it.

Chairs number 2 and 3, each found on craigslist for ten bucks, are as follows:



The first one obviously needs a new seat cover. I haven’t decided yet what I want to do about that. See, there’s this issue of children. Either I choose something indestructible, or else I have to make peace with the kids putting their own, ahem, “special touch” on it. Having to re-upholster it more than once is a distinct possibility in that scenario.

Chair number 3 garnered a lot of love from the kids who dubbed it The Potty Seat and pretended to flush each other down the gaping hole in the center of the seat. (C’mon, if you fit through that hole, you totally would have done the same thing). When we first saw this chair on craigslist, I hadn’t noticed the groove about 1/2″ all the way around the hole. I was thinking of upholstering a small board to fit and nailing it all together. When we got it home, I realized that the hole had previously been covered by caning. You know the type — I think everybody’s grandma has at least one item of caned furniture.

But where does one get replacement caning? What a silly question. Amazon, of course! Amazon has everything. For $25, we got a complete kit with easy-to-follow instructions. Slightly annoyed that we could have bought another two and a half chairs for that, but weighing that with the option of having a worthless chair on hand is what made us decide to go for it. Besides, I watched YouTube videos on the process, so I’m an expert now.

This isn’t going to be a real how-to or tutorial because the videos (of which there are many) do a good job of explaining how this works. I’m just going to show our work. No need to reinvent the wheel here!

To start with, we lucked out that someone had already removed the old caning and spline; from what I learned, that is the hardest part of the job.


I guess I skipped the part where we painted the chair. Look, we painted the chair!

After soaking the sheet of caning and the spline in the bathtub for a half hour or so, it was time to start applying it to the chair. This is definitely a two person job, so if you foresee caning in your future, grab a buddy. And if you need to photograph the process, a 6 year old will do.


First, I laid the sheet of caning over the hole, trying to keep the grain as straight as possible.



Then, using those little wooden wedges pictured above (they are included in the kit), Mr. Gren pounded the caning into the groove. That sounds easy, and really, it’s not difficult, but it was a little bit fiddly. The caning had a tendency to pop out on the side opposite of where Mr. Gren was pounding it in. That’s why it’s good to have two sets of hands working on this to help hold things down that don’t want to stay down.


Once the caning was pounded in sufficiently enough that it wouldn’t pop out, we removed the wedges. Now it was time to carefully lay the spline (a long, flexible whip of wood). We chose a center point at the back of the seat to begin and end the spline. Putting the spline in involved more wedges and pounding and popping out and pounding. Granota got bored and found another subject to photograph.


Meanwhile, Mr. Gren and I are still working in the background. So it’s not a completely gratuitous picture of my adorable baby.

Finally, the spline was in and nothing was popping out! Now came perhaps the hardest task of the whole process: cutting off the extra caning.


We probably could have stood to replace the blade in our box cutter for one thing. I’m not sure that would have helped immensely, though. There’s just no way to make one long, clean slice through all the extra caning. Mr. Gren had to cut through each of those little strips all while trying not to nick the paint (we did end up having to do some touch-up afterwards, so anyone attempting this should probably just count on that). The uber-frustrating part of cutting the caning off was that, because of the angle of some of the woven strips, they would pull up and threaten to pull out the whole strip. Holding the little wooden wedge in helped with that and gave Mr. Gren something to cut against.


We ran a bead of wood glue over the spline and trimmed any little stragglers poking up. A little wipe down and the job was done! You have to let the seat dry and tighten up for a day or so before using it. We were a little nervous when the time came for the inaugural sitting… but it has held Mr. Gren for the past four months, so I think it’s safe to say we did it right!

IMG_5782 Here’s where we’re at so far! Somehow, I don’t have a “before” picture of chair #4, so… surprise! We have four chairs! We’d like to get four more, plus we need to do the seats on chairs #1 and 2. You will see more chairs here eventually! And they won’t have to match; they just have to go.