Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My first hand-knit sweater

Last Sunday, as my husband took his turn reading a book by one of our new favorite authors (Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness), I finished my first hand-knit sweater.

Even though I was listening and enjoying the chapter that he was reading, I had to try it on immediately and stand in front of our bedroom mirror to enjoy this new accomplishment.

Then the next day, being a workday, was a good opportunity to enjoy wearing it again. And for that reason, I didn't even mind that the high temperature that afternoon was only 45 degrees. I am looking forward to spring-like weather, but I really didn't mind the cold on Monday. It was so fun to enjoy wearing something I made that can keep me warm.

And now I'm back to knitting for others. I'm working on another little project for a future gift for my sister. Since she sometimes reads this blog, I won't give her any hints at this point about what it is. But it's quite a bit smaller than a sweater, which makes it perfect for a warmer weather project. I do want to make another sweater again someday. Maybe next fall I'll find another pattern and make one with this same pattern. It was easy for a beginner like me, and it only cost a dollar to download from Lion Brand. If anyone is interested in making this same sweater, it's posted here on the Lion Brand site.

How about Pasta e Fagioli for dinner tonight?

A couple of years ago, I went to Olive Garden with some friends from the ministry where I work, and I remember enjoying a soup called Pasta e Fagioli. We don't eat out very much, so I haven't been back to Olive Garden, and when I saw a recipe for this soup in my copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, I knew that I'd have to make a point of trying it.

I wasn't at all disappointed. It had more vegetables than the Olive Garden version, and this Pasta e Fagioli recipe is one we'll definitely make again. It's hearty and satisfying, with a great tasting base, starting with chicken broth, but then flavored with bacon, red pepper flakes, oregano, and lots of tomato, onion, and garlic. You top it all off with some grated fresh Parmesan.

6 slices bacon, chopped medium
1 large onion, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
28 oz. diced tomatoes
2 (15.5-oz.) cans cannellini beans, rinsed
3-1/2 cups chicken broth
2-1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt (I used garlic salt)
8 oz. pasta (traditionally something like orzo, but I used small penne)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley (I used a tablespoon or so of dried)
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the bacon in a large heavy pot over medium heat until crisp. Stir in the onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion is softened. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, beans, broth, water, and garlic salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the pasta and cook until just slightly underdone. (Note: You want to be sure not to overcook the pasta, especially if you're using orzo or another really small kind of pasta, because you don't want the pasta to become mushy in your soup.) Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual bowls with Parmesan.

Note: Traditionally, you also drizzle a little olive oil on each serving of soup as a finishing step, but I always try to cut calories where I can (especially when the extra oil doesn't seem necessary). So I just topped each bowl with the Parmesan.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Karen has a brand-new bag!

Last weekend, I was back to making something for myself again in the sewing room...I made this new bag for myself using, of all things, an old rag rug that I used to use in our kitchen.

My husband didn't like the rag rugs on the floor. He complained that they were too slippery. So they were relegated to the linen closet until...I found a pattern in a book from the library that showed how to transform ordinary household items into purses and tote bags. So I put one of those abandoned rag rugs to use, and I'm thrilled with the result.

The original pattern came from a book called Low-Tech Boutique: 25+ Quick & Clever Projects Using Ready-Mades by Cheryl Weiderspahn. There were several fun ideas in the book, but I settled on the one that wouldn't require a trip to the store. Actually, this pattern called for placemats for the part that you see on the front and in the interior of the bag that forms the exterior and interior pockets. But, not having coordinating placemats that I wanted to sacrifice for this project, I opted to use calico from my stash instead.

Though it's probably hard to see from this photos, I made generous use of pockets in this bag. The interior has pockets lining both sides in a variety of sizes--for my cell phone, glasses case, checkbook, keys, etc., as well as knitting needles, crochet hooks, embroidery scissors, depending on what I'm currently making...I rarely go anywhere without at least a small project in my bag to work on if I have to do any waiting.

Hand-Made Gifts

In addition to clothing, I've been having fun making gifts again. Last Saturday was the birthday of a dear friend of mine from the office. So I surprised her last week at work with this sweet little flower pincushion and card.

I made the card using the same pattern that I used with the buttons on this version, but I made fabric yo-yos this time to use instead of the buttons. You can see that I used the same fabrics for the card that I used for the pincushion.

She was thrilled with the gift and said that she'd actually use this pincushion, whereas the hen pincushion that I made her last year is more of a decorative item for her sewing room. (I'll have to post a photo of that pincushion some time. I thought that I had done that already, but that must have been pre-digital camera.)

This friend loves to do crafts, too, and has recently been busy making simple baby quilts for future babies...We have a number of young women in our ministry who are newlyweds, and we're expecting to eventually receive a few birth announcements.

It's a really joy to work at a place where we can really participate in the major life events of our colleagues. In the past five years, my husband and I have had the pleasure of attending weddings and showers (both bridal and baby showers), and we've share in the sorrow of the grief of funerals as well...That makes me think of my Fighter Verse this week, about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. God is so good to give us such fellowship in the workplace.

Sewing for Me

Last fall I started to get an itch to sew clothes again. I hadn't done much fashion sewing at all in many years. Actually, I hadn't done that at all since moving to the Twin Cities, and it was especially painful to consider for a while because it reminded me so much of my mother, who passed away in October of 2003.

But now that time has smoothed a bit of the edge off the pain of losing one so dear, I'm finding it very sweet to honor her memory by sewing clothes for myself again.

Last fall, I sewed two peasant-style blouses and a simple six-gored skirt with an elastic waist. I also started the purple dress that you see here, but I didn't finish it until Easter this year. I was going to wear it to a wedding last fall, but I ended up wearing it to a wedding this spring. And now I'm thinking of more clothes for spring and summer.

The pink blouse on this post is what I finished two weekends ago. It's similar to the peasant blouses that I made last fall, except for the ruffle on the sleeves. It looks rather sloppy on the hanger, but I received three compliments the first day I wore it to the office. I plan to make another blouse like this soon, perhaps with flutter-style sleeves. I'll use this pattern for the body of the blouse and another for the sleeve variation.

I'm also considering another dress. The purple one above looks really nice on me, but the princess lines were challenging. Without my mother's help to handle the fine details of fitting princess lines, I'm finding that I really should make myself a dress form. My husband's willing to help me, and I know that it would be handy to have. I just need to find a good weekend to do it. In the meantime, I'm dreaming of making a dress with a sweetheart-style neckline in a lighter fabric to wear for the summer.

Sewing for myself is really satisfying. Not only can I make clothes to fit my unique preferences, but it's also creative and practical. And so much of what I see in the stores these days is far from what I'd consider modest. A plunging neckline only seems appropriate in the privacy of our home.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two more reasons to enjoy this weather

We didn't get a foot of snow, as some of the earliest forecasts predicted this time, but it does still look like winter out there, so I thought of two more reasons to enjoy this weather until spring is here...

11) I love to bake, and it warmed the house yesterday when I baked up another batch of my raisin bran muffins. And today, I started a batch of whole wheat bread using my Herman sourdough starter.

12) We can enjoy our fireplace. My husband built a fire for us last night to enjoy while we listened to the last CD in the set for Dorothy Sayer's mystery titled "Gaudy Night." If you've never tried any of Dorothy Sayer's mystery books (there are 14 in this series), we'd highly recommend them. They're extremely well written. Sayers was one of the first female Oxford graduates, and at some point in her life she became a Christian and spent her last years writing theological books. But before then, she wrote really clever mysteries that have kept us guessing until the end every time. And, though they are fictional, her books are said to give an accurate picture of life in England during the period between the two World Wars as seen through the eyes of a British nobleman.

So that's probably three reasons to enjoy this weather as we wait for spring here in "frozen North". But actually, my husband and I enjoy books together year-round. We're always reading a book together at night before going to sleep, or listening to one on CD or on e-download from the library. We don't watch television, except for the major sporting events (e.g., the Super Bowl), and we don't know when we'd have time for TV anyway, if there was ever anything worthwhile to watch. I'm so glad that my husband loves books as much as I do, and that we can share the joy of reading together.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Top Ten Reasons to Be Happy Despite the Weather

For those of us who live in the "frozen North" (aka Minnesota and all parts northward), this is the time of the year when we tend to become a bit grumpy about winter weather. We have our first snowfall sometime around the end of October usually, and we really don't officially start spring here most years until sometime in May.

Before then, we're liable to have little glimpses of spring, but we must not get too attached to the idea yet. We must just accept the fact that until mid- to late-May, snow is still possible. In fact, if you live north of the Twin Cities, you might even have snow longer. I heard earlier this week that Virginia, Minnesota had about 20 inches of snow recently.

So last night as I was driving home from work listening to the radio and hearing reports of more snow coming, the thought occurred to me that I should come up with at least 10 good (in my opinion) reasons to be happy despite the weather.

So here are my top 10 reasons:

  1. Jesus is Lord! That's always my top reason for being happy. Our happiness (or joy) must not be based on circumstances. Only Jesus can fulfill the deep needs of my heart, and everything else (and everyone else) will eventually fail to meet my expectations.
  2. As a believer, God commands my joy. The Bible tells me to delight myself in the Lord. That's not a suggestion. It's a command, and yet it's a command that will be to my own personal advantage to follow.
  3. Conversely, God is not happy with those who complain. In fact, it's a sin, because when we grumble about this world or this life or our circumstances, etc., we're really grumbling against God. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they grumbled, and as a result, God had them wandering around for 40 years before He brought them to the Promised Land. I've heard it said that it should have only taken 11 days to get there.
  4. God gives us the snow for our own good. It's a great source of water for the soil, which is good news for our local farmers, as well as those of us who garden. It goes into the earth much more evenly than rain in most places, and this has not been a snowy winter for those of us in central Minnesota. We need the snow, or a really wet, rainy spring, or we'll be facing possible drought conditions in the summer. Last summer, as I recall, some of parts of the metro had watering bans because of drought conditions.
  5. Cold snowy weather makes it really nice to snuggle with my Sweetheart and our dog. When it's cold, we love to snuggle. And when it's not cold, I'm convinced my husband likes to artificially make it colder in our house so that snuggling will still be enjoyable...I'm so thankful for a husband who loves being affectionate.
  6. Continued cold, snowy weather means that I can continue to enjoy my vast sweater collection. That's not a very lofty reason for happiness, but it is sincere. And that's probably why I got into knitting recently and got back into doing crochet. I love sweaters, and I'm nearly done with knitting my first personally-knit sweater.
  7. Cold, snowy weather means that I can also focus on sewing and other indoor activities, instead of feeling guilty that I'm not out pulling weeds in the garden. Though I love our garden and our plant boxes, and I look forward every year to enjoying the flowers and other greenery, it does mean that I have less opportunity to "play" in my sewing room. In fact, after I post this, I'm heading upstairs to work on a new spring blouse. I know I"ll be able to wear it soon, and until then, I enjoy the spring colors in the fabric as I work with it.
  8. Those of us who live in climates where we experience a long winter REALLY appreciate the spring and summer. I'm convinced that this is the reason gardening is so very popular in this part of the country. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder when it comes to gardening. We have a really condensed growing season here, and we really make the most of it.
  9. We enjoy four true seasons here. For me, Christmas is all the more lovely because we usually have a blanket of snow on the ground. And then spring is so amazing with its first flowers especially. I eagerly look forward to seeing my hyacinths pop up and blossom, and then the tulips, followed by the irises. And fall is gorgeous with all of its warm browns and reds and golds. We have so many trees that display fall colors.
  10. Because of our long, cold winters, insects and rodents don't have much time to grow large or to procreate. I know that spiders and beetles and cockroaches are God's creatures just as much as the rest, but I wouldn't want to live in a place where bugs have the whole year to grow and get larger. Oh, and snakes, too...
It really is good to live in the northern climates. I know that it's not for everyone, but I'm really happy here. And I imagine that we'll have four climates in heaven, too, probably. But if we do, we'll have them with all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cloche Hat and Scarf

My sister just sent me this photo to post on the blog. It's the cloche hat and scarf that I made for her birthday this year. It's not actually for the teddy bear. He's just serving as a very cooperative model for her photo.

I made the hat using a free online pattern from Lion Brand the scarf pattern came from a book by Debbie Stoller that I borrowed from the library...You know, it's been more than two year since I started crocheting again and nearly a year since I re-taught myself how to knit, and I've only needed to buy one pattern for crochet or knitting during that time. Most of my yarn has been from my mother's stash, though I did buy a few skeins this winter for various projects. But God has provided for all of this, and I am truly grateful. I love to be able to share gifts I make myself with family and friends.

Right now, I'm working on a project for myself. Some of that newly purchased yarn was a gift from a friend who gave me a JoAnn Fabrics gift card for Christmas last year. I used that gift to buy enough skeins of Wool-Ease in the Denim Twist color to make myself a sweater. It will be my first knit sweater, and I'm a little more than halfway done with it now. I work on it during lunch hours at the office, on long car rides, and sometimes during family gatherings when everyone is just sitting around watching a sporting event on TV. That sweater is the first and only pattern that I've chosen to buy. And it was only $1 to download from Lion Brand.

I have no business interests in Lion Brand personally, nor do I know anyone who works there, but I'd highly recommend their patterns and yarn, especially for beginners. I've had a few questions about things I hadn't done before as I've been working on this pattern, and each time it's only taken a matter of hours for someone at that company to write back in response to my emailed question with an answer that has made it possible for me to continue with my pattern. They really seem to care about making their customers successful in doing their projects. That's good business for them, of course, but good customer service is rare in this day and age. It's such a blessing when you find a company that really stands behind its products.