Saturday 28 May 2016

Perfect Pumpkin Soup

Autumn has finally started to behave as she should!  I even felt invigorated by crisp mornings and cooler temperatures (briefly) last week.  In fact, it seems as if we've jumped straight into Winter.  This makes it Soup Weather.
Pumpkin Soup, Crusty Bread & a Bacon Crumb
Several years ago (not admitting just how many), I had a Pumpkin Soup Obsession.  Any time I was at a cafe for lunch I would have Pumpkin Soup.  I managed to test all of the soups in my small country town, and figured out which one was the best.  (There was also a Lasagne Obsession, but we won't go into that right now.)  My obsession gradually evolved into an obsession with finding the Perfect Pumpkin Soup recipe.  I didn't manage to find The Perfect Pumpkin Soup in all the places I was looking, so I developed my own over the years.  You need to appreciate the huge sacrifices I made in the research for this Obsession.  And now I'm going to share it with you!

I'm definitely no creative Recipe Developer - I read other people's blogs in awe, as they seem to effortlessly conjure up myriads of creative ideas to throw together each day.  That is not me.

But I love my Perfect Pumpkin Soup recipe, and over the years I've had good feedback from flatmates and husband that it's yummy.  So now I'm going to share it with you.

If you too are being lured by the siren call of Autumn Pumpkins and need more ideas than just my humble Perfect Pumpkin Soup recipe, you should definitely check out The Five Beans blog about ah-maz-ing Pumpkin Recipes.  Elissa is definitely a creative Recipe Developer!  I'll be buying more pumpkins so I can try some of her recipes out.  Not sure about the Pumpkin Beer though!

Here's my Perfect Pumpkin Soup.  I would normally cook this in my big Soup Pot, but we still haven't got our cook top installed.  (We have finally managed to buy it though, although we seriously considered ditching it for more bench space.)
I have tried this recipe in the Thermomix, which will work if you need it to, but in my opinion, I honestly think it tastes better the old-fashioned way.

I think it gives the flavours time to develop properly; allows for caramelisation at the beginning of the recipe; and I've often thought that the wooden spoon you use should really be listed in your ingredients - surely there is a piquancy added from the spoon being used, especially when it sits in the pot for a while ;).  TMX instructions are at the bottom.
Thermomix-ing it.  But it's better the old-fashioned way.  We just had no cooktop at the time.

olive oil - a splash
Not-so-secret herbs & spices

butter - a knob
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
bacon - 2 rashers
Butternut Pumpkin - you could use half at a pinch, but I like to make a big batch when I'm cooking, so usually use a whole one
1-2 potatoes
Stock - chicken or vegie stock
4 cloves - count them carefully in, count them carefully out! if you use the Tmx, they will be blended in, so you don't need to worry
cinnamon - a couple of shakes
nutmeg - one shake
bay leaf
oregano, dried - two shakes
More not-so-secret ingredients

basil, dried - one shake
chives, dried - one shake
tomato paste, generous tablespoon - trust me on this - it gives a depth of flavour to the soup, so it's a full flavour, not a light sweet tone
honey, generous tablespoon
chilli flakes, to taste - the idea of these is to give a little warming heat, so I usually just add a light shake, but if you loooove chilli, go for your life!
tabasco sauce, dash
cracked pepper - to taste
milk, or cream, if desired
Natural Yoghurt or Sour cream to serve

  • Place olive oil & butter in the pot (I use both, as it gives the rich flavour of the butter while the oil stops it from burning)
  • Gently heat oil/butter & saute onion & garlic until soft and they gain a little colour
  • Add the herbs and spices, including Bay leaf and cloves.  Allow them to saute for a few minutes until they become fragrant.  
  • Add the tomato paste and the honey.  Allow these to warm through and become a little runny. 
  • While you are starting the soup, peel & chop Pumpkin roughly I've tried leaving the skin on, which you can do - it's very nutritious, but I prefer the flavour without the skin.  Still, knowing you can leave it on means you don't have to be as precious about peeling it
  • Peel & chop potatoes roughly, and add
  • Stir the pumpkin & potato, thoroughly through the spice mixture with a wooden spoon so they become coated in all that yummy goodness.
  • Then add the stock.  I used to always use chicken stock, but now tend to use the Tmx Vegetable Stock we have in the fridge.  It's quite yummy!  I judge the amount of stock by how much is required to barely cover the Pumpkin.  Follow the package directions for stock : water ratio if you are using a powdered stock.  If you are in a hurry, have the water pre-boiled in the kettle.
  • Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • I keep the lid sitting on the pot, but slightly offset so that some steam can escape, without losing too much liquid.
  • Allow to simmer until the pumpkin & potato are soft.  This is your minimum cooking time - it can be as quick as 15 minutes, especially if you pre-boil the water.
  • I find that the soup improves if you have time to simmer it for longer.  A good 30 minutes is definitely worth it!
  • When the soup is cooked through, allow to cool a little (if you have time) before blending (carefully!) with a stick mixer.  Once you start the blending process, you will be able to spot your cloves and bay leaf and remove these so there are no nasty surprises for anyone!
  • If you'd like to add a little milk, do so at this point, and gently bring back up to heat - don't add too much or you will dilute the flavour. I used to always add milk to this, to make it creamier (or even cream if I had some on hand) but I find it really doesn't need it.
I've done this in a slow cooker too, in which I am able to brown my ingredients before starting the slow cooker phase.  It works quite well, although I prefer the stove top version.
Bacon crumb.  Because I forgot to put the bacon in at the start.
Cook bacon in the oven, allow to cool, blitz in your food processor.
To serve, it's delicious with a dollop of Greek Yoghurt, and a sprinkling of chives (if you have some).

Add some crusty bread and butter, and Voila.

There you have it:  Perfect Pumpkin Soup

If you have a Thermomix, this is how I did it:

Butter, oil, onion & garlic in - 4 sec / Speed 5

Scrape down sides, then 3 min / 120 / speed 1

Add spices, herbs, tabasco, tomato paste & honey:  1 min / 100 / reverse speed 1

Add pumpkin & potato: 10-15 sec / reverse speed 2 

Check to see if pumpkin is coated with flavourings.  Repeat if necessary.

Cook 20 min / 100 / Reverse Speed 1  (this was to save breaking up the bay leaf too much)

Blitz at end if needed - 10 sec, speed 5

Friday 27 May 2016

Adventures in Knitting: Blocking 101

Many years ago I did a course run by Morris & Sons on Finishing Garments, it was so fantastic, as they taught many techniques that experienced knitters know about, but most of us haven't heard of. And they can make the difference between things looking, well, a bit home-made or looking awesome!  Over the years I think I've used everything I was taught, but my favourite thing is blocking.

If you knit at all, even if you consider yourself a novice, and you've never blocked anything, or perhaps even don't know what I'm talking about, then this post is for you.

The magic of blocking.

Transforming your lovely completed projects into the real deal.

I have an awesome friend, who knits Sensory Cowls for Dementia patients.  You can buy them in her etsy store here.  My mum is beyond the stage where one of these would be beneficial, but I thought it might be nice for her to have something lovely to cling to.  So I decided to make this muff for her.  It can also double as a cowl.

In a favourite wool shop, I found this beautiful Cleckheaton California yarn.  I was drawn to it because mum would have loved these colours.

After experimenting a bit with stitches (this project was ripped many times at the beginning) I settled for this fisherman's rib type stitch (it must have a proper name but I don't know it) - 4 stocking stitch (garter on the right side, purl on the wrong side) with the 5th stitch garter, to create the rib.  It makes for a smooth outer (which I will actually turn to the inside for mum) and the lovely chunky stitch on the wrong side.

While knitting it, I thought it was too narrow, so I sewed on a knitted lace at the end, which came from a Debbie Bliss Baby Shawl lace in the book Simply Family.

If I knit something similar again, I'm going to figure out how to incorporate the lace into the pattern so I don't have to sew it on afterward, and so it incorporates any variegation in the wool.  I'll let you know if I get around to it!  The colour pattern is mismatched for this one, but I think the clash makes for a happy rainbow.

Back to the blocking:  If you don't know what it is, allow me to explain.

It involves dampening your finished item, and then easing it into the correct shape that you want it to be. You may think you could achieve this by ironing, but ironing doesn't even come within cooee of the outcome of blocking.

More precisely it involves pinning your item to a board in the correct shape.  It makes anything look better - it solves the problem of knitted (and crocheted) items curling up, and it makes it easier to seam up a finished garment, as the stitches and edges have been made more even.

The finished garment, pre-blocking (although I had spoken sternly to it so it wouldn't curl up)
Before Blocking - all curled up & shy
How do you do it?

You need something like a foam core board - available at Eckersleys a large newsagent or even Bunnings.  I've also seen people use the foam tiles used for children's play areas.  Mine is quite large because I once knitted Husband a cardigan.  It took several years, but I got there in the end.  I recommend that you go larger than you think if you are going to make one. I've been glad to have such a large one for many other projects. You can see mine in the photos below.

I ruled lines on mine to give me grid lines to work to - it's been really useful for lining up edges and squaring off corners on my creations.  I didn't measure these precisely, just kept them fairly even. I also used alternating colours to make life easier.  I'm not good at tracking things along a line, so the more help the better - the bane of someone who doesn't have binocular vision

I covered the board in contact so that the marking wouldn't transfer when working with wet items.
Gently dampen
Once you've finished knitting your item, you give it a gentle wash - really you're just trying to get it damp.  This was knitted with a yarn designed for felting, so I was very gentle with it, as the fibres had already started felting in the middle of the ball from the compression.
Squeeze out water gently
Squeeze the water out.

Lay flat on an old towel & roll up to get more moisture out.
Lay flat on towel & roll up to squeeze out excess water

Transfer to the board.

You need lots of pins.

Lay the item out using the grid lines to help you.  Once you have spread it out a little, choose somewhere to start, and start pinning.  It works better if you pin closer, say 1cm apart.  Max 2cm.   Work your way around the piece.
Gently ease the garment into the shape you want - use the gridlines to keep it straight
The idea is to ease your item into the right shapes rather than to stretch it.  However, some items can be treated more aggressively, depending on the effect you want or if the sizing didn't quite work out.
Pinning finished.
Find a nice spot for the item to dry.  If it's a bulky piece, like a large jumper with thick wool, expect this to take a while.  I like to do blocking when I know there will be some lovely sunny days!

Keep working around, pinning frequently (these are approx 2cm apart)
Once the item is dry, remove the pins.  It should hold its shape!  Magic!

After the Blocking!  Pins are removed, and the garment is still lovely and straight & flat
Then you can finish off any seams, and sew in any loose ends - so much easier to work with after blocking.
Seaming:  not my best talent

Seaming - using a mattress stitch

Finished product!

Modeling the finished cowl

Inside out works too!  The inside of the rib looks lovely as well.

Monday 23 May 2016

A Record of Recipes

I wonder what the collective noun for Recipes should be.  It's probably just a 'collection' really, but I think there should be something far more exciting, like the fabulous "Parliament of Owls".  I shall put my mind to it, and encourage you to come up with your own.  Here are my first attempts...

A Delight of Recipes
An Abundance of Recipes
A Fullness of Recipes
A Satiety of Recipes
A Gluttony of Recipes
A Guzzle of Recipes 
(that last one seems very Roald Dahl-esque to me)

Five Beans Foods put up a blog post today that she said is really written for her mum, which is fabulous.  And more fabulous because I'm going to eavesdrop on her wisdom and steal it!  I love how (in her words) her blog is a record of her recipes - and I've decided that's what I'd like mine to be too - I have a shocking memory, so it's great to have a place to keep my recipes, that are easy to find.  And to share with friends.

It's report writing season at school.  This means that many of my fabulous teacher friends have Very Clean Houses.  For me, it means I enter a frenzy of cooking and baking.  I may also be procrastinating by writing a blog about my frenzy.  All because I'm going to be Very Organised, and not have to cook or bake for my family while there are extra deadlines.

OK, so maybe not.  But it's fun anyway.  I feel like a Very Good Housewife when I've prepared some meals.

Today's cooking has included:
* porridge - breakfast that cooks itself while I get dressed
* vegetable stock It's a Thermomix thing
* Cauliflower soup (saved washing the Thermomix) oh my word, it's divine - Thermomix users, you MUST try the cauliflower soup recipe on the Everyday Cooking Chip.  
* A "Dump Bag" for Beef Ragu & Massaman Curry
And there is hope that I will also achieve
* Choc Choc Chip Raspberry Muffins adapted from here, (everyone liked these) and
* Lemon Curd.  Because there are lovely lemons on our tree, and if one really wants to procrastinate, one should have something to show for it!  This didn't happen!

A post from Woogsworld caught my eye the other day, because a wonderful reader of hers contributed a series of "Dump Bag" recipes.  
The name is no joke, apparently it's common in America, although feel free to snigger if you like.
I did.

Dump Bags involve a large plastic ziplock bag (although I'm sure you could just use a container - would that make the name worse or better?) containing all the prepared ingredients for a slow cooker meal.

Label and freeze, and then the evening before you want to cook something, put it in the fridge to defrost overnight.  Pop it in the slow cooker in the morning, and Bob's your Uncle.
Or not.

I knew this would be the answer to my feeling like a Slovenly Housewife, so I printed them out, bought some ingredients, and went to work.

There was a recipe for Lamb Shanks on the Woogsworld blog, however, it required Red Wine. Someone seems to have drunk all of the red wine at our house.  We aren't replacing it, because I know for sure someone will drink it all over again.  Win for Making Good Choices for our health!  But not-so-good for our culinary delights.

So instead I took the ideas from the Lamb Tagine to create some Lamb Shank Slow Cooker Magic.  I also cross-referenced Stephanie Alexander's wonderful Cook's Companion, which is still one of my favourite cook books ever!  This is what I did.

Monday Lamb Shanks
2 large lamb shanks - this was enough for our family
1 brown onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped too lazy to crush, couldn't be bothered washing up another utensil, and figure the flavour will soak through anyway.  Hopefully no-one eats a piece of garlic
1 tin diced tomatoes
1 tblsp chicken stock (or substitute 1 tsp dried chicken stock)
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
Dried parsley
4 pieces orange zest
Pinch chilli flakes
1 stick cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprikawhich I forgot to add until just now, while I'm writing this for you!
generous pinch saffron
4 potatoes, small chunks
2 carrots, chunks
1 sweet potato, chunks
1 zucchini, chunks
1 tblsp honey the whole moroccan vibe seemed to invite the sweetness, and I'm not a fan of dried fruit in things so I omitted the prunes
olive oil

I heated the olive oil & browned the shanks.

The slow cooker I bought a couple of years ago has a browning function and can be used as a pressure cooker.  This makes me very happy.  I hate browning slow cooker meals in another pan, because the whole point of slow cooker meals is that they are meant to save work!

Then I added the onions & garlic so they could soften while I chopped vegies desperately.  The recipe called for 8 hours of slow cooking. I was on a deadline here...

Then I added the chicken stock and water, tinned tomatoes, and the vegetables.

Stephanie recommended making a bouquet garni.  With vivid recollections of Bridget Jones' blue string soup, I elected instead to pop the herbs into a fill-your-own tea bag that I use to make up tea bags from my favourite leaf tea.  I bought them at a Adore Tea in Gold Creek in Canberra.  They are a bit like this.
Infuser bag - perfect for the bouquet garni - so easy to remove at the end.
I threw in the spice bag, and kept the browning function on for a bit longer until I had the casserole bubbling furiously - I started cooking far to late for the 8 hours recommended.  I'm hoping the cooking at high heat will cut an hour off my cook time.
5.5 hours was plenty after giving the shanks a ferocious start.

I didn't have many photos along the way because the brainwave to procrastinate further by blogging blog my recipe to share with you only came later...

Besides, I'm sure you all know what chopped up meat and vegies look like.
Something like this?
5.5 hours was plenty, the meat was falling off the bone, tender and juicy.  I added a little couscous.  The casserole was delicious!
I'm not great at this food photography thing.  Really, how can you make stew look good?  It tasted good though.  I'll let you imagine.

For your entertainment (or perhaps encouragement?)
I have included a photo of the mess that is my kitchen bench during food frenzies.  Or perhaps at any time.  Nice change from highly manicured bloggers photos.  Not that I achieve those usually, remember this blog is just for me, and any friends who want to join in.
Please tell me your kitchen looks a lot like this when you're in a cooking frenzy...

Monday 16 May 2016

Let's Knit: My Favourite

Eurovision could not have come at a better time.
Are you jealous of my Eurovision overlay?  (I suspect no-one else has used it for knitting!) Get the Eurovision App!
I mean I know there's all sorts of Very Important Reasons for when it is on, but seeing as this blog is All About Me, I'll just stick to my important reasons.

It's been a really hectic week with busy days and late nights doing all the usual mum things, and work things, and then some extra work things that required extra preparation.

So I was definitely ready for a weekend of totally ignoring work responsibilities, and doing some things I love.

We spent all day Saturday doing weeding and other yard work, and the Best Neighbours in the World (sorry, they're ours and we're not letting them go anywhere) helped us do all of it, while the Best Kids in the World (ours and theirs) played happily all day so we could.  I am so very thankful for this little village we have right at home.

It was so awesome to be outside in glorious, mild weather (sunshine and blue skies, where has Autumn gone?) doing something physical, and being able to stand back and survey our achievements at the end of the day.  I'm still smiling over the garden beds.  Plus I got to play with my power tool:  the pressure washer - that's enough to make anyone happy!

But, perhaps best of all, the evenings (and to be honest, some of the daytime too - we take our responsibilities of indoctrinating our children very seriously) were spent enjoying the spectacle of Eurovision.

With a nice cup of tea.

And my knitting.

I love knitting.

There is something miraculous about taking a ball of yarn and turning it into something:  something useful, something fun, something warm.

There is something therapeutic about the rhythm of the stitches and the click of the needles.

I recently read an article about the benefits of activities that force us to alternate between left and right handed actions:  I think knitting would quality too.

There is something miraculous about trusting the mathematical calculations of the creator, following the coded instructions, and watching magic appear:  lace, sleeves,
I have to mark off where I'm up to in the patterns!
There is always something new to learn, which is hugely satisfying!

There is something reassuring about redeeming empty moments - on a car trip, in the train, in front of the TV.

I knit in phases.  I often don't knit for months if I'm tired or it's hot.  But other times, the knitting bug gets me, and I can't put it down.  I stay up far to late to achieve the satisfaction of completion.

Last year, Bendigo Woollen Mills released the most delicious yarn called Bloom.

It sold out faster than you could say 'cosy sweater'.

I was fortunate to get some in the teal (for princess) and in the red (for me).

For Princess I knitted up the lovely Kina which is available on Ravelry, here.  I found out about it from RetroMummy.   It was a lovely easy knit:  knitted from the top down, with minimal seaming (only under the arms).  It's well worth the 3 Euros (a cup of coffee?) for the pattern!

It came up beautifully for her.

I was hoping to do the same for me in the Lady Kina, but got confused, and purchased a different pattern, My Favourite, from a wonderful Australian Designer Tikki Knits.

Let's call it Serendipity.

I'm now hoping that the My Favourite won't be beyond my skills; I do think that this pattern is nicer than the Lady Kina (although that is nice too!).

I spent an evening working on a tension square, which showed me that I needed to go down a needle size.

That meant I needed to quickly finish off another knitting project to liberate the correct needles..

Then I had to learn how to do a 'long-tail cast on'*.  I found it quite different and quite difficult compared to my normal cable cast on, although I can see that it is quite a quick cast on because you only use one needle and your fingers to create the loops.

The best video tutorial I found was this one, which showed nice and clearly how it works.

If you are keen to attempt any of Tikki's patterns, find out why a tension square is a good idea, or why she recommends the long-tail cast on (and how to adjust your pattern if you choose another cast on), her blog posts on a baby cardigan knit along are here!  I've learned so much just from reading these!

While I'm talking about Tikki, I should mention the amazing patterns she is creating as part of the WARM / SEAM project, at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, about global warming.  Knitters are submitting knitted squares, which will have Australian wildflowers, wind turbines, gum leaves added - all knitted!  The ones she has done so far are simply delightful.

The sum total for the first evening was that none of my cardigan is completed, as I had to rip (undo) my cast on and after several attempts at it, the yarn was splitting a little.

I put the knitting aside, and started again the following day with fresh yarn and fresh energy.
I just love the variegation in the yarn
I've continued on the cardy whenever I've had some moments.  I'm a slow knitter, and there's quite a few stitches (being an adult's cardy) so each row takes a while.

And it really is a case of 2 steps forward, 1 step back, as I've had to do a lot of tinking (backwards knitting, get it - it really is a word!) and a little ripping (pulling it off the needles and undoing it.

The pattern isn't difficult, but concentrating and remembering all the stitches in the lace pattern has been a little tricky for me.

But I'm learning a lot, and I'm starting to see some progress.

I've nearly finished the yoke lace section, and then the knitting becomes a little faster.  Except that there will be 300 stitches on the needles!

I'm sure I'll be updating you with progress along the way.  Just be prepared to wait for a while!

Detail in the lace for the yoke
And I'm quite thrilled that I'll be able to use Eurovision as a handy teaching resource too.  That's the kind of work preparation I love!

* I really hope you enjoy the Outlander reference there if you followed the link!

Monday 9 May 2016

Mothers Day Reinvented

I always approach Facebook-Mothers Day with some trepidation, because it can be filled with rosy images of loving Mothers Day wishes.  Which is wonderful, except if Mothers Day can be a painful time for you, and I know many for whom that is true.  The first thing I saw yesterday was this breathtakingly beautiful poem, which I have shared at the bottom of the post, in case you missed it.  It was shared by Fixing Her Eyes on their Facebook page.  It's long, but worth it.

If you had asked me 10 years ago how I would most like to spend my Mothers Day, I would have given you a fairly predictable response.  It would have involved copious amounts of tea, time lazing in bed, and yummy food.  If I could spend a decent portion of it not actually interacting with anyone, then so much the better!

This was worth going out in the rain for!

Well, I do like these things still, but I've discovered my perfect* Mothers Day is hardly like I envisaged at all.

A cup of tea in bed is still mandatory.  I can't possibly be expected to function without it.

Yummy food is still the order of the day.

But the thing that has surprised me most is that my preferred way to spend the day is to go for a 5km run, with hordes of other people.  Yes, you read that right.

And I've also roped in a friend who is equally introverted, bookish, and prefers the quiet life with copious cups of tea (and coffee, but I forgive her for that).

I am so thankful that I have a Super Hero Husband who is willing to facilitate all of this.  We drive a couple of hours to stay with my friend, get up moderately early, and then get into the run.  Because she and I aren't really runners, we do the shorter run, which considerately starts at the civilised hour of 9.30.  Because it's in Canberra, it means we only had to leave around 8.45 to get there in time for all the fun before the race (no traffic hassles, no parking hassles etc.)

Most importantly, my Super Hero Husband is willing to entertain the children while we get to run.  He takes them off to play nearby, then corrals them again to return to the finish line to cheer us on!  He even takes all the photos we insist on, happily!

Today he earned Husband Bonus Points because this all happened in the rain.  Win!

As we ran today, we discussed how surprising it is that we now like doing this...

And we conjectured, and pondered.

Instead of grieving the painful things that Mothers Day can remind us of, I choose to make it different.  Instead of feeling sorry for myself that I still have to actually *gasp* mother on Mother's Day, I choose to change my attitude.

A few years ago I signed up for Mothers Day Classic as a commitment to exercise and get fit, and to see whether I could do it.  I was incredibly nervous - I'd never done anything like that before.  I really felt that I wasn't a 'runner', and everybody would know that I didn't belong there.
Obligatory mid-run selfie
What I discovered was...
We're not sure if it's working for us or not!
...I run, so therefore I'm a runner. (I'm not fast, but that's not the point!)
...I surprised myself by managing to run the entire distance without stopping (I think I can, I think I can)
...the joy of achieving an unlikely goal
...the camaraderie amongst a bunch of people, all there for the same purposes (to have fun running, and to support a great cause).  Especially amongst other mums:  everyone has a smile of encouragement - we are in this together!  There's none of the catty women-cutting-other-women down thing I've heard about (but never seen by the way...)
...that Endorphins seriously rock
...that my body works better when I'm moving it
Finish Line Selfie, We made it!!
As I ran, I pondered again, about why I was there.  It's all about how I can choose for myself...   I choose
So lovely to see at least one of these Super Heroes wearing a cape!
I choose hope
I choose health, and being a good role model for my kids, and letting them see options they might choose one day too
I choose community, joining with others in helping fight breast cancer,
I choose to make my body strong by exercising it
I choose to discover empowerment by being fit and active
I choose to create memories
I choose fun and camaraderie

I choose joy on my Mothers Day
Well, I think that's just fabulous advice!
Note:  I am incredibly grateful that I have a husband, and kids, who are able and willing to help me facilitate all of this, and I know that many don't.  

* I use the term advisedly.  Perfect is not actually ever possible, so my version of perfect is not about adhering 100% to every letter of a plan, but rather having a lovely day, with people that I love.

A prayer for Mother's Day

adapted by Heidi Carrington Heath and originally written by Amy Young (h/t Emmy Rettino Kegler) & shared by Sarah Bessey 

I want you to know I'm praying for you if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.
I want you to know that I'm praying for you if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.
I want you to know I'm praying for you if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child's death.
I want you to know I am praying for you if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your Mom has died.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if your relationship with your Mom was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn't parent you the way you needed.
I want you to know I am praying for you if you've been like Moses' mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.
I want you to know I am praying for you if you've been like Pharaoh's daughter, called to love children who are not yours by birth (and thus the mother who brought that child into your life, even if it is complicated).
I want you to know I am praying for you if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if your children have turned away from you, painfully closing the door on relationship, leaving you holding your broken heart in your hands. And like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.
This mother's day, wherever and whoever you are, we walk with you.
You are loved.
You are seen.
You are worthy.
And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know. 

Saturday 7 May 2016

Finally some sewing... and it's for boys!

A certain boy is having a birthday soon, and when I was reliably informed that the only thing he wanted was more Nerf guns and bullets (of which he has an abundance already) I set about seeking inspiration.

What's most likely to limit the capabilities of an intrepid Nerf-gunner?

Running out of ammunition!

I found a great tutorial on making an Ammunition Holster here, and then proceeded to adapt it to my resources.

I have a self-imposed rule that any of my crazy projects have to utilise fabric I already own.  Because I have an awful lot sitting there waiting for those special creations!

I cut two strips, approx 44 in x 4 inches - to allow for a slightly bigger boy than the original,
this was also the width of the fabric - less cutting = less time.
(I only had an hour to get this done)
Using a rotary cutter - your best friend when you have limited time

I used two narrow pieces of fabric (instead of 1 wider strip) to make up for the lightweight fabric I wanted to use on the front.

I had some mad felt kind of thing that I thought would be stronger and grip well to our Nerf-gunner's clothes, making Nerf bullets all the more easy to access & reload.

The next problem to solve was the complete lack of Nerf darts in our house.  Luckily a kind friend came to the rescue and loaned me some.

I have to confess I have a secret love of Nerf guns - how fun are they!  I cannot wait until they are a part of the play-ware in our house.   But I do realise that I will be forever picking up nerf bullets.

Or maybe I could come up with a cunning plan in which I take them ransom and kids have to pay to get them back?
Or maybe I could make my children Nerf Dart Holsters, and they'll always be put away ready for the next ambush?  Who am I kidding!

Some elastic - approximately 1.5m.

I had to make another departure from the original tutorial.

My fabric was lightweight and wasn't going to maintain its shape against the elastic.  I needed the stability of the backing as well.  So I joined the two before I attached the elastic.

Before this, there was another key step.

Let me tell you how much I hate pinning* things. It's fiddly, it never seems to work well for me and it slows me down.  I may also be Lazy**.

Before I attached the two strips I drew a line running along the length of the front strip.  I have a fabulous tailors chalk mechanical pencil, which means you can mark accurately.
The line was at half of the height of the strip minus half the height of the elastic
2 in - 1/4 in = 1 3/4 in

This was so I could line up the lower edge of the elastic to keep it straight along the whole strip.  Without pinning**.

I sewed the strips right sides together, trimmed corners (to remove bulk) and folded in the flaps at the open end.

I ironed them. Ironing makes everything better when you sew. I promise you. It is always worth it

Then I topstitched (sewing on the top) the opening closed and continued all the way around the strip. I think topstitching always makes things look better.

More measuring..

On the front of the outer fabric I attempted to use the Nerf bullets (loaned from a kind friend) to measure the size of the elastic loops.  I really did try to pin*, as I knew there was a lot of potential for everything to go crooked, and end badly.  When this didn't work, I used the 1 inch allowance from the tutorial.  I marked the elastic at 1 inch intervals so I would know where to sew.

I anchored the end of the elastic (wrong side up, only a tail over the fabric strip, ie the main part hanging down away from the fabric).

Anchoring the elastic
Flip elastic over, start sewing on the lines
Then I flipped the elastic back across the fabric, ready to be attached.

I attached the elastic at every inch, approx 6/8 of an inch along the fabric.  I didn't measure, just created a bit of a bump with the elastic.

Once I had enough loops for the holster, I trimmed the remaining elastic off, tucked the end under, and secured with a triple stitch.

If I make one of these again, I'll do it differently.  I'll mark the elastic (at 1 inch) and the fabric (at 6/8 inch).  Then I sew do this in one continuous boxy zigzag, rotating the holster around as I sew.  This would look better, be stronger, and also mean I didn't have to spend a good hour snipping the ends**.  Luckily this was a pleasant way of passing the time at swimming lessons....

I joined the two ends of the holster, with a triple stitch (nice and strong).

Holster completed.

A matching ammunition satchel-belt was also made.  I would have loved to explain it to you, but it was late, and I was tired, and running out of time...  It has a belt clip for easy removal.  Nerf-boy promptly declared it a Nerf-gun holster.

The birthday boy was pretty happy, and willingly modeled his new gear.

It brings me such joy when something I create for someone is going to be enjoyed by them (because I often have doubts that I'm going to hit the target - no pun intended).


*I usually avoid pinning things at all costs.  It takes extra time, and that's just asking too much of me if I can possibly get away without it.  I really did try for this project, knowing how hard it would be to keep the elastic straight, but it wasn't working.  Hence the lines instead.

** In case you hadn't figured it out already this is not a blog for sewists*** . While I did use my mum's sewing machine as a kid, I never learned any of the correct ways to do things. I remember my pathetic attempts in textiles that were met with disdain by the teacher.  It has taken me years to realise the voice in my head saying I shouldn't see things because I'm no good at it is a load of baloney.  I'm not a technical sewist. I sew to make things people enjoy. Sometimes I've even designed them myself.  And I've learned to work around my limitations (straight lines anyone?) or improve with the practice.  I also take shortcuts wherever possible.  Some may call this lazy.

***you read 'sewer' and see what it says, sewists is much better

The new Charlie's Angels?