Saturday, June 20, 2015

This Old Porch

What would it say? This ancient oaken witness, the silent sentinel, observing the struggles and triumphs of my family within the sacred walls of the home that it guards? What would it say to me now, to calm my worn out nerves and to soothe a mother’s anxious heart? Nearly a hundred years old, its sturdy pillars and scarred front door with it’s smudged panes of glass which enters only those deemed worthy enough to breech the threshold of our most intimate spaces has seen a century of life unfolding upon it. If these walls could talk, what could they possibly say?

We have a large family. Two parents, four children, and our pets. Although the house is spacious, the porch is where we seem to spend most of our time when we are all together, unless the weather forbids it. Something about being outside makes us feel a little less suffocated, less like we’re breathing the same air, even when we’re in closer proximity to each other than we are when we are indoors. Our most important conversations and events take place here. I’ve been thinking a lot about this old porch, and the events that have taken place on it in the past two weeks.

Last Wednesday while driving home from a breakfast date with my husband of 18 years, I received a desperate and terrified text message from my fifteen year old son. He didn’t quite know how to tell me, but his girlfriend is pregnant. We raced home, entered the house, and found him hiding in the bathroom. Gently, we took him out to the porch for a dedicated conversation. How far along is she? How long had he known? Slowly, we teased all of the pertinent facts out of him. They are unimportant now. What matters was that I found out my life was changing. More importantly, my son’s life was changing and he needed his parents. We cried, of course, and we told him we would help him through it.

Three days later, still slightly jarred and numbed with shock, we hosted another dedicated conversation on our porch. This one was attended by my son’s girlfriend and her mother. I was terrified. We all were! Could we find a common ground when it comes to living arrangements? Do we all agree that the kids will stay in school? Are we adults committed to supporting these two young parents and help them raise this sweet little baby, whom, it is already clear is going to be deeply and fervently loved? It was agreed that we could, and terms were laid down. We all dispersed with a sigh of relief, though of course we were still quite on edge.

I’m becoming a grandmother. This is exciting and yet a little tragic, given the age of the teens involved. It’s not the way you want to reach this mile stone, but I didn’t get a choice in the matter. All we can do is embrace it and experience the joy we will undeniably receive. As a family, we will do as we always do when we are faced with a challenge. We will rise to the occasion and learn what lessons we can from it. It is a momentous change, but it was only the first that we would encounter over the  next few days.

On Tuesday, nearly a week later, we held yet another dedicated conversation on our porch. This one was with our oldest son, who is seventeen. He had been listening intently to all of the talk surrounding his brother’s unexpected pregnancy, though he did not tell us why. I wish I had known how my words on the matter might affect him. I wish I had known that while sitting on the porch that Tuesday evening, lecturing him over his poor money choices, setting firmer boundaries between him and his girlfriend, he was already in a frenzied panic. We were angry with him for something that now seems perfectly trivial. We were hard on him, as I think many parents would be, and feeling the need to be firmer with our discipline. This was a terrible mistake.

The following morning as I ambled up the sidewalk exhausted from a night of hard work, I saw my tired and weary-worn husband sitting on the porch holding a sheet of paper. He looked grave. Without a word, he passed it to me as I sat down beside him. The note was from our eldest son, apologizing for being a disappointment to us. The note was two pages long and vented all of his frustrations that he had been too afraid to share with us. His career choice, for example, was a result of our pressure and not his own genuine desire. He would find a way to put right the issue we were angry about the night before. Also, his girlfriend is pregnant and he had known for two months, but he was afraid to tell us. Finally, he felt it would be best to go and live with her. That was where he was, and he had no intention of ever coming home.

Too bad for him though, I knew where she lived. After all, they had been dating for nearly three years. Without a word to my husband, I picked up my keys, got into my car, and drove to his girlfriend’s house. I knocked on the door. I pounded on it. I screamed at the top of my lungs that I would call the police if they did not open up. I was furious and afraid.

I was not angry that his girlfriend was pregnant. I was hurt that he felt he could not tell me. And I was enraged that he thought running away from home was going to do him any good at all. Foolish boy! When he opened the door, I stared for a moment at my bleary eyed six foot tall baby boy, clad in his girlfriend’s pajamas bottoms and a t-shirt and socks. I hissed, “Get in the car. NOW.”

He did not pause or interject. He shuffled out to the car with his head hung low, got in, and I quietly slipped in beside him. I started the car and drove toward home. I think that I was out of my mind, but spoke to him anyway. I iterated that I was not angry about the pregnancy. He was nearly an adult and his plans for his future would need to change, but I would help him as I am helping his brother. I was devastated that he tried to run away and I made it clear that I would simply not allow it. I told him that nothing was more upsetting to me than the idea of losing him. He was far more important to me than anything else in the world.

Once home, I walked him to the porch where his father was sitting and told him to apologize for trying to run away. The three of us faced each other in awkward silence and slowly, we began the dedicated conversation. How far along was the pregnancy? Did her family know? Why did he not think that he could tell us? Has she been to the doctor? How can we help?

After half an hour of intense discussion, it was decided that we would go back to his girlfriend’s house and bring over her to ours. My son rode with me to her house, since he needed to pick up his car. I sat timidly in the driver’s seat, parked in her driveway for several minutes after he went inside to get her. There was an uncomfortable pause as she slid into the passenger seat beside me, and then I spoke to her.
“Congratulations.” I told her. I must have sounded unhinged, which I was. As we headed for my home, I made it clear to her that my son had a year left of high school and he was seventeen. He won’t be moving out of my house. It’s as simple as that. I told her that I wanted her to stay with us. I wouldn’t force her, but the offer is there and will last as long as she needs it. But I have not finished raising my son and he cannot leave yet.

As we pulled up in front of the house I had a few things to say to this girl that I wanted to keep between us. I won’t share it all here, but I let her know that I love her. I love her for all of the reasons that my son loves her and I told her what those reasons were. I wanted her to know that I was not angry, and I am proud of my son for choosing her to spend his life with. I meant every word of it.
When we finished talking, we joined the others on the porch. At this time, it was both of our older sons, my husband and myself. I poured myself a stiff drink, which, I think is rather understandable given my stressful morning.

We kept the conversation light, talking about our son’s baseball, plans for the coming school year, and hashing over memories of when the two of them were babies. A big black truck pulled up in front of our house, and a sweet looking young girl stepped out. The fifteen year old boy dutifully rose to greet his girlfriend, and the four young kids sat before us on the porch.

Although I was shocked, and, let’s be honest, a little disappointed by the circumstances by which I am becoming a grandmother, I am willing to embrace the blessings that are on their way. I have watched my sons grow from infants into toddlers. I was there for every milestone. Their first words, their first steps, the first time they ate table foods. I hugged them when they took a spill and skinned their elbows and knees. I did my best to educate them about bullying and be their soft shoulder to cry on when mean kids would pick on them at school. When their younger siblings were born, I watched them fall in love with the wee little babies and I taught them all I could about caring for infants. I stood back and watched with tremendous satisfaction as they blossomed into teenagers. I bragged shamelessly about my star athlete and the stalwart eldest son, who is a key leader in his schools Jr. ROTC program. I did educate them about the risk of being sexually active, and I made sure that they had what they needed to be safe. I did everything right. I basked in pride of my awesome parenting, as my sons earned top grades, walked with confidence, and completely kicked ass at life.

This week, as I settle into the new reality of my family, sitting on my porch and holding dedicated conversations with my children, their girlfriends, and their family members about futures and babies and relationships, my thoughts vary. Where did I go wrong? I didn’t. What could I have done differently? A lot, but it wouldn’t have done any good. What’s going to happen to them now? Nobody can know.

I do know this for certain: my goal as their mother is plain. I am to prepare them for the world they are going to live in. I am to give them the tools and knowledge they need to survive in this world and to thrive in it. I will be their soft shoulder, the voice of calm, reason, and understanding when life gets too painful and too hard. I will love them and be there for them as they face the ultimate milestone and become fathers. I don’t claim to be perfect at parenting, or even good at it, but I tried as hard as I could and I do not doubt that my sons will too now that it’s their turn.  In the next few years, this old porch is going to see many more dedicated conversations. It is also going to see wee ones learning to walk and talk, relationships blossom, and life. My life. Our lives. The lives of our children, and the new lives of our new grandchildren. Bless this old porch, this old home, and the people who live in it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stick Figure Family Tree Ornaments

Yesterday, my little girl told me that she wanted to make some ornaments for the Christmas tree. We didn't have a lot on hand to work with, but I knew I had a nice little stash of glitter she could have fun with, and I knew I could make salt dough. Considering what other crafting supplies I had squirreled away, these are what came to my mind. Consider them a medium difficulty level, as my six year old daughter made them with (a lot of) help from me.

Salt dough:
       1 cup flour
       1/2 cup salt
       Water to consistancy
Food Coloring
Size 2 jewelry wire
White craft paint
Pink Paint (I used pink glitter nail polish)
Fine point Sharpie or gel pen
White glue
Paint brushes
Assorted glitter
Clear Acrylic Spray

Step 1: 
Mix the dough and separate out enough egg-yolk sized balls to make the bodies. We have six family members, so we made six bodies. Make sure you have a good consistency. You may need to add more flour or more water, to keep the dough from being too sticky or too grainy.

Fold in food coloring and knead until the color is uniform. I didn't use gloves, as you can see, and my fingers are now pink.

Step 2:

Form the bodies into pear shapes. These do not need to be completely perfect, but try to get them symmetrical. They will puff out a little during baking.

Take plain white dough, the size of a hominy kernel, and form the head.

Step 3:
Take a one inch piece of jewelry wire, form a coil on one end and push it up into the head, to form a neck. Then push the other end into the body.

A small round tube, the size of a lolly pop stem is the perfect diameter to wrap the jewelry wire for all purposes of this project.

For the ladies, since we have curly hair, I wrapped two inch pieces of wire to form ringlets. I then pressed four of them into the top of the head.

On all ornaments, make a coil on one end of a one inch piece of jewelry wire, and press it down into the top of the head. This is for the hanger.

Step 4:
Cut two 4 inch pieces of jewelry wire to make the legs and arms.

Press these all the way through the body, near the head and at the bottom.

Step 5:
With each ornament complete with legs, arms, hair for those who have it, and hanger hooks, they are ready to bake.

Put them into the oven at 250F for four hours.

Step 6:
Although the heads of the ornaments were white before and after baking, I felt that giving them a couple of coats of white acrylic craft paint gave them a more even surface. However, it is not completely necessary.

Curl the ends of the arms and legs into circles for the hands and feet.  I used a gel pen to draw on the eyes, noses and mouths, in a Charlie Brown inspired style.

Paint a small dot of pink glitter nail polish on each cheek, to give it an antiquated blush. Plain pink paint will also work.

Step 7:
When making the bodies, I made sure that I created colors that corresponded to the glitter I had put away. Because it was likely that there would be holes in the glitter, I wanted to mask it as much as possible.

Water down the white glue to make it easier to paint onto the bodies, and be sure to use a glue that will dry clearly. You want to be careful not to saturate the salt dough, get a good coverage.

Quickly sprinkle on the glitter and try to get it as even as possible.

Use a dry paint brush to dust away any glitter from the face. Gently spray it with a couple of light coats of the clear enamel, to set the glitter and keep it from flaking off.

Place a cord through the hanger hooks, clean away any stray glitter from the faces, arms and legs, and your little stick figure ornaments are ready to hang on your tree!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Little French Kitty

Gosh, has it been a while! I have been preoccupied with work and school and art business, not to mention the most important piece of me, my husband and kids.
The cooler whether has me itching for some good old making, and I found the time to squeeze in a new knitting project! And since I haven't forgotten this dusty old blog with it's crafty following, I went the extra mile and wrote up the pattern. I hope you like it!

This base of this plushy toy can be made into any sort of animal you like. My daughter wanted a cat, so a cat she gets. It is a rather tricky pattern, but I hope I made it easier by adding some charts and some pictures.

4 colors of worsted weight yarn: 1 for body, 1 for accent, 1 for eyes, and black for whiskers.
Size 2 knitting needles; either circular or DPN to work in the round.
Small crochet hook
Tapestry needle

Size of plush is approximately 8 inches tall and six inches wide.

He looks French, doesn't he?

CO 4, join to work in the round.
k1m1 x 4 (8)
k1m1 x 8 (16)
k2m1 x 16 (24)
k2m1 x 24 (36)
k3m1 x 36 (48)
k48 for 12 rows, then begin decreasing for the neck.
k3, k2tog x 48 (39)
k2, k2tog x 39 (32)
k2, k2tog x 32 (24)
k2, k2tog x 24(18)
k18 for 2 rows, then place 8 stitches on reserve.
turn, p10, turn
k1m1, k8, k1m1 (12)
k1m1, k10, k1m1 (14)
k1m1, k12, k1m1
Place the working stitches on reserve and pick up the 8 stitches that were placed on reserve earlier.
k1m1, k6, k1m1 (10)
k1m1, k8, k1m1 (12)
k1m1, 10, k1m1 (14)
k1m1, 12, k1m1 (16)
Keeping the stitches on your needle, pick up the 16 stitches that were placed on reserve earlier. Join stitches in the round and *Knit 2 rows. (32)
Begin increasing the body by adding 4 stitches on every other row. My method for doing this is to add one stitch to the ends of each needle in a sequence spanning 2 rows. I did it this way to make the additions virtually invisible.

TWO ROWS: K1m1, k15, k1m1, k14, k1m1, k16, k1m1, k18 (36)
*Use the following chart for reference:

Knit one row.
TWO ROWS: k1m1, k17, k1m1, k16, k1m1, k18, k1m1, k20 (40)

Knit one row.
TWO ROWS: k1m1, k19, k1m1, k18, k1m1, k20, k1m1, k22 (44)

Knit one row.
TWO ROWS: k1m1, k21, k1m1, k20, k1m1, k22, k1m1, k24 (48)

Knit one row.
TWO ROWS: k1m1, k23, k1m1, k22, k1m1, k24, k1m1, k26 (52)
Knit one row.
TWO ROWS: k1m1, k25, k1m1, k24, k1m1, k26, k1m1, k28 (56)

Knit one row.

You should now have 56 stitches.

Locate the section that will be the front of the animal. Take two stitches off of each side of the front and place them on the back needle. This way, you will have 24 stitches in the front and 32 stitches in the back. Place the front 24 stitches on reserve. You will now begin shaping the animal’s backside.
Turn the work and purl all 32 stitches.
K1m1, k12, k2tog, k4, k2tog, k12, k1m1 (32)
Purl 1 row.
k1m1, k11, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k11, k1m1 (32)
Purl 1 row.
k1m1, k10, k2tog, k8, k2tog, k10, k1m1 (32)
Purl 1 row.
k9, k2tog, k10, k2tog, k9 (30)
Purl 1 row.
k8, k2tog, k12, k2tog, k8 (28)
Purl 1 row.
k7, k2tog, k14, k2tog, k7 (26)
P2tog, p22, p2tog (24)
k2tog, k4, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k4, k2tog (18)
P2tog, p14, p2tog (16)
k2tog, k2, k2tog, k6, k2tog, k2, k2tog (14)
P2tog, 10, p2tog (12)
k2tog, k2tog, k4, k2tog, k2tog (6)

You can see the decreases on the bottom of the animal.

Divide your front stitches in half and mark the center. You want to place the middle six stitches on your needle, intermittently with your remaining six back stitches. The other stitches will be placed on reserve and later worked into the legs.
Please refer to the photograph. To do this, take the nine stitches from the far right side of the front and place them on reserve. Next, take the nine stitches from the far left side of the front and place them on reserve. This leaves you six working stitches in the center of the front of your animal. Now, one by one, slip these in between the six working stitches from the back of your animal so that you have twelve working stitches on your needle and the gap and your front and back pieces are now joined between the legs.
K2tog, K2tog, Slip the back loop over the front loop to bind off.
Repeat this process for the remaining ten stitches until you have joined and bound off all.

This photo generated an awkwardly hilarious Facebook thread. I have strange friends.

Legs and arms:
Pick up 22 stitches from around the hole of the arm or leg.
Knit in the round for 12 rows.
Bind off.

Repeat this on the other leg and arm holes.

Stuff the animal with filler of your choice before closing the arm and leg holes.

To close the arms and legs:
On the bottom of the leg or arm, pick up 8 stitches and knit them across.
Turn. Slip the first stitch, Purl 5, p2tog; insert a crochet hook into another loop on the side of the arm and pull another stitch through to make the stitch count back to 8.
Turn. Slip the first stitch, knit 5, k2tog, insert a crochet hook into another loop on the side of the arm and pull another stitch through to make the stitch count back to 8. 

Repeat 4 times, until you have 8 rows. You should have 8 loops remaining on the top of your arm or leg. If you need to, you can use the same loop twice in order to fully close the gap and not have excess puckering.
Instead of slipping the first stitch, P2tog, p4, p2tog. (6)
Pick up a stitch from the leg or arm, knit it together with a stitch from your needle.
Pick up a second stitch from the leg or arm, knit it together with a stitch from your needle, and then pull the first stitch over the second stitch in order to bind off. Repeat this across the top of the arm or leg hole until completely closed.

Once the arms and legs are closed you can now determine whether you are going to be making a bear, a cat, a bunny or something else! I chose to make a cat (or rather, my daughter chose), but you can easily modify the length and shape of the nose, ears and tail to make a different kind of animal.

For the cat’s nose:
Pick up 16 stitches from the front of the face, in an oval shape to knit in the round.
Knit 4 rows.
K2tog 8 times, to make 8 stitches.
Knit 1 row.
K2tog 4 times to make 4 stitches.
Stuff with filler before knitting 2tog for the remaining stitches until you are down to one. Secure your final stitch with a slip knot and pull the loose tail of yarn through the inside of the head and out through the back of the neck, using a crochet hook. Pull all loose threads through the and out through the back of the neck.
Use a tapestry needle to pull a piece of yarn taught down the middle of the nose, forming the cheeks. This resembles a butt shape. Next use the tapestry needle and yarn color of your choice to sew the nose and eyes, using a satin embroidery stitch. Use black yarn to make the whiskers.

To make the cats ears:
from the right, pick up 10 stitches on the top of the head, where you want your right ear to be placed. Use your alternate color and make sure your knit stitches are facing the front. Knit and purl to make 5 rows.
P2tog, p6, p2tog
K2tog, k4, k2tog
P2tog, p2, p2tog
K2tog, k2tog
P2tog, pull through and secure tail end.

Turn the cat around and this process behind the cat's ear, using your main body color and keeping your knit stitches facing the back of your cat. You will tie off the tail ends on the inside of the two ear flaps, and use a tapestry needle to sew them together. This will make the cats ears stand up.

To make the cats tail:
Pick up 12 stitches
Join and knit in the round for 20 rows, or until your tail is as long as you’d like.

Knit a collar:
Whether you’re making a bear or a cat, a bunny or a puppy, you’re going to need to hide the tail ends that you weaved into the back of the neck. I knitted a collar, but you can use a ribbon or strip of fabric.
CO six stitches.
S1, K5 (Slip the first stitch, knit 5)
S1, P5 (slip the first stitch, purl 5)
repeat for approximately 30 rows.

Sew onto the animal to cover any knots.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Multi-Purpose Counter Top Pads

I made a set of these a while back and I have to tell you that I highly recommend having a set of them in every household!

These awesome counter top pads pull triple duty, as was my intent when I made them. They are potholders, but with the cotton woven front and terry-cloth backing, they are handy to wipe up those little kitchen spills or quickly wipe a rinsed dish. They are also decorative, and can be kept out on the countertop without looking out of place.

I will warn you, the lotus flower knitting stitch is not for the faint of heart or the beginner knitter. But you can substitute a different stitch if needed, just make sure that it's bulky enough to create a thickly woven cover for your pads.

To make this project (set of four), you will need:
4 thick terrycloth wash clothes
4 skeins of cotton yarn (I prefer Peaches & Cream)
5.5 yards of cotton trim fabric - 2" wide
Size 5 knitting needles
Needle and Thread

To see how the Lotus Flower stitch is made, there is a great tutorial and video about it on this webpage: How to Knit the Lotus Flower Stitch.

To make the top cover for your pad:
CO 77 stitches.
*Remember that your first two stitches on each row will be knitted, so that you will get a stockinet border on either side.
Row 1: Knit 2, Purl 73, Knit 2
Row 2: Knit 2, P1, *p5togm5, p1; rep from * to the last two stitches, Knit 2.
Row 3: Knit 2, Purl 73, Knit 2 .
Row 4: Knit 2, P3togm3, p1, *p5togm5, p1; rep from * to last 5 sts, p3togm3, Knit 2.

Repeat these four rows until your pad is approximately 12 inches in length - or a square.
Fold your cotton trim in half lengthwise and press it. Fold in the edges of your terrycloth washcloth and lay pin your woven cover to it with your trim sandwiched in between. Sew it down and that's all there is to it! Make them for yourself or as a lovely gift!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year, A New Project!

I decided that 2014 is going to be a relaxing year. I'm going to make that happen. Because I'm in complete control of my universe and when I say I'm taking it easy this year, it's set in stone. SO. I'm lining up a soothing, easy project that may well carry me all the way to December... are you laughing? If you know me, probably! 'Cause you know, the taking it easy thing really isn't me.

Ok, no more fooling, let me tell you what I'm really up to! In 1999, I made a set of four stockings and a count-down-to-Christmas calendar for my family. Each stocking is navy blue cotton with faux applique scenes depicted out of scraps of fabric that I used some sort of iron on adhesive to affix, and then I used silver glitter fabric paint to go around the edges. When the subsequent children were born in '06 and '07, I made them new ones to match.

To be perfectly honest, I hated these stockings almost immediately after I made them. They're garish and ugly and at this point, I can do WAY better! I'm almost embarrassed year after year to pull these out of storage and hang them up. Of course, my husband who has a very strange idea of sentiment and gets attached to all of the wrong things fights each year to keep them. Right now, a week after Christmas, he could give two shits about them or the calendar or anything related to holidays. I'm starting new stockings and a calendar now, so when the Thanksgiving turkey is slowly churning in our bellies in November, I will a have a stronger argument than his for retiring these atrocious things to the attic forever. I mean, babe, I've worked ALL year on these new stockings! We'll see how well that goes...
Here's my plan for the new calendar. I'm really big into celebrating the origins of Christmas (aka Yule), particularly focusing on the pagan aspect, in December. Odin was only one of the forbearers to modern Santa. There's also St. Nick (he was a real saint), Sinter Klaus... Ok Google that shit because I don't really feel up to explaining it all.

Odin, who in MY portrayal is modeled after Gandalf (because Gandalf is f'ing awesome and needs to be hung in every home for Christmas!), is set among a moon lit sky on a tree lined mountain slope. The moonlit sky is very important as it is indicative of the winter hunt. It's all relevant in pagan/Yule lore.
So I photoshopped Gandalf from a scene in the movie "Lord of the Rings" into two separate images I found that had the sky and ground backgrounds I wanted. When I had everything jiving just the right way, I opened the image in Window's paint and saved it as 256 bitmap. That degrades the colors to give me an easy to follow map.

At this point, it was pretty simple to trace this out onto paper and then onto a piece of white cotton muslin. I put the fabric into an embroidery hoop, took the image to the sewing shop to buy the appropriate colors of embroidery floss, and am filling in the entire image with tiny stitches as if I'm doing a paint by number. This technique works extremely well for making heirloom products (such as family portraits onto pillows), or making custom patches or badges, as I show you HERE.
I have been wanting to do a large tapestry in this medium for a very long time, and now I have a great reason! So, here is the start:
The finished tapestry will be 11" x 14" and will be sewn as a panel onto a new count-down-to-Christmas calendar. If you're wondering what I mean by that, picture a piece of fabric with pockets numbered 1 to 25 and an object that is moved from one pocket to the next, each day in December. The numbered pockets will also be embroidered and I'm planning to use high-end fabrics for this project as I'm expecting these to last my family for another 15 years, if not longer. They may last until I'm an old lady. My family may fight over my dead body for them... or maybe not! It's going to be a fun project though and it will give me a reason to sit on my ass and watch trashy television, which I'm expecting to do a whole lot of this year.

Oh! And I'll keep you posted on progress. If you have any questions, shoot 'em in the comments. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ebook Review: Superfood Super You, by Dr. Josh Axe

This week, I downloaded this free ebook, to help me recover from my poor eating over the holidays. I have no excuse, really, and I surely know better than to let bad eating habits get the better of me. The holidays are peak season at my job, and they are my peak season for my painting business as well. So, I have been quite busy. Still, that's little consolation where I'm sitting now, with my back hurting and my head stuffed with cold, nor was it comforting on Christmas Eve and Christmas day - which I slept through in my flu induced fever. I'm sick and sore and desperately needing to take a healing approach to food. I found Dr. Axe's book to be a wonderful refresher, and I love that it includes some very easy meal plans to follow while I'm still quite busy dealing with the holiday aftermath.

Introduction: Dr. Axe begins the introduction with statistics on America's health crisis, outlining the most common ailments and diseases. He then shares a personal story of his mother's fight with breast cancer and lung cancer, and how changing her diet to include superfoods and natural eating helped her fight/beat cancer the second time.

The format of the ebook is in PDF. With a clear and easy font, bold and colorful subtitles and illustrations and photos on every page, it makes the reading easy to follow.

In Chapter 1, Dr. Axe shares the benefits of superfoods, and includes a list of 20 top superfoods, which include berries and almonds, among others. He also lists four plans that he created, to help tailor your diet to which health problem you are most affected by:

  1. Weightloss
  2. Detox
  3. Anti-Aging
  4. Muscle Building

While I read all of the chapters for review purposes, I chose to focus on 2, 3, and 4. My goals are specific to creating a healing diet to help my body recover from injury and illness; after poor eating during the holiday season; help my muscle and cardiovascular system remain youthful so that I can avoid further strain, injury and illness that are likely to affect me now that I'm over 35; and building muscle to help support my skeletal system and again, to avoid trauma to my joints and spine.

In Chapter 2, Dr. Axe discusses the benefit of weight loss and the decreased risk of heart disease. He then lists the foods that specifically aid in weight loss, and not only outlines the foods origins but describes how it works in the body to help lose weight. By specifically naming the compounds that affect metabolism, fat stores, digestion and other contributors, it's easy to see how utilizing them can help meet weight loss goals.
At the end of Chapter 2, the doctor has compiled an easy to follow meal plan and super simple exercise regimen.

In the following three chapters, Dr. Axe continues in the same refrain, specifying foods that meet the needs of those agendas: Detox, Anti-Aging and Muscle Building, where he outlines certain foods to meet those needs, and follows up with a meal plan and exercise regimen.

Beyond telling us what foods are most beneficial, afterwards is a section discussing which foods are most damaging, including conventional meats and dairy and hydrogenated oils, among others. There is a short section on Beyond Organic, which talks about the importance of avoiding chemicals in our food, and shares the story of Jordan Ruben, who was riddled with disease until he began eating foods that are much more natural, and who went on to write a best selling book, start a vitamin chain, and started a company to create the healthiest superfoods in the world.

There are many religious (Christian) references in the book, and mentions of eating the way God intended or eating in a biblical way. Many may likely find this an enjoyable touch. I personally love that Dr. Axe writes from his heart and is obviously passionate about sharing his information and the stories of how good, natural, Earth based foods have helped his loved ones become healthy and even brought them from the brink of death. Very nicely written and advice and information to live by.

If I have one criticism, it's that Dr. Axe did not include beans in his book, which, by many experts assertion should be write at the top of the list of the top 20. Nonetheless, if you follow this book and throw in some beans, you should be pretty well set!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

DIY Christmas Tree Bows From Re-purposed Materials

 These tree ribbons came out even cuter than I expected, and much better than my husband guessed when he saw the denim strips. He asked me skeptically if I really thought they would turn out to look good. Do you not know me? Silly!

I made two dozen of them and they give my tree the country-cozy feeling that I like in the fall. There is just something about denim on a Christmas tree that feels right to me. Add in the contrast of textures with the burlap and cotton muslin, the splash of red and natural grape vine and I just adore my little bows! Also, like many of my crafts, these were done for free using  materials I had on hand or found outside. You can come up with some creative combinations if you look around your own home to see what's available!

Old Jeans (adult sized)
Cotton Muslin
Scrap Yarn
Polished Hemp Cord
Salt Dough
Red Paint
Woody Tendrils (from a grape vine)
Glue gun and glue sticks

To start with, cut the pant legs off of your old jeans. It's best to use jeans that have good denim. Trim off the inside and outside seams as well as the cuffs, so that you have four wide strips of denim to use. Lengthwise, rip the jeans into two or three strips. Don't use scissors for this, the ripping helps with the fray.
Take a needle or your fingernail and pull out ten or so outside strands of thread, to make a 1/4 inch fray.

Finding the center of your strip, fold the sides in and under. Then fold the ends down, as shown in the photos. This can be tricky and takes a bit of practice.

 Slide a piece of scrap yarn into the center of the bow and tie it in place. Trim the ends of the yarn.
 Tear the cotton muslin into strips, 12" long and 1 1/2" wide. It's good if it looks a little rough, but trim the excess strings. You want it to look tattered but tidy.

Cut a swatch of burlap, 4 inches long and two inches wide, then cut a slit up the center of it.
 Shape the muslin into a bow as you did with the denim and tuck the burlap behind it. Use a foot long piece of hemp cord and wrap tightly around the two bows and the burlap. Leave four to five inches of cord at the top of the bow to become the hanger.
 Salt dough beads are super easy to make, and I found a recipe that I was able to make and then paint within minutes! Really! I was skeptical too, but I tried it and it worked.

That recipe is here:  Quickest Ever Salt Dough Recipe at Rainy Day Mum

I rolled the salt dough into tiny balls, about the size of blueberries. I did poke holes into them with a needle, thinking I would sew them to the bows which would have worked. But I realized I had new glue sticks so I didn't go that way.

I used enamel paint (and some gloves) to paint the "berries" bright red and dried them on craft paper.
 I know that not everyone has a boat-load of grape vine growing in their backyard, you can probably find these dried woody tendrils at your local craft store (look in the silk or dry flower section). Otherwise, you might be able to buy them online. If you can't find them anywhere, a good substitute would be dark metal wire, twisted and wrapped into curly-Q's.
 I pushed the ends of the grape vine tendrils underneath the cord and used a daub of hot glue to simultaneously secure the tendrils into place and glue the red berries to the front of the bow.

Had I not had glue sticks, I would have used a carpet needle and upholstery thread to sew the beads on and secure the tendrils.
 I strongly resisted the urge to add a glittery element, a touch of gold would have made these even better. But I wanted to keep them as organic and natural as possible.