For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Learning new things...

Dh picked up a kit of beads and supplies for Youngest the other day. It was chosen for the beads, mostly, but the kit itself is for loomwork. Having never done it before, she and I learned how together, as I made a small bracelet for her.

Youngest chose the pattern and colours, and I was quite surprised by how quickly it worked up. The band itself is 6 inches long, plus the loop and toggle clasp. The finished bracelet is 7 1/2 inches.

The kit came with a few larger beads, and I used one of them to make the toggle bead, loosely covering it with rows of seed beads. I like this style of clasp.

I did make some changes from the instructions that came with the kit. They rely heavily on the use of glue on the knots to keep it together, while the excess threads are cut close. I really don't like to use glue, if I can avoid it, and definitely don't like to cut close to knots. Instead, I wove some of the excess back into the beads before trimming it. The exceptions were the two middle lengths of the band, which were used to make the loop and attach the toggle bead. I'd use one by itself first, then thread the second one through the same beads in the opposite direction, for extra strength.

Final say: I'm not a huge fan of loom or other square work - I prefer the look of peyote or brick, but there are definite advantages to square work. The square grid makes patterning easier, and the whole thing was quite easy and quick. Loomwork is also very strong, and a good way to make large pieces.

The only thing I would change is the order of the colours. I've got the two rainbow colours she'd chosen right next to each other, and I think I'd prefer to have kept them separated by the black and gold. Youngest likes it just the way it is, though, and that's all that matters.

Now it's time to help Youngest string the loom again for her turn. :-)

Friday, April 13, 2007

This weeks (and last) library list

With all the stuff we were going in preparation for Easter last week, I did manage a quick run to the library to return some movies (late *L*) and, having only 1/2 an hour before the bus came, I quickly grabbed a bunch of books.

What the Bleep do we Know; Discovering the Endless Possibilities for Altering your Everyday Reality: written by co-creators of the movie, I had this one put on hold for me, but still haven't had much chance to read it. Love the movie, though, so I figured I couldn't go too wrong with it.

The Wilderness Cookbooks; A Guide to Good Food on the Trail: not quite what I thought it was, I'm still finding it useful. The recipes are designed especially for camping, with lots of tips and suggestions for outdoor cooking.

Medieval Celebrations: this is the second time I've taken this one out. Medieval Days will be coming up fairly soon, and I'd like to have some authentic recipes and clothing patterns to work with. Also includes games, music, a mummers play, and everything you need to know to set up a Medieval feast.

The Art of Beadwork; Historic Inspiration, Contemporary Design: this is another repeated loan. Some very interesting patterns and methods here, including how to make beaded beads and beaded sculptures.

Beading for the Soul; Inspired designs from 23 contemporary artists: this one turned out to be a much better pick than I expected. I just quickly glanced through it and spotted design ideas that seems to be what Eldest is interested in. It turns out to be about spiritual beadwork. Some very interesting reading.

I also snagged a couple of Brother Cadfael movies, at the request of Youngest, including One Corpse Many, and The Holy Thief. Eldest now wants to read the books, too, but it looks like we'll have to put them on hold - I only found one copy on the shelf, and it was short the "prelude" book, telling how Cadfael ended up becoming a monk. A good book, but not what I'm after right now.

Now, on to today's list. Boy, did we over do it again today! LOL

The Myth & Magic of Embroidery: This is one of many books from Helen M. Stevens. She is a truly glorious artist, and I'm always stunned by the beauty and detail of her work. I own one of her books (in a box in storage, of course) and just love it. If I can only be half as good as she is, I would be happy! Her talent and skills are astounding!

Native Harvests; American Indian Wild Foods and Recipes and Gathering What the Great Nature Provided; Food Traditions of the Gitksan; I have long had an interest in "wild" food. The idea of being able to go into the bush and be able to find food is one I've long appreciated. Most books on the topic tend to be European, so finding ones specific to North America is always something exciting for me. Gathering isn't so much a recipe book as an instruction manual, including how to make and use an earth oven, drying and preserving, etc. Native Harvests is more like a typical recipe book, but also includes a great deal of information about various native foods as well.

The Healing Garden; A Natural Haven for Body, Senses and Spirit: while this book does include information on specific plants like so many other gardening books, this book is more about the different types of gardens, reasons for building them, as well as how to build different types of gardens. It includes formal gardens, romantic gardens, gardens for fragrance or colour - even a garden for the visually impaired. I'm looking forward to going through this and dreaming of when I'll actually have land to plant on.

Charlemagne's Tablecloth; A Piquant History of Feasting: an interesting look at feasts and banquets throughout history, as well as how and why people have held feasts.

If you've been reading my other blog, than you know my interests and some of my views about the environment and climate change (though I've fallen quite behind in posting on the subject). So when I happened upon a whole bunch of books on the subject, I snapped a few up.

Fact, Not Fear: Teaching Children About the Environment (Canadian Edition): This book deals with something that is starting to truly alarm me. With all the hype and hysteria about global warming and the environment, it's having a horrible effect on our children - increased stress, fears, nightmares, etc. Worse, our kids are being fed misinformation and outright lies (one example I'd read earlier included the re-writing of history) and being used by special interest groups to push an agenda. This book deals specifically with what's been happening in the school system and, even though the book is almost 10 years old, these issues are even more relevant today.

Eco-facts & Eco-fiction; Understanding the Environmental Debate: this one looks like it might be some dry reading, but from what I've seen so far, it takes a hard look at some of the many things we're being told to accept as truth, and points out how some of the "eco-friendly" things we are being sold on may actually be more damaging than what they are intended to replace. Having just read an article today about the unexpected problems with smart-cars (the batteries contain toxic heavy metals and hazardous material that can lead to problems when they need replacing), I though it timely.

Hoodwinking the Nation: a direct challenge by the author to the doom and gloom set, and the current belief that things are basically going to hell in a handbasket, even though our life expectancies are higher, health has steadily improved, as well as survival rates increasing for things that would've killed us even just a generation ago, and the environment is actually improving (cleaner water, less pollution).

Now for the kids' choices...

Lace Fans: designing and making lace fans, with a lovely inspirational gallery of photos.

Findings & Finishings; A Beadwork How-to Book: some beautiful ideas in here!

Wonderful Wire & Bead Crafts: oooohhh.... I'm going to have to go through this one myself! Some wonderful projects in here!

The Art of Parchment Craft: I've never worked with parchment paper before. Looks interesting. A new hobby in the making? (like we need another one...)

The Bead Maker; Projects for creating hand crafted beads: Youngest has discovered the joys of making beads from polymer clay. Now she's all excited about trying some of the ideas in here, too.

Beaded Ornaments; Creating New Looks for Clothes & Accessories: some very nice ideas to turn ordinary clothing into works of art!

Beading for the First Time: Eldest grabbed this one for her sister. Youngest has been watching me and her sister making things and wants to try her hand at it, too.

We're going to have to buy more beads again.

A Guide to Quilling Flowers: quilling is something Eldest spotted in a general paper crafts book I'd borrowed some time ago. She tried a few of the techniques and now wants to learn more.

Wow. Done. Finally!

Oh, wait - I forgot these were still in the bag...

Beading: from The Portable Crafter series, this tiny book has a lot of great ideas.

Brother Cadfael; Pilgrim of Hate (vhs): we just have to have at least one Brother Cadfael movie!

On cd

Cafe Fuego; Music to Set Your Soul on Fire (South/Central American music)
Franz Liszt (piano - played on Liszt's own piano by Dag Achatz)
Australian Rhythms; an Album Evolved over Thousands of Years (blend of traditional and contemporary music)

Ok. Now I'm done.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Trying something new

With all the beading and crafting books we've been getting from the library, I tried a new twist of my favorite style of beading - the peyote stitch. The result is this bracelet which, unfortunately, I can't wear. One of the reasons I started making my own jewelry was that purchased jewelry for women have pretty much never fit me. Having unusually thick bones comes in handy sometimes - I've *not* broken them when they probably should have, more than a few times ;-) - but it sucks when it comes to finding jewelry that fits. With this pattern though, it was either this size, or it would've been too loose, so my daughters get to wear it instead.

This is actually a tube done in peyote stitch, giving an effect similar to beaded crochet. Normally, when using peyote stitch to make a bracelet, I start at one end and stitch to the length I need for a flat "fabric" result. With this, I worked it by the length. To work this pattern, I started the string with 4 black beads, then two each of the white and gold, making each section of the pattern 8 beads long. In peyote stitch, this string of beads makes the first two rows. I then peyote stitched it to 8 beads wide (rows 3 and 4 are the hardest!). I then "zipped" the long ends together to make a tube, which was then worked end to end to make the ring.

Final say: I love the effect of beaded crochet, and liked working a version of it in simple peyote stitch. Because it was mostly an experiment, I used colours and types of beads I had a lot of. To work it again, there's a couple of things I'd change.

First, I'd either go with larger beads (these were size 10 seed beads), or go with a longer and wider pattern. Using this size of bead, and 8x8 pattern made it a bit too narrow to comfortably zip into a tube. A side effect is that the bracelet is actually quite stiff and inflexible because of how tight the tube is. Part of the reason I love bead woven jewelry is its pleasant softness and flexibility, which is missing here. With the same size bead, I'd probably go with a 10x10 pattern next, or go to a slightly larger size of bead.

The other thing I'd change is the type of gold beads. These are plated beads, and for something as high-wearing as a bracelet, the plating wears off rather quickly, revealing the colourless, transparent bead beneath. It's the sort of thing you'd really have to look to notice, but of course, *I* see it, and the perfectionist in me starts to cringe. LOL

The bracelet is a hit with the girls, and now they're both asking me to show them how to do peyote stitch. :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Extra Sweets

Easter is over, Dh is back at work, and things are going back to normal. Well, as normal as they ever are in this household!

Before I go on to our late hs'ing activities (and Eldest is now able to post on here too, so she'll be adding her own perspective every now and then), I wanted to post pictures of a couple more Easter treats we got.

Every Easter, my in-laws have been giving special baskets for their grandchildren. Since we have moved, they've started sending them (and us!) treats that are a bit easier to mail. What you are seeing here is a lovely tray of mixed chocolates, and the box beneath is one of 4 chocolate pizzas. Yes, chocolate pizzas!

The treat was extra special this year for another reason, though. In the past, these were purchased from a good friend who started

making chocolate as an at-home business, eventually opening up a very popular shop. She hand made all the chocolates - most her own special concoctions. They were fabulous! She is also a fantastic woman, and the kids just loved her.

Unfortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome forced her into retirement, and she sold her shop. The new owner is also quite good, but when the in-laws sent us some of these last year, they were quite different. I am guessing she either switched suppliers for her bulk tempered chocolate, or downgraded the quality she was getting. They tasted very waxy.

So the surprise this year is that they went directly to their friend, who especially made these treats herself, in her home! We were so touched that she'd be willing to do that, and that my in-laws went through the extra effort. How thoughful of them!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I've been nominated!

I've been nominated for best educational blog!

Thanks to The Travelers Journal for the nomination.

Click on the graphic and vote for your favorite. :-)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter

Have a Happy and Blessed Easter!

In our Swieconka basket:

Butter/Maslo: often shaped into a lamb, known as Baranek Wielkanocny, to remind us to share the goodness of Christ to all things. Seen in our basket in a small bowl marked with a cross in clovers.

Bread/Chleb: a loaf of rye bread, symbolizing Christ as the staff of life.

Eggs/Jajka: representing new life and Christ's resurrection.

Sausage/Kielbasa: a symbol of God's generosity.

Ham/Szynka: representing joy and abundance (also marked with a cross of cloves in our basket).

Salt/Sol: essential to life, and a reminder of Jesus saying "You are the salt of the earth."

Cheese/Ser: a symbol of moderation (we've got 2 - because we really like cheese)

Chocolate: my one concession to commercialized Easter. Because I like chocolate. ;-)

The basket is then covered with a fine cloth and taken for blessing. This year, I chose a linen cloth hand embroidered in cotton with sunny yellow blossoms.

Missing this year: horseradish/Chrzan, symbolic of the passion of Christ. I usually include a section of the root, rather than the sweetened preparation, which would later be served grated fresh onto the eggs. Our local grocery store didn't have any, and I never got a chance to go someplace else to look. Growing up, my mother would dig some out of our own patch. The pieces with some greenery starting to show at the top were not peeled completely, and my mother would share them with friends to plant in their own gardens.

Also traditional:

smoked bacon/slonina, symbolizing God's over abundance and mercy.

holy water, used to bless the home, animals, fields and used in religious rituals all year.

a candle to represent Christ's light to the world.

The basket is often decorated with colorful ribbon and/or sprigs of greenery. Others would include fruit or a bottle of wine. One of my favorite things about getting the baskets blessed is seeing all those other baskets, and the interesting things people put in them.

The basket contents are then included in meals throughout Easter Sunday. Because the food is blessed, remnants such as eggshells are supposed to be burned, not thrown out.

Friday, April 06, 2007

All done!

Dragons Eggs
(traditionally made for Chinese New Year)

3 T black tea
1 T Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 C soy sauce
1 tsp sugar

Gently boil 6 eggs (we used 12) in water for 15 minutes.
Drain, cool and tap egg with a metal spoon until the eggshells are cracked all over.
Cover eggs with water in saucepan, add ingredients and simmer for 3 hours.

Our traditional Easter basket includes peeled eggs. On Easter Sunday no work is to be done unless absolutely necessary, even just peeling eggs. When we made these for Chinese New Year one time, I knew I had to include them in our Easter basket.

The premeasured ingredients, ready and waiting while the eggs cooked for there 15 minutes.

Once they were cooled and cracked, back into the pot they went with the soy sauce and everything else.

A quick stir to combine the spices, tea and sugar into the liquid. Looking pretty gross at this point! LOL

After one hour of simmering, the eggs still look fairly pale.

At two hours, there's still little visible difference. By this time, I had added some extra water to the mixture, as it was starting to get low.

Three hours later, and they're now sitting in some cold water until cool enough to handle.

As they were peeled, I put them back into the water to rinse off any bits of shell or inner skin that might still be sticking. Of the 12 we did, only 1 was "lost" in the peeling, where the white stuck to the shell and tore. Pretty good, actually - I expected to loose at least 2. Youngest promptly enjoyed the "defective" egg.

Finished! Eleven dragons eggs, ready for the basket. Aren't they gorgeous?

more eggs - kraszanki, plus.

And now, eggs we can actually eat!

Another traditional method of coloring eggs for our basket is kraszanki.

The eggs are cooked together with yellow onion skins for about 45 minutes, or until they reach the colour depth desired. Since we don't usually have that many onion skins about the house, I pick mine up from the grocery store, gathering the loose skins that have already fallen off the onions that are for sale.

I've had these turn out a variety of shades, from relatively pale like these, to a deep, almost brown colour. I really like them.

Meanwhile, the girls dyed their own bunch of eggs using a basic grocery store kit. Of the dozen I cooked for them, I got 11 with uncracked shells, so they got 5 each. Here's Youngest's work so far.

The finished eggs. You can just see the alchemical symbol for mercury on one of Eldest's eggs. The egg by itself at the top was odd egg out, and I just dipped it half into the dye for a few moments, drying it between dips, before we dumped out the colors cleaned up.

Soon to come...

Dragons eggs.

Eggs, eggs everywhere!

Real eggs, this time, not the stitched ones.

We started out with wax resist eggs. This year, I wanted to do some blown eggs to replace the ones I gave away in the move, figuring they wouldn't survive it very well. *L*

After cleaning the eggs thoroughly, I used the largest needle I had to make holes on each end of the egg, with the one at the base somewhat larger, then blew out the contents. I was after 8 shells, which took 11 eggs. A few of them broke as I was making the holes. I counted on having at least 6 eggs by the time I was done. *L*

One they were all blown, they were washed thoroughly in soapy water. I made sure to get water into the shells and washed them out as thoroughly as I could. That was followed by a rinsing in vinegar water.

After they were done, I set them up to dry overnight. I made a drying rack with a piece of craft foam and cocktail toothpicks, with some paper towel for absorption.

The next day, the dyes were mixed quite early, as it needs to be cool before starting. In this picture, you can see the raw eggs the girls and I had done at Gawdessness' the day before. Raw eggs do very well for dying. The contents eventually dry up over the years. On the left are the blown eggs, while a kiska (size medium), beeswax and teacandle are ready and waiting.

As the dye cooled, I market most of the eggs in pencil. Here, you can see how an elastic band can be used to mark even lines.

I left a few eggs blank, while others were marked freehand.

A bit of wax is scraped into the wide end of the heated kiska, then carefully applied to the shells.

It was at this point, as I was bent over the counter, carefully applying the wax, and the cat decided to visit. She jumped up onto my back, then used me to get onto the fridge. Thank goodness I noticed her just before she jumped, so I was braced for it. *L* Later on, as I was well into other colours, she jumped down onto my back - and got comfy! That made things just a bit challenging. I had to get one of the girls to take her off so she wouldn't slide and scratch up my back as I straightened. LOL

Unlike raw eggs, blown eggs will not sink into the dye, so they need to be turned a few times while in the dye bath. The commercial packets of dye sold for wax resist methods colour the shells very quickly, and can be reused for years.

After a second bath in the dye, here are a few eggs drying before their next application of wax.

They're all done - and I still had eight! The easiest way to remove the wax is in the oven. A few layers of paper towel or newsprint on a baking sheet, then into a 200F or 250F oven, and the wax easily wipes off, though I did have to tuck the last two into the oven again, as the wax had cooled too much to wipe off by the time I got to them.

The finished eggs.

I think they turned out pretty good. :-D

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Easter Temari

I've probably started this way too late, but today I've finally started making some Easter temari. I've made quite a few of the regular round balls, but this is a first for an egg shape.

First off, wrapping the foam egg was much more challenging. Having some quilt batting to pad the egg a bit helped, but once that was covered, the threads kept wanting to slide. When I finished wrapping, I ended up having to get extra thread to tack things into place, so they wouldn't slip.

It's also the first time I've used a white base. I know I haven't made it anywhere near as thick as I would've liked, but I simply couldn't see the gaps. For the next one, I'm going to wrap a layer of yarn before the thread and see if that makes a difference.

Once wrapped, I divided the egg into 8 sections, then found the equator, in the same manner as for a ball. Marking the 8ths with pins in the center was different, though, as the circumference is not the same. A second strip of paper was used for that. For this egg, I chose a pale pink metallic thread (3 strands of 6) to mark the divisions, making sure to go back and tack down the crossovers at each pole. I debated tacking the equator as well, but decided against it. Normally, I would leave the equator pins in place while stitching, but the thread tends to catch on them. It meant the thread tended to slide around, but it was easy to see where it needed to be pushed back to.

For the wider base, I decided to mark the centre points of the stars farther out from the pole (the green pins), then marked the outer distance for both ends the same (black and yellow pins). For the narrow end, I planned to place the points as close to the pole as I could, so there was no need to mark anything.

Working the pattern went much faster than I expected, even with the rayon floss (the full 6 strands). That was another change I made. For the Easter eggs, I wanted the high sheen that the rayon gives. It's very slippery to work with, and had a tendency to tangle and twist back on itself. Not something I'd want to work with very often, though the effect was quite lovely.

The only modification I made from a simple star pattern was in the middle. After laying more metallic thread for the obi and tacking it down with pale yellow, I felt it was a bit too open, so I added the large crossed threads as well, which were then tacked down at the obi to keep them from sliding out of place.

For the wide end, I chose a bright blue and red. I normally would not have used the flash to take these pictures, as I hate how it reflects back so horribly, but I no longer had good light when I finished this. The flash does show, however, how much of a sheen the rayon thread has.

After stitching everything up to the yellow crosses, I used the metallic pink to add stitches at the pole for a star. Once it was done, I passed through to the obi and tacked the yellow crosses in place with the same thread.

For the narrow end, I chose a more muted blue to go with the green. It's almost a silvery blue that worked quite nicely with that shade green. As a whole, the pattern is busier than I favour, but I think it turned out quite nicely.

I have a total of 6 foam egg cores, but right now I'm not sure that I'll do that many. I'll probably do at least four, but we'll see. It depends on how much time I have for it, as I've picked up some basic new wax resist supplies (to replace those still packed in a box in storage) and will be dying blown eggs. We'll be dying cooked eggs using other methods as well - by the time Easter over, I think we're going to be pretty sick of eggs! LOL

Final say: This project definitely isn't for someone just starting temari, but I wouldn't say it requires a lot of experience first, either. The pattern and stitching is extremely simple, but the materials aren't. The egg shape has its own challenge when wrapping the base, and it also limits the choices in pattern - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. *L*

The rayon thread in particular is difficult to work with, compared to ordinary embroidery floss or pearl cotton. As well as being slippery and easy to tangle, I found that the threads didn't pull through evenly, and I'd have to carefully pull on each strand separately to find which ones were bunched up. Also, a lot of extra thread needs to be pulled into the wrapped thread to prevent the end from sliding out when starting a new thread. Keeping the length of end thread hidden under a white base is also a bit of a challenge, as the colour is easily seen through the white. At the narrow end, I was sometimes able to simply pull the needle through the entire foam core to hide the ends.