Monday, April 29, 2013

With Sprinkles

I didn't mention it last week, but I thought I'd share that on Saturday, I turned 29!

I have plenty to share with you about how much fun I had celebrating - but, so far, I've been too busy celebrating to edit photos or write posts. So, for today, I'll leave you with this lovely little photo. On Friday, a co-worker brought donuts to the office in honor of my birthday. This is (not the only) one I enjoyed, and it was covered with festive sprinkles!

Stay tuned for a complete recap of the end of 28 coming later this week!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Half the Sky

This month, my book club decided to branch out and read a non-fiction book: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
This book is a chronicle by two award-winning journalists of the struggles of women in the developing world. Their focus is primarily on women who are desperately poor (or who reside in nations where poverty is pervasive) and the difficulties encountered in everyday life by such women. I enjoyed this book a great deal! I read it more quickly than I had expected, and the story-telling style certainly kept me engaged.

One thing that surprised me quite a bit about this book was the authors' willingness to identify issues as signals of sexism where that might not have been my first instinct. For example, the authors point out the tragedy of high rates of complications and death resulting from child birth. I was aware of the issue of maternal morbidity and mortality, though their descriptions certainly provided more detail as to the nature and scope of the problem. The authors take this a step further and explain their thesis that the reason maternal health care is not a bigger deal in the societies they focus on (or in the developed world, where aid is generated) is because of sexism. To me, that thesis is quite ambitious. I have health issues that aren't gender specific - but I still have no desire to receive medical care of any kind in the developing world. I don't think these authors actually wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to the state of health care regarding all types of ailments. But, I didn't see much in their analysis to support the differentiation between sexism and poverty as the root causes of this problem.

I heard about this book when it was first released a couple of years ago. I didn't immediately read it at the time because it seemed like my social network (at least, the online version) had nothing but negative things to say. I didn't look into this in great detail - I was simply discouraged by seeing only critical comments and links. When this book was selected for book club, I fell in line and figured that, if I hated it, it wouldn't be the first time! (Sorry, bookclubbers! We all know, sometimes it's a swing and a miss!) But, as it turned out, I didn't hate it at all! I quite enjoyed it, actually. It wasn't until after I finished reading the book that I decided to go back and find some of the critique that I had absorbed but ignored from the time it was released. The main themes of this critique seems to be that the book focuses on Westerners as saviors in the developing world, that women's issues in the developed world still exist but are ignored, and that the developing world continues to struggle because of the international economic climate driven by Westerners. If you're interested, the best of these critiques I read was written by Germaine Greer and is available here.

Having read the book, I think there is some validity to each of these concerns. However, I can't imagine a book anyone would want to read that effectively addressed the subject matter actually contained in Half the Sky along with these three other themes. Furthermore, I think the critique actually is in symbiosis with the material itself. If I hadn't read the book in the first place, how would I have been educated enough about the breadth and complexity of issues facing in women in the developing world to understand what the critic was talking about?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Dessert

So, as you know if you've been around here for any time at all, I've been incorporating Paleo eating principles into my life. It was a big adjustment for me at the beginning. The toughest part was noticing how much grain I was consuming - it was a big part of just about every meal, and I hardly ever even ate pasta! It didn't take long to figure out that most dessert is off the menu. Imagining a dessert that contained neither grain, nor dairy, nor large amounts of sugar was pretty difficult to do. But, that actually made the transition simple: Paleo = No dessert. Does that mean I haven't had sweets since January? No, it doesn't. I've had small amounts of lots of different desserts, particularly at parties. But, I haven't been under any illusions: eating these desserts is an aberration. It doesn't matter much to me that they aren't Paleo, because they're not part of the program.

Meanwhile, I've noticed what seems to be increasing discussion in the Blogo-Pinterest-Facebook-sphere about "Paleo desserts." I kept thinking to myself, "This is crazy!" Even if you could dream up a yummy treat free of grain, dairy and sugar, why would you want to? I did see some yummy treats that fit into that category. I saw this one and might actually have attempted to make it, had I had the ingredients on hand. The thought of venturing out to buy almond flour and coconut flour was less than appealing. Plus, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wouldn't be gaining much in nutritional value from eating Paleo Cookie Dough Bars and maybe that was a good reason to skip it. In my world, the after-dinner treats I've been enjoying if I want something sweet have been limited. I have tea all the time - especially flavors that are naturally sweet, like "licorice spice" (made with anise seed) or Good Earth Original Decaf (cinnamon and other rich flavors; gotta do decaf at bed time!). I sometimes have dark chocolate, which is an acceptable moderation food. I occasionally have fruit or yogurt, if I'm actually hungry, though that is quite unusual. I was all geared up to write a blog post for you guys about how the only Paleo desserts are tea and fruit, with chocolate occasionally, and how all of the recipes for real desserts that have been Paleo-ified are useless.

And then, about a week ago, my mom made me a Paleo dessert! I usually eat dinner with my family on Sunday nights. Mom frequently prepares the entire meal and even when we eat dinner out, she often bakes a dessert on Sunday during the day for us to enjoy when we get back. I used to always have whatever they were having; since starting with Paleo, I've simply been saying no. My parents have adjusted their habits a little bit so they've been eating dessert sometime after I leave, which I have really appreciated. A couple of weeks ago, Mom served fruit salad for dessert, which was quite yummy. But, last weekend, she made these:
These are the brownie form of Fudge Babies from Chocolate Covered Katie. It's basically chocolate, dates and walnuts put together in a food processor. So yummy! As we sat down as a family to enjoy this treat, I realized what the purpose of Paleo-ified desserts might be. It's probably not something I'm going to make for myself and enjoy on my own. But, could I prepare a Paleo dish and bring it somewhere? Sure! Is a dessert made Paleo something everyone can enjoy? You bet!

I even said yes when Mom offered to cut some up for me to take home. Glad I took these pictures - they're all gone now!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Jewelry Armoire

For a long time, I've wanted a jewelry armoire for my bedroom. It seems like they appear on store shelves everywhere around Christmas time. This Christmas, I noticed a pretty and simple white one for sale at Target. At about $70, I thought it was a little steep, but it was not far from my mind during the Christmas season. I assumed that come January 1, the price would tumble, but it was not to be. It wasn't until sometime in March that I noticed it on sale for 50% off!
I scooped this bad boy up during one of my twice-weekly runs to Target primarily in search of groceries. I had it at home for a few weeks before getting organized to put it together. I finally opened the box and this is what I discovered:
I had just about everything one would need to assemble this armoire. Those cardboard boxes contain two legs each and at the far right of the frame, you'll see the instructions. So what am I missing? Oh, that's right: ALL of the hardware!

Not easily discouraged, I considered returning the entire thing to Target and demanding a different one. Unfortunately, enough time had passed that I suspected all of the other ones would have been sold already. More importantly, I had essentially shredded the box in my quest to remove the pieces I had and search for the missing tiny hardware baggie. Instead, I called the telephone number on the instructions and requested a replacement hardware kit. The guy at the other end of the phone was very apologetic and accommodating. Before long, this arrived:
So, one Saturday morning, I gleefully ripped into this envelope to get things underway. By that point, the armoire's shell had been lying on the floor in the living room for a week, so I was ready to complete the project and move on.

I finally have everything I need, including the conspicuous blaze orange bag, with this super-helpful label, "HARDWARE." Nice one, Target.

Things actually went fairly smoothly once I had the hardware. The assembly for this product is quite simple. First, you attach each of the four legs, with the cabinet part upside down on the floor. Once that's complete, you'll attach the top - a hinged lid with a mirror inside. I had no trouble with the legs. But, when it came time to put the mirror on, I pawed through the hardware bag a couple of times before realizing that I STILL didn't have the right hardware. That's when I discovered this:
Um... yeah. What on earth does this have to do with my frilly little white jewelry armoire? No idea. They must have sent me the hardware pack for what I can only suspect was a Mission-style end table or nightstand, because this was the only handle in the kit. My complete review of the contents of the hardware package led me to realize that I did not have the three small screws needed to add the top to the hinge.
So, I dragged it off to my bedroom and set it up, where it looked like this. Charming, isn't it?

I considered calling the Target hotline back, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it. I was actually quite convinced they would once again send me the wrong hardware. I discussed the issue with my dad, who has all different kinds of bolts and screws in his workshop at my parents' house. He actually didn't think he had anything that would work.

I convinced him to let me bring back one kit that he has with lots of different sizes and styles of screws. I figured that, before walking into a hardware store looking like a complete moron, I could at least give it a try.
Okay, I've got the board with the pre-drilled holes and the whole kit!
Alrighty - it looks like we have a winner! Seriously, all I did was try different sizes in the pre-drilled holes. I was definitely cautious about using one that was too big, because I didn't want to push through the holes and cause the board to break. (Yes I know that its at a weird angle in this photo - I removed the screw, placed the lid on the hinge, and then replaced the screw, making sure it was going in straight!).
I was a little nervous that these screws were bigger than recommended, so I put all three in and turned them a little at a time, just to be sure everything was lining up correctly. I lucked out big time!

Once I put it back into place, I realized I had a little bit of a problem:

 Yeah, my cute little pink Blah Blah princess is now blocking the lid from resting against the wall.

Okay, here's the finished product! I got Blah Blah princess out of the way. She'll be finding a new home and I'll be doing some updating of the art near the armoire - I'll be sure to keep you posted!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Broiled Pork Chops

Okay, well, there was one more thing I was doing while lazing about the house last weekend: cooking! One thing that trying to eat more Paleo food has done is encouraged me to cook more, in general. I know there are lots of Paleo-followers out there who swear by leftovers as a way to make it through the week. More power to them, but I'm pretty picky about left-overs. I really hate it when food's flavor changes after having been reheated.  I think flavor-changing is a problem that is particularly pronounced with meat!

So, I'm always on the lookout for quick and easy meat, especially when you can get it in a single-serve portion. In my olden days, this meant boneless, skinless chicken breasts, fish sticks, and chicken fingers. In my new days, it meant chicken breasts. And more chicken breasts. Until, one day, I was at the grocery store and noticed several packages of boneless pork chops. Since I grew up in a house where pork chops are bone-in and breaded, I definitely didn't buy right away. But, I came home, did some research, spoke with a friend who happens to be a meat-cooking virtuoso and finally decided to take the plunge.

Cooking these pork chops was so easy and easily Paleo, so I decided to share my technique!
First, I made a marinade. I added rosemary to olive oil. The only thing not pictured is the spoon I used to mix it up!

I marinated the pork for less than 30 minutes in this solution. You could probably do it for longer - I was pretty hungry! Once I put the pork on the baking sheet, I noticed there was some extra marinade in the dish. I recommend that you discard that or save it... whatever you do, don't pour it on! I did, and it wound up just adding a lot of smoke.

I broiled the pork in my lovely toaster oven - you guys know I'm obsessed - for 7 minutes a side! And here's how it looked:

You might be noticing some cuts in the pork - I definitely "Chef Ramsay'ed" this dish. I cut it open in a few different spots to make sure it was done. I don't have an instant read meat thermometer, though I certainly would have used it if I had! I'd have made sure that the internal temperature reached the guideline mentioned on the package. Instead, I had to hack it apart to make sure it wasn't too pink, and it wasn't. Success!

So, I paired it up with a little broccoli (with goat cheese, pine nuts and olive oil) and flipped it over to de-emphasize the hack marks from the fork and knife I used to cut it open. What a lovely little dinner it made!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is it too late on Thursday...

to write a post about what I was doing last weekend? If it is, please skip over this tiny corner of the internet and move right ahead, because that's about all I have on tap for you today!

Last weekend was pretty cool: it was a long one! I had an outpatient, diagnostic surgical procedure last Wednesday. Recovery is pretty easy but it requires A LOT of rest. Sitting in a desk chair is a stress position for the recovery - by that I mean, it hurts and even once it stops hurting, it makes recovery move more slowly. So, I took Thursday and Friday off work to spend the time laying around the house. And so I did!

I enjoyed this tiny bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs that I scored a couple of weeks ago during a post-Easter sale at Target for 50 cents. I decided to include my cell phone in the photo to give you a sense of the scale. No they weren't Paleo, but yes, there was only one single-serving bag. I spent most of the day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday on the couch enjoying the offerings on Hulu Plus and Netflix. And these candies were the icing on the cake!

I also spent the weekend digesting the sad news that the coffee shop directly across the street from my apartment building would be closing. I guess it was released early last week that certain Caribou Coffee outlets would be closing - 2 of which were in Minneapolis, and 1 of those is seriously located directly across the street from my apartment.

On Monday, in addition to hearing the grim news from Boston, I came home and found this:
Got to love that "brown-paper-bag" window covering look...

And who used to be the top tenant? Yeah, that's right.

While I was in high school, I used to hang out at Caribou Coffee with my gang of besties (Ginny, Magnolia, Daisy, and more). When I went off to college, Northfield had just gotten its own Caribou and I used to escape there with my roomies about once a week by the time we were seniors. In grad school, I was at Caribou at least once a week, taking a break from studying at home or in the library. All of these establishments are still hanging in there, brewing up yummy drinks in a cozy atmosphere. I admit it: as I've transitioned to supporting myself, I've cut back on trips to Caribou. But, I'll still miss my 'Bou right across the street!

And now we get to the good part about doing a weekend-in-review post on a Thursday: the new weekend is just about here! Hooray! Hope it's a good one!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The 411

Okay, so today I'm linking up with one of my favorite daily reads, BHB. In honor of April 11, she's invited bloggers to share the 411 - and I took her up on the invitation!

1. The Basics
Who are you: Minnie... except not in real life!
Where do you blog: Right here at Marvelous Minnie.
How did you pick your blog’s name: I live in the Minnie - Minneapolis, Minnesota that is! My great-grandmother really was named Minnie. Having been born in 1894, she was the first woman in my family to go to college. A pretty good idol, right? And I started my blog so I could write about the marvels in my life and, despite some less-than-marvelous in the last 16 months, that's what I've done.

2. Location, location, location
Where did you grow up: I grew up out in the 'burbs south of St. Paul.
Where do you live now: Tangletown, in far southern Minneapolis, near the Minnehaha Creek!
Where would you live anywhere in the world: If my neighborhood had less airport noise, better snow removal and was 20 minutes closer to work, I'd live here forever...

3. Let’s talk beauty - what is your favorite or signature:
Lipstick: Lip Smackers. Yes, really. I buy the holiday themed multi-packs that are intended for Easter baskets or Christmas stockings for eight year old girls. Fave flavors include cotton candy, strawberry-orange, and mint.
Mascara: Mostly none - I always wind up rubbing it in my eyes. When I wear it, it's classic Maybelline Great Lash, top lashes only.
Perfume: The Beat by Burberry. I occasionally switch it up for Burberry Weekend.

4. Yummies - what is your favorite:
Cocktail: Not a drop since August, sorry to be a party-pooper. But, so, my favorite "cocktail" is a Northern Light Vanilla Cooler from Caribou Coffee - YES! I would drink at least one these every day if I could afford it.
Dessert: All of it. Including donuts.
Pizza Topping(s): Pepperoni and pineapple is a classic, I also love pizza with alfredo instead of tomato sauce. My current craving is Pizza Luce's baked potato pizza, which has mashed potatoes and a side of sour cream!

5. I always have these three things in my refrigerator:
Un: Diet Coke.
Deux: Hard-boiled eggs.
Trois: Baby Carrots.

6. Get artsy - what is your favorite:
Movie: The Count of Monte Cristo - starring Jim Caviezel (the guy who played Jesus!) and Guy Pearce. It's seriously the movie I watch when I'm sad... unless I'm watching Bride Wars, which is a movie about weddings that's actually about friendship.

Book: Elizabeth the Queen, the biography of the current queen written by Sally Bedell Smith was a real winner (and a gift from Daisy). I often read non-fiction, but I quite rarely enjoy it so much!

TV Show: I love reality TV a lot. My favorite is Teen Mom (and progeny... ha ha). I also love Hot in Cleveland, the Big Bang Theory, all shows Gordon Ramsay, Scandal, the Good Wife, the Following, Downton Abbey and Revenge.

7. Kid stuffs - three questions about your youth:
What did you want to Be when you grew up? For most of my childhood, I wanted to be a lawyer :)

Who was your favorite teacher and why? Mme Albertson, my high school French teacher. I think she was the first teacher I had who thought I was really excellent at anything. The ability to excel at one thing gave me confidence to believe I could be really good at other things too. 

What was your worst sickness/surgery/hospital visit as a kid? The one and only was meningitis at age 16. I didn't actually have to stay in the hospital for very long, which was a blessing, particularly since it happened in the middle of a vacation to visit relatives in St. Louis. I did, however, experience the thing that's worse than a spinal tap: an unsuccessful spinal tap. Shudder.

8. The Pretty Things - what is your:
Favorite color: Teal-turquoise-light blue. I love it especially when it's accented with red!
Favorite flower: Umm... live ones? I can never justify buying them, but I always feel spoiled when I receive them!
Favorite artist (painter, photographer, etc.): Love Michael Birawer, Lynne Loshbaugh, the Dutch painters, and Norman Rockwell.

9. Shop ‘Til You Drop
What’s one thing you buy the most often: Raisins. Eat 'em every day. Also, craft supplies! I go to Michaels or JoAnn's at least once a week, and sometimes, its a lot more.

Do you prefer to shop online or in-store? Electronics, love to shop online, especially to read reviews. Everything else? Always in store. I sometimes pre-browse online, during a slow day at the office...

Imagine you open your own store - what would you sell? Books, cute housewares, jewelry, antiques (maybe), and greeting cards. Okay, I'll admit it: I want to own Patina.

10. Be a Hater: what are three things you would like to go away?
Ein: Jet-lag (and the related phenomenon that accompanies Daylight Savings Time).
Zwei: Rude drivers - seriously, you're operating your fast-moving steel box dangerously. You're going to kill someone!
Drei: Taylor Swift. Her best song was "Our Song" and it's never even on anymore. The rest of her stuff makes me want to change the station (which rarely helps - she is stalking me!) or just turn the radio off.

11. The Final Three (x Three)
I hand you a genie - what are your three wishes?
1. Healthy eating habits that are effortless
2. Never a wait on a library book or e-book
3. A beautiful, clean, well-maintained, owned house that belongs to me with a dog inside who can pretty much take care of himself :)

List 3 things you can see out of your window right now.
1. Snow-covered trees
2. The Lyndale Avenue bridge
3.  A street that's been plowed clear sometime since I got up this morning!

Who are three people, living or dead, you would invite over for dinner?
1. My papa (say "paw-paw"), who was my dad's dad and who would be so proud of how much I've done since he passed away while I was in college.
2. My grammy, who was Papa's wife and who died when I was a baby.
3.  The rest of my dad's family - it would be the best family reunion ever!

Thanks for reading and, if you have a blog, please join up with BHB as well!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Frame-Up

Probably a year ago, I spotted the cutest Pin somewhere out there on the internet. I wish I'd saved the link because the moment I saw it, I knew I wanted one of my own. The basic idea was to dress up an otherwise-atrocious thermostat by slapping a cute frame around it. My place seems to be filled with ugly boxes on the walls, so when I thought of a way to make them less terrible, I was definitely in!

I measured my thermostat. Sort of. I sort of measured it. And off to JoAnn's I went, armed with enthusiasm and a coupon.

My first draft was this goofy little red frame. I wish I'd gotten a better photo of it to help you see that it actually doesn't fit around the thermostat box very well. It's a 3x5 frame, which just isn't big enough - though I worried a lot that a 4x6 would turn out to be too big. It's also not the woodworkers finest project, given that the two sides are not quite the same shape, nor are they the same width. You add some overly dark red paint, gold polka dots that don't match the rest of the room and which are quite uneven, and some glitter that was leftover on the brush from another project, and you get something I'd characterize as a minor disaster. I made the first draft sometime back in the fall, and it didn't take long for me to get focused on other projects.

I spent some time looking for a charming little frame but it wasn't until recently that I ran across something that was basically perfect at Michaels:
The fit on this frame isn't quite as close, but it's close enough so it doesn't look weird. I was also worried about this frame bumping into the one on the bottom left-hand corner of this photo, so I was happy that the edging wasn't so wide as to create any problems.

I think one of the reasons I was so unhappy with the little red frame is that I was never crazy about the color. It took me a very long time to decide what I wanted to do. I have to admit I was inspired by this post over at Young House Love - and how the bloggers came to the decision that blue was the thing! I was also looking for a color that was a real color, but that was not going to try to steal the show.

I decided to go with this bright navy, which is sort of an important background color in my living room,
I got this bitty bottle of a color called (succinctly) "dark blue" for 40 cents at Michaels during a sale. Budget friendly for sure!

I quick slapped on two coats of paint and one coat of polyurethane.
It didn't get as shiny as I had been hoping, but I was basically too impatient to keep doing more coats, especially with all the detailing!

I did a little measuring, made two marks with my pencil, grabbed a hammer and a nail and it was all done!

And here's the wide shot:
With this one out of the way, I can move on to yet another crazy framing project! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Back in service - sort of!

So, for reasons I don't entirely understand myself, I can't help but write here about my little experience with elevator service in my apartment building. Earlier this year, we learned that the elevator was going to need to be replaced. While it was undergoing work, it was going to be closed for 4-5 weeks. For me, this was actually a great boost to be more active as part of my efforts to be healthier.

As you read here, I was a little bit disappointed it looked so tame while they were working on it. I had to share with you that, of course, it did get worse!


But, the good news is that soon it got better - WAY better! 

I spent some time on Sunday afternoon waiting for the elevator while I was carrying my laundry down to the car.
And there's the shiny new instrument panel with a digital display. Sweet! I was lucky enough to get into the elevator without any fellow passengers - though I still felt like a HUGE dork taking this photo to share this awesomeness with all of you guys.

Why do I insist on posting about the elevator? I'll admit that it's partly because I'm trying to hold myself accountable. It's been so convenient to have the elevator, especially when I was moving in. I also use it when carrying something clumsy because I'm a little nervous about falling down the stairs. It was pretty cool yesterday to ride in it while carrying a 25 pound laundry basket. But, it became too easy to use it to be lazy, though, which is something I'm trying desperately to control. So, you saw the inside of the elevator (as I also did) - but it's going to be a long time before we see it again!

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Get Well Soon blanket - Why?

Last summer, I took a car trip with my family to Duluth, MN. I knew we were going to be listening to a John Grisham book-on-CD the entire way there. (I knew this because that was something we'd always done on driving trips when I was a kid, and because I was the one charged with actually checking the audiobook out from the library so I had the ultimate veto power!) I wanted to do something to keep my hands busy during the drive. I had bought a large quantity of a really pretty, brown homespun yarn a long time before. So, in the weeks leading up to our trip, all I had to do was figure out a pattern to make a blanket. You saw that pattern yesterday!

 I didn't spend much time on the trip knitting, and when I got home, I put the knitting aside in favor of lots of other projects. My "blanket" was about the size of a bandana -- folded in half!

I spent most of my time this fall focused on other things. In addition to the usual distractions, I was facing one big one: surgery. As I began making plans for what my life would be like after surgery, I knew I was going to be spending several weeks recovering at my parents' house. As sort of an afterthought, I tossed the bag containing this project into my duffel bag. Surgery was a huge success and within a week, I was resting in my old bedroom.

I spent a lot of time watching Hulu and Netflix in bed on the laptop. At first, that was all I had the energy to do. As you know if you've been around here for even a short time, I LOVE to read. But, it took me weeks after surgery before I had the energy to want to read. After doing nothing but watching TV for a few days, I was starting to get restless, even though doing more was impractical. Out came the blanket project! I started knitting. It felt so nice to have the yarn in my hands! They had been so swollen, they were useless the entire time I was in the hospital. Touching something soft, while also accomplishing something, was pretty much the best thing you could imagine! And I had to use my brain a little to make sure that I followed the pattern  and didn't drop any stitches. This project was also perfect because, when those inevitable waves of fatigue would strike, I could easily set it down and rest. Which I did. A lot.
When I was well enough to return to my apartment, I still needed to take it easy. My mind wanted to run out and do tons of Christmas shopping and host parties and make all different kinds of crafts to give to everyone. But, my body couldn't handle all of that. And, my incision was healing up and starting to itch. I knew it was going to be bad news if I started scratching it, but it would have been easy while just hanging out on the couch. I had to keep my hands busy as well as my mind! So, as I chilled out at home and tried to keep from going crazy, I again picked up this blanket and kept right on knitting.

One of the first big social events that I went to as I was recovering was the wedding of my friend Bee. I've known Bee for a long time and wanted to give her and her new husband a special gift when I attended their wedding in January. Over the summer, I was invited to join a group of ladies who were going to learn how to crochet a blanket. I chose colors I thought Bee would like and decided to make the blanket and give it to her as a wedding present. Unfortunately, the night of the first crochet class was the night I first wound up in the emergency room. I ended up having to give up on that blanket. So, once this knitted blanket was actually starting to look like something, I decided to finish it and give it to Bee and Mr. Bee. It seemed like an especially good idea since Bee loves Duluth, having spent summers there with her family as a child, and that's where the Bees got engaged. I decided that it was a good omen that Duluth was the destination I had in mind as I prepared this pattern.

I knitted along like a crazy lady, trying to get it done in time for their wedding back in January. No dice. I kept on going and going and going until finally, one day in March, it was done.
Here I am, checking out the blanket to make sure it's warm and cozy. Sure is! 

Last week, I packed up the blanket and mailed it off to Bee and Mr. Bee. They're back from their honeymoon and another scheduled trip and have probably already opened up all of their other wedding gifts. Hopefully this one was a nice little surprise for them. I made it with a little extra love since I was so happy to be getting better. And, it made me better each time I worked on it. I sent it to them with the wish that they'll have a long and happy life together!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Get Well Soon blanket - How?

I recently finished making a blanket. Today, I'll tell you all about how I made the blanket. If you don't knit, or do but don't care, come back tomorrow for more about why I made this blanket and what I did with it! 

I started with Lion Homespun yarn in Barley. I had five skeins when I began, and I was sure that would be enough. Not at all! I ended up with 7 skeins in total, though I have quite a bit left of the last one. I did not buy all of these skeins at the same time or in the same place, but luckily, its variegated anyways so no one can tell! 
The pattern I came up with is based on an old shawl pattern I've used a few times before. I made a few little swatches to give me an idea of what it might look like when done and then finally declared the pattern ready to go.

This blanket is knit on the diagonal. What that means is that you start knitting in a corner. When I began what turned out to be a rather enormous blanket, I had just 4 little stitches on my needle! But, then I did what I would be doing for all of my following rows: knit 3, yarn over, knit across. This meant that, in the first row, I knit three, wrapped my yarn around the needle to add a stitch, and then knit the final remaining stitch. The first row was done and then I moved along to my next row! If you have any experience knitting at all, you'll quickly realize that this pattern is SIMPLE! It's so simple, it's practically mindless.

If you keep repeating this pattern over and over and over and over - which I think I did about 150 times - you'll have a nice big triangle!

 What on earth is going on here? This is actually me measuring the triangle, which is why my fabric tape measure is in the foreground. I can tell from knitting it that its big and heavy, but I needed to know whether its big enough and heavy enough.

Yep, this is a multi-step process. Why does it look so awkward? Because I'm actually trying to measure the side dimension of the blanket. When knitting on the diagonal as I'm doing here, the blanket will be square. So, I have to make sure that my sides have reached the right dimension so that I knot the finished product won't be a square that's too small.

Once the triangle has finally reached the right size, it's time to start decreasing. This part definitely isn't mindless. Watch out! Instead, knit across until 6 stitches remain on the needle. Then, k2tog, yarn over, k2tog, k2. This is some knitting jargon that creates a decrease with the same lacy pattern on the edge that was part of the increase. So what's happening is that one stitch is being removed in each row, but because we have to add a stitch for the lacy look, that one has to be removed as well. It sounds kind of complicated and silly, but the result looks effortless!

Finishing the blanket is a little complicated, but hopefully these instructions will make it clear. Knit like a fiend until you have 9 stitches left on your needle.
Row 1:  K3, k2tog, k2tog, k2
Row 2: k3, k2tog, k2tog
Row 3: k3, k2tog
Row 4: cast off 4

Here's the finished product all folded up and ready to go!

And here's the blanket, laid out on my full-sized bed. I think its just about the right size, since it pretty much covers the surface.

52" square, sounds right to me! The goal had been just 50, so I'm happy. Plus, it's a really stretchy knit pattern, so it drapes more readily than you might be used to in a blanket.

One little problem in this pattern is "the curl." Here's another shot of it:

Okay, so what's with this? I don't actually really know. What I can tell you is that I think its inevitable because I saw some curling with the little swatch samples I made. I was worried it would become a more significant problem when I made the blanket larger, but it worked out to be just the opposite! None of you would have noticed if I hadn't shown these pictures. But, let me assure you, it impacts just one corner and, as far as I'm concerned, it hardly matters!

So, there you have it. This is just about the simplest blanket pattern you could ever imagine. Tomorrow, I'll tell you the story of how this pattern and blanket came into being and what happened to the finished product!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Clearing the Decks

I spent some time this weekend trying to wrap my arms around a bit of a project: the not-quite-annual weeding out of the closet. I decided to get it together and get the project done this weekend since I recently bought some new jeans and was feeling like there wouldn't be room to hang them up in the closet!

Here's the before shot of the closet:

And here's the after:
Are you having trouble seeing the difference? I get it. Keep scrolling for a better representation of what I got rid of!

Here are the shelves where I keep my t-shirts, tank tops, polos, and long sleeved tees. I was so excited to get going on it, I didn't have time to snap a before, but this is the after! 

 And here's the reveal... the four stacks of pants, shirts, and sweaters that are on their way to find a new home with someone else.

They're presently stacked up in three garbage bags in my study. Now, all I need is to drop them off at Goodwill!