Friday, August 12, 2016

A book that makes me want to quilt

6 weeks ago, I received two books in the mail that I love.  I wanted to write a review immediately, but each time that I've sat down to put my thoughts into a coherent review, my words haven't feel good enough.  So, this morning, I am just going to write what I think--quickly and as clearly as I can!

The first book is titled Quilting With a Modern Slant, by Rachel May.  A few months ago, my kids and I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art.  At the museum, there were four art quilts.  I was intrigued.  Quilting With a Modern Slant is about how to make such quilts.  There are beautiful examples of quilts throughout the book, with both descriptions of the quilting artists and their approaches, as well as instructions about how to make several quilts.  I loved perusing this book and considering how the quilts were designed and pieced together.

Traditionally, people picture Amish quilts with repetitive patterns and cotton fabrics when they think of quilting.  Likely, that picture also includes only women doing the quilting.  Art quilts do not fit these stereotypes.  This new form of modern art is done by both men and women.  All of the elements of art and principles of design come into play as these artists work with fabric as a new medium, which gives new room for them to explore their ideas.

I absolutely love the quilts in this book.  I appreciate the author's explanation of how to make some of them.  But, the nature of an art quilt is really that it would be unique, so one wouldn't necessarily make the quilts in this book, but rather use those ideas and techniques as a springboard to design one's one quilt to make.

If you quilt and love to travel off the well trodden road, this book is for you.  If you love to design your own quilts and play with color, shape, and form--art quilting would be a grand adventure.  When I began quilting thirteen years ago, I never followed a pattern.  I made up my own.  It was fun.

But, if you've always followed other people's quilting patterns and have wondered how to design your own, then this second book is for you.

Also on my desk sits The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook by Thomas Knauer.  I love this book! But, so has everyone that I've shown it to.  First, I took it to a retired Art Appreciation professor.  He thought it was well organized and interesting.  Then, I took it to a community college art professor who loves modern art and asked her to take a look at it.  She lit up when she looked through it.  Her wish was that she could order a copy for herself (or not have to give the copy in her hands back to me).

What was it about the book that they loved?  Why did they love this book?

The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook is unlike most art books that I've seen.  It begins by explaining the history of modern art and what makes modern art "modern art".  When I have walked
into art museums, I have been at a loss to understand most of what the museum considers modern art, so I found the authors explanation and information extremely helpful.   It is the first book that has ever helped me understand a type of art that has seemed so nebulous to me.

The book examines important elements of art and design principles in light of their relationship to art quilting.  As I noted earlier in this post, many men have entered this area of art that was once traditionally a "woman's" craft.  This book is written by a man, Thomas Knauer.  For each facet of modern art, Knauer scaffolds the reader through different steps so that they can begin to design his/her own art quilts using grids.    I was impressed by how the author did this.  The college art professor I spoke with loved it and felt that it very easily could be used as a high school or community college art text.

The retired professor that I shared the book with appreciated the author's explanation and inclusion of different examples of modern art.  He also thought the quilts were beautiful.  He hadn't heard of art quilts as an art form, because he had focused on earlier periods of art in his classes.

As a quilter, this book made me want to sit down immediately and dig in.  Both quilting books inspire me to quilt--just as cookbooks with beautiful pictures of food inspire me to cook.

This workbook is formatted well.  The text is written in two columns in many parts of the book--which makes it easier for one's eyes to follow and track the text.  The photography complements the text well and makes it easier to understand how to complete the design exercises.

My oldest daughter loves painting.  She doesn't understand yet the value of exploring other media, but later in her high school years, I plan on her working through this workbook as part of her homeschool curriculum.  It will challenge her to work with the elements of art and principles of design in ways that watercolors don't because of the differences between fabric and paper.

Please note that I received copies of these books from Storey Books for review.

Cold Brew: The New Expensive Coffee

Cold Brew is everywhere these days--it's even at Dunkin' Donuts!

I have friends who like the Pioneer Woman's Recipe, but a few months ago, I had a coupon and bought a coffee sock for my husband when it was on sale.  Here's what I've found...

I use 2 cups of beans (which equals 2 cups of grounds) for 6 cups of water.  

Most people I know use the Pioneer Woman's method, so I did try it, but it didn't work or me.  It was a bit of a big mess when I tried to strain the coffee afterwards.  

So, I have one of these.  It's much neater to use.  I did notice on Amazon that now there are also kits with a stainless steel mesh insert which would I think would be very nice.  

The downside of the Pioneer Woman's recipe is that you have to use cheesecloth to strain it.  I found that the cheapest cheesecloth I can find is the basic package at Target. I use cheesecloth to make Lebnah, a middle eastern cheese, but I don't like to regularly use things that can't be used more than once.  

I do follow the coffee sock's directions.  Place the sock in the jar with the coffee grounds in it.  Then, I wet the coffee with a little of the water and let it sit a minute or two.  Then, I pour the rest of the water through.  I put it in the fridge for 24 hours before I take out the filter.  My sister law's use the method of letting it sit on the counter for 8 hours, but I get nervous about bacteria...  so, I put it in the fridge. :)

I really like making cold brew at home because I can make half-caf.  My coffee is a blend of World Market's whole bean Terrazu or Island Blend and their decaf whole bean Italian Roast.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Best Vacuum Ever!

Several months ago, my Oreck vacuum cleaner stopped working right.  In my disposable consumer mindset, I set it aside in the back of the closet until I had the money to take it in to get it fixed.  I had a second, very heavy vacuum cleaner that I've been using every since.

I bought my Oreck when my husband was deployed six years ago.  I had gone through three vacuum cleaners in 9 years and I wanted something that was going to last longer.  So, I did some research and bought a commercial Oreck at Costco for $200.

It has done very well for me for 6 years, but in the spring, it stopped picking anything up.  I wasn't sure what to do and I wasn't in the youtube mindset at the time, so I stuck it in the back of the closet, started using our beast vacuum cleaner instead, and waited until I felt there was some room in our budget to take it in.

I hope you don't mind rabbit trailing with me...

Fast forward to this week.  My husband and I purchased an older car for fun.  We both have cars that run.  This car is meant to be a fun Sunday car for me, because I enjoy driving.  He loves driving as well, but his preference is his motorcycle.  My van isn't exactly fun to drive (it can't zip around corners), though I'm so thankful for how well it drives!  So, this new used car is my motorcycle on 4 wheels.

This car has changed my thinking drastically.  Two days after we had it, the check engine light went on.  Ugh.  I talked to my husband and learned that I would need to take it in to have the code read.  But, then the next day, I learned that I could order a code reader online for as little as $15 dollars!  I pondered this but knew I didn't have to take care of it immediately.

I went to the library and I learned from the gal at the circulation desk that I could take it to Autozone and they would read the code for me for free!

I went home armed with this new knowledge, and read online that a loose gas cap is the most common reason for the check engine light to come on.  So, I went back to the gas cap and clicked it a little harder.  I tried to start the car one last time with just a little bit of hope and the light was off!

That afternoon, I youtubed a video to help me see how to replace the battery in one of the key fobs for the car.  I did it!  The previous owner of the car had mentioned youtube and it's helpfulness in replacing the battery instead of taking it to a dealer for them to do it.

I had this great feeling of satisfaction that I had taken care of something instead of jumping the gun and taking my car in for a very expensive inspection!

This morning I woke up thinking about the car, the check engine light, and tackling the key fob.  I decided to pull out my vacuum cleaner.  I googled youtube for a good video and found this one:

I followed the directions and discovered that I had a big (BIG) clog in the main pipe.  I cleared it out and Voila!  My vacuum cleaner works again!!  The video was easy to follow and understand.

I don't think I would ever buy anything but an Oreck again.  It was so simple to fix and I honestly missed (!!!) how light it is.  I haven't asked my kids to vacuum in months because the other vacuum was so heavy.  But, now I can comfortably ask them again!  Yahoo!

What Oreck does well is be simple.  It separated the hand vacuum from the upright and streamlined the vacuum so it could be very, very light.  It is only 8 pounds!  My Miele is 21 pounds and a bear to push.  It does an amazing job, but it is better for heavy duty jobs and the Oreck is nice for weekly vacuuming.  Also, because the Oreck is simple, it can be fixed.  In a day and age when everything is disposable and when something breaks it gets thrown away, I was so thankful to be able to fix my vacuum myself and not spend $170 on a new one.

I know that many people are concerned about HEPA and pet dander features on their vacuums.  My Miele is the pet vacuum edition.  My Oreck is not.  I have three family members with allergies and I don't feel like their allergies were worse when the Oreck was our regular vacuum than with the Mielle the past four months.

If you ever feel exasperated about your vacuum cleaner or you know someone who has a shoulder injury, then there isn't anything out there that compare with an Oreck!

Sunday, July 24, 2016


A few weeks ago, I watched this video by Morgan Spurlock at the prompting of my husband.  I enjoyed the stories of the five artisans he interviews and portrays.  This morning the video came to my mind because of the contrasting portions of my day.

In the morning, we traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, and spent part of the morning walking around downtown.  We enjoyed window shopping though we didn't buy anything until I purchased a small pair of earrings at our last stop.  My family's favorite stores were the Woodcraft Artisans store and Nautical North.  Both were stores where we appreciated what someone had made.

I didn't make anything yesterday.  But, I did reuse things already in my house so that I ended up only spending $7 to rearrange part of our bedroom.

I began by going to Target and buying a shoe rack and a belt hanger.  I returned home from my trip to Target and began trying to rearrange our bedroom to make it simpler.   A friend of mine were discussing organization this week.  She had been working on her homeschool room and I had been purging my books that I store in the basement.

She and I both agreed that...
a) purging happens multiple times.
     The first time you purge, you are able to let go of a few things.  The next time, whether it be a few weeks or months later, you are able to let go of a few more (sometimes many more).
b) simplifying means less clutter
c) rearranging sometimes takes multiple attempts before one gets it to the best arrangement

In the case of my bedroom, the belt hanger (which was cheaper and better than all options available on Amazon) worked great.  I remembered once I got home that I had a second shoe rack being used as a shelf in our basement.  I rearranged some things down there and brought it up stairs to the closet.  I rearranged the shoes and finally was able to remove an extra shelving from our bedroom.  Over the years, I see more and more that less furniture is More--more space, more breathing room.  Next, I pulled out a 3 drawer wooden organizer that I had bought at a garage sale a few weeks ago for $3.  It was just what my husband needed to put on top of his dresser.  I pick up organizers all the time at garage sales and am always surprised at the purposes I find for them.  In this case, IKEA doesn't sell this organizer in the states anymore, but it is about $24 overseas.

Voila!  Just what we needed and finally our bedroom feels like it has what we need after 4 1/2 years.

One of the accidental things that happened along the way was that our air conditioning vent is finally open to a larger space.  It hadn't been covered up, but it was boxed in by dressers on two sides and a wall on the third.  Now, it's open on two sides.  When I woke this morning, I realized that my bedroom felt more comfortable.  I hadn't realized what a difference this one facet of the rearrangement would make, though I had hoped.  Earlier this week, I had rearranged our laundry room and uncovered the air conditioning vent that was under a table.  That room has felt cooler ever since.

I'm very thankful this morning.  I get to return the shoe rack and save $25!

Do you do this?  Do you rearrange rooms periodically?  Does it make you smile when it's done?  Do you reuse things in your home in a new way?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Desserts

I did not want to turn on the oven tonight!  But, I really wanted to make a dessert for my family.  So, I thought about my options.

1.  Ice cream.

But, we'd already had pizza--that would be a lot of dairy ;)

2.  Rice Krispie Treats.

No Rice Krispies in the house--but definitely one for me to remember in the future.  I'm going to pick up some Rice Krispies this week for the next time I need a quick, cool dessert!

3.  Chocolate Milk Shake

Dairy, again, and that's what we had last night for dessert.

4.  The winner--chocolate dipped pretzels

I have milk chocolate and white chocolate wafers in the pantry that I keep on hand for special treats.  I melted just a few, pulled out small twist pretzels that had already been opened, and put a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet.  I let the girls go to town dipping pretzels and using every last bit of chocolate.  After only 10-15 minutes, the chocolate was hard and we dessert!

Other ideas I had for a cool, non-baked dessert...

Chocolate covered Peanut Butter Balls (aka Bulls Eyes)
Pudding (instant, not cooked over a stove)
Tapioca--a little cooking on the stove, but cool to eat once it's been chilled
Juice Popsicles

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Duct Tape

I have to admit I love duct tape.  Last night, I was talking with my husband and one of our friends about one of the gutters on the backside of our house.  It likes to leak.  (One of my neighbor's solution to their leaky gutter was just to take it down!) So last year, I wrapped a piece of duct tape around it to seal it.  I had to redo it a few weeks ago to reseal it, but the duct tape has worked great.

I used it again this morning.  On my dryer.  It has had this funny quirk lately.  The door pops open just slightly sometimes when clothes push against it--turning it off.  So, I decided to try duct tape.  I placed a piece on the door to hold it more securely to the dryer.  It worked!  I have been able to use and reuse the same piece for several loads.  I am thankful!  My dryer shall live on without major repair for a little longer...

When I was a kid, I didn't learn anything about repairing or taking care of houses.  But, as an adult, I've needed to learn all sorts of things.  I have found that it feels better to fix something than to throw it away.  To reuse, rather than buy anew.  I've also found that it's often easy to think what our culture tells us every day through the advertising that perpetually permeates our lives-- "if something breaks, go get a new one."

My husband's favorite books are Shopclass as Soulcraft and the second book by the same author, Matthew B. Crawford.  Shopclass is a book about doing.  We live in a world that is becoming more and more disposable and virtual reality has become true reality in most people's minds.  Video Games are preferred to real "doing" things.  There are good reasons for this--skiing on a video game is cheaper than going skiing.  A driving game is cheaper than big R/C cars.  But, it's not just that video games and the like are cheaper--they're more convenient.  Kids can do them on their own instead of needing parental help and involvement.

Recently, my husband wanted me to watch a documentary titled Crafted, a film by Morgan Spurlock. It's a short film about doing, not just living vicariously through technology.  Spurlock interviews some knife makers, potters, and other other artisans.  The first time my husband saw it, he wondered if we were pursuing the type of art in any way in our lives as a family.   After the second time watching it, my husband explained that we are.  We cook food from scratch, seek to reuse and repurpose items in our home, I write curriculum for my kids' schooling, he enjoys playing the piano as much as his fingers allow him to...

This weekend we went to a hobby shop and purchased large Radio Control (R/C) cars for our kids to enjoy with my husband.  He loved R/C cars in high school and understood the ins and outs of them.  The kids had a lot of fun with them.  Our plan this week is for them to build a track in our backyard for the cars.  I asked one of my kids afterwards which was better--MarioKart or the R/C cars.  There was no question in my child's mind--R/C won hands down!

I find that it takes energy to do, but that it is more rewarding.  It's easy to fear for our culture that we are turning into a people lost in tech, but weekends like this past one encourage me to remember that many people are choosing to do.  The hobby shops were getting shoppers--they weren't empty.  So, now my mind is turning to ways I can foster the desire to "do" in my kids--showing them the appeal of doing!

Venturing into New Seafood Waters

Seafood is one of those foods that is best cooked precisely.  Unfortunately, I am not the precise kind of cook.  I tend to modify recipes and throw in this and that as I cook.  So, I generally steer clear of Seafood.

But, my love of seafood periodically draws me back.  My anniversary is this week so I wanted to fix something special for my husband out of the blue.  On a whim, I bought some mussels while at Costco.  I knew just where to go look for a recipe when I got home.  Recently, I got a new Seafood cookbook titled Fresh Fish: A fearless guide to grilling, shucking, searing, poaching, and roasting seafood by Jennifer Trainer Thompson.  I opened up the cookbook to the index, found a recipe for steaming mussels, and set to work!

Cookbooks vary a lot.  Some have many pictures, some have none.  Some have horrible formatting that make them difficult to read because the color of the font is too light to read, the font itself is hard to focus on, or even because there are too many words on a page!  As for the actual content, some recipes are written well, making them easy to follow--while other cookbooks miss steps or even ingredients!

I do have another standby fish cookbook that I love--James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish.  This has been my go to fish cookbook for years.  But, it's not a simple, easy to use cookbook.  I also have another one that I use for the simplest recipes, Seafood: A Collection of Heart-Healthy Recipes by Janis Harsila and Evie Hansen.  I've used both of these for years.  Peterson's for shellfish and more complex fish recipes, Harsila's for the simplest nights when I pan fry or bake fish.  But, neither have pictures.  Neither are particularly appealing cookbooks visually,  Peterson's does have a section of pictures in the middle, though they aren't right by the recipes.  Harsila's cookbook has a lot of older recipes that no one would cook today since it is thirty years old.  So, it made a lot of sense for me to go to Fresh Fish when I wanted to cook Mussels.

The recipe I found in this cookbook was easy to follow, simple to understand, and was spot on.  My husband and I both loved the mussels I cooked Friday night.  We let my kids try one or two and they loved them as well, which was quite surprising to me.  I did make one simple substitution of minced red onion for the shallots (because I didn't have any), but it still tasted great.  There was a separate

Jennifer Trainer Thompson put together a great cookbook.  The pictures make the food appealing.  The directions are easy to follow and formatted well.  Colored font was used for the recipe titles, headings, and step numbers, but thankfully not for the ingredient names and step directions so they can be easily read.  One issue I take with many cookbooks is using too many odd ingredients, but this cookbook doesn't do that.  I was pleased that there was only the occasional ingredient that would need a trip to a specialty foods store.

There were a few cases where I think there should have been pictures of the recipe steps rather than extraneous (but interesting) pictures of other things.  One example is the Seaweed Sushi Roll Recipe.  I make sushi regularly for my kids, but I wouldn't recommend following this recipe.  First, she said to chop the avocado and vegetables.  Instead, when making sushi the cook should julienne the vegetables (including the avocado).  If you did want to chop them, it would need to be a fine mince of the vegetables.  Also, wrapping the bamboo in plastic wrap is not so simple.  You have to wrap both sides of the map so that the plastic wrap will stay on it.  One last note, when spreading the rice on the seaweed paper, getting your hands wet periodically will help you spread it--which she does note.  I'm glad she mentioned that.  

This fish cookbook is going to likely have a place on my shelf for a long time!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Books.