Wednesday, December 5, 2012

sweet clover cardigan

I haven't had as much time to knit lately as I'd like, which makes it such a big deal when I actually follow through and finish a project that I started 8 months before.

This little sweater is my favorite yet. I love how sweetly it turned out. To be truthful, I wasn't sure it would turn out at all, since this was my first attempt at designing my own pattern. And my first attempt at cutting a steek (who'd have thought such an adrenaline rush was possible with knitting?!). But it worked!! I'm feeling pretty darn proud of myself right now. 

The stitch pattern in the yoke looks complicated, but it's just made by slipping stitches from the previous colored row. I borrowed it from Nikol Lohr's Sally Cardigan. It's actually a fairly simple stitch and I love how it almost looks like polka dots.

And steeking is flat out AWESOME. A cardigan worked up with the ease of knitting in the round? Yes please!


Pattern: from my own noggin

Size: 9-12 months (ish)

Yarn: (green) Fingering-weight merino wool harvested from a thrift store sweater
         (white) Fingering-weight wool/angora blend harvested from a thrift store sweater

Satisfaction level:  Completely thrilled.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

fruit punch sweater

 Done: my first Fair Isle sweater.

Fair Isle is a knitting technique used to create colorful patterns, and since it involves knitting with two yarns at at the same time, I found it seriously intimidating-- so much so that I held off on this adorable pattern for almost a year. Turns out it's really not so bad. The key is to keep the yarn floats really loose. (here is a great video tutorial if you're curious how to do it)

The pattern is Purl Soho's Baby Girl Cardigan, and while I usually knit free patterns because I'm so cheap, this one was worth every penny. It's knit from the bottom up, which I hated at the beginning. That turned out to be motivating though-- since I was so anxious to try out the color work at the yoke (which was almost the last part). That's a pretty good thing for a girl that occasionally has trouble finishing projects. 

There are so many little details that make this sweater special. I love the hidden rib that keeps the front edges of the cardigan from rolling (which stockinette on it's own is notorious for). Also, the crocheted button loops and the tiny yellow vintage buttons add a happy little touch. It's a shame I couldn't manage a picture of the front, but alas, my little model thinks it's hilarious to run away whenever mama pulls out the camera.


Size: 2T (as written, the pattern only goes up to 12 months-- it took a little math to calculate the larger size)

Yarn: Wool/Angora blend, fingering weight. All the yarn was recycled from the same white sweater, I used my microwave, some tap water and a few packets of Kool-Aid (hence the title of this post) to dye small hanks of yarn for the patterned section. 
  • Red = Black Cherry
  • Orange = Black Cherry + Pina Pineapple (equal amounts)
  • Yellow = Pina Pineapple
  • Light Yellow = Pina Pineapple in a much lower concentration
Satisfaction Level: 100%  I'm thrilled with the way it turned out and Stella insists on wearing it even on warm days.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

cloth diapers revisited

Every now and then I'll get an email from a friend asking me for advice on cloth diapering. Since I'm lazy, I figure I'll just post it all here so I can send those friends the link instead of writing a 35 page essay on the subject every time I'm asked. (and my advice differs a little/a lot from most of the information I've seen out there on cloth diaper washing)

I'm a bit of a cloth diapered veteran (all 4 of my babies have been cloth diapered at some point or another), and even though I'm reluctant to pretend to be an expert, there are some things I figured out the hard way. Hopefully my sharing this will help some other mamas out.

Ammonia is a beast (but it doesn't have to be-- keep reading). For some reason, it doesn't seem to be much of an issue with new little babies, but once my kids were well on their way with solid foods (around 9 months old or so), the ammonia smell in our diapers became the knock-your-socks-off, make-your-eyes-water and peel-the-paint-off-the-walls variety. And the rashes that went along with it were awful. They were so bad with baby #2 that (it got to the point that it looked like he had a chemical burn on his bum) that we had to go back to disposables when he was about 18 months old.

Everything I read about cloth diapers and washing them pointed the finger of blame to hard water and/or detergent build up in the diapers, so I tried anything and everything I could think of to deal with those two issues: switching detergents numerous times, water softening laundry additives, copious amounts of vinegar and/or baking soda, ridiculously elaborate washing routines, strange chemical reactions, even aquarium ammonia remover. The results were unimpressive, mediocre at best, and that pesky ammonia problem was still dogging us.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that the real reason for ammonia stink came as such a surprise to me. Maybe you've already figured it out. The real culprit (at least in my own experience) in ammonia build up is...  bacteria. If you think for just a fraction of a second about what those diapers are holding on a regular basis, it seems pretty darn obvious. Clue #2: The presence of bacteria will quickly speed up the breakdown of urea into ammonia.

Please don't be totally disgusted with me and assume I'm a filthy slob. Well.... I might just be a filthy slob sometimes, but that wasn't the case here. I was meticulously following the washing instructions that came with my diapers and assumed that would be enough to keep them clean and sanitized.

It wasn't.

I've tried a few different brands of cloth diapers and without fail, they are all adamant in their washing instructions that bleach should not be used at all on their diapers, or if you must, no more than 1/4 c. once a month. And that, my friends, just won't cut it.

Once I started sanitizing the cloth diapers regularly, our ammonia problem disappeared. There are three ways to do this:

#1. Enzymes. Thank goodness for helpful little enzyme cultures that gobble up bacteria and organic waste. Biokleen Bac-Out is my favorite enzyme cleaner. (it also happens to be the best product hands down for getting vomit smell out of your couch and carpet, and for cleaning up potty training accidents, etc.) It's very gentle on diapers and baby skin. I use it every time I wash diapers. The only downside is that it requires a long soak to do its magic-- overnight in the washer does the trick for us.

# Bleach. Knocks out bacteria and germs like nobody's business. The trouble is, it's also murder on elastic and waterproofing-- nothing will shorten the life of your covers like bleach will. I like to use this every six weeks or so on just my prefolds to make sure that they're deep down clean. The diaper covers get an extra dose of Bac-Out, but no bleach.

#3. Boiling. This is a lot of stinky work, unless you happen to have a sanitize cycle on your washing machine. But if you have qualms about using bleach, a diaper boiling marathon every 4-6 weeks (in addition to regular use of an enzyme cleaner) will do the trick.

Here's what our diaper wash routine looks like now:

At night after the littles are in bed:
cold prewash, with no detergent or additives
cold soak overnight, with 4 generous squirts of Biokleen Bac-Out

In the morning:
drain and spin
hot wash, with one scoop of Charlie's Soap
2 cold rinses (most
diapers go in the dryer on high and the covers are hung to dry

Once every month or so:
skip the overnight soak
hot wash with one scoop of Charlie's Soap
1 cold rinse
pull out the covers and start a short wash cycle for just the diapers. Add 1/2 c. bleach, no detergent
2 cold rinses

If you notice lots of bubbles during your rinse cycles, that means that you've got detergent build-up. Just rinse and rinse and rinse until you don't see bubbles anymore. 

That's it. No need for any other additives and/or laundry boosters-- and I have very hard water. This routine has finally conquered our ammonia problem for the last 6 months.

A word on detergent: we use Charlie's Soap and are happy with it, but have also had success with Country Save and Tide Free.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bird is the Word

Long-Billed Curlew
 Long-Billed Curlew, photo via Flickr

Okay, so Mr. Snickerdoodle and I may have jumped on the birding bandwagon after reading (and loving) The Big Year Is there a birding bandwagon? I dunno. Whatever the case, everyone in this family (even the 3 year old and 1 year old) has gotten really excited about birding (or bird-watching) lately. We've now got a (very amateur) family life list, and have started spending most of our family fun time looking for birds.

We've long been aware of the Pigeons, robins and quail in our neighborhood, but had no idea until recently that we had a Downy Woodpecker living in our yard, that House Finches and Northern Flickers have been regular visitors to our bird feeder, that the flock of pretty little birds in the trees outside Mr. Snickerdoodle's office are Cedar Waxwings, and that a few of the birds we thought were pigeons are actually Eurasian Collared Doves.

It's been amazing to see the variety of birds that surround us on a regular basis. They've always been there, but we're just now starting to appreciate them. It kind of makes me wonder what else we're missing out on because we're not paying attention...

We spent a little time yesterday at a Migratory Bird Refuge on our way home from Nana's house, where we got an up-close look at a Long-Billed Curlew (pictured above) and a Blue Heron, along with about 10 other birds we hadn't seen yet.  

Very Exciting.

And yes, without a doubt, very nerdy But in a world where where it seems to get harder and harder for kids to develop any sort of real relationship with nature, I'll take nerdy any day if it means my kids are excited about being outside and looking around.

As far a bird guides go, we've really loved Stan Tekiela's bird field guides. Our copy is Birds of Utah, but he's published one for every state (Birds of Alaska, Birds of Alabama, etc.). We love them because they are so user (and even kid) -friendly. The birds are organized by color and then size, so you don't have to know a bird's name to look it up. The field guides also include only birds you're likely to find in your State, so you don't have to shuffle through pages and pages of unrelated birds. They've been perfect for beginners like us.

Monday, March 26, 2012

microwave caramel popcorn


Caramel popcorn is good old-fashioned comfort food in my family. I have very fond childhood memories involving huge (clean) garbage bags full of caramel popcorn and intense games of chicken foot.  Also, chocolate cake with caramel icing, catching fireflies, wild little-girl-Cyndi-Lauper-dance-parties (who else was crazy about Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?), long small-town bike rides, and secret forts.

But I digress.

What I really want to talk about today is caramel popcorn. Made traditionally, it is delicious, but time-consuming. Made with the microwave, that miracle of modern technology, it is delicious, and almost instantaneous. Almost.

I whipped up a batch last night to see just how fast it was. Start to finish (and that means in my tummy), it took just less than 10 minutes.

Almost Instant Caramel Popcorn
1 cup unpopped popcorn  
1/2 cup. (1 stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a medium sized glass bowl, melt butter. Add brown sugar, corn syrup and salt and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir. Cook for 1 1/2 more minutes (again on high). It can wait in the microwave until the popcorn is ready.

While the caramel is cooking, pop your popcorn. My air popper pops 1/2 cup at a time, so I do it in two batches. Pour the popcorn into a large paper grocery bag.

Stir vanilla and baking soda into the caramel. It should get foamy. When well blended, pour over the popcorn. Fold the top of the bag down and give it a good shake (sometimes it's helpful to stir with a long-handled spoon). 

Place the bag in the microwave and cook for 30 seconds, then take it out and shake/stir it. Do this two more times.

Pour popcorn out onto wax paper-lined counter tops and let it cool as long as you can stand to wait. Just try not to burn your mouth. I'd feel really bad.

**Also, if you like a higher caramel to popcorn ratio, just halve the amount of popcorn you use)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3....2....1....Blast Off!!

My littlest man turned three today. He's had high expectations for his birthday ever since his big brothers had their birthdays in January. What he really wanted most was to launch some model rockets. He's been asking for that for weeks. I wasn't too keen on shelling out cash for a one-use rocket and launch system, at least not for a three year old, so it was a good thing we remembered the water rocket we built last summer and stored away in the garage.

We used the plans from one of our all-time favorite project  books, Howtoons. You can find more information on building your own at the Howtoons website.

In the meantime, check out how high our rocket flew:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Garlic stink be gone!

You'll never believe this crazy trick to banish that lingering garlic smell from your hands after you've been cooking something delicious (translation: loaded with garlic).

It'll blow your mind. Are you ready?

Find yourself a stainless steel spoon and rub it on your hands under running water. Pretend it's a bar of soap.

Now, sniff those hands and be amazed.

There's probably a simple scientific explanation for this, but i'm going to chalk it up to magic.