I Need Your Opinion

Today Madison is chilly with rain. I love it. This is my weather. Unlike Alex who is jetting off to the sunshine, I am happy to be here. (I am not so anxious to don a bathing suit.) Sure, it could be a little warmer...but the rain hitting the roof is enough for me right now. Next to the window, covered with a quilt, beautiful cup of tea, and my knitting. Maybe a little something spooky on the TV. Heaven.

Good gracious...am I a middle-aged goth or what? Someone intervene if I start smoking clove cigarettes.
This is what I like to see outside.
What am I knitting in my perfect, dreary-day scenario? A new sweater for me of course! But, I have a problem. I have the yarn, and I thought I had picked the perfect pattern...until I got wishy-washy. The yarn I'm talking about is this gorgeous "cilantro heather" worsted wool from Knit Picks. (A holiday gift from my mother.) I was going to make this:

I think this Turpan sweater might look too overwhelming on me.

Until I decided that it was too much. I want something more practical. I've searched Ravelry for weeks. Looking at cardigan after cardigan. Over-thinking to the point of frustration. I am by nature a very decisive decision maker, unless I am picking out a knitting pattern. Then I even annoy myself.

I need help folks. Here are 3 suitable candidates, what do you think? Let me know your favorites.

February Lady Sweater...super-popular on Ravelry

Back to the rain...and the chill...and hopefully (soon) the knitting.


My Brain is Mush

It's a rare occasion when I find myself totally overwhelmed. Most of the time, I can multitask like a pro and still feel in control. But this past week, I've been completely overloaded.

Every time the phone rings or the cell phone buzzes or another email pops up, I feel like I'm being pulled in a thousand directions.

What happened to my mad juggling skillz?

For some reason, my to-do list has gotten completely out of hand - between housework and regular work and my myriad projects, I suddenly have no damn time to just sit and recharge. Until Thursday.

On Thursday, March 1, I will be boarding a plane and going to Florida for six days. I plan to disconnect from social media and the internet in general. I plan to read a book. And I plan to drink fruity rum drinks by the pool every, single day.

I plan to rest my brain.

I do promise, dear readers, to write a travel-blog post next Wednesday, complete with the requisite beach photos - weather permitting.

In the meantime, please send positive thoughts my way that my head doesn't explode before I get on that plane. At this point, I'm still not sure I'm going to make it.

- "In Need Of Xanax" Alex

(Cassandra's Note: Please, please take me with you!!)

Friday Finds: Fabric Buckets

Adorable and practical fabric buckets. I've been seeing these suckers all over the interwebs lately. They are perfect for toys, magazines, the mail cluttering your kitchen island, etc. There are quite a few good tutorials out there but I keep coming back to this one by Whipstitch Fabrics. They are on my short list of upcoming sewing projects.

Photo courtesy of Whipstitchfabrics.com

I'm looking forward to sharing my finished buckets when they're done! Have an awesome weekend!


Is it Spring yet?

Feb 18, 2012 - in Madison, WI. Crazy.
As many of you know, Cassandra and I live in Madison, Wisconsin. This is a place known for relatively brutal winters (especially for a gal who lived in Atlanta for 16 years.) However, this winter we've been blessed with the fruits of global warming and are enjoying the mildest winter since I moved here in 1996.

Let me illustrate the mildness this way... On Saturday, February 18, when there would normally been multiple feet of snow on the ground, I was outside in bare feet chasing my dog who had slipped out the front door when I wasn't looking.

When I walked out of the house on Saturday and the sun hit my face, I had an automatic response that went something like this:

1. Look at the yard.
2. Realize it needs to be cleaned up.
3. Mentally start planning the garden.

On Saturday February 18, I was thinking about doing spring yardwork. It's a mad, mad world.

I couldn't shake the need to plant something in the ground so I decided to make a couple of terrariums instead. This is a craft project I've wanted to try for a while but had never gotten around to it. So... I got to go to the garden center and buy some supplies, including plants, and get my hands dirty. Here's the step-by-step and my meager results:

Things you need include some rocks, charcoal, and potting soil.

Some nice glass containers:

Some very small, slow-growing, low-light plants:

One coffee filter per container, a pen, and a pair of scissors:

Step 1 - Add rocks to the bottom of your container.

Step 2 -  Measure and cut the coffee filter to fit on top of the rocks (the coffee filter keeps the soil from dropping down into the rocks)

Step 3 - Add a layer of charcoal (this helps keep the terrarium clean and sweet smelling)

Step 4 - Add potting soil deep enough to put your small plants in.

Step 5 - Separate your plants out into small, individual plants and plant them in your terrarium in an appealing way (this is where the process broke down for me.)

As you can see from my finished product, one container was too small for the plants I bought - but I do kind of like having them come up and out of the container - and the other isn't particularly pretty. Maybe after it's grown in a bit.

At least I got my planting jones out of my system for a bit.

 Happy "spring" everybody!

- Alex

Sewing Fundamentals: Needles and Feet

Oh so boring. All the technical mechanics of a sewing machine. I know. Believe me. But, for any of you beginners out there...it's good information. Today I want to (quickly) go over needles and presser feet. Just to give you a basic understanding of how they work.

Sewing Machine Needles
I have no idea why, but I think these are actually kinda cool. Maybe because they're usually pointy and dangerous? There are all sorts of complicated needles out there, but your most used, basic ones come in one of 3 varieties: sharp, ball-point, or chisel point:

Regular Point: This is your workhorse. Perfect for woven fabrics (such as cotton, linen, denim, etc.) because the tight weave of the fabric will accommodate the force of the sharp needle - meaning that any small cuts to the fibers will not create holes.

Ball Point: Perfect for knit fabrics and loose weaves. This needle enters the fabric and pushes the threads aside to create a hole. This keeps these fabrics from unraveling from having cut threads as would be created by the sharper, regular point needle.

Chisel Point: This needle is the hardcore one of the bunch. You need to sew some leather or some such material...this is what you want. This needle is capable of making a hole on a solid surface (unlike using the weave of something like cotton).

I won't go into the names of all the sections on the shaft of the needle. Suffice it to say, there is an eye for your thread to go through and a shank with a flat side that slips into place and is secured on your machine. PLEASE NOTE: you should change your needle before starting every project. Needles are small and there could be chips in the point or dullness after use. Don't worry, they aren't that expensive.

Presser Feet 
There are as many presser feet as there are stars in the sky. I exaggerate, but it's kinda true. Feet can be easily changed on your sewing machine to accommodate zipper sewing, buttonholes, quilting, blind hems, etc. Your machine comes with a few but there are hundreds you can add to your arsenal. But beginning sewists, don't let all the feet that came with your machine freak you out too much. Seriously. The one you will use most though is the all-purpose foot that comes installed on your machine. It will be your best tool for most basic jobs in a zigzag or straight stitch.

Yer basic, run of the mill, all-purpose presser foot.
The marriage of the right presser foot and needle will really help your sewing experience be enjoyable. Who wants to be frustrated by puckering fabric or breaking threads? Figuring out what tools are most appropriate for the job are just as important as what project you've chosen. Hang in there you newbies, this isn't as complicated as it seems. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a chisel point needle in my eye.

So, now you can thread your machine, and figure out what needle and foot to use. Let's talk stitches next time!


Friday Finds: Sh*t Knitters Say

Lately there is a lot of crafty snarkiness online that is making me laugh. Last week I shared with you the Ryan Gosling phenomenon, this week it is the "Sh*t People Say" videos. Have you seen them? They kill me. If you go on YouTube and search for "Sh*t (fill in the blank) Say" you will find it. I assure you.

Anyway, I had a good chuckle over this one...enjoy!

Have a great weekend,


Addicted to Downton

Are you sick of everyone talking about Downton Abbey?

Yeah... me too.

The problem is, I'm an offender.

Hi. I'm Alex and I'm addicted to Downton Abbey.

What was I doing last night, while many of my friends were watching and live-tweeting the Grammy's? Watching the Downton Abbey two-hour episode. (Next week is the Season 2 finale!)  I missed out on the Nicki Minaj debacle. I missed the outrage when domestic-abuse offender Chris Brown won a Grammy (well, actually, I didn't because EVERYONE was talking about it online.) I missed Katy Perry's dress and Jennifer Hudson's tribute to Whitney Houston. But instead...

Instead I got to watch seasons-long story lines get resolved and whole new story lines open up. There were complete shockers that left me with my jaw on the ground and resolutions that left me completely satisfied. There were twists and turns and at least one death (of a main character, no less!) that were all game changers for the residents of the grand house.

The Downton Abbey phenomenon is completely remarkable. The fact that there are nearly as many men as women that are addicted to this BBC program is unheard of since PBS and the costume drama has long been the domain of we women. I honestly believe that it's a testament to the excellent story-telling and compelling characters.

And speaking of compelling characters, Maggie Smith is having a BALL playing the sharp-tongued dowager countess. We all wait with bated breath to see what barb she's going to shoot at what target each week. I hope she doesn't become a caricature - but at this point, I don't really see that happening. The writers are too sharp to let that happen (I hope.)

Earlier today, I was talking with someone about the recent spate of exceptional programming coming from the BBC. Certainly, they can, and do, produce a lot of dreck - just like we do - but there have been some real winners lately. Beyond DA, everyone must watch the new Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson respectively. I didn't believe anyone could successfully pull the Sherlock Holmes stories into modern day but they've done it and it works. The stories feel fresh and exhilarating and Cumberbatch's Sherlock is more than a little nuts - just as he should be. And then there's the dark crime series, Luther, with the the amazing Idris Elba in the lead. I don't recommend watching this just before bed as it might give you bad dreams.

An exceptional show with an exceptionally fine leading man
Amazingly well-written & well-acted update of a classic

Honestly, I could go on for a while. There are a couple of sci-fi/fantasy shows that are top-notch and a number of "mini-series" (that's a US term but fits the "5 episodes and done" style of many British shows) that shouldn't be missed. And I'm just talking about current programming. Go back a while and there are loads of really great shows that can be streamed from Netflix or Amazon that would be well worth your time.

The moral of the story?? There's no excuse for watching crap television anymore - especially if you enjoy a lovely British accent with your shows.

Coming up on Season 3 of Downton Abbey, Shirley McClain joins the cast as Lady Grantham's mother! She should be a perfect foil for the dowager countess. Watch out Maggie Smith!!

- Alex

Friday Finds: Hey Girl.

I'm sure most of you have seen the Ryan Gosling meme phenomena. My personal favorite is a site called Handmade Ryan Gosling. Click through and get lost in the hilarity. Here is a taste:

As funny as I think this is, Ryan isn't my cup of tea. So I thought I'd make a couple memes that tickle my fancy. Because I can, I have Photoshop.

Now that's what I want to hear! Have a great weekend.


[Note from Alex: Our shared love for George is another reason why Cassandra and I are such good friends. These are SO much better than the Gosling ones...)

Happy Accidents

In December, while feeling overwhelmed by the wretched excess of the season, I wrote about donating to a worthy cause. My donating bug started about 15 years ago. Back then, I was dirt-freakin' poor so I volunteered my time - and lots of it. I felt very fortunate for my life and I wanted to share my abundance even though it wasn't in monetary form. So, I found a few hours of time a week and offered it up to various places that I thought could use some help. Surprisingly, most places welcomed me and my meager donation.

Thus, volunteering became a part of my existence, even though today my fortunes have changed and I could probably just write a check and walk away. There's something viscerally satisfying about showing up and getting my hands dirty, so to speak. However, my volunteering is very cyclical. I go through bouts where I feel like I have tons of time and I sign up to do a bunch of stuff. Then I get burned out and feel like my own life is being neglected. So I stop volunteering for a while - usually about 6 months to a year - until my batteries are recharged and then a start back up again.

Recently, the HR department at Company X sent out an email about tutoring opportunities at the high school down the street from the office. The required hours seemed reasonable and working one-on-one with kids wasn't anything I'd done before. I replied with a tentative "well...maybe" email, making sure to put a big "I need to know more" caveat in my response. I guess when the Universe wants you to do something, it clears the way and makes it easy because, within a few weeks, I was having a background check done and they were talking about assigning me a student. Yikes!

Don't let the fresh faces fool you.
The first time I walked into the school was for my tutor interview - before any paperwork or anything. I guess they wanted to make sure I was relatively normal. As I entered the building, I was struck by how scary it was to be surrounded by teenagers. Do you realize that, if they decided to rise up against us, we'd be in major trouble?? It would be like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Seriously. And a bunch of them just ooze attitude. It totally freaked me out. But, once I got into the tutor room and met with the head of the program (who is about 12 years old, btw - adorable, smart, organized, and amazing, but 12 none-the-less) most of my fears were alleviated. Then my background check came back clean. Why that surprised me is a complete mystery since I haven't done anything remotely "bad" since about 1986. Then I got an email saying that I was assigned a student. A girl who needed help with English and History - both subjects I can deal with. Math, not so much but give me the Humanities and Social Sciences and I'm good to go.

Yesterday was my first session. Honestly, I was nervous. I had no idea if she was going to be totally receptive to the tutoring or if she was going to give me attitude. Turns out she's a doll. Sweet and smart and a little lost. She requested tutoring in second quarter but they didn't have anyone to assign her to and she ended up failing three core classes. My heart aches for her because all she wants is to be a solid C student. I think I can help her as long as she actually does the work. I hope I can help her. Unfortunately, one of the classes she's failing is Algebra 2 and, as we've established, I got nothin' so we're going to try to find her a separate math tutor.

Here's the real kicker... We were reviewing her class schedule and I saw that she was taking something called Fashion Business (or some such). So I said, "Oh! Cool! That looks like s fun class."and then she said, "Yeah, it's pretty cool Right now we're learning to knit."

I guess the Universe put us together for a reason. :)

- Alex

Easy Little Quilts (aka An Exacting Lesson)

Sure, I've quilted before. In the past I've free-formed some log cabin blocks and managed to cobble together something that resembles a quilt. Totally passable to the untrained eye. But were my blocks all measured perfectly? No. Did I rush through and fudge some stuff here and there? Yes.

Admittedly, I have a lot to learn.

I decided to do a little experiment. The kids needed some lap blankets for long car rides so I thought I'd try an even simpler variation on the Take-Along-Quilt from Craft Hope. This is how I simplified:
  • Each quilt consists of a single yard of fabric on each side with a thick wool batting in between
  • Window-pane quilt it with 6" squares
  • Bind with a coordinating fabric using my new handy-dandy bias tape tool
  • Use same bias tape to make tie closure for rolled-up quilt
I'm sort of addicted to making my own bias tape binding now.
Keeping the design simple, I was able to focus on the one thing that has been a challenge on my previous quilts. Being exact. Cutting fabric, trimming, marking, quilting...all those places where measuring and squaring is important. Actually, it all went pretty well. My little quilts are quite square and as a result the binding went on pretty painlessly. Gee, I guess it makes sense to take your time and do things right. (The words of my mother are haunting me.)

I love the process of hand-finishing the binding.
What's next? I have a little boy graduating into a big boy bed. I think a real quilt is in order. And I'm pretty excited about it.

One quilt down...one to finish.

Friday Finds: Craft Gossip

Back in August, we mentioned that we'd had an influx of new readers from a website called Craft Gossip. Since then, we've spent a lot of time on that site and are real fans of its dedication to all crafts (not just the ones we're interested in!)

Craft Gossip is driven by user-generated content in every craft category known to man - well, nearly. Each category has an editor who's in charge of filtering through and publishing the content. This makes for a very dynamic site with constantly churning information on a huge variety of subjects.

Example of a free jewelry tutorial
 So...what do you get? Tutorials, free patterns, links to other great sites, give-aways, contests, and just about anything else you could ask for. Mighty Distractible has been blessed with having patterns featured at Craft Gossip twice - once for our embroidery patterns and once for the recently posted Pom Pon Hat pattern.

Check them out. Whether you're interested in jewelry making, scrapbooking, needlework, candle-making, quilting, edible crafts, and blah, blah, blah you'll find something to inspire you at Craft Gossip. Maybe you'll even discover a NEW craft to try. (like we need more, amirite?)

- Alex