Friday Finds: Little Lamb, Have You Any Wool?

Anytime I can indoctrinate little people into my crafty world, it's a good day. So, when I saw this children's book by Isabel Minhos Martins (Author) and Yara Kono (Illustrator) at the library yesterday I snatched it up immediately. One little boy's conversation with a sheep. And I love the fact it's a boy who is knitting...let's break those gender stereotypes people!

Love this book!
It is charming and the kids really enjoyed it. If you're like me and want your children to understand where their everyday items (in this case wool) come from...this is a great opportunity for that.


Handmade Holidays

I love handmade gifts. I love to make them - and to make them perfect for the person receiving the item. I love to give them because I'm very prideful of my work. And I love to receive them and see other people's work.

Last year's holiday scarf for my niece

In that spirit, we're going to feature a number of our tutorials in the Mighty Distractible sidebar during the holiday season. Hopefully, this will inspire you to make gifts for the people on your list. As Cassandra is fond of saying whenever we knit a gift, "Every stitch is knit with love".  Of course, she's usually saying it sarcastically while knitting something problematic but there is a smidge of truth to it regardless.

Also, today's post contains links to a number of my favorite holiday craft resources. I found some great ideas around the web and really wanted to share them.

Happy holiday season - regardless of which one you celebrate. :)

- Alex

Pinterest is always an amazing resource:

Meant as crafts for kids, this is a nice post of Winter Solstice craft ideas - The Crafty Crow is one of the best online link resources for crafters. Here are just two of my favorite posts:

And, of course, no one does it better than Martha!

Still Thankful

Over the past couple weeks there has been a lot of blogger talk about gratitude. Rightfully so. Thanksgiving is the time of year where we all take a moment to examine the bounty in our lives. I'm a little late to the game this year because, frankly, I've been too preoccupied to smell the roses.

But it's time. It would be a sin not to express gratefulness for all that I have and the opportunities that have gotten me to this place. These days I'm smitten by unexpected inspirations, children, friends, laughs, snuggly little birds, kind and generous husband, and what's on my needles and under my presser foot. Life is mysterious and wonderful.


Recipe Repost! Dip It.

Here is a repost from last year with a link to an easy and delicious dip that is perfect for the holidays...

We had some holiday fun at Company X yesterday. The creative and marketing groups decided to have "Dip Day". A whole bunch of folks brought in different dips and we just sort of grazed (exactly like cattle) from 8-4:30. Yes, this is the sort of stuff we have to cling to...please don't judge the corporate drones.

Anyway, in my opinion, the best dip of the day was brought in by my friend Amy. She found it on and it was called "Festive Cracker Spread". Oh my! Cream Cheese, mayo, green olives, onions, red is like a festive party in your mouth! Here is a link to the delightful dip.

Festive Cracker Spread photo courtesy of
So simple and easy. Great to bring along to parties this season.

On a side note, you know what is awesome about You can put in the amount of people you need to feed and it will recalculate the ingredients so you can make the perfect amount. Lazy people like me love that.

I'm off to do some frantic last-minute holiday knitting of my own! Later!



This was, without a doubt, the tackiest GIF I could find

I think it's ironic that the sound the turkey makes (in American English, anyway) is a synonym for the act that is perpetrated upon his lovely cooked carcass.

I know. I'm weird.

Anyway... Happy Thanksgiving to all our U.S. readers! And, to those who do not partake of the annual display of gluttony, Happy Regular Week!

Normally, my Thanksgiving is spent with friend and/or my son and his girlfriend. Last year, we began what I had hoped with be a wonderful annual tradition - Pajama Thanksgiving. This particular incarnation was one where my son and his girlfriend came to my house (with dog in tow), in their pajamas, around noon. I (also in my pajamas) completed the cooking and laid out a buffet - upon which we grazed for the entire day in between movies and naps. It was pretty blissful.

This year, my nuclear family decided to get together so we're all piling on planes and in cars and converging on my mother's house (and the satellite condo) in Naples, Florida. We'll be expected to "dress" for Thanksgiving dinner and, I guarantee, we will not be watching movies or napping. While not as lazy and blissful as Pajama Thanksgiving, I expect it will be nice to spend the week with my siblings and their respective families.

So, in honor of the holiday, I'd like to share a couple of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving recipes with you. Note that they both have booze in them - because that's how I roll, baby.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday (or plain old week). Eat lots and be grateful.

- Alex

Jim Beam Sweet Potatoes (with buttered pecan crust)

6 large sweet potatoes
1/4 C Jim Beam (or some other bourbon)
1 stick of softened butter
2 C pecans - halved are best but you could do a very coarse chop on whole
1 tsp kosher or sea salt (something coarse)
2 Tbl brown sugar (I use light but either will do)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and then bake them on a heavy cookie sheet or baking pan until tender - about one hour. Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them.

Peel potatoes and put in a bowl big enough to mash them in. Add the Jim Beam and 6 Tbl of the butter and mash until smooth. If you like your potatoes pureed or whipped, go for it. Adjust the bourbon (I usually end up adding a bit more) to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the potatoes to a 2 quart baking dish (or appropriate sized casserole dish that will allow for you to put a layer of buttered pecans on top.)

Reduce the oven temp to 325 F. On a cookie sheet, toast the pecan until fragrant - about 10 minutes. Toss the hot pecans with the remaining butter and the coarse salt.

Arrange the buttered pecans on top of the sweet potatoes and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake the dish until the potatoes are heated through and the pecans are slightly browned - about 30 minutes.

Hot Cranberry Compote

2 Tbl butter
2 green onions - chopped fine
1/4 C  Courvoisier (or other cognac)
2 C fresh cranberries (you can use frozen but I find fresh to have a better flavor)
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar

Saute the green onions in butter until they're soft - about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the cognac. Add the cranberries, water, and sugar. Stir well. Bring to a boil and keep it at a boil until the cranberries pop and the mixture starts to get thick - about 5 minutes. Stir in a little salt (just a pinch really - maybe as much as an 1/8 of a teaspoon). Serve warm. Compote can be reheated gently before serving if it cools too much.

Soup's On! Winter Edition

Over the last couple of years, we've posted a lot of recipes and some of our favorites get revisited - over and over.

The first year we were blogging, I posted two of my favorite winter soup recipes in a post called "Soup's On!" This post reveals my all-time favorite winter soup which has affectionately become known as Three Bean Soup. It also contains a good, basic summer squash and tomato soup that is easy, filling, and super-comforting.

In our second year of blogging, I reposted that original "Soup's On!" post because, in my opinion, everyone needs to try Three Bean Soup.

Addtionally, last year, I posted my great-grandmother's lentil soup recipe which is a standard in my household - both for its healt benefits, its flavor, and for the sentiment it brings to my table. I miss my Nonna.

And, finally, one of my favorite recipes is a White Bean Stew that we developed specifically for a Hoodoo Cookbook. That was fun.

So here is this fall's re-post of these favorite soup recipes. I hope you enjoy them!

Buon Appetito!

- Alex

Applique Blocks - Episode 2

Last week I left you hanging after applying the first piece of your artwork to your backing fabric. Today, I am going to show you how it works when you start layering pieces of your design on top of one another to build your images.

So, after you have sewn the first piece of your design onto the backing fabric, removed the paper template, and pressed it out nicely at the ironing board, it is time to add another piece.

In my project, it is the beginnings of a ship.

I broke my ship drawing up into 3 pieces. This way I can create depth with lighter and darker fabrics along with some hand embroidery to be added when all the pieces have been machine sewn to this block.

I created the next piece in the same manner shown in Episode 1, placed it where I wanted it, and stitched.

Turning the block over to the backside, I cut away the backing fabric and the hill fabric from behind the boat piece (leaving at least a 1/4" seam allowance), ripped out the paper template, flipped back to right side and pressed.

Continue building your images piece-by-piece. If you are like me, after your pieces are all added, you will hand-embroider over your machine stitching for a finished look. (This is why I chose to straight stitch the pieces on.) But that is by no means the most popular way. Most folks will use a zigzag or satin stitch on their machine when sewing on their applique pieces. This creates a nice finished edge and makes it unnecessary to go over it again.

When I'm building a more free-form block like this, I am constantly "mocking up" the block with paper pieces and fabric as I go. Like this:

This is how I realized that my trees need to be thin and sparse and the ship's steering wheel was going to take quite a combination of fabric and embroidery. Those thin pieces don't really work so well with the technique we just went through. But, don't worry...there is a different way.

Lemme talk to ya about something called "fusible web". Yet another technique to create an applique block. Fusible web comes in sheets or on a roll and basically it is paper-backed fabric glue that you can iron on. The process works similarly to the one above.

Iron a freezer paper template on to your fabric:

Cut a piece of the fusible web just a little larger than the size of the template. Flip your fabric over and put the web face down on your fabric and press. (Making sure glue side is in contact with your fabric and paper side in contact with the iron.)

Cut out your template without any seam allowance, peel the paper backing off the fabric, position it on the quilt block and press. At this point you can machine stitch the piece on with a decorative stitch or hand embroider. The edges won't fray on this piece because of the glue. Awesome huh?

Ready to be stitched!
There are many ways to assemble applique quilt blocks, this is just what has been working for me. I would love to hear tips, tricks, products, and techniques that you all love!


Friday Finds: Homesteading & Survivalism

I'm pretty sure I've talked to you all about my love of Doomsday Preppers, the reality show on the National Geographic Channel. The program follows folks who are preparring for some version of Armageddon - world financial collapse, electromagnetic pulses, a new ice age, etc. The reason I love the show is not because these people are, by most standards, a little nutty but because they are the most amazing, maniacal crafters.

From canning to building bomb-proof shelters, these people do it all. They are fully prepared to live off the land (or their stores of stuff) should civilation-as-we-know-it collapse. I'm impressed and jealous all at the same time. Frankly, I want a giant storage shed full of canned food. And a bomb-shelter made out of an old shipping container. And a cool way to filter brown water to irrigate my plants.

Maybe I need to start believing that the end of the world is coming. That might be the motivation I need.

In the meantime, I found this awesome resource for all things "survival" - Homesteading and Survivalism.

Sadly, their regular website is just a store - although they have some great pamphlets and books on how to do various crafty things. The store is here:

I love this idea!!
Their best content is what they put on their Facebook page. They cull the internet for all manner of awesome craftiness like "50 ways to use baking soda" and "how to build a pallett cooler". I'm not even scratching the surface of the cool ideas you'll get if you "like" their page. (Sorry to feature another FB resource... but it really is great.) Find their FB page here:

And, of course, you can follow them on my preferred social media, Twitter:

I hope you get lots of amazing, crafty ideas!

- Alex

Applique Blocks- Episode 1

For me, ideas start with a small sketch.

Then, it's time to figure out how to turn the idea into reality. And next thing you know, I am learning how to make an applique quilt block. And sharing it with you...

There are many different types of applique quilt blocks. Just do a Google image search for them and you will see beautiful floral motifs, cute animals, and, as always, some odd stuff that makes you remember that there are all kinds of tastes out there. What they all have in common is this, layers over layers of shaped pieces of fabric.

What do I mean by that? To put it simply, when you have a design in front of you, take note of what graphic elements are on top of one another. Take a look at the detail of this sketch below. If I wanted to create this in fabric, I have to start with what element is in the back of the drawing. In this case, that would be the hill on the horizon. (Look for the light, horizontal line behind the trees.)

From there I build up my image. Tree trunks, then greenery, then boat parts, etc. You can sketch it out and work in free-form like I am here, or you can get yourself a pattern and work more traditionally. Either way, the process of constructing the applique is the same.

I find it easier to work on applique blocks if I give myself some room beyond the finished size. (Partly because I am prone to adding embroidery elements on the block and I need some extra fabric around the edges so I can use a hoop.) I cut a piece of backing fabric larger than I need and I use a water-soluable marker and mark off the "live area" on my block (what will show on the quilt front) and the seam allowances. Like so:

Depending on your pattern, your backing fabric may be a design element or not. Pay attention to that when choosing your fabrics.

Once you have your backing fabric ready, and have decided what order the pieces need to be layered to create your image, and have shopped for the most gorgeous fabrics you can need to run to the grocery store and buy yourself something called Freezer Paper.

This magical stuff has one side that is like white deli paper and the other side is some sort of waxy plastic. This is what you will use to create the shaped pieces that make up your design. You can draw your image on the paper side, cut it out, and then iron the waxy side on to your fabric...and it sticks and removes without a film. Told you it was magic.

I drew on the paper and cut out the shape of the hills in the background of my sketch (You may have noticed that the finished block is a different shape than the original sketch. That is how I roll.) and ironed the waxy side onto a piece of fabric. Please note: it is more effective to "press" your iron in a stamping motion when you want the freezer paper to stick to the fabric. Running it across like you were ironing a shirt will just make the paper curl.

Using the attached paper as my guide, I cut out my hill in the fabric, leaving about a quarter inch seam allowance around the edges. Then I peeled off the freezer paper.

Turning my piece of fabric wrong-side up, I placed the same cut piece of paper I just peeled off (this time waxy-side up) on top of the fabric (making sure the seam allowances are even) and started pressing the seam allowance over onto the waxy paper.

It is important to clip seams as you go so that your design looks smooth.

Then, I placed the hills piece on my backing piece, and pressed the two together. It only stuck so well so I pinned too.

Then I stitched the two together leaving about 1/8" seam allowance.

When edges were stitched together, I took the block over to the cutting table and flipped it over. It was time to remove the paper trapped inside. I carefully cut away the backing fabric (leaving about a 1/4" seam allowance) from behind the hills applique.

Then, I grabbed hold of the paper and tugged it loose:

This green piece anchors the bottom of the design, so I did not stitch the bottom edge because it gets caught in the seam allowance. Otherwise, I would have.

Flipping the block back over, I pressed it out and began preparations for adding the next piece. Which, I will tell you about next week... :)


PS - Click here for Episode 2!

Ten Chimneys

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in the library

This past Saturday I had the honor of touring Ten Chimneys - the longtime home and retreat of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne tucked away in the remote town of Genessee Depot, Wisconsin. This amazing property is richer in theater history and riveting stories than it is in architectural and interior design (which it has in spades). So much so, in fact, that I am at a loss as to how to begin.

Do I start with the story of Alfred and Lynn and talk of their enduring (and endearing) relationship? Do I tell you about their rise to fame and how this incredible estate came into existence and evolved throughout their lifetime? Or maybe the real story is the one peppered with the names of huge celebrities of stage and screen from the 1930s through the 1970s who would commune at Ten Chimneys for glittering conversation and inspiring creativity.

Ten Chimneys Main House

Each of these is a story worthy of its own telling and doesn't deserve to be glossed over.

So... as much as I want to write a short novel about all the amazing things I saw and learned, I'm going to keep it appropriate to our blog and talk about the fact that Alfred and Lynn - with all their riches and fame - were makers just like us.

As hard as it is to believe, these super-famous, exceedingly wealthy people loved to sew, cook, garden, and decorate their home.

Alfred studied at the Sorbonne in France and was, by all accounts, an amazing chef. It's said that Lynn would go to the fashion shows during New York fashion week and study the garments - then go home and sew versions of them for herself. The interior design - including nearly all the wall murals - in the Honeymoon Cottage (pictured below) was done by Alfred. Lynn sewed all the curtains, slipcovers, and most of the bedspreads in both houses. The property housed chickens (about 200 of them), pigs, a green house, a creamery, and a massive garden - all of which were tended by Alfred and Lynn, when they were present on the estate.

Alfred & Lynn in the cottage kitchen
The Honeymoon Cottage

Helen Hayes was a frequent guest at Ten Chimneys and her preferred bedroom has a bedspread, curtains, and a "headboard" that were designed and made by Lynn.

The "Helen Hayes" Bedroom
 As a matter of fact, Lynn made all the drapes in the house including the impressive examples in the rooms below:

The Dining Room
A bit of the Living Room
The Garden Terrace Room

Alfred was known to cook for the estate staff. The staff was invited to eat in the dining room but preferred the kitchen (I can't imagine why...). My only gift-store purchase was the Ten Chimneys Cookbook - a collection of Alfred's recipes.

Alfred serving the estate staff

Our docent, my dear friend John, was so full of great trivia and enthusiasm for the subject that our tour of 2+ hours flew by and I'm already planning my next trip to the property.

Best. Docent. Ever. xoxo

So, as much as I'd love to prattle on about the house and the Lunts, I'll just leave you with a few more photos and some bits of trivia. I hope that you'll take it upon yourself to learn more about Alfred and Lynn and, if you're ever in south east Wisconsin, that you'll take some time to visit Ten Chimneys.

- Alex

The most important piece of trivia is this: when Lynn passed away in 1983, the house was "closed up" and simply maintained to ensure that it didn't fall into disrepair. It remained that way until 1995 when it was purchased with the intent of preserving this perfect slice of history. Unlike most historic homes, this one remained intact - furniture, documents, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. - as if the residents had just stepped out for the afternoon. It is, perhaps, the purest representation of an historic home that exists.

The "Studio" was an outbuilding on the property where friends would gather to play, practice, and create. There's a rumor that they would occasionally lock a playwright in the studio and not let him out until he'd completed some piece that they could perform.

The Infamous Studio
The Lunts built the first in-ground pool in the state of Wisconsin, using only local labor. The dome on the bathhouse was a cistern. The sun would heat the water in the dome and guests could take a hot shower before heading back to the house.

The Bathhouse & first in-ground pool in Wisconsin
While the photo below doesn't do justice to the kitchen, it was well-used and well-loved with a set of sinks dedicated to food and a set of sinks dedicated to dishes. A dumbwaiter, which Alfred built himself, lifts packages from the lower level laundry room to the kitchen above.

The Kitchen (well, about 1/3 of it)

Sir Laurence Olivier was a frequent guest at Ten Chimneys and the photo below is of the room where he stayed during his visits. He's famously quoted as saying, "Everything I know about acting I learned from Alfred Lunt."

The Olivier Bedroom

The Lunts closest friend from their earliest days as emerging stage actors in London (and from before they were married) was Noël Coward. His photo can be found in nearly every private room of the house.

Alfred, Lynn, and Noël - BFFs