Friday, March 2, 2018

Reviewing Flowers by the Dozen Crochet Pattern

I can crochet but only at an easy to moderate pattern level. I often want to crochet something that is beyond my ability (at this point) and become frustrated at my failures. My item often does not end up looking like the item in the pattern photo. It was exactly this problem that led me to this easy and adorable flower crochet pattern.

Yarnspirations - Flowers by the Dozen

I had tried multiple crochet flower patterns that were epic fails. And I was very close to giving up on the idea of crocheting a flower. But I really, really wanted to add a flower applique to the little hat that I had loom knitted for my granddaughter.  She would look adorable in a hat with a flower. So I tried "just one more time".

Yarnspirations has some really good patterns. Most of them free and downloadable with no tricks or gimmicks. It is their Flowers by the Dozen pattern that finally worked for me. 

(Click the photo to enlarge in order to see most of the crochet version pattern. Click this link for the Flowers by the Dozen knit and crochet instructions in it's entirety)

Their instructions are clear. The pattern is easy - with just 5 rounds of easy crochet to make the two layers of flower petals. You do have to know how to chain, single crochet, half double crochet, double crochet, and slip stitch. But if you are familiar with those basic stitches, you'll be able to make these flowers.

I like that I can choose to finish a flower with just one layer of petals or go on to finish with the two layers of petals. And clearly, this pattern works with a variety of sizes of yarn and of crochet hooks.

A single layer of petals - Peaches & Cream cotton yarn

I also like that the little flowers would look fine without any embellishment in the middle. For my granddaughter I chose a really big button (due to her young age and my concern about toddlers and choking hazards). However, I have also looked at a wide variety of stones, beads, and broaches that would look great sewn into the middle of these little flowers.

Related Link:

I only recently discovered round loom knitting and wrote about it immediately. See Creating Treasures with Round Loom Knitting - Hats to read about how I learned to create the little yellow hat in the photo above.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Using Prayer Beads, Meditation, and Prayer

I am a worrier. I have an exceedingly difficult time calming my mind. And what results is a grumpy, impatient, and judgemental attitude. Fortunately, people say they can't see it on the outside but I feel it on the inside. And it bothers me. I admire people who are calm and happy - who can let things go. As I continue to try to learn to let things go I have found that meditation, prayer, and prayer beads have helped me be more relaxed and more forgiving.

Why I Have Begun Using Prayer Beads, Meditation, and Prayer

I have known that being outside, being quiet, and meditating make me feel better. Yoga - both the physical aspect and the meditative aspect - leave me feeling great. Yoga classes are costly and cause me to arrive home much later than normal. Which creates a different kind of stress (I worry about the dogs). So I am again missing Yoga classes. And prayer... well, I've never really been the type to pray. Despite parts of my conservative religious childhood, I never felt I could pray right. 
Black onyx Mala Beads

I know that I benefit from guided meditation. I needed to find some way to move toward the quiet, calm, happy person I want to be.  When I dropped the yoga classes, I noted the huge impact losing that meditation time had on me. 

I bought Tibetan Prayer Beads (Mala Necklace) and have found them to be extremely helpful. Having the beads in my hand helps to keep my mind more "focused".  Focused isn't the best description, as what I am trying to do is relax and keep my mind from wandering to all of my worries. Chanting and moving one bead at a time with my fingers really helps keep my mind from thinking about other things.

Chants and Prayers

I have always loved things like Gregorian chants, Buddhist chants, and so forth. As soon as I received the beads, I found a meditative chant that fits me. OM SO HUM translates to something along the lines of "I am that". That I am a part of the universe. That I am a part of all of creation.  I feel best when I am feeling connected to the world (the earth, the weather, nature, etc) so I thought this would be a good chant to begin with.

However, worries stemming from some of my conservative religious childhood memories cropped up. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Was I violating that commandment by praying OM? Did I care?  Whether I cared or not, it made me worried (see why I need to relax?!).  As a result, I looked for a Christian prayer/mediation.

I found a simple Jesus prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me".

the prayer starts at 3:03

As I sit with my mala necklace, and alternate between OM SO HUM and the Jesus Prayer, I am able to relax and let go of many of the constant worries and negative thoughts I carry with me constantly. I absolutely feel a difference when I mediate, calm myself, and connect myself with the good things. The two different prayers have two different impacts on me. How can I be impatient and judgemental when I am asking for mercy for myself? And praying "I am that" is celebratory; I feel good and connected with the movements of the natural world and others. 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Treasures: Mala Necklace by Tam Lyn Concepts

Black Onyx Mala.
I recently purchased Tibetan prayer beads (Mala necklace) made by Tam Lyn Concepts. I love the quality of these beads and wanted to share my find with you. I have many reasons I looked for and purchased this particular string of prayer beads. The disclaimer is that my journey into mediation is fairly new and I am learning as I go. My sharing of the information below is somewhat like prayer beads for dummies by dummies.  My focus is on how much I like this Mala.

What are Mala necklaces?

Tibetan prayer beads, 108 necklaces, and Mala necklaces seem to be basically the same thing. These necklaces are very similar to a Catholic Rosary. The beads are meant to focus and to count the number of prayers or chants.

108 is a number that is important in Tibetan Buddhism. Malas come in 108 beads or double that amount (216) or half that amount (54).  In addition to the 108 beads, there is a larger Guru bead. That bead symbolizes different things, but for me it is the beginning and stopping point of the mediation. And it's beautiful.

Black Onyx 108 Knotted Prayer Beads by Tam Lyn Concepts

I chose black onyx because I like black onyx a lot and because a black necklace can be worn with anything.

I chose a 108 bead necklace because of the length. No fasteners to open and close. It just slips over my head and hangs at a good length (over or under my shirt).

I chose the Tam Lyn Tibetan black onyx prayer beads because of the quality. The string is knotted. The beads are stones and not plastic beads. The tassel is nicely done. When the Mala arrived, it also came in a small bag, with a card of information about the beads, and the tassel was wrapped in a plastic covering to protect it during shipping.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Tam Lyn Concepts offers several different Malas on Amazon. 

If Etsy is your online shopping preference, there are MANY handmade Malas to choose from.

Search Etsy Shops for 108 Malas (Malas featured in the photo below are by Madaboutmint, GrdnEarthlyDelights, TheMalaTheMission, and AwakenYourKundalini):

click photo to enlarge for details

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Creating Treasures with Round Loom Knitting - Hats

I have just discovered a new passion and an easy way to create family heirlooms and treasures. Okay, that's a little overly dramatic. But I am really excited about my new hobby. I have just discovered that I can knit using round looms. It is an easy and fun way to be creative. I have been able to knit hats and am passing along the information about the inexpensive little gadget that allows me to knit.

Round Looms

Round looms are small rings of durable plastic with pegs. Using yarn wrapped around the pegs and pulling one loop of yarn over the other with a small hook results in a knitted item.

Anchor yarn. Wrap around loom twice. Use hook to pull one loop over another.

I can crochet (easy - medium patterns) and have crocheted for years. But I have never been able to master the art of knitting. Holding a knitting needle in each hand and convincing my hands to cooperate and work together is beyond my ability.

With a loom, a hook, yarn, and a wonderful video tutorial by Denise at Loomahat, I made a hat for my grandson in a matter of an afternoon. I will add Denise's wonderful tutorial below.

Complete hat for my grandson

My next attempt will be a hat for my granddaughter with a crochet flower applique. And at some point, I hope to knit some thick, comfy socks for myself.  If you have always wanted to knit, but couldn't quite figure out how, this might be your answer. I know it is the solution for me.

Related Links:

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

That wonderful round loom tutorial by Denise at Loomahat:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

How I Make Junk Mail Fire Log Starters

Free fire starter logs
Making my own fire starter logs has been a very easy project that has many benefits. It seems almost too easy and silly to even spend time talking about. But then again, if I hadn't learned about how others are recycling their junk mail into fire logs, I would not have tried it. Perhaps my way of making free fire starters, while protecting my identity, will be helpful to others.

Living in a metro area is sometimes eye-opening. Identity theft and fraud are on the rise in general. Seeing people rooting through apartment complex dumpsters for mail is a regular occurrence. Yes, mail. Not cans, scrap metals, or things they can upcycle. Some of them are looking for your discarded mail with personal information they can use. 

Years ago, I asked Santa for a shredder and was thrilled when I received one as a gift.

Paper shredders - for identity protection 

Cold weather camping in an off-grid cabin on my land, with only a wood stove for heat, has been an adventure. There is an art to getting a fire started and keeping it going for periods of time. I am improving at both of those things.

Making my own fire-starter logs from my junk mail and newspapers has been a great help in both protecting my identity and starting fires quickly. My personal-sized shredder has since worn out but I continue to make my own fire logs.

  • discard any plastics - plastic envelope windows, "credit cards", and any other plastic inserts (remember to shred those "credit card" offers!!) 
  • shred (or tear into strips) your mail and newspapers
  • place shredded paper into a container and cover with water
  • press the excess water out - similar to molding the paper into the container - and set aside to dry
  • after fully dry, remove from the "mold" and store in a dry place 

In the apartment, space is an issue for me. So rather than use a 5 gallon bucket (as some people do) to mix my paper shreds and water, I use two small (and very inexpensive) plastic ice containers.  

The way the ice container is designed, I did not have to drill any holes.  I fill one container with water and shreds, use the other container to press down firmly and tilt the containers over the sink to drain excess water (similar to draining spaghetti using the lid of the pot).

I no longer feel the need to keep the paper mush weighted down during the drying process. It seems to draw up and form together during the drying process.

The paper log pops out when it is fully dry. Then I store the log with my other kindling at The Shack.

I originally chose this shape and size of container because my wood stove is long and narrow. But even if my wood stove were much larger, I think I'd still like this shape of starter log. It is very similar in size to the fire starter logs that can be purchased in the grocery and big box stores.

The paper shreds catch fire easily and the log burns for much longer than I ever expected. Making fire starter logs from my junk mail and newspapers has been an excellent choice for me.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Frigid Weather and Camping at The Shack

winter sunrise at the ridge
I loaded up the dogs and headed to The Shack this past weekend. It had been too long between visits and I missed the place. Despite predicted cold temperatures, we headed up. I was eager to check on the bluebirds, look at what the game cams have captured, and just hang out on my little piece of almost heaven.

Game Cams:

I couldn't wait to see what I had captured on the game cams this time. More bear maybe? Unfortunately, I had aimed both cameras toward the sun (one somewhat toward sunrise and one directly at sunset). So most of my photos turned out to be abstract sun glares. 

There are a few photos of the constant parade of does and young deer parading through my yard. I am starting to call my yard "the nursery".  I still don't have any photos of the big buck that scrapes up my trees. And sadly, my Japanese maple will likely die as the bark is completely scraped away.


It was so cold and windy that all the birds had made themselves scarce. I walked to the bottom of my land (a steep hill in the woods) and found bluebirds there. But none up near the nesting box.  Despite the lack of birds, I made a rope and bowl bird feeder, filled and hung my glass bird feeder, and hung a suet feeder for the woodpeckers. 

The rope and bowl feeder was made with things I had laying around up there. And I filled it with meal worms specifically for the bluebirds. Eventually I'll buy a "real" bluebird feeder.

I don't know what time of year is best to clean out the nest box. I didn't even try during this trip because everything else was so frozen shut.

As I was packing up to leave, I noticed an entire flock of Eastern Pheobes landing to peck around in the grass in my yard. I thought of my daughter-in-law. I believe she said that Eastern Pheobes are her favorite birds (is that sarcasm?). 

Good Eats:

One of the best things about cold weather camping - keeping warm with the wood stove and cooking at the same time. I made a wonderful roast beef and potatoes barbacoa meal.

YUM!  Barbacoa beef and potatoes on the woodstove

Staying Warm:

I'm getting good at getting that wood stove going in a way that lets me sleep for hours at a time. Instead of waking up freezing every two hours. That sleeping bag is also the best for my needs. It turned out to be one of the best purchases for The Shack I've made. It is roomy enough for me and both dogs at my feet.

The cold side of The Shack was 20 F degrees most of the time. I didn't move the thermometer to the warm side, but it was almost - not quite - t-shirt and jeans warm. During the day. During the night it was "see your breath" cold if you were outside of the sleeping bag.

Frigid Weather Lessons Learned:

I take care to not leave liquids there to freeze and bust the container, then leak as they thaw. But I didn't realize that everything else freezes.  

My game cams weren't wet...but they were frozen shut. The locks that secure them, frozen shut. The fireplace lighters I use, frozen. They only provided a very sluggish flame after I warmed them under my clothes. I almost didn't have a way to light the wood stove. And, don't think that in the heat of the summer you will wait until the cold to wash the windows. If it's too cold, the vinegar water just freezes to the glass!

I had so smartly stacked much of the wood on the deck, just outside of the sliding balcony door. Not thinking that the door would also freeze shut. Good thing I had that pile of wood inside. The rest I just carried around to the other door.

Does it sound like a miserable time to go camping?  Really, it's not. The dogs have their jackets. I wear my layers. The sleeping bag I chose was perfect for us. The night sky is clear and the stars are close and bright. There are no bugs. I can walk in the woods with no fear of snakes. And there are no spider webs to walk into.  I didn't bring home any poison ivy itchies. 

I'm glad to be back to the apartment, only for the hot running water. I look forward to the day I have a real bed and hot running water up on my ridge. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bluebirds and Bluebird Houses

The empty bluebird house 
I have always enjoyed watching birds.  Even though I don't consider myself a "bird watcher" really (because I can't accurately name many different bird species). Recently, I am very excited about birds I am watching. Bluebirds! A pair has moved into my bluebird box up at The Shack and I'm thrilled.

I don't recall ever having seen a bluebird in the wild as a child - strange since I can clearly recall Cedar Waxwings during a camping trip. So I was somewhat a bird watcher at an early age but I don't believe I had ever seen a bluebird. Even so, I knew that I liked them. I referred to them as the "bluebird of happiness".  I even made a bluebird ceramic refrigerator magnet. 

But that was the extent of my experience with bluebirds.

Then a handful of years ago, I was visiting some friends. The husband was complaining of the very little, but very loud, bird that was constantly perching on their flagpole and covering the flagpole in droppings. That was my first bluebird sighting. 

I secretly admired their wooden nest box and bought my own as soon as I bought my land.
My bluebird house close-up

In April 2016, I attached a bluebird nest box to a tree at The Shack. I was completely clueless. And only by accident did I place it East-facing. Then I watched. And waited.

And waited some more.

I waited until November 2017. I had all but given up hope that bluebirds would move in to my nest box. Then in November, in the cold, I noticed a pair moving in and out of the box. I spied on them with binoculars and was so happy. I was also very confused. What in the heck were bluebirds doing on a cold West Virginia ridge, in November?  Didn't they migrate?

No. They don't. Not in that area. They are year 'round residents. Woohoo!

Since then, I have been reading about bluebirds. And I'll share some of that information later. But for now I'll focus on the nest boxes.

I have since decided that I'm going to buy another nest box or two. I like my wooden nest box. It is the correct size and it has the predator guard around the opening. It also is meant to have a hinged side, so that I can open it and clean it out. However, the one time I attempted to open it and check it, the wood had expanded and I could not open it. It also does not have ventilation holes.

Good bluebird nest boxes consist of:

  • 4" to 6" square bottoms
  • 1.4" to 1.75" diameter openings
  • predator guards at the opening
  • ventilation holes
  • raised wire mesh floor
  • access - to clean old nests out

I have since discovered Duncraft and their bird feeders and supplies - including bluebird nest boxes. And have a few of their boxes on my wishlist.  

Duncraft Eco-Friendly Bluebird House

Perhaps you'd rather shop Amazon. There is a huge selection of bluebird nest boxes on Amazon to choose from. And some of the choices are less expensive. Just remember the dimensions listed above as you shop.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.