Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Arizona Fiery Sunset

Arizona Fiery Sunset by straddlingthegap
Arizona Fiery Sunset, a photo by straddlingthegap on Flickr.
Winter is tough other places, but it usually gives us the best sunsets. I love Arizona.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Social Media!?#%!

One of my blog resolutions for 2013 was to increase my use of different kinds of social media.  Just in case you don't read the right column on this blog (c'mon, you know I'm talking to you), I'll tell you all my social media outlets:

I've added a place to subscribe by email or RSS feed (I actually had someone complain that I didn't offer that!).  I try to keep up with each of these by following a lot of people, adding pithy comments to each one, visiting other blog advice blogs (Really, there are blogs to give advice on writing a blog.)  I'm excited to say I'm going to Bloggy Bootcamp in April to learn how to monetize a blog (uh huh).  Did I mention I work full time and am raising two tweens who seem to always have someplace to go every evening?  Did I mention I have a husband?

I'm exhausted.  I love blogging and I am interested in being better at it, so I want to do all of these things.  Problem is, every time I think I get a tiny grasp of one social media tool, another one comes up!  It's like playing Whack a Mole.  The new one is Twitter's "Vine", but I hear it has pornography problems so I think I may have a reprieve from that one for a while.  I tried Tumblr but ultimately gave up.  I'm still new to Flickr (but I am enjoying it for photo storage).

Photo attribute Momastery

What's a girl to do?  

I know one thing - it won't make any difference if I master the tricks of social media to promote my blog or Pretty Pretty Cindy on Etsy if I don't have enough time to write the blog or make the stuff for the store.  I'm going to keep chipping away at it, so if anyone out there has any suggestions for how to conquer this, let me know.

I have an idea - maybe I should develop a new social media tool (including a smartphone app) to manage all my social media accounts!  It could keep me actively engaged in all media, including writing little pithy comments, reading others' blogs and pithy comments and following and including others in my circles.  Now that would be something.

In the meantime, come visit/follow/pin/tweet/subscribe/like/favorite/circle me.  I promise to do it back to you.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fun Fur Scarf

O.K., this is getting to be the longest "Scarf Week" ever.  Finally, I have another scarf to show you.

Fun fur scarf
This is a fairly easy scarf to make, especially if you already know how to crochet.  I made this with Red Heart Super Saver in gray and Moda Dea Espress (fun fur) in a variegated gray/black/white.  I used a size I hook and about 1 skein of each yarn for this scarf.

In crocheting this scarf, you will use both strands of yarn simultaneously.  It can take a while to work, mostly because the fun fur can be tricky.  But the effect looks very fancy and the level of crochet technique is pretty easy.

This scarf was made in rows of 14 triple crochet.  The initial chain should be 17 loops and after turning, the first triple crochet will be in the third chain.  There is no gauge (my favorite), but you do have to count.  Using both yarns makes it easy to miss stitches.  Make the scarf as long or wide as you want - no right or wrong.

Because this is such an easy scarf to make, here is how to make a triple crochet.  The pictures below show the gray yarn without the fun fur because it's easier to see.


Chain the number of loops you want + 3.

Yarn over twice and insert hook through third chain.



You should now have four loops on the hook.  Yarn over and pull through two loops.  You will now have three loops on the chain.


Yarn over and pull through two loops.  You will now have two loops left on the hook.


Yarn over and pull through the remaining two loops.  A triple crochet looks like this:


I've been wearing a scarf like this for over two years and it holds up really well.  You'll get lots of nice comments, especially because it looks so fancy.  You can change the weight of the scarf by using a lighter weight yarn, so the scarf works even in the spring.  Whether you are making one of these scarves for yourself or for someone else, you'll love how these look.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Beautiful Day!

Beautiful Day! by straddlingthegap
Beautiful Day!, a photo by straddlingthegap on Flickr.
Finally winter weather as it should be in Arizona.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Baby Has Discovered Social Media

As parents, we love to celebrate the milestones of each of our children.  First steps, first day of kindergarten, learning how to ride a bicycle are all scrapbook events.  But for this current generation of kids, technology is the norm and milestones as techies are more common.

My son discovered his newest obsession - Minecraft.  He would play it 18 hours a day if you let him.  If you don't know what Minecraft is, it's a building game where the player can create homes and villages and more, with detailed features like vaulted ceilings, hot tubes and treasure chests.  The weird thing is that the graphics are very crude - all blocks with few pixels.  You can play the game in creative mode or survival mode.  Survival mode includes evil characters, but more importantly, interactive play on the internet.  Enter social media.  He has "met" other players online with very little real interaction, but he looks for his "friends."  He also has his real live friends join him remotely.  Minecraft is not my favorite activity, mostly because of the YouTube videos where older players have live screen shots but commentary that may not be appropriate for children and tweens.  However, if you can avoid YouTube and monitor Minecraft, it's not a bad activity.

When I bought my new cell phone, I had an extra one that my daughter immediately appropriated.  Although it doesn't have phone service (like she wanted), it does have Wi-fi.  Enter Instagram.  Wow - who knew that a 9 year old with a private account could have such a good time!  All her friends have Instagram accounts and they exchange some crazy pictures.  Here's one special one:


I'm relieved to see that all her friends have private accounts too.  It seems as if they can't take enough pictures, even the most mundane:


She does take some good pictures:


But best of all, she has discovered the art of using Instagram to tell the world what she's having for dinner:


I'm so proud of my children's accomplishments - they've discovered social media - in a safe and age appropriate way.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lu Lu

This Christmas brought a new addition to our family - Lulu


Lulu is an adult domestic shorthair (at least that's what the Humane Society called her).  

She's just a sweetie cat to us.

It took us a long time to get a cat that Mackenzie REALLY wanted.  We have two dogs, both terriers, and one is a Westie.  I was so nervous about a kitten which is why we adopted a cat - with claws - and no fear of dogs.  Lulu slapped Brodie the Westie a couple of times and now everyone understands who's the new sheriff in town.


While all is well in Animalville, we are still trying to get Lulu to give us humans the time of day.  She's been happy to follow me around talking up a storm while I'm getting her food (never fast enough, mind you).  But try to pet her?  Forget about it.  

In the last day or so, I think she's decided to let us live in her world.


And now we know who's the new diva in the house.

Princess Lulu


(If you were looking for the next installment of Scarf Week, it's coming after a bit of a detour.  Let's just say I had a "craft fail."  I'll show off my "creativity" when I'm ready with a regular scarf, which should be in the next day or so.  Stay tuned.)


Friday, January 11, 2013

After the Magi Came . . .

An angel came to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt with the child and his mother. Joseph ignored the angel and immediately regretted it when the barn cat returned to claim it's rightful place.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Scarf Week - Ruffle Scarf

Today we're going to tackle a ruffle scarf.  These are so pretty and very popular right now.  Here's a little known secret - they are soooo easy to make.  You don't have to know much about crochet - it's just chains.  Here's what your finished product will look like (without the strand off the side).


For this scarf I used Red Heart Boutique Sashay in the color Jive.  Red Heart has 22 ombre and multi-color versions of Sashay.  It has a fishnet look.  You can use a crochet hook J through L (your choice). You will find in this tutorial that there are very few rules about using Sashay because it's hard to make a mistake.


To start, you need to spread the yarn (I can't think of another word) out so you can see the netting.  Notice at the bottom there is a tighter weave that looks like a ladder?  That is the bottom and you will NOT crochet through it.  You can also notice that it has some metallic threads in that part.

Next, you can tie a knot in the end to begin.  Get it nice and tight.  Put your hook through a part of the knot and begin chaining.  Use the very top holes along the opposite side of the "ladder" and skip every other hole.  Just chain, and always go from front to back.  It will feel like you are making yarn over (YO) every time.  For purposes of this tutorial I will use the word "chain" instead of YO.



For my scarf I chain 15 loops on the hook, skipping every other hole on the very top.  That should leave you with 15 loops on your hook, like this:


If you have a few more or a few less loops, it's no big deal.  It's actually your preference, but the more loops, the longer/deeper your ruffles will be.  Once you get the 15 loops on the hook, pull the last loop hooked back through the other loops.  This can be tricky with this yarn, so I suggest the "cheating" method.  Instead of trying to pull the loop back through the others, just hold the hook straight and use your fingers to move the other loops over the last loop.  Whatever works for you is fine.

The next part is the only step I think you must do.  After pulling the single loop back through the others, secure it by using the next loop on the yarn and slip stitch it back through the one loop left on your hook.  This will keep your scarf from quickly unraveling if you drop the next loops.

For the next set of loops I like to use the loops that are just under the top loop.  This provides a little more support to the scarf.  When you hook these loops it will look like two strands on the hook.  Do 10 of these and pull the last loop on the hook back through the others.  Finally, repeat the first step - 15 loops using the top loop of the yarn.  So here's where we are so far:

Tie the end
Push your hook through the tied end
Chain 15 of the top loop and pull the last loop back through the others.
Secure with a slip stitch
Chain 10 of the loops just under the top loop of the yarn and pull the last look back through.
Secure with a slip stitch
Chain 15 of the top loop and pull the last loop back through the others.
Secure with a slip stitch.

After repeating this sequence a couple of times, you can look back at your scarf and see this:


Decision time.  If you don't mind the fullness of the ruffles like this, or want a lighter weight scarf, keep repeating the steps above.  With that method you should be able to make a complete scarf with 1 skein of Sashay.  However, I wanted a heavier, more substantial scarf this time, so I added the following step.   With the single loop on your hook go back about halfway down this line of chains you already did and slip stitch through one of the tighter loops.  In the picture above, it would be about dead center.  There is no specific part of the chain to do this in, so don't worry about finding the right loop.  If you choose this method, it will look like this:


Continue on, repeating all the chains above (and going back to slip stitch if you would like).  When you get to your desired length, cut the yarn and make a knot by pulling the remaining yarn through the last loop in a slip stitch.  Tie another knot, cut off the excess and voila!  You're done!!

Once you get the hang of these, you can whip them out in an hour or two.  Great gifts and accessories for your wardrobe.

Come back next time (which should be tomorrow God and technology willing) and see a totally different kind of scarf made from fabric!  In fact, it's an upcycle project, which is my new favorite method of sewing/crafting for 2013.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Catherine Wheel Crochet Scarf

Welcome to Scarf Week!  For those of you who regularly read my blog, I tend to write very late in the evening, Mountain Standard Time.  That means that my posts may appear to be every other day.  Don't worry though, there will be at least 5 different scarfs during Scarf Week.  On to our first scarf!


A Catherine Wheel stitch is a great crochet stitch which makes a beginner crocheter an intermediate crocheter (which is where I think I'm firmly planted).  It also makes an amazing scarf and pretty much anything else you want to crochet.  I first used this stitch in an afghan with triple crochet stitches.  This scarf uses double crochet stitches which seems to fit the scale of a scarf better.

You can make this scarf as wide and long as you want.  Mine was 10" wide and 45" long.  I used a H size hook, but you can use a smaller hook if you want a scarf with smaller stitches (so the width will be slightly less).  As you can guess, there is no gauge, which is the way I like to do most of my projects.  You can use any kind of yarn; for this scarf I used a worsted weight yarn.  This scarf looks good in a single color, variegated yarn or two colors (see my Catherine Wheel Afghan for the look of two colors).

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's Scarf Week!

Although I love in Arizona, we still think it's cold here (about 44 in the morning), so we still wear scarves. I also grew up in the Midwest, so I know it's actually COLD there.  Whether you need one to keep warm or just like them a fashion statements, scarves are cool.

This week I'm going to show you some ways to make your own scarves. Most will be crochet, but a few will be sewing. And, one will be no-sew, so it doesn't matter what your skill level is.  We all need to stay warm and look good doing it! Here's another idea: even if you are warm, there are folks who live on the street who aren't that warm. Please consider making an extra scarf for them. If you need help finding somewhere to send these, please let me know and I will get you the information.

Get your favorite yarns (including some of the specialty yarns), some fleece and sheer fabric and we'll get going tomorrow.

Ready to warm up?


Sunday, January 6, 2013

My New Year's Resolution

I said earlier this week that I wasn't revealing my resolution until a little later.  I've been procrastinating a couple of days now, probably because if I post it, it means I will have to do it.  My resolution is not original, but I don't think I've ever made this one.

I want to de-clutter my house.

I think getting rid of so much stuff will help me start to see my home in a new light.  We've been in this house for 10 years and I still like it very much, but after a while it's hard to see through all the stuff and get back to the features I liked when we bought it.  That may sound strange, but I think it's that inability to see past things that have been sitting in the same place for years that keeps me from working on decorating changes.  After 10 years, it might be time to plan for a few changes.

There are so many resources out there, so if you are one of those people who can't imagine where to start, I'll be happy to share some of those resources now and through this year as I find them (I'm always happy to hear about others too).  Here's a few I've found.

Marla Cilley (a.k.a. Flylady) is da bomb of de-cluttering, cleaning and organizing your home.  I first found Flylady over ten years ago when my kids were babies, and I became a "Flybaby" follower of Marla.  The best part of +Flylady is that you can take as much as you want.  She has a fun little program to de-clutter your house over time, one room at a time.  If you want more, you can go much much much deeper into cleaning (I mean cleaning), organizing and menu planning.  If you master the Flylady system, you can pretty much do anything!

If you have a profile on Google+ you can check out the new community +Keep It Clean.  It also covers everything from de-cluttering to cleaning to money management, time management and even weight loss.  I'm just there for the de-cluttering part (I can't even wrap my head around doing another one of those worthy goals), but so far there is a nice community going there.

I'm fascinated by how people have come up with so many methods to de-clutter!  They make it downright fun to say goodbye to those things that are taking up your space!  

Joshua Becker and Becoming Minimalist has some great tips and links in 10 Creative Ways to Declutter Your Home.  He also has a great little digital book called "Simplify" that you can find at Amazon for your Kindle.

If decluttering is your 2013 dream, now's the best time of the year to get started.  There are so many links and Facebook groups and articles about this topic.  This is one of the "hottest" resolutions every year, so early January again brings lots of advice.  I'll keep you up to date on how I'm doing.  It won't be fast, but hopefully it will be steady.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Blog Resolution

Yesterday I talked about how most New Year's resolutions die very quickly and I offered a SMART method for setting goals and sticking to them.  Now it's time to apply it to myself.  I have some blog resolutions.

Obviously, I have the same resolution of most bloggers - to get more traffic, write more interesting content, develop a following and maybe monetize.  Great resolutions, but are they SMART?  More traffic - is that attainable?  How do you gauge that and more importantly, how do you control it?  That's just an example of why these broad open ended resolutions won't work.

OK, let's turn to my resolutions.  Well, they are exactly SMART just yet.  In fact, I haven't passed the S yet.  So here are my non-specific blog resolutions:

1.  Get myself on a regular blogging schedule and plan ahead.
2.  Increase my traffic by 25% over the year.
3.  Get involved in a community - see this great article about that from the SITS Girls
4.  Improve my social media skills generally.

I will readily admit these are not yet SMART goals.  However, here's what I will do.  I will spend the month of January researching each of these general resolutions and come up with a SMART goal with a plan.  Hopefully, I can transform each of these into a SMART goal and blog about it once every week beginning next week.

Yikes - this is scary stuff.  Now that I've put it out there, I have to at least carry through to February - or maybe through next Tuesday.  Baby steps . . .


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 - It's Here, Are You Resolved?

Congratulations - we made it another year.  2012 was good, but 2013 will be better, right?  January 1 - the day of resolutions and reality.  We're thinking of diets while indulging in junk, and making fitness goals while watching football.  I've been dreaming of self-improvement during my daytime nap.

Yeah, I have a resolution, and a magic word for the year, but I'm not telling until later this week.  It might just jinx me.  Instead, let's examine resolutions generally.

The top 3 resolutions for 2012:
1.  Lose weight
2.  Getting organized
3.  Spend less, save more (hey, that was MY resolution last year)

Sound familiar?  You probably also know that less than 8% of people keep their resolutions.  Here's a great blog post from Forbes with a break down of how that happens.  While the post was a little discouraging with the statistics, I really loved this illustration from a 1915 prayer card:

Want to be successful in keeping your resolutions?  Good news - it can be done!  First, stop telling yourself it's a resolution, especially a New Year's Resolution.  Calling it that is just an excuse for blowing it within the first month.  Instead, look at it like any other goal, and be SMART!

S      Specific (or significant)
M     Measurable
A     Attainable (or Action-Based)
R     Realistic (Relevant)
T     Trackable

If you want to "be a healthier person" this year, what does that mean?  How will you determine what "healthier" is?  While making your whole family lose weight is a great resolution, is it something YOU can do?  If you just had knee surgery and want to run a marathon, is that really something you can accomplish in a year?  How will you track improvements of your "fitness" during the year?  Use the SMART metric to see if your goal (resolution) is a good one.

While your goal is a yearlong effort, you need to have smaller bites to get that done.  Set milestones - maybe every two weeks, maybe every month.  Keep your goal in mind - write it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Better yet, put it on your Facebook page and update your progress regularly.  (Using a blog might not be as effective - it didn't really help me last year.)  

Finally, if the whole idea of a New Year's Resolution is just too daunting, just don't do it!  While people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to make a change, that's only because they set a goal, not because they set the goal on January 1.  Wait a week or a month and then set a GOAL.

OK, maybe I inspired you a little (or myself a lot).  I'll reveal my goal (resolution) later this week, and maybe I'll be SMART about it.

Happy New Year!