Homemade Hygge

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We have daffodils! 

Well today is April 1st and the Winter Storm Warning just expired for our neck of the woods.  However, a look outside shows the “wintry mix” continuing unrelented.  Despite the fact that it has officially been spring for a few weeks, Southwest Colorado is apparently still making up its mind between the seasons.  Such is life down here where the last 3 Memorial Days have been snowstorms.  I like to think of the positives to all the moisture:  that our well will not run dry, that we will not experience horrible wildfires and that one day soon we will have a week of solid sun to rejoice in.

This year the new buzz word around design and house circles has been hygge (hoo-gah), a concept very loosely translated from Danish to mean “coziness in life”.  There are dozens of books and blogs espousing how living a life full of hygge can bring greater happiness not only through a long winter but throughout the year.  And the Danes should know, they are consistently ranked one of the happiest countries every year.  So in the spirit of embracing hygge, here are some of the ways I’ve adopted the concept for my own home.

One :  Quilts
This means both the creation of and use of quilts.  Winter is the perfect time to spend a lot of time on the sewing machine.  I get the majority of my quilting done during the cold months because when the days are long and the weather temperate, I am outside enjoying nature.  Winter is the perfect time to wrap up in the all of the quilts.  Quilts adorn our couch downstairs and make a huge difference in warmth on top of our duvet cover in bed.  We do our best to keep our energy costs low, and quilts can warm you up fast and free.  In short, quilts make winter tolerable.

Two:  Books
Books, like quilts, are a year round activity.  But in the winter, there are days when you’ve finished a round of shoveling and you get to just be for a few hours with a good book under a quilt. Winter is a great time to read those big books, the ones that are 500 pages plus because you are home so much and you don’t have to cart them around.   You can lose yourself in a book without that feeling of indoor guilt, the feeling that the weather is so nice you should be doing something else.

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Three:  Warm cute socks
When it is cold out warming up your feet is a great way to feel cozy all over.  Winter is when I break out the hand knit socks lovingly crafted by my boyfriend’s talented grandmother.  Warm socks and slippers are the simplest way to feel toasty on a cold day.

Four:  Big warm drinks
Last fall I got a newish espresso machine from the thrift store for $5.  In the warmer months, I don’t want a big drink in the morning but come winter, especially on weekend mornings, I like to sit with my big drink and just savor it.  Typically my weekday mornings do not allow for this luxury as I leave the house at 6:30, but the weekends are for indulging in a big drink.  Also, hot chocolate with a shot of brandy is the most amazing thing after a long session of shoveling.  Especially once you put on warm dry socks and sit under a quilt.  (There is obviously a lot of overlap here.)

Five:  Sleeping
Animals can hibernate, why can’t people?  With the dark days, there is no guilt in getting in some extra sleep.  Winter is a time of respite and rest for the natural world and it should be for us too.  Some nights, the 8 pm bedtime is simply the best.

Six:  Cooking with and without a crock pot
Winter too is the time where we bake more bread, cook those labor intensive meals and eat heartily.  Cooking encompasses a good part of our household entertainment in the winter.  Also, we recently procured our first crock pot (also at the thrift store and also for $5) and that thing is a total miracle.  It is so wonderful to put stuff in and come home hours later to a meal already made and a delicious smelling home.  We have made some incredible meals in the crock pot:  pot roast, pulled pork, various chilis, posole, Tikka Masala, chicken burrito bowls and whole turkeys.   I like to prep all of my food the night before so that in the morning, I can simply dump in all of the chopped ingredients and head out the door with minimal effort. The crock pot has certainly made our winter much more tasty.

Seven:  Fake candles
I remember when battery operated candles came out and they looked so fake.  Well a mere few years later and thanks to the advancement of LED bulbs, I am officially a fan of fake candles.  I managed to get all of ours at the thrift store and they give off a pleasant light.  I have a set in our bedroom and on super stressful days post work, I like to lay on the bed with the candles aglow and my Himalayan salt lamp lit and do some deep breathing/meditation.  I call this my drama detox and it works.  The faux candles make the house feel cozy without a ton of effort.  Also, they are safe.

Eight:  Showers at night with lavender
We get a very early start in the morning and many mornings, our routine also involves shoveling.  I began taking my showers at night and it totally changed my mornings.  Suddenly I was not having wet hair and feeling further behind in time.  Also, showering at night feels like a good way to end the day, to rinse away the past.  I like to sprinkle a few drop of lavender oil on the bottom of the tub to help relax me even more.

So these are the primary ways I’ve incorporated hygge into our home to make the winter more enjoyable.  The true concept of hygge can be translated to be year round and I am certainly looking forward to embracing it with backyard bbqs and long weekends curled up in the tent.  It is very easy to embrace the seasons and make all four cozy and happy.

The $1.25 Quilt Top

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Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.

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25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.

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Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.

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Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.

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Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

Same Quilt, Different Fabrics

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The PBQ

Sometimes a fabric just speaks to you, other times a pattern does.  For this quilt, let’s call it Portland Baby Quilt (PBQ) because the ladies from Gee’s Bend say that every quilt must be named, the fabric called out to me.  Once I saw the Victorian outlined buildings, the rain drops and the black kitty on a red bike I knew the perfect person for the fabrics.  A very dear friend of mine from the old Portland days and her husband just welcomed their first baby boy. All of the fabrics were absolutely shouting out their names but what pattern could I use to highlight the fabrics and not the pattern.  Aha!  I could use the pattern for my very first quilt, the pea quilt, because the center blocks are huge by many quilt pattern standards at 8″.  This pattern allowed me to focus on the fabrics and see how different two quilts can be using different fabrics.

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My favorite of the three

The first fabric that really grabbed my heart has  red vintage bikes, a black kitty and tulips.  This trifecta reminds me of my dear friend:  she used to own a cute burgundy vintage bike, owns a sweet black cat and loves flowers.  The second fabric has raindrops and nothing says living in the Northwest like some raindrops, for despite what some people say it does rain a whole heck of a lot up there.  The third fabric has vintage Victorian style buildings, which is where I first met this dear friend, me as her apartment manager and she as tenant.  We used to have dinner parties in our tiny studios and eat on the floor in our slippers.   This was a simpler time in our lives and one filled with very good memories.

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The apartment building during a rare snowstorm

This simpler pattern allowed me to highlight the fabrics while still working on the ever present and technical star points.  I chose colors that appeared in the two multi-colored fabric for my star points – red and navy.  I then chose a gray background.  I went a little outside of the palette when I chose the light yellow for the interior but I really wanted to lighten up the quilt and not have it be so gray; the sun does shine in Portland!  I like the splashes of red because the quilt still has that bright kid quality to it.  It is traditional with the primary colors but modern thanks to the fun fabrics. I  used a totally different fabric for the backing of this quilt: a bright red squiggly owl print.  It has a similar color palate as the front but is definitely kid friendly.  To finish it up, I had the quilt long-armed by a talented local quilter with stippling in a variegated gray thread.

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Cute swirly owls

I really love how this quilt turned out and know that it will provide many good snuggle and fort building sessions.  It was really fun to take a familiar pattern and play with it and see it become something completely different.  This is the joy of quilting, there are always surprises to be had.

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The original pea quilt

Staying warm yurt style

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The yurt in warmer times

Aw, the picture above reminds that there will again be a time when the yurt bubble is open and there is not a 2 foot field of condensed snow surrounding our home.  In the meantime, we are dealing with an El Nino winter to topple records with a couple of months left to go.  How are we staying warm without all of the trappings of modern homes?  Through the very simple tricks listed below.

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The Yurtain – a yurt curtain

Back in the fall when the warnings of the severity of our winter seemed far off, I decided to make us curtains for the yurt.   The huge advantage of our home is that we have a ton of light and, due to our spectacular natural surroundings, also have gorgeous views.  But our windows are plastic so I knew that we would have to do some covering up for the winter.  So I invented (or think I did . . .) the yurtain, a perfect curtain for the yurt.  It is a very simple utilitarian design.  I bought fabric that was already quilted, fancied up the edges with some binding and then added the ties at the top.  Voila, the yurtain.  The ties are important because we don’t have the ability to hang a traditional curtain rod.  These stretch to cover up our windows pretty well.  In the mornings when we leave for work, we simply remove one tie to let the sun in for solar heat gain.  When we get home, we tie the curtains back up for warmth.  Although only a half inch thick, there is a definite difference when the curtains are up.

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Weatherizing the door

Like all homes, we lose a lot of heat through our front door.  To combat some of this loss, we installed weatherstripping around the perimeter.  Next, I made a curtain out of scraps with batting in between to stop the leakage from the glass window.  This curtain, like the others, has ties so that we can take it down to allow light in.  Last, I made a simple door snake.  In the weatherization workshops, we always taught people that stopping the small leaks all around the house has a large cumulative effect.  This is the same principle applied here.  I fashioned a quick door snake for the bottom out of leftover scrap fabric and stuffed with all of the small pieces of quilting batting I had lying around that were not good for anything else.  I knew there would be an occasion for all of these stashed scraps!

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Warming up the bed

Lastly, we decided to enhance the space by our bed since that is where we spend a lot of our home time.  As our walls are rounded, a headboard does not work.  This allowed us to get a little creative.  First I stuffed foam from our furniture projects between the crossbars of our wall creating a padding and barrier.  Second, I hung up the pea quilt to cover up the foam and create another layer.  (Right now I’m not worried about the quilt getting bleached because the sun is too low in the sky.)  Then we added a second set of pillows behind our pillows for yet another layer of protection.  With this set up, we have no draft in our bed.  We use flannel sheets, a down comforter and a wool blanket to stay toasty inside.  If it’s especially cold, we can always wear a hat to bed and add another quilt on top.

Our home is heated by a wood stove that is brand new and fairly efficient considering that a lot of the heat is lost to our high ceilings.  We stumble over in the middle of the night to add a couple of logs until we wake up.  Not once has the stove been so cold as to not keep coals when we are tending the fire.  We start the fire immediately when we get home and wait only a little while for the place to heat up.  During this time we are also busy moving and getting dinner ready that the cold is hardly noticeable.  It is really a pretty simple set up and works well for our home.

When we are home in the winter, we are not sitting around in T-shirts and burning logs with abandon.  We wear sweaters and slippers and we use the plethora of blankets we have around.  This is how we all used to live in the not so distant past.  What we are doing is what has always been done.  We are conscientious of little steps that we can take that have big impacts.  Collectively, if everyone turned down their thermostats even a few degrees and donned a sweater, plus plugged up the smaller leaks around the home, it could make a huge impact on our wallets and our planet.  We all can keep ourselves comfortable in the deepest darkest of winters with simple solutions.

The Holy Trinity — of Pizza Toppings

Best.  Combo.  Ever.

Best. Combo. Ever.

When we moved to our awesome town in southwestern Colorado, I was very excited about many things including the close proximity to incredible nature, amazing ruins and green chiles.  In fact when I became a resident here, I made a vow to eat green chiles every day and thus far, I have come pretty darn close.  There are always roasted chiles dotting our breakfast creations and they have graced many a burrito.  Now, my new favorite thing is to add them to pizza!

Pizza night is an event in our house.  My sweetheart makes a mean crust (even at this altitude). Pizza night is not exclusively a weekend event, nor does it always happen at night as pizza afternoons are super too.  Pizza is a great way to use up leftover veggies that are on hand — upcycling, if you will.  However, our most recent flavor discovery, the Holy Trinity of toppings is green chiles, pineapple and bacon.  The smoke, sweet and spice are absolute perfection and my new obsession for pizza.  If we happen to have some smoked mozzarella on hand, we’re talking about elevating an already amazing pie to an epic level.

Homemade pizza is somehow intimidating, but it is really a simple creation.  There is so much that you can do with pizza from having a party where everyone brings a topping or two, to letting kids help make their own pie.  And. let’s dispute this notion that pizza is an unhealthy food; if homemade, it is a very satisfyingly healthy meal.  Pizza is so much more than greasy overpriced delivery pies and frozen cardboard-tasting facsimiles, it is a fun creation with myriad versions.  A personal pizza is something that you can make on your own for yourself.  Pizza is the ultimate canvas for your tastes and personalization.  Go forth and bake your own pie today!

Get Well Tonic

Comfort Tea Ingredients

Comfort Tea Ingredients

Ugh, it is that time of year again — crud season.  With the falling of the leaves comes the falling of healthy folks with colds and bugs.  And this includes me.

The past 72 hours have passed in a haze of sickness in bed with a smattering of Netflix videos,  a skosh of knitting, a ton of napping and a lot of homemade get well tonic.  In the last few years, I have been sick often so I have my healing tactics down pat.  The get well tonic is simple and made with ingredients that are always in the house, or if not, easily procured.  This concoction works well with ailments such as sore throats, colds, stomach aches (lighter on the lemon, heavier on the ginger and perhaps peppermint tea), and general overall yuckiness.

Jennifer’s Get Well Tonic

Steep together – thinly sliced fresh ginger, herbal tea (or simply hot water) and one half of a cinnamon stick in a small teapot or mug.  Add fresh lemon juice and a heaping teaspoon of raw honey.  Drink often.

Variations can include different herbal teas, a pinch of cayenne (for congestion) or a dram of whiskey.  This drink has the added benefits of natural sugar and antioxidants while re-hydrating and warming the body.  If you search for “natural cold or flu remedies” online, some variation of this drink will be one of your top searches — and for good reason, it works.

Now whenever I feel the slightest twinge of a bug coming on, I make a pot of this tea.  Even if I can’t stop the crud, I can make this simple healthful drink to stay hydrated and get better.  Along with lots of sleep, this simple drink can bring comfort when needed most.

35,112 Stitches Makes . . .

Draped on the Couch

Draped on the Couch

A Bronco Blue Baby Blanket!

Living in (Denver) Bronco territory yields loads of options when crafting something for even the littlest Bronco fans.  Behold a tasteful blanket that shows team spirit while not being too overtly Bronco (not that it is necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes — and some in my family will disagree with me — it is nice to tone down the pride to a more subtle level).

Baby E. W. F. was born a few months back and although I have yet to give him a snuggle in person, I want him to experience a bit of my love from afar in the form of a cozy blanket.  He will be a Bronco fan because he was born into a Bronco fam and this yarn is a perfect Bronco blue to complement his blue eyes.  The pattern (Free Sunny Baby Blanket Knitting Pattern on ravelry.com) created a fun checkered pattern texture while being simple enough to knit while zoning out to a movie or a podcast.  The pattern is done in rows of 18 so a click row counter is a great help, although the old method of pen and scratch paper works well too.  At only 5 1/2 skeins of good washable yarn, this blanket was affordable to make as well.  I was able to work on the blanket during many lunch hours and chill out sessions at night.  With a glass of wine and my yarn skein, I am a relaxed being.

I enjoyed this project so much that I am making a larger version for my nephew in a different shade of blue for a rival football team.  I am expandeding the pattern to be bigger and will detail that adventure at a later date.  Right now, my cozy chair, pea quilt, new project and a glass of pinot are calling my name.  Knit on!

Modeling the Blanket -- Our Childhood Stuffed Animals!

Modeling the Blanket — Our Childhood Stuffed Animals!