That’s just the way it goes…

A little over a month ago I resurrected this old blog of mine from the ashes.  I made a plan of action, I set goals, and for more than three weeks I was having  a ball plugging along at those goals- posting project ideas a few times a week, working on the back-end of the site, dusting off my photography skills and equipment, learning to write again, and moving towards monetization. And then BAM life happened. Now I’m off-track and may remain so for a spell. That’s just the way it goes I guess.

So yeah, my momma is in the hospital and she’s in a spot of trouble. It’s been two weeks now since she got very sick and she’s been in the hospital for a week today. Today we are hearing she will be in the hospital at least another week. My poor mom is in a very vulnerable state both physically and mentally so I don’t feel like I can be away from the hospital much. I’m overwhelmed by worries and duties. I’m not thinking clearly so that even when I have a chance to work on this blog I just can’t make my brain work right. Which has made me realize that in the future, when things are calmer, it’s a good idea to work ahead and have some blog posts ready to post in case I get pulled away again. I’m learning still… and will forever be.

I am looking forward to posting about a few fun projects I’m currently working on: Bunny Ears for Easter and Paper Butterfly Art Installations for windows or walls. Both are such easy and fun things to do in the spring. My kids and I get together and make the butterfly art installations together every year just as soon as things start blooming. It’s one of our favorite traditions.

But yeah, life happens, and I’m back to that. I haven’t given up on my goals, I’ll just pick up where I left off later, when I can. See ya around. Wish us luck.

Today’s Project: Get my momma better. :/

Today’s Soundtrack: Classic Rock playlist, because it’s my mom’s fave.

I Finished Reading: Norse Mythology and Orphan Train
Both were excellent- Norse Mythology was a lot of fun, Neil Gaiman is just about my favorite modern author in the world. I love all the myths, but the Norse myths just have to be the funniest and quirkiest around. Orphan Train on the other hand will rip your heart out, in a kinda good way. I read it this week while my mom has been in the hospital though, and that might not have been the best idea. I like to save sorrowful stories for happier times, and read lighter books when life is heavy.

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes
Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

It’s a sad day in the Rhodes household- we have now consumed every last blood orange from our tree (and then a few more we were gifted.) I’m not sure it is possible that we’ll ever grow enough blood oranges to allow for any to be preserved, they’re just too glorious. Pretty, unique, flavorful, nutritious- they are everything that is best about winter.

So far this year I have made three blood orange recipes, two of which: blood orange candy and blood orange simple syrup, are detailed in my blog post titled It’s Like Sunlight In My Mouth. If you haven’t checked it out yet and you have some blood oranges still hanging around, you really must. My kids really love the blood orange candies, they are very flavorful and easy to make. The resulting simple syrup comes in handy too, my daughters have used it in smoothies, my husband has used it in his tea, and I used it to make Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes yesterday.

These Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes are Pretty and Tasty
These Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes are Pretty and Tasty

When our blood orange tree proved especially fruitful this year I really didn’t know what to do with them all so I hit up Pinterest for cake recipes- but I just couldn’t find an easy recipe with few ingredients. So many of the recipes I found wanted me to use alternatives to regular flour, or to add other exotic ingredients I don’t have on hand. And I couldn’t find even one recipe for blood orange upside down cupcakes, which seemed a shame- I could just imagine how lovely they would look with a perfect blood orange disk on top! So I decided to try out a recipe I’ve used for pineapple upside down cupcakes, but with my own modifications. Here it is:

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups blood orange simple syrup
1/2 cup water
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix
24 very thinly sliced blood orange disks

1. Preheat oven to 350°F, spray cupcake pans well with cooking spray

2. Thinly slice blood oranges and set aside (blood orange juice stains, so be mindful!)

3. Mix together the cake mix, 1/2 cup blood orange simple syrup, 1/2 cup water, eggs, and vegetable oil.

4. Spoon 1 tbsp of blood orange simple syrup into the bottom of each muffin cup. Place a slice of blood orange into the syrup.

5. Pour 1/4 cup cake batter into each cup.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

7. Cool for a couple minutes, run a knife around the edge of each cake, and then invert the pan onto parchment paper.

8. Serve warm, or not! These are lovely either way. Refrigerate leftovers, if you have them.

And that’s it!

Like many of my experiments in the kitchen, I learned a few things that I might want to improve next time. Like: not forgetting to spray the cupcake tins with oil. I also waited a few too many minutes to invert the pans, I was doing dishes at the same time and didn’t think a few minutes would matter- but when you have the equivalent of candy in the bottom of your muffin tins and it’s allowed to cool- ack! So, my cakes weren’t as pretty as they could have been. Thankfully I was just feeding immediate family, so it didn’t matter that they were a little rustic looking. Especially since they were super delicious.

It’s gray out so I made blood orange upside down cupcakes.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

I hope you get a chance to enjoy these lovely little cakes! Please, if you have any blood orange recipes you think I’d like, or improvements upon my recipe- I’d love to hear from you! I’m looking forward to next year’s blood orange season already. 🙂

Today’s Project: Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Today’s Soundtrack: This is: Alabama Shakes on Spotify

I Finished Reading: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism
My quick review: If you know or love anybody with Autism, this is an incredibly interesting history. It was a little long, but well written and interesting until the end.

Swim and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

If you met me today you might think it surprising that I once spent more than three years of my life disabled. I was walking with a cane, slurring my speech, weak and in excruciating pain, grossly overweight, taking pills all day, fainting often, unable to function in the real-world: disabled. But it happened, and the most important thing I ever did was get in a pool.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

It all started when I was born, really. I have a genetic connective tissue disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that has been present since birth. On reflection it is clear that there were indications of this condition when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I turned 30 before I began having serious health problems. I am lucky, many who have EDS are plagued by severe symptoms all their lives.

For me it started with fatigue, I remember. I felt exhausted all of the time. Pain soon followed. I had muscle spasms, nerve pain, arthritis in my joints, the whole thing, all the time. I was injured around this time; I fell and dislocated my collarbone which violently pulled my whole shoulder out of socket. The stretched ligaments in my shoulder stayed stretched and my shoulder began dislocating frequently, often every day, sometimes a few times a day. The muscles in my shoulder, neck and back would spasm in revolt and I would be stuck motionless until the spasm stopped- sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks. Life became hell.

I saw some doctors, and then some more doctors, and then some more. I spent more than six years at getting a diagnosis, and then only found success after a relative was diagnosed with the same condition. In the meantime I was falling apart.

It kills me to think of it now- how much of my life I missed during what I now refer to as the “dark years”. I never once stepped foot in my youngest child’s preschool. Not once. I quit cooking dinners for my family. I quit running my business, with which I made enough money to contribute financially to the household. I was just that sick. Everything came apart.

I took all the medications suggested to me by doctors. I tried various diets and took advice from anybody and everywhere. I saw all sorts of specialists. I even went to spiritual healers and sought help from alternative medicine gurus. I got all the help in the world and did everything I could think of to get better, but nothing worked. I researched endlessly. I became extremely frustrated and disillusioned with the medical system. I began to believe that I may be disabled for all of my life. Year after miserable year passed and yet I just couldn’t give up hope.

Then one day I walked into a new physical therapy office with a pool and everything changed. I mean, it wasn’t immediate or anything- it took some time and I worked for it. But when I was released from water therapy just one month later I was already a changed person, on a path that would lead me to wellness.

Prior to being put in a pool for therapy I wasn’t physically active almost at all because it hurt so bad, and because I was so exhausted. Exercise was near impossible for me. I was in a gloomy place, I was anxious, I was bored, I was weak. During water therapy I began to see improvements in all of those areas. My pain lessened, and with that some of my exhaustion. And it seemed pretty easy work, too! I remember being frustrated a little, I remember it hurting to work in the pool, I do. But mild exercise in the water was nothing near as painful as just trying to get down the stairs in my house. I handled it.

After one month in a pool, seemingly just floating around doing mild exercises, my shoulder was dislocating less frequently. The associated muscle spasms, which were horrendous, happened less. My nerve pain levels were somewhat better. I felt better both physically and mentally. I had even lost a few pounds. But I was still sick. It would take me the next three years to almost fully return to health. I did this primarily with swim.

One thing I want to note, which was a huge contributing factor at the time, I had recently been adequately treated for my pain. I was still in pain, but it was more manageable. Can you believe that I was not treated for pain for years and years of agony? It happened. Being in agony all the time left me without any energy at all. I believe now that had I not *finally* had my pain in some sort of control at the time of this therapy I may not have been successful. Pain is a powerful deterrent to exercise. It is horrible for a can-do attitude.

But back to my story. 😛

After I completed water therapy in the winter of that first year I decided to book lap swim time with a local city program that spring. I went 2-3 days a week for an hour each day. I was slow. I was rusty at lap swimming. The first day it took me an hour to swim just a few laps. I was so weak I couldn’t get out of the pool and was afraid to drive home. But I was determined and I stuck to it. Each day I could swim more laps in less time. Each day!

When that program ended I joined a local swim group for the summer. I went almost 5 days a week for one hour each day, and that is when I really began noticing big changes. Pain, what pain?! The only pain medication I needed by then was some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, just once or twice a day. Nerve pain and tremors? 95% improved. Muscle spasms? Rare. Slurring/fatigue/swallowing issues/GI issues/sleep issues/anxiety/tremors/muscle weakness/fainting- GONE. GONE. Gone!!!! And you know what else was gone by this time? 35lbs of dead weight. And all that fear I was carrying around that I would never be a productive person again.

Since the local city and club groups operated out of an outdoor pool and I’m sensitive to cold weather I purchased a gym membership at a facility with a pool that fall. Ever since then, except for just a few brief periods of inactivity, I have swam just 3-4 times a week for about 30 minutes each day. That’s it, and I haven’t used a cane one day since that first spring! I’ve lost 50lbs. I go to all of my kids activities and events. I travel, I hike, I write, I do so many things I had given up in those dark years! I’m fully alive. People don’t believe me when I tell them that I know what it is like to be disabled for years at a time.

So let’s talk about those “brief periods of inactivity” for a second. I should have never done that. It was a mistake. First, I took a few months off swim for excuses not worth mentioning. Within weeks I began losing muscle tone and picking up weight, my pain increased, my GI issues returned, everything began to go down hill. Within a few short months I had to “begin again”. It wasn’t as hard as the first time, but it was still very hard to regain my health and strength and the will to try. The second time I slacked was during a year in which my daughters schedules were hectic and kept me far from the gym where I swim. At the time I felt that I had no choice but to give my gym time up, but I know now that I should have figured it out. I gained back 15lbs during that period and spent more than a fair share of days in a recliner with a heating pad. Each time I learned a lesson. Swim is life.

I think sometimes about how my life might have been different if the first doctor I had seen had put me in a pool. It would have been different too, if I had always been properly treated for pain, I’m sure.

I can’t know your situation, I can’t know what is best for you and your body. All I can tell you is what I know about my situation, and what has helped me. Swim may not be something you can do. I don’t know. But if you are in a bad spot of health, looking for something, anything to try- I suggest getting in the water. For best results I suggest starting with water therapy provided by a professional.

Swim works. Swim works because you utilize and activate every muscle group. Swim works because it whips your cardiovascular system into shape too. Swim works for some people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome because the lean muscle, the strength you gain from swim, helps keep your joints where they belong. Swim works because it releases feel-good hormones into your blood. Euphoria is awesome! Swim works for some people with connective tissue disorders because it is a low-impact sport. I can’t pound the pavement anymore- but you should see me sprint a lap! No pain. None. Ok, it makes me breathe hard and at first I was pretty achy. But just 6 years ago I could barely walk across my yard. Swim works because it is amazing how fast your body gains endurance and strength- if you push yourself even a little you will achieve success over time. And time is all we’ve got.

I wish so much I could tell sick-me what well-me knows now. Since I can’t, I hope my experience helps you to avoid your own dark years. Try it, tell me how you do.

And if swim is simply not something you can do- don’t give up. Keep looking for answers. Keep fighting. Don’t give up. I didn’t want to go to therapy that first day. I wanted to cancel the whole thing. I wanted to cancel my life. I didn’t, and it’s everything. <3

How To Knit Your Own Ukulele Strap – Free Pattern

Knit your own custom ukulele strap with this free pattern.

I’ve had a pair of lovely ukuleles hanging on my wall for years.  I purchased them so that my youngest daughter and I could take lessons to enrich our homeschooling experience, but we didn’t stick with the lessons for very long. Though she loves music, she didn’t love making music, and I am not gifted with stringed instruments at all.

My 40th birthday came around last summer and I woke up thinking, “how do I want to age?” At this point that’s what’s going on, some rapid aging. I’ve begun to feel sluggish, both physically and mentally. I decided to try some things to see if I couldn’t sharpen up my thinking. I had read that picking up a musical instrument at my age can improve focus, battle brain-fog, and provide stress relief. And I’m all about stress-relief!

Shortly after my kids went back to school for the year I changed my daily routine so that each morning I carved out the time to learn to play the ukulele. I dusted off my old books, found a great YouTube channel for video lessons, and got to work. Despite not at all having a talent for stringed instruments, every day I made progress. I also found myself picking up the uke more than just once a day, practicing fingerings in the car, humming the songs I was working to learn, and finding ways to enjoy the process of learning to play the uke more.

No doubt, I’ve also experienced some of the improvements I was hoping for with regards to brain-fog and stress. You can’t stress and play the ukulele. It’s just not possible. At first I felt rusty and confused a lot as I struggled to make sense of ukulele music, but I kept at it and it got easier. I still struggle with strumming, but I’m amazed at how much my hand-eye coordination has improved in just a few months.

One thing that bothers me about my uke is how slippery the sucker is. If I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt I cannot hold the darn thing. I know I’m probably doing something wrong there, holding it is not yet natural to me, but I wondered if a strap might help? I turned to Pinterest for answers.

There is a whole world of amazing ukuleles and ukulele straps out there! Thanks to Grace Vanderwaal and America’s Got Talent, there seems to be a big resurgence in interest in the ukulele happening right now. I found that many people had made themselves great ukulele straps. I decided I would try to knit one.

Learn how to knit your own ukulele strap.

The first one I made was too long, because knitted straps are pretty stretchy. So I made another, and I liked it so much that I made another. Now I have cute straps to match each of our ukuleles.

I find that using a strap helps a ton, especially if I am standing to play or have a long-sleeved shirt on. This makes it easier for me to concentrate on learning to play instead of always worrying about the instrument slipping.

I would like to share my pattern with you but I caution that your strap may need to be longer or shorter based upon your size. I am a tall woman at almost 5’10”, so it is possible you may need to shorten your strap. Luckily this is a super quick and easy project that requires little yarn, so if you don’t like your strap you can adjust the pattern and remake it without feeling too bad about wasting yarn. I adjusted my first pattern by attaching the strap to the uke, putting it on, and then guessing how many more/less rows I would need to be more comfortable.

Learn how to knit your own Ukulele Strap

I love how this strap can be made in any colorway to suit your tastes. The only limitation is that chunky yarns won’t fit under the strings where you need to attach it to the instrument. I used Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable yarn for one of the straps, and some hand-dyed stuff I had purchased on Etsy some years ago and had squirreled away for the other.

Ukulele Strap Pattern
For the main strap:
Yarn: the sky is the limit, nothing too chunky or that frays/felts easy.
Needles: sz 5 (you’ll want to knit fairly tight stitches, so choose needles and yarn that work together to create a nice dense pattern.)

C/O 2
R1 K
R2 k
R3 inc, inc
R4 K2, YO, K2 (this leaves a hole to thread your tie-on’s through.)
R5 inc, k3,  inc
R6 K
R7 inc, k5, inc
Rows 8-75 (or 23″) K
R76 k2tog, k5, k2tog
R77 k
R78 k2tog, k3, k2tog
R79 k
R80 k2tog, k1, k2tog
R81 k, inc, k
R82 k2tog, yo, k2tog
R83 k
R84 bind off

For the tie-ons:
Knit two I-Cords approximately 30″ long and 16″ long.
This cool knitting blog has a good I-Cord tutorial if you need one: I-Cord | Purl Soho

Putting it together: Now you can take your I-Cords and thread them through the yarnover holes you left in either end of the main strap. For the longer I-Cord you will want to make sure that it is secured in such a way that leaves one side longer than the other.  I secured it so one length was 18″ long, and the other length is 12″. For the shorter piece of I-Cord I just ran it through the hole so that each length is the same. I used coordinating yarn and an embroidery needle to secure the I-Cords to the main knitting strap.

And that’s it! Now you just have to attach your strap to your uke and get to banging on it!

How to knit your own custom ukulele strap!

Today’s Project: Research ways I can destash a whole bunch of fleece I have left over from the mermaid tails I made kids for Christmas last year.

Today’s Soundtrack: Roller Derby Roadtrip Playlist on Spotify

I’m Reading: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

How to make Handwarmers

These fingerless gloves, or handwarmers, are easy and fun to make.
These fingerless gloves, or handwarmers, are easy and fun to make.

I’ve been making variations of this handwarmer pattern for more than six years according to Facebook’s timehop! I knit them up in multiple color schemes for myself probably once a year and wear them every day from October through March because in my old age I get coooooooold like a popsicle.

I also give them as gifts each Christmas because when I don’t people ask about them. And because they’re fun and quick to put together! I can sit down to an hour long TV program and get one glove done. Even if I am distracted  I can put together a pair in an afternoon, no problem.

It’s that time of year…

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

These really are one of the items I make that get the most use. My daughters don’t like to wear gloves at all, they like their fingertips free to text and tap, but these leave your fingers free while keeping your hands toasty. They love when I make them handwarmers in their favorite colors (rainbow or black usually.) They tend to claim any handwarmers they see me currently working on, they’d own a dozen pairs apiece if they could.

I made some hand warmers and Liana claimed them. I asked her to model them….

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

How to Make Handwarmers

I usually use Caron Simply Soft acrylic yarns for this project when knitting for women or children, and often choose a heavier wool yarn for the guys in my family (and then adjust the pattern as necessary), as that is what they seem to prefer.

When using Caron Simply Soft yarns I use size 5 needles to knit the pieces, and a size 10 needle to bind off on the rectangle shape.

Be sure to check your yarn for gauge recommendations and make adjustments as necessary.

To make handwarmers you just need to knit two shapes, a rectangle and a triangle.
To make handwarmers you just need to knit two shapes, a rectangle and a triangle. You will hand sew the pieces together using the long tails.

One of my favorite things about this project is how easy it is to change the pattern up. You can get creative with the pattern as long as you end up with rectangle and triangle shapes that are properly sized.

The first thing I do, if I can, is measure for the person wearing the handwarmers so that I can custom fit the glove to their hands. I can usually get away without measuring for width, but I like to measure from mid-finger to the base of the hand so that I know when I can begin knitting the wrist detail. If I can’t measure for length, I usually just make the Large Handwarmers pattern below for adults, and Small Handwarmers pattern for kids.

Handwarmers Patterns:
(This pattern is for the fingerless gloves pictured just above, feel free to experiment with the pattern and design your own gloves!)

Large Handwarmers – Hand Piece 
Cast on 34 stitches to size 5 needles using Caron Simply Soft yarn in your choice of colorway. Your finished rectangle should measure about 6 1/2″ wide.
R1-3 K
R4 P
(Continue in garter stitch for 33 rows or 4″ (or your measured length from wrist to mid-finger)

Begin wrist detail:
R38 (RS) P
R39 K
R40 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R41 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R42 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R43 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R44 p3, C4F, p2, C4F, p2, C4F, p2, C4F, p2,C4F, p3
R45 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R46 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R47 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R48 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R49 p
R50 k
R51 k
R52 p
R53 k
R54 k
R55 p
R56 k
R57 bind off loosely using a larger needle (sz 10)
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Handwarmers – Thumb
Cast on 15 stitches using size 5 needles
R1-R3 K
R4 P
R5 K2tog, k11, k2tog
R6 p
R7 K2tog, k9, k2tog
R8 p
R9 k
R10 p
R11 k2tog, k7, k2tog
R12 p
R13 k2tog, k5, k2tog
R14 p
R15 k2tog, k3, k2tog
R16 p
R17 k2tog, k1, k2tog
R18 p
R19 k2tog, k1
R20 p2tog
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Small Handwarmers – Hand Piece 
Cast on 32 stitches to size 5 needles using Caron Simply Soft yarn in your choice of colorway. Your rectangle should measure about 6″ wide.
R1-3 K
R4 P
(Continue in garter stitch for 25 rows or 3″ (or your measured length from wrist to mid-finger)

Begin wrist detail:
R30 (RS) P
R31 K
R32  p2, k4 to end
R33 k2, p4 to end
R34 p2, k4 to end
R35 k2, p4 to end
R36 p2, c4f to end
R37 k2, p4 to end
R38 p2, k4 to end
R39 k2, p4 to end
R40 p2, k4 to end
R41 p
R42 k
R43 k
R44 p
R45 k
R46 k
R47 p
R48 k
R39 Bind off loosely using a larger needle (sz 10)
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Handwarmers – Thumb
Cast on 15 stitches using size 5 needles
R1-R3 K
R4 P
R5 K2tog, k11, k2tog
R6 p
R7 K2tog, k9, k2tog
R8 p
R9 k
R10 p
R11 k2tog, k7, k2tog
R12 p
R13 k2tog, k5, k2tog
R14 p
R15 k2tog, k3, k2tog
R16 p
R17 k2tog, k1, k2tog
R18 p
R19 k2tog, k1
R20 p2tog
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Once you have your finished hand and thumb pieces ready, use an embroidery needle to sew the glove together utilizing the long tails of yarn you left. I begin by sewing the thumb piece together right side facing from the top (cast-on row) to the beginning of the decrease rows. Set the thumb aside. I then fold the hand piece in half so that the right side is inside, and beginning at the bottom of the glove I use the tail to sew up from the bottom, stopping one stitch beyond the beginning of the wrist detail. I then turn the hand piece around, and sew from the top of the glove down, about 1″. Now I place the thumb piece into the thumb hole, making sure right sides are facing, and sew the glove edges and thumb edges together. I then use what is left of the tails to reinforce seams, and weave in my ends when I’m done. Try it, it’s easier than it sounds, and you get the hang of it after making a pair or two.

Handwarmers are cute, convenient and cozy. They are also easy to make!
Handwarmers are cute, convenient and cozy. They are also easy to make!

I hope you can understand my pattern, it is actually the first time I’ve ever written one of my own down with the intention of someone else utilizing it. Please do let me know if I can make improvements!

I know there’s one way I can make big improvements to my new baby blog and that is to actually take the time to do a proper photo shoot for my posts. So far I haven’t gotten around to digging out and warming up my old camera equipment. So, for now, you get my muddy iPhone photos and no pretty staging. But wait- doing things this way is convenient, and I almost always end up with a furry photobomber in the mix. Everyone loves cats, right?

Usually it’s Poofy getting in my business, but today it was Spirit, my daughter Lillie’s cat:

Photobombed by Spirit, my daughter's cat.
Spirit came to see what I was up to.

Today’s Projects: T-shirts and umbrellas for the Women’s March in Sacramento this weekend.

Today’s Soundtrack: Classic Rock playlist

It’s Like Sunlight In My Mouth

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day to all, and to meeeee, for it was a three-day weekend! I love those. Especially in this dreadful weather. We drive a lot on a dangerous stretch of freeway and the cold affects my health negatively so I’d just rather skip winter each year. GTFO Winter. Yo.

But yeah- I had an extra day to fiddle around with this weekend so I decided to candy some lemon and make lemon simple syrup in between posting MLK memes on Facebook.

Martin Luther King Jr Quote
Martin Luther King Jr Quote

He was so great, we need someone like him so much right now. Don’t you think?

I have to say, the result was really spectacular. After candying the first batch of lemon I immediately had to make another batch. They were so wonderfully flavorful and pretty that I couldn’t resist. And then there’s that sparkly delicious syrup…. I could die happy right after ingesting it all.

There are really some fun ways to use candied fruit and simple syrups. My husband puts the simple syrup in his tea and in mixed cocktails. I used some of the lemon simple syrup for my lemon bread recipe, and my daughter used it in her fruit and yogurt smoothie. I used the candied lemons to garnish lemon bread.

Poofy is creeping up on my lemon bread.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

Pretty much the moment I was done with the lemon candies and simple syrup I started working with blood oranges. I’m so stoked that we put that tree in.. these are glorious fruit. They are small but visually striking and fantastic tasting.

I plan on making blood orange upside down cake later this week and will garnish it with candied orange slices. My kids especially like the candied blood orange slices. They taste like fruit gummies, but lighter and brighter, if that makes sense. I just can’t get over how these taste like the sun! On these dreary  gray days there’s nothing better than a little bit of sun in my mouth. 😉

Oh, and I learned a few interesting things about blood oranges yesterday. I was treating mom to some candied blood orange when she asked how they got the red coloring. I had no idea so I asked Siri and she hooked me up:  All About Blood Oranges

According to Wikipedia’s Blood Orange page, “The flesh develops its characteristic maroon color when the fruit develops with low temperatures during the night.”

Pretty cool! So, if warm days/cool nights helps blood oranges turn a deeper and more thorough red- I’m wondering if I kept them in the garage at night and brought them in during the day for a few days, could I deepen their color myself? My daughter Lillie, The Brilliant One, actually suggested this. She’s cool. I’m going to try it. Mine are about half as bloody as they could be, mostly. I’ll let you know how it works.

Project Details:

Candied Lemon Slices (& Simple Syrup)
I used this super easy recipe: Candied Lemon Slices
Tips & Modifications: I cut up two lemons (slice it very thin!) and used two medium saucepans at once to increase my yield. I used tongs to turn over the lemon slices every five minutes while simmering. After removing your candied lemon slices to parchment or wax paper, just pour the liquid leftover from the candied lemons directly in a jar and there’s your simple syrup!

Candied Blood Orange Slices (& Simple Syrup)
All you have to do is the exact same thing as you did with the lemon slices above. Easy. Fast. It’s worth buying a few blood oranges from the store if you don’t have access to the tree at home to make these.

Lemon Bread
I used this recipe from Taste of Home: Lemon Bread Recipe
Tips & Modifications: I thickened the very thin glaze recipe by doubling the powdered sugar, but I still wish I would have made an even thicker glaze. I wanted the glaze to cure white because I wanted to cover up or distract from my ugly poke holes. See, once I transferred this bread to a plate to cool I poked holes in it with a toothpick and then drizzled it in lemon simple syrup before applying the glaze. Oh well, like I always say, “it doesn’t matter what it looks like when it’s in your belly.” It was brilliant tasting. Highly recommend.

Today’s Projects: I think I’m going to try one of the Starbuck’s copycat lemon loaf recipes I see floating around on Pinterest. We can’t get enough of the lemon stuff around here right now. And the kids want to have a side-by-side taste-off to decide which of the two lemon breads are the best. Also: handwarmers again , maybe, if I get a chance to sit.

Soundtrack: Today’s Top Hits Playlist on Spotify

I’m reading: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I’m a Many Trick Pony

… and it’s all because I believed that I could do anything I put my mind to. And also, YouTube videos. Check this out: Ark. mother of four builds home by watching YouTube tutorials

How cool is that?!

More than a decade ago I was home with my young children and my creative impulses were firing but I just didn’t have the time, money, or energy to do anything too involved. A few of my friends on the interwebs knitted and I had all my mom’s old yarn stash from her crocheting days so I decided to give it a try. I learned how to knit in a day from tutorials I found on YouTube. Since then I have made many a knitted present, and have even sold a few finished pieces.

Just off the needles- something for me. 🙂

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

I have learned many, many skills from YouTubers across the globe. My husband has fixed our appliances, cars, bikes, and house more times than I can count thanks to YouTube videos.

My kids groan every time.. (they’re all teenagers, they groan no matter what I say).. but when they ask “how do I…?” I usually respond with either “google it” or “YouTube.” It’s amazing what I’ve seen them be able to learn and achieve thanks to resources readily found online.

I asked Liana to model the new hat I just finished. So she did.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

To learn anything new you need a can-do attitude, but I often feel immediately overwhelmed by the challenges that face me. Where does one even begin to say, fix a problem with a bicycle? In the old days you would ask a friend to help or hire a guy if you didn’t have a clue. Today you can pick up your phone, complete an internet search, watch a video or two, and do just about anything, anywhere. The process of watching someone show me how to do something completely demystifies it, and emboldens me to try.

You can do it.
I can do it. Anything. Even become a blogger (who makes an income doing it, one day.)

All we need to keep growing and achieving is each other.. and YouTube. 🙂

Today’s Project: Handwarmers- I might bake something too but I have a sick kid home from school who needs to go to the pediatrician.

Soundtrack: I’m still listening to Today’s Top Hits Playlist on Spotify

I’m reading: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Reusable Grocery Bags

In the 2016 election California voters decided to ban plastic bags at the grocery store. Quite quickly local grocery stores began providing much sturdier bags that are reusable and compostable and dum-dum dum: 10 cents each. They are also loud and crinkly, and not very cute to have to carry around. We have a large family to provide for so we were suddenly buying a LOT of these bags.

For years I’ve been saying we should use reusable bags but I never did, mostly because I am busy doing what I want and not being inconvenienced. It’s the sad truth. So I’m glad they passed the law, because what did I do? Start making and using reusable bags. And it was a fun project! And they are cool. People seem to love them. My husband at least really likes using them. It took a push, but here I am doing what I should have done all along.

The first thing I did when the law passed was pull up Pinterest, my absolute favorite place to look for sewing ideas. I searched “reusable grocery bags” and quite quickly found several free patterns to try.  When I had decided on a few patterns I hit up the Black Friday Sale at JoAnn’s for 75% off fabric, because fabric these days is stupid expensive. I picked out some materials I just loved, which always makes sewing more enjoyable.

I made this bag first:  Pleated Tote- Free Sewing Tutorial
The tutorial is easy to read. You will have to make your own pattern given their dimensions, I used craft paper to make mine. The finished bag is spacious and cute. I made a mistake making mine by using very old and too-stiff interfacing. It did not damage the integrity of the bag, but I feel that if I carry bulky items it will wrinkle the bag. I do not suggest making my mistakes ever.  I like the bag enough though that I bought new, lighter interfacing so I could make myself another.

And then I made a bazillion of these: Tutorial: Fat Quarter Reusable Grocery Bag with free pattern
This is a really nice tutorial complete with a free pattern that you can print easily on your home printer, easy-to-understand instructions, and lots of pictures. The sewing techniques are basic and you can put a bag completely together in under two hours. Maybe others are faster than me but I get hungry and have to pee or take the dogs out, so never trust my estimations if you are a pretty focused, efficient person.

I did not at all use fat quarters to make this bag. I started out making these bags with flannel that I had bought at Joann’s 75% off doorbuster event, and they are cool. But they are bulky when you roll them up between uses and pick up animal hair and stuff easier than cotton. We have pets galore so I prefer cotton for this project.

I bought some fabrics I perceived as “manly” to make reusable grocery bags for the manly men in my life for Christmas. The men around me are the grocery shoppers of the family and had been griping constantly about having to pay for bags. I picked an Army motif for my dad, and zombies for my husband and guy friends. These turned out so fun. The guys are telling me that they get asked about their bags, or complimented on their bags every time they use them.

I liked this project enough that I ended up making these bags in numerous color/pattern combinations for all of my loved ones. I made dozens. I made eight just for my husband. For real. And then after Christmas, when my husband began really using his bags, he asked that I make another full set of eight bags to keep in my car, after the first time he used my car to shop and didn’t have any of his bags because he forgot them in his car.

Current Status

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

I’m so sick of making them now. Thankfully, I finished the last one yesterday. I’ve received a few requests to make more, have had people ask after a price for a set. I regretfully admit that it doesn’t make sense to sell these bags. When you add up materials, even purchased at a steep discount, and factor in the two hours you spend making this bag, you’d have to charge at minimum $25 per bag to make minimum wage. Nah. Who is going to pay that? I wouldn’t.

I made mine for probably about $4 per bag, which means they should pay for themselves in 40 uses. They are really sturdy so I believe they will give me at least 120 uses. If so, each bag will save us $8 over time and will keep 120 bags out of landfills. And they are snazzy. And I learned a new technique- french seams! Don’t worry, it’s easy.

Project time: approximately 2 hours if you take breaks and are slow like me
Project materials: I’ll let you check out the tutorial for those, but I made 6 bags in each color combination with 4yds of the main pattern and 2 yards for the linings.
Thoughts: Cotton makes a sleeker bag, but many sturdy fabrics would work for this project so it’s perfect for destashing old fabric. I also used flannel to make these bags and they are fine. I think it would be cool to put together a little carrying case to hold four bags, to keep them nice and squared away between uses- if I ever do that I’ll hook ya’ll up with a pattern.
Product review: we’ve put everything in these bags now and they hold up great. We put four bottles of champagne in one on NYE and it was comfortable to carry and plenty sturdy. The first time or two you use them you may struggle just a tad to fold them back up properly- I made sure to show my friends how to do it so they wouldn’t get too frustrated. I like to keep one rolled up nicely in my purse for impulse purchases. The cotton bags are sleek enough that you could probably fit several in your purse if you carry a bigger bag than me. I’ve always preferred a small purse.

Today’s Project: Handwarmers (keep an eye out for an upcoming post on these!)
Today’s Soundtrack: Today’s Top Hits Playlist on Spotify
I’m reading: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Putting Up Lemons

I’ve been putting lemons up, a little each day, all week.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

Several years back we put in what was supposed to be a miniature lemon tree. We planted it in a maybe five feet wide strip of land bordering our driveway. Of course it was not in fact in any way “miniature” and has grown to the point where we can hardly avoid driving into it. We’ve trimmed it drastically several times, but it’s hardy and growy. I have scratches all down the side of my new car.

When we got it, it was already producing some, so it was quite a disappointment that it didn’t produce at all for two seasons thereafter. We thought it was because it had grown a large sucker, a kind of parasitic take-over. We cut out the parasite and waited, thinking that it might do better, but it still didn’t produce. It caused nothing but problems.

Finally, finally, I decided to google it. At that point my dad, who is also my neighbor, was threatening to dig it out of the ground. Dudes, google everything. So yeah- our giant miniature lemon tree just wasn’t getting the right stuff from our soil. A few treatments of citrus fertilizer later and I’m putting lemons up for days and days. Annnnd feeling a little dumb. And neglectful.

So, what does putting up lemons involve, and why would you want to go to the trouble? I’ll tell ya.

To begin with we picked the lemons over the course of a week, choosing just the ripest first because I planned to immediately preserve them. Then each day I would dust off the handy dandy juicer we got for like $20 on Amazon, push through about 20 lemons, and strain the juice. (Some of my people like pulpy lemonade, so I didn’t strain the first few batches just for them.) I strained the juice through a couple layers of cheesecloth, then poured the strained lemon juice into ice trays and froze them overnight. Once the lemon juice was frozen into cubes I transferred them into labeled freezer bags and tossed them in the freezer. Additionally I zested the prettiest peels and put the lemon zest in a small jar in our freezer for baking throughout the year.

Project time: We didn’t spend much time picking lemons, we saved time by using clippers and hurrying to beat the rain that just won’t stop in California right now. Each day I spent about an hour and a half from beginning to end (set-up, transferring the day before’s cubes to the freezer, juicing, straining, pouring, clean-up) for a yield of about 5 cups juice, which filled a little more than three large ice cube trays. I only zested lemons one day and it took me less effort and time than I expected, even using an old-fashioned hand zester.  A little zest goes a long way, so I’m not sure if I should put up more or not- we’ll see how fast we go through it when we have it on hand! All I know is that I didn’t put up all the lemons last year, as I got bored of the process after three or four days.. and guess what? We were out of lemon before spring. This year I’m not gonna slack. Fresh lemon juice and zest can make so many things absolutely wonderful. Here are a few of those:

Lemonade. There are so many wonderful things about lemonade, and the lemonade made from lemons off our own tree is somehow so sunny and magical and light tasting.

Lemon juice for health: it’s full of good stuff for ya, and you can read about the many ways you can use it for health benefits all over the interwebs so I won’t bore you. Google everything.

Lemons for cleaning: I loved how, after clearing the juicer repeatedly in the sink with the dish disposal, I noticed that the slightly moldy, not wonderful smell that had been in that sink was gone. Lot’s of people use it for varied cleaning purposes so please, google, google.

Lemon juice for cooking, oh yes. So many things are improved by lemon juice. One our favorite ways to use it is to add a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice directly into our bowls of chicken soup. This was an old tradition of my husband’s family, and since I discovered it I never eat chicken soup without a dash of lemon juice!

We love to bake with lemon in this household! I made this the other day and it was really great:

Sunburst Lemon Bars

My daughter Lillie made these fantastic wonderful amazing cupcakes for me for my 40th birthday:

Pink Lemonade Ruffle Cupcakes

My husband tried a new chicken picatta recipe recently too and it was pretty good. I’ll bug him for that recipe.

And hey! Let me know if you find anything else interesting to do with lemon! I have enough to get a little creative this year, I hope.

Today’s Projects:
-Lemons: I’m getting closer to done putting this year’s crop up.. must. not. give up. We DO need all this lemon, I’m pretty sure.
-Reusable Grocery Bags: I have one last bag to make today and then we should have enough to put a full set in both cars. More on those soon!

Today’s Soundtrack: Today’s Top Hits Playlist on Spotify
I’m Reading: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey



I’m baaaaack!

Wow, Poofy, what sharp teeth you have.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

For years and years I maintained a lifestyle blog but then came Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. My journaling became fragmented.  A little bit of me went here, a little there, and my blog withered and died. Sad story, eh? Whatever. I’m back dudes.

Here’s what I’m thinking.. I CONSTANTLY create and do stuff. But nobody knows it! That’s weird. I’d like to show you what I’m up to- and how I learned to do it… and where I got my best resources… and whether or not I’m making any money at it (usually not.)

I have a lot of interests- I get bored easy and try new things- so I’ll probably bounce around a lot, but my primary interests are crafting (mostly sewing and knitting), genealogy, web and graphic design, baking, reading, roller derby, swim, travel, music, photography, philanthropy, and art. Pretty much something for everyone, I hope.

So yeah! Stop back by sometime soon and see what you think.. that would be cool.

Today’s Projects:
This Blog- customization
Lemons- today is day 5 or 6 of putting up lemons.. only a few more days to go?
Reusable Grocery Bags- more on this soon, but here’s the pattern!