As much as I lament the lack of pure white snow here in sunny Florida, I really do not envy my friends and family back in Canada who have to endure the long, dark, cold days of winter.  The flurry of activity surrounding the holidays gives way to the endless piles of snow and freezing winds of January, and spring seems a million years away as the days tick slowly by.

One of my good friends of many years lives waaaaaaay up north in a place that is remote and frigid, and in the days after Christmas I was thinking of her and an idea popped into my head--a surprise winter survival care package!
I stumbled across the most beautiful wool, and my knitting fingers got itchy!
The color combination is called 'Glacier Bay', and it reminded me of her--the perfect find!
I dug out my Mum's instructions for slipper socks--I have knitted so many pairs of these through the years, but it's been a few years since I last made them.  Always better to check the pattern!  Mum developed these slippers from her old stockings pattern with the most beautifully-turned heels and perfectly-tapered toes which had been taught to her many years ago by my paternal Grandmother.  There is a lot of history in these socks!
I am so pleased with how they turned out--look at the gorgeous variegated colors!  I made the tops of them a bit longer than I normally would to cover the ankles and keep away the northern drafts...
... and I liked them so much that I made myself a pair too!  My color is called 'Violets', and I adore the heathered purples and pinks with a touch of mossy green thrown in.
Is there anything more pleasant than receiving a surprise package in the mail?  When I was in university, living far from home, the best thing in the world was to receive 'snail mail', second only to a care package.  To this day I get excited when I open the mailbox and there is a card waiting for me inside.  A package?  Well, that just makes my whole day!
Some of the best things come wrapped in plain brown paper!
The slipper socks are snuggled up inside with some winter essentials...
Rosebud salve to prevent chapped lips, sparkly moisture cream to add a bit of bling and protect tender skin from the rough Canadian winds, shimmer face hilighter to brighten a face that rarely sees sun at the moment, and a few other fun little treats!
I just got a message from her this morning--after two weeks in transit, the package finally arrived!  I was waiting to share my project with you until she received the package... just in case the surprise was discovered.
You would be surprised how often I've worn my own slipper socks lately--it's been rather cool in the evenings, and these are beautifully cozy when the temperatures dip.   Unfortunately the pattern for these is my Mum's jealously-guarded secret as she sells many versions of these year-round at crafting fairs and a local cooperative of like-minded artisans back in my hometown.  However, if you are an experienced knitter who has made stockings before, these are very easy to make--you cast on 42 stitches, knit 2 pearl 1 for 6 rows, knit 3 rows, and then knit and turn your heel and continue on as you would for a stocking, working with 14 stitches on each needle once you have turned the heel and decreased back down to 42 sts to knit the foot.  Decrease as usual to shape the toe. 
I hope you're all having a wonderful week--and enjoying your winter projects!  What's everyone working on at the moment?  I love to see what other crafters are doing :-)
True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done,
the zest of creating things new.
~Antoine de Saint-Euxpery~
It was a mild and sunny weekend here in Miami--the perfect time to start thinking of spring planting and adding a bit of color to our back garden.  For ages now I've been wanting to figure out some sort of 'window box' contraptions to hang on the backyard fence, and the other day when we were at IKEA the solution jumped out at me:  BYGEL containers and the BYGEL rail.  My own interpretation... I love the Swedes!
Technically they're 'wall storage solutions', but what a simple, easy, and inexpensive way to create vertical plant holders!  I picked out some happy, vibrant geraniums and with less than half an hour's work, I have a couple of lovely, inventive, and visually interesting fence planters.
The containers cost an extravagant $0.99 each and came complete with little holes in the bottom which are perfect for plant pot drainage!  The rail retails at $2.99, and appears to have a coating of some sort, so I am really hoping that it won't rust in its new outdoor home.  When I started working with the rails I realized that they would also make great mid-century style towel rails (I used to have original mid-century rails in my old house that looked very similar to these).  IKEA--this is why I love you!
My lovely new Touch of Class Grandiflora Rose
I was quite taken with the selection of rose bushes during my Saturday morning session at Home Depot (am I the only person who can spend HOURS there when I'm not even involved in any big project?  Surely not!?) and came home with two beautiful ladies--a 'Sonia' Grandiflora and a 'Touch of Class' Grandiflora.  I suspect they'll both be a similar coral-pink color, which is a lovely addition to a formerly-drab corner of the garden. 

My DIY weekend continued with repairing two sections of drywall in the upstairs guest bathroom in preparation for a fresh coat of the most gorgeous grayish-blue paint (post to follow) which seems to be an extremely popular color this season--it's everywhere, and I love it!  It reminds me of stormy days by the beach back in coastal Scotland...  wonderful memories of cold salty air and warming my hands around a steaming cup of coffee while seeking shelter from the relentless Baltic winds. 

Unfortunately my DIY adventures have ground to a screeching halt today as I managed to grab onto a red-hot oven rack this morning and burn my dominant hand in no less than EIGHT places.  Impressive, non?

Aloe leaf is applied... now I wait :-)
Portrait of a kitty
Name:  Oliver
Nicknames:  Pussito, Olipuss, Oli-de-puss, Kitty Man, Huzzy Huzzy, Oliman
Breed:  Domestic Short Hair
Age:  21 months
Story:  Born wild, his mamma a stray who frequented the area around a friend's office building

Oliver came to us in April of 2011 as a three week old baby kitty who had to be bottle-fed every few hours and stimulated to go to the bathroom.  The first few days he was with us were terrifying--I had never cared for a baby kitty before who was absolutely dependent upon me for everything, and I was so scared that the care we were giving him wouldn't be enough to help him make it through his early weeks. 
Kitty baby: the first night. He was roughly 3 weeks old
His little ears hadn't even started to stand up and take on the characteristic feline points, and his teeth still hadn't broken through his gums.  He had to be coaxed to drink from the tiny kitten bottle, and he cried for his mamma.  Such a tiny scrap of life, but we loved him from the start. 
After a few days we got the hang of it, and little puss started to thrive.  He was interested in everything and wanted to investigate the big new world...
When he was big enough he explored the jungle in the back garden...  with supervision, of course!
He would explore and play until he was absolutely exhausted and could fall over asleep at any moment.
As a baby his eyes were blue, like all kitty babies, but eventually they started to darken to a lovely green...
And before we knew it, he was such a big part of our household that it seemed like he had always been there!
Just look at that sweet face... and those splendid whiskers!  Who could resist?!
As time passed, Oliver came to be called more often by 'Pussito', and he grew into quite a handsome fellow...
He will never be a cuddly lap cat, but we accept him for who he is--we all have our personality quirks, right?
He loves to hang out in the back garden and is a great supervisor of all gardening endeavors...
As well as being a master climber--all the better to survey his kingdom!
Over the past two years he has developed an incredible habit...
See the red blanket behind him?  I made him that little quilt when he was a baby, and he carries it around in his mouth like a security blanket.  We find it upstairs, downstairs, under chairs, and in behind furniture.  Such a cute little quirk!

Overall it's been an amazing experience--caring for him as a little baby kitty, watching him learn how to be a big kitty and grow into the adult cat he is now.  Thank God we took him in--he probably would not have survived if our friend hadn't found him crying, motherless and alone. 

We love you, Puss Man--you're quite a boy!
Time spent with cats is never wasted
~Sigmund Freud~
As a child I loved to spend time with my Grandmother--many afternoons were spent with her in her cozy little house passing the time knitting, crocheting, sewing, and baking.  I learned many of the skills I still have today while sitting at her knee, watching her work.  Her hands were gnarled and disfigured with severe arthritis, but still she created.  It was a need and a drive that I find I too carry within me.

Gram had a variety of curiosities both in her personality and in her home.  She hated chocolate.  Can you even imagine?  When I was little (and honestly, still) I thought that was the oddest aversion.  Who on earth doesn't like chocolate?  A small but distinguished group, apparently.

She also loved owls.  Big or small, porcelaine or carved wood, realistic or stylized.  She had curio cabinets full of them throughout the house and I would stand for hours looking over her collection, discovering new details and delighting in their unique faces. 

When my Gram passed away she left me her vast owl collection.  It was carefully packed up and stored in the basement of my Mum's house for a time when I would have room to put it all out on display. Sadly, that time did not come quickly enough, and in March of last year the flood waters rose and drowned her precious collection.  

I squatted on my Mum's front lawn in freezing cold temperatures, tears rolling down my cheeks as I sorted through sodden boxes, throwing the vast majority of her treasures into a debris pile for the trash collector to haul away.  Anything submerged in flood water has been contaminated and should be discarded, but I just could not let go of everything, so I salvaged a few porcelain pieces and set them aside to be disinfected, cleaned up, and brought back to Miami with me. 
These two handsome fellows are proud flood survivors--aren't they gorgeous?  They have currently taken up residence on a high shelf in my kitchen, but took a stroll to the garden this afternoon for a bit of fresh air.
Several trips to IKEA this week (a big project is in the works) ended with a couple of great finds in the clearance department.  I found two of these great glass jars for $1 each!  A bit of scrap fabric to dress them up in shabby but cheerful fashion...
This gorgeous cross-stitched pink tea towel was also a $1 find in the IKEA clearance section...
The beautiful little Japanese bowl was a $1.99 clearance find at Ross...
And I painted the lovely little plain wood birdhouse during the holidays--it was a great Walmart find for $1.97.
A fun way to combine some great bargain finds with a couple of pieces that are very dear to my heart. 

I think of my Gram every time I'm in the garden... and she was with me today in spirit, admiring her 'beautiful babies', as she used to call her owls.

  I'll leave you with something she used to always cheerfully recite to me when I was a little girl:
The wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why aren't we like that wise old bird?
Beach-inspired shell, hemp, and bead bracelet.
Every time I end up at the beach I find my attention immediately focused at my feet, scanning the sand for the best bounty of the sea--interesting shells, sea glass, geodes, and bits of coral and pottery.  I am an intent beachcomber and always come home with my pockets full of sandy treasures.  I have jars full of shells and sea glass collected along beaches from Scotland to the Caribbean, and I can pretty much tell you where I found each and every piece.  I'm funny like that.
South Beach, Miami view of Ocean Drive
South Beach was insane last weekend--the 36th annual Art Deco Weekend was on and there was no parking and not much room to move around on the streets, or eve the beach! 

Everyone picked a spot and settled in...
Which was fine for a little while...
But with a view like that, and all that gorgeous turquoise water calling, who could sit still?!
Is there any better feeling than your feet buried in the sand? I doubt it!
I love walking barefoot along the beach, just inside the water line so the waves crash against your legs... it's so refreshing.  This weekend the water was cool and lovely, and the waves were brisk, a wonderful contrast to the sun's healing intensity beating down on my shoulders. 

There were people of every nationality and race all smiling, laughing, and playing like children, and it was a wonderful thing to walk along and drink it all in.  I find that I always feel like a child again when I'm barefoot walking along in the sand--it's okay to splash in the water, collect 'treasures', and chase seashells into the ocean as the tide pulls them back out on the currents.... pure bliss.
There were some wonderful finds...
And as usual I came home with a beach bag full of sand!

It would be so nice to capture that beach feeling and pull it out whenever I feel like it... so I pulled together a few simple materials and made a beach-inspired rustic shell bracelet.
This is so simple--if you have a few shell buttons lying around, you're pretty much set!  These snazzy pink shells are from a Canadian dollar store (my favorite!), the hemp rope is a fine to medium weight for jewelry-making, and the glass beads were from my (excessively vast) bead stash.  Really, this can be made from anything you have in your odds and ends of crafting supplies.
Essentially, the most important thing is to make sure you measure your wrist and figure out how many buttons it will take to create the bracelet (make it a bit loose so it is comfortable on your wrist!).
One strand of the hemp rope is fed through the buttons and beads, and it is knotted with the second strand of hemp rope to create a smooth line with the shell buttons laying nicely side-by-side.
The end loops are slipped over the button at the end of the opposite side of the bracelet, and it's almost unnoticeable when it is on your wrist!
A happy, sunny, colorful homage to a great day out!  And a reminder to be thankful for the joys in life--today in my hometown back in Canada the schools were cancelled due to the -39C temperature outside.  I guess I won't complain about it being a 'cool' 21C here today!
There are 'movie moments' in all of our lives when the wide shot pans in to close-up focus...  when the world around us goes fuzzy, sounds become muted, and everything seems to happen in slow motion. 

I had one of those moments this weekend. 

Time seemed to stop, all of the ambient energy around me seemed to be drawn to my head and it washed down over me in a wave of prickling electricity.
It was Art Deco Weekend here in Miami and we gathered up our houseguests and headed down to South Beach to spend a few hours of salt water and sun worship before wandering Ocean Drive to take in all of the incredible talent and interesting vedors' wares lining the blocked-off street. 

With so much activity and so many beautiful colors, smells, and sounds swirling all around me, I have no idea what drew my attention to a whole table full of vintage post cards, other than the fact that the vendor next to the table had a really cute dog (named Winston--yes, we made friends).  I drifted over to take a look through the interesting selection and in amongst the perfunctory Yosemite National Park and NYC postcards, there was a tiny 'Canadian' section.  I thought I might find a souvenir to remind me of our journey to Niagra Falls last autumn... or maybe even something from my old university town of Halifax, NS. 

Never did I imagine what was waiting for me.
I pulled out the postcard and thought that the yellowed black and white image looked vaguely familiar.  My gaze dropped to the caption, and my knees almost gave way when I read the name. 

It was my own home town circa 1930s. 
To explain why this is such a rare scenario, remember that it would be quite normal for someone from NYC or Chicago to randomly find a vintage postcard of their home town in a city thousands of miles away.  Big cities always have souvenirs that travel far and wide, and those vintage postcards are generally quite plentiful.  My town, however, is home to only several thousand souls, and is quite small and insignificant to the rest of the world apart from its scattering of proud inhabitants.  

The buildings you see in the image mostly no longer exist--thanks in part to a fire in 1976 that swept through Main Street and took half of the buildings to the right, and the river that took all of the buildings on the left during various bouts of flooding.  My town currently is desperately trying to regain some sense of normality after the worst flood on record last March, which completely destroyed not only my own 1850s house but countless other historic homes and businesses in my area.
The shock of seeing the history that was lost, and the beauty it once held was overwhelming, and I confess it brought tears to my eyes.  Such an amazing gift, and at a time when the area is in such turmoil...  I am so thankful. 

I really enjoyed the day out and the 36th annual Art Deco Weekend, but the best part of the entire experience for me was finding that little rectangle of paper.  It is now framed and will hold a place of honor here in my Miami home, far from the mountains and river of my childhood world that will always hold such a special place in my heart.

Gracias a Dios.
Mural from Hotel Dieu St Joseph, painted by artist Bernice Beaulieu-Michaud
This week has been a bit crazy--my husband's relatives are here visiting so projects have been pushed to the side in favor of sharing coffees, stories, meals, and time together.  It's always fun when they come as their English is limited--so I get to break out my Rosetta Stone Spanish (mixed with what I've picked up 'en la caille').  We talk and laugh and make fun of ourselves, and generally enjoy the time spent together. 

I'm working on several half-finished projects that I have no time to photograph or otherwise document, so it's pretty quiet on the creativity front this week.  I do, however, have a wonderful mural to share. 
When I was young I took art lessons from a wonderful lady named Bernice Beaulieu McLaughlin.  She was a very versatile artist who always had paint on her jeans and time to sit and talk about whatever her juvenile pupils found interesting.  I loved my lessons in her drafty turn-of-the-century house, and marvelled at the beautiful colors she had painted her porch, the shelves full of antique books, the paintings leaning against the walls of our makeshift 'classroom' in the front room of her home, and all of the other curiosities that were always to be discovered within those four walls. 
Sadly, Bernice left us way too early.  She fell ill and was taken from us long before her time.  Her art, however, lives on, and one particular piece was in a very unexpected location--in the basement of our local hospital.
Many of you will remember that my hometown was horribly flooded last March.  It is still trying to rebuild, and many buildings (my home included) were completely destroyed.  One of the worst-affected structures was the local hospital.  The worst off were the offices and storage rooms in the basement of the original building, which laid completely submerged in water for three days last year. 
Many years ago as a student I worked in the hospital laboratory--it was a magic summer job filled with interesting days learning much more than I ever did from textbooks in hematology courses, and I got to know quite a few of the medical personnel in that area of the building, as the lab back then was also in the basement.  X-Ray was just down the hall, and there was a gentleman named Tony who was the nicest X-Ray Tech that I ever met.  He always had a smile and a kind word, and was wonderful with children and adults alike. 
Tony had an office in the basement that was little more than a broom closet, and it was a lifeless space without any window or natural light.  He came up with a wonderful idea and asked if a mural could be painted on his outside wall...  the powers-that-be agreed and Bernice came in and created the wonderful mural you see above.  Simply the illusion of the outdoors and a wonderfully fluffy kitty to keep him company must have put an even bigger smile on his face!
Tony and Bernice are both gone now, and the hospital is only working at half-capacity post-flood.  The area where that mural rests is no longer in use (in fact, it was probably ripped out after the waters subsided), and there is a new hospital in the works with construction scheduled to begin in 2015.  I believe that anyone who went through the disaster could write a whole volume entitled 'The Things we Lost in the Flood', and this is certainly a loss for both the hospital and the town. 
Today I am remembering Bernice... the wonderful person she was, the talent she shared with the world, and the many lessons she taught me. 

You will never be forgotten, dear lady. 

Sophie hanging out by her new tent!
Hi Everyone!  My name is Sophie and I'm the newest furry member of the household.  I'm somewhere around 6 months old but my Mummy doesn't know exactly how old I am--the vet told her I was around 3 months old when I found her--I've been with her for three whole months now!
We are a family of five--there's Mummy, Daddy (he plays with me... we had a great laser pointer session just this morning!), Charlie (he's kinda big and when he gets excited he runs in circles... I have to be careful that I don't get run over by his stamping paws, but otherwise he's cool.  The humans call him a 'dog', whatever that is...), and Oliver.  Oliver has a lot of nickames, but he tends to go by 'Pussito'.  He's a big kitty--Mummy tells me that he turns two in April, and that he was just a little baby at three weeks old when they rescued him.  He's not really too sure about me at the moment and he hisses and growls a lot, but I want to be friends.  I think he'll come around... eventually.
Oliver's old tent: the before shot.
Because I'm new I get a lot of what Mummy calls 'hand-me-downs'.  I guess that means that they belonged to the big boy before I came along, but that's okay--I enjoy playing with them anyway!  Everything is new to me!  See that red tent?  That was Oliver's but he got too big for it.  For a while he would play with me through the tent, so it got a bit torn up.  So Mummy decided that I would get my very own version... yay!
So Mummy did some stuff... not sure what everything was, but it involved a lot of cutting and sewing, and her machine scared me a bit at first but I was a big brave kitty.  She told me I was a good helper.
Pussito Checked it out first to make sure it was okay for me to try out.  He said it was too girly for him... see the lace around the doorway?  I really like that part.
I love it! 

It's so pretty, and it's just the right size for me to curl up inside and take a nap.  I did just that last night and it was really nice--Mummy put something called 'batting' in the bottom of it so it would be soft and comfortable for me.  I'm so lucky! 

Unfortunately I got a bit confused and tried to get on top of the tent.  It didn't work so well.  Mummy told me that I couldn't be like 'Snoopy'--does anyone understand that?  I don't know what she meant, but she was laughing, so I guess it wasn't so bad.
I'm kind of afraid that Pussito will change his mind and want his tent back.  I make sure to check in behind it to make sure he's not going to ambush me...  he's good at that.
See?  It's the perfect size just for me--and my toys. 

I'm not too happy with the photo because I know that black kitties don't photograph very well, but Mummy says I'm beautiful anyway.  She always tells me what a good girl I am.  I'm so glad I found her!

I think I'll go see what Mummy is up to before I go take a nap in my new tent...

Do any of you make special things for your fur babies?  Believe me, it's worth the effort--we really appreciate them!

Have a great Sunday!

Love, Sophie     >^^<
Hi Everyone.  Pussito (aka Oliver) here.

Mum is away out with Daddy for the day... but you see that tent behind me?  She's going to post some pics of that tomorrow.  She took my old tent and remade it for the kitten.

Yeah, I know.  A new fur baby comes along and it's all about the little cute one.  Hrmmp.

It's okay... she needed a home, just like I did when I was a baby.  I'll accept her... eventually.

So.... happy weekend everyone!  I'm away to nap...


My own natural beeswax lipbalm
Okay... I have written this post and almost finished it THREE times in the last hour... and each time a glitch in the system of my server has deleted the entire post.

So... I am frustrated. 

I love technology, but there are days when I could take my laptop and toss it out the window into the garden.

For that reason, I am going to have a cup of tea and forget about technology for a while.  I have some knitting to work on (for myself this time, yay!), and I'm going to get lost in Downtown Abbey and knitting for a few hours.

I had the recipe and supply links all done up beautifully... but my head is pounding and I just can't do it again with the threat of losing it for time number FOUR. 

The Coles Notes version of the recipe is 1 tablespoon of oil base, 1 tsp of beeswax, 1/4 tsp of carnauba wax, 1/4 tsp of pure vitamin E oil, and 4 lip balm tubes.  Warm the oil in a small metal jug over medium-low heat and then stir in the two waxes, swirling to make them dissolve into the oil.  Remove from heat and stir in the vitamin E oil, and then carefully pour the liquid balm into the tubes.  Let the tubes stand undisturbed for at least half an hour so they set up well.

If anyone needs further instructions, please let me know and I'll send an instruction sheet :-)

Does anyone else have technology meltdown?!