5 Beautiful Crafts to Welcome Spring

It takes only the slightest bit of spring weather to temporarily turn me into a raving optimist. I don't get optimistic about politics, business, or my personal finances. No, my optimism is even more divorced from reality than all that: I get optimistic about my free time. For a brief moment each year, I believe that the amount of free time I will have will magically morph from "none" to "some."

And when I think I have free time, I start to daydream about making beautiful crafts for myself, my family and my home. During college, I had a job as a seamstress at a costume shop that made (we used to say "built") costumes for two theater companies. I've become a decent knitter. I did crewel work as a kid. So it's not inconceivable that, given materials, patience, and time, I might make something pretty decent. 

I'm not looking for fun stuff to do with the kids or to replicate the days of Holly Hobbie. In an ideal world, my home would be filled with unique handcrafted items with a slightly cool, modern edge.

Like these.


This cross stitch sampler comes courtesy of Alicia Paulson, whose aesthetic is beautiful (think of a Paris-in-the-1920s palette) but very different from mine. In this design she combines that aesthetic with a more modern sensibility by using black fabric, and I love it. Of course, I'd also probably go blind trying to do counted cross stitch on black. For those of you more intrepid than I, the pattern is available here.

This pattern, from The Purl Bee, is designed as a cowl. I love the different-but-related stitch patterns, as well as the color choices. In a wool/cotton blend, I think this would make a great shawl for those cool evenings at the beach. (In my imagination, I not only have enough time to knit large ambitious projects, but apparently I am also able to spend many evenings at the beach. Nice.)

These mitts come from the book Stitch Mountain, produced by Laura Zander of Jimmy Beans Wool as part of her company's efforts to sponsor the U.S. Ski Team. I know it seems nuts to be starting a pair of mitts on the edge of spring, but here's where my dormant realism creeps in: At the rate I knit, I'll have these done just in time for next winter. 


Japanese sashiko embroidery, in the traditional indigo and white, always looks so fresh and crisp to me. The example above is just part of a sampler available on Etsy, but there are tons of other traditional motifs. While it looks simple, there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways to handle every turn, crossing, and intersection, which is a bit much for me. The saving grace is that most kits come with the design printed on the cotton, in an ink that washes out. 

As for the quilt above, that too is courtesy of The Purl Bee. (They are geniuses over there, I swear). I have never quilted before, but that pattern looks simple enough, and beautiful enough, that part of me is tempted to try. Of course I'd want to make the quilt big enough to serve as a bedspread, which means adding some serious difficulty points.

The one craft project I'm likely to finish is not nearly so impressive as any of these, but it's easy and it's a crowd-pleaser. All you need are some white ceramic mugs and some Sharpies. Use the Sharpies to decorate the outside of the mugs however you want, staying away from the rim and the top inch or so. Then bake the mugs in the oven for about half an hour at 350 degrees, give them plenty of time to cool, and the Sharpie designs will bake on and become permanent. (Some colors will darken a bit as they bake.)

I'll probably be doing this with my kids the next time my husband is on a business trip. I think my mug will say "Mom's Hot Chocolate. Don't Touch." Deep down, it's still winter around here. -- Kimberly Weisul

March 26, 2014

Missed our last issue? Here you go:
We're Declaring Spring, Whatever the Calendar Says

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Making Stuff
Playing With Fire
Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?

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Running for My Life

runningFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been a runner. When I was young, I ran for the pure joy of movement. As a tweener and teenager, I ran after field hockey balls, lacrosse balls, soccer balls and tennis balls. I was decent but no star. Still, I loved playing team sports and continued even after college. In my late 20s and throughout my 30s, running became a “thing” I did. I ran after work, on the weekends and participated in random road races including San Francisco’s famed “Bay to Breakers.”

Between relationships, a long run over the Golden Gate Bridge and back was a good way to fill up an open and empty Saturday.

In my 40s, after I had my children, running morphed from an individual activity into a social event. I joined the “Dirt Girls,” so called because we run trails and do weights, stair repeats, sprints and other fun tortures on trails all over Mt. Tam for an hour and a half Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. I love my fellow Dirt Girls and our relentlessly energetic and fearless leader Lisa Escabar. For 10 years, we’ve been out on the mountain, rain or shine.

Now that I'm (only slightly) past 50, running has taken on even more significance. Today, I run not just for fun and friendship, I'm literally running for my life.The latest in exercise science, as reported over the past year or so in the New York Times Well column, says that running -- or exercise in general -- can slow the impact of aging on both body and brain and keep them healthy and functional. These reports keep me going because I do want a larger hippocampus and a longer life.

Here’s an overview of what running can do for you.

Read more: Running for My Life

A Few Good Reads for 2014

GodofCake copyWhen the New York Times list of 100 notable books of 2013 was announced in December, I was sure that this time I would have read at least one.


Even though I used my Kindle liberally and visited our hometown public library dozens of times to pick up new fiction and non-fiction throughout the year, I was amazed that for the fifth year in a row, I had not read a single title chosen by the New York Times. And I had only heard of two novels on their list: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s “smartly written Dickensian novel” about a painting smuggled by a young boy and what it means to him, and Jo Baker's Longbourn, which offers a take on Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the Bennet family servants.

As in years past, I turned to One Thing New readers and asked them to offer their recommendations for my 2014 reading list. I’ve already added The Goldfinch and Longbourn, which seem like worthy reads. Here are some other suggestions, with a few words from our kind contributors on why they’re worth your time.

Everyone's Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby. This is a Kindle single from the author of About a Boy. It’s a short story, not a novel, and won’t take too long to read. It’s very funny and well-written. Although the protagonist's ex-wife writes a newspaper column, it captures our Facebook age perfectly.  

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. This is hands-down the best book I read last year. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. Honestly I laughed and laughed and laughed, which I never do! The author is a former writer for the TV show "Arrested Development," so she might know a thing or two about comedic timing. The characters are colorful and there's a whole undercurrent about the private school social scene and the technology subculture that will be especially recognizable to Silicon Valley denizens. 

Read more: A Few Good Reads for 2014

Last-Minute, Low-Cost Holiday Gifts

I was walking past my local thrift store last week when a delicate china tea cup and saucer, with an old-fashioned flower pattern, caught my eye. They were probably part of a tea set once, but now they'd ended up alone on a shelf in the window, gathering dust.

I have a friend who is an avid tea drinker and I thought she'd enjoy having the cup and saucer for her desk at work. Sure, the cup holds way less than the ginormous mugs we're used to these days. But I believe she'd appreciate the lovely lines of the porcelain (made in England), and enjoy having a nice cup of tea in such a pretty cup during a hectic day.

So for $1.99, plus tax, I walked out with the tea cup and saucer. I added a box of her favorite tea and for less than $10, I had a pretty thoughtful present for a good friend.

Who says you have to spend a lot of money to be a thoughtful gift giver? Here are 10 ideas for last minute, low-cost holiday gifts that might impress your friends and family -- and spare you some holiday shopping pain. 

Read more: Last-Minute, Low-Cost Holiday Gifts

In Search of a Sane Holiday Season

Holiday stress has it all -- condensed work schedules, the potential for family conflict, and awkward conversations about the feasibility of a fat bearded man fitting down the chimney, escaping the furnace, and delivering toys worldwide.

This year, I got a head start on my online shopping, then shot myself in the foot by agreeing to host a cookie-decorating party. I conceded defeat by telling my mom that the photo book -- her customary gift -- was going to be late this year, then took on an extra work assignment. What am I thinking?

There has to be a better way, so we asked for your best holiday stress-busting, getting-stuff-done, sanity-preserving tips.

1. Make a list, check it twice -- and then cut it in half Take the time to sit down and figure out what you need to do this holiday season. I have no doubt your list will be very, very long. Now, look it over and again and really think about what truly needs to get done. Is this really the year you bake all those cookies from scratch? Or handprint every holiday card? Or really get all those projects at work done before the end of the year? Remember, holidays are supposed to be fun, with time devoted to family and friends. Prioritize your list, cut it in half, and throw out the bottom half.

2. It takes a village In just this past week I've asked a neighbor to take one of my kids to the bus stop and asked my business partner to do work I was supposed to do. You may say this is evidence that my life is falling apart at the seams; I say I averted two near-certain meltdowns in just one week. 

Read more: In Search of a Sane Holiday Season

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