Friday Eating and Reading (As I Army-Crawl Across the School Year Finish Line)

It’s Friday, and I am still in the trenches of what we call the May Gauntlet around here. This month consists of three of my family of five’s birthdays, Mother’s Day, another trip to Science Olympiad Nationals for the Hubs and Bear after winning State, Confirmations, graduations, finals for G-Man, driving test for G-man, and yet another week-long business trip for the Hubs. I am, in a word, overdone.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sneaking in crafting, reading, and knitting time in at every possible moment, lest I allow my “End-of-the-year-and-I’m-over-it attitude” to spew out all over innocent bystanders. While I know I will probably want to let my kids run away and join a circus within two weeks of summer vacation, the prospect of a break from carpool lines, packing lunches, the daily uniform search/6 a.m. emergency washing panic, and unplanned trips to the school because I forgot it was our snack day (again), is the only thing separating me from insanity.

Anyway, here’s a few things I have been really into this week:

I just finished¬†The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen. Magic realism and knitting? Sign me up. I am a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, so this seemed right up my alley. Overall, it’s a cute book, and one that I enjoyed. The narrative of the family ties, local lore, the subtle magic, and hope all made this a nice, pleasant read. If you just want a light, feel-good read similar to Addison Allen’s works, this is a good option.

I love Rick Bragg, who, among his numerous writing accolades, also has his essays featured in Southern Living every month. I’m only about a quarter of the way through this, but I am so totally in love with it. His writing brings to life the essence of the times and influences that defined my grandparents and parents (both good and bad). I started this on Mother’s Day morning, and it felt like a bittersweet balm on my soul. It reminds me of cooking with my mom, and all the stories she would tell of our grandparents and cousins, and the recipes that were simply learned by doing. I still suck at this whole grief thing, especially since I got the grief sandwich going on, but this book reminds me that the stories and traditions mean they will always be with me.

This orzo salad from Food Network definitely wins our dang tasty seal of approval. While I skip the red onion because picky eaters gonna pick, the recipe is perfect for a cool summer side dish (very important when we will reach nearly 100 degrees next week). A couple of notes on this one–I just mix the whole shebang together rather than this pointless staging. You would have to mix it before serving anyway, and artistic efforts are lost on The Heathens. Also, I have a possibly controversial view on pasta salad recipes. I always make 1.5 times of the dressing that any pasta salad recipe calls for, if not 2 times because they always end up drier than I want if I follow the recipe. Thus far, my over-doing-it on pasta salad sauce (for creamy-type sauces) hasn’t steered me wrong. You could also add rotisserie chicken to this for a complete meal, but if so, I would definitely double the sauce just to be safe. No one ever said “My Pasta Salad is too creamy.”¬† If they did, you should seriously side-eye them.

Time to fortify myself for the last week of school. That means whiskey, in case you didn’t know.

My Workbox 3.0 Review–What I Like, What I Learned, and Whether I Would Buy It Again

Sooooooooo, after lusting after the Workbox 3.0 from the Original Scrapbox, we finally bit the bullet and ordered one. Considering the hefty price tag on this item, it really is an investment that you need to feel confident about, and that you are making for the right reasons. Here are the contributing factors that tipped the decision to purchase this into the “yes” category.

  1. I am a big crafter. I knit, I sew a bit, I embroider, I recently fell down the Cricut rabbit hole, and I make candles.
  2. My yarn stash and craft supplies overtook my closet, under my bed, parts of the garage, the laundry room, and more. I spent far too much time digging through these areas to find stuff, which made projects take longer than necessary. It also sucked the fun out of the process
  3. I do not have a craft room or space for one in my house, nor do I have a desk or office.
  4. Any crafting required me to drag out sometimes heavy stuff to the kitchen table, which made the prospect of working on a project seem burdensome.
  5. I wanted my closet back and you will pry my yarn stash from me at risk to your own life, so don’t even suggest downsizing.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, as well as review research, I ordered one. I decided on the black beadboard model and added the crown accessory (which is the crown molding on top with an included light kit.)

The first thing you need to know is that it’s at least a six to eight week turnaround time from order to delivery, so you could be waiting two months to get the product. Secondly, this ships in a large crate which has to be delivered by a professional freight service, and they will only put it in your driveway. You have to be home for delivery, and it better not be on a rainy day, because you will need to crowbar open the crate, and then you must carry about 30 boxes and container stacks into your house asap. I highly encourage you to talk to the freight company when they call if you have any concerns about a giant truck being able to get to your location and offload a large crate without incident.

Also, while the assembly instructions are pretty good, you will still need several hours and you really can’t do this without two people, so plan ahead for that. We ran into problems with damaged pieces (which I will get into in a minute), but had we not, this still would have taken the Hubs and me about two days to assemble, working in 3-4 hour increments.

Let’s get into the concerning aspects of my experience. When I opened the crate, none of the plastic bins were broken, but most had scuff marks on them. They were not packaged separately in the crate, and were only protected by paper between them to prevent sticking in their stacks (though some still stuck together and had to be finessed apart). I am still amazed I managed to separate them without breakage. Most of the cabinet pieces appeared intact, but Scrapbox provides a jar of touch-up paint, so they clearly anticipate items getting damaged in shipping. Given the price-point, that was kind of a raised eyebrow moment for me.

With so many boxes and pieces, it was impossible for me to open and inspect every item immediately. The boxes alone overtook my entire dining room, so we just started with assembly. If you have a small home or space, this process will overtake much more area than you think, because you will have boxes and pieces everywhere.

The boxes are labeled very well with numbers, as are almost all of the pieces, so Scrapbox has put in a lot of effort to make assembly as easy as possible for a piece of this size. That was a plus. However, we got about 1/4 through the assembly when the first problem cropped up:

These two pieces of the center component were broken when we opened it’s box. I emailed customer service, and they sent replacements. However, this took a little over a week, so I had a 1/4 finished Workbox with parts spread across my house, making my dining room unusable and my bedroom a maze. When the pieces finally came in, we resumed assembly and made it almost to the finish line. I wish that they offered expedited shipping for these issues, because, as you will read, it only got worse.

Then, we unboxed the crown addition, and it was cracked and unusable. I emailed customer service again, and again, they sent a replacement (another week+ delay and house in chaos), and guess what?

That’s what I saw as soon as I opened the box. So, we are now nearly a month in of trying to assemble this thing (after waiting nearly two months for it), two broken crown units later, and I am not happy. My husband is VERY not happy. In addition to this, I will say that generally, my customer service experience was good, but I did have to prod for follow ups or answers as this dragged on, which did not help my frustration level.

The next crown unit came, and praise Jeebus, it was intact! We finally finished assembly and I could actually see the conclusion of the project that would never end. Now, let’s take a look at my Workbox 3.0:

Above is the unit fully open, with desk extended, and the light on. A quick note on the plastic bins–every single bin has optional inserts or dividers that are included. So, you can divide the taller bins into sections for even more storage options, and the inserts for the larger, flatter drawers are perfect for notions. I am very happy with the level of optional customization without additional purchases. I can constantly re-work the bins and shelves to adjust to my needs. The light in the crown kit is nice and bright, and I like the finished look of the crown molding. However, it’s up to you on whether that is enough reason to spend that much extra. After the drama of the crown kit, I am still getting over my frustration. However, I definitely needed the light in my darker room. Now, lets look into the specifics:

Before I open the cabinet fully, there’s space on the backside for my Cricut mats, which is handy. You can hang anything on these that is fairly flat. I used small Command hooks. I will also hang up my fabric rulers on the other door at a later date.

The right door has a panel of Velcro zipper pockets, and a series of larger and smaller shelves/bins. I am using them for yarn, and am still working on loading up the smaller bins.

This is the top of the center panel. I have my bins stuffed with my Cricut vinyl, embroidery supplies, fabric, glue guns, paper, and more. The drawers host miscellaneous stuff.

The desk folds out easily, though the legs can be tough to fold up if they are feeling sticky. There is plenty of room in the desk cubby for my Cricut Maker and my Cricut Easy Press. If you do Cricut or similar devices, this is a big bonus for accessibility.

Below the desk, I store my sewing machine, ball winder and swift, my knitting needle binder, and pattern magazines.

On the left door, I store more yarn, more needles, some works in progress, Cricut tools, paints, and still have plenty of room for more. There are optional rods for easy ribbon dispensing, but I don’t need those at this time. I am still working on organization, but I have plenty of room to grow and adjust.

**Note** I did not put my candle supplies in here. Between the scents, dyes, and waxes, these materials can cause a lot of damage if they co-mingle with other stuff, so I keep those in the laundry room and isolated.

I’ve spent a lot of time crafting the past couple of weeks, and here’s what I think.

Sooooo….Lets Review:

Pros

  • It’s basically a craft room in an armoire, because it looks nice and offers a functional workspace in smaller environments. This really was a perfect solution for me.
  • It solved almost all of my craft storage and workspace challenges.
  • Endless customization means this can change and evolve with my needs.
  • All the bins and dividers come with it, as well as the Velcro zipper pouches, so you are not just buying the cabinet, you are getting all of the components as well, which factors into the price value.
  • I can start and stop projects quickly and easily because my materials are within arms’ reach.
  • I get an incredible sense of satisfaction being able to see and access my materials in an instant, rather than dig storage bins from underneath my bed or risk a concussion pulling down my sewing machine from the closet shelf. I get a certain mental boost being surrounded by a perfectly organized craft room I can tuck away in seconds.
  • It makes me happy,

Cons

  • You could be looking at weeks/months from order to final assembly.
  • Scrapbox still needs to work on their quality control, especially when it comes to shipping. The jar of touch-up paint demonstrates that they know you will likely encounter damage. At this price point and time investment, I think they could do better, especially when it’s particle board and not solid wood.
  • Customer service starts great but may need prodding if your issue lasts longer than the initial encounter. Despite small delays, I believe the service is still good and my perceptions need to be taken in context of my extended experience and frustrations. Additionally, I wish they expedited shipping after my assembly dragged out so long due to damaged goods.
  • Delivery offers potential challenges to people who live in apartments, small homes, rural areas, and more. If delivery seems expensive, it’s because an actual freight company is delivering a giant crate on a forklift. You have to factor this in when considering your purchase.

My Advice

  • Pay attention to the dimensions and measure your space. This may be as wide and tall as many armoires, but it’s also twice as deep, not to mention the room needed to open the doors to full extension. If you need to, cut ribbon or paper strips to help you layout a visual example of the dimensions. It’s bigger than you think.
  • Take pictures of any and all damage, from the crate upon delivery to any damaged pieces you encounter. After the second crown was delivered, I had my camera ready and took numerous pictures of the box on my porch and it’s condition, the damage observed as soon as I opened the box, and the open and broken light kit within the box. This not only helped resolve the issue with Scrapbox, but they thanked me because it could help them with shipping insurance issues.
  • Do not assume you can assemble this by yourself or quickly. It’s a project, though it’s not difficult. Manage your assembly expectations and you will be ok.
  • Be honest about why you are buying this and the cost. For me, the cost really was worth the utility it brings, the solutions it offers, and I use it every day. I was lacking in storage and hating spending 10-15 minutes dragging out my equipment and materials across the house before even starting a project. If you have a viable solution for a craft space outside of this, I encourage you to explore that first (unless you have the expendable income to buy this at will). Don’t buy it because it looks cool. Buy it because the you are honest about the cost-benefit analysis. The cost for most people means that it needs to be a true solution, and not just a whim.

So, there ya have it. I bought the thing, I hated the process of finishing the thing, but I now love the thing. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help!

**just a reminder. My blog is not sponsored or monetized. This my own review of an item I paid for myself at full price. Original Scrapbox doesn’t know me other than the headache I brought to their customer service. My review is mine alone. If you see any ad on my blog, that’s from WordPress, and I have no control over whether or not you see an ad or its content. That’s free blogging, yo. **

Two More Finished Blocks for Knitterati 2018 KAL

So, just an update on my down the rabbit hole knit-a-long that I jumped into. I have completed two more blocks for the Knitterati 2018 KAL from Cascade Yarns. If you want info on the first block, check out my previous post. Three blocks in, and I can honestly say that I really am enjoying this project. Each block pattern is released in three week increments, and they only take a few days to complete. For me, these blocks are a nice break from my larger projects, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed this. I swing back and forth between being a product versus process knitter, which only verifies the fact that I’m a selectively schizophrenic fiber artist. Any-hoo, here are the squares:

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 2 (available for purchase on Ravelry or free to those who signed up for the KAL newsletter).

Yarn: Cascade Superwash 220 Merino in the Stonewash colorway.

Needles: US 6 and US 7

Notes and Mods: I knitted the pattern as written, and followed Cascade’s advice to pin to dimensions then spray with water to lightly block. This yarn cannot be wet-blocked on this project because it will grow like crazy. Additionally, the first block had a weird ratio of stitch versus row gauge, so I am sticking to the pin-then-spray blocking method after learning that lesson the hard way. While I am following the KAL to the “T,” I am not a fan of the border and the picked-up stitches. If I were to repeat this in the future, I would mod the pattern to do a garter or seed stitch border to create a more even finished product.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 3 (see previous block)

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in colorway Artic Ice

Needles: US 8 (see notes and mods)

Notes and Mods: I was initially confused about the increased needle size on this block, and wondered if it was just personal gauge issue between designers but, after knitting it, I can tell you, the increased needle size is NECESSARY on this block. The lattice pattern creates more tension on the fabric, as well as the bobbles. I’m not ever going to discourage swatching, but I can tell you that the needle size difference between this and the previous blocks makes sense, so whatever gauge you are working with, take note that a larger needle will probably be necessary on this block. Otherwise, I think the pattern is cute and it’s been added to the Knitterati FO box.

 

 

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Chocolate-Pecan Icing

I was missing Mom yesterday, so I decided to bake her chocolate sheet cake. This recipe is so dang easy, and the rich texture and decadent icing make it the ultimate comfort food when only chocolate will do. I used to inhale this for dessert with a big glass of milk, and it was one of the baking staples in my mom’s cooking routine.¬† She used to tell me that my grandmother would bake this cake every Friday so that she would have something chocolate for her five kids to snack on over the weekend.

I like it with the pecans, but you can leave them out of the icing or substitute them with another chopped nut of your choice.

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Chocolate-Pecan Icing

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Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 TBS cocoa

Icing

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 TBS cocoa
  • 1 box of powdered sugar (1 pound)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 TBS milk
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. Place butter, water, shortening, and cocoa in a medium saucepan. Cook mixture over medium-high heat until butter and shortening are melted and mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat and immediately pour cocoa mixture into the flour fixture, whisking until combined. Add the buttermilk mixture and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Prepare icing while cake cooks because you will pour it over cake when it comes out of the oven.
  4. To make icing, melt butter in saucepan on medium-low. Add cocoa and stir until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, stirring well. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Stir in pecans. Pour evenly over warm cake and it will set as it cools. Enjoy!