Monday, December 21, 2015

Crochet Mini Stocking POP!

Crochet Christmas Stocking Pop!

Eight years ago, I embarked on a pursuit to create hand-knit ornaments as gifts. That lasted exactly two pairs of mini-mittens, which both ended up on our Christmas tree.

Dova models mini-mittens

Yes, that's chubby Dova 8 years ago!

I gave up the notion of giving away hand-knit ornaments, but when I saw the Mini Stocking POP! pattern by Vickie Howell on Jo-Ann fabrics for crochet stockings, I was more than game to add to our own knit ornament collection.

Their pattern calls for two colors, but I simply used all the colors from the extra yarn for Dova's Crochet American Girl doll blankets and came up with the one you see here. It was fun and easy to make, a little weird around the heel, but no one's going to wear it, so no matter!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Anytime Mini Apple Pies

Mini apple pie and spoon

Thanksgiving is the time of year for those scrumptious pies, especially apple pie! But what if you want home-baked apple pie any time of the year without peeling six apples and having too many leftovers? Here's an easy way to make a single serving of fresh apple pie any time in minutes.

They key is to have some of the ingredients like the pie crust and sugar mixture handy for when that apple pie craving strikes. When making large pies, I always save the extra crust cut off from the edges. There are always several balls of crust kicking around my freezer. For the sugar mixture, I mix it up ahead of time and save it in a jar.

Apple pie sugar mix

Mix the following ingredients together for the apple pie sugar mixture (this is basically what I use for a full apple pie):
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • dash allspice
  • dash cloves
First, preheat the oven to 375°F, or for a toaster oven, 350°F (you'll see why in a few pictures). Roll out the pie crust with plenty of flour until it is about 1/8" thick. Then take a ramekin which you will use to bake your mini apple pie and cut out a round piece of crust.

Ramekin template

Peel and slice one apple and place it in the ramekin. Usually when making large pies, I use the wonder peeler, Starfrit Pro-Apple Peeler, but for one apple, I'll opt for an old-fashioned knife.

Spoon two to three tablespoons of the sugar mixture over the apple and stir to coat. Three tablespoons is the same ratio used for a full pie, and two tablespoons is the slightly healthier but no less tasty version ;).

Apples in ramekins

Fit the pie crust over the apples. Yes, only one crust for each pie, makes it healthier right?

Happy apple pies

Place the pies over foil in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes (they may bubble over), or until the crust is golden brown. These were done in a toaster oven, so they are a bit extra brown.

Mini apple pies in oven

Most importantly, enjoy!

Mini apple pie

Happy Thanksgiving! Save those pie crust pieces!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to Install a Swing Between Trees

Dova and Sam on the swing

When Dova first asked to get a platform swing for the yard, I immediately thought of this cartoon that always floated around the office.

See more on Know Your Meme

As a mechanical engineer with no marketing input but a tough customer, I was up to the challenge. Here were the requirements:
  • Big enough to hold at least two people
  • Can swing and spin
  • Mounted between two trees in the yard
  • Does not damage the trees (no drilled holes)
  • Has to be fun fun fun!!
Here's the swing that we ordered with the hardware (actual or similar) that we used (affiliate links - thank you!):

Web Riderz Children's Web Swing, Black

Erickson 34412 Pro Series Grey 1-1/4" x 12' Rubber Handle Ratcheting Tie-Down Strap, (Pack of 2)
The distance between our trees was 10 feet, and the circumference of the each tree was approximate 5 feet each, so we choose a set of two 12 feet tie-down straps, which covers the 20 foot total length (distance between trees plus the two tree circumferences). Each tie-down strap will wrap around a tree and connect to the other tie-down strap in the center, so select a total tie-down length according to your tree distance and circumferences. Make sure the rating of the straps are over 1000 lbs.

Marine Mooring 1/4" Eye to Eye Swivel 304 Stainless Steel Silver Tone
This swivel is relatively inexpensive compared to a ball bearing swivel.  With a little Teflon lubrication, it worked plenty well for this swing.

Shoreline Marine Plated Quick Link, 5/16-Inch
Use two of these 5/16" quick links.

National Hardware 3150BC 1/4" Zinc Plated Quick Link
Use two of these 1/4" quick links (or get two more of the larger size).

The hardest part is to figure out how high to install the tie-downs on the trees. As with most engineering projects, it's an iterative process. We must have tried at least 3 or 4 different heights! The bottom of the swing ended up just shy of 3 feet from the ground, fine for our kids to hop on by themselves.

First wrap the long strap of the tie-down around the tree.  Install one of the 1/4" quick links in the webbing loop used for the hook and then pull the long free end through the link. We first tried looping through the hook only, but that wasn't strong enough as the hook was just held together with the plastic coating.

Install the ratchet part of the tie-down to the end of the long strap so that it ends approximately halfway between the trees. Do the same with the other tree and then attach the two ends using one of the 5/16" quick links through the sewn loops. From the center quick link, attach the eye swivel and then the other 5/16" quick link below it. Finally, attach the rings of the swing to the lower quick link.

From the customer reviews of the swing, I made a few safety changes to the swing. The slip knots attaching the hanging ropes to the swing frame were changed to figure eight knots.

At the top, tie-wraps were added beneath the rings to prevent the swing from tilting side to side.

Here's the finished product:

Let's see if it meets specifications:
  • Big enough to hold at least two people - check!
Swinging in twos
  • Can swing and spin - check!
Reach for the sky
  • Mounted between two trees in the yard - check!
  • Does not damage the trees (no drilled holes) - check!
  • Has to be fun fun fun!!
Upside down fun

Oh yeah, we rocked it!
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