Visiting Cercadillo

My heart is singing today because I just got back from Cercadillo. I have been going out for the past couple of weeks to help the women of the village sew. What a beautiful ministry my friend Ina has with these women. They live in a campo outside of town with no electricity and only water accessible by a well put in by the ministry. The campo consists of very simple colorful wooden houses bleached by the sun that are scattered all along the dirt road and a colmado that does triple duty as the grocery store, hardware store and beauty salon. The bumpy dirt road is lined with people walking on foot as there are very few cars, if any at all. Moms carrying water buckets on their heads from the well, kids running barefoot with sticks chasing our jeep, a group of althetic boys jogging toward the baseball field wearing their hopes for being scouted by the American leagues with every flex of their muscles.

When we drove up to the ministry site today the Bible study was already in full swing, women sitting on green benches and yellow plastic chairs listening intently. A few children were running around from one mama to antother, dirty shirts and shoeless feet smiles a mile wide. The open air pavillion we meet under is painted bright yellow and turquoise with a concrete floor.

After the prayer time ends it's time to get busy and set up the sewing machines and work tables. Eight sewing machines are set up and plugged into the bright red Honda generator that soon hums to life. Everyone retrieves the projects leftover from the past week out of the big blue plastic bin and starts to get to work. Some are cutting out patterns, some are pinning their seams together and some are at the sewing machines. Patterns become bags before our eyes as these women use their new talents to create something they can sell. The money they earn from selling their bags will feed their families.

It's a beautiful thing to see these women learning a new skill that brings them a sense of confidence they can use this to change their future. Some sew with relative ease, while others struggle with the simple things like sewing a straight seam, but all are diligent and eager to do their work. The finished bags made from a pattern I helped create lie in a neat pile with colorful tags attached bearing the name of the person who made them. What a gift it is to help them for a few hours, using the basic sewing skills my grandmothers taught me, helping Yaquelin tear out a bad seam and then helping Dona Carmen (a sweet grandmotherly woman with weathered hands and cataracts) finish her bag on the sewing machine. I've learned new words to help them along...hilo (thread), tejiras (scissors), agujas (needles).

Today I walked away with a new bag sewn by Marleni and a necklace made by Yaquelin, everytime I use them I will think of their faces. But, as tired and sweaty I was returning to my home I wore a smile for the rest of the day because I knew my time spent there nourished my soul. Lending a few hours and a hand once a week is a small sacrifice, and yet I am doing something that is making an immediate difference in their lives. It's hard to say who is more blessed...me or those lovely ladies of Cercadillo.


So loving my new book!

Heather Ross' book Weekend Sewing is no disappointment, friends. Since I received her book for Mother's Day I have made three fun projects! Here is a picture of my new summer tablecloth and napkins. She has directions on how to hem the edge and miter corners to make a tablecloth and a pattern for napkins, which includes a dinner napkin (18X18) and a cocktail napkin (9X9). If made my napkins a little larger than a cocktail, but not as big as a dinner because I always feel like there is too much fabric to deal with in your lap.
I also completed this fun new blouse. I am wearing it today for the first time and am about to retreat to a pedicure as an escape from all the rain and while my son is enjoying day camp. So, I better go and enjoy as much of this precious me time as I can! Oh, and I modified the sleeves making them a little shorter to accomodate our tropical weather.

(OK...so the picture is blurry. I'm too lazy to retake it and want to get out the door. Forgive me.)



Headbands, handbags and friends.

Well, despite the fact that we have had spotty electricity over the past few days I have been able to get some good sewing time in...and some it with friends, which is even better. I usually sew alone during naptime, which is an escape of sorts for me. In fact, I often think a great name for a blog would be called something like "Naptime Projects" or "Hey, my kid was asleep and I did this!" I digress...anyway, it's a lot of fun to do a project together.

First, let me share a picture of a whole bunch of fun Heather Bailey Hooray for Headbands. Head over to her BLOG so you can whip a few up, too. So easy, so funny, literally made out of scraps. I leave the elastic out because a.) I don't like elastic in mine because it makes the headband slide up and b.) when you are making them for gifts, as these were, you never know the size of someone's head. These were for a couple of great friends and two daughters of one of them in Nashville who so extravagantly lavished me with a care package last week including magazines in ENGLISH, music for my Ipod and dried herbs I can't find here.

Next, I had a great afternoon with Gabriela, one of Big E's cousins visiting the capital from Santiago for some summer fun. We started out making cards with some assorted stamps and lots of little scraps of paper and ribbon. The real fun started when she picked out some fabric from my fabric pile and I taught her how to make one of my Cercadillo Bags. See HERE for the story of the bag. She was a natural on the sewing machine and I quickly named here the speed demon for her lead foot on the pedal. She loves her new bag and can't wait to tell everyone she made it. Maybe she will learn to love sewing as much as I do.

Then, if that wasn't enough, my friend Kirsten came over for our sewing date. We had plans to make the Summer Blouse from Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross. She loved my book so much that she put in a special order for one from her visiting mother-in-law, who as luck would have it was flying down for a visit two days later. So, side by side we got our blouses started, but had to postpone until Friday night because the power "se fue" or went out and dashed our plans. It's all I can do to keep myself from picking up where we left off and finishing because I can't wait to wear it I love it so much. Pictures of the finished products to come.

Enjoy your week. Here's hoping you all have a cool glass of lemonade you can drink on a breezy front porch or (what I am dreaming of) an air-conditioned living room.


Market Bag Pattern Giveaway.

Hey...look at this awesome bag!

Sew Take A Hike is selling the pattern to make this bag for yourself. What a great idea! AND, she is giving away one of the patterns and a bag in a drawing. Jump on over THERE to check it out and enter.
Guess what? I won! Yea!


Mango Lime Bread

As I was purusing THIS great blog about baking I found a fabulous recipe that is right up my alley (or island, if you will). I am always looking for fun recipes to use local ingredients and this one really delivers, as it uses mangoes (in season right now) and limes (we have limes, no lemons). I was a little curious about how it might taste, as the ingredient combination was an odd bunch of things to make into bread, but it is so yummy! I am serving it up to a couple of visiting friends with cafe con leche. Wish you could join us.

Also, if you are up for a little mango fun, check out my FAMILY BLOG about how to eat a mango.

How to Make Brown Sugar (the old fashioned way)

I have become a resourceful woman since moving to a 3rd World Country (I like to call it an emerging country). Partly because of cost and party because of limited resources I find myself making a LOT of things from scratch that we readily have available in the U.S. One such thing is brown sugar. The funny thing about not being able to find brown sugar down here is that all brown sugar consists of is white refined sugar with molasses mixed in, AND raw sugar (which we have readily and cheaply available by the pound) is actually made here. I thought I could use the raw kind in my recipes calling for brown sugar, but it doesn't react the same way. For one thing, the crystals are a lot coarser, so it doesn't break down as easily when you cook leaving your baked goods a little cruchier and gritty in texture. You would think brown sugar would be manufactured here, along with the other sugar options we have like raw sugar, refined sugar, and powdered sugar. Well, after a little research I discovered how easy it is to make brown sugar and my problem is solved. AND, I can make cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, and lots of other goodies requiring brown sugar!

For all who want to know how easy it is to make it, follow along:

First, measure out 2 cups of white sugar into a fairly deep bowl with a flat bottom. You will need the extra room for work space.

Next, measure out 3 teaspoons of molasses.
Then, begin working the molasses in with a pastry cutter or a large fork until blended.

That's it! Here's what you end up with:

So easy, works in a pinch when you are in the middle of baking and discover you ran out, and it's economical as one jar of molasses will make at least 100 batches.

NOTE: The ration of sugar to molasses is 1 cup sugar to 1-2 teaspoons of molasses, depending on how dark you want your brown sugar. I use 1 cup sugar to 1 1/2 teaspoons of molasses.


Look what I bought.

I took a trip to my favorite (and one of the only good fabric stores in this country) today with my friend Kirsten. We have a sewing date set for next week to sew a goodie from my new book Weekend Sewing. Here's what I came home with. What do you suppose I'll be making with all of this goodness? Well, you'll just have to stay tuned and come back to see!

Chinola Heaven.

That's what I'm in these days. Chinola is what they call Passion Fruit in Spanish and it's in season right now. I thought my favorite fruit was mango, but now I don't know because I am loving the sweet, tangy and slightly tart citrusy taste of Chinola. It's a bit like a mix between a mandarin orange and a mango. You can order jugo de Chinola at most restaurants and up until this week that is how I enjoyed it I was a little intimidated by the fruit not knowing exactly how to pick them out at the supermarket and how to extrac the juice, as it is filled with a kind of slimy goo and black seeds. Well, like most things in my life the fear was unfounded as they are about the easiest fruit to make juice from.

A ripe Chinola looks almost rotten, as it is slightly discolored (most fruit here is because they don't use as many pesticides...can we all say yea for that!) and it's really bumpy and misshapen. Here is what they look like when you buy them:

All you do is cut them open and scoop out the flesh, seeds and all, into a blender:

Add water and some sugar, and strain after it's liquified and this is the end product:

Can I get an umbrella with that?

After enjoying my first homemade batch I was inspired to add a little "passion" to my 4th of July dessert. I made a chocolate bundt cake with a chinola icing. It was yummy.

To make your own "Jugo de Chinola":

1. Scoop out the insides of 4-5 chinola

2. Add fruit and 3X's that amount of water to blender with about a 1/4 cup sugar (you can adjust according to your taste)

3. Mix until most of the seeds have become pulverized

4. Strain into your pitcher and add about as much water as you have juice

5. Enjoy a true taste of the Caribbean


Mother's Day Gifts.

Guess what came today? The rest of my Mother's Day gift from my wonderful husband who allowed me to order whatever I wanted and generously paid the shipping to get in down here. You might remember that part of my gift was a quilting board with rotary cutter. BUT, the other half are these two items...

Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross and The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule. So many ideas of fun things to make that I can't wait to get started. With these two books and a Diet Coke, can you guess what I did during naptime? Of course, read through them!

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