December 31, 2009

Scratch That

See, the thing about me is that I have CCDD (Craft Completion Deficit Disorder). I start on a craft, I get all excited about a project and then something else comes along and I'm on to that. It's a problem, but sadly, there is no known cure.

But seriously, I really was all excited about the skirt project and then three things happened that have me going in different directions. First, after looking at the photos I took of the skirt and the jacket yesterday it occurred to me that, while I like the jacket fabric for a skirt, I REALLY like the fabric that is currently my table runner and which I bought WAY too much of because it was wool and on the remnants table. Yes, I could make BOTH skirts but then I got a rumbling in my brain that involved an reupholstering idea for the dining room chairs and old sweaters and maybe old wool jackets, but more on that in the next few weeks. And then the third thing happened.

I took the kids to goodwill yesterday to cruise the racks looking for some old sweaters (see above). Incidentally, I gave each of the kids a dollar to buy whatever they wanted and Evie found a pair of Ladybug wings which led to ecstatic jumping and cries of "I have lady bug wings, and I have a lady bug tutu dress (she mean her Minnie Mouse outfit but hey, red with white spots, red with black spots, what's the difference?) I can be a lady bug SUPERHERO!" I think The Incredibles is rubbing off on her. She calls it a girl movie, which I have absolutely no problem with, I'd much rather she thinks of that as a girl movie than Cinderella, but it's still kind of a stretch.

Anyway, back to Goodwill. After the ladybug wing dance and Briton choosing a truly horrible reindeer toy for his purchase, I found this.

I'm not sure why but the guy only charged me $2 for it instead of the whopping $3.95 on the tag, making it even more of a find. But why do I need this funky weird bench? Well, I'll tell ya.

When Evie turned two she got this beautiful vintage bedroom set for her big girl bed. We spotted it in the basement of a house were were looking at and the owner offered to sell it. It had been hers and although the dresser was long gone, the vanity was in excellent shape and the bed was mendable. I had always wanted a vanity as a little girl so I was really excited for Evelyn to have it, even though it would be years before she really used it.

Fast forward to this summer. When we moved into this house I realized that her bedroom set just wouldn't fit if the kids were going to share a room so we put the bed in the basement and the vanity in our room (I almost feel like cackling an evil laugh along the lines of "it was my plan all along! Hahahaha! But it wasn't so I cant take credit)

So now we have this vanity in our room where I keep all my getting ready junk and some other stuff that used to reside in the top drawer of our dresser (we have no dressers now, just shelves and baskets. I'm undecided about that at the moment, we'll see) And I've been using the chair that I recovered and repainted for my desk because, well, it matches the room. But Will has repeatedly complained about the chair because it does not push under the vanity and he runs into it all the time. I could comment on that being an age problem on his part, but I wont.

I've puttered at antique stores for a vanity bench but since it's not anywhere near a priority I couldn't justify spending the kind of money they wanted on it. But $2, even $4, that, I could do. So the jacket skirt has been set aside for another day and the bench has taken it's place. I have the foam for the seat and the stain for the wood so all I need is some fabric for the cushion. The hunt is on.

December 30, 2009


Although Christmas has passed us in a flurry of snow and freezing temperatures, our two previous winters in Charlottesville has taught me that the coldest months are yet to come. And while I'm not the biggest fan of the many drafts that we're finding throughout the house, I don't really mind the cold weather. I'm a wool kind of girl. I look forward to the cooler weather every year so that I can deck myself out in wool skirts and tights and socks and sweaters. Especially skirts. I can never have too many wool skirts. Not that I really have that many, I really only have three that I wear regularly (and by regularly I mean all the time) but I'd like to have more. Which was why my thoughts drifted straight to "skirt!" when I saw the tweed jacket at Goodwill a few weeks ago.

So although my time would undoubtedly be better spent today hunting down the drafts that seem to follow me wherever I go this week, instead I puttered with patterns and got started on turning my new jacket into a new skirt.

About a month ago I picked this book up after reading some glowing reviews on it. I haven't really made much in the way of clothing for myself for years. Between the cost of patterns, the cost of the amount of fabric needed to make the patterns and the fact that I have a little girl who is much more fun to sew for, generally it's easier and cheaper to just buy what I want. But I liked the idea of tailoring patterns to the style and fit I wanted. And since the tweed coat was all of $3.50, it doesn't seem like much of a risk to give it a whirl.

What I'd really like is to make a new version of my favorite skirt. My mom picked this skirt up from an OxFam (kind of like a nice Goodwill) when they were living in London while my dad taught there for a term. Who knows how many seasons ago it is since I've had it several years now and it was obviously used then. But I love it. It fits perfectly, washes well, is warm and on top of all that, its my favorite color (brown, how boring am I?)

Sadly, after making a pattern for the skirt I realized that the jacket just didn't have enough fabric to make the slightly fullish skirt. Sigh. On to attempt #2.

The SewU skirt pattern looks more promising, I think that it might just fit onto the pieces of coat. Now I just have to decide if it really is cheaper to fix my trusty old (but pretty much unusable at this point :( ) machine or just get a new one. That is, if I can even find a sewing machine repair person, which so far, I cant. I'll have to do something quick though, because I can feel my fingers itching with the prospect of this skirt. And I dint think even I am up for hand stitching an entire skirt....

December 29, 2009

Boozy Pears

Like you need more things to indulge on. But these are way yummy.

Over the past few weeks I've seen a recipe for Vanilla Roasted Pears floating around the blogosphere. They popped up in at least three of the blogs I read so who knows how many people out there are drooling over them. And for good reason. Just the idea makes my mouth water. But alas, mid snow storm and needing something to take to a party one evening, I realized that, while i had the pears, I had no vanilla beans. At least no whole, unused vanilla beans. What I did have was an old bottle with six or so de-seeded vanilla pods bobbing around in a few cups of rum.

This all started when Will and I were pooooooor and needed Christmas gifts. And because even when your poooooor just out of college students you still somehow manage to have enough money to afford booze and beer, we decided to make our own vanilla rum and a triple sec-ish drink called "44". The "44" was a little complicated involving 44 cloves poked into an orange and dunked in a bottle of vodka with 44 sugar cubes for 44 days. We only just made it in time to set for the month and a half it needed before bottling it up for our friends.

The vanilla rum was much easier. Throw a vanilla bean - split down the middle - and a handful of brown sugar into a bottle of rum and give it a shake and a few days to ripen. After that Christmas it occurred to me that the same thing could probably be done with empty pods, the way you make vanilla sugar. And so started the empty pod in a rum bottle tradition. Now I'm not going to lie. I have no idea how long some of those pods have been in there. Every time I use a vanilla bean for something, and sadly, that's not that often, I toss in the pod, top up the bottle, shake it up and back in the cupboard it goes. We mix it with drinks and use it in place of vanilla in recipes and generally enjoy it when we can.

For this dish I peeled and cored (a teaspoon works great to get that neat little circle in the core - and don't forget to cut out the straight part of the core that leads to the stem) four Bartlet pears and put them cut side up in a casserole dish. In addition to the half cup of rum, I mixed in 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 2 T lemon juice, a shake of cinnamon and half a stick of melted butter. The whole thing was drizzled over the pears and baked at 375 for about 50 minutes, turning the pears over half way though.

Although these would be great over almost everything from oatmeal to ice cream, we ate them sliced on crackers over some kind of gooey cheese and it was lovely. The best part is that, while they are certainly a sweet, they are not overpowering. In fact, they are almost light, which makes a nice change from all the dense and sticky sweet (but no less wonderful) treats that abound during the holidays. Now I just have to decide, would it be so wrong to make them for breakfast this week? Nah, I didn't think so either.

December 28, 2009

Taming the Chaos

It happens every year.

I'm so flippin excited for Christmas that I just cant wait. I play music and decorate and bake and generally enjoy myself from the time the table is cleared on Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. But despite my love for the baking and the tree and the music and the family time, when it's over, I'm done.

This year we took our tree down Christmas night. Not because we were in much of a hurry but because it looked like this. I'm not kidding you. The tree was so dry and had lost so many needles that it screamed fire hazard and I was afraid to even keep the lights on for long so out it went. By the time we got it through the door it was totally bare of needles, and the pile of them next to the fireplace where the tree had been, well, let's just say it took more than one (or two or three) scoops with the dust pan. Actually, I kind of like it bare. I was almost tempted to bring the naked tree back in and redecorate it. Almost. But as I said. When I'm done, I'm done.

I spent today starting to control the chaos that Christmas always brings. The laundry piled up while I hung out with my parents. The bathroom went uncleaned despite the five adults, two children, three dogs and a cat that spent the last week here. The toys the kids received sat in piles around the house, or maybe I should say moving from pile to pile as they were played with and left when some other new thing beckoned.

And now that the house is somewhat back in order I have the urge to do a big, room by room, whole house clean. If I don't get distracted or worn out that will keep me busy for the next week and a half. Cleaning out closets and under beds between growing crystals with Briton and changing the hair bobbles in Evelyn's hair (her new obsession, so cute. Thanks MaGrand!)

Tonight I'm finishing up an experiment with Plasti-dip (you want to play with liquid plastic too, I know you do!) And tomorrow I'll pull down the decorations and get started on the cleaning. It's a little sad to see the holiday go, but, nutcase that I am, I also get a little buzz out of the idea of getting the house really clean. I should probably be committed for that. But then who would keep my house in order while I was away at the loony bin?

December 24, 2009

Holiday Baking: the final edition (well, maybe)

The last two days my mom and I have been baking up a storm. Although I love to cook with the kids, it's even more fun to bake with an adult, especially an adult who like to bake as well. My countertops, which have always seemed plentiful, are looking crowded as pans of sugar cookies cool and strips of wax paper hold drying treats. The marshmallows that I made back in August reappeared, this time dipped in chocolate or rolled in toasted marshmallows, or sometimes both. Will's new favorites were made again, this time in larger amounts. Sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, lemon butter cookies, two kinds of fruitcake, brioche.... the amount of butter used is almost embarrassing. Almost. But not quiet.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, or Happy Winter, or Joyful New Year, or whatever you celebrate. Have a happy one. And eat lots of sweets.

December 22, 2009

Happy...uh, what holiday is it?

My children have a... let's say, slightly confused idea of winter holidays. Evelyn will argue to the death that angles are not angles, they are fairies (understandable) Briton asked me last week if Hanukkah was countdown to Solstice or Christmas. He's also been known to call Solstice Christmas Eve One. Humm. OK, so maybe the idea of exposing the kids to a wide variety of religions is a little confusing. But eventually, they'll get it. And let's face it, to kids, it's all about opening the presents.

Yesterday was Solstice. We don't have a huge number of traditions for Solstice but we do open one gift and I make a Yule Log. My Yule Log making actually goes way back to high school when a friend and I made (somewhat successfully) a Bouche de Noel for a French assignment.

Being a rolled cake, Yule Logs aren't easy, but given the fact that they are often, if not always, liberally coated in some kind of frosting, means that even if you screw up totally and end up with broken layers all over, you can cover things up and end up with a pretty little cake (until you cut it, but then you just smear the frosting across the cut to distort the lack of swirl.

I've actually gotten fairly good at rolling a cake without breaking the layers, but only after several tries and mostly due to a hot wet towel trick that I'll talk about in a sec. For yesterdays cake I was feeling kind of pumpkiny so I made a genoise batter for the cake and mixed whipped cream, pumpkin puree, sugar and pumpkin pie spice until I liked the flavor. Given the chance to do it all again (and I will next year no doubt) I'd use powdered sugar so the filling was a little smoother. Not that it wasn't pretty yummy as it was, I'm just saying.

So the genoise batter is a little fussy, but makes a nice light, not to sweet cake. The trick to rolling (or my trick to rolling I guess) is to cook in in a pan lined with parchment that I pull right out of the pan once it's cooked. While the cake is still hot, another layer of parchment goes on the top of the cake and a towel that has been dipped in hot water and wrung out goes on that. Roll the whole thing up and wrap in a tea towel and allow to cool. The hot towel seems to steam the cake into place and makes room for the cream filling later. When the filling is ready and the cake is cool, carefully pull the paper (and the towel) off, fill with cream and re-roll, covering the whole thing with cream (ideally so it looks log-ish) I'd show you a photo except that my camera cord has mysteriously vanished in the Holiday Chaos.

December 20, 2009

The world stood still

This morning Nigella and I braved the snow drifts and the even taller snow plow mounds and went for a much needed walk downtown. It might have been a distant country lane for all the life we saw. A few brave (or foolish) souls crept down the main roads in underused four wheel drives. A couple plodded by on cross country skis, a handful of people were out walking stir crazy dogs like me.

It was absolutely quiet. Our normally bustling downtown mall, a pedestrian haven, should be full of last minute shoppers, movie goers, diners picking up a pint of Revolutionary soup or a stack of dumplings or having a lazy sit down lunch. And it wouldn't take long before the clamor of downtown life began again. In fact, by the time I rounded the corner near our house there were already signs of people stirring from their homes, clearing off their cars, digging out their stoops, beginning to clear away the almost blizzard of 2009.

By the time I made an early afternoon trek back into downtown for some milk, non four wheel drive cars were swooping by on the mostly cleared roads and the small market was full of shoppers. The peace of the morning had gone. It's a good thing. The stranded motorists in hotels all over town and the holiday travellers and my parents who are, at this moment, driving from Missouri to spend Christmas with us will be happy that the snow is already starting to fade from the roads and sidewalks. But the utter quiet that the snow brought was nice too. If you had no where to go other than a stroll up the road with your dog or a trek into the yard to make snowmen, it was nothing short of perfect, especially when it comes in such small doses.

December 19, 2009

And then it snowed and snowed

The weathermen laughingly told us that their programs were predicting 12 inches of snow. "But that would be very unlikely" The reality was going to more like 6 inches, maybe 10 if it were crazy, record breaking, insane snow.

We're at 30 inches according to our deck table.

I love the weather here (apart from the way to hot days in August) because nothing sticks around for long. There are no 90 day stretches of triple digit heat or unbroken days of rain. Just about the time when you are sick of something, it changes. It snows a couple of times a year. Slows things up a bit, melts and then something else comes along. This time it will be a little different. We are supposed to have temps in the 30s all week, which means it wont melt away quickly the way it usually does. And we might, might even have a you know what kind of Christmas. Maybe. If we don't say it out loud.

The downside is that my parents were supposed to drive here today, which, of course, they did not (we're keeping our fingers crossed that they can start tomorrow and get here Monday) But the upside has been that school was already out, it was the weekend, most of our shopping is done for the holidays and so we were free to play. And play we did. We headed up the street for some snowing and ended up staying all day. We brought bread, they made soup, someone brought snacks, I hauled up some of this - which had not cooled for 12 hours as directed but was still yummy. We played cards and games and the kids watched movies and cut out dolls and cars that I printed up form this amazing flickr set. What could be better.

Now we are home, trying (unsuccessfully so far) to hook up the old Nintendo that my brother sent Briton so we can play Duck Hunt and Gumshoe. Evelyn is asleep on the couch in her princess gown because, well, that's how she rolls. Jelly is curled up beside me as I type, Will and Briton are digging in the power cord box to find the cord that might make this game thing work. It's a good kind of day.

December 17, 2009

More Felt Fun

Yesterday morning, when I was supposed to be writing four articles (wild yeast collecting anyone?) that were due that afternoon I was instead playing around with another felted sweater. I know - procrastination - what can I say, I'm a last minute girl.

I'd actually felted two lambswool sweaters that I'd found while perusing the Goodwill a few weeks ago. I also, by the way, got a men Harris Tweed blazer for $3.50. HARRIS TWEED! I haven't yet decided what to do with that, but I'm thinking skirt, if my sewing machine ever recovers... But back to the sweaters. After hacking off the sleeves for fingerless gloves and the bottom for an as yet undetermined rectangular project, I used the scraps to make this uber quick flower.

Five rough circles (I used a ribbon spool as a pattern). And yes, there are seven there, but I only used five....

Two cut to make thin petals.

Two little slits in the center of each, run a twist tie through and done.

For kicks I pinned it to the other sweater which, once felted, was just Evelyn's size. As a connoisseur of flowers as accessories she loved it and pointed it out to the grocery store clerk, the Lowes key guy and everybody we passed on in the parking lot until she forgot she had it on and went about the rest of her day. As a lady should. I'm on the hunt for a big red button to sew into the center but for now, I like it the way it is. Sort of carnationy. And if she looses it, well, there are always more wool scraps....

I've also had a few requests for fingerless glove instructions. Let me tell you, this is just about the easiest thing you can make. The super simple version is to cut the sleeves off a felted sweater, pull them over your hands so the wrist part sits at your knuckles, mark where your thumb should go and then cut a slit a little longer than your thumb is wide.

The harder version (which is still ridiculously easy) is to then turn the sleeves inside out, mark where you need to stitch in to make them tighter around the wrists. Take them off, sew, remove excess fabric and you have fitted sleeveless gloves.

* I prefer to have the seam of the sleeve along the bottom of the glove rather than the side. If you want to do this, just make sure that's where the seam is when you are marking and cutting the thumb hole.

It's a great - stitch while you watch TV- kind of project and I finished them up last night doing just that (hence the dim photos, sorry). I'm hoping to move onto the rectangle tonight. I have a few ideas but since some of them are Christmas gift related, any successful projects will have to wait till after the holidays.

December 16, 2009

Before and After

It was pointed out to me that I neglected to put up a full lenght "after" photo of the lockers. So, here we go. A before and after of the same(ish) shot.

Before lockers

After lockers

I'm still looking for a spot for my lovely little organizer.....

December 15, 2009

Pantry Pantry Pantry

Until we moved to Charlottesville, I'd never actually had a kitchen with a pantry. Obviously I'd had kitchens with shelves and storage, although some of those have been very much on the small side. But I'd never had a dedicated pantry space until we moved into the house across the street. There we had a large, double-door, slide out pantry and it was heaven. But pantry's are one of those things, like dishwashers and garbage disposals and a washer and dryer of your own that, once had, are hard to live without again. Not impossible, mind you, but once you've tasted the freedom of scraping your dinner dishes right into the sink and flipping a switch (a garbage disposal is on the list BTW) it's just no fun to go back to scraping into the garbage.

So you could say I was a leetile excited when we finished up the pantry Sunday night. Finished, is of course, relative in our house. There is still trim to add and we had shelves but no brackets, but for all intents and purposes, we had a pantry. Yesterday flew by in a whirl of I don't even know what and I never had a chance to go hunt up some brackets but today I was at Lowes bright and early(ish) so I could get to work on moving out of the tiny, cramped space we have been using and into my brand spanking new and much bigger space.

Once the island cupboards were cleared out I was able to shift some of the other kitchen things around so that we no longer have to pull out tumbling piles of plastic IKEA cups to get to the slow cooker or the yogurt maker. And while I realize it wont last, I'm far to lazy with things that cant be seen to keep everything tidy all the time, I love having everything straight and orderly.

I also scrabbled up some magnetic spice jars for the inside of the door to the "baking locker". Because it was an experiment I only made four but now that they are done I'm planning on heading back to the grocery store for more of the cute, squat little jars I found before they run out for the season. Whoo-hoo organization!

December 14, 2009

Woosh, and now no fish stink

So I cooked FISH last night (at 11:45. I know, terrible, but we forgot to eat dinner - dont worry, we DID feed the kids- and after finishing the hood/locker install were starving. By the way - salmon smeared with Red Hill Farm Creamy Dill Dip - yumm!) and my house did not smell like Pike's Place Market. Amazing! I love my hood. Oh, and the husband who put it up.

Now excuse me while I go fill up my new pantry......

December 12, 2009

Christmas Baking: Chocolate Dipped Orange Peel

A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at candied orange peel and ever since, the three big mason jars of sparkly peel has been glaring at me every time I take out a platter or jar of jam from my basement pantry. "Why aren't you eating us? You know you want to!" they scream. And of course, I do want to eat them. They are a perfect blend of sour peel and crunchy sugar, sweet but not overwhelming. But I've resisted (for the most part) I wanted to save them for dipping in chocolate.

I talked before about the Christmas my family spent in London when I was a tween. Although I'm sure my parents version of that trip bares little resemblance to my memories of a charming, Dickensonian (in a good way) city, dusted with snow and filled with the wonders of Harrods Food Hall and Fortnum and Mason's colorful displays, I know that we all came away with an abiding love of Terry's Chocolate Oranges.

Back then you couldn't find a Terry's Orange in the states for love or money and so we were all mezmorized by the foil covered confection. My brother, who would have been about five at the time, thought it was great fun to get to bang your candy on the table as hard as possible. Smashing thing with the full permission of your parents is probably every five year old boys dream. But the real wonder lay in the magic combination of chocolate and orange. Who knew such a fabulous thing existed?

Now a days you can find Terry's Oranges in every Christmas Candy section from Safeway to CVS.I still look forward to finding one in my stocking every Chrismas morning, but I also love to try other versions of that same magical combination. Last year it was Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake topped with Chocolate Ganache (which I made again last week, you cant go wrong with it!) and this year it will be chocolate dipped candied orange peel. A few go a long way so starting with those 4-5 large oranges and taking into account a few snacks and bloopers, you should have enough dipped peel for about 15 little baggies of treats.

Melt your chocolate (I like the dark chocolate made for dipping available in craft stores) in a double boiler, stirring as you go and removing from heat (but leaving over the hot water) once you have a smooth consistency.

Dip each piece of peel about half way in the chocolate, checking the sides to make sure the coverage is pretty even. Shake or tap off the excess chocolate and set on waxed paper to dry. Depending on how warm your house is that could take anywhere from five minutes to 15, I let mine set for about half an hour before bagging just to be sure they chocolate was nice and hard.

Because they will keep, dipped for a week or two these are great to make on a quiet afternoon to have ready for a quick holiday gift, if you can keep yourself from eating them in the meantime. So far, keeping them in a paper bag so I cant SEE them every time I walk by is working for me, but you never know when temptation might strike.

December 10, 2009

Little Miss Muff(et)

Evelyn refuses to wear gloves and mittens. Actually, I should say she refuses to keep them on. She'll put them on (sometimes) but the minute she walks out the door she touches something wet or cold or dirty or pretty or anything and off come the gloves.

When Briton was littl I had a "fine, be cold" attitude about gloves. And generally, when he got cold, he would put them on. I'm not sure if it's just sheer stubbornness or what, Evelyn never seems to reach that point. Her fingers will be blue and STILL she will not keep gloves on. So for the last two winters I've solved this dilemma by making her a muff, or as she calls it, a "hand pocket"

The funny thing is I think people think I'm dolling her up, she does look a little like a Victorian doll with her little wool coat and her muff, but it's truly a practical thing on my part. She can pick things up, eat a snack, run her fingers through the snow and then put her little hand back in to warm it up. No gloves lying forgotten on the sidewalk, no chapped hands. Briton has even asked if there is a boy version (cant think of one one other than just pockets)

And as foofy as they look, they are really easy to make. Now, these aren't sell them in the store perfect and I'm probably constructing them all wrong, but it's a pattern that has worked for me. Both the muffs I made previously were used daily the last two winters and were only replaced because somewhere in the move I misplaced them.

Cut two 18 by 10 inch rectangles. One out of something fuzzy and warm (I've used fake fur and fuzzy blanket materials) and the other out of a sturdier fabric. I did make one last year totally out of fur but it was much harder to sew and a little over the top looking. Twill, corduroy or upholstery weight fabrics work well. For this muff I cut the outer fabric a little larger because the fur was stretchy so it needed some play.

Lay the fabrics so the right sides face each other and stitch up the long side. Since my sewing machine is kaputt I did this by hand while we watched a movie the other night. But on a machine it would take less than five minutes.

Turn the fabrics (now a tube) right side out and fold one end down a little so that you have a nice looking edge. Loop the other end around to form a muff shape and tuck the raw end into the folded end. Hand stitch both sides closed (a machine doesn't really work here) and run a piece of ribbon through the muff, adjusting the length so that it sits at a comfortable height when the ribbon hangs around the neck.

The size here is, of course, for my three year old so you may need to adjust. For the width, have your child clasp their hands together and measure from wrist to wrist then add about two inches. The length should be close to double the width.

Dust Dust Everywhere

My house is so unbelievably dusty right now.... I almost wish it wasn't sunny, it make the dust all the more visible. Sigh... It will be worth all the mess in the end...Right?

Meanwhile I'm trying to come up with a Christmas card idea. My original idea isn't panning out so I'll have to keep trying. I did, however end up with a cool circle cutter due to my first attempts. I love new craft toys. If I can just get the darn thing to work smoothly.

December 9, 2009


Yesterday I spent the afternoon baking gingerbread. Well, re-baking gingerbread. Last week our cub scout troop made gingerbread in a jar to take home as a Christmas gift. And can I tell you that baking with four boys (and a three year old sister) offered all kinds of hilarity. We learned some valuable lessons, such as what happens if you turn the mixer on to the highest setting while someone is dumping in the flour and what cinnamon tastes like if you eat it on it's own.

After they left I put them in the oven to bake so I could hand them out this week. When I came back to check on them I found the oven off and the cakes half cooked. The power had flickered at some point and the oven had not come back on. So I scooped out the gummy mess, washed the jars and set them aside to make a new batch in time for the next meeting. This was only my second foray into baking in a jar, which I thought was a fun little holiday gift, and my first attempt at baking gingerbread.

I don't actually remember eating real gingerbread as a kid. Cookies, yes, but not the bread. In fact the first time I remember having it was the first Christmas after Will and I were married. We had driven up to Mt. Hood for some snowshoeing around Triangle Lake and were wet, cold and starving when we stopped at a tiny little restaurant called The Soup Spoon. The menu had two or three kinds of soup and gingerbread for dessert. It was warm and gooey and sweet and spicy and perfect after a long day of tromping through the snow.

After that we always tried to go to The Soup Spoon on our frequent treks into the mountains but rarely found it open. And in the year since I'd almost forgotten about gingerbread until I was fiddling around with the whole cake in a jar thing. Now I'm on the hunt for the perfect gingerbread recipe (the one I made with the kids was good, but not very spicy since I didn't think the boys would like that).

As for the Cake in a Jar, they turned out very cute. You can really bake any quick bread or cake recipe (or boxed mix) in a canning jar. In my limited experience, the straight sided style is better since it makes removing the cake easier. Just mix up your batter, grease the jars, fill them half way and bake as directed. If they poof up over the top a little you can ease it back down a bit and use wax paper with the ring instead of the metal lid that comes with the jar. Top them with fabric and ribbon and poof! Insta-gift for coworkers and neighbors.

December 8, 2009

The wall came tumbling down (and the dust came billowing up)

Will and I are masters of starting new projects before old ones are anywhere near complete. This is why, despite the fact that the bookshelves have been up for two months, we are still missing the end shelf under the window and the heating vent behind the couch is, as yet, unpainted. We’ll get to it. I’m sure of that. But for now it will sit unfinished while we move onto new and exciting things.

This weekend was no different. Remember when I said the hood would be finished early next week? Yeah, still not done. It’s always too cold or too wet or too late to cut the hole in the exterior wall. And until that is done, well, the hood is still in limbo.

Saturday would have been a good opportunity to finish the wretched thing, well, other than the snow, but it could have been done. But did we do it? No. Instead we blew out the wall between the kitchen and the bathroom for the pantry, despite the fact that company was coming for lunch on Sunday.

“we could finish the hood.”
“We SHOULD finish the hood!”
“But it is snowing.”
“And really cold out.”
“And since taking down the wall will take a whole day and the hood will only take an hour or two we really should take advantage of the weekend.”
“Your right, we should. The hood can wait till tomorrow.”
“And we can get everything cleaned up for lunch tomorrow anyway.”

Right. There is still dust EVERYWHERE in my house. I keep mopping the floors and still they look coated in dusty, cement colored mud. But we did get the wall out. And we did get it, relatively, cleaned up. We did not get the hood in. That’s at the top of the to-do list tonight. If it’s not sleeting ice by the time Will gets home. Which it might.

On the up side we are well on our way to a kitchen pantry, which just tickles me pink. I cant even tell you how much I look forward to my baking equipment being in the island, where I, I don’t know, do a lot of my baking! Just the idea that I’ll be able to buy more than one can of soup at a time is strangely thrilling. Weird what I find thrilling isn’t it. It’s like the Christmas that I got a vacuum and was really excited until I realized how lame it was that a 20 year old would be THAT excited about a vacuum. What can I say, I’ve always been a little odd.

But back to the wall. It was not (thankfully) a load bearing wall so, other than the horrific mess that ensued, it came out fairly easily. Last night we put the lockers in and build the wall back in around them and tonight (barring sick children, headaches, working late, dogs knocking their canine tooth out-seriously, she did that yesterday!- or any other number of interruptions that could befall us) we will start drywalling the thing in. After we finish the hood. And go to cub scouts. And eat dinner. And make a new-because-we’re-coming-down-to-it before Christmas to-do list. But it’s doable, right?

Now I just have to find a new home for my organizer. It's the one casulty of the wall turned to pantry and I'm a little sad about it. Not sad enough not to do it. But it was the perfect spot to keep all the keys and mail and notes and phones being charged. Three days it's been down and they are all scattered around the house. So much for organization..

December 7, 2009


Evelyn said "mommy! You have to come check this out" (where does she get these sayings?)

Briton came down bleary eyed and asked if he was dreaming, then informed us that it wasn't supposed to snow until Dec. 21 (because that's when winter starts, duh mom)

Will said we could probably knock out the wall since we'd be home all day.

My kind of Saturday!
Photos of the hole on the way.....

December 3, 2009

Quick curtain (sort of) fix

I'm having this problem with my living room curtains. The problem, is that I hate them. And the worst of it is that I talked Will into them because, standing in IKEA, high on so-many-fun-things-to-buy I thought they would be the perfect compliment to our burnt orange and brown color scheme. When I got home they looked, well, sort of coppery. Which is fine, but not what I had in mind. And because they hang behind the couch they are too long and always tangled up, which leads to me trying to tie them back in various ways, none of which I've liked. Ugg.

On top of all of this, I've fallen out with rod pocket curtains. Actually, I don't think I ever liked them. I haven't even had them before which makes me wonder why I even bought them in the first place. I usually go for some kind of tab top style which I generally like. A few months ago I bought curtains for the dining room that have these neat little tabs over the rod pocket so you can choose a traditional gathered top and a french pleat look. Once they were up on the wall (in french pleat mode) I realized this was my new favorite curtain style (as if I had really thought about things like that before!) And so I've been doubly (or is it triply) cursing the living room curtains. Wrong fabric, wrong length, wrong gathers. Woe is me.

I'd love to just replace them but I can't a) fit it into the budget yet and b) find anything I really like anyway. I might try to get more of the fabric that I recovered a chair in last year (since the chair was, um, over loved by the kids and is now in the mudroom waiting for yet another cover, this time out of sturdier fabric) but again, budgetary concerns delay this prospect. But during my morning glare at the offending window I came up with an idea. What if I slit the rod pocket to make flaps similar to the beloved dining room curtains?

So I gave it a go. Measuring off of the other set, I cut slits in the webbing (yeah no hemming!) every seven inches or so.

And now?

Well, I don't love them, but I don't hate hate them anymore either. Which is good. At least it will prevent me from tearing them down in a fir of rage one day. I also used pieces from Briton's marble roll (don't tell!) to keep the couch from moving all the way back against the wall and thus squishing the curtains, better and better. WE;ll see how long it takes for him to discover that mommy has re-purposed his toys....

December 2, 2009

To the victor go the ... design decisions?

Today is December 2nd. I think. Yes, according to my computer it's the 2nd. Whew, for a moment I thought I lost a day there. Anyway, since our self imposed, not-quite-strictly-followed month of home improvement time out is officially over, we are back to the grind. And to be completely honest, we got back to it over Thanksgiving. And really, we never totally stopped because, well, we're spastic, we can't help it. As Will often says, I'm a slave driver. But more about that in a bit.

Last week Will made a list of things that MUST BE DONE before Christmas. My parents and brother are coming for Christmas (hi Mom and Dad!) and although I know THEY wouldn't expect things like, say all the lily bulbs planted or the ceiling medallion painted, we work best on a deadline. There was some jockeying with the list (Will, I don't think we REALLY need to get the windowseats built in the bedroom, Yes we do, but we don't need to have a credenza/craft storage center bought and organized int eh dining room Gillian) and there is no way we will get all the things done, especially since we keep adding to it, but it helps to have a goal.

Two of the big items on the list were a hood over the stove (Thanksgiving day had more than one smoke alarm incident due to a lack of ventilation and something on every burner cooking away) and a pantry. Why is a pantry suddenly so important. Well, I'll tell you, but you have to promise not to tell Will I bragged.

I won


Oh, sorry, what did I win?

I won the upper cabinet battle.

When we designed this kitchen in our heads, it was totally unlike what we have had before. Usually we are 1920's period kitchen (minus the cool stove but only because Will wont let me have one- inefficient- bah!) type of people. Crystal knobs, pastel cottegey doors, old fashioned taps, the whole nine yards. And I will fully admit that's been a me thing. I LOVE old houses. I LOVE them. I don't care about drafts and creaky floors and glass china cabinets that barely open. I love them. And my poor architect husband hasn't been able to convince me to go modern in our whole lives together. Because we have almost always lived in 1920's houses (except for that 1700's building we lived in in Dublin, but we didn't own that so we couldn't remodel, and it had weird purple cabinets anyway, where are you going to go from there?), my love affair with the old has seemed logical.

When we first looked at this house my thought was to go old, make it look like a bungalow. Then Will started showing me photos of more modern looks, including one from a crazy blue industrial kitchen that I fell madly in love with. Suddenly, out the door went the old fashioned ideas. Including the idea of upper cabinets. Open Shelving! That's what I wanted! (Will, by the way, remains amazed since I normally like to shove things away where I don't have to think about them, because if I think about them, I have to organize them. I keep telling him I'm just maturing in my architectural thoughts, it sounds plausible)

And so began the battle over the upper cabinets. None! I said. At least some! Will argued. No NONE! I battled back. Where will we put our food? Will asked. The island, the basement, who cares, just NO UPPER CABINETS! Logic was with Will. I know that. The poor (very tall) man has been bending over to fish food out of two tiny little cupboards in the island. I could feel my resistance giving way and then, then, I got a brilliant idea (Does that sound snotty? Maybe brilliant is going to far, at least good though) The bathroom off the kitchen has at least a foot of dead space between the door and the wall. Too narrow for much to go there other than a shelf, and since it's not our main bathroom, we don't really need any shelves there. So at present, it has a little potty and nothing else. And that wall adjoins the kitchen, right where a pantry should go. Bust out the wall (I make it sound so simple!) put in a pantry, good to go, no need for pesky upper cabinets. And without upper cabinets, we could get a nice big hood. Win-win.

It took a little convincing, but the idea of a big pantry space rather than a few more measly cabinets won him over. Good thing he's such a good sport. He is the architect, after all. Now I better make darn sure he gets the garage he's been wanting. Tit for tat, right?

So all of that is to say that we now have a newly tiled wall (our Thanksgiving project) and an almost all the way up hood. We had to pull out a few more of our newly in place tiles that expected. Mostly because we were impatient and didn't wait for the hood to arrive to put the tile in, but you know, it only took a few tries, and a few (or ten) holes in the wall to find the right spot for the vent to vent, the electricity to electrify and the hood to hang. I'll put up another picture when it is truly done. Will called halt at one last night (this morning) when we finally got the electrical in, I was all for carrying on (hence the slave driver comment) but am hoping that tonight or tomorrow we will be finished because there is a very cool "pantry" sitting in my dining room at this very minute just waiting to be installed. And I cant wait.

Man, see what happens when I skip writing on a week day? I get all crazy wordy!

November 30, 2009

Felt Trees and the Advent Garland

I think most of the Christmas decorations are officially up as of this afternoon. That's not to say that I wont add things as the month goes by, I'm sure I'll think of one or four other things that I NEED to have to make it seem Christmasy around here, but for now I'm set.

Two of the projects I tackled this weekend were of the decorate for the holidays variety. First, I was able to finish the felt trees I started last week. I won't give you a tutorial here because they are basically just pieces of felt cut in a triangle, sewn up the long side, stuffed and sewn up the bottom. Nothing earth shattering. I'd had these on the brain for the past month and was a little dismayed to find about ten different varieties of tall skinny felt or other material trees at target yesterday. And here I thought I was being cool.... But they do look festive clustered on the mantle and the bookshelf.

My other project was an advent garland. Now I'll tell you the truth, I have no idea how well this will work. We're having our chimney cleaned Friday in preparation for some Holiday fires and the garland will definitely have to come down when the logs are a-cracklin' But I wanted to make some kind of advent calendar this year that was out of the ordinary and this string of take out boxes (filled with chocolate of course) was what I came up with. The kids will still have the open the door variety because, well, it's just not Christmas without those, but we'll see how the garland works as well. We can always take it down and eat all the candy in one go. For now though, it looks pretty darn cute hanging next to the tree.

Tonight we are hoping to finish our big weekend project so I can show you all tomorrow. Exciting!

November 29, 2009

Projects, the Long Weekend, and Wreath #2

We had big plans for the Thanksgiving Weekend. First we were going to go away for the whole thing. Disappear, off to the beach or the mountains or a town in North Carolina that, although he's never seen it, Will seems to think is the greatest small town ever. But the dates snuck up on us. We need to book a cabin! we kept saying, and then all the cabins were gone.

So on to plan B. A project weekend. We made a list, a schedule, we were going to get GOBS done. And then we ate a huge turkey and fell asleep on the couch. And after that we went to get a tree and that took the entire day. So GOBS, well, not so much.

But we did get a few things done. One big thing that is not quite finished but should be by tomorrow project and several little ones. Cabinet paint was touched up, back yard forts were blocked in so children could hide in it, the tree and the mantle were decorated. Briton helped me to stuff the felt trees I made last week and we put them up around the living room. And I made wreath number two.

I still want to make two more. But like I said before, we'll see if that really happens. This second wreath was much easier, and faster, than the ornament-yarn wreath that is now happily hanging on the front door looking all cheery and Christmas-y. I found these cool Masonite wreath forms at the craft store, I'd never seen flat forms like it before but they were hanging in a totally different section of the store so maybe I've just been missing them. Or maybe I just ' made that many wreaths in my day.

Using one of our pint glasses as a template, I traced circles all over the leftover felt from the trees I made and cut them out over the last few days.

Then last night I hot glued the circles, folded in half, with a hot glue gun onto the wreath, along with a scrap of ribbon. Presto,
wreath done.

I'll have some more pictures up in the next couple of days about our big project and some on a few other Christmas projects I have in the works. Busy, busy...