February 26, 2010

Lazy Day Gnomes

It's been one of those days where not much is getting done in our house. It's gray and cold outside, too gray and cold to go out for a walk or even really to run errands. The snow is, at last, mostly melted away, but everything outside looks dirty and sad. It's the kind of day that makes me want to curl up in the house with the curtains drawn and read a pile of books. Which is what, for the most part, we have done. But once I got tired of reading Ladybug Girl yet again, it seemed like a little distraction was in order.

A few months ago I fell in love with some bitty little gnomes that my neighbor bought to help teach her daughter the colors. They were just so freaking cute I had to take pictures of them for later inspiration. Not much more than felt and a wood peg, they would be very simple to make. But alas, we had no pegs in the house and as I've said, it just wasn't the kind of day to dash out to the craft store. So instead I made them pegless and stuffed with polyfill. I remember seeing something like them years ago, probably at a Waldorf store since they seem very Waldorf-y or Montessori-y. Super easy and quick enough that Evelyn sat and watched while I stitched the first one together, they are just about as cute as the originals.So far this afternoon they have been squashed into her pockets, danced around her doll house and are currently to be found having a conversation about frosting (who knows?) under the coffee table. There has also been a request for more, maybe we too will end up with a rainbow o'gnome

Cut a smallish triangle out of felt, You want something close to an equilateral triangle but it doesn't have to be perfect. Mine had a rounded bottom but flat would work too.

Starting at the top, whip stitch the triangle closed until you've come about 1/4 of the way down.

Tie off and start again about at the halfway point, a little higher, and stitch to the bottom, making big stitches along the bottom to help draw it closed.

Cut a rough square (mine was about 1 inch by 1 inch) of a different color felt and wad a ball of polyfill up about the same size as the square.

Draw the corners up and secure with a few stitches

Stuff the body with extra fabric or polyfill until you've almost reached the face slit, packing it down with a pencil as you go. Work the face in, it should be a little too big for the hole but that will help keep it in and, if you feel like it, add a few stitches to keep it there.

This was one of those make do with what you have type of projects. If I'd been a little more ambitious I probably would have hunted down some matching embroidery thread to sew with so that the stitches matched the fabric. But then I guess they would have been busy day gnomes or active day gnomes, and I was just a little too lazy for that today.

February 24, 2010

Listmonger, Listmaker, List-a-holic

That would be me. Confession time... I am an obsessive listmaker. I have lists of lists. Seriously. Ask Will. When we are getting going on something the first thing I want to do is make a list of what we need, when we are doing what, what each of us will be doing to get it done... I can't help myself. And funny as it is, it does help me. I have a terrible memory. If it's not written down I will forget it the moment I walk out the door. Or in the door. Or which ever way it is I'm heading.

One of the lists I've been working on lately is a master chore list. Not just things like "do the dishes" or "fold the laundry" (although yes, they are on there) but a real list of all the things that need doing during the year. Because like I said, if it's not written down, I won't get it done. As a result I forget when it was I've last washed the duvets, we forgot to clean the gutters entirely this fall and I will put off cleaning the basement until, well, until a massive rain hits and we wake up to find the whole thing ankle deep in water. I used to do the Flylady thing and while it was OK, it was a little too much. I can remember to clean my house every week. I'm actually kind of obsessive about things being tidy. I have this ever present conviction that at any moment someone might stop by and so the house should be guest ready at all times. Or at least close. But things like turning the mattress or winterizing the car, well, those things dont get done unless it's somewhere on one of my lists. And so now it is.

I spent Saturday afternoon brainstorming things that should be done once a year, twice a year, four times a year, every month, every two weeks and every week and then I split them up into my paper calender, making a little list for every week. (I just can't quite make that jump to all digital, I tried last year but as we now know, still forgot to clean the gutters, so back to paper I went) I know, obsessive. But it works for me.

Will requested a list of daily and weekly chores that he should be doing because, like me, if it's not there in front of him, it wont get done. So I also made a calender to hang on our heater vent/message center. That, actually, was kind of fun. I browsed through the print your own PDF calendars on Etsy but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for. Plus I wanted to add the list so I poked around with clip art and made these in Word. I'm sure something much better could be done in Pagemaker or Photoshop but since I dont have either on my computer (and I'm not very good at using them anyway) I went the simple route. So now we have all the school activities and all the major household annual chores and a list for Will all on one calender that actually fits in the space (it's too narrow for a regular calender anyway and yes that is a list of meals..) and I have my OCD list in my little pocket calendar. So here's to an organized year. I hope.

February 22, 2010

A Spot of Green (and Purple)

Remember in the Secret Garden when Mary says she wants "a bit of earth"? Ugg, I feel like that these days. Because of the way our house sits against a hill we get absolutely no winter sunlight so while the people across the street have only a few wisps of snow here and there in their yard, we still have a good foot or more covering every square inch of grass. A backhoe came by today and cleared the six foot wide burm in front of our curb. I'm not sure if the city is planning to dig up the street there or if they just felt sorry for us with our takes-ten-minutes-to-back-out parking space. I've got broccoli and cosmos sprouting in the mudroom and according to my Virginia Garden Book I should be putting leeks, beets, carrots and parsnips in March 1st. Yeah, right.

Whenever the snow does melt, or when I get fed up enough that I start digging it out so I can get at the soil, we'll be renting a the biggest rototiller we can handle and plowing a little mini field on the side of the house. But until then I'm feeling a little desperate for green so I opted for a terrarium.

Actually, I'm not sure it's technically a terrarium. I think they are supposed to be a closed environment. And probably succulents don't count. But since my outdoor gardening skills do not seem to transfer well indoors, succulents have become my new best friend when it comes to house plants. Last fall I made these tiny planters for an article I was writing and I have been stunned to see them thrive all winter long despite my infrequent waterings. In fact, they are probably flourishing because of my infrequent waterings, since they are succulents. Either way, they looked like they might want a bigger space than the bowl of an egg cup. And having had such great success with them at a small scale, I decided to take over the pedestal bowl that has been holding my pine cone collection all winter and inject a little green into the house.

Evelyn and I went to Fifth Season, a new store down the road that specializes in hydroponics and beer making which is sort of an odd combination, although water, and plants, I guess both beer and hydroponics are basically those two things so it kind of makes sense. We picked out a few more succulents to round out our itty bitty ones and some dried moss for the under layer and went home to get started.

The table looks a little more springish now, especially if you close the drapes so you can't see the heavy blanket of snow outside and we had enough plants to re-do the egg cup planter for the kitchen window with smaller specimens so Will is still happy. I hadn't realized how attached he was to our little mini garden until I changed them out and he wondered aloud what had happened to "his" plant. Apparently flicking some water on it has been part of his morning routine for the last four months. Which may explain how they've done well in spite of my black-indoor thumb....

February 19, 2010

Cake Balls, Who Knew?

Well somehow I missed it but it seems that Cake Balls are the new No-Knead-Bread. Sweeping the blogosphere like a snowstorm. Will's mom sent us some for Valentines Day and although I'm pretty sure she mentioned them to me at some point in the last few months, I somehow did not register how freaking yummy they are. No really. Make these. You will love me. And hate me because you'll eat them all.

Yesterday was Briton's Half-Birthday and just to mix things up I decided to make cake balls instead of my usual half cake. Ok, I'll be honest. I just really wanted to make cake balls because we had eaten all our Valentines Day ones and I wanted more. But I was amazed to find how popular they are when I looked them up online. Most, actually all, that I saw called for a box cake mix and canned frosting. I didn't have what I needed to make homemade frosting but I have a hard time passing up a chance to make a cake from scratch. So many recipes, so few excuses to cook them... I based the cake recipe on one from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat but switched out the powdered and melted chocolate and Evaporated milk for Sweetened Condensed milk in the hopes of getting a carmely type of flavor. I literally mixed it up in two minutes and put it in the oven on a delay cook while Evelyn and I dashed to the school for a Chinese New Year Lunch that I had totally forgotten about. But it came out yummy and not too sugary which is good because the frosting makes it plenty sweet. Trust me, find an excuse and make these, even with a boxed mix (Red Velvet is the most popular choice I noticed). Also, I made the whole cake recipe but froze one of the cakes, so frosting and chocolate wise I only used half. Mmmm, more for later...

On top of the cake you'll need 1 tub of frosting and 12 ounces of baking chocolate

For the Cake

1 3/4 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1 stick melted butter (yikes! I know!)
3/4 of a can of Sweetened Condensed Milk (that's what I had, I think a whole can would be even yummier though)
2 beaten eggs
1 T vanilla

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a double boiler melt butter then off the heat add in the SC milk, vanilla and then eggs, mixing thoroughly. Add the wet to the dry and stir until just combined. Pour into 2 lightly greased 8 inch round pans and drizzle the top with any leftover SC milk left in the can. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool completely before crumbling it into a large bowl. It occurred to me that this would be a great way to use up stale or leftover cake. Especially if it was already frosted. Just add a but more as you crumble and your set. But with a new cake, once it's crumbled, add the tub of frosting (any flavor would be good, I used cream cheese) and mix until you have a sticky, almost paste-like substance. Roll into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls and set on a plate in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.

In the meantime, melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When it's ready, drop one ball at a time into the chocolate and roll it around until it is covered. Lift out with a fork, letting the excess chocolate drip off, and set on parchment or freezer paper. Allow the chocolate to harden and then drizzle any chocolate left across the tops (I had to add some milk to it to stretch it a little, actually, I stupidly added cold milk which caused the chocolate to seize so then I had to add some hot water to fix that, and then I had enough to drizzle. So add a little warm milk if you want it thinner.)

February 18, 2010

Mudroom Art (sort of)

Ever since I read this post at Apartment Therapy, I've had the itch to do a piece of art similar to their Beatles tribute. Maybe not so big, as Will is constantly telling me, we don't need new art because we have tons of it sitting in a (safe, dry and no where near the basement) portfolio just waiting to be hung. But still, I really liked the look of it, and the idea of paying tribute to something, some expression, that you love. And since I have free reign of the mudroom I decided that it was my chance to indulge.

But what song to use, what artist to mimic. Herein lies the problem folks.

I am not musical.

Now by not musical, I don't mean that I cant play any instruments (although that is true as well) I mean that I am horribly, woefully, ignorant when it comes to music. No I'm serious. In eight grade I went to a dance and the only song I had EVER heard during the whole, three hour torture was Kokomo. And that's only because I loved the movie Cocktail (What, I was 12!)The rest of the time I stood there watching the rest of the girls sing along in a big group (because we did not dance with boys, oh no!) . Pretty early on I learned that any song can be lip synced by mouthing the word "watermelon" over and over. Hey it works, give it a try! But I never really got any better at music. Will will occasionally ask me "Who sings this song." Knowing full well I have no idea. I always answer Hall and Oates (whom for a long time I thought was called Haulin' Oats, I told you. I'm PITIFUL!). You would be surprised how often it is Hall and Oates actually.

What's even worse is that I now have friends who are music people. Meaning people in the music industry. And STILL I suck at music. I like music, I listen to music most of the day, I'm just incapable of knowing different bands or even moving on from the few groups I do know and listen to all the time.

So really, a line from a song was never an option. Who was I kidding.

But while I may not be a music person, I am a book person. In fact I am a 18th and 19th century English novel type of person. And if we want to get really specific, I'm a Jane Austen type of person.

One of my two regrets from college is that, try as I might, I could never get into the Austen Lit Class. Even though it counted as nothing toward my degrees (and I was the queen of making every class count for at least two things) I wanted to take it. Eventually I had to satisfy my self with 19th Century Literature where we read eight novels (including Middlemarch!) in the ten week term. And it was bliss. (my other regret, by the way, was that I waited until my last term of college to take trampoline. Best class ever, even better than 19th Cen Lit I think. Oh how much fun I would have had if I'd started taking it from my freshman year. sigh...Who knows, I could have been training for the Olympics RIGHT NOW, if only I'd thought to take it earlier)

So back to Jane. I'm not even a Jane Austen snob. I like the books, I like the movies, I like the Bollywood versions. I loved Lost in Austen, I'm cool with the fake sequels. I'll take it all. And even though I did watch Pride and Prejudice while I was in labor with Briton (ok, and Evelyn, but I did at least watch different versions) my favorite is Emma. No joke, I used to listen to a tape of Emma while I worked out. I'm a dork, what can I say?

Last week I watched the new PBS version of Emma and after I called my friend Kim who is at least as much of a Jane Austen fan as I am. We both agreed that it was good. Sweet, funny, beautiful. We liked it. But it was missing something. It was missing that "I rode through the rain." moment. If you don't know what I'm talking about, well, go watch the Gweneth Paltrow version of Emma and see if you don't just fall in love with Jeremy Northam when he says that. I dare you.

So when I started thinking about that sign idea again, well. I decided that I'm never going to be one of those cool music people, but I'll always be an Austen girl, so I might as well own it.

If you want to make something like this for yourself (and I wont be offended if you turn to music, I'm sure you are far better at songs than I am!) paint a canvas (or a board) with the color you want your letters to be in.

Arrange vinyl peel and stick letters to get the layout you want (and by the way, don't be fooled into thinking that you are getting a deal with the whole alphabet pack instead of buying single letters because they don't peel off their background and you'll have to cut out EVERY SINGLE LETTER. I'm just sayin)

Paint over the letters and then remove while they are still slightly damp (You can try to wait till their dry, but paint always seems to bleed when I do things like that)

And Voila, you have a sign. I wont call it art since I don't think I can say my painting over stick-on letters is really art, but it's art-ish, and I love it. So whatever.

February 17, 2010

New (Old) Friend

I totally forgot to introduce you to my new friend. Everyone, meet chair. Chair, meet everyone.

I spotted this chair over Christmas when my mom and I were cruising shops downtown. It was in this funky basement shop that sells not quite cool vintage clothing and other oddities. I've been coveting a mid century mod-ish chair for the little corner where Nigella used to sleep before she decided the couch was more fun. When we moved into the house we already had two living room chairs plus two other candidates that had been in bedrooms in the old house. But none of them fit, particularly after we added the bookshelves. With a couch and a love seat we have plenty of seating unless we have a crowd in the house, but it never looked quite balanced to me. When I saw the chair back in December I knew it would fit that little corner. And it didn't hurt that the upholstery was already a nice and slightly funky orange tweed. Just my kind of thing.

Ever since I've been dropping hints to Will. Hints like "I really want that chair at Ike's Underground Will." and "Hey you know what we need? That chair at Ike's Underground." And finally a text with a photo of the chair, directions to where it was in the store and the message. "Valentines Day" subtle, huh?

Honestly, I didn't think he'd go for it. He might, I figured, tell me to just go get it. Or he'd continue to ignore my "hints" but while I was at a class on Saturday he and the kids went downtown, bought the chair and carried it home for me. What a lovely surprise. And I was right, it's just perfect for the spot. Now I just need a little reading lamp to put on the bookshelf behind. Easter maybe?

February 15, 2010


When I was a kid, my favorite meal, especially on a cold night, was Dutch Babies. Actually, my favorite meal was probably figs with cream cheese and nothing else. Or even Watermelon and nothing else. But for a meal, what my parents would define as a meal, it was dutch babies. My mom would whiz the batter up in our blender while my dad melted hunks of butter, not a teaspoon or even a tablespoon, real hunks of butter, in the heavy cast iron pans that lived in the drawer under our oven. When the butter was almost spitting hot, in would go the batter, bubbling and hissing and pooling with melted butter as it hit the hot sides of the pan. As soon as the pan was in the oven, the next round was begun. We kept a rotation going until we were all stuffed. Beyond stuffed. In fact, I don't ever remember having leftover dutch babies. There may have been leftovers, but I was certainly never privy to them. Probably because I would have eaten myself sick if I had known there was more.

When we lived in Ireland I bought a Jamie Oliver cookbook after seeing him on a program about school food. Will thought he was a little weird but I loved it so the next day I went down to the bookstore in the little village center closest to us and bought what they had. I'd planned on buying his first book but was too impatient for them to get a different one in or take the bus into the center of town to hunt it down. But I'm glad I ended up with the one I did because it had a recipe for Toad in the Hole.

It's one of those British recipes that Americans giggle over, mostly because of the name. Who names something Toad in the Hole. Or Spotted Dick. Or Bubble and Squeak (I've had that one too, it turned me off of brussel sprouts for life I fear). But when I read the recipe for Toad in the Hole, actually when I saw the photo of Toad in the Hole, I realized that it's really just Dutch Babies with sausages tossed in during the pan heating stage. And, if you cook by Jamie's recipe, in a bread pan. In fact, when it comes down to it Yorkshire Pudding is basically little Dutch Babies cooked in beef drippings instead of butter. I'm sure there are more recipes out there that are basically the same thing as well but under different names. And really, eggs, milk, flour, butter, who doesn't like that? It's no wonder it shows up in many different guises.

So all of that is a long way of saying that I, and Briton (Will is not really a dutch baby fan because there is something very wrong with him. I love him, but I'm just saying..) fell in love with Toad in the Hole and ate it often for lunch or tea. And four years on, he still loves it. Evelyn prefers plain Dutch Babies but will pull the sausages out and eat them separately. I'm a little worried that she may be taking my "food must not touch on the plate" obsession to a new level, hopefully she'll grow out of that.

Tonight I had great plans for a rolled pork loin and fresh bread but Will and I got tangled up in another toilet replacement project and by the time I was ready to make the kids their meal (which is a long story but basically, my kids eat "tea" at 4:30 or 5 and then sit down with us for dinner when Will gets home at 6:30 to try some of our dinner and have dessert) it was closing in on 6 and we were all hungry. Briton had requested "Toad" as he calls it and once it was safely in the oven I decided to expand on the meal and make a Dutch Baby as well. I've been reading Molly Wizenberg's book and was intrigued by her recipe which is very different form the one I grew up with.

I think if you had not grown up eating Dutch Babies like my parents, these would be outstanding, they were a little heavy for me though so I think I'll go back to the light and fluffy ones of my youth. The Toad, however, was as good as ever. I've used it as a plain old Dutch Baby recipe, it's closer to The Bentley Family version than what I tried tonight, but the proportions work best, I think, in the thin metal of a bread pan where my parents was best in a heavy cast iron pan (although I often use my Calphalon pan which works great too).

It's got a weird name, I totally get that. But you should give it a try. Especially if it's snowing. Again. And cold. Again. And you have been wrestling with a toilet for which you have only bought one wax ring and therefore have only one chance to install correctly even though you TOLD your husband he should buy a backup. Again.

Toad in the Hole
adapted from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef

285 ml milk (that's a little more than a cup, but if you have a scale, this recipe works better with weighed amounts)
4 oz flour
3 eggs
pinch of salt
2 T butter or oil
5-8 sausages (I like good breakfast sausages, the long skinny kind)
sprig of Rosemary (optional, my kids dont like it so I only use this if it's just for me :))

Set your oven at 470. When it's preheated, put the butter (or oil) in a bread pan along with the sausages and pop it in the oven. Keep an eye on this. You want the sausages to get just barely brown and the butter to melt but not get too dark. While it's heating up, beat the eggs and flour together with a whisk. Add half the milk and whisk till smooth before adding the rest of the milk. You can also do this in the blender, I used to before my lovely KitchenAid Blender died after only a few years and I was too pissed off about it to buy another. With the blender you can just dump it all in at once and give it a few seconds on high. The key is to get the batter smooth.

When the pan, butter and sausages are ready, pour the batter over them and put them back into the oven. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR AGAIN until the batter is crispy and poofy golden. This should take about 20 minutes but again, keep the oven light on so you can see what's happening without opening the door.

Jamie calls for an onion gravy but we eat ours straight or with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on it. It's also great with Lemon curd smeared on top. If you've got some, which thankfully tonight, I did.

February 12, 2010

Busy Fingers

I've started knitting again.

You may think this is no big deal but I have a long and tangled history with the hobby of knitting, so in it's way, this is big news.

My poor grandmother tried to teach me to knit who knows how many times. Sewing I could handle, baking I got, knitting and worse, crocheting? Well, my fingers just would not obey. When I was in college I got a wild hair to teach myself to knit. In part this was probably because Will, who had at that point just moved to wet and cold Oregon from the warmer climates of Texas, was wearing wool socks all year round. ALL YEAR ROUND. And because he has very long feet he was forever breaking through the toes of his way too expensive on a student budget wool socks. And somehow I thought I could just MAKE socks instead of watching him go through them my the dozen.

Needless to say I did not jump into knitting wool socks. I learned to darn wool socks, but I have still never knit a sock. Instead I knit a scarf. It took forever and had lots of errors in it but I got it done. And then I figured out how to knit hats. Baby hats were my favorite, they were fast and everyone I knew was having babies so it was a great thing to be able to crank out. I got better at knitting. Not great, never fast, but better. I figured out booties (again with the friends having babies) and made more scarves and then about the time I found out I was pregnant with Briton I decided it was time to knit a sweater. This is where things took a turn for the worse.

I picked a not easy but not horrible pattern and the most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad but oh so cute yarn that was covered in tiny lumps which always pulled themselves to the knit side and looked very cute but made knitting very difficult. Plus the pattern called for very skinny needles which made everything worse. But I was determined. I knit, I ripped out bad rows, I reknit. I was DETERMINED to make something for my son. And I finished it. Just in time.

For the hottest August in years.

And the largest baby in creation. (ok not in creation, but the kid was 10 pounds people)

And the "huge" 6-9 month sized sweater, yeah, he wore it once. Because it was too hot and then he was too big. Yeah. That. Kinda. Sucked.

However, I kept knitting. I wasn't in love with it anymore, but it filled the I'm-nursing-and-cannot-move-from-this-spot hours. And when it got cold (finally) I made him hats. I pretty much stuck to hats from then on actually.

When Briton was three the second thing happened that helped put an end to my knitting. He started loosing EVERYTHING! At the time we were living carless in a big city and so were constantly in trains and buses and taxi's and I kid you not, hats lasted about three days with the kid. And because it was very cold and wet almost all of the time, he always needed a hat. So I was always, ALWAYS knitting them or buying them, but usually knitting because hats were not cheap or easy to come by for a little head.

And right about the time my head was going to explode from knitting hats that would just get lost, I had a second baby and we moved to a different (still wet and cold but not as) city. So I just stopped. I never knit anything for Evelyn. I have not made any more hats for Briton, although he is much better at not loosing them these days (knock on wood!) I just...stopped.

But the other day Evie declared her doll needed a hat so I thought, what the heck. I borrowed some needles and used cheap yarn leftover from my Christmas wreath and knit a hat. And when it was done I saw a doll a friend was knitting that was just too cute to not make and so went down to the knitting shop and bought a pattern. And you know what? I love to knit. I'm even surprisingly fast at it for someone who swore off yarn and needles three years ago. The doll is, in fact, in the washing machine felting as I type. As in, almost done. And I started knitting it Wednesday.

I cant decide if it's the fact that I can finish a row (some of the time at least) without someone begging or whining for something. (actually, I'm just better at ignoring it now) or if I'm just older or if it's just having someone to knit for that will wear homemade things that are not hats, or if it's the fact that our house is surrounded by snow and it's nice to have a cozy task in the evenings. But I'm finding myself utterly enjoying knitting again. I look forward to sitting down and knitting. I have planned my next project (or three). It's...crazy. I know, not really. but for me. it's crazy. I thought I would NEVER knit again. But I guess never turned out to be three years. Which is good to know because it feels like I will never be able to finish this mudroom, so, you know, if never is actually three years then I'm closing in on a third of the way there. Not that that makes me feel better about finishing the mudroom because I'm feeling very Veruca Salt about it, but at least it gives me a timeline. :)

*Update* So the doll took longer to finish than I had expected but only because Evelyn stole it from me once I got the head on and half the hair sewn in. It took me another week to work on it by bits while she was preoccupied but at last it's done.

I'm a little bummed because the yard colors really bled and faded in the washing machine but as she loves it to death I guess it doesn't really matter. On to fingerless gloves, felted slippers for me and maybe socks for Will. This is going to be an expensive hobby, I can already tell....

February 10, 2010

Before and After: the Mudroom Dresser

Storage is going to be the key component in the mudroom/office I'm quickly realizing. In addition to the mitten boxes, the coat hooks and now the dresser, I can already see that we will need a couple of under desk shelves for things like printers and sewing machines that need a more permanent storage solution than under my bed. So there is much more to do. Not to mention the floor which, well, I have a plan, it's just instituting the plan that is going to take a while. But I did get the dresser painted and altered and I got some art hung which just makes me a happy person because I hate blank walls. Tomorrow I'll show off my, um interesting, art display. Let's just say the current, snowed-in, probably-will-not-be-moved-until-July state of our car coupled with my impatience led me to come up with some solutions that I probably otherwise would not have. Which is a good thing. I think . Will hasn't seen them yet so we'll see what he thinks :).

But back to the dresser. I got this thing at Habitat which is pretty much my favorite place these days, for something like $20. I'm not really sure. It might have been $35 or else it was $10. The six snow days in the past two week situation has fried my brain. So let's just say, around $20. It's still in need of some love with the inner workings of the drawers. They don't pull out very smoothly and go too far back in some places, but the outside is looking much cheerier and because of it the room is starting to become that happy space that I'm so hoping for.

Just to remind you, here is the before.

and here is the after.

I ended up just painting the existing knobs because I haven't found exactly what I want yet. Partly because I don't know what I want and partly because my car is snowed in so even if I did know, I couldn't go get it anyway. So stay tuned. There may be more. And please ignore the floor, seriously. It's gross. I hate it. Breath, breath. It will get done.....

February 8, 2010

Love Notes and Desserts I Shouldn't be Eating!

Well, we are on day four of covered-in-snow and the weather predicts another 3-5 inches starting tomorrow at ten which means that Briton will not be going back to school, my house will continue to be a disaster zone of hats, mittens, glue and half built wooden models and if it wasn't for the grocery delivery service, we'd starve since I can't see our car getting free of the giant pile of snow it is under any time soon.

But on the up side, there has been a lot of making and doing in our house. And only a minimum of "mommy is going to go stark raving mad if you two don't stop that!" moments. Most of the projects have been of the silly, picked the kit up at the craft store variety. Beading, plastic lacing, some giant paper dolls that Evelyn and I have been making clothes for. I knit a hat for Baby Four (don't laugh!) because Evelyn informed me that her doll (who is naked 99% of the time, including right now) was cold and NEEDED a hat and I may or may not be knitting her a sweater to match (I said don't laugh!) We made sandwich bread from this book which I got from the library again just in time to get it home before the snow hit and I'm embarrassed to say, baked and ate an entire batch of tollhouse cookies. But what else are snowstorms for, right?

I was, despite the constant presence of children saying "I'm bored! What's next!", able to be mildly productive and figured out some ideas for Valentines day. (not that we will be able to get out of the house by Valentines Day at this rate, but hey, it never hurts to hope!) made a start at refinishing the mudroom chest of drawers and made two devilishly good desserts. Well, one could be considered breakfast, maybe, probably not though. The other was just dessert.

The kinda sorta not too horribly bad for you could almost be a breakfast dessert was inspired by a recipe in this book. She has a beautiful dessert that calls for blending Greek yogurt, mandarin oranges and sweetened condensed milk which I have tried and liked but found a little too sweet. So instead this time around I just drizzled a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk over plain Swiss yogurt )smoother and not as thick as Greek, but it's what I had in the house) and then crumbled one ameretti cookie on top. Yum. Seriously, who would have thought of sweetened condensed milk as a topping. Not me. But it is ridiculously good.

The other dessert is this which I highly recommend for a snowy and cold afternoon of cards with your friends. The only changes I made here were using 5 slices of raisin bread and 5 of regular and adding a heaping teaspoon to the sugar mixture. Divine. Really, truly divine.

On the valentine front, my mother sent me a little paper heart the other day which she found in a local shop in her town. I couldn't help dissecting it and playing around with some different variations.

You start with a pointy ended petal shape cut out of cardstock

Stitch a piece of colorful fabric to one side. I have a slow setting on my sewing machine that allows me to downshift and keeps the machine stitching very, very slowly. If you have that, this is really helpful here when you are trying to keep a very even, thin edge. Otherwise, just keep your foot light on the pedal.

Trim the fabric (if the fabric you use is apt to fray easily, you can add some Fraycheck here) around the edge of the petal.

Fold the top 1/3 in half, making sure the point is a nice, sharp one.

Then fold this up at a 90 degree angle, creasing it both ways.

Open it up and bend the petal in half, pinching the folded point together as you go.

Dab some glue between the fold and pinch to dry (a paper clip would work well too!)

Add a little more glue to hold the point down.

These are cute with or without a message. I'm hoping to make a whole jar full of these with little messages so I've always got a little love note handy. They can be all paper, all fabric (but you need a stiffener) or a combination.

In the end my favorite was a fabric/paper combination which was relatively easy and very cute. I slipped on into Will's pocket at lunch today and if Briton ever goes back to school (doubtful) I think I'll pop one in his lunch box now and again as well. I also came up with these for this week's craft article which Briton and I are supposed to be putting together this week, just in case they have school sometime this millennium and need Valentines for their class. Here's hoping.

February 5, 2010

Up and Down, and Mittens for Miss Skinny Wrists

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind, where EVERYTHING seems to happen in a very short period of time. Great things, sad things, busy things, funny things, all piled up on each other. Two thirds of the way through today I still feel like I'm catching up.

Obviously the great thing (among others) was the Design*Sponge article. We are so overwhelmed at the response to out little kitchen makeover. I cant describe how wonderful all the comments are. We love our kitchen, it's been a lot of work, and there's still more to do, but it's been so fun to watch it change from what is was to what it is.

The sad thing is that we lost one of the chickens yesterday. I let them out while Evie and I walked to the library. They've been escaping lately so we haven't let them wander much. But with the "snowpocolypse" coming I thought they needed a little run around time. An hour later we were walking home and I spotted a giant hawk perched on one of the bushes in the chicken yard. We ran up yelling and scared it away, but it had already killed the alpha hen. The rest were cowering under bushes around the yard. I took me more than a half an hour to find the last two and I thought the worst, but ended up spotting them under the snow covered arborvitae. I usually curse that plant as it's often the means of their escapes, but yesterday I never loved a green growing thing so much. Although we've talked to the kids at length about the chickens being working animals, not really pets. It was still sad. I do like to think of her as defending her flock, I imagine she went down with a fight. She was always the feisty one. Ironically, the really clueless hen who often forgets how to get out or in to the coop was safe inside the nesting boxes. I'm not sure she even knew what had happened.

So I cleaned up the feathers and our little red hen and the day went on. Well, sort of. The school called asking me to pick up Briton, who was sick. The kind of sick that moms dread. The sick-but-not-sick-enough-to-want-to-stay-in-bed-why-can't-I-play kind of sick. Which kept me busy and away from several articles that needed writing. And then they called a snow day for Friday, which wasn't really a surprise, but with all the things I needed to do, I was kind of hoping that they would at least TRY to have school. But oh well. I'm always saying I love being busy, and yesterday certainly kept me on my toes.

I did, however, manage to accomplish one thing on my list of to-do's which made me smile. Because it's nearing the end (technically) of winter and the stores, despite the impending snowpocolypse are out of gloves, we were desperate for some kind of hand warming vehicle for Evelyn. As I've mentioned, she's not a glove kind of kid. And while her muffs are a-plenty and suited to a variety of outfits (per her orders!) they aren't that great for sledding and snowball fighting. I dashed out Wednesday evening to a few stores but found nothing that was small enough for her, not that it would have mattered since every mitten I've ever put on her has promptly fallen off. Long hands and skinny wrists are not conducive to normal winter handware it seems. So, standing in line with a bag of "just in case" kitty litter I was contemplating what to do about the lack of mitten situation when I spotted some fleece blankets for $4. Humm, didn't I read something somewhere about easy fleece mittens? I was pretty sure I had, and even if not, how hard could a pair of mitten possibly be?

Super easy it turns out. I read up on a few patterns online and did a few test pieces before settling on a ribbon tied version to help keep them on those super skinny wrists my girl has.

First, trace their hands onto a piece of paper - although I was just working on a pair for Evie, they both wanted to trace both hands. What can I say... Make sure you trace down their arm a bit. I find most mittens are too short and snow gets in between the cuff and the coat.

Adding one inch all around, cut the mitten shape out of the fleece - 4 identical pieces.

Fleece does not need to be hemmed but just for kicks I zigzagged along the bottom of each piece.

Stack two pieces together and line up the edges. Fold a twelve inch (more for bigger kids) length of ribbon in half and tuck the fold between the layers on the thumb side where the wrist is the narrowest. Let about 1/2 inch of the ribbon loop hang out past the seam. Stitch around using a 1/4 inch seam margin and follow this with a narrow zig -zag stitch to reinforce the seam.

Trim the edges and turn right side out. The inner loop of ribbon can be used to hook the mittens together or to run a ling string from mitten to mitten to thread through their sleeves. The outer sections of ribbon wrap around the wrist and tie (in a bow of course!) to keep the mittens tight.

We tried them out today and they were a big hit. It was the first time ever that Evelyn did not come in crying after five minutes because her fingers were freezing. Hallelujah! Bring on the snow storm!

February 4, 2010


If you've never been over to design*sponge (and let's face it, you probably have because it's just awesome!) make sure you hop on over there today where our kitchen got a little love.

I have to say the funniest part is that the other person in the article is named Cecile, I've only met one other Cecile in my life.. my darling mother..must be fate :)

February 2, 2010

And the mudroom grinds on....

So like I said the other day, I'm making progress. Slow progress, but still progress. Actually at this point it's looking a little bare since the walls are nice and clean and white, but pretty much empty. But thanks to the flood I found some art I'd forgotten we even owned and have some ideas about framing fabric if I can find the right fabric so hopefully the plain walls wont be plain for much longer.

The mantel, however, is in and even in use. Remember it way back here? Well, since the back side of the fireplace takes up almost the whole of one wall in the mudroom/office/studio/whatever that room is, I hung it there where it..drum roll please...

is our new coat hook.

Everyone has their own, different and I hope self explanatory hook. Evelyn especially loves hers since it has a crown and a mirror on it and is low enough for her to reach. Briton's is red, mine is pretty and Will's is the closest I could come to a "man" hook. Really, not the exactly the easiest thing to find a man hook. But oh well. Oh, and Nigella has a funky animal that could be a dragon or maybe a lion hook because I liked it.

The hope is that instead of leaving coats all over the house and never being able to find mittens and gloves because there is no real "place" for them, the coats will go on the hooks and the gloves will go into the box and mommy wont spend her days picking up the trail of outerware that always seems to be dotted around our house. That's the hope at least. We'll see if anyone but me actually uses it. I'm sure once we move the door so you can get in from the yard (if we move the door so that you can get in from the outside) the members of my family will be more inclined to hang up their coats on the designated hooks. But again, we'll see.

I also found this cool chest of drawers at Habitat the other day and hauled it home to house my art and sewing supplies. My next order of business (in addition to the art) is to paint it the school bus yellow of the doors. I'm hoping to get to that later this week. Or maybe this weekend when we will be YET AGAIN, inundated with snow (up to 18 inches! ACK! Hello! This is VIRGINIA people!!)

So what do we think? Do we like the mantle coat hook or no. I'm not sure Will is convinced but I think I like it. And although I know he is against the white walls, once the art is hung I think (hope) it will make a bright but warm looking room. Fingers crossed.