Showing posts with label Holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holidays. Show all posts

It's Christmas Eve!

Some Snowy Church in New Hampshire
Okay, so we're not having a white Christmas here in Charlotte, North Carolina, but a girl can dream, can't I?  ;-)  I just wanted to take a quick moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, especially since I didn't mail cards out this year. 

My parents will be here soon for Christmas Eve dinner, featuring my husband's rouladen and a Pumpkin Gingerbread birthday cake that Anders baked for my dad (with some help and supervision from Bernie).  After dinner, we're headed to the 11 PM Christmas Eve service at church, and looking forward to the service wrapping up the same way it does every year, singing the last verse of Silent Night a capella in candlelight.  We'll make our way home after midnight, and the boys will probably fall asleep in the car -- which is why we packed a bag with their pajamas so they can change out of their church clothes as soon as they get into the car. 

Tomorrow morning, around 3 AM if I'm lucky and even earlier if I'm not, the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies who claim to be my sons will spring out of their beds with an explosion of noisy energy, zoom through the house like Tasmanian devils until everyone is awake, and then whirl down the stairs to see what Santa has brought them.  Tomorrow will be barely-controlled chaos, but tonight -- Christmas Eve -- is all about peace, tranquility, and the only Christmas gift that any of us needs:

Nativity stained glass window, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Dubuque, Iowa
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

5 Days 'Til Christmas: Advent Eye Candy from the Art World to Set the Mood

"Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem," by James Tissot, 1886-1894
Notice that I did not say "five SHOPPING days" until Christmas.  The shopping is finished, the homework and projects and tests and classroom parties are finished.  The decorating is finished, and the cookies have been baked.  Now all that's left to do is "watch and wait, which is what Advent is really all about.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite depictions of the Christmas story in religious art.  It's interesting to me how differently artists imagine and interpret the Bible narrative, filling in the blanks and injecting much of their own culture and perspective into their portrayals.  My favorite is "Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem" by French artist James Tissot.  I can almost hear the innkeeper calling down the stairs, "There's no room in the inn!"  Joseph seems frantic, Mary looks nervous, and Tissot achieves a fairly realistic background of what Bethlehem might actually have looked like two thousand years ago.  The depth and perspective in this painting really draws me into the scene and into the story.

"Adoration of the Shepherds," by Angelo Bronzino, c. 1540
Next, we have the "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Angelo Bronzino, a 16th century artist from Florence.  I really love the idyllic, pastoral landscape in the background of this painting and the rich jewel tones of the garments -- even though I know it's preposterous.  Prior to the invention of synthetic fabric dyes in the 19th century, vivid colored textiles could only be achieved through laborious processes requiring thousands of tiny bugs, mollusks, or plant materials, and vibrant fabrics like these would have only been available to the wealthy and powerful.  Actually, the artist probably chose these colors for symbolic reasons rather than attempting to imagine what the holy family was actually wearing when Christ was born.

Which brings me to the last painting I'll share tonight (this morning?  How did it get so late?!):

"The Star of Bethlehem," by Edward Burne-Jones, Watercolor, 1890

Burne-Jones, a Pre-Rafaelite Aesthetic artist, has reinvisioned the nativity in an idealized medieval European forest.  The magi who have come to pay their respects to the Christ child are bizarrely dressed in what appears to be irridescent silk dupioni and an exquisite jacquard tablecloth -- I know this is ridiculous, but I love how this artist depicted these unlikely fabrics so skillfully, with such a high level of detail and realism.   They called it the "Aesthetic Movement" for a reason -- this is absolutely gorgeous.  Can you believe this was done in watercolor? 

Well, I set out to write a nice post about Advent and focusing on the "reason for the season," but (typically) I ended up right back where I always do, obsessing about FABRIC!  Ugh! 

Sneaky-Peeky: A Paper-Pieced Star for My Nativity Table Runner

First Quadrant of my First Ever Paper-Pieced Block!
I have to leave for church in 10 minutes, but I'm so excited about the project I started last night that I had to post a quick preview.  I have a narrow console table behind the sofa in my kitchen/family room area where I display my nativity figures, and I'm currently using a store-bought quilted runner beneath them in reds and greens, but that table runner doesn't do anything for the muted colors of my nativity figurines.

Auditioning Fabrics with my Nativity Figures
I got an idea that I should make another runner in deep blue for Advent, with a gold star right in the center where the baby Jesus in the manger goes.  I've had Carol Doak's book 40 Bright and Bold Paper-Pieced Blocks (available from Amazon here) for several years, but had never gotten around to attempting paper piecing until now.  I spent several days reading and re-reading Carol's instructions, trying out different fabric combinations with my nativity figurines, and going back and forth between the different star blocks in the book before I finally settled on "Chris's Block."

I made four copies of the 1/4 unit that makes up the block, using special paper for foundation piecing (also already in my stash) that is supposed to be thin, strong, and resist transferring printer ink onto my ironing board.  I planned out my fabric placement with my sons' colored pencils, selecting colors as close as possible to my fabrics to get an accurate sense of how the finished block would turn out.  I wrote the color names of each fabric on the corresponding section of the paper foundations, lined up my pre-cut rectangles in numerical order, and sat down at my machine for some very weird upside-down sewing with my fabrics completely hidden by a piece of PAPER that I was sewing through.  This gave me ANXIETY, and I probably held my breath while I was sewing each seam.  However, I followed the instructions, kept the faith, and when I was finished I ended up with what appears to be a correctly sewn quarter of my star block.  (Note: my camera was crooked; the block is actually perfectly square).  Yippee!

I've got some gifts to wrap up for shipping and homework to supervise this afternoon, and my boys are singing in our church's Christmas concert this evening -- Lars even has a solo -- so I'm not sure whether I'll have a chance to work on the remaining three quadrants of my star today.  I only have a vague idea of what the rest of the table runner will look like, but at least I've made a start.

Happy Second Sunday of Advent to all of my Christian friends and family, and Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends!

By the way, I'm linking up to SewCalGal's Quilter's Christmas Party today.  If you have a moment, please pop over to join the fun, see what holiday projects other quilters have been working on, and learn how you can help make a difference by supporting Operation Homefront.

I'm Sew Inspired to Knock Off Mackenzie-Childs Jester Stockings and Christmas Tree Skirt!

Jester and Festoon Stockings, $240 EACH
Aren't these Jester and Festoon stockings from the Mackenzie-Childs catalog adorable?  They would look darling on the kitchen fireplace mantle, next to the kiddos' tree (the one decorated with miniature toys, candies, and all those handmade preschool ornaments that can never be thrown away). 
Unfortunately, the folks at Mackenzie-Childs must have gone stark, raving mad, because they want $240 EACH for these stockings, made of silk and polyester satin fabrics and rayon trims.  There are four of us, so we'd be kissing a THOUSAND DOLLARS goodbye for new Christmas stockings if I was going to order these (which I have NO intention of doing, Bernie, so please stop hyperventilating.  You're freaking out the dogs).
Court Jester Tree Skirt, $740
Anyway, you can't stop with the stockings, can you?  I mean, with these wild and whimsical stockings hung by the mantle with care, you'd need to get the matching tree skirt or no one would notice you had a tree at all.  Since the Mackenzie-Childs Court Jester Tree Skirt is $740, you're looking at close to two thousand dollars just for a tree skirt and stockings.  You could buy a sewing machine for that kind of money.  Not a sewing machine as nice as mine, mind you, but a very good sewing machine...
Which brings me to the point of this post.  For past generations, home sewing represented thrift because readymade "store-bought" clothing and soft furnishings were so much more expensive than the cost of the fabrics required for making them.  Now that so much of what we buy and wear is cheaply made overseas, home sewers can expect to spend MORE to make a garment themselves than they would pay for a similar readymade garment, unless you're talking about super high-end couture.  If someone has the skills to successfully knock off couture garments from Chanel, Dior, etc., they can find fabrics from those fashion houses at Gorgeous Fabrics and Emma One Sock and save thousands of dollars while looking like a million swanky bucks.  Unfortunately, I do not have couture garment sewing skills.
Court Jester Tree Skirt, for Crazy People with Money to Burn
But this Christmas tree skirt and stockings?  The sewing is not difficult, and the fabrics and trims are not expensive, either.  I could definitely make something like this, and have a blast doing it, too.  I probably have a few fabric odds and ends already stashed away in my sewing room that would work for this, I definitely have leftover fringes and cording trims, and I could pick up similar fabrics to the ones used here at or Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia and probably spend less than $50 for the tree skirt AND four stockings!
By my calculations, if I can make this tree skirt and stockings for $50, I will have SAVED close to $1700.  Stay tuned... 

Thanksgiving Wrap-Up 2012: Grampa's In-House Catering Service Saves the Day

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful, restful day, complete with good food and surrounded with the blessings of friends and family. 

We have so much to be thankful for this year.  The cease-fire in Gaza reminds me of how fortunate we are to live in a place where violence is rare and the day-to-day safety of our loved ones is something we can take for granted.  We're thankful for our home, our livelihood, our community, and for the wonderful teachers who bless our children with their dedication and enthusiasm every single day.  And we're thankful for the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies who go by the names Lars and Anders, our rambunctious sons who try our patience daily but also fill our lives with so much joy that we wouldn't trade them for the world.

Those are the Big Blessings, but honestly, what I was most thankful for this Thanksgiving was Grampa's In-House Catering Service!  Since Bernie has been traveling so much for work this month, and I was busy working on a design project for a new client on top of my responsibilities as Chauffeur, Algebra Tutor, Science Project Supervisor, and Keeper of the Video Games for the two princelings, I just didn't have the time or energy for the weeks of cooking necessitated by our traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu.  Then, to make matters worse, Bernie stumbled and fell on the stairs last week, spraining his ankle pretty badly, so he was on crutches and unable to fulfil his usual role as Thanksgiving Sous Chef.  My father, who is himself recovering from shoulder surgery, came to the rescue.  Bernie managed to do a remarkable job cleaning our house with a crutch under one arm, pushing the vacuum cleaner with the other, and laid out roasting pans and other equipment.  I set the dining room table, decapitated some roses and arranged them in a bowl for a centerpeice, and my parents showed up on Thanksgiving morning with a completely prepped Thanksgiving meal to cook in my ovens: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole.  I had made my Cranberry Citrus Compote and Cinnamon Molasses Pumpkin Pies ahead of time and stocked up on champagne and our favorite pinot noir, and my mother made the gravy, so we managed to pull off a decent Thanksgiving feast between the four of us.  Dad's apple cider brined turkey was delicious, and all the tastier because I didn't have to fret over it myself.  Thanks for coming to the rescue, Dad!  :-)

Photo Shamelessly Stolen from SewCalGal
This was the most relaxing Thanksgiving Day I've had in a long time.  I even managed to sneak upstairs to my sewing room to whip up another Dresden Plate while everyone else was watching the Westminster Dog Show downstairs.  Which is why, when I saw this adorable quilted turkey with Dresden Plate tail feathers on SewCalGal's Thanksgiving post, I had to snatch it for myself.  By the way, Darlene -- as I'm counting my blessings, you're on the list.  Thank you so much for your 2012 Free-Motion Quilting Challenge.  I know you have put a lot of work into organizing and hosting this year-long event on your blog, lining up expert quilters, sponsors and prizes, and getting the tutorials and winners posted each month.  I am amazed by how much my FMQ skills have improved, just by spending one day each month practicing a new technique.  Thank you for bringing this community of quilters together from all over the world to inspire and encourage one another!

My Dresden Plate, One of Eight
As of right now, I have 7 Dresden Plates pieced, and I just need to assemble one more before I get out my embroidery module and machine-applique the red flower centers to all of the blocks (using Marjorie Busby's fabulous embroidery design for Accuquilt precuts). 

Rose Dream Block from the Kansas City Star, click here for Tutorial
The plan is to alternate Dresden Plate blocks with the vintage Rose Dream block that the lovely, talented, and unbelievably generous Charise of Charise Creates was sweet enough to redraft as a 14" block for me, just so it would work for this Dresden Plate quilt.  Charise, I'm thankful for you, too -- and can't wait to see what other challenging and unusual blocks you'll be sharing in your Vintage Block QAL in the coming months. 

The Rose Dream block was published in the Kansas City Star in 1930, around the same time that Dresden Plate quilts were most popular, so I feel like the two blocks make sense together historically.  The curved piecing looks just a bit more challenging than the drunkard's path blocks I mastered for Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt, and I feel like the combination of curved lines and pointy little squares will be a nice complement to the pointed edges on my Dresden Plates.  I've traced Charise's enlarged pattern pieces onto template plastic and carefully cut them out, but I haven't cut any fabric for these blocks yet.  I'm still considering different options for the background fabrics in this quilt, and I think I'm going to use one of my software programs to audition a few alternatives before I make a commitment.  I don't have any of the dedicated quilting software programs like EQ7, and I don't have the ability to create a new block design in the quilt design function of my Bernina Artista embroidery design software (and there's no way this Rose Dream block would be one of the block designs in the software's design library.  However, I think I will be able to use my Minutes Matter Studio interior design software program to do some mock-ups for this quilt, since I can draw any shapes I want, fill them with fabrics, and import, crop, and duplicate photos in Studio.  I'll let you know how that works out.

Meanwhile, my hallway is piled high with boxes of Christmas decorations, and my family is chomping at the bit to haul out the holly and decorate Christmas trees.  Lars and Anders have even been cleaning their bedrooms, with actual cleaning products, because Bernie told them he wasn't going to set foot in the LEGO store this year unless they could put away all of the LEGOs they already own.  Who ARE these whirling dervishes of bedroom cleaning, and what have they done with my sons?!

Whatever you're up to this weekend, whether it's holiday decorating, shopping, or just relaxing and enjoying leftover turkey, I hope you have a chance to reflect on your blessings and spend time with your loved ones.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgving, Simplified: Profanity-Free Pumpkin Pies

The Crust that Saved Thanksgiving
Go ahead -- judge me.  I don't even care.  Every time I bake a pie, I dread making the crust.  It's always too crumbly, except when it's too sticky.  It slides around all over the counter when I try to roll the dough into a circle, no matter which fancy plastic pie baggy or silicone pastry mat or sheets of parchment paper I attempt to control it with.  And it never fits into my pie plates with enough overhang to make a cute little fluted edge like it's supposed to.  Yes, you have more choices when you make your own pie crust, and the cinnamon pecan pie crust that my molasses pumpkin pie recipe calls for is probably tastier and slightly more interesting than a plain, ordinary crust.  Then there's that whole "I made it from scratch" thing, and it's only once a year...  So this morning, I dragged out all my ingredients, and read through the recipe yet again, biting my fingernails, beads of sweat glistening on my forehead, and snarling flames shooting out from my ears and eyeballs when anyone dared to interrupt my concentration by speaking to me. 

I examined my glass pie plates, an assortment of Deep Dish Pyrex jobs ranging from 9" to 9 1/2" diameter, and contemplated dashing out to Target or Bed,Bath & Beyond in search of shallower, "standard" 9" pie plates.  Then I envisioned the hassle of parking, holiday shopping crowds, and the distinct possibility that neither store would even have the kind of pie plate I was looking for, that I'd hunt all over town for it all day long, and that I STILL would have to come home and roll out pie crust afterwards.
Well, nuts to that -- Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to relax and count your blessings, not a time to teach your children new swear words as your pie crust disintegrates all over the kitchen counter.  I'm making my molasses pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, but this time I'm using these delightful Pillsbury Pet Ritz frozen pie crusts from the grocery store that come already shaped in their own little disposable pie pans.  I blind-baked the crusts with my pie weights, mixed up a batch of my favorite molasses pumpkin pie filling, poured it into the crusts, and baked them as usual. 
Cinnamon-Molasses Pumpkin Pies with Profanity-Free Piecrusts
This Thanksgiving, I will be thankful that the folks at Pillsbury make pie crusts so I don't have to do it anymore.  And, if anyone in my family misses the original pecan pie crust enough to give me grief about it?  Well, they are welcome to sell their souls to the pastry devils and learn to make pie crusts on their own.
Now, with a smile on my face and a latte in my hand, I'm going right upstairs to my sewing room to make another Dresden plate. 
"Thanksgiving Pie," Norman Rockwell, 1930

Happy Fourth of July, Rottweiler-Style!

Image from The T-Shirt Game
Happy Fourth of July, everyone!  I hope you're all relaxing with friends and family, enjoying the day.  My Lars woke up with a headache and a fever this morning, so the kids have been lounging in front of television watching cartoons all morning.  Later on, we'll head over to my parents' house for some splashing in the pool and Grampa's BBQ dinner, followed by fireworks and sparklers for the kids. 

I found the cutest Rottweiler garden flag when I was searching for a Fourth of July image for this post.  Too bad I didn't have the foresight to order this a couple of weeks ago:

Rottweiler Patriotic Garden Flag, from

I hope Lars feels better soon.  He always seems to get sick on holidays!

Don't Bug Me; I'm On Sabbatical

So, have you noticed that I haven't posted about my interior design business lately?  I wrapped up the last of the client projects I was committed to in January, and was feeling incredibly burnt out and uninspired after several years of working long, crazy hours and trying to "do it all."  It got to the point that, when my office phone rang, I felt annoyed, yet I still felt obligated to meet with every prospective new client -- after all, that's why I was investing in marketing, right?  To get prospective new clients to call me!  However, I found that I wasn't able to get excited about these new clients' projects like I used to, and I found reasons to turn down each of the new clients, with mixed emotions.  First and foremost, I feel that each and every client deserves enthusiasm, creative energy, and fresh ideas from their designer, and I have no business taking on anyone's project if I'm feeling uninspired, unmotivated, or even resentful about it.  But at the same time, I felt guilty about actively advertising for new business, and then turning away (rejecting?) people when they sought out my services.  So I temporarily postponed my direct mailings to give myself a little breather.

Then in February, I was sifting through the hundreds of emails in my in-box in an attempt to figure out what I was supposed to send to school for each of my sons' Valentine's Day parties, and I realized that I had only been getting emails about a party for my third grader, Anders.  I sent Lars's fifth grade teacher an email to see if I'd inadvertenly been left off the email list, and was shocked when she replied that they don't do Valentine's Day parties any more after fourth grade.  This was a punched-in-the-stomach, wind-knocked-out-of-me moment.  There have been so many parties I didn't attend or field trips I didn't chaperone because "now isn't a good time for Mommy; I'm too busy with work right now."  Yes, elementary school parties are all the same: snacks, crafts, and a few photo ops, with more scowls of embarrassment each year, but I had no idea, when I chose work over Lars's fourth-grade Valentine's Day party, that it was my last chance.  I went back through all of the pictures on my computer, trying to figure out when was the last time I went to a Valentine's Day party for Lars, and realized that I had missed every one of them since 2008:

Valentine's Day 2008, Lars is Back Row, 2nd from the Right

The painted rock in this photo reads "1st graders Love Mrs. Steadman."  The last time I showed up for Lars's Valentine's Day party was in first grade.  I missed second, third, and fourth, and now there aren't any more.  My February photos for 2009, 2010, and 2011 are all of other people's draperies and sofas and kitchen cabinets instead of pictures of my kid and his buddies making Valentine's Day doily crafts with pink frosting smeared all over their faces.  Robert Brault has been credited with saying "Enjoy the little things in life.  One day, you may look back and realize they were the big things."  At the time, the tedious classroom Valentine's Day parties seemed like such little things compared to the "important" work piled up on my desk, but now that it's gone and I can't get it back, it feels like a really big deal.

Around this time, I began taking a hard look at our financial situation: what was coming in, and where it was all being spent.  I talked it over with my husband (over and over and over again) and decided that we could get by without my income if I curtailed some of my extravagant spending habits.  Last month, I finally took the plunge and disconnected my business line and took down my web site.  My favorite existing clients can still reach me on my cell phone if they need me (you special people know who you are!), but I'm pretty much on sabbatical this year.  Many businesses offer their employees the option of taking an unpaid sabbatical leave once every seven years.  I've been in business by myself for over a decade, working seven days a week with very few vacations, so I'm way past due for my sabbatical!

I never decided what I wanted to be when I grow up, you know.  It's not as though I deliberately planned a career in interior design -- I just sort of fell into it, to justify the purchase of an expensive sewing machine (a long story for another day).  It worked out well in the beginning when the kids were little, because at first it was something I was only doing part time, occasionally, while the boys were in preschool.  This was supposed to be something temporary, while I was home with small children, and I was going to figure out what I REALLY wanted to do professionally at some distant time in the far-off future.  I have learned a lot (mostly the hard way, through expensive mistakes) over the past decade about the principles of interior design, about marketing and running a business, and I have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful people in this industry whom I otherwise would not have known.  I have enjoyed the challenge, the creative outlet, and the satisfaction of seeing my designs come to fruition, and have been blessed to work with the best clients imaginable who appreciated and valued everything I did for them.  However, I never in a million years would have deliberately chosen to be an interior designer.  I studied voice performance, secondary education, and majored in history in college.  I'm going to be 39 next month.  I think it's time for me to figure out what I really want to be when I grow up, don't you?  Right now, I just want to be Lars's and Anders' mom and Bernie's wife, go to the grocery store without makeup on, read a couple of novels, and finish that quilt!

I don't know how long my sabbatical will last, or what my next move will be professionally.  Maybe I'll start something new in a year or two that builds on my prior design experience, or maybe I'll strike out in a completely different direction.  Meanwhile, I'm exercizing, practicing piano, and signing up for quilting classes.  I have time to help Anders with Suzuki violin practice in the afternoon, and I have time to make Lars's favorite egg salad sandwiches for his lunch box.  My kids are both doing much better in school since I pulled the plug on my business and am able to take a more active role in homework supervision and communicating with their teachers.  Most importantly, I'm not constantly stressed-out and sleep-deprived anymore from working all night long after the kids go to bed, so I'm much more patient and deliberate in my parenting.  As Bernie likes to point out, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!" 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have just enough time to make myself a latte before it's time to pick my boys up from play rehearsal. 

Men and Boys in Easter Suits, with Ties!

Father and Sons in Easter Finery
Don't my menfolk clean up nicely for Easter Sunday?  Now that I see the pictures, I think the boys' jacket sleeves were too short.  Ah, well -- I got a full year out of those cute little suits, and Anders will be wearing Lars's next year!
Lars & Anders at Church

This one is my favorite.  What more could I ask for?

Well, the boys are back at school, and it's the first day of the last marking period.  We're in the home stretch of the school year, with summer beckoning from just around the corner.  Where did the year go?!

I managed to sneak in a little quilting time yesterday afternoon while Bernie was fiddling with his bushes in the back yard.  I finished the "straight" lines with the walking foot.  The quotation marks are because it came out looking like graph paper drawn freehand, without a ruler.  You get the idea that the lines are INTENDED to be straight and evenly spaced, but you wonder if the quilting wasn't done during a mild earthquake.  Also, despite the anguish and care that went into starching and basting this quilt, the dreaded evil pleats have been cropping up all over the back of the quilt, like this:

"Straight" Quilting with Stitched-Down Pleat

It's not as if that's the only place it happened, either.  There are so many places where I've got stitched-in pleats, it's almost like it's an intentional design feature.  You know, the way the ubiquitous clumps of dog fur dust bunnies all over my house are an intentional design feature, not an indication of slovenly housekeeping.  Ahem!

Where did I go wrong?  I honestly don't know.  Maybe I didn't starch the backing enough.  Yet the stiffness and stability provided by the starch seemed to wear off gradually as I handled the quilt, rolling and unrolling, folding and unfolding it while I was quilting.  Now it doesn't even feel starched anymore, but there's plenty of quilting left to be done.  Should I have used MORE safety pins for basting?  Was I tugging and pulling too much as I was quilting?  This thing is monstrously huge and heavy, and the table that I set up to the left of me does absolutely no good whatsoever.  I'm really struggling with the bulk of this quilt.

Well, the good news is that I NO LONGER HAVE TO WORRY THAT I'LL RUIN A PERFECT QUILT WITH POORLY EXECUTED FREE MOTION QUILTING!  It's definitely NOT perfect anymore, by any stretch...  ;-)

I packed away the walking foot, cleaned out the lint and oiled my machine, put in a fresh #60 sharp needle, and wound up several bobbins.  Next time I go in my sewing room, I'll be doing some free motion practice with the BSR foot in preparation for quilting those circles "in the ditch" of the circular seams.  Since it's not exactly a cake walk to stitch in the ditch along a straight seam line, with the help of the feed dogs, I'm VERY NERVOUS about how this is going to go, but I just can't see any way out of it.  That line needs to be quilted and there's no other way to do it.  I just have to know that it won't be perfect, and be grateful that I chose the invisible thread so my mistakes won't jump out at me from across the room!

Wish me luck!

Easter Eggs 2012

We colored our eggs yesterday! We attempted to do the Martha Stewart electrical tape striping and marbling techniques I found online. As usual, it's never quite as easy as it appears in the instructions. For one thing, the narrowest electrical tape Bernie could find was 1/2" rather than the 1/4" called for in the tutorial.  The kids had a lot of fun with the tape, but I found it difficult to position it as precisely as I wanted to.  Next year Bernie wants to try this again using pinstriping tape from the automotive store. 

Anders Gets Serious With Electrical Tape
As for the marbling, I didn't follow the instructions very precisely. I think I made the marbling dye bath too deep and put in too much olive oil, so next year I'll spend some time finding more appropriate containers for that part.  Oh, and NOTE TO SELF: Next year, remember to put plastic gloves on before I start playing with food coloring, to avoid a reprise of the lovely manicure I'll be sporting for Easter Sunday:

Even if I had time to get a manicure today (I don't), I don't think there's anything they could do to get that gross green dye out from under my nails.  Whatever -- next year, GLOVES!!

This morning the kids had their Easter egg hunt and egg decorating party at church.  I managed to get one sneaky shot of Lars before he noticed what I was doing:

...And then I got the "Why-is-my-mom-so-embarrassing?!" look in all subsequent photos:

"I am way too cool for you, Mom."  -- Lars

See?  So grown-up and sophisticated, this eleven-year-old.  How sophisticated?  Why, THIS sophisticated:

Anders, as usual, dyed almost all of his eggs green.  If it was up to Anders, EVERYTHING would be green.

Meanwhile, Bernie was stalking around with his camera, looking like this from an adult's perspective:

...and looking like THIS from a small child's perspective:

Pretty scary, don't you agree?

Now the eggs are taken care of, Easter suits are all clean and ready for church tomorrow morning, and my husband is speaking longingly to me of ligustrum bushes that he wants to plant.  It's a beautiful, sunny Saturday.  Happy Easter, everyone!

Three Days Until Easter? It's Egg Time, Baby!

Grammy Coloring Easter Eggs with Lars, 2003
Remember when your kids were really little, just barely old enough to understand that something special was going on when the holidays rolled around?  Remember how exciting it was to set up the Easter egg dye for the first time and watch their amazement when the eggs changed colors before their wide, wondering eyes?  You didn't need to do anything fancy, and you didn't need anything other than food coloring, eggs and vinegar to create those memories.

Fast forward about a decade, and I am starting to realize that there may be more holiday craft memories BEHIND us than ahead of us.  Which is why I'm ramping things up a bit this year, with more advanced egg coloring plans that are better suited to my 8 and 11 year old helpers.  I'm not going to know ahead of time which year will be the last that my kids are interested in coloring Easter eggs, so we can't take any eggs for granted!

I've been trolling around on Pinterest for ideas (you can see all of them on my Easter board here), and I've narrowed it down to a few ideas that are different enough to pique the boys' interest, but easy enough for them to get good results without too much assistance:

Madras Electrical Tape Eggs, by Jen Wallace of Indie Fixx, tutorial here
These eggs by Jen Wallace of Indie Fixx remind me of madras plaid Easter shirts or ties, and they were made by wrapping the eggs with electrical tape and repositioning the tape between colors, an idea Jen got from a Martha Stewart Living tutorial here

I like this idea because we already have electrical tape out in the garage, and it's just basic egg dying with a fun twist. 

Another Martha Stewart idea we'll be borrowing is the DIY egg drying rack made of 1/2" foam core and straight pins.  Ingenious!  I've always hated the ugly blemishes you get on the eggs if you set them on a paper towel or back in the egg carton to dry, and with multi-dye techniques you'd get multiple ugly splotches, one for each color. 

The second technique I want to try this year is marbleized eggs, another Martha Stewart project (instructions here).  This is another method that builds on basic egg dying.  First you color the eggs the way you normally would and allow them to dry, and then you swirl them in a second shallow dye bath in a contrasting color, with olive oil drizzled in the dye bath.  I'm picturing this kind of like how they drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a plate at the Olive Garden when they bring the bread out.  Is that the Olive Garden, or the Macaroni Grill?  It's one of those Italian restaurant chains where Bernie refuses to eat because he always gets an upset stomach every time we go there. 

Back to the eggs!

Eggs Embellished with Temporary Tattoos
One more idea to throw into the mix: In the past, when they were much younger, I tried giving the boys stickers to embellish their Easter eggs, but I seem to recall they just fell off, resulting in disappointment and tears.  I found this photo from Tina Roth Eisenberg of SwissMiss showing plain brown eggs decorated with temporary tattoos.  Lars LOVES temporary tattoos, so much so that he'd plaster them all over his face if we allowed it.  My boys probably won't be excited about sweet little bunny rabbits, but maybe I can find some fake tattoos that will fulfil the twin objectives of arousing little boys' enthusiasm while respecting that this is, after all, a religious holiday (there will be NO SKULLS AND CROSS BONES on our Easter eggs.  Period!).

If Bernie ever comes back from getting his oil changed, I'll head out to round up supplies for our Easter eggs.  The boys have an Easter egg hunt and craft party at church on Saturday, so that means I need to dye four dozen eggs today and have everything ready for decorating them on Friday.  I'll try to remember to post pictures!

Happy Easter!

Happy Valentine's Day, With a Twist

I'm sorry; I couldn't resist...  I was googling to find a nice Valentine's Day image to share, just something short and sweet and lovely, and was reminded that this hearts-and-flowers holiday we're celebrating today all began with the brutal clubbing and beheading of a Catholic priest named Valentine who was martyred for performing marriages against the wishes of Roman Emperor Claudius II.  Then I stumbled upon this photo, which totally appeals to my inappropriate sense of humor.  I am also breaking a cardinal rule with this one, not linking back to the original source for the photo, because it was co-ed-something-or-other porn site.  Google, why do you take me to these nasty web sites?  All I asked for was "Valentine's Day Images!"  Thank goodness for the parental control lockdown on the kids' computer!

On that note -- HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!  I hope none of you get clubbed or beheaded.

Happy New Year 2012! Cheers, Hugs, Movies and Champagne Bubbles Headed Your Way

Happy 2012, Everyone!  No, this isn't the one where I recap the adventures, successes, and missed opportunities of 2011.  This isn't the one where I stand up on the Internet and publicly declare my ill-fated resolutions (that one might come later this week...  or not at all...  we'll see). 

This IS the one where I count my blessings and share the highlights of our quiet New Year's Eve celebration, home as usual, with our kids. 

One day, I might like to go to a black tie New Year's Eve party in a fabulous, glittery gown, having forced Bernie into a dashing tuxedo against his will, and I shall sip champagne and be devastatingly elegant into the wee hours of the morning.  For now, though, we like to stay home for New Year's Eve and watch movies.

Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan, 2003
We watched the 2003 Peter Pan movie with the boys, and loved every minute of it.  How did I miss this film when it first came out?  This Peter Pan is faithful to the original 1904 play and 1911 story by J. M. Barrie, and the film conveys much of the Victorian cultural and historical context out of which the Peter Pan stories were written as well.  This was definitely a film that kept our entire family enthralled from beginning to end.

We wrapped up Peter Pan at ten o'clock, and I decided that was late enough for little boys to stay up on New Year's Eve.  We tucked them into bed and I annoyed them by singing bedtime songs in French, Italian, German, Latin, and finally, when Anders begged me to stop singing in foreign languages, I couldn't help myself -- I sang Rachmaninoff's Vocalise (a song without any words at all).  Don't be too impressed -- I didn't claim to have sung it well!  I believe the hounds joined in with my howling towards the end...

Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached, 2011
After torturing my children musically, my husband and I cracked open the champagne and settled down to a recent romantic comedy, No Strings Attached starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.  It was pretty cute as far as these fluffy-feel-good-romantic-comedy flicks go.  Funnier moments included Kutcher's character, Adam, presenting his girl with a bouquet of carrots on their date after she forbade him to get her flowers.  We were enjoying our movie and our bubbly so much that we lost track of the time and realized, at the end of the movie, that we were half an hour late ringing in the new year.  I hope this is not a portent foretelling that I will be late to everything important all year long!  Oh wait, that was last year...

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Onslaught of the Christmas Cookies, 2011: Attack of the Ninjabread Men

Christmas Cookies 2011
The baking frenzy began innocently enough, with a batch of our family's favorite Crackled Molasses Sugar Cookies.  Those cookies vaporized within a day or two, and then we had to bake more crackled molasses along with a batch of Norwegian krumkake for the boys' internationally-themed classroom holiday parties. 

Krumkake filled with Strawberry Ice Cream
For those of you who do not have Norwegian heritage, krumkake are thin, crispy cookies that are made one at a time with a special iron that imprints a lacy design on each cookie.  After baking the cookie for about 20 seconds, you peel the piping hot cookie off the krumkake iron and wrap it immediately around a little wooden cone to shape the cookie.  Thanks to the krumkake baking session, I no longer have fingerprints, so it's a good thing they taste good! 
Lars Sucking Ice Cream out of his Krumkake
My mom never filled our krumkake with anything that I can remember, but all of the recipes suggest filling with whipped cream, fresh berries, or ice cream.  We discovered that krumkake make the best tiny ice cream cones, filled with strawberry Breyer's ice cream.  Yummy!

My krumkake were not as crispy as I would have liked, but my internet research suggests that the mild North Carolina weather was to blame.  I found an ex-Minnesotan/Norwegian baker in Texas online who claims that crispy krumkake perfection requires baking on a cold, dry day (and when they talk about a cold winter day in Minnesota, they mean zero temperatures or below) yet it was a balmy 68 degrees in Charlotte the day I was baking mine.  My cookies came out somewhere in between crisp and al dente, like pasta that isn't quite done yet, but doesn't break your teeth.  Not terrible, but not sublime either.  I'll have to try another batch of krumkake in January or February, when we get a cold snap.  Although I've always thought of krumkake as a Christmas and New Year's cookie, it would be perfect for Valentine's Day with the strawberry ice cream.  Also, nothing says I Love You like burning off your fingerprints on blistering-hot cookies, don't you think?

Christmas Cookie Decorating, Wayzata, MN, 1981
Now, to understand the craziness that followed, you need to understand that my mom made double or even triple batches of rolled sugar cookies for us to decorate every year for Christmas, going back as far as I can remember.  See evidence above.  I'm the one in the red dress whose hair is hanging into the frosting.  Susan always made the most beautiful cookies (she's the one in the foreground at left) and the younger ones, Janice and Donnie, would dump a quantity of frosting and red hots on their cookies in inverse proportion to their ages.  (In fairness, I must say that Janice the Manice's cookie decorating prowess improved with age, but she's 5 in this picture and I am pretty sure she was still a frosting dumper at that time).

When I have attempted to perpetuate this family tradition with my sons in prior years, we've been frustrated by the difficulty of squeezing the thick tubes of frosting from the grocery store.  Looking at the old picture, I see that the store-bought frosting used to come in a different container that was probably easier for little hands to use.  I also have a terrible time whenever I attempt to roll out any kind of dough, whether it's for pie crust or cookies.  The rolling pins and I are not the best of friends.  Finally, after so much effort is put into these shaped and decorated cookies, most of them are pretty ugly and I never really liked the taste.  Not making any cookies to decorate would be sacrilege, because it's a Family Christmas Tradition and I can't have my children growing up frosting deprived!

The Package from King Arthur Flour has Arrived
I was determined to improve the Cookie Decorating Experience this year, so I ordered LOTS of decorating goodies from King Arthur Flour a couple of weeks ago.  I got every color of sprinkling sugar you could imagine, edible glitter stars, chocolate jimmies, Fiori di Sicilia to flavor the cookies instead of the Almond Extract we'd used in the past.  I planned to try my hand at Royal Icing for the first time, because I'd be able to control the consistency and I hoped it would taste better than the stuff from the grocery store since homemade icing wouldn't have the chemical preservatives.  So I bought meringue powder to make the icing (instead of raw egg whites) and a variety of contraptions for piping the frosting onto the cookies, certain that at least ONE of them would be easy enough for the kids to use.  As a last resort, I even got some edible foodcoloring markers for drawing directly on the cookies or on hardened icing (Anders really loved these).

Anders drew a tuxedo on a gingerbread man with FooDoodler markers

Then I spent a bit too much time trolling the internet for decorating inspiration -- you can see my favorite OPC (Other People's Cookies) here on my Pinterest board.  I got a couple of new cookie cutters this year, a large tree with a star on top, and a set of three Ninjabread men.  Lars and Anders were very excited about the Ninjabread men.  It would be impossible to exaggerate their level of Ninjabread men excitement, in fact.  They were downright giddy about the Ninjabread men.  If you have little boys in your kitchen, I strongly recommend the Ninjabread men -- and you can get the cookie cutters right here
Lars Cutting Out Ninjabread Cookies
So, how did it all turn out?  My mom had to come to the rescue when it was time to roll out the dough, and her tried-and-true pastry cloth and little knit rolling pin sock won hands-down over my fancy Williams Sonoma silicone rolling pin and silicone pastry mat.  My gingerbread dough needed more flour because it was too sticky, and my sugar cookie dough needed a little milk because it was so dry that it was crumbling apart when I tried to roll it.  Once the doughs were the right consistency they were pretty easy to handle. 
Anders and Grammy Rolling Out Sugar Cookie Dough

Royal Icing, tinted Yellow with AmeriColor Gel Food Coloring
The Royal Icing was an adventure, but it came out okay.  I had a tough time getting a true red color until I read this baking blogger's instructions and discovered that the frosting will darken gradually as it dries.  I was also grateful that I'd ordered the AmeriColor gel food colors to tint my frosting, so I was able to get a nice, deep black for Santa boots and snowman details, as well as a medium brown for my Christmas tree stumps. 

Frosting Tubes Filled & Ready to Go
Another challenge was getting the icing into the little bottles and tube contraptions once I'd mixed it up.  My solution was to spoon the frosting into plastic Ziplock sandwich bags, squeeze the air out and seal the baggie, then snip off a corner so I could "pipe" the frosting into the various containers.  However, I made the mistake of mixing up and tinting most of the frosting the night before I planned for the kids to decorate, so I could get my "trials and errors" out of the way ahead of time.  Unfortunately, the icing really needs to be used right away.  The frostings from the night before were too runny the next day. 

There's a wonderful tutorial on decorating with Royal Icing on the King Arthur Flour blog here, and an even better updated tutorial by the same author that I just found right here (wish I'd seen these pictures of what the icing consistency should be before I made mine).  I decided that the cookie shapes we most enjoy decorating are the simplest ones, like snowflakes, bells, candy canes, and stars.  I liked the reindeer in gingerbread because they only needed a red nose, a black eye, and a white tail and then they were perfect.  Next year I'm going to get a mitten and an ornament cookie cutter, because I enjoyed making patterns on cookies more than fussing with multicolored Santas and angels that seldom come out looking as good as the cookies you envisioned in your mind.  Oh, and I think I'll limit frosting to two or three colors at a time next year, so I can do a thick and thin (for flooding) version of each frosting color.  This year I mixed up red, white, green, blue, yellow, orange, black, and brown, all at once, in an in-between consistency.  The frosting went on too thickly in large areas that we were trying to fill in, but was still too runny to get really sharp detail.

My Best Efforts: Rebecca's Christmas Cookies
Oh, and all those sugars and sprinkles I bought?  We hardly made a dent in them.  My favorite was the white sugar that I sprinkled on the edges of my snowman.  I also flocked a blue snowman scarf with glitter.  And I love how my Ninja Santa came out. 

Grammy and Bernie Decorating Cookies

Well, you'd think that by noon on Christmas Eve, I'd be done baking cookies.  You'd be wrong.  I have a whole batch of crackled molasses sugar cookie dough in the fridge, ready to be shaped into balls and rolled in sugar for baking.  I am also in my bathrobe, and -- horror of horrors! -- I have been so obsessed with cookie baking that I am NOT DONE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING YET!!!  I have to hop in the shower, get dressed, and then go to the mall, yes, the MALL on CHRISTMAS EVE, to get a couple of last-minute gifts for a certain difficult-to-shop-for husband of mine. 
Merry Christmas, everyone!  Wish me luck at the mall!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...