December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope y'all enjoyed Christmas. The weather was a bit nasty around here, and although I would have loved to be with my family, I'm very thankful to not have had to travel (farther than 10 minutes to the in-laws) this year. That made for a perfect day to sit around, relax, open gifts, eat cookies and drink coffee though. Yay!

So, here's what Santa's elves (i.e. me) cooked up for the darling niece and nephew this year:

For Marsh - a reversible superhero cape and mask

One side is a lightning bolt with the letter "M", and the other is the same skull and crossbones that I used here. Amazingly, he is still into pirates after all this time!

I used the cape pattern from The Long Thread again. Though, this time I replaced the entire collar with some binding that can just be tied in the front. I like the look much better than the awkward bunching that the velcro was causing before. I sort-of made up the eye mask - I hope it fits. It's red on one side and black on the other, so he can match it with either side of the cape.

I can't be sure he's even into this kind of thing, but hopefully he likes it!

You will see below that Jane received a drawstring bag for her toys, so I made one for Marshall too.

For Jane - blocks made from Amy Butler's Little Stitches

I ended up making 8 different blocks that are about 4 inches big. Half of them have bells tucked inside for a little fun that's not too obnoxious, and the other half have ribbons attached. Hopefully, she will find some entertainment in the "tags."

The pattern comes with directions to make a drawstring bag to store them. I had fun with it by adding extra fabrics and ribbons. I love the way it turned out.

Well, those were the big projects of the season. I sure had fun making them, and I hope the kids enjoy them. The only other project was pillows for my mother-in-law. I'll post those soon.

December 24, 2009

It's Christmas Time in the City

Christmas is shaping up around here. It's been a busy, overwhelming, and a kind-of fun season so far this year. Wow, is that scrooge-ish or what? I think the deal is . . . I started a new job right after Thanksgiving, and, my brain power for anything outside of work has significantly lowered in the last month making Christmas preparations far more overwhelming than usual. Anyway, I have been working on a few things, I promise - I just can't reveal a few of them until tomorrow, but I can show you the other things I've been up to.

I woke up on Saturday morning with what felt like a LONG to-do list. To be honest, it wasn't that bad. Nonetheless, I woke up, had some breakfast, was enjoying some time reading my Bible, and then out of nowhere got into one of those moods that was like "Ugh, my life is so hard. I need to take a nap because that sounds far more doable than my ever-growing to-do list." It was a very sad state, so I succumbed to it and I napped - at 10:00 AM!

Once I woke up, though, I had a come-to-Jesus moment, realized my life wasn't so bad and that I could carry on. Good grief! I hope other people do this kind of thing too. It's got to be normal, right?

First thing I did was finish up the Christmas cards. I really enjoyed that process this year. Here's all the different kinds that came off the assembly line:

Once again, Jesse wrote the recap of our year for the letter inside, which always makes me laugh. I love that man.

Later, I did a little baking. I started with molasses cookies. Yum! For some reason I was craving them last Christmas season, and I found a yummy recipe. Here it is:

Yummy Molasses Cookies (with icing)

3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Mix together butter, sugar and egg. Stir in molasses. Combine the last 6 ingredients in a separate bowl. Blend flour mixture into the molasses mixture. Cover and chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in a small bowl of white sugar. Place the cookies onto ungreased baking sheets - beware, they will grow! Bake for 8-10 minutes, until tops are cracked.

Once the cookies have cooled, make some icing.


1 egg white
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat the egg white until frothy. Then, beat in the sugar and vanilla until thoroughly mixed. Spread onto cookies, wait for the icing to harden, and . . . enjoy!

Lastly, I got inspired by a friend to make some biscuits for the pups in the family. So, I did some baking and then sent some packages out to my sisters and their sweet dogs.

They also got some strawberry jam, which I had been promising to to Em for a long time now. Mom got a package too, but she got molasses cookies for her pup (Dad) instead of biscuits. It sounds like he's already enjoying them - having claimed the whole bag before Mom even saw them. Now, before you think I just left Ben and Ali out of this mix completely, you'll have to see what I made for the kiddos . . . but not until tomorrow!

December 10, 2009

Pearberry Pie

We had one of the most wonderful of all Thanksgivings here in Iowa this year. My parents and my sister and her husband came to visit, and boy did we have a good time. We ate a lot and shopped a lot! And, that is what Thanksgiving is for, right?

For our fanciful feast we were in charge of bringing the sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie to my mother-in-law's place. I had a great time planning the menu! Here's what we brought:

Sweet potatoes - a wonderful recipe from Em. She used the recipe last year and raved about it, so I had to try it this year! Who knew that sweet potatoes could be even better with chopped pecans rather than marshmallows? It was awesome!

Mashed potatoes - an easy peasy recipe that I threw together. Kinda the basic sour-cream-mashed-potato combo that most people do.

Stuffing - an interesting recipe from Oprah. Kind of a random place to get a recipe, I know, but it's Oprah's favorite! Anyway, the orange juice in it gives it an interesting kick. The girls seemed to like it and the boys thought it was a little weird. Isn't it kinda true that men don't like citrus-y things?

Cranberry Chutney - another one of Em's winners. This sauce has pears, golden raisins and cranberries. Seriously, it's better than any cranberry sauce I've ever seen or tasted.

Pearberry Pie - this was the big risk of the evening, but it turned out to be a hit! I needed to try something that was a little "out there". Cause I'm like that . . . and . . . my mother-in-law was providing wonderful standbys like apple crisp and pumpkin pie, so I knew that if mine failed we would still be eating well. Turns out the pear and cranberry mixture is the perfect combination of "sweet" and "tart" in a pie. Did you see the crust in the picture, too? I'm getting better at my crimping. Still not a pro, but better. Here's the recipe. Thank you, Betty Crocker.

Look - see, Em and Cory are enjoying it.

And, so is Dad. He was the one that affectionately coined it "pearberry."

Here's all of us after our tummies are quite full.

For the rest of the weekend we just shopped, played and shopped some more.

Em and Mom while having lunch.

Playing on main street.

And . . . one last picture to show you that Scout was probably having the best weekend of us all. Cory and Em spoiled him like one of their own. He was quite smitten with them.

December 9, 2009

Capes and Crowns

Wow. I had no intention of taking a blog break like that. November must have been a little busy! I'll see if I can catch you up on the creative happenings from this household in the next couple of posts.

First, we have the second installment of the nieces' birthdays. Reagan's birthday happens at the end of October and Peyton's at the end of November. In an effort to keep their lovely mother somewhat sane we celebrated both birthdays in the middle of November.

Now, you may remember the birthday gifts given to the girls before Reagan's birthday - just in time for Halloween. Ah, what cute fairies they were. I posted a couple of extra photos from Halloween on that post, if you want to see the update.

For Peyton's birthday I decided that capes and crowns were in order. What little girl wouldn't want to dress up as royalty or as a girly superhero whenever she would like? Thankfully, just in time for making these gifts The Long Thread posted a tutorial for a crown that goes with her previously posted tutorial for a cape. I love it when that happens!

Here's Reagan, her majesty.

And, here's Peyton.

The crowns came out too big. Bummer! And, the neck portion of the cape is really weirding me out. Why the bunching at the top? I think I need to either cut it differently or it should be replaced with binding that can just be tied. Course the girls wouldn't be able to tie them on their own - hence the beauty of velcro. Hmmm. I tried to correct it by reducing the neck portion in half, but it didn't seem to work.

Reagan really hammed it up the entire day. She was the cutest little gift-receiver that I ever did see - making sure to sucker her relatives into giving her everything under the sun.

Peyton, on the other hand, didn't seem to care much about the gifts, or the relatives, or the cake, or pretty much anything. She kicked and screamed nearly all day, which stressed out her mother and really amused the rest of us!

As a result, Reagan blew out her candles with her cousin Aiden rather than her sister. Oh well.

Here's to being 3 and 2! Happy birthday, sweet girls!

November 2, 2009

Overdue Birthday Gift

I just sent a late birthday gift to a dear friend. It was about a month late, but she didn't seem to mind. Sometimes your birthday should last a whole month, don't you think?

I used the same fabric combo that I did with the bag that I made awhile back. I can't seem to get enough of it.

I used the apron pattern from Amy Butler's In Stitches. I think it's so cute! It has cutesy pleats in the front and long, luxerious ties. And, it's easy to make!

I coupled it with some homemade strawberry jam and apple butter. This friend is hippie enough to appreciate a gift homemade with lots of love.

I like that about her.

The Pumpkin Carving of 2009

Every year Jesse and I carve pumpkins. I absolutely love it. I'm not sure if he does, but he acts like it, and that is good enough for me.

This year was a little different - we didn't make a trip to the pumpkin patch. Instead, at the beginning of October, I walked out to our backyard and just plucked these pumpkin beauties from our garden. As you already know, I'm just so pleased with myself and that little garden. I've really enjoyed it - makes me smile.

Jesse is hilarious - he was practically laughing at himself while carving his pumpkin - thinking he was so clever. Which, he is, admittedly. You can't really tell in the above picture, but mine was a little ghost. Not terribly beautiful, but oh well. I cut out the entire ghost, carved around the outline a little and then stuck it back in with toothpicks. I've never done that before, but it worked out okay.

So, on Halloween night our little neighborhood trick-or-treaters were greeted by the ever-frightening display of a ghost saying "hi". Classic.

October 24, 2009

Freaking Cute Fairies

My nieces' (on Jesse's side of the family) birthdays happen during the months of October and November. They will be 3 and 2, respectively. I've been dreaming up plans as to what to make for them for a little while. I want to make it special, but not over the top, you know?

One day the idea just came to me . . . toddlers like to dress up, right? So, I decided to make things that could add to their dress-up collection - hopefully to be used over the next year. Or as long as they will fit.

I saw this skirt that was posted awhile ago and thought of my older niece immediately. She is the sweet, slender, princess, drama-queen type. Perfect for fairy goodness.

I have another idea for my other niece's birthday, but I will post about that separately when it's completed (sometime in November).

So, within a week of deciding what to make for Reagan's birthday, my sister-in-law calls me. She asks if I would be willing to make fairy costumes for the girls for Halloween this year. What? Why of course. I happened to be planning on making one for Reagan already. So, I rearranged plans a little and decided to give them both presents on each others' birthdays. That way I can still give them fairy costumes for Reagan's birthday and then I can give gifts again on Peyton's birthday in November.

The skirts were so simple that I recommend them to any mom who has a girl. Seriously, you can buy the supplies for about $5 and complete the project in 30-45 minutes. It's so fun! Here they are. Pink for Reagan. Purple for Peyton.

The wings were another story. I swear they shouldn't have required that much brain power. But, my goodness. I racked my brain real hard over those. I got some cable at Lowe's hoping that they will survive several episodes of the girls' trying them on and throwing them on the floor. Who knows - but I tried. I used floral wire and floral tape to hold the cable together, and then I wrapped them in tulle. That was probably my mistake - the tulle. I should have used something stretchy. Nonetheless, it worked with enough hot glue and enough jewels to cover the glue spots.

Here's Reagan in her costume. (Peyton was napping . . . hopefully I can get more pictures to post when they wear them on Halloween.)

Here are two pictures from Halloween (taken by Rachael's sister-in-law).

Pretty freaking cute little fairies, wouldn't you say?

October 23, 2009

Hooked on Apple Butter

I've been thinking about apple butter for awhile . . . like months. I'm not exactly sure what prompted it, but it hasn't gone away. Maybe it started when I made the strawberry jam, I'm not sure.

Apple butter makes me think of my Grandma 'Kowski. She always had a jar of it on hand . . . as well as old fashioned donuts, tin roof sundae and butter pecan ice cream. Anyway, apple butter is one of those things that reminds me of my childhood, and I think there is a part of me that is trying to grasp those little memories so that I might carry them into the traditions of my own home.

Well, I knew canning apple butter was going to be something I would try come fall (i.e. the apples are really cheap). So, two weeks ago I picked up a couple bags of apples and I went for it. I searched and found this recipe. Fantastic. So simple. I changed the recipe a bit . . . only used 3 pounds of apples, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar. The rest was the same.

The only real issue is that I don't have an apple corer slicer thingy. That contraption always gives me wonderful memories of Mom. We always loved the long curly cue of apple peel that came off those apples. Yummy.

So - as a result - I cut all of the apples (at least 10 to 12) into 1/8ths and then used a paring knife to cut the peel off each slice. Wow. If that doesn't give someone arthritis at a ripe old age of 27 I don't know what will. I had to alternate between peeling and folding laundry (while watching HGTV, of course) just to get temporary relief. Took a long time.

Nevertheless, I have to admit, it was totally worth it. I made waffles the following morning and I haven't stopped eating apple butter and waffles for two weeks straight. I can't stop. Just pop a waffle into the toaster, spread it with apple butter and walk out the door. So good.

I still have one more bag of apples to core and peel so that I can make one more batch. I just can't quite get the motivation to do it. Just not yet. Maybe next weekend.

October 8, 2009

Fall Pillows

Sometime around May of this year, I went on a redecorating spree in our living room. This led to an abundance of pillow making, which you might recall, ended in Jesse banning me from making any more pillows. Hmmm . . . maybe at the time I just told you that he had made fun of me for sewing 10 pillows in one week, which was only partly true. He did make fun of me, and he did ban me from making any more. You know, I suppose, if I consider "the ban" from a holistic approach, then I could conclude he is concerned for my overall health . . . or he was just sick of my sewing machine and the fabric cluttering the dining room table. Either one.

Last weekend, I decided it was time to pull out the fall decor. Probably because the weather here decided to make the quickest turn toward cold that I've ever seen. All of a sudden it was goodbye summer; hello fall.

The fabric is Joel Dewberry's Ginseng Orchid in spice. The orange is just a color I picked up at my local Hancock Fabrics.

I felt like the orange pillows needed a little bit of detailing. I bought some contrasting orange threads and just sewed horizontally across the pillow cover before I put it together. I really like the way it turned out. (You might have to click on the picture to see a close-up.)

Last year I picked up some placemats at Target for $.74 each. What?! I couldn't pass that up. Here they are making their first fall debut.

And, look at these napkin rings I scored from Grandma Tink. Perfect.

I sure love fall. I just wish it wasn't followed by winter.

October 7, 2009

From White to Gray

Jesse does our laundry. Isn't that awesome? I love it. And, quite honestly, he's really good at it too. He separates the colors so nicely, adds just the right amount of bleach to the whites, he doesn't mind that I make our own laundry soap and that sometimes the supply runs out just as he is trying to finish up, and he carefully hangs any of my clothing that he thinks just maybe shouldn't go in the dryer. Ah, he is good.

So . . . we were both quite surprised, and kind of annoyed, that when I was folding our laundry and putting it away recently I noticed that one of my favorite new sweatshirts had been tainted with bleach. How could it be? We don't know. It seemed to be the only victim of random bleaching that day.

It took me about 24 hours to mull over how I wanted to cope with this new loss. The fabric is cute (a nice white and gray horizontal stripe), should I cut it up and make something else out of it? Do I just throw it away? Then, it came to me . . . I should dye it!

Not too long after my new realization, I spent an evening boiling up some dye brew.

I had black dye on hand, and thought that would be fun to experiment with. I also went to my closet to see if I had anything else that needed an uplift. Turns out I did! Here's what came of it:

The sweatshirt. Turned out a little blotchy (from where the bleach had been), but not too bad. Definitely wearable on the weekend.

Hmmm . . . the picture makes this shirt look like the bottom is darker than the top. That's not the case. Anyway, this shirt used to be white and was just getting a little dingy. I still love the shape and style. So a nice shade of gray is a good way to keep it lasting.

Same with this shirt. It used to be white and was just getting . . . I don't know . . . old. It also is now a nice shade of gray. Plus, I love the way that the dye didn't pick up the stitching on the blouses. Adds a really cool effect!

All in all, I'm very happy about the transformation. A little bit of dye can go a long way.

October 6, 2009

Sweet Jane

On September 11 my brother and his wife had a beautiful little girl. She came a whole month early and that means I was not even close to being done with her gifts. I was doing a very good job of starting on her gifts early too . . . and then she surprised us! Of course, when it comes to adding a gorgeous baby into the family, we'll welcome a surprise like that any day. They named her Jane. And, I just can barely get over how cute she is.

Only a couple of weeks late, here's what I sent:

In the last few months I've been teaching a couple of friends of mine how to sew. Oh my goodness, have we been having fun! I didn't know how much fun it could be to sew with good friends . . . I guess I have been so used to doing it on my own. Last month's project was sewing baby bibs. Of course, I had little Jane in mind - and a perfect combination of fabrics in my stash. We used some free tutorial that I found online (I can't remember which). I guess we tweaked it enough that it doesn't matter much now.

One of my sewing friends, Diana, is a mother of two and she recommended the side closure and the snaps as opposed to velcro. Gotta love the insights of a mother.

I also sent along a little onesie. Look familiar?

I have to tell you . . . I had originally planned to send a pair of booties to Jane. They were really cute ones from Amy Butler's Little Stitches. Just adorable, I tell you. However, I learned a valuable lesson while putting them together . . . Be very careful when trying to make two things that are supposed to look identical. Don't expect perfect results. In fact, it might be wise not even to try it. Because . . . I got done with the second bootie, and low and behold, it was a full size smaller than the first.

Not funny at all . . . except it kinda was. Let's just say those didn't make it into the package.

September 17, 2009

Eat Your Veggies (Part V)

Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart Living, May 2008

I think my garden is the best I've ever seen! I might be a little biased (and naive), but I can't believe how many beautiful vegetables I've been able to grow. It's probably beginner's luck, which will make me very sad when I try and recreate the same goodness next summer, but I'll definitely give it a whirl in 2010. Here's a picture of what I was able to glean just one day last week:

This is only a glimpse of what has been going on. Let's see . . . throughout the summer we've gotten 5 or 6 cucumbers, 30 something carrots, 3 or so bags of lettuce, 5 or so acorn squash, 2 watermelons, 5 or so tomatoes, gobs of cherry tomatoes, 2 beautiful green peppers, lots of green beans and 2 pumpkins that will be ready just in time for carving. It's been so fun!

The only things that haven't been particularly successful are the peppers. I have two green pepper plants, one yellow and one red. Out of all four plants we have only had 2 green peppers (which were beautiful!) and a yellow pepper-that hasn't turned color yet.

Next year I think we'll swap out the cucumbers for zucchini (since it's so yummy on the grill and I can use it in bread or cake), and I probably won't plant many carrots, if any. I don't have anything against carrots, but they have been hard to pull out of the ground And, it's kind of hard to plant them without planting thousands. What if I don't want thousands? What if I only want 10, can I have just 10? Okay, okay, I'll stop this little rant on carrots. I just won't plant them next year, that's all.

Things I have loved, though, are the tomatoes (especially the cherry tomatoes), the squash, the peppers (of the ones we've gotten), and the pumpkins. And, of course, I'm looking forward to seeing how the watermelons turn out too. They might make the list.