Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tommy and his Sense of Style

This picture cracks me up. It is so terribly THEM.

But the funniest thing about this picture is the shirt Tommy is wearing. At the end of the last school year, the Room Mom made a shirt for each child. She printed photos of the kids from various events and activities throughout the year, printed them onto iron-on transfers, and then each child wore their shirt and the classmates signed their names using fabric pens. I know.

Anyway, this picture cracks me up because he loves that shirt. And he's walking around, wearing pictures of himself on his shirt. That's funny enough. But then Erik started helping out with the laundry, and the result has been several loads of pink clothing. Ahem.

This is one of the shirts that has turned pink in the last couple of months. He still wears it. And, more importantly, he doesn't wear his pink shirt with his face on it because he doesn't car, he wears it because he still thinks it's cool.

My brother makes fun of us because our kids wear floods and thrift store clothes and stripes with plaids and Scotty wears rubber boots with EVERYTHING these days, plus the fact that when Scotty has a potty training accident at pre-school he comes home wearing girl's pants from the extra clothes bin, and now Tommy actually thinks it's COOL to wear your own picture on a shirt and thinks it's even better if said shirt has been washed with a red hand towel.

But I think they're hilarious just the way they are, and I think it's pretty cool that their fashion sense, at least for the time being, fits so well with my disinterest in shopping and Erik's inability to run a load of whites.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A few months ago, I bought this wool blanket at the thrift store for $5. It was big and ugly, but it had a nice texture and it was 100% wool. When I bought it, I knew I wanted to cut it into useable chunks and dye it different colors. I got some regular old Rit dye from the grocery store and that's where my efforts stalled until just now.

I set up a little station on the stove, where I heated the water to a boil, added the dye, and then stirred in the wool patches for the recommended 30 minutes. I had no idea what would happen, but if it didn't work I'd be out nothing more than a few hours and a few bucks, and I thought it would be fun to try it out.

Using the laundry line that I have set up in the garage to try to cut down on drying sheets and a few loads of clothes every week, I let them air dry.

And at the end I had this beautiful stack of amazing wool felt! Wool felt is actually very expensive, and if I were purchase this much it would cost me over a hundred dollars. I was so pleased with my experiment! The colors came out so vibrant and so extraordinary! I even threw in a wool shawl that Erik accidentally turned pink in the washer. Unwearable until I dyed it a deep red (it's on top there).
I told Erik, "Look! Look what I did! Isn't this just amazing? I mean, all this wool felt, and look at all these great colors!"
And he said...."Couldn't you just buy them like that?"
*sigh* Yes. Yes I could.

Monday, December 29, 2008


This picture has been a source of great joy for my family for many years. It's a photo of my dad's family at my mom and dad's wedding. His two sisters, their husbands, and my grandparents (his parents) posed for this family portrait and it is hilarious. My mom calls them The Hatfields. The story goes that the photographer told them to "welcome your new sister in law into the family" immediately before snapping the picture. Perhaps it was his way of eliciting a candid shot? Perhaps it is one of those pieces of family lore, a story concocted after the fact to try to account for the faces these people are making? Everybody involved claims it's true.

I made this pillow by printing the photo onto fabric paper and creating the pillow front using the exact same process I detailed here for making the ornaments. Then I made an overlapping back for the pillow, attached it to the photo patch for the front, and stuffed it with a very cheap pillow form I had on hand from a previous Ikea trip.

I just knew that my grandma would love this gift, and she did. It's been displayed on her bed practically since the moment she opened it.

What I hadn't anticipated, whatsoever, was how fascinating the picture would be for the sons of my cousins. Grown men themselves now, freshly married or new to fatherhood, they passed the pillow among themselves, pointing and talking softly.

It's funny, because for my generation, and the generation in the picture, this photo is a well-known hilarity. For these young men, in their early twenties, it was a brand new experience. Grinning back at them from the past were their own grandparents...their grandmas looking foxy and hip with beehive hair dos and glossy red lips. Their grandfathers looking dashing and rebellious, smirking at the camera with a possessive paw on grandma's hip.

It was such a precious moment, watching them reconcile these images with the adoring, doting folks they know as grandparents. They met these people as they were already entering into their "golden years"!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Merry!

Didn't we have a lovely Christmas? Yes, we did!

This has been the first year that Scotty is aware of Christmas and everything it entails. He and Tommy have been playing a game every time we're in the the car. Every time we pass a house that is decorated and lighted up for the holidays, they call out "Jingle Bells!" Early on I had to discourage Tommy from "punching" somebody every time he yelled jingle bells, so that was fun.

There is a house between school and home that has one of those full size, lighted nativity scenes on their lawn. And because we are heathens, our chidren have no idea about the story of the manger and the wise men and the search for an inn. So when we passed it, Tommy called out "Jingle Bells!!...with....pilgrims?"

Tommy is obsessed with Star Wars, the same way Scotty is obsessed with Speed Racer. Both of these facts crack me up, as Erik was obsessed with...Star Wars...and...Speed Racer. Chicken or the egg? You decide.

We have some kind of Star Wars strategy game. Tommy is even starting a website where he video tapes himself talking about the pieces and the rules to the game. He tries to get me to play, but, uh, no. Erik is that guy. I'm another guy.

Tommy has also been collecting Legos for a long time. He's nearly convinced us to include LegoLand on our next vacation, and I try to pick up as many as I can at yard sales. I think he started getting the "kits" about 3 or 4 years ago, but it's only in the last year or so that he's taken to being creative with them himself. He'll whip you up a space substation or a pirate's rogue ship in just a minute or two.

And then he made this chess set. He really out did himself!

And now, it's the day after Christmas, and we have five count them FIVE huge boxes of Star Wars Legos. Erik put together one, and Tommy and I put together one. There are two more on deck. One box that hasn't been opened. Erik and I also put together the Speed Racer Lego set for Scotty. It comes with a Racer X car and a semi tractor/trailer. I'm glad they are enjoying it so much, because we are seriously going cross-eyed. One set of directions actually had a section where you needed to find forty of these tiny little pieces....twice.

In addition to legos, we've been plyaing with the kitchen Scotty got from Santa. Sometime in the next few days, Grandpa will deliver Scotty's mini grey truck. My mom found one of those kid's cars that looks exactly my dad's beater truck that Scotty is in love with! He was so happy on Christmas day! It was a real carnival, with a half dozen little cousins tooling around in 4 different mini-cars.

There's one more present coming to my home, and it is amazing. I have NO IDEA what to do with it, but I plan to have fun trying! There's really no point in even trying to discuss it without pictures, so more to come soon.... I love a surprise, don't you? :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tree of Dreams?

For the first time ever we have a fake tree in our house! I know there are lots of people who have many trees ~ my mom has a half dozen or so in her house. My aunt, goodness, she was the first person I ever knew who had multiple trees in her house. We thought she was nuts! Who needs that many trees? Turned out she was just before her time, because it has become quite fashionable.

Us? We're the type who always got one real tree and then, January through July, the tree sat in our side yard and lost it needles before we got around to disposing of it. I know you, with your snappy ideas, you might want to remind me that the waste management will pick the tree up for FREE, but before you share, please remember that I've known this for some time, I can never remember the day for the free pick up, and it doesn't matter since my tree is rarely if ever undressed and unlighted and ready to go on whatever that day is. I think we were able to take advantage of this service one time in the last 15 years.

After Christmas last year, I went and bought a fake tree on clearance ~ I think I paid around $15 for a pre-lighted 6 foot tree. I wasn't too keen on having a fake tree, but the price was right and, for the record, I'm so lazy it's amazing I didn't have one of these before.

And it was great, because the day after Thanksgiving, I went out to the shed and pulled out the box and set it up in my living room. No fighting about the lights! Oh tree, you had me at hello.

Christmas tree lights typically shave 3 to 4 months off my marriage each year.

There the tree sat, for about a week. Oh yes, boys, your dad will get the ornaments out of the rafters. Okay, I'll get the ornaments out of the rafters. Eventually they called bullshit and decorated it themselves, using whatever was handy.

Which, in our house, means hot wheels, legos, and blocks. The entire tree is spruced this way. And we love it so much!

And here's what you get when you ask my boys to stand next to the tree for a second so you can take a picture of them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scotty in the Kitchen

Lately Scotty has been showing an interest in kitchen work. He sees me making something and he drags a chair over from the table to "help".

Oh, he's so helpful!

Here he is helping with the pancakes.

He also likes to help make bread. This usually involves getting flour all over the kitchen floor. But, the bread is good.

And like all my boys, he really likes to help eat the bread!

Our house is quite small, so when something comes in, something goes out. In order to place a Christmas tree, we had to move out a side table. The table is wooden and round and has a leather top. It also has a small drawer, almost like a secret compartment. My mom bought it for me many years ago at an antique store in or near Sutter Creek in Northern California.
I temporarily moved the round table into the kitchen. It's not terribly convenient to keep a large-ish round table in kitchen that is shaped similarly to a bowling alley. It's about 10 feet wide and 27 feet long, for the mathematically inclined. That's not a lot of width to be plopping furniture in the middle of it!
But Scotty totally moved in. Here he is, the day that I realized that he was making a nest right there. As you can see, he is painting and he has already unloaded all his play food and pantry containers. (He keeps a play shopping cart full and once or twice a day he takes everything out and lines it up on the counter, the kitchen table, or his new work space. And then I come around and sweep it all back into the cart and push the cart over to the back door and then it starts all over again.)
It turns out I really like having him playing there at his table. We each perform our duties. I made this pie. He made a mess.
But the table has been helpful in other ways, too. It's lower than the counters, and the perfect height for kneading dough, as it turns out. So a few times a week, I clear off his toys and wash it down and sprinkle flour over the top. I roll out cookie dough for cutting out, or I knead dough for bread or cinnamon rolls. I'm not much of a baker, in actuality, but it's been very nice having it right there. I've seen gourmet kitchens where the homeowners have installed marble counters at a lower height, specifically for baking, and I've always thought, you know, what the hell? Turns out they were right!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I bought this pattern from Leila and Ben on Etsy. It was the sweetest transaction. They were so quick with sending the pdf pattern, I swear, I bought it around dinner time, they sent it, and I had one made before I went to bed! This is the third or fourth one I've made, and by far, it is my favorite.

I made this "capelet" for Dana's daughter, Cassidy. Cassidy will be five soon, and she is very appreciative of my handmades. First, I've been Frankensteining her favorite blankey together for over a year. It's....hideous. But, every time there's a new tear she tells her mom to not worry, "Mia can fix it". I don't really have this status with many people, so she has a special place in my heart.

Also, her pre-school was doing a unit on clothing, and she happened to be wearing a little swing coat/sweater I had made her last year. So she was telling the entire learning circle about how her "friend Mia" made her the sweater. I guess she got some attention for wearing handmade clothing, and now I am cemented in her mind as "source of good things".

Nonetheless, I'm always nervous to give people anything I've made. Her parents are really supportive of my handmade efforts, but I have to say that it can still be nervewracking. I really like this cape. It's easy to make. This one is made with a K hook from two 100g skeins of 100% organic cotton, and oh! it's sooooo soft!
For buttons, I use two of my grandma's clip on earrings from the costume jewelry I've saved that was hers. I think it's so precious, and I know my grandma would approve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I don't know if there is any direct line to the inspiration for these little ornaments. I've seen stuffed ornaments in various incarnations around The Internets, and I saw the idea of printing a picture and using it on placemats in the book Stiched in Time, but I can't say for sure that I alone have been graced with the foresight to put them together.
This happens to me at work, ALL THE TIME. I think I have some great idea for teaching math in some revolutionary new way, and I'll spend months (one time, I spent two years) developing and testing it out on many classrooms and grade levels. Then one day, I'll come across a very similar lesson in a book that was published in 1988 and I think, you know, what the hell am I doing here.

Anyway, I started these ornaments for a family friend that we'll see for a holiday dinner, but those are wrapped and ready to go. So these are the ones I'm making for a neighbor. This is our neighbor Leor. Scotty calls him Eyore, which makes me laugh and laugh. Leor has been a very friendly neighbor and a very good friend to my boys, who love his tractor more than air.

The best thing about these, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, is that they are so flipping cheap to make. I love me some thrifty. This is important information for you if, say, I draw your name in a holiday gift exchange. I apologize in advance.

I got these fabric "jellies" at Jo-Ann's. It has 9 designs, 18 strips, 2.5 inches by 42 inches, on sale for $6.99. I barely used any of it to make the ornaments. I don't mind sewing. I don't really like cutting, it turns out, and I must not be the only one in that boat, because there are lots of products like this available.

I cut the ones I used in half width-wise, as it was a lot of look to have a two inch border around a two or three inch picture. A slimmer border was easy enough to do and looks a lot better too. The ones on top are full-width, the ones on the bottom are split-width.

The ric rac continues to be the cutest thing in the universe, but I am a total schlep at sewing it on to any project, and so I continue to use it where I can while I get my mad sewing skillz up to par. I bought a bazillion yards in different colors off e-bay for 15 bucks last year. It's come in handy more than you can know. These ornaments have the ric rac sewn in for a hanging loop, and I sewed the canvas backing onto it already, but they still need to be stuffed with fiber fill. Although, looking at them here, I think you could make the case that they are rather cute without the stuffing. Huh.

General Direction, Beginning Sewers:
**Disclaimer: Better sewers will no doubt be able to give better directions. And there are things that may be obvious to better sewers, that are not at all obvious to me, so I'll end up explaining them here. Sorry!**
I used fabric sheets to print the photos. I made them generally the same size, but didn't sweat it too much. I fit about 6 photos onto a single sheet of the fabric paper, which is 8.5" by 11". **
You'll also need coordinating fabric strips, either felt or fiber fill for stuffing, a piece of ribbon or ric rac for hanging loop, needle and thread for handsewing, and an iron.
I ended up doing the last batch with the felt instead of the stuffing. I like them better, but it's up to you! I did use a layer of felt when I decided not to stuff them, just so there's some "umph" to the patch. It just needs some body, and felt or flannel is an easy ~ and cheap ~ way to do that. This is felt, I buy a few yards when it's on sale for $1.99 a yard. I use it instead of interfacing for a lot of things, because the word "interfacing" is scary to me. At the fabric store, there are dozens of kinds, and I have no idea what I need or why. So, I say, ignore it! Ahem.
** If you are like me and don't have a great photo editing software (or, more to the point, have a perfectly serviceable software that you are totally lame at using) you can do what I did, and add pictures to a Word document. Make margins as small as they'll allow under File/Page Set Up (if you make them too small, it will offer to "fix" them for you). Then, go to Insert/ Picture/ From File...browse and pick your picture. Choose "open" once it's the right picture. Now it's in your document. Making sure it's "clicked on" (just look for the little black squares in the corner of the photo; if there are no squares, hover the mouse over the photo and click it once; the squares appear, and you know it's selected!), go to Insert/Text Box. A text box will automatically be formed at the same size as the picture. Using the text box, you can drag the picture whereever you want in the document. It's really great for putting two or three photos across and down the paper. You can resize the text box and picture independently from each other, so get comfy on how to move around the technology, but it's been so dang helpful for me!

I'm a lazy sewer, from what I can tell. I don't measure so much, just line things up and cut. (I pay for this at times, but not enough to make me pin and measure.) I needed two of these brown strips to line the sides of the picture, so I just laid them and cut them, knowing that in my mind I'd rather have a little extra than not enough.
Put these right side down against the right side of the picture, and then sew the pieces to the picture. Press open with iron.

Then I measure the top and bottom fabric against the whole length and cut and sew those. Sew them right side facing to the right side of the picture. Press the seams toward the border fabric (every chance you get; I'm always shocked at how much "sewing" time is actually spent cutting and ironing!).

Once all four fabric edges are sewn into place, and ironed flat, I laid it down on top of a piece of canvas. (I used a painting drop cloth as material!) I cut around the ornament. Cut a piece of ribbon or ric rac, form it into a loop, and sandwich it between the photo piece and the backing piece, with loop facing down and the two ends hanging well over the edge. (Those two ends will get 'sucked' back into the ornament when you turn it inside out).
(I did all of these without using a single straight pin. However, if I were going to strategically place a pin, I would do it to keep the hanging loop in place. I made a whole ornament once and realized at the end that the loop had slipped out ~ I found it on the floor when I was done sewing ~ and then had to tack on a loop after it was turn. Kind of not cute.)
If you're going to stuff it with fiber-fill, just put the canvas and picture patch right sides facing. If you want to leave it flat, include a piece of felt in the stack before sewing all the layers together. (See picture). Felt, picture patch (right side up), canvas (wrong side up). Even if you sew it correctly, if you turn it incorrectly it will still be wrong. When you have two layers (picture patch and canvas) it's no problem. There's only one way to turn it. Good for you. If there are three layers, there is a wrong way to turn it. I speak from experience. And I've actually ripped seams out, resewn, and then turned it wrong and STILL been wrong, multiple times, until I really thought I was nutty. Well. Maybe I am, but this isn't why. Here's what I learned the hard way: Do not turn the layers by working between the felt and the picture patch; turn the layers by working between the picture patch and the canvas. You're welcome.

Sew along the edges, leaving an opening at the bottom (one and a half to two inches). Okay, here's a place where maybe people who sew a lot know things I don't, but I have to really plan this. I want the opening at the bottom, and I don't want it at a corner (makes it harder to hand sew the hole shut when you're done turning and stuffing). So, I start sewing the two pieces together not at the top where the hanging loop is but at the bottom of the ornament. And not at one end of the piece, which is where I want to start but near the middle of the piece. I sew about an inch, backstitch to strengthen, then sew around the whole edge of the two pieces. Sometimes, I backstitch over the looped ric rac, and sometimes I forget to do that. Oops. When you get to a corner, in order to turn and go up the other side, leave the needle in the down position, lift the foot and swivel the piece (the needle in the down position anchors everything together) and keep going. Stop 1.5" away from where you started, backstitch for strength.

Turn it inside out. I won't lie to you. It can be a bear to turn this if you don't leave a big enough opening. I say leave a bigger opening, better than too small of an opening. I'm not a fantastic hand sewer, and the opening needs to be handstitched shut, so maybe there's some aesthetic choices people make, but I just tell people things are handmade, and very personal, and that the love is in the mistakes. I like to set expectations low. HaHa. Not even kidding. Poke your finger or the eraser end of a pencil into each corner, press the whole thing flat with the iron.

And here's a tip: Use the iron to press the fabric in to make a little seam allowance after you have turned your ornament. Isn't the opening I need to hand sew right here in this picture so sweet and inviting? Yeah, it's not how it started. Yikes.
If stuffing them with fiber-fill, do that before stitching the opening shut.
I sew the opening shut with a whipstitch in a neutral thread. I know almost nothing about stitching, but I believe a slip stitch is more hidden, like between the layers, and the whipstitch is over the fabric and shows. It's not enough to bug me, and like I said, I don't even know if I'm using the right names! I am assuming as I get better at sewing, I'll start to take on these little intricacies and start to improve my craftsmanship. For now, I just try to get it done. I have a perfectionist streak, and the only way I've made any headway at all as a beginning sewer is to just ignore everything and do what I know how. If I waited until I actually knew how to do everything right, I'd never get started at all.
Just saying.
And, for the record, I gave some of these to my grandma and my aunt and they LOVED them. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Before the Frost

I started a vegetable garden last spring, and I loveloveloved it. It was amazing watching something that I tended and nurtured turn into a thriving and productive patch of fresh, organic goodness. And really, once the initial outlay of energy was expended ~ in making the raised beds, bringing in the mulching and compost, planting the seeds and starts ~ it was pretty easy to do the day-to-dayness of the garden. I weeded not at all, since I used the raised beds and brought in soil. I watered it every morning, which took all of 5 minutes. And in the end, I was harvesting tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers every night, but that didn't take long either.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the garden was having a reason to be outside. Warmed by the sun, I enjoyed the occasional project, such as arranging tomato cages and adding mulch.

It was all a big experiment. I wasn't sure that anything would grow, and I learned a lot about how much the blue jays love beans and I also learned hot to kill a watermelon seedling in less than three days. A trick which takes almost no talent or innate skill set whatsoever, as it turns out.

So I approached my winter garden in the same pioneering spirit. I am very fortunate to live in an area that supports year-round gardening! I did some research, and planted garlic, white onions, red onions, scallions, (care for an onion?!?), three kinds of lettuces (well, I think four kinds, but only two are growing so it's not important), fava beans, and snap peas. I also have a kitchen garden going with basil (does not love winter), cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, and rosemary.
Everything seems to be fine, except the snap peas were already a borderline choice even for our mild winter, basil is not a winter plant under any circumstances, and we've reached freezing temperatures all week. Literally, like 32 degrees. I know it's nothing compared to places that deal with ice storms and snow and arctic winds, but sometimes I feel like we're even more pitiful because we just aren't prepared for it. Our mild winters linger in the low 50s, high 40s, and it's not unusual to go the whole season without a new coat. A couple of sweaters for layering, a windbreaker and scarf, hats because I think they're cute more than because they are a necessity, these are the extent of my winter preparations.

I found myself out in the garden this week, in the rain, and the bitter cold (shut up, it was cold to me!) and no gloves, my god, I wasn't even wearing socks with my work mary janes, trying to do a little project.
First, I needed to get the garden covered before the frost came in at nightfall. Which, frankly, has been occurring by 4:30 in the afternoon any more.
Second, I had to get the beans and peas, both climbing plants, off the ground. They are getting big! So cute. So I was out there for an hour or so, setting posts and attaching trellises and running string (idea stolen from tinyfarmblog, and I warn you, I have spent hours at this blog, dreamingdreamingdreaming of being a tiny farm farmer) and then setting the plastic over the plots.

They seem happy. And downright steamy. But I have to say, the sweet little projects of the sunny summer days took on a very different meaning in my winter garden. I was not out there because it was fun, but because it had to be done. Probably the closest thing to "real farming" I've ever experienced, actually, because when it's work it's work. Animals need to be fed and chores need to get done, and it doesn't matter if you're sick or the weather sucks.

The dark underbelly of the farming fantasy.
I still want chickens.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cat in the Hat

I knit two hats last weekend, as I had gift exchanges on Monday and Tuesday. It's so hard to figure out if a handmade gift is going to be appreciated! In both cases, the hats were stolen twice (the "legal limit") and so that's the ultimate confirmation of acceptance, under the circumstances!

I don't have pictures of the hats, because I wrapped them before I photographed them. Now it's like it never happened. Anyway, I knitted them. (for the crafty inclined: cast on 38 to size 11 needles, knit in garter stitch for 21 inches. One was made from jiffy yarn in light brown and I finished it by seaming the short ends and running a piece of yarn through the loops in the top-round and pulling tight to close off the top. The second was made from wool-ease thick and quick in a very sweet spice/brick orange-y color. This one I finished the same way, but instead of pulling the yarn tight through the top-round loops, I moved down just over an inch and when I pulled tight it was so cute, it had a little "top knot". )

The whole point of this is to tell you that knitting? It takes a long time. The jiffy hat worked up in about 5 hours, and the top-knot took about 4 hours.

For a frame of reference, I also crocheted these two hats this week.*** The pink one took about 40 minutes. The fuzzy sherbert one took less than one and a half hours. Seriously.

(Look at my sick baby! And I'm making him wear hats for a photo shoot. What a trooper!)
One could legitimately ask the question: why knit at all? I have no answer for that. Just to say, knitting is kind of fun anyway. And there's something to be said, in my humble opinion, for taking your time with something you're making by hand. I mean, if I wanted to stop at Target on the way to the party, and buy a hat for 10 bucks, I could. The point about handmade is to embrace the slower pace, to be purposeful and mindful. Some could say that knitting, by it's nature, forces you to do that.

Still, I'm a working mom with two young kids. There's got to be a compromise! So far, my compromise is to do both...hmmm, could be I'm missing the point entirely.

*** These hats are going to the daughters of my friend. Pattern for the pink calls for wool-ease thick and quick and can be found here. (registration required, but it's free) Pattern for the cloche calls for bulky weight homespun, but I used sensations angel-hair that was gifted to me. Pattern can be found here. (registration required, but it's free)