Friday, November 28, 2008

A good time.

Thanksgiving was great! Good company, good food, good times.

Today, we have worked on "decking the halls." Garland is up (after wrestling with bad strings of lights), house lights are up, and most of the decor is out. Except for the tree - maybe that will come later this weekend. I even successfully avoided all stores today, and made it to the gym. Man, my priorities have really changed in the last 10 years or so!

As for tonight, I have a piece of leftover pie with my name on it (so much for the gym, right?). I have a new project to start for this Etsy friend, and I'm thinking I should try to find a good holiday movie on the tube. I'm really in the mood for Christmas Vacation...wish I had it on dvd!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful.

This morning I was inspired and all fired up to write a lengthy post today about the trappings of holiday shopping, the insanity of mall mentality and about the craziness of early-morning Black Friday deals. Alas, I am too tired to write of those things. Just know that I am very opinionated on the subject!

Instead, I sit here with a cramp in my arm from working on the Thanksgiving table runner (still a work in progress, I will take photos only if it turns out!), my feet are a little tired from standing in the kitchen all afternoon, and there is a vague potato-y, pecan-y, spicy sort of smell to the house. Oh, and I have my new handspun yarn looped over my left arm, ready to be rolled in a ball while I watch The Amazing Race in a little while.

My Thanksgiving plan this year (we are hosting, btw) has been to keep the chaos to a minimum. I love cooking and baking but I don't like being rushed and my kitchen is really only big enough for one person to comfortably work on food. So, my celery and onion are chopped, french bread has been toasted and cubed for tomorrow's stuffing, a pecan pie is under foil, and the most heavenly mashed potatoes are sitting in a crock in the fridge, just waiting to be reheated tomorrow. Tom the Turkey is also sitting in the sink and draining water from the defrost process (and who knows what else is draining) - he will be patted down and stuck in the fridge as well soon.

My hope is that by doing a lot of prep work tonight, tomorrow will be better spent with my family - watching the parade, eating some morning yummies with good strong coffee, getting the table just so, and chatting with my folks and Kirk's dad and brother. I want to be able to be present for Thanksgiving, not just be the cook. It should be a good time!

Wishing you all peace and a thankful heart. We are so, so lucky! Look at that...I did write a lengthy post after all!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday traditions.

A little while ago, Grace excitedly squealed "it's almost THANKSGIVING!!!!!" (insert four year old giggling here). Honestly, I think she's mostly excited about the pie. Certainly Reed and Lauren are cool with having a few days off of school; oh and the pie will be great also! Do you remember being so excited for the holidays just because you got to watch a parade and eat pie?

So, it has been bringing us to lots of discussion of Thanksgiving ("Mom, what kind of pie will we have?") as well as lots of planning and talk of Christmas. We are pretty traditional in the sense that Christmas decor/lights/festivities absolutely do not start until after Thanksgiving! It really bothers me in fact to see homes that are already lit up (strings of lights up are fine, but please don't turn them on yet!). It seems so out of place to imagine a Christmas tree twinkling while we're doing the whole Thanksgiving thing. Anyway, I apologize if I have just offended any of you who like to get Christmas prep done early. To me, it's just one of those things.

OK, the discussion of traditions. We have lots that we have pulled from over the years, and some have stuck while others have gone buh-bye! Like the year or two I thought it would be fun to do a "Christmas surprise" every day (kind of like an advent calendar w/ a gift or treat for the kids) - had to nix that one, because it only served to teach the kids that they needed a present every day.

An awesome tradition we started a few years ago, however, has been the Christmas book. Each year on December 1st the kids get a brand-new book for Christmas. And not just any book...this one is always special (preferrably hard-bound) and is in the Christmas theme. I pick the books for each kid, wrap them and put them under the tree, and then that afternoon or evening they get to open and enjoy. The purpose is actually that we will slowly add on to our library of Christmas books (some religious, some secular) and someday when they are grown they will get to take their stack of books and start a collection for their own families. I'm really excited about this year's choices - a very pretty "I Spy" book for Grace, a loaded-with-pictures holiday cookbook for Lauren, and Santa Claus for Reed. He discovered who Santa is last year (and was pretty bummed) but now he seems to be able to appreciate that you can continue to have an imagination about these things.

I'm also finding it important to ask everyone what traditions they remember and what they want to continue. They know exactly what they want to do again! Lauren mostly wants to decorate the tree while listening (and dancing) to Christmas tunes, Grace wants to open a present (always pajamas) on Christmas Eve, and Reed is excited to watch the favorite Christmas movies, plus a new one or two (A Christmas Story and Elf are on the "new" list for the year).

As for me? I want a few evenings of family baking - some favorite cookie recipes from Kirk's mom will be on the list for sure. I always love Christmas Eve (after the kids go to bed) when we put on some holiday music and Kirk and I prepare the monkey bread for Christmas morning, and I'm also really looking forward to this and this at our church this year.

Tell me, what traditions are important to your family? What are you most looking forward to doing this holiday season?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some blog cosmetics.

I'm sitting here messing around with my blog settings and realizing how tech-challenged I am! Really, it is fortunate I married a computer guy. Although his talent is more in making something work, not so much in making it pretty. And what frustrates me completely is that I can't make my blog look the way I want it! (which is pretty!) Frankly I'm at a loss, so bear with me while it is in it's "minimalist" phase. (And, why doesn't blogger have more than 10 or so template options? Come on!)

So, besides the look of the blog I have updated a few bits on the sidebar as well. The lyrics are from one of my favorite Christmas songs, written (as far as I can tell) by James Taylor and is on A Christmas Album. Love, love love that album! Listened to it for the first time this afternoon - jazzy and mellow and perfect. If you click the link you can scroll down and listen to clips.

Another new feature is the "Followers" section. I am pretty sure I have more than one follower. Please? Tell me I do! If you happen to subscribe to this blog's feed and you don't show up on the followers, I think you can click the icon and be listed. It's a great way to link to your own blog as well! And if you do subscribe here but haven't left a comment, I encourage you to do so! I love reading comments and I will soon have a giveaway and/or discount for all who follow and/or comment! Stay tuned!

Finally, some images of the afternoon. It's cold outside so the warm light flooding into the workspace was welcome indeed.A new project I will be working on slowly, over the winter. A quilt using this cheater panel, all from Denyse Schmidt's County Fair. It will be slow work, as it will all be quilted by hand. I see lots of evenings with this spread on my lap!Finally, it's a good day indeed when the kids decide they all need showers and jammies by 2:30 pm. All inspired by Grace's new pj's, which state "I'm on the nice list." Hmmm...we'll see!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fabric resources.

Something I have been frequently asked is "where do you go for fabric?" So, in list format (which is my new favorite way of blogging, btw), here is a rundown of local and internet resources.

First, the local (Omaha):
1. Hancock Fabrics - I buy virtually no fabric here! Maybe solid cotton or twill, notions or interfacing if it's on sale, but that's about it! I find the store a bit depressing as well, from the lighting to the layout to the staff grumpiness, it just puts me in a down mood.
2. Joann's Fabric - Great for corduroy in season and they are a little better (but not much) for designer selection. There are a few Alexander Henry prints that I can usually buy here - Apples and Pears, Mocca, and Koto to name a few. The 40% coupons can be great if it is something I need.
3. Mangelsens - They have Amy Butler's Midwest Modern, and a few random Free Spirit prints. They used to have a great Chocolate Lollipop selection but that is all gone now!
4. Country Sampler - They just started carrying Amy Butler's newer lines (Midwest Modern, Daisy Chain) and they have a pretty good range of other designer lines. Anna Maria Horner (quilting cotton only) and a lot of the other Free Spirit designers. No Alexander Henry though. Prices are high, about $9.95 a yard, plus tax. That's why I just about always shop online!
5. Hobby Lobby - this is where I buy Minky. Normally $12.95 a yard, HL considers it a "fleece" and it is therefore just about always 30% off. I did find this sherpa fleece there too. And they can have decent corduroy and twill!

So, now for online resources. I always try to support Etsy shops before looking at bigger sites.
1. Fabricsupplies - I usually try this shop first because they have an amazing selection, reasonable pricing, great customer service, and have always been able to accommodate custom orders for me.
2. Fabricworm - another great shop! Good selection and prices once again, and here I love her Japanese imports. So fun and bright! She has also helped me with custom orders, especially when I was working on this project.
3. Other Etsy - looking for a specific fabric? Under the "supplies" subheading in the search field, type in key words. Designer name, manufacturer, description, etc. You'll probably find 5 or more pages of shops who are currently selling that fabric!
4. Sew Mama Sew - the best part about this site is the "search by color" feature. I love it!
5. J Caroline Creative - great selection, although I often have problems with the site being slow. Still, the customer service is great and once when I had ordered something (it was on backorder and I needed it asap) she made some calls and had it overnighted to me from NYC. That is service.
6. Fabric Depot, Fabric.com, Hancock's of Paducah - Fabric Depot and Hancock's of Paducah are online extensions of B&M stores. Because these are larger operations I have found shipping and customer service to be a bit slower. For designer cotton, make sure to look under the "quilting cotton" section.
7. Let Google do the work for you - can't find what you want? Then Google it! I have found lots of great small online shops that have also given me excellent service, and sometimes when I'm looking for obscure or about-to-be-discountinued fabrics. I would recommend sending them a quick email if it is something you really want and need asap, just so you don't find out after the fact that the item is no longer available or on backorder!

OK, I hope that helps some of you. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Overwhelmed.

The studio has been in dire need of organizing for a looong time. I have been fantasizing lately about how I want it to look...pretty, you know? Maybe a nice color on the wall, some cupboards, a long counter against the window with space on either side of me for the girls...you get the picture. Anyway, I have no idea what prompted me a little while ago to do some tidying. Oh yeah, maybe the fact that the usable space on my cutting table has been reduced to approximately 24 inches in length! When I need to measure or cut I simply shift the teetering pile of fabric slightly to the left and, oh yes, there is the table!

As I have been consolidating piles (and let me tell you there are many) I am becoming overwhelmed with the sheer volume of stuff I have. Fabric especially. From yards and yards of a single print (Amy Butler's Full Moon Dot, just about any color) down to the tiniest scrap, I have so much. I'm not sure why I have this tendency to save each little piece of fabric (maybe so I don't feel like I'm wasting money?) - regardless of why, I think it's time to put a plan into action and start offloading some of this stuff. Maybe I will offer some destash scrap bags in the shop. Yes, that sounds like a good plan!

And the irony of the whole situation - I have to order more fabric tonight.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A new toy (for me).


I have wanted to try my hand at spinning (yarn that is, not on a bike!) for a long time. So, I bought myself a kit last week. It arrived Friday and since the husband was occupied after kids went to bed (playing Gears of War on the X Box - that's his idea of a toy) I got out all of my goodies to give it a go. Hmmm, is that a bit of alliteration for your reading pleasure?

The kit came with a drop spindle, some white wool, and two bags of wool/mohair/alpaca fiber. Six ounces in all, I think. I watched some YouTube videos which were definitely helpful. And then, I spun. It was not easy!

My first batch came out really thick (and used up all of my white wool) but I think it will be usable. I'm thinking I need a winter hat, and I hope this will be enough. It's spun and wound into two small skeins at the moment, then will need to be set in hot water and hung to dry. Then I can use it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The ultimate comfort confection.

Yesterday I said I have been wanting to make these...well, the bee kept buzzing and so last night I gave it a whirl. Do I really need fudge-covered marshmallows around the house? No, but sometimes my creative itch in the kitchen (OK, my sweet tooth also) gets the better of me.

First, the marshmallows were really easy to make. I never would have thought to make my own marshmallows until I saw these on Martha's show about a year ago. With a candy thermometer (a must) and a Kitchenaid mixer, I don't see how they would be hard to mess up. Especially when the mixer does all the hard work! I put the fluff in the pan last night to let them set up and they came out beautifully.

Today's job was to make the fudge, which I knew would be trickier. I mean, I have made fudge lots of times and it always turns out great, but this was fudge that needed to be thin enough to dip marshmallows into. Not so easy. At first they were a total mess because my fudge cooled down and thickened quickly. Fortunately, no children were home at the time to witness me cursing under my breath as I glopped one after the other. I decided to put it back on the stove, on low, and when reheated I was able to do a better job. Still messy and sticky but a much quicker job (and, less cursing).

To be totally forthright and honest, here is a look at one of the messy ones. Not pretty but still yummy!And, here is Martha's version. I don't think I did too badly, considering.
The true test will come tonight, when the kids try them out after dinner!

p.s. Dad, I still like your fudge the best!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A few things.

1. It's not even Thanksgiving, yet already I am feeling like I am behind in holiday prep. Why does this hit earlier every year? (side note: is Thanksgiving a forgotten holiday? I love this holiday and it drives me crazy that Christmas marketing starts even before Halloween!)
2. Today I shipped something to the complete opposite end of the globe - Australia!
3. In attempting to complete said shipping, I tried to merge two tasks (shipping + groceries) and took my package to Hy-Vee (local grocery store that does postal services from the customer service desk). I was unlucky enough to go to the one location that doesn't do international shipping. Every other store in town does. It's my kind of luck to find the only one that does NOT.
4. Fortunately, the preschooler-in-tow was in a decent mood and the post office was nearby. The good people at that branch always take care of me!
5. Unrelated, we stopped by the yarn store before attempting the grocery/shipping thing. My fingers are craving the good stuff lately (something handspun? alpaca? Peruvian highland wool?) but I just can't figure out quite what I want. I may have to search online and really figure out what I want to make.
6. Found this shop today. Love it. Have purchased.
7. Got a bee in my bonnet to make these. Good-bye Zone diet, hello holiday indulgence!
8. Have you noticed I like lists these days?
9. Looking forward to an afternoon with Kirk (no kids!) tomorrow. Excellent!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Front Page, Baby!

I've been on Etsy about a year now...it's been a really great year and a ton of fun! And in all of that time, I have hoped that someday I would make it to Etsy's Front Page. You know, when you first log on to Etsy, and you see the "treasury" of beautiful items all grouped together? Well, today was my day! I won't bore you with the details of how I found out about it, but needless to say I actually missed the moment in time that it was up. Darn. Fortuantely, the good people at flickr have a group devoted to saving the screen shots. Here it is! (My item is the pillow in the third row, middle column)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From the mouths of babes.

I love this! It came home in Lauren's backpack yesterday afternoon. What an awesome lesson our children are learning, that they can be anything they want to be.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day to you.

Have you voted yet?

Some things I'm looking forward to this evening:
1. Trying out this recipe. I've been excited to test it out ever since I read about it. My goal this winter is to try a new recipe (as in, not canned, bagged, or boxed) every week or two. Last week was chicken tortilla - very spicy, but yum!
2. Eating the baked-this-afternoon cheese and herb bread, thanks to my trusty bread machine.
3. Playing this game with the kids.
4. Getting out any and all books we have on the presidents and talking over random presidential and election trivia.
5. Watching this guy predict, spin, postulate, and analyze. He makes me wish I'd payed a little closer attention in civics class! The most mundane political factoid is fascinating when he describes it.
6. Cheering on my guy!

Tell me, what are you looking forward to this evening?

(photo is of the trees I look out to from my studio window)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween.

We had a stressful afternoon following the school parties (lots of fighting, pouting, whining - you know who that was! - and also a whopper of a tummy ache thanks to four frosted cookies and a handful of candy on the bus). There was an announcement made (I won't give away the child in question) stating "I'm not trick or treating." Grandma and Grandpa came to visit for awhile as well to see costumes, and though it's always great to see them it was in the middle of the stress, the whining, and the tummy ache. Sigh.

In our household, Halloween is best enjoyed when it is a simple affair. So we gave the kids some space. And a very simple dinner. And then we encouraged costumes and a promise of meeting up with friends. And, little by little, some smiles emerged as the costumes went on once again. Eyes started twinkling. Pumpkin buckets (and a pillow case for the dude) were grabbed and swung about.

We went outside. There was a chill but nothing that required jackets. A shout, a run down the driveway, and the night, the simple affair that Halloween should be, began.
I sat on the porch (with a cocktail, thank you) and watched the sky turn from lapis to navy to deep midnight blue, framed by the dark swirling branches of neighboring trees. I could hear the shouts of my own kids from down the street, as they greeted friends and were greeted by others. My own humble jack-o-lantern flickered his smile to passers-by, which were actually pretty few in number. After a half an hour, my troops came bounding to my spot on the porch with more shouts and laughter and half-filled sacks of goodies. My littlest, a pink bunny, decided she was tired of the whole deal and decided she'd most like to pass out candy. It was very cute, watching her take up her post so seriously! I would have loved to photograph her, but the porch lighting (and camera flash) couldn't have captured it properly!
When it was all over, it was a consensus - there are too many trappings and commercial junk associated with Halloween. The expectations on our kids are too high as well. If it could only be simple - a cool fall night, a flickering pumpkin, a bowl of candy, and laughing children, - well, what a wonderful change that would be.
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Edit - I just found this poem in Lauren's backpack. In parentheses are corrections for spelling.

H otid Hawsy (Haunted House)
A t halloween
L ove candey
L ove Halloween
O n Halloewn
W acke (walk)
E at cand
E vrething
N iet (night)