Friday, January 30, 2009

Fabric Window Valentines

Valentines are my favorite things to make. I really love the heart motif, and what's not to like about letting people know they are special to you? Instructions for making these can be found here.

My daughter is half-way through making valentines for her classmates. She got the ones for the girls done, but now is procrastinating making the ones for the boys. Boys annoy her, so she is lacking motivation to get the job done. I'll share her valentines when she has them all finished. The ones for the girls turned out cute.














Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oh, the horror

Stefani over at Blue Yonder started a new Flickr group, In Real Life, so we can all stop pretending we are perfect and showcase what really goes on behind the scenes. Well, I never claimed to be perfect, and I doubt I have a devoted readership who love me for my style, taste, and beauty, but I will confess right now that I am less than tidy, and I often (make that always) am shoving a pile of papers and other clutter out of the way so they don't show up in the background of photos I take to post on Flickr and this blog.

Here is the horror in my life: The Basement Office. Are you ready for this? Man, I can't believe I'm going to show this to you. Here it goes:

Isn't it terrifying? Always present on my to-do list is to clean out this space, re-organize it, and make it work for me. The shelves were put in by a previous owner. I will keep those, but I really want to rip that whole desk-top thing out and put in a more user-friendly work space.
I am hopeful these will soon be "before" photos, and not be the "as is" photos.


Showing this off for the whole world to see is my motivation to finally get to work on cleaning it out.
I have seen that show Clean House, where a family is literally drowning in clutter, and the TV people come in and make them sell everything in a yard sale and then redesign the space. Any time I've seen that show, I squirm a little bit, because I am fully aware those families live in California and don't have basements. If I didn't have a basement, I fear for what my living space would like.

I will also post these photos in Flickr with notes so I can identify all the clutter. I'm sure you're all fascinated! See you In Real Life!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Games


My son had the day off from school today. My daughter's school was in session as usual, so it was just my son and me at home today. It is very unusual to have just one kid home with me, unless one of them is sick, but being home on a day off is a whole different kind of day than a sick day. My son was in high spirits this morning! Being the homebody he is, he was more than happy to just hang out at home all day.

I asked if he wanted to play a game, and he was (ahem) all game! My suggestion of Boggle earned a scoff. "It's my day off, Mom. Nothing educational." (Not that Boggle is educational, but there is spelling involved, so I saw his point.) I told him to go pick out something then, and he came back with the completely uneducational but oh-so-fun Jumping Pixies. (Well, techincally this game is educational for a preschooler learning his/her colors, or counting, or simple addition, but my son is in the sixth grade, and he knows all that stuff by now.) The object of the game is to catapult your pixies into the holes in the playing board. You earn more points if the hole color matches the pixie color. This game cracks us up! We get such a kick out of having smiling little pixie heads sailing all over the room. It kind of reminds me of the Mr. Mouth game, which my grandma had at her house for us. (Gee, is Mr. Mouth really that expensive? I'll bet you could buy it cheaper at the store than at Amazon.)

We also played a rousing game of Hyper Dash (which also seems way overpriced at that link. I know I paid less than $10 for it last summer, and it wasn't on sale!). We set it up in the living room, and dashed around like crazy people. Whenever I do something like that in front of a window, I wonder if anyone outside can see me, and if they can see me, if they think I've lost my mind. I was very pleased that my dashing was faster than my son's in half of the rounds. See, mom's not so old!

A fun day for both of us.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese, plus another light bulb

I love macaroni and cheese. The stuff in the blue box is okay, but I try to go for something healthier. Annie's makes some very good varieties of boxed mac-n-cheese, but they are expensive and you don't get much out of one box. I have several recipes for homemade mac-n-cheese, either baked in the oven or cooked in the crock pot, but those are time-consuming and sometimes labor intensive. A few years ago I found a recipe for homemade stove top macaroni and cheese, and it was exactly what I needed in a recipe: quick, adaptable, yummy, and hopefully not completely devoid of nutrition. It's easy to have the ingredients on hand. My kids love this.

Stove Top Mac n Cheese

3 cups dried whole wheat elbows (I use Barilla Plus elbows), cooked per package directions
8 oz container creme fraiche
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, but good)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
freshly ground black pepper

While your pasta is cooking, whisk the creme fraiche and red pepper flakes together in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until smooth. Stir in the cheddar cheese until melted and smooth.

Just before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water and add it to the cheese sauce.
Add freshly ground black pepper to the cheese sauce.

Drain the pasta, return to pan, and pour cheese sauce over the pasta.

In case you've never used creme fraiche, this is what a container looks like:

I find it helpful to know what something looks like when I'm shopping for it! I never used creme fraiche until I tried this recipe. Now I buy it all the time. It's in the cheese section of my grocery store.

Oh, and the light bulb? We had another one burn out yesterday. Funnily enough, after my declaration that I change the light bulbs in our house, I don't think I'll be changing this one. It's right over our stair case and completely out of my reach, as well as my husband's. We had our upstairs remodeled in 2002, and the contractors put all our light bulbs in for us back then at the end of the job. We wondered how we'd go about changing the bulbs, and now 7 years later, I guess we'll finally find out!




Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rocket Science

The light bulb over my kitchen sink burned out yesterday. My kitchen lacks natural light, so I need that light, even on a sunny day.

The division of labor in our house is fairly traditional. If a job requires a screwdriver or a hammer or a shovel, I am loathe to do it, not because I can't do it, but because I'm lazy. I don't want to have to go find a screwdriver or a hammer or a shovel, so I leave those jobs for my husband. Changing light bulbs almost falls into that category, but since my husband can live without the light while I like to have rooms lit up as much as possible, I change the light bulbs when they burn out (even the stairwell night lights, which require a screwdriver to change!).

So, yesterday when the light bulb over my kitchen sink burned out, I climbed right up on a step stool to get that puppy changed.

Screech screech screech. Screech screech screech.

That is the sound of a light fixture spinning uselessly while its light bulb refuses to come out. No matter how I tried, I could not get that light bulb loose, and I managed only to rotate the light fixture to the point where I was afraid the whole thing was going to fall down.

Much to my disgust, I had to leave the thing until my husband could help. I definitely needed an extra pair of hands to hold the fixture steady for me while I wrestled the bulb loose.

When he came home, I very briefly explained the situation. We didn't have time to discuss it in detail (read: I didn't have time to defend my helplessness!), because he had to rush our son off to basketball practice, but later when they were home again I heard screech screech screech coming from the kitchen. I poked my head in the door to offer my help. Nope. He said he could manage. Okey dokey.

I was busy overseeing homework and snack and all those things with the kids, so the screeches and bangs coming from the kitchen barely registered with me until I wandered in there to get a drink for one of the kids, only to see this:
A hole in the ceiling where my light fixture usually hangs!

My husband was sitting on the couch with a completely dismantled light fixture across his lap, screwdriver in hand. What happened? Something was stuck in the light fixture and jamming the light bulb. I was relieved to know my failure to change that light bulb was for legitimate reasons!

My daughter watched, open-mouthed, and asked in awe, "How hard is it to change a light bulb?"
I guess it depends on the fixture!

After a good 15 minutes of tinkering, we were back in business.
This prompted me to think of changing light bulb jokes. I tried to find a joke about how many mothers it takes to change a light bulb, but my brief googling came up dry. I did find some librarian jokes that cracked me up, though.
Q: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three. One to change it, and two to talk about how unprofessional changing light bulbs really is. (If you don't think that's funny, you're not a librarian!)
Q: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Well, what type of light bulb do you need to change? (Reference Desk 101, folks)
I also found some homeschoolers-change-light bulb jokes here which really made me laugh, too. We do not homeschool, but we certainly fit the description in those jokes!


Monday, January 19, 2009

The Snowflake Garland

I've slowly been working on the snowflake garland to hang over the mantle in my family room, and now it is finally finished! I did this in bits and pieces. First I had to crochet the snowflakes, which I did here and there when I had time. Then I had to dunk them in fabric stiffener and pin them to a corkboard to dry in the proper shape. This had to be done in several shifts because my board was too small to fit them all at once. Then finally I had to arrange them and tie them to a garland. All told this project took a couple of weeks from start to finish.
These snowflakes are crocheted with yarn I had left over from this little jacket I had just enough yarn to make exactly the number of snowflakes I wanted to make! How lucky was that?
I found the patterns for both snowflakes here. Because these were crocheted with yarn, they were so much easier for me to make than the thread snowflakes I showed off in an earlier post. The snowflake above is about 5 inches across, and the one below about 4 inches.


Perfect for my garland!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good eats for cold weather

Homemade soup and homemade bread are a standard winter meal in our house. These frigid days just beg for recipes that will warm up the kitchen as well as our bellies. I tried a new soup recipe last night, Garlicky Spinach and Bean Soup, from here. It was simple to make and we all liked it. It's essentially a minestrone sans pasta. Next time I might add more beans.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sunny and Bright

I love a sunny January day. With new snow, everything looks so crisp and clean. We don't get much sun around here in the winter, so it's such a treat when it does shine. The only problem is, that glow coming in through the windows highlights every dust bunny and grubby spot in the house. I guess I know how I'll spend the rest of my free time today.

Temperatures are very cold today. It was -3 F when my son had to leave for school this morning. I drove him to the bus stop. We were on the road right at that moment before the sun comes up, when the sky is the deepest blue, almost still black, and the snow is so glittery it almost looks unreal. By the time I got home, the colors were already changing. I love how light alters the landscape throughout the day.

The good thing about these frigid temperatures for the next few days is that it makes our Sunday forecast of 23 F sound positively balmy!


(I save my paperwhites to enjoy in January. Christmas is festive enough with the tree and lights. I need the flowers more now when the festivities are over and winter really takes its grip. The only thing is, I dislike the smell of paperwhites. My kids have been complaining about it, too. Note to self: try a different flower next January.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Friends


Daughter and best friend. Best friends since preschool, which to me seems like yesterday, but for them, it's their whole lives. They can spend days and nights together on end and never run out of things to laugh about. Their joy in each other makes my heart sing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Things I made in 2008


Things I made in 2008
Originally uploaded by besomom

Except after I made the mosaic (which took some effort), I realized the first two items were actually made in '09. Oops.

We don't own a snow blower

I really should go out there and help him.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Sock Snowmen

Sock snowmen are a recurring theme in my life. When my son was in 2nd grade, I was his room parent, and I had the whole class make snowmen out of socks for their winter party craft. Last year when my daughter was in second grade, I was her room parent, and yes, I had the whole class make snowmen out of socks at their winter party. It's a great project for an elementary classroom because it is easy and no-sew.

This year I opted to sit out the room parent gig, one reason being that I was out of ideas for easy classroom crafts. I felt so free, so unstressed, so happy that the party planning worries weren't mine, especially as the holiday season neared with its mile-long to-do list.

So how did I find myself this year once again in the classroom with a basket full of socks, stuffing, buttons, and ribbons? Well, at the Thanksgiving potluck, our room parent told me she was completely tapped out for craft ideas for the upcoming winter party. Did I have any ideas? Ummmm...not new ones! After much deliberation, where I envisioned myself spending too much time paging through craft magazines and clicking online in the hunt for a good craft, I decided to take the well-traveled path and haul out the socks once again. Even though half of the students were in my daughter's class last year, I figured they could bring home one more sock snowman, hopefully to their parents' delight.

The party was supposed to be three weeks ago, on the last day before winter break, but we had a snow day that day, so my basket of snowman supplies had to wait until yesterday. Some of those kids just about kill me. I show them a perfectly darling sample snowman, but a handful of the children have their own ideas of what the end result should be. "Can I wrap the ribbon around his head, like, a whole bunch of times?" "Can I make mine into a duck?" "Can I make mine evil?" "Can I use the nose as a sword instead?" Eeeek. Of course I want them to have creative freedom and individualize their snowman, but I always hope that that happens with their choice of ribbon and buttons, and where they put the nose in relation to the eyes. That kind of thing. I always have to take a deep breath when some of the kids choose to do something completely crazy with their snowman. I wonder what their mothers think when they see a sock filled with stuffing, strangled with a ribbon and scribbled all over, not looking like a snowman at all. Do they treasure it as a keepsake? Or do they throw it in the trash when no one is looking, wondering what kind of crazy craft project this was supposed to be?

I probably don't want to know the answer to that.

Here is what you need to make a sock snowman.
A white sock with a ribbed cuff (any size will do. I prefer toddler size.)
1/3 cup of dry rice (or dry beans or poly pellets)
polyfil
yarn or string
ribbon
buttons
tacky glue
black Sharpie (or any black fine point permanent marker)
orange pipe cleaners (cut the pipe cleaner into the desired nose length PLUS 1/3 of that length more. use tweezers to pluck the fuzzy stuff off the wire on that extra length. This gives you a nice clean wire to poke into the sock, and you won't need glue to secure it)
scissors

To begin, pour the rice into the toe of the sock. The rice gives it a nice weight and lets the snowman stand alone. Next, stuff the sock fairly firmly with polyfil, up to the bottom of the cuff. Using yarn or string, firmly tie the sock closed at the bottom of the cuff. Trim the ends of the yarn. (see below)




Fold the cuff down over the yarn to form a hat. You may want to tug it down a bit over the stuffed portion of the sock.



Tie a length of ribbon around the sock, about a 1/3 of the way down from the folded cuff. Tie it in a knot, like a scarf. This forms the head and body of the snowman. Be careful not to cinch it too tightly. (Over-cinching is always a big problem when the kids are making these.)


I'm short on photos for the next steps, but it's all obvious in the photo of the final product. Determine what part of the sock makes a good front. Poke the orange pipe cleaner in the middle of the face to make the carrot nose. Dot on eyes and a mouth with the Sharpie. (I've also seen the eyes and mouth made with beads or sequins, but for classroom crafts, I need to keep it simple. The less messing with glue, the better!) Choose two or three buttons and glue them on the body of the snowman. If you like, you can tie yarn into a bow around the hat.






Now you have your own sock snowman to sit on your shelf. Maybe you will want to make a whole family!
I also think this would be cute to give in kit-form to friends. Just put all the supplies into a decorated box, along with instructions on how to make the snowman.
Oh, and the kids yesterday were also killing me with the cookie decorating. I baked four dozen gingerbread men so each child would have two cookies to decorate. What did the vast majority of them do? Pile frosting an inch thick on one cookie, then smoosh the second cookie on top to make a sandwich. Needless to say, the cookie decorating center didn't take up nearly as much time as we thought it might! But they all had fun, which was the whole point. Real life rarely looks like a magazine spread!



Thursday, January 8, 2009

Elephant Pocket Pillow

You may remember the Dolly in a Pocket I made for my niece a few months ago. I gave it to her for her first birthday in mid-December. Because her older brothers were so excited about her birthday, they were allowed to unwrap her presents for her. Her 5 year old brother unwrapped the dolly in a pocket pillow, and was utterly taken with it. He declared it "the best present ever" (those were his exact words), cuddled it to his chest, then scurried off to put it on his own bed. I don't think I've ever given a gift that was met with so much enthusiasm! What could I do but promise to make him a pocket pillow of his own?



My nephew loves animals. His special favorite animal is the meerkat, but he also likes elephants. I thought an embroidered elephant would be cuter than an embroidered meerkat, so I searched around for a suitable elephant to embroider. Flickr to the rescue! (here and here)

My nephew told me his favorite colors are blue and green. The fabrics aren't exactly elephanty, but color-wise they fit the bill.




The elephant looks huge in the top photo, but he's actually only three-and-a-half inches tall.




These pocket pillows may become my signature gift!


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Calico Christmas: The Candy Cane Ornament



When I was 9 years old, my mom gave me an ornament kit called "Calico Christmas." Inside were squares of calico, a bit of stuffing, and instructions to make several different styles of ornaments, including a candy cane, a pinwheel, and a stocking. I stitched these by hand those many years ago. Don't you just love those big beginner stitches? (Actually, I still sew like that...)

The pinwheel was the most complicated pattern. The candy cane was the easiest. I made lots of candy canes!


Even without the original instructions, I remember how to make the candy canes. I am sorry I didn't have this post ready a month ago, but let's just say that I am way ahead for December 2009, okay? And now you can be, too!

First, cut four pieces of fabric into 2 inch by 2.5 inch pieces.


Sew the pieces into a strip, matching the 2-inch (shorter) sides. You can do this by hand or machine.


Fold the strip in half lengthwise, right sides together, and stitch the short ends together.



Turn right side out.



Fill very lightly with stuffing (you could probably even skip the stuffing), fold the raw edges inside, and pin.



Hand stitch the opening closed. I used a blind stitch, but you could use a whip stitch or whatever stitch you like.
You will now have a little stuffed log of fabric.




Using a long needle and a thread knotted at the end, insert the needle in the top corner on the hand-stitched side, and






carefully gathering up the fabric, exit the needle through the hand-stitched seam right at the midpoint of the "log".






Gently pull the thread until the fabric bends into a candy cane shape. You may have to manipulate the gathering a bit to achieve a neat look. When you have the right shape, carefully knot the thread at the exit point and trim the ends of the thread.




Ta da! A fabric candy cane ornament, to keep or to give.



I prefer the bright colors of the 1970s era fabrics from the original kit, but this candy cane has a nice homespun look to it.
You could probably make an ornament out of one piece of fabric if you prefer, using basically the same method. Just cut the fabric 2 inches wide by 7.5 inches long and go from there.



Friday, January 2, 2009

Snowflakes


Happy New Year!


I am always sad to see December and all the holiday fun come to an end. I have been putting away the Christmas decorations, not because I am tired of them, but because it depresses me to still have them up when the children return to school, so I put it all away while they are still home on vacation. I really hate seeing everything get packed back up, but at the same time I am always some what relieved when it's all put away again.


I will put away all the Christmas-themed things, but I will leave out the winter-themed things until the end of January. I am not fond of January, mainly because of the oppressive weather, but I try to fool myself into liking it by celebrating the snow and cold with snowmen and snowflake decorations.


This year I crocheted some snowflakes out of no.10 crochet thread following patterns from this book. I find crocheting with a small hook and thread very challenging. This first snowflake is my favorite, but I have only been able to make it once. My repeat attempts with this pattern have failed. The snowflake is small, only 1 inch across.


This next pattern is equally small, and was a bit easier to make.

This third one is a bit larger, 2 inches across.



I'm not sure I'll be able to crochet more snowflakes out of thread. I love how they look, but it really is tense work for me, and that defeats the purpose of relaxing with needlework! I found a free pattern online to work larger snowflakes with yarn, and I've been following that with good results. I hope to make a garland of snowflakes to hang over my fireplace in place of the Christmas lights that are just about to come down. I'll share that when it's done, because I think it's going to turn out cute.


The children and I made snowflakes a few years ago using beads following these directions.








We didn't use glue. We just folded the end of the pipe cleaners back to hold the beads in place. We also skipped the step of gluing a starburst bead to the center of the snowflake, because it looked fine without it. These are so easy to make that we did these as a classroom craft for my daughter's class room winter party last year, and for my son's winter party the year before. Most of the children didn't follow the bead placement pattern suggested in the directions, and did things quite randomly, but the end result was still quite charming.


The kids and I also made snowflakes with string and borax a few years ago, as described here.














We put food coloring in some of the water, which gave subtle variations in color. I'd like to try this again sometime making different shapes with pipe cleaners.
All right, January, I guess I'm ready for you!