Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Past

We had a Merry Christmas here, and hope you did, too. The kids are happily busy getting acquainted with their new things. We had dry roads for our long drive to and from my parents' house, where we gathered for the holiday with my whole family, including my newly-engaged niece. She was the flower girl in my wedding, so I really can't understand how she is old enough to be getting married!
Pictured is a quilt I made for my mom a long, long time ago, when I worked part-time and didn't have children yet (and when my niece was still a little girl). I would not have the time or the patience to make this now. Even back then it tested my patience. The machine appliqueing was fussier than I expected, and it started to drive me crazy! But the end result was worth it. I used some busy prints in this, didn't I? It's not easy on the eyes, but I think the overall effect is joyful and jolly.

I have blogged before about when I first got my sewing machine. The final push to me buying a machine was when I saw a pattern for a little felt bunny family that lived in a carrot-shaped purse. The bunnies could be made by hand, but the sewing for the carrot purse required a machine. I wanted to make that bunny family for my niece so badly, and they would not be complete without that carrot, so I said That's it, I'm getting a machine. I made the bunny family for my niece for Christmas that year, and the following year I made my mom this quilt, plus an advent quilt for myself and a second one for my sister (mom to my niece). It's nice to see some of my early hard work on display every year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas

Here is my Sampler Snowman, by Homespun Elegance, all stitched up. I've since finished him into a little wall hanging, and now he's hanging over my window on an old curtain rod hook. I took down the curtains in my family room years ago, but left the hooks intact so that I have a place to hang all my seasonal decorations. All the hooks are full this time of year!

This week is going too quickly. Today I made spiced pecans to give to neighbors and the mailman. They are an old holiday stand-by I've been making for 9 years now (recipe from Family Fun here). So yummy! I have a tiny bit of handsewing to finish up on some fabric candy canes. The candy canes will embellish the containers that will hold the pecans. I made sugar cookies today, which my nephews and niece (ages 7, 5, and 3) will come over to decorate on Thursday, after I give them a lunch of Star Wars shaped pancakes. My daughter and I hope to see Tangled tomorrow. On Wednesday we are going to see Mary Poppins on Broadway (except not actually on Broadway). Friday is Christmas Eve! Love this time of year.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it. Have a wonderful holiday!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snow days

We had our first snowstorm over the weekend, and school was closed yesterday. Yay, snowday! The kids and I ate our breakfast while we watched the movie Elf. I hadn't seen it in a few years, so it hasn't gotten old for me yet. What makes me laugh hardest is the fact that Will Ferrell is willing to walk around NYC in that get up!

In this season of short daylight, I fully appreciate a bright and sunny day, and when the sun comes after a snow fall, it's blindingly beautiful. This morning when the sun came up, the gel gems my daughter put in the dining room window really lit up. You have to appreciate the unique beauty of a winter's day. Yesterday I brought out the Christmas picture books and put them near our tree. One of my favorite books to look at is Christmas Trolls, by Jan Brett. The illustrations are so gorgeous and detailed. I would love to have such color and coziness in my home. Just look at that tree!
As I examined every detail in the book last evening, I started to realize that my own Christmas tree actually does look like the one in the book.

Now, does anyone know where I can find an anorak, boots, and mittens like these?
Because I would totally wear all of that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Spice Cookies

There was a cookie exchange for teachers and staff at my daughter's school today. Parents were asked to send in two dozen homemade cookies, and this is what I made. I don't make these every year, but whenever I do, I think I should make them more often. They are similar to gingerbread or molasses cookies, but so much easier to make because there is no need to get out the stand mixer or the cookie cutters. (My kitchen is tiny, so I have to keep the stand mixer in the basement, and sometimes I don't feel like hauling it out.) If I remember correctly, this recipe was printed in a Wisteria catalog several years ago. I tried to find it online, but was unsuccessful, so here it is:

Easy Christmas Spice Cookies

3/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. molasses
2 c. flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg, beaten

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and molasses. Mix together well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the melted butter mixture and stir well. Add the beaten egg; stir well.

Spread the batter in a greased 9x13 pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

While the cookies bake, make your icing:

1 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
dash of salt
1 1/2 T cream or milk (water also works)

Stir all icing ingredients together, adjusting sugar or milk amounts slightly if necessary to make it smooth and not too runny.

Spread the icing on the cookies while they are still warm (about 5 minutes after they come out of the oven). Let cool completely and be sure icing is firm before slicing into bars. Store bars in an airtight container.

That's it! Nice and easy, and yummy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tis the Season

I think I finally have all the Christmas decorations out. It's such a huge job. I always face it with dread, but once we get started, it's fun, and when the house is all festive, I'm glad we made the effort.

I'm not doing too much crafting this year. There are plenty of things I want to make, but I don't want to get stressed about it, so my approach has been less frantic and more relaxed. I'm trying that approach on all aspects of Christmas this year! So far I feel pretty good about things.

I do have one cute cross stitch that I recently completed which I need to share, but my son has been using my camera, and he changed all the settings, and I don't know how to change them back. Grumble grumble. He has a half-day of school today, which means he'll be home at 11:30, which also means I can kiss the computer good-bye for the rest of the day. He drives me crazy and makes me happy at the same time. He is taking a bus trip to Chicago on Friday with his German class to visit the Christkindlmarket. I must get myself to that sometime. It looks wonderful.

I did want to share links to two Christmas craft tutorials I posted in the past, just in case you yourself are in a mad crafting frenzy and want some ideas. These two are very simple to make:

Sock snowman tutorial here

Fabric candy cane tutorial here.

Thanks for your kind comments about Michele. It seems strange to go about my holiday business knowing that she is gone, and that her husband and daughter are without her.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My friend

The heart ornament I featured in my previous post was made for my friend Michele. I've known Michele for almost 14 years. She passed away on Monday, after a 12-year battle with two different cancers, leaving behind her loving husband and 13-year-old daughter. I mailed the ornament to her before she died. I do hope she was lucid enough to see it and feel the love I put into it when I stitched it for her.

I know Michele from a pregnancy listserv. One wouldn't think online friendships could feel so real, but they are indeed very, very real, and I will (already do) miss her more than I can say. I think my other list moms know exactly what I mean.

Our group, which is still together today, was founded in the winter of 1997, when a bunch of newly-pregnant women ventured forth onto the Internet and somehow found a listserv devoted to pregnant women who were due in September that year. None of us knew each other. We came from all different walks of life, from all over the world. We jumped right in, introduced ourselves, gave our real names--including last names!--pinpointed our precise locations on this planet, and started discussing Things right away.

Michele was one of those moms, so willing to share so much of herself. She was one of our more prolific posters, and I found her quite entertaining, warm, and helpful. If you needed a recipe, she had one. If you needed a product review, she probably had the item in question and could give you excellent feedback. If you were having a bad day, she'd say something that made you recognize there had been good parts to the day.

She was so honest and open about her life, sharing with us the good, the bad, the hopeful, the heart-breaking. You would think with all she had to deal with that she would retreat into her own problems and stop worrying about the rest of us, but she continued to be an active participant in our group. I could post about the silliest little problem, and she would treat it as if it were the most important thing. And the times my problems weren't so silly, when they were very real and very horrible, she offered true wisdom and true strength, both by what she said, and by the example she set with how she lived her own life.

When she went into hospice at the beginning of November, we were devastated. What could we do to show this woman how much she meant to us, and how much we love her? One mom came up with the brilliant idea of sending her a table-top Christmas tree, and we each sent an ornament to decorate the tree. The heart was my contribution. She gave all of us so much, just by being. I hope she knew, not just in the end, but all along, what she meant to us.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Hodgepodge Post

Here is a little something I worked on recently. The design is from an old Tom Pudding pattern I found free online in 2004. Good thing I printed it out then (and didn't lose the printout!) because it doesn't seem to be available any more, but they have other free patterns here. I may have to do something with that snowflake design. (Edited Feb. 13, 2011: The pattern is available on their new blog now! Hooray! Go here.)
This is stitched on 14 ct. aida with DMC 600, two strands for the outline, one strand for the design. The finished design area is about 2 inches by 2 inches.

I had a handmade ornament inspiration the other day which required red gingham fabric. No problem, I thought, as I headed to my stash. Would you believe I had NO red gingham in my 20-year-in-the-making fabric stash? NONE. I was shocked. Time for a fabric store run.

I am doing little things for Christmas this year, mostly cross stitch stuff, but I may try to knit these tree sachets from a couple years ago. Unfortunately, my left hand has begun to ache like crazy lately when I try to stitch, knit, or crochet. I wear a therapeutic glove while I work, but it doesn't seem to help much. My mom's hands were crippled by arthritis when she was in her 60s, so I am a little fearful. I am not ready to give up stitching. What will I do if I can't stitch???? I spend the time I am not stitching massaging my hand and fretting.

Yesterday I had my volunteer shift in the elementary school library. Two boys came rushing in, breathless, waving a piece of paper at me. "We need to find the definition for this word!" they panted. I said "Sure, go ahead." I expected them to rush to a computer and go online, but to my surprise they headed straight for the Big Dictionary. I was actually very touched to see them wrestling it off the bookshelf, and gratified to see that they knew how to use it. The word they were looking for was "runcible." They found "runcible spoon", and scribbled down the definition (which sounded an awful lot like the description for a spork!). Last evening on a whim I googled runcible spoon, and this is what I found. Hmmm. Now I want to go back to that dictionary in the school library and see if it mentioned that it's really a made-up thing! I feel a little sad that the dictionary may not have the full story.

And from the department of totally random: news of Prince William's engagement reminded me of the day he was born. I was a teenager at the time, so I spent a lot of time in my bedroom listening to the radio. That day the dj mentioned that Diana was in labor, which I thought was newsworthy, so I opened up my bedroom door and shouted out to the household at large "Hey! Princess Di's in labor!" My dad misunderstood this as "princess dies in labor". Much hilarity ensued.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part XIV: The Road Home

The last few days of our trip were mostly long-haul drives. When we embarked on our journey, our plan had been to take time on the road home, to drive through Kansas and go to Independence to see the Little House on the Prairie site there, and then to drive to Mansfield, Missouri, to see Rocky Ridge Farm (where Laura lived most of her adult life, and where her home is now a museum. I've been there before, and wanted to see it again). However, at this point in the trip, we had been on the road for a long time, and my husband felt a need to get back to work. My son's birthday was coming up, and we wanted to be home for that, and school was also looming on the horizon. So, we drove I-70 straight through to Missouri without any site seeing. Not even the world's largest ball of twine!

My mother-in-law grew up in a small town in Missouri. My husband spent a lot of summers there when he was a child, and some of his relatives still live there, so we did some visiting for a day. Our children have been there before for family reunions and weddings, but it had been a long time and they didn't really remember much about it (other than the oppressive and horrible humidity, which is very memorable!). My husband grew up not far from where we live now, but most of his best and favorite childhood memories are from the times he spent in Missouri, so it is important for the children to see those places. I know my mother-in-law (who passed away three years ago) would have been so happy that we included a stop in her home town on our big vacation!

And then, of course, there is always something interesting to see on the Mississippi River.

We happened to be there in 1993 when the river was at its highest. Even though we were there and saw it with our own eyes, it is still hard to believe it was actually all the way up to that mark on the flood gate!

The last leg of our journey home took us through rural Illinois, where we passed a campground called "Rest In Peace Campground". Seriously? Whose idea was that? Does anyone camp there? I wouldn't!

And finally home again.

where the scenery behind the bison mascot really isn't all that spectacular or interesting, but it is home, and we were glad to be back.

Four thousand nine hundred fifty miles. Sixteen days. Nine states (four of which were new to me). Six state capital cities. Two state capitol buildings. Six national parks. Two Laura Ingalls Wilder sites. Twelve picnic lunches at rest areas, historic sites, town parks, or in national parks. One horrible storm. Countless memories to last a lifetime.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Party Porcupine Pillow

My daughter was invited to a friend's birthday party, and she really wanted to make an embroidered rendering of this friend's signature doodle, the Party Porcupine. It took a few days to secure a doodle, then a few more days for me to transfer it to fabric for her, then another few days for my daughter to find time to do the crayon tinting and embroidering (I did the french knots in the party hat for her), then thirty minutes of her rejecting most of the fabric in my stash, until we finally unearthed the gum-drop fabric which was declared perfect, then a late-night, last-minute session with me at the sewing machine, but we managed to complete the pillow on time!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part XIII: Denver,Colorado

The day after our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, we spent the day in Denver. Denver is known as The Mile High City, so I was picturing it IN the mountains. It's not in the mountains. It's near the mountains. This really blew my mind. Who knew? It looked a lot like Minneapolis to me. (My husband didn't get that same Minneapolis impression.)

The week before we were in Denver, when we realized what exact day we'd be in Denver, we tried to get tickets to tour the U.S. Mint, but, sadly, all tours that day were already completely booked. You can do this complicated thing at the Mint to get on stand-by, but by the time we got there, we were too late even for that. This was extremely disappointing to our children. We asked the security guard how far in advance tickets get claimed, and he said in the summer, about one month. There's just no way we can be that organized, not when we are making up our itinerary as we go along!!

We didn't have anything specific in mind we wanted so see in Denver, so we just strolled around town. The sun felt piercing to me, not really hotter than usual, just stronger.

We visited the library, and admired this beautiful wall of books outside.

We wandered over to the capitol area.

They had their own little mini Mall (ala Washington, DC) in the capitol area. I can't remember what this building was opposite the capitol, but see, they even have a tiny little Washington Monument.

Does the D.C. in Washington, D.C., not stand for District of Columbia, but Denver, Colorado, instead??? One wonders.

We found out later that things carved in stone aren't necessarily true. The REAL spot on the capitol steps that is exactly one mile above sea level is up another step or two. Oh, well, close enough.

We went inside the capitol building.

We got to go inside the dome. The views were lovely.

After leaving the capitol we walked around a bit more and found ourselves near the convention center, where this giant blue bear peeks in the windows.

Kinda cute, kinda weird!

We wanted to find someplace local for lunch, but sadly, the pedestrian mall where we looked was all chain restaurants. I'm sure there are fabulous and unique restaurants in Denver. We just couldn't find them, so we settled for a chain we'd never eaten in before. We strolled along the pedestrian mall for awhile, but I didn't take any pictures. I remember they had painted pianos scattered along the way for anyone to sit down and play, which seemed whimsical and festive.

We left Denver mid-afternoon. It was time to say good-bye to the mountains as we began our eastward journey in earnest on I-70. Sniff, sniff. Good-bye, Rockies! I can't believe how beautiful and dramatic you are!

Shortly before our trip, I heard of the I-70 Diner in Flagler, CO, and was excited when I realized we'd be passing by it. Good timing had us arriving in Flagler right at dinner time, so we knew just where to go to feed ourselves.

Cute, cute, cute, and the food was delicious!!! I would go there all the time if I lived there!
I think my children agree!

We crossed into Kansas as the sun set. Kansas was yet another new state for me. Poor Nebraska. I've never been there, and on this trip I just circled right around it!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Here

Candy for Trick or Treaters:
(Bucket is from a McDonald's Happy Meal circa 1989--I bought the Happy Meal just to get the bucket, and timed my visit to get the ghost bucket because I didn't want the witch bucket or the pumpkin bucket. And to spare you the math, yes, I was 22 years old!! I felt a little silly ordering a Happy Meal for myself, but 21 years later I still have the bucket, so you can see I really did want it!)

A trio of ghost lanterns:

A jack-o-lantern lantern:


Man of Mystery:


Our favorite baseball team:

Peace sign (carved by the hippie):

My son wasn't going to go trick-or-treating this year, but my daughter's trick-or-treat plans fell through at the eleventh hour, so I asked him to please please please go with her. He threw his look together in less than 5 minutes, and then they went trick-or-treating by themselves.

I don't like that daylight savings time ends in November now. It's still daylight when trick-or-treat starts. The thrill of Halloween when I was a kid wasn't so much the candy. It was going out in the dark!! My kids wait until it's dark to go, but by then there's only about an hour left of trick-or-treating. It's just weird!

I have eaten way too much candy today. I feel shaky! I will have to eat a high-protein breakfast tomorrow to counter-act the junk.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Three Crocheted Scarves

I kept my hands busy on our 4,500 mile journey. Nothing like long hours in the car to get a few back-logged crochet projects stitched up! When I wasn't staring in awe out the window, I crocheted.

The pattern for the first scarf is from Ella Rae: Island Holiday (Book 18). The book is Australian, but I stumbled on it at a local needlework shop. They had this scarf on display, and I loved it.

The cowl pattern is the Cardiff Cowl from Lion Brand Yarn, available free on their website. I made it using their recommended alpaca, which was really easy to work with.

The neckwarmer pictured below is from the Flower Warmers pattern by Lisa Gentry, available on Ravelry.

I didn't make the crocheted flower embellishments because I wanted something simple, but I did use rhinestone flower-shaped buttons for closures! They may be a bit too small, though, so I'm thinking a retro stick pin may be in my future. I wonder if I still have mine from the 70s? I should go look.

I love cozying up in scarves this time of year. It hasn't really been cold yet, which is weird, but I know it's coming, and when it does, I can keep the heating bill down by fighting off the chill with one of my new neckwarmers!