Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pillow Posting

Did you know I am craft deficient?   Sure, I can glitter with the best of them, but when it comes to sewing, I am a bit... lacking.  I don't know what it is, but I just can't keep myself from winging it.  I don't like to measure 3x and cut once.  I usually just eyeball it and take a whack at it.  It's just fabric, right?  And somehow, it always works out.  Maybe I have a magic sewing machine, or thread made from fairy hairs (Does Guterman use fairy hair?  We may never know).  There must be something supernatural going on, because today I felt compelled to turn a table cloth into a set of holiday pillows - and it worked!

Yep, from entertaining accoutrement to head cradler in just one short hour.  I used two different methods, the second of which was MUCH faster than the first.  These are envelope-back pillows, and the first way used 3 pieces of fabric, while the second used just one long piece.  2 quick hems, a straight stitch up each side, and me and my plaid pillows were nap ready.

My couch has been lacking in character for months, and the ease of this project has inspired me to seek out a bit of new fabric for some post-holiday revitalization.  After all... napkins are cheap, and the standard 20" size nicely stitches into an 18" down-filled pillow.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shotgun vs. Rifle

The title may be a bit misleading, as we're going to be talking about Christmas and gifting and no, my dearest husband, firearms are NOT one of your presents this year (so sorry.... maybe in 5 more years?). Let me also preface this by saying that I am a Gift Giver.  I love to give presents, and I love to receive gifts.  In my head I know that stuff doesn't equal love, but this idea was ingrained in me from birth, and it's a hard to exit that train.  So, instead I understand it and I'm trying to make it work for me.

First, let me say that this theory applies only to my immediate family.  I do wish we could afford to buy gifts for our various and sundry relatives scattered across the country, but it simply isn't feasible right now.  And anyway, do you really want another gift basket filled with dry biscuits and tiny, tiny jars of weird jam?  No, you do not.  It is not always the thought that counts, because I really do wonder what the thought is when I receive a purple tea tray that has clearly been regifted, or an array of processed cheeses.  And while I offer a hearty "Thank You" in return, I still continue to wonder if I am putting out the vibes of a person who enjoys nuclear orange cheese with extra nitrates.

My usual approach to Christmas gifting is to start thinking about it months in advance.  I really pay attention when something catches their eye.  I make lists - both mental and concrete.  If I see something I think they'll like, I usually buy it and squirrel it away (if it's reasonably priced).  This method is fine, but it's not especially budget friendly....although it is nice to spread the spending out over months.  And in particular, it is not terribly thoughtful.  It sort of says "Here's a bunch of random stuff I thought you'd like." This is what I call the shotgun approach - you sort of scatter the gift giving all over the place, and hope that something ends up being super awesome and high on their list, and you don't hear cries of "What about X" or "What about Y?" all Christmas morning.

This year, I am trying a more targeted (rifle-esque) approach.  I chose the theme of "Something to Wear, Something to Read, Something They Want, Something They Need".  That's 4 gifts, plus one from Santa, and one homemade sibling gift.  6 total.  Which, I know, is a lot.

Quantity aside, I wanted to really focus on the quality of each gift.  I don't just mean craftsmanship, but I mean desire + a reduced amount of crapitude.  I didn't want to buy something just to buy.... something. I didn't want to buy a gift because it was the most heavily played commercial on the Disney channel or because the boy across the street has one.  And you know what?  Being thoughtful, being considered, is challenging.

Sticking to the theme has made me spend hours thinking and looking and mulling all over the internet.  I wanted each gift to fit the category, and I wanted it to be something they would really appreciate.  The "Need" category has been especially difficult, as there is nearly nothing these kids "need".  Even the "Want" category has been challenging.  Santa is fulfilling the big "want" item for each, and frankly, I am really not interested in buying the Magic Slushy Maker to fulfill the other "want" I have heard about since September (see reduced amount of crapitude above).  Or a puppy aka the #1 gift on a certain girl's list.  Sorry, not gonna happen this year.  Santa always and forever reserves the right to choose the most appropriate gift from your list.

The above being said, I am nearly done with my Christmas shopping.  I still need to get J 2 small gifts, but the ones I was most worried about are fulfilled.  As long as UPS does their part, we are in good shape.  I hope that Christmas morning will bring a more relaxed atmosphere, and greater appreciation for what they do get.  I hope there are fewer "What abouts" and more "I love its".  Depending on how it goes, I may even ratchet back further with "Something to Read, Something to Wear, Something to Do" for 2012.

Do you have a gift-giving theme?  Or a specific number of gifts for each child/ recipient?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's Up

  • My poison ivy is finally healed up.  And by healed up I mean that it looks healed but I still scratch at it 3 times a day.  It was bad enough that I have scarring.  While I would never, ever wish poison ivy on my worst enemy, I will give you a tip if you find yourself afflicted: hot water.  As hot as you can stand it, in the shower, twice a day.  It's the only thing that subdued my need to scratch holes into my flesh.  It also helped it heal faster (still took me a month, but whatever). 
  • My kids have already made their Santa lists.  We used this template to make things easier (and by easier I mean to keep the lists from being 50 items long).  J wrote his own name 3 times on the paper because he wanted to be sure Santa knew who it was for.  The only surprise was a request for a puppy (as no less than the #1 gift) and clothes for the puppy.  We then launched into a reminder that Santa decides what he brings for each child, and he thinks long & hard about what would be best for them.  (translation: no puppy this year)

  • I am beginning to seriously panic about Christmas.  I made some lists, and am finding that half the items are sold out!  What?! Sold out?   And eBay wants 6 times as much?  No, I say, NO!  So I am silently crying inside, and outwardly haunting the interwebs trying to form gift giving Plans C, D, E, and F.  I could really use an elf right about now.
  • I made this pin on Sunday.  At the time, I hated all the cutting and gluing and the stink of Fabri-Tac.   Now I love the result so much that I think I'm going to make more to fulfill those random gifts that are nice to have but not really necessary (teacher, dance instructors, favorite neighbor).  If you try it, I recommend not using sheets of craft felt (too thin), definitely using felt off the roll (much better), and using clothespins to secure the petals while they dry (a sanity saver). 
  • I am going rogue for Thanksgiving.  No turkey, no potatoes, no pumpkin.  Big Daddy doesn't even really like turkey, the kids could care less, and I have decided it's ridiculous to cook a giant meal when no one but me cares about the tradition.  So, here's the menu:
    • Deviled eggs
    • Pulled pork with brioche buns
    • Macaroni and cheese
    • Green salad
    • Peach-raspberry crisp
 I am hoping this results in a less-stressed me, more dinner eaten, and fewer dishes to clean up. That sounds like a win-win for all. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas List

Grinchy or not, I've made a list.  I don't make it for me. I make it for Them.  

Does that seem bratty?  It's not meant to be.  

You see, knowing who I am (picky) this is just the best way to do it.  And for us, it works.  They get a list of items that I would be thrilled with and I get the comfort of knowing that I did not saddle anyone with the passive aggressive statements of "Just pick out something you think I would like" or "I don't really want/need anything".  

Stop it. 

If you LIKE being irritated with those around you because they took you at your word and either got you nothing, or bought your present at the Go Mart on Christmas Eve, you should stick with either of the above.  For me, I'd prefer any of the following:

  1. Indoor/Outdoor Rug from Ballard Designs.  "Geometric Border" in blue or gray, 8' x 10'.  $120
  2. REI Madrona Full-Zip Fleece Hoodie in Lagoon or Black.  On sale until November 28.  $36.99
  3. Paris in White Postcard Set from Little Brown Pen on etsy $15
  4. Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing & Fabric Crafts.  Buy it on Amazon. $22
  5. Lisa Leonard "Blessed & Lucky" necklace.  Because this involves personalization, how about a gift card to the site? $78
  6. iPhone 4 in White $99
  7. Set of 2 Chicago Metallic Jellyroll Pans. Amazon, $26
  8. A bike.  
  9. Kate Spade iPhone 4 case. $40 
  10. Sur la Table Non Stick Skillet Set $64.95
Other ideas:
  • I love gift cards.  Some think they are impersonal, but I love having freedom of choice.  I would both enjoy and appreciate gift cards to any of the following: iTunes, IKEA, Michaels, Target, Walmart, Joann, Amazon, Home Depot, or Bath & Body Works.
  • Really good potholders.  Don't buy me the Ove Glove, don't go to Walmart.  I need thick, professional potholders that won't burn through to my fingers. 
  • Along the same lines, I could use new kitchen towels.  Mine are holey and just sad. 
  • Dwell tablecloth from Target.  60"x 84". Pick one. 
  • Really good Mexican vanilla. 
Do you make a list?  Does it work for you?

Friday, November 18, 2011


In an effort to redeem myself from the whining of my last post (because really, don't we all read blogs so that we can make ourselves feel bad that we're not recycling our tin cans into precious pen holders or stitching up reusable sandwich baggies or decorating our new apartments with nothing but $30 and a trip to Goodwill?).....

Wait, where was I?  

Oh, right.  

My doldrums of a few days ago turned out to be the beginning of a mild cold.  After going to bed at 7:30 last night (and yet waking up at 4:30am today ), I am feeling much better, and am in fact TAKING ACTION.  Yep, for me the best way to conquer whatever item is putting the Fear into my heart is to make a list and start checking it off.  Although I have been considering the Holidays for months, I thought that perhaps a Christmas Planner would help.  At the least, it couldn't hurt. I took a cue from the Christmas Planner at eighteen25, and whipped this up on Wednesday evening:

Despite searching the aisles of the Dollar Tree, Walmart, and Joann's, the only supply I purchased was the composition notebook for $1. I had partially convinced myself that I MUST have an adorable pack of Christmas themed scrapbook paper or my Planner was sure to be a bust... but after realizing that the paper alone was going to be $12+, I stepped back to rethink it.  At home, I dug through my crafting supplies and came up with some textured red paper, a sparkly white cardstock, a lime green ink pad, and a green striped gift bag.  With these - and the adorable printables supplied by eighteen25 - I made a very satisfactory planner.  

I've already begun to fill it up and plan out Christmas 2011.  In fact, since Wednesday, I have bought 2 Santa gifts, ordered the gifts for the grandparents, and even started filling in Advent ideas.  Christmas decorating begins next Friday, and it's all downhill from there.  

PS: Tabs are To Do, Menu, Calendar, Cards, and The List

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back Again.... or Am I?

So.... I inadvertently took a 2 week break from blogging.  I wasn't planning on it, but due to Life, and company, and then more company, well, here we are on November 14.  I thought that I would wake up this morning feeling vigorous and ready to get back to "normal", but instead I find myself saddled with the doldrums. I wanted to plan our meals, replenish the pantry, catch up on the 6 loads of laundry that are piled high, and maybe bake something spicy .... but instead I tidied the guest room, played online, and felt sorry for myself.  It is cold and rainy outside, and my mood matches the weather.

It struck me last night that next week is Thanksgiving.  Next Week!  Where has the year gone?  Where are my Christmas plans?  I haven't even given a thought to the Big Meal.  I'm trying to battle the downward spiral of my Grinchy heart by making a Christmas planner a la eighteen25, but even the time spent cutting and pasting have not relieved the tightness in my chest.  I am hopeful that once I begin to take real action, I will feel less like stapling antlers to mice* and more like Bob Cratchit.... but my budget is looking distinctly Cratchity, and that doesn't help.  I think a day or two of lethargy is in order, and then.... well, then it will be time to shake it off, start stringing up Christmas lights, and blast a little Michael Buble Christmas.  And maybe a homemade Salty Caramel Hot Chocolate will help, too.

What do you do when the Holiday Blues strike?

*This is from Scrooged, one of my many favorite Christmas movies.  I would never condone stapling anything to a mouse.  Glue is much more effective.    

Friday, November 4, 2011

I Eat, Therefore....

When I'm happy, I eat.  When I'm sad, I eat.  When I'm lonely, I eat.  The only time I don't seem to eat is when I am sleeping or busy with projects.  With as much work as this house needs, I have been eating less, but still.... it's not really one of those you can just stop doing, is it?  (OK, you can, but really it's just not optional if you want to do ridiculous things like walk or form a coherent sentence or chase a 3 year old around the block).

But after this, I may be eating more.  For I have found a shredded chicken recipe that is good.  Maybe not even just good, possibly great.  I've only had it once, and haven't yet tried the frozen leftovers, but I feel comfortable giving this a 4 out of 5 stars.  There's little in my world of cooking that gets 5 stars.  Maybe bacon.  And Cinnamon Chocolate Bundt Cake.  But other than those, a 4 is sparkling recommendation.

This recipe comes from the America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution.  I bought it before our local Borders shut its doors forever.  I was both excited with the bargain, and giddy at the prospect of discovering some new, less-intense recipes.  For you see, I have a love-hate relationship with my Crock Pot. I love the idea of less dinner work for me, but hate the fact that my Crock Pot seems to have a secret Turbo switch that makes 10 hour recipes overcooked by hour 5.  So, with that in mind, I have been tentatively dipping my toes (ew, OK, maybe not my toes.... at least not near the kitchen), testing out the waters with a few new recipes.  The Everyday Shredded Chicken Filling is AWESOME.   It can be used in nachos, burritos, flautas, enchiladas, quesadillas, or just added to a salad. It was easy, perfectly cooked, required items I had on hand, and is delish.  Here you go:

Everyday Shredded Chicken Filling
From: America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution

1 onion, minced
3 TBS. chili powder
2 TBS. vegetable oil
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded & minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1-8oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 TBS. fresh lime juice

  1. Microwave onion, chili powder, oil, jalapeno, garlic, coriander, and cumin in bowl, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. 
  2. Stir tomato sauce and sugar into slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt & pepper, add to slow cooker, and coat evenly with sauce mixture.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low (FYI: I set mine for 8 hours, and it was done in 3 1/2).  
  3. Transfer chicken to large bowl, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.  Cover to keep warm.  Let braising liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface with large spoon.  
  4. Toss shredded chicken with 1 cup braising liquid; add more liquid as needed to keep meat moist & flavorful.  Stir in lime juice and season with salt & pepper to taste.  
Note: I found a trick on Pinterest for shredding chicken.  Put the WARM chicken in the bowl of your Kitchenaid, attach the flat beater (cookie beater), and in 30 seconds you'll have perfectly shredded chicken!

Also: the braising liquid is where you control the spicy.  Because I have kids who complain about the spiciness of cinnamon in their pancakes, I used less liquid.

I made this into burritos, and it was awesome.  I can't wait to use this for our Christmas Eve enchiladas!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Treats

Despite my lack of Halloween enthusiasm, I caved & made take-home treats for the 2nd grade Fall Party (Note: apparently it's not PC to say "Halloween" anymore.  I say WHATEVER.)  In order to have the biggest impact with the least amount of effort, I chose to go with the always popular dipped marshmallow treat. 

They were supposed to be mummies, but after 24 squares used up every drop of the Almond bark, I had nothing left to make bandages.  So.... now they are ghosts!  With chocolate chip eyes, of course.  

A bag, a ribbon, and a cute cutout later, we were ready to rock the party.  

I love that these took me a total of about an hour to make (with most of the time spent waiting for coating to melt), yet every adult who saw them thought they were great.  The kids were pretty excited, too.  These are definitely going on next year's must-make list.