Wednesday, December 29, 2010

After it's all over

I finished Mr. T's first Christmas ornament around 11:30 Christmas night - just under the wire, so it still counts, right? (Confession: it's not really finished, since I still have to stuff it and sew up its belly, but we'll just let that go, shall we?).

As much as I love Christmas, I always feel relieved when it's over and the pressure is gone. Even if I didn't finish everything I wanted to, and I rarely do, I can move it to next year's list and have another whole year to put things off.

I do look forward to starting a new year, and I'm planning to work on clearing the decks first - finishing lots of stalled projects and organizing my sewing room before adding anything new to my list. This week is always a nice break, a chance to rest before a new year, and I'm spending it happily making lots of lists.

Just so this post isn't bare, check out this crazy picture of Mr. T and a photo of his dad. Nuts, huh?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last-minute Stitchery

There's still time! This is for those of you frantically scrabbling around in a pile of fabric remnants and bits of string, waving scissors and a glue stick, muttering about Christmas and Martha and perfect trees/centerpieces/decorations/gifts. I guess it's also for those rare creatures who are planning next year's projects, but who really does that? Not me, that's for sure, although every year is the year I swear I'll start - no, really, I mean it this time.
Seriously, though, this took me about 3 hours from start to finish - from cutting out the fabric to mounting the finished piece.

I created this embroidery to use for my holiday cards and for a decoration. I pressed the finished piece and scanned it, then printed it on cardstock for the cards. I want to start doing this every year, with a new design each time, and build a collection.

Get the embroidery pattern here! I'm traveling, and using a borrowed computer, so sorry for the imperfect pattern. I'm planning to redo all my patterns soon(ish) so they look better anyway. I used blue linen, and cream and very pale blue floss. Stitches are outline stitch, lazy daisy, brick and satin stitches.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making ...


a mess


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Handmade Kids

corduroy deer
corduroy deer by super*junk on flickr
My recent crayon apron project got me thinking: how do you raise kids who appreciate handmade gifts? Most birthday parties have the birthday child tearing through package after package of pink or blue plastic toys, tossing them aside in a wild fever to see what's next, and I often feel a handmade gift -- even one I would have loved as a child, like a crayon apron -- gets tossed aside the fastest.

When it comes to making gifts for adults, I'm already discriminating. I only give handmade gifts to those who will appreciate them, and happily those people prefer handmade to store-bought. Even if I don't have time to make gifts myself, I still search out thoughtful items on Etsy and at craft fairs because I like supporting artisans and there's something special about an item that's not mass produced.

vintage toys from flickr user amy_b
So how do you teach small children there's more out there than My Little Ponies and Matchbox cars (wow, I'm sure my toy references are hopelessly dated, but Mr. T's not into much besides crinkly softies and key rattles right now)? Is it just a matter of making a point to teach gratitude in general, or is it more complicated? I'm hoping Mr. T grows up to like making, and have halcyon daydreams of warm afternoons spent crafting together in a haze of mess- and tear-free creativity, and while I know that's slightly ridiculous, I think it would help him appreciate others' creative efforts.

Lots of craft blogs feature toys and gifts for children, with photos of ecstatic kids playing with handmade paper dolls and knitted toys, but I wonder sometimes if even Made by Joel's kids beg him for Handy Manny toolboxes when they're at the store (maybe he doesn't take them to Target -- could that be the key?).

What's your experience with handmade gifts for children, and how do you compete with bright plastic? Thoughts?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Chocolate Orange Bread Pudding

This rich dessert is perfect for the holidays. It's simple, but the Grand Marnier and dark chocolate -- as dark as you can find -- give it an edge over a basic bread pudding. You can serve it with a Grand Marnier sauce or make a hard sauce by beating a stick of butter, a cup of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of liqueur until it looks like whipped cream (it'll be super stiff and dense, so it won't feel like whipped cream). It's also fantastic with ice cream, but what isn't?

man, I wish I had a better photo of this!

Chocolate Orange Bread Pudding
8 slices slightly stale bread
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 cans evaporated skim milk plus enough regular milk to cover 
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp Grand Marnier
3/4 cup chopped dried orange slices
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 to 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli's 100% cacao chips -- just get as dark as you can find or handle)

Tear the bread into smallish pieces and place in a 9x13" dish. Slightly stale bread works best -- if the bread is fresh, dry it out in a low temperature (like <200 degree) oven first.

Beat the eggs and pour over the bread. Add the sugar and milk and stir. Add as much extra milk as you need to cover the pudding.

Stir in the remaining ingredients and let the dish sit for 30 minutes to an hour.

Place the dish in a larger pan of water to ensure even cooking. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until no longer liquidy and the top is browned.

Grand Marnier sauce
adapted from Food Preparation Recipes, Second Ed., by the late Alice M. Child and Kathryn Bele Niles

1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 Tbs. flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. butter
2-3 Tbs. Grand Marnier

Mix flour, sugar and salt thoroughly in saucepan. Add boiling water and blend thoroughly.
Cook until thickened. Stir constantly. Cover and simmer about 8 minutes.
Beat in butter and liqueur. Serve hot or warm (and it's excellent over ice cream!).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Making ...

to wear

to eat

to share

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Being Accomplished

This post has been sitting unfinished in my drafts for weeks because I wanted it to be perfect. It's kept me from writing other posts, and the sad thing is, stopping this perfectionism is exactly what it's about. So I'm just going to call "pencils down!" and throw it out here as is (well, I finished the last sentence. Oh, and added pictures).

Sunday evening, I was sitting on the back steps with my head in my hands, thinking about how little I managed to cross off my to-do list. All I'd wanted to do was hang the porch curtains and a blackout shade in Mr. T's room, and all I'd done was bring the drill up from the basement and plug in the battery charger. Even that trip to the basement was full of reproach -- the laundry piles snickered and mocked and grew and grew, in cahoots with the laundry baskets full of clean clothes that mocked me from the upstairs landing. I had expectations for when Chris came back, and nothing can be more dangerous, since expectations are rarely grounded in reality. So I sat outside long after I'd taken the laundry off the line, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and wanting nothing more than crawl into my craft room alone and spend a week. But even that was out of the question, since it's such a mess I couldn't begin to work on anything (even the ironing board cover needs ironing).

pressure gauge
Pressure Gauge by SnaPsi Сталкер, on Flickr
How did I get here? First, those expectations. Somehow, my mind tricked me into believing Chris being able to change, play with and bathe Mr. T when he wasn't at work would make each day last 10 hours longer and give me 6 extra hours of sleep. This is the same mind that used to convince me I could read the entire fourth floor of the library over lunch and get that 5,000-word essay finished by my 3 o'clock seminar in college. Of course Chris can't do that. He doesn't have a timeturner, for one, and he doesn't have magic food-giving boobs for another.

Second, I'd also spent the better part of two weeks trying to "train" Mr. T to take naps in his own bed. I was going to get so much done when he napped. Never mind that he wakes up after 45 minutes and has to be soothed back to sleep immediately, or else, which meant I was nursing him for the first 30 minutes and hovering outside his room for the last ten, waiting for that first peep, leaving only five minutes to get so much done. And half the time I wasn't able to get him back to sleep, so the nap was short and I was left totally demoralized.

This all built up to Sunday, when faced with Chris being gone for a week brought me crashing into what I thought was failure. Some tears, an early baby bedtime and some snuggles later, I had several a-ha!s (wow, that's a punctuation nightmare).

  • A to-do list is a great tool but a lousy dictator
  • Do what works best for us, not them
  • Make use of the time you have rather than try to use the time you don't
These are pretty banal, but they took a lot of weight off my shoulders. In conjunction with some fantastic articles I've caught out of the thousands of unread feeds in my RSS reader, these truths will (hopefully) help me change my ways.

Do Work Gocco screenprinted lined notebook from Etsy seller TwoGuitars

A to-do list is a great tool but a lousy dictator
I love to-do lists. I have one on my fridge and two on my phone, one of which links to an account online so I can get to it from my computer, too. I also have several notebooks and loose pieces of paper. This is wonderful, in some ways. I don't forget to pick up bread when I'm at the grocery, and I get the satisfaction of crossing things off when I finish them (I've been known to put "get dressed" on my list just to give myself something to mark off). But when my life is ruled by thousand-mile-long lists of everything I want to accomplish ever, it's overwhelming. So I've scaled back. I have a permanent list of things I need to do every day, a long-term list of projects I want to make and a list of possible blog posts for when I have time to write. The only one I look at every day is my, erm, daily list. The others are so I don't forget the blindingly genius gift idea for great-Aunt Mabel I came up with in line at the supermarket, or whatever. Which reminds me, I've also stopped letting myself be guilted by all those "Handmade Holidays!" cheery blog posts. I'm not Martha; hell, I'm not Not Martha. All those dream gifts are going on my list for next year, and whatever I finish is great. That's why I have a long-term list. Use lists; don't let them use you.

Do what works best for us, not them

Should my sweet baby be on a schedule? Maybe. Guess what? He naps for 1.5-2 hours twice a day, at 11 and at 3. He just happens to nap in my arms, and that's ok with me. When I was stressing over getting him to sleep in his bed like "everyone else's baby does," he was tired and miserable, and so was I. I wasn't getting anything done because I was pacing up and down his room shushing and jiggling and patting trying to get him to sleep. What works best for us is for him to sleep on me. Does eating lunch at your desk work better for you than going out every day with your coworkers? Great. Do it. Would you rather just write a check to the local women's shelter than spend hours crocheting blankets for the needy? Great. Do it. You're the one who has to live with your choices, so make them the best for you.

Seed by Nicole Docimo/Blue Bicicletta

Make use of the time you have, rather than the time you don't

Lucky me, I now have three or four hours every day where I get to sit and read, catch up on email, knit, write letters, watch tv, nap, whatever I need to do! And all the housework I wanted to do while Mr. T slept is easier to do when he's awake than reading or working on the computer, and way more fun for him (except vacuuming. He's terrified of the vacuum, so that has to wait until either I or Chris can take him out of the house so the other can vacuum. In practice, this means I haven't vacuumed the rug in weeks). He loves "helping" fold laundry, but he isn't so helpful when I try to type emails. So take a look at your priorities, figure out what you need to do both to keep your job and to keep your sanity, and find the best time in which to do them. Take advantage of down time wherever you can.

Listen to others

And by "others" I don't mean me. I started reading through my backlog of unread RSS feeds and it seems the universe is trying to tell me something. Tara Gentile of Scoutie Girl always has something thought provoking to say, and this post on distraction, busy-ness and choice got me thinking about how I use my time. My pen pal Nicole of Blue Bicicletta, in addition to being a fantastic artist, has a great little series going on her blog on creative living. I loved her post about working softer, not harder.

It's been several weeks since I started writing this post, and things are much better. There are still projects that mock me -- the curtains on the porch laugh every time I open the back door -- but I'm making peace.

What kinds of things are you doing to stay sane this time of year? Are you cutting back on gifts altogether, or buying handmade rather than making your own (or buying commercial)? Serving leftovers a couple of nights a week so you're spending less time in the kitchen? What helps you?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Quick gift: Crayon apron from Prudent Baby and Bobaloo Kids

A couple of weekends ago, we had a last-minute birthday party to attend and I needed a last-minute gift. T and I weren't up to braving Target even one more time that week, so I pulled up my absolute favorite go-to place for baby and kid DIY, Prudent Baby. I've made crib sheets, changing pad covers, sun hats, a nursing cover and probably other things I just can't remember right now, and every project has been simple and wicked cute. This crayon apron is a guest project from Samantha at Bobaloo Kids, and I jumped on it. Seriously, how awesome is a crayon apron? I really want one for myself, too (I think I'll have to adjust the measurements, though ...).

Anyway, I was able to sew this up on Friday for a party on Saturday -- nothing like waiting until the last minute -- and it was easy enough to do in short happy baby bursts, so it'd probably take someone with no kids, older kids or a baby who naps alone (I can only dream) only about 15 minutes. The only change I made was to combine the center six crayon pockets into one bigger pocket in the center for a notepad -- what good are crayons if you don't have paper to draw on? Then you have to do things like draw on the walls! The pocket fits 3"x5" index cards, which I used to make the little notebook. I meant to make a matchbook-style one like this super cute one from Daisy Janie, but I didn't have the instructions and kind of screwed it up, so I just made a basic flip pad by punching holes in one end of the notecards and tying them together with yarn. Bonus: it's refillable! I also made a couple more for the birthday girl's little brothers, and I'll definitely make more of these aprons.
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