April 5, 2014

Pin Test: Natural Dyed Easter Eggs

I am a horrible, hopeless artist... as much as I've tried to open my mind and heart to the creative process, I'm left scratching my head bewildered.  Go ahead... put a pencil in my hand and watch my stick person emerge. With curious fascination you will no longer doubt my inability.  The last time I took art was in 8th grade... only because it was required.  The sole reason I made it through was cheating.  Yup.  I paid some girl on my bus to do my assignments.  No lie.

 I recently decided I love journaling so much that I'd try to start an art journal.  You know, something novel to explore in the winter months.  As is my way, I checked out about 8 books from the library to immerse myself in the hobby.  I went so far as find an old book at a thrift shop that might serve as my vessel... and then... the lights went out.  Paint?  Color?  Found objects?  Layering?  Ohhhmegeeee.... it left my armpits sweating with anxiety.  I returned the library books the next day.

That's why I like safe projects like this one.  You can't really mess up a dyed egg now, can you?  It is strangely rewarding to prepare the dye and dip, and the waiting is always the hardest part.  Easter is a blessed celebration but wouldn't quite be complete in our household without the dyed eggs.  I have no idea where the egg tradition comes in, but I'm sure there's some logical and lovely explanation.

Last year, I stopped purchasing the dye kits opting for the route I found pinned here.  This Real Simple article opened my eyes to what the dyed egg COULD be.  Instead of vibrant technicolors leeching through a shell into the soft, white flesh of an egg I planned to consume, I could use elements from the earth to create warm, natural hues.  I mean seriously, doesn't the bright pink sorta freak you out after you peel the egg? So, using blueberries, raspberries, beets, tea, coffee, and turmeric instead?  Voila, problem solved.
Photo courtesy of Real Simple
I found the colors to be subtle; tea and beets were my favorite, and the only ones I don't think I'd do again are blueberries and turmeric.  They just didn't take or do much in the end.  I highly recommend trying these dyes during your Easter egg making.  Get out some rubber bands, white crayons, and stickers, and let the kids go to town.  In the end, I'm certain you'll release your inner artist, and your creative spirit will soar because, from that pages of an art journal I never created...
Artist or not, on this we can certainly agree.

March 14, 2014

Pin Ambition: How to Make a Pennant Banner

Last week was an intersection of about a gajillion elements in our family life.  It always happen that way.  Anyhow, the funny thing is that whenever I am truly the most stressed and overwhelmed, I tend to practice avoidance behaviors.  You may know the routine... throw in a load of laundry here, bake a little something there, craft a bit... basically do anything and everything to avoid the most immediate tasks at hand.  Have you been there?  Is it just me?

So last week was also the perfect time for the internet to break (not that my grades were due or anything) and then it was even more ideal when the guy who came to fix the internet ended up locking his keys in the van.  And let me tell you, the tow truck taking three hours to arrive was also lovely.  Since it was unseasonably cool last week (ummmm I don't know.... the teens), I couldn't very well leave the poor guy out in the cold.  So we invited him in.  My afternoon was shot, but I have a feeling his was too.  And really, let's be honest, I wasn't going to accomplish anything anyhow given my stress level.  So I waited with the poor guy as he:

1.  Refused to watch my kids when I told him I needed to run to the corner to get some groceries but would only be a few minutes (I think the fake, raspy voice tipped him off I was kidding)
2.  Answered my 20 questions about his job
3.  Called the tow truck
4.  Rocked out to some 80's tunes
5.  Answered my 20 questions about his hobbies
6.  Endured me and the boys teasing him by calling him the wrong name because he reminded us of someone we know
7.  Read my coffee table book about tiny houses
8.  Listened to my convincing argument about why he, too, should want to live in a tiny house
9.  Called the tow truck again
10.  Watched the kids play Wii.  Could not resist and played Wii himself.
11. Answered my 20 questions about his wife and schooling and camping memories and family trips and notable voice-to-text slips (I know, I am so nosy)
12.  Called the tow truck a third time.  Proceeded to pace the sidewalk out front until he became too cold to manage.

So it may not come as a surprise that at one point, I asked Justin the friendly repairman to craft with me. I'd had a project idea in mind to bring our mantle some St. Patty's Day cheer but hadn't quite found the time.  Enter three-hour tow truck wait.  

Now, I was no stranger to this project concept.  Let me backtrack a moment... I pinned this adorable pennant banner  awhile back and made some fun little name pennants for my kids as part of their Christmas presents; they were the teepee toppers so they'd know which teepee belong to whom. 
Basically use an 8.5x11 inch paper to cut out a flag template.  I used three different fabric designs for each pennant banner and sewed the front and back together, but you do not need to take this extra step cutting or sewing a front and back.
Once prepped, line up the flags and pin them to a length of double fold quilt binding.
Next, cut out your letters (I used felt) and use heat bond to make 'em stick.
Finished project!

So on this particular day, I decided to use the teepee topper banners as inspiration and put Justin to work.  He drew me a shamrock free hand (because, you know, the internet wasn't working).  Nice work, friendly repairman!
Then we cut out the template and the material.  First we used burlap as one of the materials.  Do NOT do that... it may look cool, but that stuff is impossible to cut straight and makes an enormous mess!  Thankfully, I had some polka dotted fabric left from the Christmas project.  Once the flags were cut, we skipped the whole sew a front/back together step.  (Notice how I say "we"?  Still cracks me up... Justin was still on board.)

Next I pinned the double fold quilt binding (bias tape).  By this point, Justin had checked out.  Too bad... I could have taught him to use a sewing machine.  Anyhow, I stitched the flags in.
Last step was making the shamrock's adhere.  Using tacky spray, I just saturated the felt and with a little pressure, each stuck like a champ.  Stupid me.  I know not to do this with bare hands.  Not smart.  I had to hit the orange oil to scrub off the glue, but you should just wear gloves.  Too bad Justin wasn't here to do that part.  Sucker.
Here is the finished product hanging on the mantle!  It was such a quick project, and while I didn't  accomplish anything on my immediate "to do" list, it was a pretty squirrelly time with my new crafting pal.  I'd say this avoidance behavior was a sassy pin win.  Oh, and do not call Merl's for your towing needs unless you have a few hours to kill (and craft)... they may tell you 30 minutes, but it probably isn't true.  Just ask my friendly repairman.

Time: 1-1.5 hours
Grade: A

March 2, 2014

Pin Test: March Reading Month

March is National Reading Month; more specifically, March 3, is NEA-sponsored "Read Across America."

Books... don't even get me started because I may not stop.  Books are my life.  I love to read... always have, always will.  So this is a pretty special celebration.  Where will I be, you may ask?  At a bookstore, of course!  I'll be sipping coffee with my wonderful March Sisters book club discussing our latest novel.

So today I want to share a wonderful program because I truly believe...
Last year, I stumbled on an awesome program called "One Book at a Time" (pinned here).  It is part of the Family-to-Family organization, a non-profit with a slew of incredibly cool opportunities for people like you and me to get involved and make a small difference.
Basically, "One Book at a Time" pairs a family with a child living in poverty; the family is asked to send a book each month as well as a little letter of correspondence.  The boys and I discussed the idea, and when we registered and filled out the general form, we requested an elementary-aged boy.  A month later, we were paired with Michael, a 3rd grader living in New York.  Since that time, we've enjoyed writing letters, drawing pictures, and choosing books for Michael, and the letters that he writes in return are adorable.  He's become our pen pal of sorts, and it's a monthly love fest full of joy for reading.

St. Patrick's Day is nigh, and Michael's selection this month is a bit of a celebration:
If you have a few moments today, I hope that maybe you'll tool around the Family-to-Family website and explore their programs.  Maybe "One Book at a Time" speaks to your heart as well.

I'm wishing you a happy month of reading.  Pour a mug of something warm, grab a cozy blanket, and snug up with a story.  Read to a child.  Visit a public library.  Talk to someone about what you are reading... or ask for a suggestion or two.  Go to a book store and linger with no agenda.  Pull out a copy of a story you once loved and experience it once more.  Pass on a copy of a novel you love to someone you know... or don't know.  Sweep through your bookshelf and collect copies of stories to donate to a school or library.  Give yourself permission to let the dishes sit and read something... anything... and get lost...if only for a short time.  And of course I'd welcome any comments about a reading suggestion, favorite book, or just a list of what is on your nightstand at present.

Happy Reading!

February 22, 2014

Pin Test: Molly Wizenberg's Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger

I love yoga, but if truth be told, it has been better for my mind than my body.  And while I consider myself to lead a spiritual, Christ-focused existence, I daresay it is actually my yoga practice that propelled me into a gratitude-centered life.  Or maybe it is because I am older now and understand life and living so much differently.  Either way, living a daily life of gratitude feels very natural, and it makes me abundantly happy and peaceful.  I never truly understood that until recent years.  

I can't help but look all around me from the blue skies to my smiling sons and directly give thanks to God from whom all blessings flow, yet I also meander the path of gratitude so often in the pockets of my day making many stops of thankfulness as I am reminded of the fabulous chain of events called "life" and incredible people I know and love. I am not going to lie... these are often materialistic in nature; for example, when I grade with a purple Pilot V5 pen, I am thankful for my incredibly intelligent and interesting colleague SS.  Or many times when I don my favorite moccasins, I am reminded of sweet souls like SM and SL, and I must pause to smile and say a quiet "thank you."  Whenever I hear a cowbell, I give thanks for Saturday Night Live and its hilarity. And lately, when I see ripened bananas on my counter, I give thanks for Molly Wizenberg of Orangette.

Molly is probably at the top of my "You don't know me but I seriously think if you did we could be grand friends, and I probably sound like a creeper right now but am really quite normal...do ya wanna-be pals?!" list.  She's darn inspiring and clever to boot, and when I first read her essays that graced the pages of Bon Appetit back in the day, I was smitten.  To this day, her words always resound deep in my heart (she is a food writer) and carry me to another time and place in my own journey (did I mention she writes about really, REALLY good food?).  In fact, when Bon Appetit changed their concept and stopped her monthly features, I just let my subscription run out.  Yep, you could say I'm a fan.

These days, Molly continues to blog at Orangette, but you can also check her out by ordering her stupendous collection of essays and recipes, A Homemade Life.  I guarantee that you will NOT be disappointed.  Everything, EVERYTHING I have EVER made from her has been deLICious. (OK, ok... I'm going to lay off the caps now... I'm sounding oddly fanatic.  Duly noted.)

So if I say that when I see a ripened banana (3 to be exact) that I give thanks for Molly Wizenberg, that is no exaggeration.  It's only because I am uncharacteristically obsessed (ugh, unavoidable creeper reference) with this recipe.  The first time I made it, I hurriedly lopped off a big hunk to take to a friend; O'Hubs, he who does not eat baked goods, texted me minutes after I left... "This is insanely good bread."  Shortly after I left my friend's house, she, too, texted me "Oh my gosh this bread is delicious!"  After finally sampling the goodness for myself?  I concurred.  This bread is freaking amazing.

I will now pass on Molly Wizenberg's recipe to you... only because on page 177 Molly declares her hatred for secret recipes, so I know she's down with it.  But seriously do yourself a favor and pick up her book?  There is more where this goodness came from, and you will NOT be disappointed.  

Molly Wizenberg's Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
6 T  unsalted butter
2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 & 1/2 c mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 c well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Set a rack in the center of your oven; preheat to 350 degrees and grease a standard-sized loaf pan.

Melt butter and set aside to cool slightly (Molly gives much more specific directions for melting... yet another reason to buy her book because she is highly specific in all her recipes)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk to combine.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well.  Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, stir gently until just combined but do not overmix.  Once there is no unincorporated flour (lumpy batter is fine), scrape into the pan and bake until it is golden and passes the toothpick test (50 minutes-1 hour); tent with aluminum foil if it is browning too quickly.

Cook in the pan for 5 minutes, tip it out on a rack, and, although she might advise to let it cool a bit, CUT IT, POUR SOME MILK AND GO TO TOWN!!  (I cannot help myself with that cap thing... I'm not even sorry anymore.)
When you try this bread, you, too, will meander along the path of gratefulness and stop several times along the way to give thanks for me, Molly... bananas.  I don't know, maybe you'll be too swept up in the moment to even think.  Just make the bread.  And be grateful.  You will be abundantly happy and peaceful... I promise.

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Grade: A

February 16, 2014

Pin Test: Kit Kat Candy Extravaganza Birthday Cake

It was a sad, sorry week in our house and hearts.  I've been crying impetuously and quite inconsolably for the past four days. Nanny Liv quit.  I knew it might be coming.  She'd been interviewing around for positions at the hospital, and everyone knows you have to start somewhere... which usually means third shift.  Third shift in a hospital and first shift childcare?  You do the math.

Still, when she first told me, it felt like a shot to the heart... a true tragedy... like someone died.  And I'm sure you are thinking, "What a DRAMA queen.  Calm down, get a hold of yourself."[SMACK! Airplane style]  But if you are a mom who works in any capacity, you too have understood the woes of finding quality childcare at some point.

Of course we all want our children to be safe and happy and well cared for, but as far as I can tell, there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to making a childcare choice.  Neither is better or worse than the other, it just is what it is.  The first way of thinking is that one's childcare selection must not mimic or interfere with a mother's role too closely; my child has a mother, thank you very much, so back off my turf.  The second way of thinking is that if Mom isn't there, we're gonna find the closest darn thing... please love them like your own and be a second mama.  And that, in our case, is dear Nanny Liv.  She has been with our family since The Noise was a newborn... counting on my fingers that's SIX years.  Liv has the energy and spirit and goofiness of a child, the heart of a mother, and the responsibility of a goody two-shoes.  To me, she is about as close to perfection as they come, and she is all ours.  

So when she told me the news, I was gutted.  I wasn't mad or hurt, and truly I feel blessed we had her as long as we did.   I know she will always be a part of this band of boys with holiday sleepovers and birthday parties and movie nights with late-night runs to the grocery store for more ice cream.  But the bottom line is that we won't see her each day.  So I cry because we love Nanny Liv with all our hearts, and we know that no one can replace her or love us the way she does.  And while it isn't the end of the world that she's moving on (it is, in fact, the beginning of a new and wonderful world for her) quite selfishly, it feels like it, and it hurts nonetheless.

I need a little sunshine here, so I want to share a fun little Pin Ambition from this year when Liv turned 24.  I originally found the directions here.  Liv LOVES candy and sweets, an unfortunate reality considering the fragility of her teeth and exorbitant amount of cavities that poor girl has.  But for her birthday, we figured go big or go home.  So, we tried the Kit Kat M&M Birthday Tower of Chocolate Loving.  

The directions found on Recipe Girl are straightforward yet offer a cool, jazzy, souped-up version of the traditional boxed cake.  The cake was quite sweet, but that's only to be expected.  It comes together easily and tastes divine.  Tie it with a bow, slice it up, and serve with a huge glass of ice cold milk.  Nanny Liv loved it and claimed it made her birthday extra special.  Looking forward, she may not be with us every day, but I know at least one way I can get her to walk through our door when we miss her..which will be every single day.

Cake + SnapChat = Visit from Liv

I'd better get to baking.

Time: 1.5 hours (intermittently)
Grade: A- (I'm not the super sweet cake lover, but if you are, straight A)

February 6, 2014

Pin Test: Fabric Wallpaper Decals on a Dime

I love to sleep... always have, always will.  My mom tells tales of me as a napping babe; the sleepy hours would stretch on at such length that she'd finally defy the first commandment of parenting and wake me up to play.  Even if you don't love to sleep.  Even if you seldom welcome that time of day when you can slip between the sheets and let your tension melt into into a puddle, there's no denying the importance.  Do the math... 1/3 of your day... 1/3 of your LIFE is spent sleeping.  That's not a bad thing, either.  Let's face it, sleep possesses a restorative power necessary to make us feel our best.  Therefore, I subscribe to the school of thought that since sleep is so important and since we spend so much time doing it, we should all, ALL invest in a comfortable mattress within our given budget.  I mean we spend so much time there, so why not love it?

So recently, I've been thinking about where I spend the other 2/3rds of my life.  That's easy...two words: home and work.  This leads me to the next question... do I love my spaces?  An interesting question to ponder, indeed... Do you love your spaces?  If not, why?  And if so, how could you love your spaces even more?  In this reflection, I realized that while I love aspects of my spaces, they often feel incomplete, and since that time, I've been on a quest to sort this little dilemma.  I started, as I often do, by reading novels such as Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home and Francine Jay's The Joy of Less.  I would highly recommend both titles... they helped me examine some of the psychology behind loving spaces and transformed my thinking.  I've probably rid myself of 25 plus boxes of "stuff" in the last half year, and it really feels like I'm on the right track.  But this is just one component.

Another important aspect that helps me love my space is what I'll call the attractive mutability.  While I want my rooms to be pretty and comforting, I love the potential they have to change and the way accessories can rotate and function in different spaces.  Take my cheerful yellow settee, a comforting fellow who has appeared in no less than four rooms in the past half year, much to O'Hubs dismay.  I love to arrange by season and reason so I can appreciate the nuances of my space.

I look for this attractive mutability in all my spaces.  For example, I've taught in my classroom for thirteen years now, and while I keep it neat and tidy with little touches like curtains and fun posters, the bottom line is that, until quite recently, it was blase...vanilla,...blech.  But last August, all that changed; I decided that a facelift was in order, but I had to do it on a budget.  After painting a couple walls with a lovely brown left over from my family room, I hit my pins and discovered some gems pinned here and here and also here. I wanted the look of wallpaper but was on a shoestring budget, so even the pre-made wall decals were out of my league.

Enter fabric.  It was about as simple as can be... I projected a flower to my desired size and made a cardboard template; then, using the cardboard design, I traced and cut out fabric pieces to create my flowers.  To apply, I placed a fabric piece in a shallow plastic tub and saturated it with spray starch (the kind you could, hypothetically, use to iron).  After pressing it to the wall surface and wiping any drippings with a moist rag, like magic it stuck!  And stayed!  Voila...a non-permanent wall design that cost very little.

 I stuck these 5-piece flowers around on my cinder block walls, and soon, they resembled wallpaper.

With little touches, my classroom has become a space I so thoroughly enjoy.  Attractive mutability...  it's no luxury mattress, but it does offer a fresh look in a special place I spend a TON of my time.  You can apply this technique on pretty much any surface from a wall to a window or mirror.  Consider the shape possibilities!  And goodness, when I need a little change, I can just peel them down and try a different shape and color.  Now I love where I work every bit as much as where I sleep... and that, my friends, is saying a lot.

Time: 2 hours to complete my entire room
Grade: A- (once in a while, they peel off a bit, and I have to reapply the starch.  Also, it is a bit messy, so be prepared with rags and a tub.)

January 29, 2014

Pin Ambition: Dye a Dress

When I was little, my mom was one enviable crafty cat.  I was recently listening to a cassette tape of my 3rd birthday (yes, she recorded it in its entirety) where she confesses that the first pinata she paper mached was a bit ill formed, so she woke up early to fashion a second one before the party.  I'm not sure when she had time for this since she opted to bake both a chocolate and a carrot cake for the gathering, but there it is.

My mother was also an accomplished seamstress.  She wouldn't agree to that statement being both humble and out of practice, but in her heyday, she could rock the Singer.  In fact, she made many outfits for herself and then created little matching pieces for me or my dolls.  I still remember her roomy white with red polka dotted maternity dress, a splash of cheer in an otherwise lousy time as we prepared to welcome my little sister (Ugh... What a brat I was!) and the teeny spaghetti-strapped dress she designed for my red-headed doll, Sari.  Stunning.  This was all a big hit until I reached about second grade and started to complain about having homemade clothes (See?  Mega brat... I told you).  It was the olive color of the jumpsuit that was all wrong, and once I confessed my detestation, she ceased to create.  This is a sorrow in my life.

Fast forward to high school and college when I discovered that I was not a "brand name" girl.  Oh no, I was a "shop at the local elderly person's garage sale and scoop up all the polyester you can find" kind of girl.  It reached a head when my father refused to sit with me in church my junior year because of my leisure suit and ridiculous "jail shoes" as he called them.  Whatever.

Yet after college, I earned a paycheck, and that's about the time I met Ann Taylor and Macy's.  For a time, I delighted in my expensive, fine-fitting clothes and played the part of the twenty-something she-she-la-la.  But it wasn't me.  So, long story short, I started having kids and not fitting into clothes while simultaneously paying nannies and preschool tuition and elevated food bills and.... you get the picture.  The numbers didn't add up anymore.  That's about the time I met Marisa.

Marissa Lynch has a fascinating story and writes the blog New Dress a Day.  She has published a book by the same title that I'd highly recommend.  I've been following her for a couple years now, and until now, I have never attempted to do much.  However, lately, I look at everything with a different set of eyes... "What could this be?" I ask while sifting and thrifting in my old familiar haunts.  It feels like being home.  I love spending so little and coming home with so much possibility, and Marisa has given me tools and tricks to approach any piece I encounter.  So when I was taking a swing through Goodwill a few weeks before Christmas, I was quite excited to find this little gem...
 It was brand new and fit rather well, but the color was horrendous on me.  I brought it home, dyed it a lovely shade of brown knowing it would match well with the polyester pink liner which would not dye (thank you Marisa and guest posts!) and created a fabulous Christmas dress for under $10.

I love how it turned out.  The dye was so easy to use... not even sure what took me so long to try something like this, but I am a convert.  I can wear it in cold or warm weather, and it feels every bit as lovely as my old designer threads.

If you have time, check out Marisa's blog New Dress a Day.  You might end up with a board like mine NDD Possibilities or maybe you already have one... in which case please share!  I'm loving my new thrifting adventures, and I guess I've graduated from my polyester and "jail shoes" considering who sat with me in church that week.