Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas 2011

Even though our Christmas decorations are already packed up neatly and tucked away for next year, looking back through our kids' Christmas pictures makes me miss the prettiness of the season.  After being surrounded by Christmas spirit since the day after Thanksgiving, I was good and ready to nix the clutter and cleanse the house of sugar!  Anticipating a baby's imminent arrival added to my angst.  By the way, the Christmas season and the last month of pregnancy are a perfect combination for packing on a few more pounds of "baby" on your hips and thighs.

Excuse Owen's head melting into the wall.  I had precious few moments to snap pictures, as we were late for church, and didn't take the time to adjust the window shades.  These pictures were taken the week before Christmas.  Helen's dress was a hand-me-down from a cousin, Jack's flannel an Economy Shop find, and Owen's sport coat was purchased from a friend of a friend. 

Jack is my snuggly buddy.  I'm afraid he's not excited about his new baby brother. 

Here I am, all glorious, round and sparkly at 37 weeks.  And yes, I hear, "You're not that big!!" all the time, referring of course to my baby belly.  Spare me.  I'm 5' 8 1/2", this kid is everywhere at the same time, and he's been baking in there and displacing my vital organs for a long time.  OK.  Grumping over.

Helen is her daddy's girl!  He took her for a day of present shopping.  In the middle of J.C. Penney's jewelry section, he asked her which necklace she wanted.  She said, "I have enough necklaces.  I'm ready to go.  Can we go to Bass Pro?"
My kids have no idea what a great dad they have.  He works hard to provide for us, he takes time to play with them and he treats me very well.
On Christmas morning, our family traveled to church in waves.  Jason was playing bass on the worship team, Helen was singing in a kids' choir, and Owen was accompanying on his guitar.  These two were so excited, and both felt very grown up. 
Jack felt left out, and was extremely disappointed not to be able to stand by the drummer on stage.  The extra PBS programming he enjoyed all by himself apparently didn't make up for it.
 At least Owen thought he was accompanying; he had all the motions down but none of the chords. 

Of course, Helen had to adjust her elastic headband right before she got on stage; thus the hair pouf.  Oh well.  It's just my pride.  Afterward, she told me she had admired her cousin Abby's skirt (extreme right) and her friend Kathlyn's dress (green dress, left screen.)  "I wish there were two dresses, necklaces and bracelets like Kathlyn's, and then we could wear them at the same time!"

We had a wonderful, warm, quiet celebration with family on Christmas day, participating in the awe and joy of the Savior of the World born so many years ago.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, whatever the state of your decorations!  May you have true Peace settled deep in your hearts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mending: Boy's T-Shirt Edition

I love my sonny boy Jack.  But that child is sneaky and independent, and he currently has a li'l listening problem, manifested by the inability to hear and follow specific commands.  Whisper, "Daddy wants to take you for a tractor ride," and I'm quite sure he would come running from the farthest corner of the house.  He has been sleeping with Jason's Fastline magazine for the past few nights, and can name almost all the farm equipment in it.  He is such a boy, and I love him head to squeezy buns to toes. 

A few things we commonly hear from him (3 1/2):
(wailing) "I missed some parts!!!" when he is stuck in his crib and the others are watching TV.
"I meeda go potty."
"Fank-you Jesus for dirt."
"Owen/Heh-wyn, you're MEAN!" (translated--"You're not letting me have my way.")

And one trademark morning call he is outgrowing:
"Mommy/Daddy, I'n ah-WAY-yake!!!!!  I'n ready for BREAKdust!!!"

I stenciled another shirt for him, because I want to do all I can to capture his heart while he is still my baby.  He wasn't completely happy with the shirt, which puzzled me until I realized all his heavy equipment toys are made by John Deere.  He was especially foul when another kid called him "Cat." We told him the other boy was just reading his shirt, but he took it as an offense, and probably has filed a grudge anyway. Oh well. 
He is enrolled in Atmore's HIPPY program for 3 year olds, and when our instructor came at the beginning of the school year to give me his supplies and his first week of lessons, he immediately opened his school box and grabbed his! very! own! scissors!  My mom alarm clanged to red alert, and I warned him a few times to be very careful and not cut anything, as did the instructor, but I was too polite to get up and remove them from his wiggly fingers.  Two seconds later, he had a hole in his brand new Target clearance rack t-shirt.  Growl.

This irritated woman put the shirt on her mending pile and went about her business as usual for four months before thinking of and completing a five-minute solution. 

Our prayers for this kid, aside from physical protection and all, is that he would set his heart on God, and put his independence to good use, refusing to blindly submit to influential peers, authorities and ideas that don't reflect truth.  In the meantime, we're working with his "hearing issues," and keeping our sense of humor about him.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bibs from a T-Shirt

Let's talk about being limited to a store's choices!  Anyone out there hear me?  Blech.  This is frequently my story if I'm shopping for anything other than groceries:  I get a hazy picture of an idea, I can't find anything anywhere that looks like my original thought, and then it's just another (very minor) exercise in dealing with disappointment.  When it comes to kid gear, I am singing this tune all the time, and when it comes to fabric for kids, I'm surprised you can't hear my groans from in front of the stove, where you are standing, apron-clad, stirring a pot of black beans or marinara. 

A friend asked me to make some non-babyish bibs for her daughter.  I knew the fabric store would not have the right prints we wanted, so in a way I felt defeated before I even got started.  I decided to look somewhere unexpected, and hunted through my own stash, which had about one known piece of knit in it.  That's when I saw some (forgotten) brand-new t-shirts that I had purchased for sewing experimentation/transformation!  And this is what became of them:

OK, I had to buy a few more t-shirts.  I didn't have all of those at the ready! 

I had a simple bib pattern.  I cut two of each fabric and sewed them together with my knit-fabric strategy, which includes a ball-point needle, a slight zig-zag stitch and lots of holding of the breath.  I turned them right-side out, top stitched them, then added Velcro for a closure.  I made fabric flowers and used both hand-stitching and machine-stitching to secure them to the bibs.

My favorite part was detailing the plain red bib.  I took strips of t-shirt, pulled them tight so they would curl up, then sewed them on in a slight curve.  I did this before putting the back and front of the bib together.  So what do you think?  Take that, boring stores!

*Next time I make bibs, I will try adding an absorbent layer, like thin terry cloth, in between.  And I'm ending that sentence with a preposition, which is almost killing me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Salt Dough Ornaments with Cinnamon

 Snowflakes are so pretty, especially when it comes to Christmas decorations.  I have crocheted snowflakes, paper snowflakes, plastic-and-glitter snowflakes and a metal snowflake on display.  I learned to cut six-sided snowflakes in elementary school, and I've been fascinated with them ever since, maybe more so now because I'm not shoveling them out of my driveway.

So when I saw these pretty (unpainted) salt-dough snowflakes, I had to try them.  I cringe at detailed painting with craft paint and tiny paintbrushes, and these snowflakes had pen! doodles! on them.  I had the idea to create some words with alphabet cutters, too, and Helen helped me plan those the night before.  Unfortunately, when it came down to cutting out the ornaments, my time (and patience) were thin, evidenced by my tardiness in the school pick-up line.  I was determined to use all the dough I had mixed, so I hand-shaped some initials for the kids and a dove for Quinn. I also rolled out a candy cane and remembered why I stink at play-doh.

I substituted cinnamon for part of the flour, to see what it would do.  Some of the salt crystallized at the surface.  It looks like frost.

I strung the letters together with embroidery floss.

Helen suggested we write "beauty."  I couldn't resist her.
They ended up looking more countrified than I would have liked, but they're cute in their own way.  I think they would make great package tie-ons.

I ended up painting the candy cane with a tiny paintbrush and some craft paint.  It's cute.  Jack's thoughts were, "Look!  A candyland is on our tree!" 

So what happened to the snowflakes?  They didn't turn out like my inspiration, to say the least.  I plan to try again later, when my unofficial Cookie Plate Week is over.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Satsuma Season

Despite our dry spring and dry summer, our satsuma trees are loaded with sweet fruit.  These perfect small mandarin oranges have thin peels and hardly any seeds.  The cute boxes of Clementine oranges imported from Spain we see in our grocery stores right now cannot hold a candle to these juicy, ripe babies.  The kids helped their Daddy pick a wheelbarrow load, and it did not even make a dent in our crop.
 This happened to be a colder day here in Alabama, but we're back to wearing t-shirts today.
So what to do with extra satsumas?  Make a satsuma cake, for one. 
And of course, make marmalade.  Alton Brown's recipe turned out to be a good one, and it doesn't even require fruit pectin, so I didn't have to make a special trip to the store.  I--uhh--lightly browned the first batch, so I made a make-up recipe the next day to prove to myself that I could indeed tend a boiling pot.

Start with satsumas and one lemon.  I used my mini food processor to slice them, peels and all.
 Boil them with water for a long time.  This was an easy simmer that I stirred every ten minutes.
Add sugar and work out the lumps.
Boil again, watching carefully with a candy thermometer.  I used the suggested cold plate method for testing the thickness of the marmalade, since I didn't want flopped satsuma syrup like I've made in the past--with pectin.  Stick a saucer in the freezer until it is well chilled, then drop a teaspoon of marmalade on it.  Give it a minute, then tip the saucer to see if it's runny or ready.  Work on a Rubik's cube while standing in front of the stove.  It's good for both sides of your brain!
And in the secondary or tertiary meantime, prepare your jars.  I tucked in sprigs of rosemary and cinnamon sticks, hoping for a flavor infusion.
 Seal jars with a 10-minute water bath. 
Mmmm!!!  Write "English muffins" on the grocery list, and make a cup of tea.  Give the unsolved Rubik's cube to the kids.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Simplicity 2320

I love it when people give me fabric!  Not because I'm cheap, but because I like that my friends think about me when they're going through their scraps.  I love to create new things from old, and to do it on a shoestring budget too.  I had an extra lovely greeting one Sunday at church, when a sweet friend met me with a bag of fabric stash. 

I thought this old-fashioned floral piece had some potential.  I tried it out with Simplicity 2320, a Project Runway inspired pattern.  The dress has a square yoke with a cute little split/dippy notched neckline detail and a pleated skirt front. 

The sleeve variations on the pattern are all cute, but I went with the three-quarter length sleeves.  I cut a size 5 with a size 6 length.  I did the same with the sleeves, but ended up having to shorten them back to a size 5, because it looked like a little girl had quite outgrown her dress, and her mother was trying to make it work for one more wear.   
The pattern sewed up very nicely, and the only nail-biting moment was setting in the square yoke.  After I read the directions more carefully and then inspected my work, I figured it out. 

When I finished sewing the dress, it looked like a pathetic floral choir robe.  I didn't have enough of the right kind of trim for the bodice or sleeves.  I went to bed that night scratching my head, but woke up with better ideas.  I found a wide ribbon scrap and made some fabric rosettes to keep up with the crafty trend.

I will definitely be making this pattern again.  I think it would work great with a solid color, to really show off the lines of the yoke and the pleats.  I think a bigger, more modern print would work too.  I'm also curious how it would sew up in knit, but right now my machine is skipping stitches when I work with knit.  (Fingers crossed that it's a bent needle.) 

Helen and the Pink Poodle Cake

 Since it took a while to post Owen's birthday pictures, it was only fair to wait on Helen's as well.  Her big day of turning five began with a breakfast date with her daddy at the Anchor, then a trip to Mr. Joel's coffee shop to get a hot chocolate.  But he was out of milk, so he provided a verbal rain check for another special time.
We let Helen open her presents from us at supper that night.  She was gleeful over the jewelry crafting supplies and paint-your-own-fairy-statue kit. 
When we teased her about a birthday spanking, though, this happened:

Not one of our finer moments as parents!  Nevertheless, I rebounded with her requested pink poodle cake.  I have told my kids I hate poodles, that somehow they are a lesser degree of dog.  (Sorry Aunt Dot!)  Please don't send poodle hate my way.  They are just sharp and little and yappy, and I don't like them.  I guess when the Family Fun magazine featured such a cute cake, my little girl could not resist.  She had it picked out for almost a year.

Helen is getting sillier and sillier, and it doesn't have much to do with birthday parties and sugar either.

We combined her party at a family celebration at Grandpa's house.  She and her girl cousins each had a birthday to properly cheer.
I'm including this goofy picture for the benefit of viewing my side profile.  (And this was a month ago!)  Baby Boy is growing and kicking healthfully.
The cousins keep getting bigger.  I couldn't be happier for such wonderful nieces and nephews!
 And here's our little family.  Please excuse the crooked eyeglasses!  My last pair of contacts had torn, and I was still awaiting my eye doctor appointment.