Friday, 28 December 2012

Thomas the Tank Engine at the Golf Course

As my husband put it: "Look Santa gave the kids a Thomas train track. And all the pieces are glued together so Daddy doesn't have to build it every day. That guy thinks of everything!"

He planned it, I painted it.  Of course we didn't intend for it to look like a golf course, but as soon as we added the bottle-brush trees, that's the first thing I thought of.  The kids are pretty happy with it, especially after we got them a battery-operated engine.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Olivia Bag

I made a little tote bag for a friend to give her daughter for Christmas.  In return, my payment was some mandarin oranges that she had canned.  I can't wait to taste them!  The bag is about 13 inches by 14 inches, made of royal blue corduroy, and accented with a navy and white polka-dot ribbon and rosette with three vintage buttons from my grandma's stash.  The lighting in the pictures is weird because I had to take them at about 8 am before there was decent light.  I'm so glad the days are getting longer now!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ali's Gap-tastic Cowl

I made this infinity scarf as a gift, and absolutely love it. My sister in law is lucky I didn't decide to keep it!  But it did only take 2 skeins of yarn and 3 days of knitting, so it wouldn't take me long to make one for me.  The pattern is a knock-off/improvement on an item that was once sold at Gap.

I truly am obsessed with knitting, I think.  I'm positively itching to start a project that I don't have the right size of needles for.  But I refused to go to Michael's on Boxing Day.  The only shopping I did today was a few groceries, and I did spend the kids' gift cards by ordering them some clothes online.

Do you shop on the busy-busy shopping days?  Boxing Day in Canada is like Black Friday in the US.  Except Black Friday makes more sense, since it's before Christmas when there's a purpose for the shopping.


There are fifteen minutes left of Christmas Day and I can't sleep. That coffee I had must have been caffeinated. Oh well.

I've been lying here thinking about my family. When I was growing up, we spent every holiday with my dad's family. My mom's family didn't often get together (except for that one memorable Christmas dinner at which my cousin made fun of me for having to wear a bib with sleeves.). So I grew up close to my aunts and uncles on my dad's side.

My sisters and I were the first kids in the family, and basked in the affection of our very young aunts, played with our uncles (one was only 9 years older than my sister), and snuggled with Nanny, Papa, and Grandnanny.

Then our cousin was born. A boy. The Boy. The one who would carry on the family name. We girls doted on little J just as much as the rest of the family. Although I thought, at age 4 or so, that it was strange that they dressed him in a long Christening gown for a picture.   We named our baby doll after him as well as our favourite cereal.

Following that first boy were seven more boys. We didn't get another girl cousin until after my sister had her first kid. So I spent a lot of time with the grown ups, once I felt I was too old to play Lego with the boys. The last time I remember actually playing with my cousins was the Christmas I was 9 years old, the year my dad died.

But I learned a lot from the grown ups. Particularly that I cannot compete in Trivial Pursuit!  I stayed with my aunt for weekends occasionally to give her some female company in a household of boys. Auntie H is the one who gave me tips on how to make friends and encouraged shy, homeschooled me to get my high school diploma. Another aunt and uncle gave invaluable advice when my husband and I were getting married.  All of them show me what it is to live in loving but real marriages, and I am so glad we have their examples to follow. Actually, today is the first time I've ever dropped the "auntie" and "uncle" titles when speaking to them.  It felt strange.  I may not do it again.

My nanny shows me that she expects me to do well, wanting only the best for me in my life, and inspires me to meet those expectations. And I think I would rather die than disappoint my sweet papa. Any advice he gives me I take to heart.   From both I feel the strongest love, along with their pride in me, although heaven knows I don't deserve it.

Then there is my mama. She may look frail now but she is truly the strongest woman I know.
Most women would not have survived even half of what she has been through.

I am so lucky to have my family, and I was thrilled to be able to spend Christmas with them.

PS: this is a lot of typing to be done with only thumbs. I apologize for errors and things that don't make sense.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Afternoon Alone

Thanks to not feeling not quite well, I have an unexpected afternoon alone!  I shall spend it with my tea and my knitting, and a hot rice pad on my tummy.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Lift the Sail And Catch the Winds of Destiny

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me-
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.

For love was offered me, and I shrank from its disillusionment,
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire-
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

-Edgar Lee Masters

Friday, 21 December 2012

What I failed to learn from Marilla Cuthbert

It's no secret that L. M. Montgomery is my favourite author.  The only book of hers that I've not loved was Magic for Marigold, and that one was cute enough.

I've just finished listening to Anne of Green Gables via an iPod app.  It's even better than an ebook when knitting.  I first read this book when i was about nine or ten years old, I'd guess.  I was captivated by the characters and the story and the setting.  But, oh! How I wish I'd taken some of Marilla's strict lessons to heart!

You see, I always wished that I was just like Anne, with her dreamy, magical view of the world.  I've come to realise that I really am just like Anne.  At least eleven-year-old Anne.  Daydreams, wild imagination, tendency to forget my task, desire to put the fun stuff before the work...Yep, I'm just like Anne.  Unfortunately I still have most of Anne's lessons to learn.

What I should have learned from Marilla, but didn't:

  1. "Leave the window up and turn the bedclothes back over the foot of the bed."
  2. "After you've washed the dishes go upstairs and make your bed.
  3. "Now, Anne, I noticed last night that you threw your clothes all about the floor when you took them off. That is a very untidy habit, and I can't allow it at all. As soon as you take off any article of clothing fold it neatly and place it on the chair. I haven't any use at all for little girls who aren't neat."
  4. "When the Lord puts us in certain circumstances He doesn't mean for us to imagine them away."
  5. "Do hold your tongue"
  6. "You'll have your work to do and it'll have to be done first."
  7. "Don't sicken yourself eating all them at once now." [referring to chocolate caramels]
  8. And I'm sure many more that I haven't time to find tonight.

I suppose since tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it, I can still work on these childish faults of mine.

PS: You may have noticed that I'm writing like Anne today.  That's what happens when I immerse myself in classic literature...I can't help it!  I told someone yesterday that I pick up accents really quickly. Apparently, I am a sponge for vocabulary and writing style as well.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My Top Secret Tips for Pie Crust Success

I've been baking pies and making pie crust from scratch for a good long time now. 15 years or so.  In that time, it was inevitable that I'd learn a few tricks.  Now really really good and proper bakers (like the ones who let their eggs and other ingredients come to room temperature before using them) will probably be scandalized by my tips.  But it's what works for me, and what takes the frustration out of pie making.

For me, the biggest issue with making crust is the crumbly nature of the dough.  The crumbs make it impossible to roll out without the edges cracking, separating, etc.  So to combat that, here is my top secret tip #1:

Use margarine instead of butter or shortening.

My mother would be horrified.  She's a butter purist.  Maybe I will be too when I no longer have small children needing to be fed NOW, not when the butter softens enough to use.  With margarine, the crust still gets that beautiful marbling and flakiness that it's supposed to have.

Tip #2:

 Make more pie dough than you will need.

For years and years and years, I struggled with my "Pastry for 2-crust pie" recipe from the Good Housekeeping cookbook.  I was forever patching the edges of my pie crust after putting it in the pan because the edges always cracked.  This did not make for very pretty pies and occasionally lead to the crust leaking so the pie stuck in the pie plate.  So now I always make more crust than I need. (But I need to get better at rolling the crust thinner...since I have more wiggle room, I don't always get it thin enough.)

I still use the 2-crust recipe (above, left) as it is...when I'm making a pumpkin pie or something else that doesn't need a top.  When I'm making an apple pie, I either do 1.5 times the recipe, or 1/2 of my husband's nan's pie crust recipe (above, right).  That's the recipe she uses for her all-day apple-pie-making marathon.  It's not crumbly at all, in fact, I think she actually kneads the dough a little.  My daughter and I got to join her a couple of years ago and I loved being part of the tradition.

Do you make pie crust?  I'd love to hear from you if you try my heretical pie-crust-making tips!

New House, New Home, New Life

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Yarn Along, among other things

This week I'm knitting a Christmas gift.  I didn't intend to make much for Christmas this year (I haven't even done much baking!), but when I was thinking about what this person would like, a Clara Cowl was the first thing I thought of.  I love the colour of this yarn, and it should look nice, since it won't be as bulky as the one I made for myself.  And I'm armed with lots of tips and tutorials on how to do the Kitchener graft properly, so maybe it will end up seamless this time.

I've been playing with other yarn this week too.  We finally put up a Christmas tree (a 7.5 foot tall prelit tree that we got for an amazing deal: $30!  Hooray for floor models!)  I had been making my knitted garland for the tree, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't be long enough to look good.  So I had a few other ideas of what to do, both with the knitted one, and for the tree garland.  I bought a skein of "bunny tail" yarn.  I don't know who on earth would want to knit or crochet with this stuff, but it makes a lovely tree garland, reminiscent of snowballs or old-fashioned popcorn garlands.

Yes, I know our tree is a bit lacking in the ornament department...we'll take care of that this week sometime.  But at night, with the lights on and the garland, it already looks perfect.

As for the knitted garland, after I finished knitting the whole skein and deciding I didn't want to put it on the tree, I quickly crocheted it by hand, and today strung it up by the fireplace.

I also strung a garland of clay ornaments.  A few weeks ago I mixed up a cornstarch clay recipe that was supposed to stay white.  I wanted to make both ornaments with my snowflake stamp, as well as gift tags with my little alphabet stamp set.  I recommend letting this particular clay recipe air dry instead of baking it.  The baked ones got bumpy and too browned, and about a dozen of them broke as they cooled.  The ones that were only in the oven for a little while stayed the whitest, and none of them broke.

New House, New Home, New Life

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cozy-cozy Hoodies: Monogrammed, Stencilled, and Embroidered

I have a lot of nieces. Six, to be exact.  At least it seems like a lot when it comes to gift buying, especially since all but one are 8 years old and under.  This year for Christmas, I saw thick faux-fur-lined hoodies at Costco, and immediately envisioned them monogrammed.  I wasn't planning to do any handmade gifts this year, but I couldn't resist these.  So I bought five of them, hoping I guessed correctly on the sizes.  They didn't have toddler sizes for the 1-year-old, and I was pretty sure these would be too girly for the 14-year-old's tastes.  So the 5th one is for my daughter.  My son calls them "cozy-cozy things!"  It's too bad Costco didn't have any for boys, or my kids' shopping would be done!

I chose a font (The same for all of them except the J.  I had to chose a different one for that, since Juli would probably not recognise a cursive J.  I can't remember the fonts, sorry.), and printed it at I think 300pt size.  Or maybe 200pt.  Can you tell it was a while ago that i did this part?  I stenciled out of freezer paper, and had my husband help me chose which paint colours to go with each, from the fabric paints I had on hand.  Due to the lining, the freezer paper didn't seal well to the fabric when I ironed it on, so some of the letters bled a lot. Especially the gold C.  Which is why I'm only now finishing them.  It took me that long to figure out how to fix the problem!

I decided to outline each letter with contrasting embroidery floss (3-strands) to disguise the bleeding.  It worked beautifully!  The C is the only letter with the bleeding still a bit visible, but even that one looks good with the pink back-stitched outline.  My favourite colour combination is the dark purple/light purple/bright green that I used on the M.  The other purple/purple one is currently getting a yellow outline.  The last one, with a beautiful Laverne and Shirley style L is pink with purple paint.  I'm not sure yet what colour I'll outline it with.  Any ideas?

New House, New Home, New Life

Saturday, 8 December 2012

A New Look for Winter

Winter Facebook Timeline Cover

We just got a new desktop computer.  Other than the annoyance that is Windows 8, it's been great.  But it made the colours on my blog look too bright--downright garish, really.  I hope the colours haven't been like that for you!

So, I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous hoarfrost that's coated everything outside for the past two days to inspire a winter-themed redesign.  I tried Pic Monkey and wasn't really impressed.  There is very little I can do with that that I can't do with Picasa.  So I stuck with what I know. (However, I do love the graphic elements you can add in Pic Monkey...I'll try those one day).

I am more pleased with this particular header than I have been with any other.  And I figured out how to change my blog buttons to pretty much any colour I want, without affecting the white parts!  I used the Hue and Saturation tools in Pixlr for that.

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to have a real designer do my blog.  I'm way too much of a hands-on control freak.

Do you design your own blog?  If so, what programs do you use?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

My Hole-In-The-Wall Cupboard

hole-in-the-wall cupboard

I've decided to use Flickr to host my photos for now.  It's a little tedious though.  This particular project has been going on for nearly two years, I think.  When I was painting the living room, I could not resist poking a hole or two into this weird bump out between the front door and the living room to see whether it had a purpose.  It didn't.  It was empty except for a pipe at the very far back.  What a waste of space!  100 years ago, a craftsman would have built a gorgeous built-in cupboard or bookshelf or something there to provide a visual division.  Now they just slap up some drywall and call it done.

So I decided to be the craftsman.  I cut out the drywall as wide as the studs would let me...and there it sat for months.  Nick liked to climb inside to sit, which wasn't very safe due to a nail sticking out of one of the top studs.

hole-in-the-wall cupboard

Next I tried using the table saw to cut the 1/2-inch plywood panels.  Everything was going fine until--I don't know what I did--one panel kicked back from the saw hitting me hard in the stomach.  Thank heaven for strong sturdy denim!  I managed to convince Kevin to finish building the cupboard.  I can handle a mitre saw, but He can be the table saw operator from now on.  He did a beautiful job on it!  

Many many months later, as in October and November 2012, I finally sanded, patched, and painted.  I was going to do a door, but the idea of trying to figure that out intimidated me.  So I just picked out a narrow trim, to accommodate the space between the cupboard and the ugly baseboards.

hole-in-the-wall cupboard

I just love my little cupboard.  I wanted to call it a boot cupboard, like the one Jane is so proud of in Jane of Lantern Hill, but people just look at me funny when I do.  I'd like to fill it with pretty baskets or books, etc.  But I had to be practical in this crazy house with minimal storage.  So instead, it's the kids' craft cupboard, filled with plastic bins, paint, playdoh, and crayons.

hole-in-the-wall cupboard

Furniture Feature Friday with Miss Mustard Seed